From a reader who wishes to have his name withheld comes the following letter:
“Your editorial, ‘About Guests at Communion,’ (Nov. 1, 1984) was well worth reprinting and reflects careful work of Classis East in yesteryear. With the contents of this article I am in full agreement.
“There is a further question, a formal question then, that is raised by the article, especially by your words ‘. . . a very significant and helpful decision was reached, a decision which is, of course, still binding in our churches.’ (emphasis yours) Since you write ‘our churches’ without any qualifier such as “in Classis East,” I assume you mean that this decision of Classis East is binding upon all the congregations of both classes. My question is this: are all classical decisions of a general, far-reaching nature, binding upon all the churches? I understand, of course, that if a classical decision is appealed to Synod, and Synod speaks on it one way or another, the resulting decision is binding upon all the churches. But what if only one classis speaks? Also, is there a procedure in place so that such decisions are communicated to the churches in general, or to the consistories of the churches in general?
“I am aware of significant decisions taken recently by one classis, which are binding upon all the churches of that classis, but which are being ‘violated’ by the churches of the other classis! Before I go any further, I would appreciate your answers to the questions raised above.
Cordially in the Lord,”
My correspondent raises a very interesting question, or series of questions, which more than one individual asked me orally after the editorial in question. In reply, the following:
1. In a strictly legal sense, of course, the answer to this question must be negative. A decision made in Classis East and never appealed to Synod and adjudicated by Synod is technically binding only in and for the congregations of that classis, not for the congregations of Classis West unless and until Classis West would make a similar declaration, or unless and until a concrete case would be carried to Synod by way of protest and appeal and the Synod would adopt a similar position.
2. This, in turn, raises a very interesting further question, because two of the churches which now resort in Classis West were in Classis East at the time this decision was made there. I refer to Randolph and South Holland. And in the case of South Holland, I happen to know from my days as pastor there, that the general principles adopted by Classis East were considered so significant that a copy of them was pasted in the consistory’s minute book [undoubtedly in the days of my predecessor as pastor there, the Rev. M. Schipper). My assumption would be that unless these consistories have taken action to the contrary, these decisions are still acknowledged as binding by these two consistories.
3. In a moral sense these decisions are surely binding in our churches. I say this on the following grounds: a) The decisions were published in full at the time they were made by Classis East. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, the classis decided specifically to instruct the Stated Clerk to publish them because of their importance. Since then, of course, I have twice published them in our Standard Bearer. They are, therefore, very public. b) No one (individual, consistory, or classis) has protested against these decisions to Classis East. And it would, of course, have been very immoral of anyone to hold that these decisions were principally wrong and yet not to attempt to convince the churches and the classis that they were wrong. c) The decisions are morally binding, too, and in the ultimate sense of the word, because of their intrinsic worth: they are sound principles which cannot be gainsaid. And while I am on the subject, let me emphasize that this latter point, to me, is the most significant. The question is not ultimately whether something is technically settled and binding because it has been adopted by a majority vote: after all the “half-plus-one” has been wrong many, many times in church history. Nor is this the underlying principle of Article 3 1 of the Church Order. But the deepest question is whether something is in harmony with the Word of God and cannot be proved to conflict with the Word of God and the Church Order, as Article 31 puts it.
4. In the light of the above, I am not prepared to make the sweeping and very general statement that “all classical decisions of a general, far-reaching nature” are “binding upon all the churches.” I would first want to know, for one thing, what is meant by “a general, far-reaching nature.” I would also want to know if a given decision is indeed pertinent for all the churches. And above all, I would want to know if there is a principle involved.
5. As to the final paragraph of my questioner’s letter, the following: a) Under our present system, our people and our churches in general can hardly be aware of decisions made by a classis. Few, if any, decisions are published literally. So-called reports of classis are little more than news releases today, and sometimes they are significant for their lack of news. b) In this light it is difficult for me to understand how churches of one classis can “violate” decisions of another classis. One can hardly violate a decision of which he is not aware. c) I do not know what my correspondent means by “before I go any further.”
This leads me to make a few editorial remarks.
In the first place, there has been a change in our churches with respect to reports of classical meetings. Some of us can undoubtedly recall that in former years reports of classical meetings were published separately as “supplements” in our Standard Bearer. At that time the reports were rather detailed and extensive, too, although always the stated clerk of classis had to exercise discretion when it came to publishing matters of a personal nature. Later—I have not checked on the date—these reports were included with the News department of the Standard Bearer; and about that same time they began to have more and more the character of news releases and, as I said, sometimes with little real reportorial news of classical decisions. Personally, I do not think this has been a change for the better. My reason, in general, is that the churches—and I mean our people in general, not only delegates to classis and consistories—have a right to know and ought to know what is going on at classical meetings. And sometimes, in fact, it is important that they know literally. This knowledge ought not to come by hearsay or by the dangerous and unreliable “grapevine.”
In the second place, this leads me to suggest that there could be better communication between our two classes. At present the only communication of an official kind takes place on those few occasions when the work of classis requires the presence of the delegates ad examina of the other classis. And technically this is all that is required. But there is much to be said, I believe, in our small denomination and under our arrangement of two classes, in favor of closer correspondence between the classes. Why could not our two classes make one another aware of their decisions, or at least of their significant decisions? We are small, and we need one another. I can remember the time (in the pre-1953 years) when our two classes grew apart, until finally it was one classis versus the other at our Synodical meetings, and until it came to pass that Classis West actually resented the presence of the late Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff at its meetings, and said so. Now I am not so naive as to think that this came about solely because of lack of communication. Nevertheless, lack of communication was indeed a factor, as some subsequent events also proved. And if some communication can help in creating and maintaining good relationships, then, it seems to me, this is one of the easiest things to accomplish.
Think about it.