More Suggestions About Our Synodical Meetings

We promised some more suggestions with a view to the improvement of our synodical gatherings. 

One of these is rather minor, but would nevertheless serve to improve the manner and the efficiency of Synod’s work. It concerns the time of our meetings and the rather arbitrary manner in which this time—sometimes on very short notice—is changed. Our synodical rules call for Synod to meet from 9 A.M. to 12 Noon and from 1:30 P.M. to 5:00 P.M., unless otherwise determined by Synod. At this year’s Synod the time of meeting was rather arbitrarily changed on more than one occasion on very short notice. Once the noon recess was extended after an overtime morning session. On another occasion a late afternoon decision resulted in a lengthy evening session. And at the very conclusion of Synod’s meetings, as previously mentioned, Synod suddenly and without even an official decision extended its afternoon session well into the early evening hours. 

Now whatever one may think of the standing rule in this matter, the fact is that these sudden and arbitrary changes are not conducive to orderliness, in some cases are not conducive to good work, and for some delegates work a hardship. As far as the last item is concerned, it should be remembered that there are other activities going on besides Synod. This is especially true for local delegates, that is, delegates from the area in which Synod is meeting. Some are business and professional men, who have to use spare time in the evening to pay a little attention to their business affairs. In other instances, there is congregational work to be attended to between sessions. Frequently there are school graduation programs while Synod is meeting; some have to speak at these programs and others want to attend because members of their families are involved. Besides, it is questionable whether Synod even does good work and efficient work at such extended sessions after having already concentrated for a whole day on matters requiring careful attention. And, finally, the way our sessions were extended and changed at this year’s Synod on the spur of the moment, no delegate can plan his activities even for a day at a time. 

Now what can and should be done about this? 

In the first place, Synods ought to abide by the rule. The rule does not mean that from day to day and arbitrarily a Synod can change the time of meeting, sometimes even on the spur of the moment. The rule means that ordinarily Synod shall meet at the stated times unless this be otherwise determined at the very beginning of Synod. Thus, for example, at its opening session a Synod could determine that it is not going to convene until noon on Monday, or that it is going to convene at 8:30 every morning and adjourn at 5:30 every afternoon. 

In the second place, I think Synod could save some time and avoid evening sessions for the most part if it would do two things: 1) Convene more promptly at its stated times, and especially after coffee breaks (which sometimes become much longer than the stipulated fifteen minutes). 2) Change the stated time of its sessions to 8:30 A.M. to 12:00 Noon and 1:15 to 5:30 P.M. In the course of a week’s meetings this would add the equivalent of almost a full day’s sessions to the time available for Synod’s work. ‘Perhaps this could be done especially in those years when Synod must spend considerable time on examination of candidates. I do not think, however, that it would be wise to fill such a lengthened day with examinations; our students already find the examination schedule rather grueling. On examination days Synod could either adhere to the present schedule of 9-to-5, or it could spend some time on committee reports if any of the advisory reports is ready. 

In the third place, Synod could consider setting itself a program of business. Other Synods or general assemblies do something of this kind. For example, it could determine that on such-and-such a day (or days) it will devote its attention to the report of Committee I, and on the next day it will begin with Committee II, etc. With such a program, in case a given report has not been completed, it would either be given extended consideration by special motion or consideration would have to be postponed to a later session. But something of this kind—provided it does not put Synod in a bind—would nevertheless serve to keep Synod “on the ball.” Of course, an efficient chairman can do much—both by word of gentle prodding and by enforcing the rules of order—to “keep Synod’s nose on the grindstone,” even without an officially adopted program. 

