EPC Moves Toward the Mainline and the Mainline Moves Toward the Drain

EPC logoRecovering the Reformed Confession I described the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (along with the CRC) as a part of the “borderline” (as distinct from the mainline and the sideline). At the time, the CRC appeared to be moving toward the mainline (which trajectory continues) but there was hope that the EPC might be moving toward the sideline (confessional) Presbyterian world. That appears not to be the case.  The most recent GA of the EPC has voted to allow females to become ministers. They’ve adopted a latitudinarian position. We’ll see how long that lasts. How long will those be tolerated who believe that ordaining females to pastoral ministry is contrary to God’s Word? The history of this question isn’t promising. The folks in the EPC might want to talk to the conservatives who remain in the CRC to ask how that’s worked out for them.

Apropos of this is the announcement by the PCUSA (the mainline) that they lost, in 2009, another 63,000 members. To put this in perspective, the mainline presbyterians have lost more than the equivalent of the entire OPC probably more than two of the entire URCs or about 20% of the PCA in one year.

Why is it that the EPC and the CRC seem bent on joining the mainline? Are they tired of existing?

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  1. When I was in seminary in the 80s the PCUSA was losing 18,000 members a year. The size of the OPC in those days.

    Yet, somehow, they keep reporting having 2 million plus members. I wonder how many attenders? Or tithers?

  2. I saw this sequence of headlines on The Aquila Report last night. It was quite telling:

    1. Evangelical Presbyterian Church Clears Way for Women to Serve as Pastors

    2. Will Presbyterian Church USA Redefine Marriage?

    3. PCUSA Net Membership Loss for 2009 Totals 63,000 Members, Another 3%

    I wonder how many in the EPC realize how much of the PCUSA they are letting into their midst?

  3. It’s sad. I was introduced to Reformed Theology in a complementation EPC church. It was the only “reformed” church church around my small town in West Virginia. Who knows where it’s headed these days.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Do you have any idea how many women are actually serving as Ministers in the CRC? I’ve heard that currently the number is still rather small (but I’m out of the loop on the CRC).

    The exodus of PCUSA congregations into the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC obviously entails significant risks for the EPC. We should regularly lift up the EPC in prayer that the LORD would mercifully turn them (and us!) toward greater Biblical and confessional fidelity.


  5. I have a friend who is heading up the search for a senior pastor at a fairly large PCUSA church. The committee he heads up asks each candidate to declare, without reservation, that he will oppose ordiniation of homosexuals. They thought they had found someone for the job, but he refused to clearly state his view of the matter.

  6. I am in the CRC and as near as I can tell there aren’t alot of women serving as senior pastors. Our classis has 1 for the 30+ churches in our area. There are however a number of female pastors serving as associate pastors within the denomination. However, again that seems to be geographically determined. Where the rubber meets the road is how many women are serving as elders and deacons. In that arena, the number is significant. My concern is not so much with the female issue, although that weighs on my mind and my heart, but with the upcoming battle over homosexuality. I can see it coming down the rail and just keep wondering when it is going to really hit our denomination.

    As an aside, I knew an Orthodox priest who made this comment: “Every denomination that allows women into ecclesiastical office, ends up accepting homosexuality and making other moral compromises.” That has hit me often as I think about it. Can anyone help me to understand why the two are related. I see it in practice, but I can’t understand why one necessitates the other as far as biblical hermeneutics goes.

    • HICC,

      Check out the comments policy.

      The connection is this: the same hermeneutic that allowed the CRC to set aside Paul’s teaching on women in office will (or is allowing) them to set aside his teaching about homosexuality. It’s a way of approaching Scripture. Do we read it in humble submission or do we rule over it? Do we accept it even when it places us in conflict with the prevailing culture or do we seek to erase the rough edges (even as we continue to talk about transforming culture—who is transforming whom in the CRC)?

      • I am HICC, and am new to wordpress, so i just figured out how to change my display name. As a CRC pastor, new to the reformed world, having been an InterVarsity Staff worker for the 5 years before becoming a past 3 years ago I come from a varied background and have heard the argument it is the same hermeneutic, but I guess I don’t buy it yet. I see that people tend to culturalize the women in office thing. I get that, but i haven’t seen how they can then culturalize his sin teachings. It seems to me, from my observations that most of the culturizing basis itself off some argument related to Romans and Pheobe having delivered the letter, and so she was in a position to “teach/answer questions and explain”. I admit i haven’t looked into it alot and haven’t seen why we must go to the accepting sin just because we accept women in office. I am however beginning to reexamine some of what I have been taught in IVCF and am gaining uncomfortableness with it. I appreciate your thoughts.

        • Scott,

          I’m an old guy and I watched the CRC fight over women in office. The first move the progressives (most were broad evangelicals; not liberals) made was to “contextualize” Paul and thereby to marginalize him as a patriarchal misogynist. Now he has become, for some, a homophobe.


          Well, if there is no such thing as nature (if redemption has swallowed up nature—this is what the evangelicals, following the Anabaptists, tend to do) then we only have redemptive categories but “nature” is essential to opposing homosexuality. Of course, there is the normativity of Scripture, but Synod ’95 got round that by appealing to the “leading of the Holy Spirit” to set aside the church order.

          You should take a moment (or a few) and read Bob Godfrey’s autobiography. He came to faith in the CRC and left it only very reluctantly after he determined that they had decided that they no longer wanted to be Reformed.

          Please understand what I’m about to say. I don’t mean to be hurtful or unduly critical and I’m only judging by the meagre biography you’ve provided, but what sort of Reformed church would admit to her ministry someone who is so inexperienced in Reformed theology, piety, and practice? The CRC was once a bastion of catechism preaching and Reformed theology and piety. The CRCs were singing psalms (historic Reformed worship) after others had given them up. The CRCs were still keeping the sabbath long after others had given it up and that was only 60 or so years ago.

