Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

THE REPORT 

(The continuation of the report of the Study Committee and Committee of Pre-Advice, Synod of 1926, freely translated) 

4. The Denomination. (Het Kerkverband) 

The origin of the denomination does not rest in the local church or in the consistory, but in Christ, the King of the Church. All that belongs to the church is of Christ. The denomination is not a thing of choice or utility but is established for Christ through His apostles as is evident from Acts 15 and, therefore, has its origin in the will of the King of the Church. Neither is this added to the church from without but is a manifestation of the unity of the body of Christ inasfar as this is possible in this time (bedeeling). Besides, what is called by Voetius “Jus positevum divinum” we may speak of the “free assent” (liber consensus) but this freedom has to reckon with the positive law of God. 

The denomination follows necessarily from this that Christ is the sole King of the Church. He is not first King of the local church and by that King of all the local churches together. But He is King of the Church in her entirety, as a unity, and as such, by this is King of each local church. The denomination is not something non-essential for that would presuppose that each local church exists wholly by itself and stands disengaged from all other churches. Yet from Scripture and the history of the origin of the local church, it is plain that the denomination actually exists from the beginning. 

Bavinck says, “The catholic (algemeen) church is there first. She has her origin in Christ and in the days of the New Testament came first to manifestation in the church at Jerusalem, and then broadened out from there to other places. Already by virtue of her origin the local church stands in inseparable relation to the denomination. For no one church arises instinctively (autochthorish.) out of unconsciousness but is planted through the seed of the Word which another church has sown in that place. Contemporaneously, therefore, each local church is an independent manifestation of the, body of Christ and a part of the larger whole; a separately existent church that stands spiritually and historically related to the catholic (algemeen) church.” (Dogmatiek, 2de Ed., IV, Pg. 407). The denomination exists from within. It is in official, institutional form the manifestation of that which is invisible and has real existence. 

All Reformers acknowledge that the denomination is established by Christ. The acknowledgment of the denomination, so as by the consistory, is naturally a voluntary deed. Yet, this does not mean that the denomination has its origin in the kill of the local church or of the consistory. It alone denies that it is founded from without and by coercion. And it asserts that the local church and consistory take it up in obedience to the King of the church and therein will live and act in unity with other local churches. 

5. The Relation of the Consistory and the Classis

(a) Our Church Order in Article 41 states that the Classical Meetings shall consist of neighboring churches. T&, according to Article 33 and the content of the credential- letter, is not meant so that the church, apart from the consistory, delegates special representatives of the church to the Classis. The credential-letter is signed by those who send the delegates and this is done by the Consistory. (Art. 33) Thus the delegates, as representatives of the Consistory and thereby of the church, come together in Classical gathering. They come there in the capacity of officebearers. Otherwise they would have no right to act officially in the meeting of the Classis. From this it follows that a Classical meeting is a gathering of officebearers who, as servants of Christ the King, may decide in all matters that, by common agreement, stipulated in the Church Order, belong to the domain of the Classis. 

(b) There is yet something else that must be considered here. From the unity of the Kingship of Christ over the church follows not only the unity of the local churches but also the unity of the ruling authority, the unity of the officebearers of all the local churches. As a unity, this authority over the local churches is not, as Rome contends, given to individual persons (bishop and pope) but rests in the offices of the local church. There rests in the offices a common official element by which all the officebearers together can rule over the local churches as one in all cases that belong to the churches as a whole and also in cases of each local church which cannot be disposed of by her consistory. In the offices of all local churches there is thus an authority that extends beyond the scope of the local church. 

This is also plain from the Church Order. In Article 79 it is stated that a consistory alone may depose an elder or deacon. This must be clone with official cooperation of a neighboring consistory. This proceeds from the idea that the officebearers of the neighboring consistory, by virtue of their office, have the right to resolve official cases in another church with her consistory. The neighboring consistory must be petitioned but the officebearers of the neighboring consistory do not receive that right by virtue of this petition. If this right did not reside in their office, they might not be requested to also rule in official matters in another church. They could only be sought to give advice, nothing more. 

