The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) will have another chance this year to clarify its confusing position on the ordination of women as ministers or elders. But whatever the 1993 synod may decide, some CRC congregations will be unhappy.

In recent months, several congregations have ordained women elders, based on a 1990 synodical decision that all church offices were open to women. Yet the synod, in 1992, issued a statement that rescinded the 1990 decision and adopted compromise language. Meanwhile, more than 30 conservative congregations have withdrawn from the CRC over the issue.

The debate over whether and how much the denomination will be open to women’s ordination may surface at the CRC’s next synod this June, and both camps have already begun drawing their battle lines.

Early warning signal

Late last year, the denomination’s top administrative body sent an early warning signal in support of the 1992 statement by reprimanding two high-profile officials for serving as chairmen of local church councils that have ordained women elders.

Synodical Interim Committee (SIC) general secretary Leonard Hofman and executive director of ministries Peter Borgdorff sent letters to Harvey Smit, editor in chief of the CRC education department and interim coeditor of The Banner, and Louis Tamminga, director of pastor-church relations. In the letters, Hofman and Borgdorff requested a written commitment from the two men to abide by Church Order and synodical decisions.

Tamminga resigned his position as council chairman at the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Church of the Servant—though his decision to resign had already been made and was for reasons unrelated to the reprimand.

Smit, who told Reformed Believers Press Service that his term as president of the Grand Rapids Eastern Avenue CRC ends this summer, declined to comment on how he responded to the letter. But SIC’s Hofman said that he had received replies from both Smit and Tamminga that the SIC “considers satisfactory.”

Despite the seeming setback, Church of the Servant hopes to be allowed to continue ordaining women. Its classis (local governing body), Grand Rapids East, will ask the 1993 synod to ratify a decision allowing women in office by 1994, or at least for local exemption from the stipulations of the 1992 decision.

Synod 1992 did not affirm the ordination of women, but instead adopted a compromise statement encouraging churches to “use the gifts of women members to the fullest extent possible” and to let women “expound the Word of God” (CT, July 20, 1992, p. 51). As it stands, the CRC Church Order refers to all office bearers as “male.”

By Thomas S. Giles.

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