...

Independentism 

It is rather striking that the attorney for the opposition in Superior Court attempted to show that the church government of the Protestant Reformed Churches, under the Church Order, was more or less congregational and independentistic (as the court records will, undoubtedly, show); in 1924 he knew very well that the Christian Reformed Church, under the same Church Order, adhered to the Presbyterian form of church government. 

In proof of this, I quote from the court records of our case in 1925.

Dr. Beets was in the witness chair: 

“So I assume that your connection with this church and the work you have performed as a writer of these books, and your connection with synod as stated clerk has given you occasion to become well informed on your church order and your church government?

“I trust so, yes, sir. 

“Well, do you know, Rev. Beets, what the duty of the synod is, or what is synod?

“Synod is the broadest judicatory of our denomination. 

“And what is next? 

“Below it? 

“Yes. 

“It is the classis. 

“And then below that is what? 

“Consistory. 

“As I understand it, each church has its own consistory? 

“Yes. 

“Each local body? 

“Yes. 

“Each congregation, so to speak, and this I assume is the Presbyterian form of government and so conceded to be, is that correct? 

“Yes, except Presbyterians speak of session where we speak of consistory. “Just, simply different names but representing substantially the same bodies? 

“Yes, sir. 

“In other words, it is a representative form of government in your church as distinguished from the congregational plan; is that right? 

“Yes, sir, we have the Presbyterian form of church government. 

“There is a difference between that and the congregational form of government?

“Indeed, yes, sir. 

“Just briefly what is the difference? 

“Well, I can best illustrate the difference between the denomination of the Presbyterian faith and order and the congregational one—

“I mean now just with reference to its government. 

Yes, well, I would say, I will illustrate it by saying that the congregational form of government reminds of the form of the confederacy of our thirteen original colonies. The Presbyterian form of government reminds of the way our present federal republic is constituted. 

“Well, isn’t this true that in the congregational form of government the real authority rests in the congregation itself; its real governing body is the congregation? 

“Yes, sir. 

“And in the Presbyterian form of government it is representative? 

“Yes, sir. 

“In these various bodies that you have named. 

“Yes, sir.” 

Thus far the quotation. 

When the records are published in full, as they, undoubtedly, will, they will reveal that there is considerable difference between the attorney’s conception of Reformed Church government in 1925 and in 1954. 

Both attorneys wanted to prove from the Articles of Association that we did not stand on the basis of the Presbyterian form of church government. From one of them I quote as follows: 

“May I make one observation? They have been talking here in this case about Presbyterian form: That has been Mr. Tubbs’ questions to various witnesses. That also has been announced here in various ways about Presbyterian form. Now it is very important to show what that Presbyterian form is, and how this one differs from it, and that is very, very clearly shown in. those articles. I think that is very important.” 

The other attorney continued to question me on the question of the advisory or judicatory power of classis and synod, and tried to make me admit that, in our church government, the later bodies have no authority whatsoever, just because I insisted that no classis has direct authority over the consistory to suspend or depose them from office. This became so evident that once, in cross examination, we had the following dialogue: 

“Mr. Linsey, you will never make me admit that we have the congregational form of government. You might just as well quit. 

“Who is asking you to? 

“You do.” 

This Mr. Linsey did not deny. He simply continued with another question. 

In court, also my history of the Protestant Reformed Churches was quoted rather extensively to prove that we always denied that classis or synod have any authority or jurisdiction whatsoever, and that, therefore, we really adhere to the congregational form of government. But, of course, the quotations were, as usual, partial and therefore false. What we maintained and still maintain is that synod and classis certainly do not have the same jurisdiction over the consistory as the consistory has over the congregation, and that they can never depose local officebearers. Synod and classis has authority over all matters that are plainly denoted as such in the Church Order, and that does not include the deposition of officebearers except in some very special cases. 

That, in our history of the Protestant Reformed Churches, we do not deny all jurisdiction to the broader gatherings, is very evident from the “History” itself.

When the classis (Grand Rapids East) demanded of the consistory that they place their pastor before the question whether he fully agreed with the Three Points adopted by the synod of 1924, they refused, not on the ground that classis had no authority per se to make such a demand but on the ground that synod had already decided finally on the matter, that this very question whether to place the pastor of Eastern Ave. before such a demand was before synod as a motion, but that this broadest gathering had rejected it; and that they even had not further moved to make such a demand after a protest had been delivered on the floor of the synod in which it was plainly stated that he did not agree with the Three Points. 

In other words, the consistory of Eastern Ave. at the time recognized that the jurisdiction of the synod was above that of the classis and that, therefore, classis went beyond its proper jurisdiction. 

But this was, of course, not the end. 

The classis once more decided to place the consistory of Eastern Ave. virtually before the same demand. 