          Could someone with virtually no Reformed background/training sustained a classical examination back then?

          Please don’t misunderstand. I’m thrilled that you’re on the way to becoming Reformed. A lot of what we do here is to mediate the Reformed faith to folks who, like most of us here, weren’t raised Reformed. But it’s one thing to enter the Reformed faith and its another to lead a Reformed congregation.

          You might also take some time to look at the old issues of the Outlook. The whole “women in office” struggle is chronicled there in all its gory details in the 80s and 90s. Again, you’ll find a lot of stuff from Bob Godfrey there that will be useful. You should read Bratt’s history of the CRC too. It’s quite valuable. Well written and thoughtful. i took it as an apology for the “progressives” but I learned quite a lot from it.

          As to Phoebe et al. I am not a misogynistic “sit-down-and shut-up” sort of fellow but 1 Tim is pretty clear. Are we to leverage that clear passage with someone’s reconstruction of what we think might have happened when Phoebe went somewhere? Do you see what sort of hermeneutic this is? Paul says, “I do not permit…” That’s unequivocal, isn’t it? So, shouldn’t we understand Phoebe in that light? Whatever she did, and however important it was (and it was) it couldn’t have been “to teach or exercise authority” in the way that is now possible in the CRC.

          • Well put, Dr Clark.

            In the best gnostic style so prevalent in Western culture, bodies don’t matter, it seems. Once bodies are no longer seen to be relevant, then apostolic teaching seems to have no deeper ground than the cultural context. And at first, it takes a lot of thinking, talking, writing, and political positioning to surmount apostolic teaching. But once that is done, it is done. My acquaintance with this is in the Chicago Presbytery of the PCUSA. Whether one has a male body or a female body is of little consequence for anything.

            But bodies ARE centrally important, aren’t they (…resurrection of the body…). And I’m sure they are important in ways that we don’t even imagine.

            • Gregg,

              You’re on to something. The theological left has a Platonist cast to it. They have an “ideal” in mind to which they are striving which disregards physical realities, e.g., churches closing, the destruction of what most of us regard as real, created reality. I think of evangelicals as gnostics and Platonists but libs are too.

  7. Scott Roberts:

    You wrote that you “haven’t seen why we must go to the accepting sin just because we accept women in office.”

    Of course, you don’t have to accept sin. But why don’t you accept sin? It’s because Scripture says you should not accept sin. Our behavior ought to be regulated by Scripture.

    But if you accept women teaching men in the church, then you have opened the door to disobeying Scripture when it is expedient to do so.

    So you are left without a compelling reason not to accept sin. You can no longer appeal to Scripture as your authority. So accepting or rejecting sin becomes a matter of personal preference.

  8. Welcome to the Heidelblog, Rev. Roberts. I’m also an Intervarsity alum, though as a student at two different colleges rather than on staff, and I well remember that a former Intervarsity staff member at Calvin College was one of only two people in the Calvin theology department who I could respect as a committed evangelical believer in the inerrant Word of God.

    Twenty to 25 years ago I thought that young and newly Reformed men like yourself today (and like me at that time, converted out of liberalism with a fiery anger against what it does to destroy churches and souls) could fix the mess that the Christian Reformed Church was rapidly becoming. You ask about homosexuality in the CRC; I’m the reporter who back in the early 1990s exposed the CRC’s first openly gay minister, Rev. Jim Lucas, and then covered the ongoing homosexual problems at Washington DC and First Toronto CRC.

    I can’t honestly give you much encourgement today about your future in the Christian Reformed Church. Things are almost certainly going to get worse; you’re in an ethnically Dutch equivalent to what the PCUSA was just a few generations ago, and the speed of the decline is rapidly accelerating.

    However, God works primarily through the local church and perhaps for a while He has placed you there to bring the gospel to your community and edify the believers in your Bellingham congregation. Keep reading things like the Heidelblog, check the links to similar websites, and keep learning. You’ll almost certainly have to leave the CRC eventually and perhaps your time on this blog will help you and your church in finding a better denomination to encourage your church in faithfulness to God and His Word.

  9. Thanks to all who have responded. As to Dr. Clark, thanks for the reply and while I don’t take it personally about your comments, I do understand your statements. That said, I do believe that God works in mysterious ways and has placed me in a denomination in desperate need of folks willing to stand by the authority of God’s word and proclaim faithfully what is said. Truthfully, I don’t think you would be able to speak into most of the folks lives that I preach to and be heard because it is so well versed in you. While I am learning, and i have lots to learn, no doubt about it, I am slowly being able to preach from the biblical text and challenge my people to take it seriously, something that, as near as i can tell, hasn’t been done exegetically in quite a long time. I am fully committed to inerrancy and know that the day will come when I may no longer fit in here, but until then, I serve a body that is mostly from a non-reformed background and desperately in need of learning God’s word about sin, salvation and grateful living. To that I can aspire with God’s help.

    To Darrell: Thanks for the encouragement. I continue to read all sorts of stuff online and in print (something that seems to be going out of style these days). I am getting ready to start “Him we Proclaim” and “Preaching Christ from the OT”. I too went through college as an IV student and five years after graduating left the business world to go minister on campus for 5 years. During that time I really came to struggle with IV’s direction and the perspective that if you weren’t able to count salvations, you were doing something wrong, change tactic and change message where needed. I became more and more convinced that faithfully preaching the gospel was more important than counting numbers and that eventually led me out of IV and amazingly enough into the CRC. I fully anticipate that at some point I will need to leave the CRC. In fact I have been talking with some others about that possibility and currently pray that it will be later rather than sooner. However I am not naive and realize that some of the issues coming up in the next 2 years with the Belhar and the new form of Subscription could accelerate these things.

