We still have to present the report of the committee that was appointed at the February sessions of Classis East in re the cases of Mr. and Mrs. H. Vander Vennen, Mr. D. Flietstra and Mrs. P. Van den Engel.
Again I present this report of the committee in abbreviated form.
First of all, the committee presents the reason for its being appointed in order to report to the April session of Classis East. The reason is that in its answer to the protest of First Church, Southeast consistory accuses the consistory of “measuring with two measures.” This “measuring with two measures” consists, according to the consistory of Southeast Church, in this that “the position First Church assumed in these similar cases is the very position which Southeast now maintains in the Gritters case, but which First Church now claims is Scripturally and church politically wrong for Southeast to maintain.” This is, according to Southeast, “measuring with two measures.” It is for this reason that the committee was appointed to study the matter and to report to the April session of Classis East.
The committee in its report, first of all, treats the case of Mr. and Mrs. H. Vander Vennen. It gives a brief outline of the case as follows:
a. Mr. and Mrs. Vander Vennen were members of First Church before the schism of 1953. They were then unmarried.
b. Following the schism Mrs. Vander Vennen went with her parents to the schismatic DeWolf group. Mr. Vander Vennen continued to meet at the legal First Church.
c. They were married in Sept. 1953 and both attended Fourth Church.
d. First Church, after Classis East declared them to be the legal consistory and congregation, sent a communication to their members prior to the schism which was to be signed and returned to the consistory by a certain date. Those that failed to do this were dismissed as members of the congregation.
e. Mr. Vander Vennen failed to do this. Hence he was dismissed. Mrs. Vander Vennen’s name was erased from the rolls at the same time.
f. The Vander Vennens asked that their membership papers be transferred to Fourth Church.
g. First Church decided as follows:
“1. That in view of the dismissal of Mr. and Mrs. Vander Vennen from membership in October 1953, they could not issue certificates of transfer in their behalf.
“2. To advise Fourth Church to receive the brother and sister into their membership and communion.”
h. Fourth Church acted favorably on this advice.
In reply to the protest of First Church in the Gritters case Southeast Church comments on the action of First Church regarding the Vander Vennen matter:
“Here First Church does not tell Mr. Vander Vennen to come to them for reinstatement, although in this case he would have been so willing.
“Here First Church does not tell Mrs. Vander Vennen to come to them for confession or reinstatement or both.
“Here First Church says: we CANNOT issue a certificate of membership.
“Here First Church says so on the ground of their dismissal of these people.
“Here First Church simply . . . recommends that we receive the brother and sister, for the simple-reason that they could not do so.”
Southeast compares this with the Gritters case. In the latter case First Church maintains that “the only way in which Southeast can properly receive these families is by way of proper testimonial from the consistory of First Church.” First Church maintains “that the only proper way of procedure is that these families first confess their sins to us, and be reinstated in the congregation from which they separated themselves, in order then, if they so desire, to be transferred to the Southeast Church with proper attestation.”
Moreover, Southeast Church comments on the position of First Church as follows: “Now they say: ‘The only way in which Southeast can properly receive these families is by way of proper testimonial from the consistory of First Church.’ ‘Now Southeast Church is plainly violating Art. 61 for doing what First Church recommended in the Vander Vennen case and for denying the jurisdiction which they themselves assured us they did not have.’ ‘Now Southeast is violating Art. 84 and lording it over First Church for acting according to their own communication to us.’ ‘Now Southeast is guilty of all manner of sins for saying the same thing they said: you cannot issue a certificate of membership’.”
Thus Southeast concludes, “Talk about measuring with two measures.”
Next, the committee tries to interpret the phrase “measuring with two measures.” It can conceive of two possible interpretations: 1. That Southeast means to show the inconsistency of First Church in these matters. And if this is all they mean, the committee can agree. The facts presented in the cases only too plainly reveal this. 2. That Southeast means to imply that First Church acted from evil motives. “This interpretation the committee rejects as untenable. No grounds can be produced for it. We, therefore, discard it.”
The committee then attempts to explain how First Church acted so inconsistently. The two cases, that of the Vander Vennens and that of the Gritters are quite different. We must consider the time element. Mr. Vander Vennen never supported the schism. He continued attending the services in First Church till the time of his marriage. After that he attended Fourth Church. The fact that he asked for his papers to Fourth Church shows that he considered himself as still a member there. As to Mrs. Vander Vennen, she returned from the schismatics a few months after leaving our churches with her parents. She wished to make confession of faith at Fourth Church. She, too, requested a transfer of her membership papers to Fourth Church. “From all indications, therefore, neither he nor she were in any way of an adverse attitude to our churches and their position in ’53.”
The case of the Gritter family was entirely different. They openly supported the cause of De Wolf to the very end. They continued to do this for eight years. They revealed no repentance. “Certainly no one can deny that the two cases are very dissimilar from these aspects.”
