“Church Order and Anarchy”

In the April 1979 news bulletin of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen there appears a quotation from this rubric, which was entitled: “Women in Office” (Standard Bearer, Feb. 15, 1979, page 235). That article commented on a letter from North Blendon Christian Reformed Church which appeared in the Banner. In that letter, the consistory of North Blendon informed the denomination that they “do not and will not consider this decision of Synod (on women in office of deacon) settled and binding upon the conscience and practice of our congregation.” The A.C.R.L. Bulletin uses my article to point out that no anarchy is involved. I would quote part of their article and comment on some of their criticism. Those who would desire the entire article, can write the A.C.R.L., Box 1303, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.

In the article, there is pointed out two “misconceptions.” They write:

Misconception number one holds that the “lower ruling bodies” are the servants of the supreme ruling body: synod. Misconception number two holds that classes and synods are the servants of the local consistory as the supreme ruling body. Both suffer from an error which they have in common: they discuss the entire issue in terms of who is The Boss in the church. The implied premise is that someone must be the final authority, either the consistory or synod. The one holds that ministers and elders are the errand boys of synod. The other holds that the delegates to classes and synods are the errand boys of the local consistory. Both misconceptions destroy the integrity of the office as it has been established by Christ in the Church.

The article continues by explaining what is the proper relationship between consistory and classis and synod:

They (classis and synod) are there to serve the local consistories. They are called together upon the request of the local churches, which takes turns in convening them, so that no one church is continually burdened with the organizational work involved, while maintaining the principle of equality among the churches. When their work is completed, they cease to exist. They are to act only upon matters duly brought there by the churches themselves. They are never to initiate action on their own. Major assemblies that go beyond the agenda presented by the churches are one of the greatest dangers in Reformed church polity. Delegates to classes and synods have a task that is limited by the Church Order, their credentials and their agenda. Any step beyond that is usurpation of authority. . . . 

. . . They (the consistories) agreed to abide by the decision of the major assemblies, provided these decisions agree with Scripture. What they said in effect is that it is quite all right for a classis and synod to decide upon the matters before them, but that any such decision does not become effective until it has been looked over and reviewed on its Biblical merits by the local church. They did not give away the authority entrusted to them by Christ!. . . . 

The Standard Bearer states that the North Blendon CRC faces a dilemma: anarchy or anti-scriptural submission. The author labors under a serious misconception. He conceives of a synod as the equivalent of a civil government. As to the State the rule of Scripture is: Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers.

Romans 13

Resisting these powers is revolution and results in anarchy. To curtail revolt and anarchy, the civil government has been given the power of the sword. But in the church we do not recognize “higher authorities.” We recognize office bearers only, who have equally the same power and authority, wheresoever they are (Art. 30 Belgic Conf.). In the church we do not even for a moment yield with submission to “authorities,” that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Galatians 2

Paul says that God is not a respecter of persons, therefore we are not to be respecter of persons. When Peter speaks according to Scripture, his words are received as from a brother in Christ. But if Peter acts cowardly, and plays false with the gospel and the church, as the Synod of 1978 did, we must do what Paul did: publicly oppose these false teachers to their face! As the apostle Paul considers it his duty to publicly oppose another Apostle, so it is the duty of our faithful office bearers to publicly face false office bearers, and disqualify them by dismissal from their office, if they persist in their heresy. That is not a matter of facing a dilemma, but a simple question of obedience to the teachings of Scripture. 

The Standard Bearer considers the mere act of publication by the North Blendon Church in The Banner, that it is not bound by the women-in-office decision, an act of anarchy. As indicated in our previous News Bulletin, the Stated Clerk and the Synodical Interim Committee in the CRC, essentially agree with this position of the Standard Bearer. So in principle does De Wachter, which considers it a weakness in the present Church Order to allow a local consistory the right to review a synodical decision on its Biblical merits, before it accepts such a decision as gospel truth, and adopts it as its own decision. If the mere act of publication of such a decision must be characterized as an act of anarchy, one is left to wonder by what word in the dictionary the actual decision not to abide by what Synod said must be qualified. It is remarkable how scared certain people are of the printed word, and in this age, of the taped word. The Pope sent thousands of people to the stake merely because they printed, or had in their possession, a printed copy of the Belgic Confession. . . . 

