(Resolved that a Local Consistory has the Right to Act Contrary to the Church Order)
In answering my opponent I first of all wish to state very emphatically that the statement made by him, that the origin and immediate cause of this debate was an action taken by the Consistory of Hudsonville. And the fact that he brings up this action in this debate is very unethical. In this debate I am not, and neither do I have the right to speak for my consistory. The truth is that the sole origin and the immediate cause of this debate is that the Editor of the Standard Bearer has assigned unto my opponent and I the abstract question, “Resolved that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order.” I also wish to inform our readers that we were both limited by the editor to five typewritten pages, which is equivalent to about four columns of the Standard Bearer. But lo, instead of four, my opponent used up more than eleven columns, or almost three times the space allotted him. By taking such undue advantage he has really forfeited all right of expecting an answer from me.
Further I wish to state that my opponent has taken upon himself the liberty to change the subject of our debate, so that according to him it now reads “Resolved that a local consistory has the right to revise or change the Church Order”. By doing this he has made it very easy for himself to maintain the negative, and at the same time made my task an impossible one. That my opponent thus reconstrues the subject assigned to us evident from his Definition of Terms, p. 123, as also from the last sentence of his so-called introduction, which reads as follows: “Not doing so (keeping ourselves strictly to the issues my opponent enumerated, B. K.) we sidestep the main question which is whether or not a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, i.e. the private right to revise (or change) I”. (I underscore B. K.). The reason that my opponent so reconstrues our assigned subject is because he argues that to act contrary to necessarily implies to change or revise. This I deny, and I also deny that we may so reconstrue the subject of our debate. Let me illustrate. A citizen may very well be in full agreement with our present speed law of 35 miles per hour. But suppose his child meets with an accident, and he is advised to rush the child to a distant hospital as quickly as possible, and doing so he greatly exceeds the speed limit, he will perhaps even run some red lights, and give no heed to stop signs. Now the fact that he acts contrary to these rules, does that necessarily imply that he wants to revise or to change them? Not at all, for under normal circumstances he is perfectly agreed with them. Or to use another illustration. A Consistory is perfectly agreed with article 63 of the Church Order which reads, “The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least every two or three months.” But suppose that a grave emergency arises in the congregation, so that the consistory feels that it is impossible to rightly celebrate the Lord’s Supper under the circumstances, and acting contrary to this article of the Church Order, it decides not to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the allotted time. Now does the fact that the local consistory acted contrary to this article necessarily imply a change or revision? One more illustration. Imagine that Classis, because of the lateness of the hour, or for some other reason, decides to suspend the ‘rondvraag’ and thus act contrary to Article 41 of the Church Order, does this necessarily imply a change or revision of this article?
Besides it would be sheer folly to debate on the question whether or not a local consistory, or even Classis, or a Particular Synod, has the right to change or revise the Church Order. Assuming this to be the real issue in our debate it has led my opponent to the most foolish arguments and illustrations, even as we find under VII on page 129. There his imagination carries him so far, that to uphold the affirmative would even imply that a local consistory could even eliminate articles from the Church Order. Such foolish arguments are not even worthy of an answer. By thus presenting the issue he has succeeded in throwing up a smoke-screen for the less observing reader, and making it very easy for himself to maintain the negative, while at the same time making it an impossible issue for the affirmative.