This, however, does not give First Church the right to act as they did. They did not act according to ecclesiastical and Scriptural principles. The committee believes that First Church seriously erred in the Vander Vennen case. This brother and sister took no active part in the schism nor were they opposed to the stand of our churches in regard to the De Wolf case. They evidently believed that they were still members of First Church for they asked for transfer papers to Southeast Church. Instead of refusing this request First Church should have sought contact with them with a view to possible reinstatement as members of our churches. The committee, therefore, is of the opinion that First Church committed an injustice in the Vander Vennen case.
Besides, First Church violated Art. 61 of the Church Order by recommending Southeast Church to receive the Vander Vennens without proper testimonial. All our consistories, First Church included are bound to limit themselves to this rule in receiving members. In this respect, First Church erred.
Next, the committee in its report considers the cases of D. Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel.
Southeast Church argues as follows:
“a. Mr. Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel, as well as the Gritters families, were former members of First Church but went along with De Wolf in the schism of ’53.
“b. Both parties, as well as the Gritters families, were dismissed in ’53.
“c. Both parties, as well as the Gritters families, were guilty of the sins of schism, etc.
“d. Both parties were named on the same bulletin with the Gritters families as being accepted as members of Southeast.
“e. How is it possible that on the ground of the bulletin announcement First Church protests the acceptance of the Gritters families and fails to say anything concerning D. Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel? The implication seems to be, is this still more evidence of ‘measuring with two measures’.”
The committee agrees with this reasoning. In as far as Southeast Church asks the question why First Church strongly protests against the acceptance of the Gritters family and fails to mention the names of the above mentioned parties, “the committee too is subject to the above reasoning.” The protest of First Church accuses the Gritters families of serious sin and the two other parties, although their names appear on the same bulletin, are not even mentioned.
The committee sees a glaring inconsistency in this action of First Church. The actions of First Church become the occasion of questions and difficulties. The committee says “that such inconsistencies are far from becoming to one of our consistories . . . we could well wish for the occasion to say with respect to the actions of First Church, ‘Consistency, thou art a jewel’.”
Then follows the advice of the committee which we quote literally: “In light of the above report we advise Classis:
“1. To declare that in view of the contrary actions taken in the Vander Vennen and Gritters cases, First Church revealed itself as guilty of glaring inconsistencies.
“2. To declare that its unecclesiastical treatment of the Vander Vennen’s request for transfer of membership constitutes an injustice against the Vander Vennens.
“3. To declare that First Church violated Art. 61 of the Church Order when it advised Fourth Church to receive the Vander Vennens without the proper testimonial re doctrine and walk.
“4. To declare that Fourth (Southeast) Church violated Art. 61 of the Church Order when it received into its membership the Vander Vennens without the proper testimonial re doctrine and walk.
“Re D. Flietstra and Mrs. P. Vanden Engel.
“In the light of the above report we advise Classis to declare that First Church revealed itself as guilty of inconsistency of action in failing even to mention the names of Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel in its protest re the Gritter families.”
Thus far the report.
It was, except a few amendments which I do not have in my possession, adopted by the classis.
But now I have a rather serious remark. It is this, that the advice of the committee is a “glaring” violation of the Church Order. And the classis, by adopting this advice, is now equally guilty. This is especially true of the cases concerning D. Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel, although the Vander Vennen case cannot be excluded.
I am sorry that I did not mention this at the meeting of classis. I could have done this for I had advisory vote and, therefore I should have done this. I had it in mind, and I even talked about it with a brother in recess.
My objection is that the cases of Flietstra and Mrs. Van den Engel were not before the consistory of First Church in any shape or manner nor was the case of the Vander Vennens in the form of a protest by Southeast.
It is to my mind a very fundamental principle of the Church Order that no major assembly (Classis or Synod) shall decide on matters that could have been finished in the minor assembly, in this case the consistory of First Church. The article of the Church Order to which I have reference reads as follows (Art. 30):
“In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted and that in an ecclesiastical manner. In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assemblies, or such as pertain to the major assembly in common.”
The Consistory of First Church never dealt with the cases of Flietstra and Mrs. Vanden Engel. Should they have dealt with them? Perhaps. But do not forget that the consistory of Fourth Church mentioned only the Gritters family and made no mention of the others. Besides, if the case of the Gritters family had been settled, the other two cases would have been decided too in the nature of the case. As to the Vander Vennen case, it is true that this had been decided by the consistory of First Church, and, perhaps, in the wrong way. But the fact is that there was not any form of protest concerning the Vander Vennen case before the consistory of First Church. In fact, Fourth Church could not protest because, in that case, they would condemn their own actions. Nor was there any protest in this case before classis. And even the matter of “inconsistency” and of “measuring with two measures” was never before the consistory of First Church.
Hence, if the classis, on the advice of the committee, had decided anything at all in these cases, it would have to have been something like this:
“On the basis of Art. 30 of the Church Order, and on the basis of the fact that these matters were never before the Consistory of First Church, we have no jurisdiction in the matter and would refer it to the consistory of First Church.”