    To all: I ended up coming into the CRC via article 7 (the last person ever i believe). That said, i do have theological training, I completed an MA in Theology from Fuller and took the full greek sequence because I knew I needed as much training as I could get.

    • Mr. Roberts, et al:

      Two observations:
      1. The PCUSA first allowed women elders in 1930, the year after destroying Princeton Seminary as the only Old School seminary still in the church.
      2 My first pastorate was in the ABC/USA, what I call the Apostate Baptist Churches in the USA. I served a small, conservative country church in the most conservative region of the ABC/USA. Perhaps half of the congregations were evangelical. What I saw there was that gospel preaching alone is not enough. So long as the denominational literature is used in SS and gets into the homes, the church will be infected. Unbelief is a poison. It kills. What accompanies being a church is an apostate or apostating church is loyalty. More loyalty to the church than to Christ. Perhaps it was just that congregation, but when presented with the facts about the ABC/USA from their own literature, I was told, in essence, “American Bapstists don’t believe that. I’m an American Baptist and I don’t believe that, therefore the ABC/USA doesn’t believe that.”
      When faced with logic like that all I could do is leave.
      Finally, PCUSA churches stayed in the denomination because they didn’t tell them what to believe, or how to act, until the late 1970s when the order went out that all PCUSA churches HAD to have at least one woman elder. That’s when the EPC was formed. That’s why Tenth Pres Philly pulled out. But, for some churches, it was too late. For some souls, it was too late. The poison had killed. Those pulling out today are not Reformed except as a heritage. Most could be call “evangelical” only by a generous stretching of what the word meant in the late 1970s. The same will happen to you and your congregation, given enough time.
      While a student at Reformed seminary in the 1980s, PCA students being banned from PCUSA pulpits, this OPC student preached every other week in PCUSA pulpits all over Mississippi. People who loved to hear the Word from me, even as a woman elder gave me my check. I hope most of those congregations are now in the PCA, but I fear that in most the poison has worked these last 20 plus years, and they are still there, become less and less orthodox as time passes.

    • Scott,

      You shouldn’t assume that I work in a stuffy, old-fashioned Reformed context or don’t understand your context. I do. You’re as likely to see board shorts as suits in our congregation. Our pastor was in an AOG college and attended a Calvary Chapel before sem. None of our elders was raised Reformed. Few of our members was raised Reformed and there are very few wooden shoes in our congregation.

      Indeed, most of our students and faculty come from Reformed backgrounds. We’re most of us wild olive branches grafted into the Israel of God.

      As to preaching, amen. We teach exegetical, expository preaching here and always have. I only mentioned catechism sermons as a mark of the old Reformed piety (and then in the evening service). Those sermons are ALSO properly exegetical (of Scripture) but merely organized by the points of the catechism. The morning sermon, historically, has been an exegesis/exposition of Scripture. After all, Reformed folk have been doing “biblical theology” for hundreds of years.

      For more on this you might take a look at /Recovering the Reformed Confession/. I wrote it for fellows in your situation.

      The CRC needs to recover a proper view of Scripture but what has happened historically is that the drift first to broad evangelicalism (as in the PCUSA) and thence to liberalism produces a fundamentalist reaction which is just as non-confessional as the liberalism and evangelicalism that produced the reaction.

      The CRC is still mainly in the broad evangelical phase of its decline but increasingly that broad evangelicalism will become old-fashioned liberalism. The question, in my mind any way, isn’t “what is the trajectory?” but rather “what is the solution?” I hope the “conservatives” (better “confessionalists”) in the CRC don’t do what the conservatives in the GKN and in the PCUSA etc did, i.e., to draw lines in the sand. That never works. One line is obliterated and so the conservatives draw another line and then another and so forth. A. Kuyper has a wonderful passage warning against this very phenomenon showing why mere conservatism is never enough. We have to be “confessional.”

      See Darryl Hart’s book, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. That is a brilliant diagnosis of what has happened. Every minister in the CRC should read it if they want to understand what’s happening and what’s likely to happen and what the real solution is in the CRC.

  10. Keep up the good work Scott! The biggest problem in the CRC is the lack of solid, Christ-centered expositional preaching.

    I am not as convinced as Dr. Clark of the inevitability of the homosexual issue. I have many friends in Wesleyan (conservative Methodist/Arminian) churches that have ordained women far longer than the CRC. None the less their “moorings” are pietism, not confessionalism as was the case in the old CRC. Time will tell..

    • Kirk, anyone who knows my history in the Christian Reformed Church knows I am not a supporter of women in office, but people sometimes wondered why I had (and have) no problem working with female ministers in other denominations, and why I generally tried to be nice to the women seminarians at Calvin even when I disagreed.

      Women in office in the CRC is not the root problem but rather a symptom of the denial of inerrancy.

      Talk to a typical Pentecostal female preaher and you’ll get a totally different view of the preaching office and the pastoral call from what Reformed churches believe about office and ordination, with a lot of emphasis on the role of women prophesying in the Old Testament. It’s a wrong view, but not that much more wrong than a good conservative Lutheran or Baptist who advocates consubstantiation or believers-only baptism by full immerion or his other distinctive doctrines because he has wrongly exegeted what he rightly knows is God’s inerrant and infallible word. You’ll see similar arguments in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement for women in ministry.

      I went to seminary with a number of the CRC’s early female ministers. Some of them are inconsistent; in other words, women I wouldn’t mind seeing serve in unordained church work, people who I believe have been pulled into ordination when in a previous generation they would be Christian school teachers, missionaries, or college professors, and would be doing a good job without disrupting the church.

      But then there are others.

