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“Those who are delegated to the assemblies shall bring with them their credentials and instructions, signed by those sending them, and they shall have a vote in all matters, except such as particularly concern their persons or churches.”

—Article 33

The following decisions pertaining to this article of the Church Order have been adopted by our Classes and Synod:

“1. To promote uniformity the credential letter for delegation to major assemblies shall end in the following for: ‘With instruction and authority to take part in all deliberations and transactions regarding all matters coming legally before the meeting and transacted in agreement with the Word of God according to the conception of it embodied in the doctrinal standards of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as in harmony with the church order of the Protestant Reformed Churches.’

“2. The major assemblies shall also have a stated clerk, who however shall not hold the position of permanent secretary, and who shall not be a member of the assembly’s officers, but that of a deputy to serve the classis or synod with services which would otherwise constitute the task of such a functionary.” 

This article has to do with the matter of ecclesiastical credentials. A credential, according to Webster, is “that which gives a title to credit or confidence; specifically, testimonials accrediting a person.” Ecclesiastically they are of two kinds, Classical and Synodical. In the former the individual consistories express that certain persons are duly authorized or properly accredited to represent them at the meeting of the Classis. In the latter the Classis gives testimony concerning certain persons that they have been appointed to represent the Classis at the meeting of Synod. And I suppose that we could also speak of the individual’s membership papers as a credential but with this we are not at present concerned. The credential letters referred to in this article are the Classical and Synodical and the form used in our churches is in both cases the same. We insert here a copy since we intend to refer presently to parts of it. It reads as fellows: 

Classical (Synodical) Credentials L.S. 

To the Classis (Synod) of the Protestant Reformed Churches to convene ……….. 19………. At……….. 

The Consistory (Classis) of the ……….. Protestant Reformed Church(es), has appointed the brethren N……….. N……….. as delegates to represent said church (Classis) at the meeting of Classis (Synod) above referred to. The alternate delegates are N……. N………

We hereby instruct and authorize them to take part in all the deliberations and transactions of Classis (Synod) regarding all matters legally coming before the meeting and transacted in agreement with the Word of God according to the conception of its embodied in the doctrinal standards of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as in harmony with our Church Order.

INSTRUCTIONS (Classical credential only)

Done in consistory …………….

By order of the Consistory (Classis)

……………. President

…………….Clerk 

The credential form, as Rev. Ophoff points out in his mimeographed notes on “Church Right,” is formed of four parts: “(1) A statement of the delegation with the names of those delegated; (2) A statement of the task to be performed; (3) The instruction, and (4) The blessing.” 

Examination of the above cited credential letter will show that the fourth part, the blessing, is lacking. This part, which we feel should be included, appeared in the older Dutch form which read as follows: 

CREDENTIEBRIEF 

Aan de Classe………. Van Christelijke Gereformeerde Kereken, saamgekomen den……………. 19………….te……………….

Weleerwaarde en Eerwaarde Broeders in onzen Heere Jezus Christus:

De Kerkeraad der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk van ……………… heft, in zijne samenkomst van…………..19……………, naar Uwe Eerwaarde vergadering gedeputeerd, nevens den Dienaar des Woords, den Weleerwaarde Heer………………… den Broeder Ouderling……………….bij wettige verhindering hunnerzijds te vervangen door hunne respectieve secundi de Broeders………….met last en volmacht om, namens hem, in gebondenheid aan den eenigen en onfeilbaren regel van Gods heilig Woord, naar de Drie Formulieren van Eenigheid der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk: de Nederl. Geloofsbelijdins, den Heiderlbergschen Catechismus en de Dordtsche Leerregelen, in alle zaken, die Uwer Eerw, vergadering zullen voorkomen, alzoo te helpen oordeelen en besluiten, also meest kan strekken tot den bloei der Kerekn tot verbreiding van Gods Koninkrijk en tot verheerlijking van ‘s Heeren naam;

Verbindende sich de Kerkeraad zijnerzijds, om alle besluiten Uwer vergadering, die met bovengenoemden regel niet strijdig zijn, voor bondig en vast te houden, en getrouwelijk te helpen naleven en uitvoeren.

