At last year's synod, Christian Reformed Church (CRC) delegates voted 95 to 88 to approve the ordination of women as ministers, elders, and evangelists.

Because this required a change in the 300,000-member denomination's church order, it had to be ratified by this year's synod, held in June in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the action to take effect. That did not happen.

By a vote of 95 to 89, the all-male synod delegates voted against ratifying the previous vote, following two days of contentious and often emotional debate. The next day the synod proceeded to pass a measure urging all congregations that had ordained women as elders against the will of the church to "release them from office" by June 1, 1995.

Expressing her dismay, Dorothy VanHamersveld of the CRC's Committee for Women said the vote separates "the Holy Scriptures from the Holy Spirit." She said delegates "focused on a few isolated scriptural texts while ignoring how the Holy Spirit is working through women." Opponents of women's ordination, however, hailed the decisions on women's issues as stemming the tide of liberalism in the denomination. "I hope that by taking this definitive action, we can put this issue behind us now," delegate Ron Meyer said.

Among the demonstrations staged at the synod was one in which about 20 supporters of women's ordination dressed in black, taped their mouths shut signifying that women have no voice, and hoisted a sign declaring, "We Are Overcome." Delegates to the annual synod, the church's highest lawmaking body, must be ordained as either ministers or elders, and therefore must be male.

Ordination supporter Ken Baker, who helped draft a minority report, said that the most disheartening aspect of this year's decision was not the outcome itself, but the attitude behind it. He noted that in the past when the CRC has ruled against women's ordination, it has at least acknowledged some ambiguity surrounding the issue. Baker said that, according to the statement delegates approved this year, "the clear teaching of Scripture prohibits women holding the office of minister, elder, and evangelist." The biblical passage most often cited by those who spoke against women's ordination was 1 Timothy 2:12.

Most CRC advocates of women's ordination say it is unlikely that churches that have already ordained women as elders will dismiss them. This raises the possibility of charges being leveled against noncompliant churches, leading perhaps to the dismissal of leaders.

Delegates let stand a 1992 synod statement encouraging full use of women's gifts, including "expounding" the Word of God, which is tantamount to preaching without ordination. However, delegates authorized a four-man study committee to determine what is meant by "expounding" and what women (and, presumably, men) must do to be recognized to function in this capacity. The committee is scheduled to deliver its report to next year's synod.

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