My next suggestion has to do with subsidy requests. This was also mentioned on the floor of Synod at the time when our 1982 Synod was deliberating on the various subsidy requests. The suggestion, however, is for the consistories and classes rather than for Synod. It has to do with the fact that every now and then a subsidy request furnishes insufficient financial data, or data that is not clear, or data in which there is an apparent contradiction. Down through the years this has been more or less of a perennial problem. From time to time Synods have even revised the subsidy request form in order to get a clearer picture of a subsidized congregation’s true financial needs and in order to insure that a request is equitable. But repeatedly it has happened at synodical meetings that a question arises or that attention is called to an apparent conflict in the data, but no one at Synod is able to answer the question or resolve the conflict. Besides, it must be remembered that a consistory’s voice concerning its subsidy request is through the request-form signed by the president and clerk of the consistory—not through an individual minister or elder who happens to be a delegate to Synod. The same is true of the Classis’ decision concerning that request: the voice of the Classis is through the official decision appended to the request and published in the Agenda, not through any individual delegate from the Classis who happens to remember (or not to remember) what may have been stated on the floor of Classis. Hence, two things must be remembered in this connection: 

1) A consistory requesting subsidy should make its request as clear as it possibly can. It should check the data for accuracy and consistency. And, if need be, it should add explanatory notes if there is anything unusual about the request. Oral explanations on the floor of Classis, it should be remembered, do not get through to Synod. 

2) A Classis should not routinely approve, or rubber-stamp, subsidy requests. It is the Classis—not the Synod—that has the duty to go over these subsidy requests with a fine-toothed comb. It belongs to the jurisdiction of the Classis to question and to resolve any apparent inequities: Should a Classis deem a request exorbitant, it should state this—with reasons, of course. Should a classis deem a request too low, or should it find that the minister’s salary appears to be inadequate, the Classis should take this up with the consistory and possibly advise a larger request. The reason for this is plain: Classis deals directly with the consistory and is in a much better position to inquire and to advise on these matters than is the broadest assembly, Synod. In the past our Classis used to appoint a special advisory committee on subsidy requests and to give them careful attention. This good practice should be followed today by both of our classes. It would make the work of Synod easier and expedite it. And it would resolve problems which Synod frequently cannot solve. 

Next time I will have a few words of critique about some of the actions of our last Synod.

The “eodem modo” Rejected in the Conclusion of the Canons (4)

[In our discussion of this subject we called attention, first of all, to the meaning of this expression and to the fact that it was an Arminian calumny, or slander, directed against the Reformed doctrine of reprobation—a slander rejected and repudiated by the fathers of Dordrecht in the Conclusion appended to the Canons (May 15 issue]. Then, in the June and August issue we called attention to the misuse of this rejection made by modern Reformed theologians both in the Netherlands and in America. Now we are up to our positive discussion of this matter.] 

What Is The Correct Understanding? 

The correct understanding of this expression in the Conclusion is very simple and can be readily understood. Actually there is hardly any need of explanation, if only this expression is read in the context of the rest of the Conclusion, in the light of the Canons themselves, and in the light of the history of the Arminian controversy. 

As we said, this expression must be understood in the light of and as being in harmony with what the Canons themselves say about the doctrine of reprobation. That this is true and that the Conclusion must not be understood as a kind of modifying appendage to the Canons is in harmony with what the Conclusion itself states; and it is also historically accurate. In the first place, it should not be over looked that in this very Conclusion the Synod of Dordrecht begins by re-affirming the doctrine of the Canons. The very first statement is this: “And this is the perspicuous, simple, and ingenuous declaration of the orthodox doctrine respecting the five articles which have been controverted in the Belgic churches; and the rejection of the errors, with which they have for some time been troubled.” How strange it would be if in that same Conclusion in the very next paragraph the Synod would nevertheless back off from and modify that “perspicuous, simple, and ingenuous declaration of the orthodox doctrine” respecting one of those five articles. And how illogical that would have been on the part of the very theologians who are sometimes criticized for their stringent logic and even called “scholastic” by some. In the second place, this is confirmed by the fact that the Conclusion of the Canons was not adopted in separation from the Canons proper and as an after-thought. Not at all. The Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht tell us that in the one hundred thirty-fifth and one hundred thirty-sixth sessions all five heads of doctrine, along with the Conclusion, were once more read and finally adopted, and that then each chapter was separately subscribed to by all the delegations. How strange it would have been if at the very sessions in which the delegates once more explicitly affirmed the doctrine of reprobation as taught in Canons I, they would also deliberately have adopted and affirmed by their signatures a Conclusion which was designed flatly to contradict that doctrine. No, the only explanation is that what is stated in the Conclusion is in perfect harmony with what was first stated in the body of the Canons.