Uwer vergadering, bij alle hare handelingen, de onmisbare leiding des Heiligen Geestes toebiddend, blijven we, met broedergroete,

De Kerkeraad der Chr Geref. Kerk te……………

…………….Praeses

……………Scriba

(Taken from “Kerekelijk Handboek,” door Revs. I. Van Dellen en H. Keestra)

Freely translated, this credential letter reads: 

CREDENTIAL LETTER

To the Classis of the Christian Reformed Churches, convening ……………..19………at………………………

Esteemed and honorable brethren in our Lord Jesus Christ: 

The Consistory of the Christian Reformed Church at ……………… has, in her gathering of ………….. delegated to your esteemed gathering, besides the minister of the Word the Rev. …………………., brother elder …………….., who for lawful cause on their part may be replaced by their respective secundus, the brethren ……………….

with the mandate and authority to, in harmony with the one and infallible rule of the Holy Word of God according to the three forms of unity of the Christian Reformed Church: The Netherland’s Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordrecht; help judge and decide all matters that come before your worthy gathering, striving to the utmost for the profit of the church, for the extension of God’s Kingdom and for the glorification of His Name.

The Consistory pledges to consider all decisions taken by your gathering and not in conflict with the above named rule to be settled and binding and to faithfully help maintain and execute them.

Praying your gathering the unmistakable guidance of the Holy Spirit in all her actions.

We remain, with fraternal greetings, the Consistory,

President

Clerk

There are several elements in this credential letter that are to be preferred to our present farm. We do not say that the form that is currently in use is inadequate, does not serve the purpose, or that there is anything wrong with it. That is something else. If that were so it would be our immediate duty to overture the major gatherings to revise the credential letter. But that is not the case. It is rather a matter of personal preference and a question as to whether the present form can be improved. This we believe to be the case. 

In the first place, the salutation in the present form is cold. There is much more warmth in an address such as “Esteemed and worthy brethren in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Merely to address the ecclesiastical body as the Classis or Synod of a particular church that is to meet at such and such a time and place leaves something important lacking. It is a gathering in Christ Jesus the Lord that is being addressed and this should be stated. In the present form the name of Jesus Christ does not appear at all and although it does not follow from this that He is not recognized or that His Name is deliberately excluded, we would prefer to see the Classis or Synod addressed “in the Name of her Lord.” 

Secondly, the statement of the delegation with the names of those delegated is in both letters substantially the same. There is some difference of terminology but no serious differences. In the older form mention is made of the fact that primi delegates may be replaced by their secundi only for “lawful cause.” This should, of course, be understood but it may be well to also express it in the credential letter since it does happen that delegates seek to be excused from this privileged service of Christ’s church as a matter of personal expediency rather than of moral and spiritual right! The insertion of a clause to this effect serves to remind every appointed delegate of his duty in Christ Jesus. It does no harm to stress this!

Concerning the statement of the task to be performed, a few small matters might be mentioned here. First, where our present form reads: “transacted in agreement” . . ., it might be better to change this to read: “to help transact them in agreement . . .”. Secondly, our present form speaks of “instruct and authorize . . .” whereas the older form has “met last en volmacht . . .” A mandate is a little stronger than an instruction as we understand the language. Thirdly, the older form does not mention the church order at all here. This should be retained as in the present form although it has already been suggested that the reading, “as well as in harmony with our church order” be changed to read simply: “and the accepted church order.” Finally, the older form adds a brief description of the objective of the labors and certainly there can no objection to that. There is something for it, in fact! The purpose of the labors must be constantly before the delegates and this is then also accomplished when the letter of credential containing it is publicly read at the opening of the session. It should be included. 

Fourthly, the statement by the consistory, pledging itself to maintain and execute the decisions of the broader assembly need not be expressed since it is stated in Article 31 of the Church Order to which each consistory binds itself. However, no harm is done by repeating it here and it serves the practical advantage of reminding the consistory of this obligation each time it sends delegates to the major assembly. Inasfar as a brief principles of the Church Order can be incorporated into our forms without making the latter cumbersome, the practice should be encouraged. 

Finally, the matter of the “blessing” which Rev. Ophoff points out is part of the credential form and appeared in the last part of the older form should be included in our forms currently used. The same warmth we mentioned in connection with the address is lacking when this is omitted. There is, we believe, a strengthening of the denominational tie of unity when Consistories address their Classes as “brethren in the Lord” and conclude their address “wishing you the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of our God!” 

Hence, we feel that all these elements should be taken into consideration and a new or revised form adopted. Adding these things would necessarily make the form letter a bit longer but that would be no serious disadvantage. Its content would be improved and the beauty of the whole enhanced greatly and these are advantages worthy of consideration.

Perhaps one of the consistories will consider it worthy of an overture in the future! 

G.V.D.B.