The discussion about women’s roles in church leadership has largely centered on textual exegesis, sociological explanations, and tradition. While often interesting, those approaches miss the Calvinistic practice of starting with a major biblical theme.
Often Calvinists restrict such themes to creation, fall, and redemption, but we can find another major theme in the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that many Christian Reformed Church members have prayed hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
In the prayer’s second request we ask that God’s kingdom come. Jesus makes it a major theme of his proclamation, indicating that God’s kingdom is at hand. While the request has a futuristic dimension, the urgency is for today. As the Heidelberg Catechism states in Answer 123, “Your kingdom come means, Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.” Perhaps we have a tendency to restrict that request to our personal lives, but that’s a flawed restriction; the petition also applies to our corporate life.
This is not the place to elaborate on all the characteristics of the kingdom of God. Let me mention just one: love. As individuals and churches we have not always practiced love. In the name of Christ, the Inquisition ordered many people killed. In spite of that iniquity and other blemishes, we still try daily to implement love, even in regards to enemies.
How then does this petition apply to women in office? Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, provides a clue: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ” (3:28).
Admittedly the church has not always succeeded in adhering to that. We often have ignored people who have special needs; we have been (and perhaps still are) known primarily as a Dutch denomination. But synod has realized that people with special needs needed to be incorporated in the church’s life, and it has worked to help the rest of us receive their blessing. And it set up a committee to help us incorporate and celebrate the gifts of the diverse ethnic groups within the CRC. Those decisions are part of welcoming the kingdom of God.
We need to see the matter of women in church office in the light of that kingdom too.
Since God’s kingdom features equality, which therefore is implicit in the second petition, all offices should be open to women. To postpone a permanent decision, as last year’s synod suggested, is to make a farce of the urgency and meaning of our prayer. And although being a synod delegate is not an office, the petition implies that we should not practice discrimination. Synod delegates (and all of us) should realize what we pray for.