In the same 79th Article it is stated that a double consistory may not depose a minister. The Classis alone may do this. Thus here is given to a gathering of officebearers out of a number of local churches the right to depose a minister (office bearer) of a local church. This proceeds from the thought that this right is placed by Christ in the office of the local church and therewith in the Classis. If this were not so the Classis might not exercise this power for the Classis has noother or higher power than that of the officebearers of the local churches. All that the Classis decides, she decides in the name of the King of the Church, an authority received by virtue of Him. 

By virtue of this common element in the office of the local church, the officebearers, gathered in Classis, can make decisions that are binding for all the local churches and consistories that are represented in the gathering. (Art. 31, D.K.O.) and the Classis can have jurisdiction (zeggenschap, auctoritas, gezag) over the local churches and consistories (D.K.O. Art. 36). 

In this way does the unity of the power and of the rule of Christ as King of the church come to manifestation in the unity of His officebearers as a one-ness inasfar as this is possible in this time (bedeeling). And by this all hierarchy, collegialism and independentism become excluded. 

(c) From the preceding the answer to the question,Can a Classis Depose A Consistory?, can be stated. Naturally a consistory is meant here in which all the officebearers depart (afwijken) in doctrine or life or both; over whom an ecclesiastical process is conducted; officebearers, therefore, who will not submit themselves to the decision and are hardened in their departure. They are guilty of official misdeeds for which, according to the church order, they must be deposed. 

Who must do that? The congregation cannot carry out that decision because she is no official body and cannot administer discipline. This consistory herself naturally also cannot carry out this decision of the Classis to depose. If the Classis may not do it, it cannot be done. Then we have here a discipline case (the deposition) that cannot be executed. 

If to a Classis is reckoned alone the right to decide, that is, to pronounce a judgment of deposition, then a difficulty arises with its execution. 

Whenever in a consistory the minority of the officebearers depart in doctrine or life, and a double consistory cannot arrive at agreement, the Classis must then make a decision (Art. 79). And then the consistory carries out this decision. The Classis itself does not do it because the Consistory is the ruling power of the local church and the classis may not do what the consistory by reason of its own power can and may do. Yet, what shall be the procedure if the majority of the officebearers depart? The holding of a double consistory is, in this case, virtually excluded. The majority will not want to direct a request to the neighboring consistory and the minority may not do it because then the neighboring consistory would decide alone in such an important matter in another church in conflict with Art. 84, D.K.O. Suppose now that the Classis decides to excommunicate. Must she leave the deposition in the local church to the remaining faithful minority of elders? If the principle that lies tit the basis of Article 79 is assumed, namely, that the Classis has the right to pass the final verdict whether an office bearer shall retain his office, by this then the Classis is given the right to deal with an official matter of a local church. And for this the Classis must have official power (recht). And if it be acknowledged that the Classis has the official right to depose officebearers in such a case in a local church, why then haven’t they the right to do this alone if all the officebearers, should be deposed? 

One other point is closely related here. If the Classis has no right to depose all the officebearers (consistory) because this is an encroachment upon the power and independence of the consistory, then such a departing consistory, also after the condemnation by the Classis, remains in office and is officially the lawful ruling power of the local church. The difficulty is that only some of the members of the congregation are agreed with the consistory which is condemned by the Classis. The congregation itself cannot depose the Consistory because that is an act of discipline and the congregation has no right to administer discipline. May the congregation withdraw herself from that consistory? On what grounds? The consistory is yet the lawful ruling power of the church. She is not deposed. In a Reformed Church a congregation may not withdraw itself from a consistory unless it has rightly ceased to be a consistory. Besides this withdrawing is only a negative act that brings no change in the official status of the consistory and for this reason cannot depose it from the office. In a false church, with a false association (kerkverband) and ruling arrangement (bestuursinrichting) the believers can withdraw themselves from the consistory and separate themselves from that church. But this is here not the case. Here is a Christian Reformed Church in denomination with the Christian Reformed Church and remains there. Her consistory is not deposed. They have officially no ground to withdraw from it. If the condemnation of the consistory by the Classis must be carried out through the consistory, then this shall first be possible only through a new consistory since the existing consistory will not do it. But the election of new officebearers is officially unlawful, for as long as the decision of the Classis is not carried out, the existing consistory remains lawfully in office. 

(to be continued) 

—G.V.D.B.