“In places where the consistory is to be constituted for the first time or anew, this shall not take place except with the advice of the classis.”
Decisions pertaining to this article.
“The customary usage for the organization of a new congregation is as follows:
1. A letter of request is directed to the classis or mission committee, expressing the desire to organize a congregation in a certain named locality, and signed by the heads of families or by adult single persons who live in that locality.
2. The classis or the mission committee shall thereupon deliberate whether such organization is possible or desirable, observing whether there be among the signators, persons suitable for consistory members, at the same time taking into account the neighboring churches. In case classis or the mission committee decides to grant the request it appoints a committee to carry out the organization.
3. In order to organize the congregation the committee meets with the persons concerned, who have meanwhile requested their certificates of membership, or if it be impossible to have their certificates transferred, those present shall give testimony one of another that they were members in full communion and of good report in the congregation from which they are now separating. After a service of worship shall have been conducted under the guidance of the committee, the latter shall request those present to tender their certificates, in as far as possible. The committee having found the certificates in good order and having accepted them, they shall proceed to election of officebearers, who shall immediately upon their election be installed in their respective offices.
4. In such situations as this the election cannot be performed otherwise than by free election by the vote of the male membership, whose testimonials were found in order and accepted. Following the rule for free election it is required, in order to be chosen by the first ballot, to receive a two-thirds majority. In case of a reballoting an unqualified majority shall be decisive.
5. It is recommended that at this same meeting, in the presence of a notary public, the documents pertaining to the incorporation of a new congregation be brought in order.”
(Adopted by the classis of June 6, 7, 1934; and Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)
Before we discuss the content of Article 38, we wish to make a few sundry remarks about the decisions of our Classis and Synod pertaining to this article. About a year and a half ago Classis West was confronted with the situation where the present congregation of Loveland, Colorado, desired affiliation with our churches and made application to the Classis. Article 38 was cited as a ground for directing this request to Classis West instead of to the Mission Committee. Or, rather, since the congregation of Loveland was an already organized church, the Mission Committee deemed it outside of their jurisdiction to admit them into the denomination and advised them to apply to Classis West, which they also did. However, Classis West took cognizance of the fact that the rules under Article 38 were adopted prior to the organization of our Synod and, therefore, felt that where the term “classis” appears in these rules, no single classis is meant but the General Classis which is equivalent to the present Synod. Moreover, it was felt that when a church is admitted into the denomination, this is a matter of denominational interest and concern rather than of any individual Classis and so Classis West referred this request to the Synod.
If this action was proper, it would seem that here again we have an instance where the committee on re-editing the Church Order could make a few corrections by changing the word “classis” to “synod” since our ecclesiastical structure is now complete. However, before that is done it might be worthy to note that the Christian Reformed Church obviously does not take the position that was taken in our Classis West. Their rules as found in “The Manual of Church Order” by Stuart and Hoeksema speak of “presenting the petition for organization to the Classis and, further, “the Classis considers whether such organization is possible.” Now it is understood that there is perhaps a difference between a group that seeks organization in a certain denomination of churches or an already organized church that seeks affiliation with a. certain denomination. However, essentially we do not see that it makes any difference. It is solely a question as to whether the admitting of a group or an organized church from without is a matter for Classical or Synodical determination. Our opinion would be that it belongs to the latter since the group or church that is admitted is not admitted merely into a certain Classis but is admitted into the denomination. We would not say that it is wrong in a larger church organization to empower the Classes to act in matters such as these provided that is done with the approval of and in the presence of the deputies of Synod. For the latter, however, there is no provision made in this article or in the attached rules. The second thing we want to mention in this connection are the elements that are mentioned in rule 2 and that determine whether the request for organization is to be granted. I would suppose that other things could be added here but only two things are mentioned: (1) whether there is suitable, qualified, capable material in the group seeking organization to be officebearers; and (2.) whether such organization is deemed advisable in light of the proximity of the group to other churches.
The first of these is undoubtedly of fundamental importance. A church cannot exist without the offices and the offices cannot function without competent, qualified men who are fitted by God to perform the work of His church. Wherever God calls His church into manifestation in the world, He also places therein men whom He has equipped and called to serve Him in the offices. Where, therefore, these are lacking it would be wrong to proceed to organize a congregation. It would be
The second element mentioned in this connection may mean various things. It may, for example, have reference to geographic proximity. The meaning then is that investigation reveals that this group that seeks organization is geographically situated so that it is very impractical, if not impossible, for them to affiliate with a neighboring church. .No other church is near enough. It may also mean, however, to reflect upon the relation of a group that seeks organization to the church or churches of its own vicinity. For example, a group may consider that the church to which it belongs is too big. Its very largeness is detrimental spiritually in various ways. It sees advantages in organizing a smaller church. Should it then make such a request, the Classis would have to determine whether or not this is advisable in light of all the circumstances. And, finally, when the rule speaks of “taking into account the neighboring churches” the element of agreement of faith is not to be ruled out. A new group seeks affiliation with a group of established, neighboring churches. A fundamental element which will determine whether or not that group will be admitted as a sister church is the question as to whether or not they are agreed in the faith. It may be argued that no group would request affiliation if this were not the case. Certainly they would not ask to be admitted into a federation of churches with which they were doctrinally in disagreement! However, other factors enter into such requests so that this is not always the case even though normally it should be. History has shown this as is evident from our own experiences in Hamilton and Chatham and, therefore, too much caution cannot be exercised in determining the spiritual, confessional proximity of any group that may seek admission into the federation of our churches.
Another matter mentioned in these rules that is worthy of consideration is the manner in which the organization of a new church is to take place. The directives set forth in rule 3 are very plain so that we may refrain from further comment on this for the present. We can speak of this in connection with the article itself.
Of interest is the fourth rule under Article 38. In the first place because the rule limits voting to the male membership, a practice we are convinced is not only Biblical and, therefore, maintained by our churches to this day but also a practice that is rapidly falling into disuse in Reformed circles generally. The Reformed Churches no longer speak of women voting. That is a generally accepted practice. They have gone a step further in the wrong direction and at the last held Synod were occupied with the question of women holding office in the church. The Synod took the position that this was not permissible but we would predict that it is only a matter of time before this issue will reappear and be adopted. If women are allowed the vote, they cannot be refused the office. In the Christian Reformed Churches there is, as far as I know, no unanimity of thought on this matter. I believe that the practice is to leave the question of women suffrage up to each consistory and the result of this is that if you are a woman and belong to one church you will be refused this privilege but if you transfer your membership to a neighboring church of the same denomination it will be granted to you. There should be a Synodical rule in matters of this nature so that there is uniformity of practice throughout the denomination. In our Protestant Reformed Churches the stand is taken that limits the vote to male-membership as is proper. It is the historically Reformed position based on Scripture.
Rule 4 also mentions a two-thirds majority vote as necessary for the election of office bearers on the first ballot in a newly organized church. It has often been said that our church order knows only of a simple majority (Art. 31). Here, however, is an instance where more than a simple majority is required and if it is necessary in this case, there is no reason why there could not be other circumstances in the church where decisions can be made only by more than a. simple majority. For example, a decision to rescind a previous action where our present rules require only a simple majority.