Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

In all assemblies there shall be not only a president, but also a clerk to keep a faithful record of all important matters. Church Order, Article 34

Ecclesiastical Functionaries

This article requires that there be two officers at all ecclesiastical assemblies. There must be a president to preside over the meeting. The specific duties of the president will be treated in Article 35. Besides the president, there must also be a clerk to record the minutes of the assembly. It is especially the duties of the clerk that are treated in this article.

Although these two functionaries must be present at all our assemblies, Article 34 does not prohibit the election of other minor functionaries. All our assemblies also elect a vice-president. Our consistories generally elect a general-adjunct or vice-all. Synod elects a second clerk.

What authority have ecclesiastical functionaries? They do not exercise a superior authority over their fellow officebearers who are a part of the assembly. They are merely functionaries chosen by the assembly for the purpose of serving the assembly in the orderly and expeditious treatment of its business. Their powers are limited by the Church Order and by the rules of order of the assembly. Their authority is not over the assembly, but only within and at all times subject to it. When the assembly adjourns, their office ceases.

How are ecclesiastical functionaries chosen? In the consistory the various functionaries are elected, with the exception of the president, who is the minister (cf. Article 37). At the classis meetings officers are chosen from among the minister delegates by alphabetical rotation. Whoever is next in alphabetical rotation serves as president. The next in alphabetical order after the president serves as the vice-president and will be president at the next meeting. The last serving president functions as the clerk. At synod, functionaries are chosen by a free election from among the minister delegates.

The Work of the Clerk

Article 34 describes the work of the clerk as “…. keep(ing) a faithful record of all important matters.”

The main duty of the clerk, or secretary, is to record the decisions of the assembly, as well as file all the supplemental material that bears on the decisions that are taken. The formal decisions taken by the body are to be accurately recorded. This does not include the discussion that pertains to each decision, only the decision itself. Included should also be the grounds upon which more important decisions are made.

The Synod has not one but two clerks, a first clerk and a second clerk. The second clerk is not an assistant clerk who functions only if for some reason the first clerk is unable to perform his duties. But the second clerk is to keep a parallel set of minutes, so that at all times Synod may have two copies of its decisions.

Why is the faithful keeping of a faithful record important? Certainly, in the first place, so that the churches may know exactly what was decided by the assembly. In addition, so that in the future there be no needless duplication of work; past decisions are readily accessible. For this reason, too, it is good that the classical and synodical decisions be indexed and that the index be kept current. It is also important that the decisions of the assemblies be recorded, so that the work of the assemblies may be preserved for the benefit of the future church.

With regard to the minutes, each assembly must approve its own minutes. Ordinarily two decisions are taken to safeguard the accuracy of the minutes. A decision approving the script or concept minutes is taken at the conclusion of the meeting itself. A decision approving the transcribed minutes is taken at the following meeting. The approved transcribed minutes are to be signed by the clerk and by the president.

Are the minutes of the ecclesiastical assemblies open to public inspection? Generally this is so. For this reason the Acts of our synods are published annually for distribution among the members of the churches. Even consistory decisions are open to the inspection of the members of the church. However, there are items that must be kept within the assembly itself, usually discipline cases, although the parties involved are entitled to a certified copy of all decisions which pertain to their case. Generally, discipline cases are treated in closed session at the broader assemblies – only delegates and presently serving officebearers are permitted to be present for the treatment of these matters.

The Stated Clerk

Besides the clerk of each assembly, our classes and synod have also a “stated clerk.”

Our churches have appended the following decision to Article 33:

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 assemblies’ officers, but that of deputy to serve the classis or synod with services which would otherwise constitute the task of such a functionary.

The stated clerk is not a member of the assemblies’ officers per se. That is, he is not one of the officers of the assembly by virtue of his being the stated clerk. If he happens to be chosen as one of the functionaries, or his turn comes up in the rotation, that is a different matter. But his being stated clerk does not make him automatically an officer of the assembly. As stated clerk, he has no vote, not even advisory vote, unless it is specifically granted him by the assembly. He has no ecclesiastical authority in himself and by virtue of his being the stated clerk. He may only do what the assembly authorizes him to do. He need not even be a serving officebearer; Classis East of our churches, for example, utilizes the services of a capable layman.

In their rules of order, both classes and synod spell out rather carefully the duties of the stated clerk. In general, his duties include entering the permanent minutes into the record book, preparation of the agenda for the meeting, preserving the assembly archives, and taking care of all official correspondence on behalf of the assembly.

It is worth noting that early in the history of the Reformed churches there was resistance to the appointment of stated clerks by the assemblies. The reason for this was the fear of hierarchy. It was felt that the appointment of stated clerks gave too much authority to one man. In several denominations today that fear has been realized. Stated clerks have become exceedingly powerful. In some denominations they-even exercise decisive determination with regard to what does and what does not appear on the agenda of the assemblies.

To guard against the danger of hierarchy, Joh. Jansen favored the appointment of a certain church to do the work of the stated clerk, thus spreading the responsibility over an entire consistory. A different church would be appointed after each classical or synodical meeting. This church would then also be responsible for convening the next classis or synod.

Although there may be a certain danger of hierarchy connected to the appointment of stated clerks, this danger can easily be avoided by the assemblies themselves seeing to it that the stated clerks remain directly responsible to the assemblies. Their work is to be confined to that which is delegated to them by the assemblies, and their actions, are always to be reported to and approved by those assemblies.

There can be no question about it that the stated clerks of our classes and synod perform an invaluable service to our assemblies and churches. Many hours are spent in taking care of correspondence, compiling agendas, and recording and publishing minutes. We ought to be grateful for the indispensable assistance that they render to the efficient functioning of our broader assemblies.