Why are men not fulfilling their rightful place as leaders within the Church, community, and homes? Recently I left an Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian church because the entire elder board consisted solely of women. What is the official position on women elders within the Reformed movement?


I wish I knew why specifically men were not fulfilling their duties in the church, community and home, but I'm afraid I don't. Probably, there are many different answers to this question. In my own experience, I have seen this happen as a result of a number of factors, but I don't know how universally applicable these are. The factors have included such things as:

╖ Busy schedules prevent many men from spending time with their families and in church. Women are more likely to have the time to dedicate to these matters if their husbands are the sole breadwinners.

╖ For many generations, men failed to treat women with the respect and honor due them. As a result, in more recent years women's desire for the power and influence of leadership has increased in order that they might secure these things for themselves.

╖ The modern portrayal of the gospel is highly truncated. We tend to emphasize a once-for-all-time conversion experience rather than a lifetime relationship with Christ. We tend to emphasize individual salvation over the corporate salvation with the church. We tend to downplay the importance of the church and of corporate worship. This has caused many people to think of church and of godly living as irrelevant.

╖ The high rates of divorce and single-motherhood have thrust many women into the position of household leader. It seems only natural for this to affect the way they approach subsequent leadership issues, such as leadership in the church, leadership in subsequent marriages, leadership in the community, etc.

╖ Both men and women are fallen creatures. If it is men's duty to fulfill his leadership in these areas, and if it is women's duty to support men's duty, then the tendency of fallen men will be to divest themselves of their duties and the tendency of fallen women will be to take these duties for themselves.

╖ Theological error (beyond the truncation of the gospel already mentioned) is also the basis for some of these problems. Many churches do not interpret the Bible as authoritative, accurate and/or applicable to modern times when it speaks to these issues of leadership. Other churches believe the Bible is applicable, accurate and/or authoritative, but they simply interpret the relevant passages differently from the Reformed tradition (not that the Reformed tradition is without error in this area).

╖ Statistically speaking, I'm told that more women than men are believers and church attendees. This would tend to reduce the number of male candidates for church office.

I'm sure there are also many other causes of the symptoms you note.
On the specific question of the ordination of women, there is no consensus in the modern Reformed movement. One reason for this is that it is exactly that -- a movement, not an organization. Movements have no "official" positions on anything. Only organizations such as denominations and churches have "official" positions.

Historically, it was the fairly universal (as opposed to "official") Reformed position that women could not be ordained. But now, many churches that have been traditionally Reformed have changed their views on this subject. Some of the largest traditionally Reformed churches, such as the Presbyterian Church, USA, now ordain women. Of course, they have also undergone other changes that would now distance them greatly from the Reformed tradition, but they still claim that tradition as their own (though they do not respect it as much as they used to). The Christian Reformed Church recently split over this same issue, and other other denominations leave the decision up to individual churches (e.g the Evangelical Presbyterian Church). Many other more conservative denominations will not ordain women, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America.

Of course, in the more conservative church, the argument against ordaining women is based on Scripture, and Scripture is held to be applicable and authoritative in this area (as in all areas to which it speaks).

A minority of Reformed thinkers, including myself, believes that the Bible teaches that we are to have deaconesses as well as deacons. We believe that 1 Timothy 2-3 establishes this case, and that Phoebe is an example of a woman who held this office.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.