      You can’t get to women’s ordination in a Reformed church with the Reformed view of office and ordination without denying inerrancy. The people who are attacking the doctrine of inerrancy as supposedly un-Reformed and fundamentalist, most of whom are men rather than women, are well down the road to reaping the whirlwind in the CRC and women’s ordination is only one of a much broader list of items on their egalitarian or sometimes openly feminist or liberationist agenda.

      • For a moment, please indulge an older woman here who’s lived through some of the history of the inerrancy and feminism battles in the church.

        Without commenting on the Reformed position on ordination or office, I would like to slightly disagree with your comment by saying that it is not necessary to deny inerrancy in order to embrace Egalitarianism or homosexuality, although that would certainly be helpful toward those ends. However, it is necessary, at least implicity, to deny the authority of Scripture by removing the clear instructions of Paul regarding the authority of women over men in the church and replacing them with a Re-imagined and more culturally acceptable Pauline ecclesiology.

        [mounting soapbox now] Egalitarianism is nothing more than churchied-up secular feminism made more attractive with the make-up of made-up “exegesis” in order to appeal to the broader culture. I was there at the dawning of the Age of Feminism as a well-educated and theologically interested young woman, and being a pastorette or elderette would have been very satisfying to me–if it were not for that little detail of obedience to Scripture and the fact that I would have to hyphenate my last names which would be way too long to fit on a tastefully-sized church sign (but mostly the Scripture obedience thing.)

        Aside from the Federal Astigmatic Vision, few things agitate me more in the church than Egalitarianism and the equally unbiblical and repressive Vision Forumish faux-complementarianism that says women should not be well-educated and should wear jumpers (burquas?) and have 20 babies. What’s with the Orwellian use of Vision in reformed circles nowadays? How about teaching and practicing a robust and biblical view of Titus 2 instead of overturning the order God put into creation? [stepping down from soapbox.]

        All this to say that you can get to the acceptance of pastorettes and homosexuality and the various and odious Federal Astigmatic Vision doctrines while vigorously affirming inerrancy. All you need for the theological alchemy is a proprietary and convenient hermeneutic which allows you to escape from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Never underestimate the Enemy’s ability to get us to either add to or subtract from Scripture by whatever means necessary.

        I truly appreciate all of the faithful men in the church, including those I enjoy reading here!

            • In 2012? That idea must be the fruit of Deep Exegesis on the Mayan doomsday texts!

              My husband read this post this morning, and he and I agree that I’m better suited to be Empress of La Jolla in the New Creation. The golf should be really spectacular then ;o)

            • Invented in the land of Presbyterianism, golf, a frustrated walk that demands unending patience, is the sport of Christian pilgrims.

            • Sure, but now that Bishop Nicky Tommy will be at St. Andrews, we’re all breathlessly awaiting his “New Perspective on Golf”. We already have the Anglican golf clap, after all. My dear Hubby swears that his golf balls are all Free-will Baptists, and on bad days they are ana-ana-anabaptists.

              Back on topic, when they start installing the chick tees at Augusta National, it’s time to grab your Rapture Kit.

  11. Darrel –
    Thanks. That helps alot to understand some things going on. A friend of mine in a Colorado CRC that just issued a call asked the candidate about his stand on inerrancy and he refused to use the word, said it was loaded. Anyway, I cautioned him to ask more questions then to get at what the candidate believes about the authority of Scripture. I think I am starting to understand some of the root causes here, which just have never been problems for me. I have always believed in the authority of Scripture, and its inerrancy and right to regulate life, worship and practice. Although i am hearing more talk lately from all sorts of arenas causing me to wonder if others believe it. The constant drive to contextualize the gospel, from the missions movements, has been taken to some far extremes, as i read the word. Thanks.

    • Glad to help, Kirk.

      I’ll echo Dr. Clark’s statement about him not being in a stuffy old-fashioned hyper-Dutch church, and that he is able to reach people who are not Hollanders. By United Reformed standards, he works in an environment that is often first-generation Calvinist and culturally is much more in tune with his Southern California context rather than anything like traditional conservative Dutch culture. I disagree with him some things but the importance of reaching people who are not culturally Reformed is one on which we fully agree.

      As for me, I am anything but Dutch, though I grew up in the “New Jersualem” of Grand Rapids, worked for years with the conservative wing of the CRC, know the theology being a Calvin graduate, and can “fit into” the Dutch church culture when I need to, though it was often more helpful to be the “token Italian” in a roomful of Dutchmen. Both my Korean wife and I have been quite effective over the years in forcing Dutch people to listen to us who claim they want to “burn the wooden shoes” so they can “open up to outsiders.” That doesn’t work too well when the “outsider” ends up being more Reformed, more confessional, and **FAR** more conservative than the born-and-bred Dutchmen! Socially and culturally, I’ve got much more in common with men like Dr. D. James Kennedy than with the typical Dutch dominie. I now live and work outside a large Army installation (Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks) which may give you an idea of just how non-Dutch my world is — it’s American fundamentalism in the raw, with all its good and bad points.

      Now back to your question, here are some things to be aware of in dealing with inerrancy in the CRC since you, like me, came from the “outside” and will be thinking in American evangelical rather than Dutch Reformed categories.

      In the Christian Reformed Church, you need to be aware that certain key terms that acquired a technical meaning in American church life during the fundamentalist-modernist conflicts of the 1920s and/or the neo-evangelical/classical evangelical debates of the 1960s and 1970s don’t always have the same context in the Christian Reformed Church due to its theological rootage in the Gereformeerde Kerken. (BTW, this is not unique to the CRC; you’d find similar issues in pre-1940s American Lutheran circles which were still closely connected to German church life.)