What then is the sole issue in this debate? It is this whether or not the circumstances can ever be thus that a local consistory is justified in taking an action which is contrary to Church Order. Must a local consistory always abide by the Church Order, no matter what the circumstances may be. Is it true that the Church Order is necessarily as binding upon the conscience as are the Holy Scriptures? This my opponent maintains, and I deny. He writes as follows: “…it follows that, in acting contrary to the Church Order, they before their consciousness, act contrary to the Scriptures, and commit a sin just as great.” He then proceeds to put this to a test, when he continues as follows: “The very first article of the Church Order reads, ‘For the maintenance of good order in the Church it is necessary that there should be: offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline.’ Let anyone contradict if he can, this article without being accused and denounced by his heart of contradicting the Scriptures.” I agree with my opponent that one cannot contradict this article without also contradicting the Scriptures, because this article contains provisions which are directly taken from the Word of God. But does it follow that this is also true of all the articles of the Church Order? Indeed not. Let us put this to a test. Article 23 of the Church Order prescribes that the elders shall visit the families of the congregation both before and after the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Would my opponent maintain that not to do this, and thus act contrary to this article, is just as great a sin as to contradict God’s Word? Article 37 prescribes that in large congregations the consistory shall as a rule meet once a week, would my opponent dare to maintain, that if a consistory of a large congregation deems it sufficient to meet once or twice a month would feel in their conscience that they acted contrary to God’s Word? Is it just as great a sin for Classis to suspend the rule of Article 41 in a given instance, and thus act contrary to this Article, as it would be to contradict the Word of God? Article 67 prescribes that the Churches shall observe, in addition to the Sunday, also Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, the Day of Prayer, the National Thanksgiving Day, and Old and New Years Day.” Is it my opponents “unwavering faith” that this article was actually taken directly from the Word of God, and that if a local consistory, because of some circumstances would not have services, let’s say on Christmas, or on Old Year’s Day, and thus act contrary to the Church Order, that that would be a sin, “a sin just as great as to act contrary to the Scriptures?” If for example a minister gives a more detailed explanation of the catechism so that he completes the catechism in two of three years, instead, of in one year as prescribed in Article 68, would he be “accused and denounced by his heart of contradicting the Scriptures,” as my opponent would have us believe? Article 70 prescribes that consistories shall attend to it “that the matrimonial state be confirmed in the presence of Christ’s Church.” Does every local consistory that does not attend to this, and thus act contrary to Church Order, “commit a sin just as great” as acting contrary to Scripture? Thus we have put the contention of our opponent to the test, and I am sure he himself is now ready to admit that every act contrary to Church Order, is not necessarily an act against the Scriptures. My opponent does not sufficiently distinguish between (jus divinas) divine laws, and (jus humanas) human laws. As I stated in my last article, “Indeed a Church Order must be based upon the Word of God, and contains many prescribed ordinances which do bind the conscience, not however because they are found in the Church Order, but because they are provisions taken directly from the Word of God. Even then it may not be said “Thus saith the Church Order,” but “Thus saith the Lord.” Then it is not the Church Order, but the Word of God that binds the conscience.”
My opponent is of the opinion that there is a certain spirit amongst us that scoffs at the Church Order. He writes “Isn’t it about time that we refrain from scoffing at the Church Order. Isn’t it about time that we stop saying, “Well brethren it’s only the Church Order.” Methinks it is. Such talk is positively dangerous.” If there is such a spirit among us, I am not aware of it. Of such a spirit I would not merely say that it is dangerous, but that it is positively wicked! But on the other hand it is extremely dangerous to hold the Roman Catholic position that any departure from an ecclesiastical decree, is necessarily per se wrong. We may not bind the conscience with the Church Order, for this prerogative belongs to God and to His Word alone. This is the great principle of the Reformation, and is part of that liberty with which Christ has set us free.
Our position is clearly stated by Voetius, Rutgers and Jansen, as well as by the following quotation from the “Church Order Commentary” written by Monsma and Van Dellen. “The Churches and Classis are therefore in duty bound to observe the rulings of the Church Order. The Church Order is not a book of iron-clad laws, it is not a set of legal laws which must be applied no matter what the result might be. These rules have been adopted to build the churches, not to break them. Discretion and consideration must always be used. But the Church Order does consist of rules of good order to which all have agreed and which all must keep, “until it be otherwise ordained by the General Synod.” If in any particular situation the observance of the Church Order is a physical impossibility or would clearly create harm and disorder, a consistory or Classis is free to suspend the rule for that instant, if at least the article in question does not concern a definite principle of Holy Writ. But even so it would be well in most instances to gain classical or synodical approval for such exceptional procedure.” (I underscore. B.K.) My opponent states my position exactly when he states, “But his stand is that a resolution of this character (that a local consistory may never act contrary to Church Order) is strictly out of order, that it should not be made, that in making it the Classis oversteps its bounds by interfering with what he considers to be the private and inalienable right of a local consistory.” This is exactly my position, upon two conditions: (1) Unless Classis can show that the local consistory in acting contrary to the
Church Order violated a principle of God’s Word; (2) Or that the circumstances were not such that the consistory was justified in taking the action which was contrary to the Church Order.
I have come to the end of my allotted space of five typewritten pages. I hope my opponent does not again take undue advantage of me, by taking more than his allotted space. This is my last word on the subject in the Standard Bearer.