Besides, the simple fact is that here in the Conclusion the Synod was not adopting a doctrine, nor even rejecting an error. That part of Synod’s work was finished. Here the Synod is merely calling attention to various calumnies, slanders, false charges, which the. Arminians brought against the Reformed truth. Concerning these, which the Arminians tried to impute to the Reformed churches, the Conclusion says: The Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge these ideas, but even detest them with their whole soul. 

And then we must remember that the particular calumny of the Arminians which we are discussing will never be registered against any other view of reprobation than the Reformed doctrine of sovereign reprobation. The moment you change reprobation, as Daane and Berkouwer do, to a so-called judicial response of God to man’s sin, no Arminian will ever bring this charge against your doctrine: it would neither be necessary nor would it make sense. It is the same with this doctrine as with the doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrine of sovereign election. Against the doctrine of justification by faith the charge is brought: this doctrine makes men careless and profane. As soon as you would change the doctrine to one of justification by works, no one would bring this charge. Against the doctrine of sovereign election, the same charge is brought: this doctrine makes men careless and profane, or makes men carnally secure (Canons I, 13 and the Conclusion). As soon as you change the doctrine to one of election on the basis of foreseen faith (conditional election), no one will register this charge against your doctrine. So also here, the charge is that the doctrine of sovereign reprobation means that reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety in the same manner that election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works. As soon as you would change the doctrine to one of conditional reprobation or reprobation as a mere judicial response to sin, this charge will not even be brought against your doctrine. This is so true that the very fact that such a charge is brought against your doctrine is a pretty good indication that you are doctrinally on the right track! 

Now let us note carefully the specific point of this slander and its repudiation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with election and reprobation themselves being “in the same manner,” as Dr. Daane contends. No, but the Reformed Churches are slandered as teaching that “reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impietyin the same manner in which election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works.” What is the point here? It is as follows: 

1) The Arminians acknowledge that the Reformed teach that election is the cause in the sense of being the fountain of faith and good works. And this is correct, according to Canons I, 9. 

2) The Arminians accuse the Reformed of teaching that reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety in the same manner, that is, the cause in the sense of fountain.

3) In other words, this comes down to the old charge that the Reformed teach that just as God is the Author of faith and good works, so He is the Author of unbelief and impiety. Just as a fountain is known by the water that flows forth from it, so that sweet and good water flows from a sweet and good fountain, while bitter and foul water flows from a foul and bitter fountain, so it is in the spiritual sense of the word. From a good fountain flow forth faith and good works. From a foul fountain flow forth unbelief and impiety. And the Arminians accuse the Reformed of teaching that just as God’s election is the good fountain of faith and good works, so God’s reprobation is the foul fountain of unbelief and impiety. This is the point of their “in the same manner.” 

Now what is the Reformed answer to this? It is as follows: 

1) In the first place, we certainly acknowledge and believe that God’s election is the cause and fountainof faith and good works. The electing God is the Author of all our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the plain teaching, as we said, of Canons I, 9. 

2) Secondly, we detest with our whole soul that God’s reprobation is in the same manner the fountain of unbelief and impiety. This was already plainly stated in Canons I, 15: the doctrine of reprobation by no means makes God the author of sin. God is the overflowing fountain of all good, never the fountain of evil. No, the foul fountain of unbelief and impiety is sinful man’s own wicked and perverse heart. 

3) Thirdly, this by no means places unbelief and sin outside of the decree of reprobation. Article 6 plainly states it, that some do not receive the gift of faith proceeds from God’s eternal decree. God is not the Author of their unbelief, but it is nevertheless according to His decree that they are unbelieving. And Article 15 plainly states that the decree of reprobation by no means makes God the author of sin, but it also insists that the decree of reprobation (both as a decree of preterition, passing by, and as a decree of condemnation) proceeds out of God’s sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure. Reprobation is not because of sin. No, the reprobate are sovereignly appointed to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction. And the damnation to which they are eternally and sovereignly appointed is a damnation in the way of their own sin and unbelief, that is, in the way of the sin and unbelief of which they themselves are the authors and of which their own evil heart is the fountain.

Thus there is perfect harmony between Articles 6 and 15 of the First Head of Doctrine and this rejection of an evil Arminian slander in the Conclusion.