      Theologians three generations ago in the CRC used Dutch as their primary theological medium of discussion and the best students went to the Netherlands for doctoral or other advanced study. The average theological professor and well-educated pastor in the CRC was still readily conversant with and connected to theological developments in the Netherlands as recently as a single generation ago. That means the official CRC synodical reports and decisions use Dutch categories and not American fundamentalist and evangelical categories and use English translations of Dutch terms which may not always mean the same as what you would expect.

      Unfortunately, inerrancy is one of them — you’ll hear lots of people in the CRC say that Scripture is infallible because it does not fail to save, but it is **NOT** inerrant because it contains factual and historical errors that do not affect its saving message. However, when pressed, they will say they affirm “inerrancy and infallibility as defined by the Christian Reformed Synod,” knowing that the official CRC report has serious problems and weaknesses.

      Where did stuff like this come from?

      The CRC’s official doctrine of Scriptural authority owes much more to Berkouwer than to Warfield. Similarly, the CRC’s official report on homosexuality dating back nearly four decades translates key Dutch terms in use at the time in the GKN and they are not precisely equivalent to “homosexual orientation/homosexual practice.” (Fortunately, the CRC tightened up the loopholes a bit on homosexuality, largely because the women-in-office advocates knew when I started covering the situation with Rev. Jim Lucas they needed to stop it **RIGHT THERE** before their own agenda got derailed.)

      That’s created some serious loopholes as well as a lot of confusion, which has made it very difficult if not impossible to actually hold pastors and elders accountable for denying the biblical doctrine of Scriptural authority. A seminary professor may be grilled on the issue but during the typical ordination exam for a local church pastor, too many candidates with views to hide will be able to honestly say they agree with the CRC synodical report, either because they don’t fully understand it or because they understand its loopholes very well, and unless the candidate says something really, really stupid, few if any classical examiners will be able to convince the majority of the classical delegates that somebody’s views are outside of some very fuzzy boundaries.

      If your church library does not contain a set of Acts of Synod, you need to spend time serious time in another church library in Bellingham that does.

      Read the 1972 synodical report on the Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority. You can find an index to other relevant Synodical debate leading up to that report here:


      Here is an article by Dr Robert P. Swierenga, “Burn the Wooden Shoes: Modernity and Division in the Christian Reformed Church in North America,” which will help:


      Also, get a copy of the articles in Outlook magazine by Rev. Carl Bogue on the problems of Berkouwer’s doctrine of Scripture.

      1. Berkouwer: a hole in the dike?
      Author: Bogue, Carl W. Source: Outlook vol. 46, pp. 4-8. (May 1996)

      2. Correlation versus systematics
      Author: Bogue, Carl W. Source: Outlook vol. 46, pp. 18-20. (June 1996)

      3. Berkouwer on providence and election
      Author: Bogue, Carl W. Source: Outlook vol. 46, pp. 12-15. (July/August 1996)

      4. Berkouwer and the battle for the Bible
      Author: Bogue, Carl W. Source: Outlook vol. 46, pp. 9-15. (September 1996)

      5. Berkouwer: interpreting the Scripture
      Author: Bogue, Carl W. Source: Outlook vol. 46, pp. 6-9. (October 1996)

      Since you’re a former InterVarsity staff worker, you’ll recognize that some of IVCF’s theological problems that led to the creation and growth of Campus Crusade for Christ date back to the influx of “neo-evangelical” views such as Berkouwer’s into IVCF in England and then into InterVarsity Press.

      Bottom line: The CRC lost its battle for biblical authority at least four decades ago. Since then, lots of other stuff has been coming into the CRC as examples of “factual or historical errors” in Scripture addressing “non-salvation matters” on which Scripture supposedly “does not intend to teach.”

      That’s a far cry from **ALL** Scripture being God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, exhorting and training in righteousness.

      Once the hole in the dike has been made, the water keeps pouring in with greater and greater force, eventually destroying the entire dike.

    • The sometimes loaded-ness of the term “inerrancy” has begun to bother me a bit in the evangelical church I attend, so I might know where this candidate is coming from (albeit he may just be a liberal).

      One of the problems is that any interpretation you disagree with may be called a denial of inerrancy. Disagree with an old Earth? Accuse its proponents of denying (implicitly or explicitly) inerrancy. Disagree with amillennialism? Accuse the amillennialists of denying inerrancy. And so on.

      So Eileen is right. It is not denying inerrancy that is the (main) problem, but “proprietary and convenient hermeneutics”. After all, old-fashioned liberals can claim a form of inerrancy: the Bible is inerrant in respect of its purpose, but since this is not to record historical events only, it is no argument against inerrancy that the Bible’s historical record is not without error.

      If the Bible is accepted as authoritative there is common ground to fight on (or over). We can argue over the proper hermeneutic or interpretation of certain passages while all the while agreeing that the right one is authoritative. This, to me, provides a hint of better ways out of the current mess.

  12. Pastor Roberts:

    I would also suggest that you network with the Returning Church renewal movement in the CRC. There are several other young confessionalists like yourselves in that group.

  13. Last I knew they were pretty active on Facebook. Chad Steenwyk from Holland is one of the leaders. I believe Dr. Arie Leder @CTS has been involved too. They have sponsored retreats with John Piper’s group and have hosted events in GR with Kevin Deyoung of the Gospel Coalition who has a similar group in the RCA.

  14. Hello All!

    Since when is allow for the ordination of women sub-confessional? As a member of an EPC and one training to be ordained as a minister of the Word and sacrament in the EPC I am quite appalled that the EPC’s decision would be viewed as a movement away from being a confessional body. The Westminster Standards do not address the issue. The Word of God does and anyone that has seriously taken a look at both the complementarian and Biblical egalitarian positions knows how tough a hermeneutical issue it really is.

    • Timothy, Chapter 27, Paragraph 3: The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it:

      Please note the masculine pronoun. That isn’t generic.

