64th General Assembly
The Sixty-fourth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church attached the following grounds to its communication informing the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America that the opening of the special "offices of elder, minister, and evangelist" to women (Acts 1995, Arts. 75 and 79, pp. 731-36, and Acts 1996, Art. 75.2, p. 560) is contrary to sound doctrine. References to these documents are abbreviated: Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Belgic Confession (BC), and the OPC's Form of Government (FOG). Italics in each case are added for emphasis.
1. The ordination/installation of women to "the office of elder, minister, or evangelist" is prohibited by Scripture (1 Timothy 2:12). Synod 1995 erred when it set aside a clear Scripture command (1 Tim. 2:12) when it opened the special offices of "elder, minister, and evangelist" to persons biblically prohibited from holding them (Acts of Synod 1995, Arts. 75 and 79, pp. 731-736). The inviolability of the passage is particularly incisive. God declares, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over the man." That this prohibition clearly is an abiding prohibition for the church today is apparent from its context. Scripture gives the reasons for that prohibition by declaring, "For Adam was formed first, then Eve" (v. 13). He then states a second reason for the prohibition, namely, "For Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (v. 14). Scripture thus grounds its forbidding of women to rule and teach in the church in the account of creation and the fall. And by grounding the prohibition in these events in the history of redemption, the prohibition is removed from the temporary and culturally conditioned to that of abiding requirement for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The final authority in determining whether the special offices of "elder, minister, and evangelist" are open to women is Scripture alone.
a. "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." (WCF I.10)
b. "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly." (WCF I.9)
c. "We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without doubt, all things contained in them...." (BC V)
d. "... Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule...." (BC VII)
3. It is one of the hallmarks of the Reformed church that it has developed a self-conscious hermeneutic, especially in the area of church government and worship. That hermeneutic is the centuries-old Reformed "Regulative Principle," namely, that there must be positive warrant from Scripture for every element of doctrine, government, and worship in the church, that is, whatsoever in these spheres is not commanded in the Scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence therefrom, is forbidden.
a. "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed." (WCF I.6)
b. "The light of nature sheweth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture." (WCF XXI.1)
c. "We believe that these Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in [Holy Scriptures] at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an Apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures...." (BC VII)
d. "Question 96: What does God require in the second commandment? Answer: That we in nowise make any image of God, nor worship him in any way other than he has commanded in his Word." (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 96)
e. "Christ orders his church by the rule of his Word; the pattern of officers, ordinances, government, and discipline set forth in Scripture is therefore to be observed as the instruction of the Lord. Church government must conform to the scriptural pattern and follow the specific provisions revealed in the New Testament...." (FOG I.3)
4. Christ has appointed a government in His Church, and governors and ministers thereto, whose authority to govern and minister rests solely upon Christ's appointment.
a. "We believe that this true Church must be governed by the spiritual policy which our Lord has taught us in his Word, namely, that there must be Ministers or Pastors to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Sacraments; also Elders and Deacons, who, together with the Pastors form the council of the Church; that by these means true religion may be preserved, and the true doctrine every where propagated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by spiritual means; also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities. By these means every thing will be carried on in the Church in good order and decency, when faithful men are chosen, according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul to Timothy." (BC XXX)
b. "We believe that the Ministers of God's Word, and the Elders and Deacons, ought to be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election of the Church, with calling upon the name of the Lord, and in that order which the Word of God teacheth. Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by indecent means, but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him; that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain that it is of the Lord...." (BC XXXI)
c. "In the meantime we believe though it is useful and beneficial that those who are rulers of the Church institute and establish certain ordinances among themselves for maintaining the body of the Church; yet they ought studiously to take care that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only master, hath instituted. And, therefore, we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner...." (BC XXXII)
d. "The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers...." (WCF XXX.1)
e. "To these officers, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed...." (WCF XXX.2)
f. "There is therefore but one King and Head of the church, the only Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who rules in his church by his Word and Spirit. His mediatorial office includes all the offices in his church. It belongs to his majesty from his throne of glory not only to rule his church directly but also to use the ministry of men in ruling and teaching his church through his Word and Spirit, thus exercising through men his own authority and enforcing his own laws. The authority of all such ministerial office rests upon his appointment, who has ordained government in his church, revealed its nature to us in his Word, and promised his presence in the midst of his church as this government is exercised in his name." (FOG I.2)
5. It is especially important that those who fill the pulpits in the church be there only by divine appointment.
a. "Question: By whom is the word of God to be preached? Answer: The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office." (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A. 158).
b. "The public reading of the Holy Scriptures [in public worship] is performed by the minister as God's servant...." (Directory for the Public Worship of God, III.2)
c. "In the sermon God addresses the congregation by the mouth of his servant [the minister]." (Directory for the Public Worship of God, III.3)
6. The qualifications for those who would hold special office in the church are part of the "all things necessary" (in Westminster Confession of Faith I.6, see above), and therefore are elemental ... not (merely) circumstantial ... to the worship and government of the Church. And Scripture is (as it must be for things which are elemental) sufficiently clear on the matter of whether women may hold the special offices of elder, minister, or evangelist.
7. Synod 1995 erred when it determined to "recognize that there are two different perspectives and convictions, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, on the issue of whether women are allowed to serve in the offices of elder, minister, and evangelist based on the assertion that numerous presentations to synods have "adduce[d] good biblical grounds for [the two mutually contradictory] positions" (Acts of Synod 1995, Article 75, pages 731-32). Synod 1995's action does injury to the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture and to the infallible rule of its interpretation.
8. Synod 1995 further erred when it acted to change an element (the qualifications for special office) in the government and worship of the church without positive Scriptural warrant. We note that proponents of arguments proffered in favor of changing a teaching regarding the government and worship of the church which has been the established position of the godliest of saints for almost 2,000 years are themselves willing to claim no more than "rough epistemic parity" for their new interpretation. Such hermeneutic falls far short of the Regulative Principle which has been embraced by Reformed churches since the time of the Reformation itself.
9. As with other actions that violate a command of Scripture, the action of Synod 1995 to relegate an elemental matter (like qualification for special office) to a detail for "regional decision" is inherently destabilizing and unworkable, and ultimately proves to be divisive to the body of Christ. When a duly ordained minister of the Word enters the pulpit, is he there by divine appointment? But what if he is biblically disqualified (or prohibited) from holding that office, is he still divinely appointed to such? Should he be received by those in the congregation as such? Does the King and Head of the church entrust the exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to persons whom he has previously barred from holding the office to which the exercise of such keys has been committed? The action of Synod 1995, by corrupting the biblical qualifications for special office in the church, insinuates itself into the three areas of the church's life (preaching, sacraments, and discipline) that have been cataloged as the marks by which a true church is known.
a. "... The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church...." (BC XXIX)
b. "This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them." (WCF XXV.4)
Reprinted from New Horizons, October 1997.