And again, the consistory did not refuse on the ground that classis had no jurisdiction whatsoever, but on the ground that this matter was not and could not possibly be legally before classis and that classis, in order to pursue the legal way in this matter, would have to send, in the proper way, a new overture to synod and appeal to that body. It proved, in a long document, that the whole matter, including the question of discipline, was before synod, that this body had even considered the question with which classis Grand Rapids East now approached the consistory of Eastern Ave. but had never acted upon it. 

Hence, again, the consistory claimed, not that the classis never had any jurisdiction, but that the jurisdiction of the synod was above that of the classis. 

And now I quote literally to refute the contention of the opposition that we always claimed that synod and classis have no authority: 

“Consistory does not question that Synod possesses the ultimate authority (Italics mine) to interpret our Confessional standards. But neither does the Consistory want Classis to assume a position which indicate a denial of the fact, that Synod also possesses ultimate authority (Italics mine) in matters pertaining to case of discipline. And Consistory maintains that Classis has no authority (Italics mine) to reopen a case against the pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, against whom so many attacks were launched and so many complaints lodged and protests written, and who left Synod with the testimony of the largest assembly of our churches that he is fundamentally Reformed.” 

This shows very plainly that the consistory at the time, nor I (who wrote the entire document together with another member of the consistory, and which was adopted by the whole consistory), had no notion to deny the authority of classis and synod.

Hand-Shaking 

From brother Joe King I received the following communication: 

“Dear Editor, 

“At our Officebearers Conference we discussed the topic “The shaking of hands with the minister after the sermon.” We had a very interesting discussion, though there were questions to which we did not get a satisfactory and decisive answer. And, therefore, it was decided to ask you as editor of the Standard Bearer to write an article on this topic with these three divisions; Its source; Its meaning; and Its value.” 

Well, that is quite an assignment! 

I wish I had been present at that conference. Perhaps, I could have gained a little more light on the subject. But I was given to understand that it was a conference exclusive of the ministers. If the ministers were present, so I was given to understand, they usually do most of the talking. This I can very well understand. But now this request comes, I wish I had attended and heard the discussion. 

This is true, especially since I am afraid that I most probably can offer nothing new on the subject. 

I will, therefore, be very brief. And if you want more the brethren better come again and throw a little more light on the discussion they had in their conference. 

As to point one, I have nothing. 

This does not mean that I did not investigate. I consulted different sources, even the Acts of the early synods by VanderVeen and Reitsma. But I failed to find any material on the origin of the custom of handshaking with the minister after the sermon. There is nothing in the Church Order about it. I thought, perhaps, that I could find something on it in connection with Art. 81, in connection with “censura morum.” But in this, too I was disappointed. I found nothing in Bouman or Rutgers. 

But I will try again, and if I find something, I will let you know. 

As to the second point, it stands to reason that here again I have to rely on my own interpretation of the custom. If I could find nothing on the origin of the custom, it is not likely that I should find anything on its meaning. The difficulty is, of course, that there is no article on it in then Church Order. 

But I can say something about it. 

That the elders (for it strictly belongs to them, not to the deacons, although in our churches the later also shake hands after the sermon) shake hands with the ministers after the sermon, does not mean that in every respect they agree with the sermon. They may differ in regard to some statements, as long as they are not in conflict with Reformed truth. They may differ on the interpretation of the text on which the minister preached as long as that interpretation is not in conflict with the word of God in general. 

But the meaning of this custom is, undoubtedly, that the consistory puts its stamp of approval upon the contents of the sermon: 

a. From the viewpoint of its being the preaching of the word of God. 

b. From the viewpoint of its being sound Reformed truth according to the Reformed Standards. 

c. From the viewpoint of its being inoffensive in the right sense of the word. The truth, of course, is always an offense to the ungodly. But sometimes a minister uses the pulpit to spit out his personal gall. In that case, the consistory should rebuke him, and if it is rather serious the minister should apologize from the pulpit.

As to its value, that should be rather evident from the foregoing. 

It is a support for the minister to know that his preaching has the backing of the consistory officially. The minister needs this, for he is a sinful and weak man and prone to err. No one knows better than the minister himself how serious and difficult it is to preach the word of God from Sabbath to Sabbath. Especially when wrong doctrines prevail in the congregation and the minister is called to oppose them, it is a strong support for him to know that the consistory supports his preaching. 

By the same token, it is a safeguard for the congregation. If the minister is weak in doctrine and inclined to err from the Reformed truth, it is good for the congregation to know that they have a good consistory that watches over the preaching of the word and that reveal their watchfulness by shaking hands or not shaking hands 1 with the minister after every sermon. 

But I would suggest that this shaking of hands is done by the consistory officially and that, therefore, they wait until they meet after the sermon in the consistory room. It is not always possible for every individual member of then consistory on the spur of the moment to make up his mind as to whether the minister preached sound doctrine or not. Besides, if one or more of the elders refuse to shake hands with the minister in the auditorium this is public and the congregation watches. For these reasons it is, to my mind better to wait with shaking of hands till the consistory has retired in the consistory room, and then, in some way (perhaps, by appointing one elder for the purpose) make the approval of the sermon official by the whole consistory.