. . . The Standard Bearer makes a big issue of the fact that the Church Order (Art. 29) states that an ecclesiastical decision must be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved to be in conflict with Scripture. It reads this article to mean that this must be proven to someone. It can hardly mean to prove this to oneself. What it must mean, according to the Standard Bearer, is that this must be proven to the body against which one is aggrieved. But that body has been disbanded. Synod of 1978 is no more. That should have alerted the author that he was reading something into the Church Order which is not there. For a correct reading of the Church Order he should have gone to Scripture. How did the Bereans prove the teachings of the Apostle Paul? Mind you, those Bereans were simple folks, and they subject the words of an Apostle, a man directly appointed by the Lord to speak His Word to a searching examination. How did they prove that Paul spoke the truth? From Scripture. And that is how in the church we “prove” synodical decisions. That’s what the Church Order means when it states that in the church ecclesiastical matters shall be dealt with in an ecclesiastical manner. The church has her own “style” in proving things. Not by compulsion, not by managing the news, but by comparing the words of men (synods) with the words of Scripture. To maintain order and decency in the church, the Church Order has mapped out an orderly procedure. In the case of the women-in-office decision that procedure is very simple: do not consider the issue settled and binding. In other words: reject the decision. Who must do this rejecting? Of course, first of all each and every member of the church. But since no believer in the CRC is an atom that exists all by himself, he acts in concert with his fellow believers, as a member of the local church. And the consistory of the local church makes that rejection known to the other churches via its membership in the classis and synod. There is nothing mysterious about this that should confuse anyone, or cause

anyone to holler: anarchy. The CRC of North Blendon has invoked a right that she, and every other church in the CRC, has reserved for herself under the prevailing Church Order. A church does not live in a vacuum. The rights of a church are not directed to a vacuum. Every right carries a responsibility. In the present situation we are dealing with a clear-cut case of heresy and disobedience to Scripture. What is required in these circumstances is discipline. We are dealing with a hard core df modernists who have far too long had their own way in the church. We are dealing with a determined group of people who are bent on destruction of the CRC as a church of Christ. That situation cannot be tolerated. That situation is not subject to discussion either. We are not dealing with a debatable issue. If the coming Synod proves unwilling to declare the women-in-office issue out of order, and does not declare the teachings of Drs. Allen Vefhey and Harry Boer, and a number of other prominent men among us unscriptural, there will be only one way left to deal with these issues: namely, that the faithful churches re-unite the CRC on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions, and if at all possible, preferably the Church Order of Dordt as maintained by us prior to 1965. The Revised Church Order is an amateurish piece of work, and a potential hazard witness the proliferation of virtually autonomous Boards and the papal powers bestowed upon or assumed, by the Stated Clerk. Forewarned is forearmed. The Rev. Van Dellen and others who predicted this development have been proven right. Let us not commit the same mistake twice.

1. I hesitate to respond to anonymous writers. I have never understood the practice of the ACRL in writing its bulletins this way. Surely all of its members are not unitedly in support of everyword written and all do not assume responsibility for every word—at least I would hardly think so. A writer ought to assume full responsibility for what he has written—and consequences for this, if there are such. 

2. The writer of this bulletin attributes views I presented as those of the Standard Bearer. The editor and other writers in the Standard Bearer do not necessarily espouse the views of any individual writer. So if there is any error or wrong in my article, I’ll assume full responsibility. The views are not necessarily those of the Standard Bearer

3. The writer(s) of the bulletin correctly point out the hierarchy evident in recent actions of the CRC Synods. He (she?) correctly sees the contradiction between this form of activity and the Reformed system of church government. However, the writer likely lived many years within the CRC denomination which in 1924-25 already practiced even worse hierarchy when two classes suspended and deposed ministers and consistories in the common grace controversy. Surely those who have lived within the church communion of those who practiced that kind of hierarchy over 50 years ago, could hardly have reason to expect anything different today. The writer would be well-advised to trace some of the current hierarchy back to its roots. Until such past action is condemned, what could he expect? 

