“And whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding . . . .”
The Dutch has: “en’t gene door de meeste stemmen goedgevonden is, zal vast en bondig gehouden worden.”
The parliamentary rules of Synod express this same rule in a slightly different form. We find under 1, 3—“A main motion, as soon as passed, becomes a decision of Synod.” The same rule is at least implied in Section V where the idea is negatively stated:“After Synod has decided upon a certain matter it may not be annoyed by the same matter being brought up again unless someone voting in favor of the question when it was decided has undergone a change of mind. For such to bring matters once decided upon again before Synod three motions are available:” This rule implies that whatever is once decided must be considered “settled (vast)” and “bondig (bondig).”
The underlying idea of this rule is fundamental for the maintenance of good order in ecclesiastical assemblies. She may not be retarded in her proceedings by continued discussion or debate of matters once decided. If there are serious objections to decisions taken, these must be brought in the orderly way of appeal. Moreover, those who so hamper the proceedings of the ecclesiastical assembly do not merely violate a rule but are guilty of sin and offense in the church. Whenever the course prescribed here is not followed, the seed of discord is sown and much time is consumed that should be devoted to other matters. This was certainly the case in our own Classical meetings in October of 1953. The matter of roll call and seating of delegates was before the body. This matter was in the process of time and after extended debate brought to a vote. The matter should have then been considered settled and binding but Classis was detained from proceeding with the order of business because there were those recalcitrants who trampled under foot all law and order and refused to recognize the legally seated delegates at the Classis. They violated Article 31 and by doing so forced the Classis to spend considerable additional time on a matter that was already decided legally by a majority vote.
As for the rule itself, we may note the double expression: “settled and binding.” This is not a mere needless duplication. The first word expresses that “a thing is decided, established by proper measures and, therefore, has the status of a legal decision.” This is no hierarchy and certainly does not preclude the possibility of appeal and reconsideration but it merely denotes that a decision once taken must be recognized as Such. It is finished. So it has been decided and so it stands unless further action follows in the proper manner through which the decision is repealed or revoked. The second term: “binding,” indicates that all the churches are obligated to live up to the decisions of the assemblies concerned. This follows from the Act of Agreement. We may speak of ecclesiastical assemblies as being advisory bodiesbut then it should not be overlooked that under the church order the advice that proceeds from these bodies has a “binding character.” Refusal to live up to the decisions is equal to breaking the Act of Agreement and severing from the denomination.
This point is so. vital that Monsma and Van Dellen speak of it as a “jewel of great value” and add that “it is as indispensable for the Reformed church government as the connecting-rod is for your car.”
I. Relation of Major Assembly Decisions to These of Minor Assemblies
The question implied in the above sub-title fellows from the binding character of ecclesiastical decisions. Is this relatively true only or is this absolutely so? Partly because this matter has already been touched upon in previous writings and partly because we will have occasion, D.V., to consider it more fully in connection with a later article in our Church Order, we will limit our comments here to two questions. They are: (1) Can a major ecclesiastical assembly nullify or invalidate a decision of a minor assembly, and (2) Must a minor assembly bow unconditionally to the decisions of the major assembly in every case where there is a conflict of opinion?
Regarding the first question, we would quote the following from “The Church Order Commentary” since we concur with this view. On page 143 we find this answer given:
“No. In the church of Rome this would most assuredly be the case. Also with the churches which regard the denomination to be the real church or church unit and local congregations aid the minor assemblies of the churches as divisions of the one real church. But according to the Reformed conception and set-up, Biblically formed and historically conditioned, the local congregation is the unit, a complete church of Christ. Major assemblies most certainly can deliberate and decide. But if their decisions are contrary to decisions taken by minor assemblies, these minor assemblies must conform themselves to the conclusions of the major assemblies. Either by actual reconsideration of the question, or by silent acquiescence. As a rule the latter method is followed. Practically it does not make much difference Whether one looks upon an adverse decision of a major assembly as an invalidation or nullification of the minor assembly’s decision, or as being essentially an advice, and no decision to nullify the minor assembly’s conclusion. The minor assembly as a rule follows the advice of the major assembly. And it must do so, inasmuch as all the churches have agreed to submit themselves to the opinion of the majority and to abide by decisions mutually taken. Only when the Word of God for bids may any church or group of churches refrain from abiding by the decision of the major assemblies. But for all this, major assemblies do not dictate and they do not have the inherent right to invalidate decisions of minor assemblies. The local church or group of churches do not receive superior orders which they must obey without further question, but they receive conclusions reached by common consent, and as such they will respect these conclusions. And as such they will accept them as their own, either formally, or by silent acquiescence.”
The above quotation in part also answers our second question. To it, however, we will add three things. First of all, submission to our ecclesiastical decisions is never absolutely unconditional. The church order in this same article provides for the privilege and the right of appeal. In the second place, a church or group of churches which have dissenting views from those adopted in the major assemblies and which, after proper appeal, remain unsatisfied, must by virtue of the Act of Agreement, submit to the decision of the majority. On this rule, or principle rests the possibility of maintaining an orderly federation of churches. Finally, if the differences are very vital or serious that submission is ethically impossible, the only alternative is severance of the denominational bond. When the latter occurs, those dissenting from the official and legally adopted position of the churches, do not have right or claim upon the denominational name or property of the churches. Only thieves and robbers have the audacity to press such unrighteous claims.
M. Was Article 31 Violated in 1953
Much has been both said and written about this in the past. I have before me several documents which were written by those who have left the fellowship of our churches and in which they advance the claim that with respect to them Article 31 was flagrantly violated by our churches. It is not my intention to elaborate upon the arguments advanced, nor to repeat all that has already been written concerning this history. To do so would be to extend our discussion of this Article to several more issues of The Standard Bearer. Rather, we merely want to state in the present connection that we deny the allegations made by Kok, Blankespoor, et alii and wish to point out one matter which h& been frequently mentioned but, in our opinion, not emphasized sufficiently. This point exposes the claim that “our right of appeal was denied” as a fallacious lie and makes clear as we stated earlier in this article, that not we but they violated Article 31 at the Classis meetings in 1953. The point is that the matter in question was a matter that concerned the calling of the roll or the seating of legal delegates. If the matter had been one regarding a decision involving doctrine or the like and they had been denied the right of appeal, it would be an entirely different story. But this was not the case. Classic decided by a majority vote who were the legal delegates from the First Church. Kok and others refused to recognize this decision as settled and binding. Such refusal was tantamount to saying that Classis had become schismatic in allying themselves with those who did not represent one of the churches in the classis. It meant that regardless of whom the Classis seated and officially recognized as proper delegates, they, as mere individuals could defiantly ignore this action by the Classis and determine for themselves who were and who were not delegates. Such conceited arrogance marked those who in their rebellious ways attempted to take all law in their own hands. Furthermore, they were never denied the right of appeal as they claim. It was never demanded of them that they must “submit or get out” To present it as such is the lie. They were required to acknowledge that the decision of Classis, taken by majority vote, was legal and not schismatic. This was required of them so that it would be further possible for them to work with the legally recognized delegates during the ensuing sessions of Classis. But this they refused. They obviously thought that they could continue to be represented in the Classis and do the work of Classis without recognizing some of the delegates as having legal status. But what nonsense is that? It is the evil of open rebellion, taking all law and order in one’s own hands. They indeed, violated not only Article 31 but the entire spirit of the Church Order in the most flagrant manner. And unless they receive the grace of repentance, God will also judge their church political sins!