      I’m going to be nasty here. Your last sentence is filled with the kind of weasel words that the CRC uses to get around the clear teaching of the Word. It isn’t a tough hermeneutical issue at all, except when one wishes to find away around what the Bible clearly teaches.

      When the OPC addressed the CRC on the issue of women in the offices of elder and minister, they rather arrogantly told us that we needed to study the issue, after we had done just such a thing, and it was recorded in our minutes. Frankly, that kind of arrogance isn’t uncommon among those who seek to avoid what the Word clearly teaches. Terms like “fundamentalist” or “TR” will be used to put down the opponent when there is no good exegetical argument.

      Finally, the EPC’s application to NAPRC was rejected because the EPC wasn’t really a Reformed church, but an Evangelical one. The hope was that the EPC take that as a challenge to become a truly Reformed church. So far, I don’t think we’ve seen that happening.

    • Timothy,

      I’m going to respond to you as a mother, which I’m almost certainly old enough to be. I appreciate where you are because one of my sons in currently in training to be a pastor. Those of us who are discussing the issue here actually have studied this issue seriously, at least some of us for decades since egalitarianism arose in the church.

      Seriously, do you think there is any possibility that the Westminster guys had any idea that women should serve as pastors or elders? If not, why would they address an issue which they had no reason to believe would ever arise? How many ladies were there or at Nicea or Dordt? Why? I don’t think that the hermeneutic became difficult until the broader culture in the 20th century demanded that the church capitulate on the doctrine of male authority. Capitulation to the culture required that a new hermeneutic be designed in order to arrive at the proper conclusion.

      Seriously, let’s see how your reasoning would work out when applied to another issue involving a foundational document. Today is an appropriate day to consider what our Constitution says regarding the right of a woman to abortion. The founders didn’t address that, so it must be OK, right? Nevertheless, Justice Blackmun and his confederates found “emanations” and “penumbras” of a right to privacy which are nowhere in the, you know, *actual text* of the Constitution. But this novel approach to interpreting the Constitution was *necessary* in order to achieve the desired result–a woman’s right to murder her child. That is a secular example of precisely what you have proposed that we use when interpreting the WCF. I assert, a fortiori, that if that if a non-textual approach is unacceptable for a secular document, it is certainly unacceptable for Scripture and even for the WCF.

      Seriously, it’s also possible to create a designer data set and apply a designer algorithm to it in order to produce whatever result you desire. People with agendas (and we all have agendas) can do that with Scripture.

      Seriously, I’m not a theologian, but I have considerable experience in how to create and manipulate data, which is why Climategate was not a surprise to me and why I’m unimpressed by the claims of scientismists. I also have considerable experience writing and administering contracts, and occasionally enduring their litigation. I don’t think that you think that, to take a simple example, a contract for sale of a home that does not expressly exclude the furnishings could be interpreted after the fact by a judge to include the furnishings, do you, even if the purchaser really, really wants the furniture? Yet, that’s what you propose that we do for Scripture because some women really, really want to be pastors and elders.

      I’ve read the articles posted by CBE and CBMW. Frankly, there is some sloppiness of reasoning on both sides, and if I may editorialize a bit off-topic here, you can find extraordinarily sloppy reasoning in theological literature which is truly a shame. Back to the point, the clear and unadjusted raw text of Scripture is certainly complementarian, at least as long as you take your data from the black parts of the pages and not the white parts.

      I wish you well in your studies and preparation, and may the Lord grant you much wisdom and discernment, a spirit of obedience, and a desire to please him only.

    • John,

      I don’t believe so. It would be found in the minutes of the GA, from sometime in the late 80s. I was a rather newly minted OP minister at the time.

  15. I just read the OPC article, “May Women Speak In Church?” The author says that women are prohibited from singing special music, because singing is a form of speaking.

    I am a complementarian, but this seems like taking things too far.

    • John,

      I agree that it takes things too far but there is also the problem of relating “special music” to WCF 21! In light of the RPW we can solve that problem by doing away with special music, choirs, and uninspired songs altogether and allow God’s people to respond together with God’s Word to God’s Word.

      • I would argue that a loss of the dialogical principle of worship hastens the slide towards egalitarianism. If one’s role in corporate worship is determined by “gifting” rather than commission, then the war has already been lost, regardless of what battles remain. Hart and Muether do an excellent job of highlighting this point,

        “The special office of the minister of the Word speaks for God, and for the congregation in pastoral prayer. The general office of believers responds to God with song, confession, and praise. In these corporate responses to God, the people speak and sing with one voice, whether through the prayers of the pastor, songs sung from the hymnal, or creeds and prayers recited. Individual expressions are not keeping with the corporate character of public worship. The distinction that we are drawing here is not an argument for women’s ordination. We believe that the Bible restricts the special offices of the church to men. But the key distinction in worship is not gender but ordination. And so the limitations on worship that Scripture extends to women apply equally to unordained men (unless those men are training for office).”
        (D.G. Hart and John Muether, With Reverence and Awe, p. 101)

    • [facepalm x3 followed by *silent* primal scream] And coughing isn’t silent, so it’s forbidden to women, too. Since when did the OPC become so woodenly literal?

      I agree with you that this goes too far and totally misses the point of Paul’s admonition. In my experience this is the kind of thing that makes life challenging for those of us who want to uphold biblical complementarianism.

      Here’s a really radical idea. What if we focused on what the Scripture says about men being ordained to the positions/offices of authority and carrying out the functions thereunto appertaining?

      I’m not a fan of special music by either sex, because it strikes me as performance, but that’s my private opinion (issue.)