4. I find rather interesting the description of the writer concerning the two “misconceptions” about who is “Boss”: the Synod or the Consistory. I would suggest that within Reformed church polity, we ought to insist first on the autonomy of the local consistory and church. It is the local manifestation of the body of Christ. A denomination consists of an organization of a number of such churches on the basis of agreement in doctrine and confession. (Therefore we speak of our denomination as Protestant Reformed Churches, not “Church,” as though the denomination were that.) However, the autonomy of the local church is limited by its denominational ties, obviously. The local church assumes obligations and responsibilities within the denomination. As long as it is part of the denomination, the local church cannot ignore these obligations while remaining part of the denomination. It is not a question of Synod being the “boss.” I refuse to be placed with De Wachterin that regard. But I have real difficulty with the claim, “What they (consistories) said in effect is that it is quite all right for a classis and synod to decide upon the matters before them, but that any such decision does not become effective until it has been looked over and reviewed on its Biblical merits (and approved?—GVB) by the local church. They did not give away the authority entrusted to them by Christ!” And later, concerning the published decision of a CRC that it refuses to “consider this decision of Synod settled and binding,” the bulletin states, “The CRC of North Blendon has invoked a right that she, and every other church in the CRC, has reserved for herself under the prevailing Church Order.” Truly does the autonomous church have the right to reject anti-Scriptural and anti-confessional decisions of classis and Synod. Not only that, they have the duty and responsibility before God to do that. I do not fault North Blendon for a decision and publication of it in this connection. My problem is that North Blendondoes no more than that. It announces publicly no decision to protest. Nor does it announce its intent to be separate from the denomination because of this heresy. It will nicely remain part of the denomination while refusing to abide by the Synodical decision. This position I regard as inconsistent and event un-Reformed. But perhaps North Blendon has taken other action not announced publicly in the Banner

5. But it also struck me that the Synod of 1978 made such a decision that no one could possibly act in violation with it. So, what then does the decision of North Blendon really do? How are they going to implement their decision? The Synod also said that one need not install women deacons; North Blendon will not install women as deacons; so North Blendon is not opposing Synod’s decision. Or: does their decision mean that now they will refuse to support the College and Seminary where this is maintained? Are they going to refuse to support such mission activity where this might be taught? Are they going to refuse to allow ministers in their pulpits who teach this—though they are in good standing in the denomination? Are they refusing such to partake of the supper of the Lord who maintain this heresy? 

6. The writer of the bulletin objects to my claim that one must prove to the erring body their violation of Scripture and confessions. It is plainly true that one must first prove to himself the error of a decision—before he can prove this to others. But if this is all, the result would be anarchy. The ACRL will soon discover this for themselves if they do manage to begin a new denomination. Can one, for instance, prove to himself that the decisions of the Synod re a-millennialism are in error—and then remain in the denomination while teaching something contrary? If “proving” something means that one need prove it only for himself, the church soon will be filled with people of many conflicting views concerning Scripture and the confessions. I maintain that one has to prove from Scripture and confessions to classis or Synod. If Synod will not be convinced, then one is obliged either to submit to Synodical decision—or leave the denomination and find another more in agreement with the Word of God. 

7. Nor do I believe that I “read into the Church Order something which is not there.” Surely it is true that the body making the decision is disbanded at the close of its sessions. Neither classis nor Synod are continuing bodies. But the writer(s) of the bulletin knows well that the Reformed church polity allows for and demands protest and appeal. Obviously, this can not be directed toward the body disbanded which had made the decision. But, protest must always come to the following gathering of the Synod. Have you never done that—even though you are protesting to a body that did not make the original decision? 

8. Brethren, in spite of my comments and some points of disagreement, I would assure you that my sympathies are with you and with North Blendon. I wholeheartedly commend you for your opposition to all heresy. It is our prayer that through all of these struggles, doubtlessly so difficult for you at the present stage, His Cause may be maintained and His Word yet purely taught even till Jesus comes again.