The Classis has the same jurisdiction over the Consistory as the Particular Synod has over the Classis and the General Synod over the Particular. Article 36, Church Order.
“Dit artikel is van beteekenis,” write Van Dellen and Keegstra in their “Kerkelijk Handboek.”
With this the half is not said for the article quoted is not only significant but it is of the most fundamental importance. Its principle is the groundwork upon which the structure of our Reformed ecclesiastical system is erected. The truth of this principle strikes a death-blow upon ecclesiastical anarchism and ecclesiastical hierarchy. Perhaps it would not be saying toe much if’ we compare the thought in this article to the mortar which seals and binds the bricks in a stone wall. Such is the importance of the principle of proper ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
However, we must add one more thing to this.
Of special, very special importance is this article to us, The Protestant Reformed Churches of America, because of the historic role it occupied in connection with the origin of our churches.
In the “Manual of Church Order” by W. Stuart and G. Hoeksema we find this appendage to Article 36.
“In a concrete case, and in answer to protests received questioning the right depose a Consistory, Synod upheld this right on the following grounds:
1. Article 36 of our Church Order gives the Classis jurisdiction over the Consistory.
2. Articles 79 and 80 of the Church Order, and the Formula of Subscription state plainly that censure of officebearers shall be suspension or deposition from office. (Acts 1926, Art. 104, I, b, 1 and 2, p. 142)”
From the Acts of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1926, we quote the following decision:
a.) Synod thanks the Pre-advisory Committee on Deposition of Consistories for its excellent work, and decides that the report be taken up in the Acts, (Bijlage XVI)
b. In connection with this report, and in answer to protests received, Synod upholds Classis Grand Rapids West in its action of deposing the consistories of Kalamazoo and Hope. Grounds:
1. Article 36 of the Church Order gives the Classis jurisdiction over the Consistory.
Articles 79 and 80 of the Church Order, and the Formula of Subscription state plainly that censure of officebearers shall be suspension or deposition from office.
It is obvious that this decision of the synod, interpreting Article 36 of the Church Order, deals particularly with the history of the deposition from office of the Revs. H. Danhof and G.M. Ophoff, with their respective Consistories. Because this matter, together with the adoption of the well-known “Thee points of Common Grace” adopted by the Synod of 1924, constitutes the occasion of the existence of The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, it is of such importance that it may never be forgotten by the present or future generations. The Christian Reformed Church committed a gross sin in this matter and is responsible to this present day for it as well as the subsequent evils that have developed from it. From this sin we must continue to call her to repentance for it is only in the way of true repentance that the breach between us can be healed. We do not, therefore, consider it redundant to rehearse the church political questions of 1924 in our rubric even though these matters have been much spoken of and written about in the past. The present generation will be rendered an invaluable service through such a rehearsal and the generation that lived through the history and is now in the eventide of their earthly pilgrimage can also profitably reflect upon these annals of the past.
Before we do so, however, there are a few things we must mention in connection with Article 36.
Firstly, the crux of the whole article centers about the word that in our English redaction is translatedjurisdiction. Other terms have been suggested here. The original Latin Church Order did not use the word jurisdictio, but auctoritas, from the wordauctor, which signifies an author, founder, originator, etc., or an advisor, counselor, promoter, pattern. Auctoritas indicates the right to act, order, rule, advise, or exhort. Our English word authoritycomes close to this idea. The Dutch has zeggen—’t Zelfde zeggen heeft de Classe . . . enz. This, toe, is a strong term. Hence, ethers have suggested in addition to jurisdiction or authority that we speak in this connection of the rights or supervision.
Secondly, in this same connection it is interesting to note that in the Proposed Revision of the Church Order, the Committee of the Christian Reformed Synod offers the following:
“The Classis has the same control over the Consistory as the Particular Synod has over the Classis, and the General Synod over the Particular Synod.”
(We have been informed that the Chr. Ref. Synod of 1958 did not adopt this proposed revision as yet but that the matter will come again before later Synods.)