  16. True the WCF uses masculine language. I’d even grant that the Divines themselves would have balked at female pastors. However, the last 200 years of Biblical studies and cultural challenges have forced the church to reexamine its position. A similar issue is that of slavery. The Bible is not abolitionist. The Word of God gives instruction on how to be good slaves and good masters, yet, the church has moved from the “traditional” view of pro-slavery to abolition. How does that happen?
    To those who would say that the EPC is not a Reformed church all I can say is that you are wrong. It may not pass your personal litmus test for being truly Reformed but that does not mean the EPC is not in fact Reformed. The EPC confesses the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God, all elders must subscribe to the Westminster Standards, our TEs are being trained at WTS, RTS, etc. What makes us not Reformed??? The division among Machen’s Warrior Children is truly shameful.

    • Timothy,

      The biblical-exegetical case for evangelical feminism is quite thin. E.g., see Steve Baugh’s demolition K. Clark-Kroeger’s attempt to make 1 Tim 2 go away.

      The evangelical feminist case is exactly as Eileen says, “proprietary.” I say this as one who was not raised in the church, who was raised to be a feminist and who is decidedly misogynistic.

      We haven’t really learned anything since the Reformed, exegetically speaking, which changes the case. What we’ve done is caved in to the prevailing culture.

    • Timothy, regarding slavery, Wayne Grudem addresses this point in his book “Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth.” The book is available free in PDF form from the CBMW site. His response is longer than what I can cite here, but just briefly:

      1) Slavery in New Testament times is not comparable to slavery in recent centuries.

      2) Grudem writes, “Slavery did not exist in God’s original creation in the Garden of Eden, but marriage did, and male headship did. It is something good and noble and right, something that God established before the Fall.
      “Therefore, people who abolished slavery, based upon an appeal to biblical principles . . . were abolishing something evil which God did not create. But Christians who oppose male headship in marriage and the church are attempting to abolish something good, something that God did create. The examples are simply not parallel.”

      Grudem’s book is an 856-page encyclopedic response to egalitarianism. I would recommend everyone avail themselves of this free resource.

      Grudem discusses slavery on pp. 339-345.

      Is the EPC reformed? I would say yes, because of the reasons you cited, Timothy. I am a member of a PCUSA congregation which is moving into the EPC. I participated in a class which read through the EPC Leadership Guide, which, among other things, is a defense of Reformed theology. The EPC is reformed, but is wrong about ordination/gender issues. There also are many complementarians such as me in the EPC. The EPC has recognized this issue as secondary, and as you know, allows ordaining bodies to make their own choices regarding ordination.

    • Timothy,

      I’m not sure what Biblical Studies have been done, or by whom, that you reference in your comment which lead unavoidably to the conclusion that women should be in authority in the church or in the home. Could you be more specific so that we might evaluate those and discuss them?

      I wholeheartedly agree with you that cultural challenges have caused this issue to be raised in the church. The pertinent question, however, is whether challenges from an unregenerate culture should shape the way we read and respond to the plain language of the text of Scripture. It seems to me that our perceptions of the ambient culture should be shaped by the text and not the other way around.

      I wonder, is there is any amount of plain Scripture that would be sufficient to change your viewpoint? What about egalitarianism is most compelling to you and why is it important in the church?

      What exactly are your concerns regarding male headship? That it’s unfair to women? That the church loses the benefit of women’s giftedness? That the church will be marginalized by the culture if we adopt a straightforward reading of Genesis, as Dr. Waltke frets?

      There is no doubt that living in our culture creates cognitive dissonance when we consider male headship. But is it wise to resolve that cognitive dissonance by disregarding the explicit teaching of Scripture? Culture changes, but the Word of God never changes.

      Have women been repressed and oppressed by the culture and, yes, even by men in the church? Yes, they have. But the solution for that is preaching and teaching repentance for those sins, as my husband and one of my sons does. The solution is *not* to adopt a church version of secular feminism, the cost of which has been incalculable to women, men, and most of all to children. Do we really want to import the fruit of secular feminism–effeminate men, masculine women, and confused children–into the church?

      I have little knowledge of biblical anthropology, but it seems to me from a plain reading of Genesis that God created men and women as equals ontologically and that both bear His image, but in distinct ways, and that both sexes are necessary to fully display His image. Somehow, in ways I don’t understand, apparently we bring glory to Him by fulfilling what He has created us to be and not by being poor counterfeits of the opposite sex. We know that the Enemy wants to rob God of the glory due Him, so perhaps that is one reason why he is so intent on destroying a biblical view of gender roles.

      I’m just not clear about where your concerns lie, so could you just tell us how you think the church would be better if we adopted egalitarianism or how the church is harmed by complementarianism?

  17. Eileen:

    Hello! I appreciate your thoughtful comments and I am glad your church is moving out of the PCUSA and into the EPC.

    Regarding Biblical studies, I am a fourth year M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA.

    I have read Grudem’s book on Evangelical Feminism (I have also read Piper and Grudem’s “Biblical Manhood” along with other Complementarian books. On the Evangelical Egalitarian side I would strongly commend: “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals” by William J. Webb. His “redemptive-movement” hermeneutic is quite powerful (I’ll give you a spoiler, he concludes slavery and homosexuality are sinful). Also “Discovering Biblical Equality” edited by Gordon Fee and “Paul, Women and Wives” by Craig Keener. I would encourage you to read the 3 books just mentioned, they are very good. I have also written a short paper defending women’s ordination on the basis of the Galatians 3:28 and the New Covenant for my women in the church class.

    Grudem and other constantly make the claim that slavery in the Greco-Roman world was not the same as “modern” slavery. That is simply false, slavery in the Greco-Roman world was at least as brutal, in some cases more so.

    In regard to a plain reading of Scripture regarding women, well no one does a plain reading. Everyone reads according to a hermeneutic. A plain reading would lead 1.) to contradiction in Scripture (how can Paul command that women should be silent in church and then give instruction for women prophesying?), 2.) it would lead to the silence of women in church. The issue is very hermeneutically challenging.

