My Congregation Does Not Approve of Women Serving as Elders or Ministers. Isn’t This Gender Discrimination?

My church does not approve of women serving as elders or ministers. If the denomination permits this, how is it that a congregation may “opt out”? Isn't this gender discrimination?

You raise an issue that has been wrenchingly difficult for many in our denomination. We still don’t see eye to eye on it. What many of us became so concerned about in the early 1990s is that both sides started believing that people on “the other side” were just plain ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture. Synod 1990 seemed to say this by deciding to remove the word “male” from Article 3 of the Church Order. Then Synod 1994 seemed to say this by declaring that “the clear teaching of Scripture prohibits women from holding the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.” One delegate had the following negative vote recorded: this is “an insensitive assertion that Scripture is clear on this matter despite a 20-year discussion and biblically defensible alternatives.”

The following year synod drew back and chose 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.” In other words, we made room for each other and enlarged our tent. This has allowed us once again to focus on the heart of our mission.

Years earlier, the CRCNA traveled a similar path on the issue of women’s suffrage. Synod 1957 allowed the practice of women voting at congregational meetings but did not insist on it based on “clarity” of the biblical message. When some eventually asked that we no longer allow the other option because it is “discriminatory,” Synod 1983 refused the request. It did “urge churches to grant women the right to vote” but stopped short of demanding it. If we truly believe what Synod 1995 declared—namely, that both perspectives honor the Scriptures—perhaps we should consider the same course of action and continue to permit both options.

About the Author

Henry De Moor is professor emeritus of church polity at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s the author of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary

See comments (1)


"If we truly believe what Synod 1995 declared—namely, that both perspectives honor the Scriptures—perhaps we should consider the same course of action and continue to permit both options."

Synod is not infallible, as we all know, and I am of the conviction that their decision in 1995 was not correct.  For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian church reserved the office of pastor and elder to qualified men - not to any men, but to qualified men, as John Calvin points out.  For nearly 2,000 years, this was simply a non-issue.  Now, within the last 30-40 years, all of a sudden we learn that the church has had it wrong for all these years.  The early church fathers: wrong.  John Calvin: wrong.  The writers of the three forms of unity: wrong.  The Westminster Assembly: wrong.  The CRC synod of 1995: correct?  I'm sorry, but I don't buy it.

I'm not some stodgy old man stuck in the 1950s.  I am in my 20s (not that my age even matters, only the truth matters), and in my opinion this whole controversy reeks of the church capitulating to popular culture.  Culture pushed the issue, the issue infiltrated the church, and many within the church capitulated.  The exact same thing is happening today with regards to homosexuality.  Culture is pushing this issue, and the church is not holding to scripture.  Instead of calling people to repentance, we are well on our way to a situation wherein we simply cave to anything that contemporary culture pushes our way because we simply will not hold to the scriptures.  

When people turn their ears off to what God is saying and refuse to repent, they are well on their way to judgement.  Whether we are committing what society terms as "gender discrimination" is next to irrelevant.  The only question that matters is this: are we being faithful to the scriptures?