Now regardless of what specific term is used here, there are questions that remain and will have to be answered to arrive at an interpretation of the article. For example, whether we use jurisdiction, authority, power, rights, or control, it must be determined what is the nature and scope of that jurisdiction, authority, power, rights or control. The answer to that question will determine whether we agree or take exception to the Christian Reformed position that asserts that the Classis has the right to depose a consistory. We will have to inquire into the problem with much care, and in doing so we should not lose sight of the careful formulation of Article 36. That is very instructive and gives us a definite directive. Notice that this article says nothing about the jurisdiction of the Consistory over the congregation. It compares the relation of Classis to Consistory, Synod to Classis, and the General Synod to the Particular Synod and stressed that in each instance this relation is the same but it does not say that these relations are synonymous with the relation of the Consistory to the congregation. It does not say that the Classis has the same jurisdiction over the consistory as the consistory has over the congregation, and the obvious reason it doesn’t do this is because this is not true. They are not the same. There is a very important difference in the nature of the jurisdiction and only when this is seen can we arrive at clarity with respect to the problem. This point is very helpful in arriving at the truth of the matter.
In light of this the literal definition of the terms suggested above does not prove to be too helpful. From Webster’s unabridged dictionary, we quote the pertinent parts of these definitions:
We stated that these definitions are not, too helpful. Any one of them or all of them might conceivably be used but if nothing more be said than this, it is inadequate and may even be misleading and in some instances positively wrong. For example, in the definition of these terms mention is made oflegal power and legal authority. This is unquestionably true when the terms are used in application to government or offices in the civil sphere but it is not the case when applied to the major ecclesiastical assemblies. In the church,authority or jurisdiction is not juridical or legal but rather it is always moral and spiritual since it has its derivation in the law of God which is spiritual (Rom. 7:14).
Then it must be evident that the Synod and Classis are vested with a spiritual power that is indeed apower! These bodies have authority, jurisdiction, etc. This is more than a capacity to give advice. The Synod and Classis are more than informal conferences. They are ecclesiastical bodies that deliberate and decide in the Name of and upon the authority of Christ Jesus, the spiritual Head of the Church!
However, this jurisdiction must be carefully distinguished and never identified with the jurisdiction the consistory has over the congregation. This is evident from Article 36. The consistory, maintaining the offices of elder and deacon as instituted by Christ Himself, has sole authority to do all that Christ has commanded; to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, exercise the power of the keys of the heavenly kingdom, including and excluding from that kingdom, etc. The Classis and Synod, on the other hand, derive their jurisdiction from the mutual agreement of the individual churches that comprise the denomination and, therefore, in the exercise of their authority they are limited by the act of agreement to those matters “that cannot be finished in the minor assemblies or such as pertain to the churches of the major assemblies in common.” (Article 30, D.K.O.)
We may, therefore, conclude by noting first of all that no Classis or Synod has jurisdiction to exercise the key power, to depose from office and to excommunicate from the Christian Church. To do so is to violate the nature and scope of their jurisdiction. Secondly, as to the differences between the jurisdiction of these assemblies and that of the particular consistory, we may cite the following five points from “The Church Order Commentary,” though space forbids a full quotation:
1. One is derived, the other is original jurisdiction.
2. One is limited, the other general.
3. One is smaller in measure, the other is higher in degree.
4. One is ministering, the other is compelling.
5. Both are conditioned, i.e., valid only if in agreement with the Word of God.
It is of further interest to note that the authors of this commentary apparently also do not agree with the action of their Synod in 1926 for they wrote in connection with this article:
“The practical import of this brief consideration is illustrated by the decision of the Synod of 1926, which ruled that major assemblies had the right to depose a Consistory inasmuch as Article 36 attributed jurisdiction to Classes over Consistories. Now aside from the question whether or not a Classis has the right to depose a Consistory, Synod should not have based its decision on the use of the word jurisdiction in Article 36, inasmuch as the use of this term is really a mistake, out of keeping with the fundamental principles of the Church order.”
G. Vanden Berg