    I am diametrically opposed to all types of feminism, I argue for Biblical equality.

    I do not have a problem with the Complementarian position. I applaud the wisdom of the EPC for allowing both positions to exist within the denomination. I do not wish to see either Complementarianism or Evangelical Egalitarianism become the only position of the denomination. Both positions have strong arguments, but both have their weaknesses.

    In regard to prelapsarian gender roles, the dominion covenant was given to both Adam and Eve not just to Adam. It seems part of Eve’s curse is women taking a subservient role which is then rescinded by new creation in the New Covenant.

    In regard to special office, no one choose special office for themselves, God chooses them. In the New Covenant I do not think God restricts the call to special office to males only.

    My concern is pastoral. If a young woman comes up to me and expresses that she senses God’s call to ordained ministry and she has solid Reformed theology, a quality theological education, and all the gifting to be a pastor I do not believe the Scriptures would allow me to then say “you’re not discerning God’s will correctly”. If I am to err on this matter (and at this point in my life I don’t think I am) then let me err on the side of grace.

    Blessings to you!

    • Tim,
      William Webb’s “redemptive-movement” hermeneutic is incompatible with the view of the moral law in the Westminster Standards, namely, a moral law which “forever binds all.”

      As Romans 5 explains, Adam was the federal representative in the Covenant of Works. Although Eve was included within this covenant, she was not its federal head. Unless you wish to argue that Romans 5 should rightly speak of Christ as the second Eve, it is clear that a patriarchal order was part of God’s good creation prior to the Fall.

    • Timothy,

      Just to clarify, I’m not a member of either the PCUSA or the EPC. My concerns are broader than denominational ones, although I am grateful that faithful men are addressing the advance of feminism within the church in various denominations.

      One of my sons is a ThM student (in my understanding) in his fourth year, and he is also a youth pastor. A trajectory hermeneutic is precisely what? In protestantism, and particularly the Reformed variety, we don’t have a pope, so on whose authority do we determine the trajectory of revelation and when that trajectory is sufficient to override the evident meaning of the text? This seems awfully subjective and, as I’ve said upthread, it’s a very convenient way to justify what is actually results-oriented exegesis, which, back in the pre-postmodern era we called eisegesis.

      With respect to “plain reading” of the text, perhaps “common sense reading” would do. A dear friend of our family earned a PhD at Westminster Philadelphia in the 1980’s, and that’s the way he spoke about the text. In my understanding, that’s the Reformation method. I really think you’ve set up a strawman on that issue.

      Thank you for clarifying that your concerns regarding this issue are pastoral arising from a concern for young women who feel the call and gifting for pastoral ministry. May I suggest that your responsibility as a pastor and my responsibility as an older woman in that instance is *not* to affirm her [subjective] impression that the Holy Spirit is calling her to do something which the same Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to forbid. That would make absolutely no sense at all and would be affirming her in a sin against God’s explicit instructions to the church.

      Rather, we should be united in pointing her to the instruction and admonition of Scripture to apply her calling and gifts first to her family, if God has so blessed her, and then to the service of the church, so long as she is under the authority of the men ordained to be her spiritual overseers and is not improperly exercising authority over men.

      So, for example, the daughter of a family friend was one of the first female ThM graduates from DTS. LeeAnn and her husband have had a fruitful ministry doing church planting first in Austria and now in Spain. He is the pastor, and she is involved in teaching women and developing ministries to children. That is biblical, and I don’t think she has wasted either her four years at DTS or her gifts and calling. Another friend of our family, Julie, has an MDiv from TEDS, and she has a ministry to women, particularly to single women, since God did not provide a husband for her until she was about 40. Do you think that their ministries are less in the sight of the Lord than a pastor’s? I don’t think so, and they don’t think so. I think that God has blessed their obedience.

      It seems to me that when some speak of “Biblical equality” they actually mean equivalence rather than equality. There is no serious debate that men and women are ontologically equal before God and that both are image-bearers. Both are co-heirs in Christ. But it does not follow that they are equivalent and fungible in role or purpose. If they are, why was sin imputed to the race because of Adam’s sin when Eve sinned first?

      Honestly, I can’t see how you derive authority for female pastors from Galatians 3. In the text, I find that Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, and men and women are all co-heirs. That’s a pretty radical statement for the first century! Jesus taught that there will not be marriage in the New Creation, so perhaps one might infer that at that time men and women will be absolutely equal. But, absent an over-realized eschatology, I don’t see how you get the authority from the text of Galatians for female pastors. That is, without a trajectory hermeneutic or some other device. Perhaps you could sketch out your reasoning for us.

  18. My response should have been addressed to both Eileen and John. I am sorry for leaving your name out John.

    • Timothy, no sweat. Thanks for the kindness of the clarification.

      Timothy, and any other egalitarian brothers and sisters following this thread, I have a brief question. Why did Jesus choose only men as His apostles?

  19. Roy:

    You said: “I’m going to be nasty here. Your last sentence is filled with the kind of weasel words that the CRC uses to get around the clear teaching of the Word. It isn’t a tough hermeneutical issue at all, except when one wishes to find away around what the Bible clearly teaches.”

    Clearly you have not studied both sides of the issue well. If you had you would not have referred to my last sentence as being filled with “weasel words”. Be brave my friend, really dive into studying both sides of the issue!

    • Timothy,

      Clearly, you have made an unwarrented assumption.

      I studied this issue in the late 1970s throughly, and reviewed it carefully in the late 1980s.

      You comment to me is exactly what the CRC said to the OPC after we had studied the issue.

      The hermeneutical issues arise on this question only when one doesn’t wish to accept what the text says, and what the church has understood the Word to say for some 1900 years. Eileen is quite correct.

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