In our last installment we introduced the first article of our Church Order. At that time we wrote on the subject of Good Order in general and pointed out that the Word of God repeatedly calls us to live orderly lives. Such a life is one that is in all things in harmony with the revealed will and word of the God of all order.
This orderly arrangement of all things in the original creation has been grievously disrupted by sin. This also then has its effect upon the church in the world so that she does not appear in the world as a body united in orderly fashion and living in accord with the Holy Word but rather she appears as a house hopelessly divided and torn by disorder and schism. For this reason it is necessary that there be “Offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline” in the church for through the proper functioning of these institutions order in the church will be maintained and peace and unity will prevail.
We made the observation then too that there are “evidences in our own churches of sagging porches, tottering dormers, and broken panes which mar the beauty of our ecclesiastical structure”. The peace and unity we once enjoyed no longer prevails. Instead there is disunity and some already speak of the inevitable split. This condition results from a disorder in the functioning of one or more of the institutions mentioned above which are designed to maintain good order. This disorder has temporarily disrupted all progress and development and unless it is properly rectified the future existence of our denomination is in jeopardy. As a communion of churches we cannot live in disorder any more than a school of fish can live outside of the water.
In the present article we wish to reflect somewhat upon the situation because we feel that when order and decency are once again restored in our churches the dogmatic problems that confront us will either be absolved or the differences which do exist will become obvious even to the least discerning laity which I am confident is at present not the case. Our ecclesiastical fog is the result of disorder and until the fog is lifted it will be difficult if not impossible to discern clearly. Clarity prevails only when “all things are done decently and in good order.” (). Confusion is the product of disorder!
(Let us begin our survey then by going back to 1950 when the Declaration of Principles was brought into being. Was this a product of disorder brought into being by illegal means, i.e., means that are contrary to the principles of Reformed Church Order? If it was, our present situation may be caused by this disorder and then we must correct this by withdrawing the Declaration and proceed further in the legal way. If it is was not, however, our present situation stems from a refusal to abide by this order and this must be corrected first of all in the local churches through the proper functioning of the “offices, supervisions, and discipline.” (Art. 1).
To the undersigned there is no question concerning the orderliness of the proceedings of the 1950 Synod. I would have our readers consider a few simple, well-known facts:
Fact is that “the missionary work of the churches is regulated by the general Synod in a mission order”. (Art. 51, D.K.O.) This means that it is the Synod’s business to regulate according to its wisdom the missionary work of the churches. No one can fail to acknowledge this.
Fact II is that “all proposals of importance to be treated by the Synod must appear on the agendum so that Consistories and Classes may have opportunity for previous deliberation with the exception of those matters that are brought by various standing Synodical Committees.” (Arts. 4, 6 Rules of Order of the Synod). This, of course, is nothing new but obviously many are either ignorant of the rules that govern ecclesiastical procedure or do not wish to regard them.
Fact III is that in 1950 the standing Synodical Mission Committee “requested the Synod to draw up a form that may be used by those families requesting organization into a Protestant Reformed Congregation”. (pg. 63, Acts 1950) The Mission Committee was confronted with a problem concerning what was binding in our churches and according to their written testimony they expressed that the answer to this problem did not lie within their jurisdiction. We all know this. It was a matter that was properly within the jurisdiction of the Synod. Hence, the matter was placed before that body for deliberation and decision.
Fact IV is that the Synod of 1950 replied to this request and presented the Declaration to the Mission committee as a working hypothesis in the organization of our churches. Objections were raised that “this is not what the Mission Committee requested” but this objection has to do with the content rather than with the legal procedure and so is not for us to consider here. The sole point we wish to make clear is that
Synod acted orderly and lawfully according to its own judgment in this matter. One may question and perhaps disagree with that judgment but as we see it the matter of order, jurisdiction and right is beyond doubt. Synod did nothing thus far out of order.
Now there is one more thing. Synod also sent the Declaration to the various Consistories for approval before final adoption. This procedure may be questionable. However, it certainly was not the intention of this doing of Synod to seek the approval of the church on their legal procedure. Synod did not do this because she doubted whether she acted within her right. Of course not! Synod simply requested the approval of the churches upon the content of the Declaration so that any anti-confessional matter might be elided before its final adoption. Even this Synod did not have to do and would have been in good order had she adopted the Declaration in 1950 for the organization of churches. But now the repeated attempt is made to evade treating the content (which the churches were requested to do) and wrangle over the question of legality. This is disorder! This is equivalent to stripping Synod of its proper functions under the Church Order. This is denying the standing committees of Synod the right to make their requests and allowing Synod to treat them.
From still another point of view we cannot agree with the order that is followed in the churches regarding the matter of the Declaration. This is the viewpoint of Art. 31 of our Church Order in which it is stated that “whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the Articles of our Church Order, as long as they are not changed by a general Synod, (underscore mine—G.V.B.) This is a sound principle for it establishes the Word of God as the sole criterion for good order and as we stated previously “we are in good order only when we are in harmony with that Word”. Now, if the Synod’s action, taken by majority vote, is contrary to the Word (or to the Confessions which is the same thing for we agree as we state in the Formula of Subscription that our Confessions are Scriptural) it is most certainly an action of disorder. But, are objections raised to this? We hear various objections. Some assert that there is no need for the Declaration; others state that it isn’t what the Mission Committee wanted; again we hear that it was adopted too hurriedly; or it disturbs the peace of our churches; or Dr. Schilder has cogent reasons not to adopt it; or it closes the door to others; and many more and for these reasons refuse to receive it as binding. The good order prescribed in Art. 31 above, however, allows none of these objections for when a thing is agreed upon by a majority vote the only valid objection is that the decision conflicts with God’s Word. Order, then, demands that we dwell on this one cogent point. To avoid this and to attempt to overthrow the work of Synod by an avalanche of sundry arguments and personal opinions is to produce confusion which is the product of disorder. This is the situation as we see it today.
It is true that some attempts are made to show that the expressions and concepts of unconditional promise, unconditional faith, etc. in the Declaration are unscriptural. This is rightly following the order of Art. 31 but even then it will not do to insist upon certain ambiguous so-called Reformed conditions nor will it suffice to cite the fact that certain Reformed writers of the past have written of conditions but in unambiguous language the concept of Reformed conditions, conditional promise, conditional faith, conditional repentance, etc. must be expounded from the Scriptures so that the churches may be wholly convinced that the phraseology of the Declaration is anti-Scriptural and anti-confessional. To simply fill the air with vague, confusing sounds which becloud the truth is to contribute to the confusion and disorder of our time. If we insist upon conditions in the ordo salutis we are further obligated by the moral as well as the written order of our churches to make our position unmistakably clear over against the plain expressions of the Declaration of Principles and the Canons.
No attempt is made here to deny one the right to protest or to maintain their convictions. We merely insist that this be done according to good order which is also compliance with the rules. When one binds himself to the Confessions which clearly ban ‘conditions’, putting them in the Arminians’ mouth only, he is certainly duty bound to justify his objections to a declaration which harmoniously with the Confessions also speaks anti-conditionally. That, as we see it, is decency and order.
Concluding, we may yet remark that order is also systematic arrangement. Only when the truth is systematically set forth and each part is properly focused upon the center of truth—THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD—do we maintain an orderly arrangement of truth. Introducing conditions throws the ordo salutis by sovereign grace out of this focus and in our vision mars the beautiful order according to which “of HIM and through HIM and to HIM are all things; to WHOM be glory forever”. () And this, too, is disorder!
G. Vanden Berg