(Each synod shall be at liberty to solicit and hold correspondence with its neighboring synod or synods in such manner as they shall judge most conducive to general edification.) â€• D.K.O. Article 48
The parentheses surrounding the above article indicate that it, like the preceding article, applies to particular synods and, therefore, the matter with which it deals is of no direct concern to us since we have only a General Synod.
The subject of inter-synodical correspondence has no connection with the work of our Synod that is carried out through the appointment of a standing committee of Correspondence with Foreign Churches. The latter is a committee that is mandated by the Synod to seek to establish contact with other churches of Reformed persuasion and to carry out fraternal correspondence with them. Such correspondence is indeed inter-synodical but it is also inter-denominational. The article of the Church Order that we are presently considering, however, deals with the matter of correspondence between various particular synods within the same denomination of churches.
Another difference between these two forms of correspondence lies in the manner in which they are to be carried out. The contact between a committee of the General Synod and the Synods of other churches is to a very large extent made and perpetuated through letters and written communications. It is possible, of course, that where favorable contact has been made, this bond is further strengthened through personal representatives of the Synod but even then these representatives would not be sent every year unless afraternal relationship was officially established between the two churches.
With respect to the matter of Article 48, however, the term “to hold correspondence” is a literal translation of the Dutch “correspondentie te houden” and the idea of this latter expression is not that letters be written from one particular synod to another but that these synods would appoint representatives who were charged to attend the meetings of the neighboring particular synods in person. The article states that “each synod shall be at liberty . . .” meaning that this matter was not one of compulsion but of free choice. It also adds that “this correspondence shall be carried out in such a manner as they shall judge most conducive to general edification” which indicates that there could be no hard and fast compelling manner in which this had to be done but it was and, we believe is, generally agreed that the most effective way to carry out such work is by personal contact.
The origin of this correspondence must be traced to the fact that after 1586 the General Synod of the Reformed Churches did not meet regularly. This was due to the interference of the Government which, because it feared the influence and power of the church, refused to authorize the gatherings of the General Synods. This situation prevented the churches from conferring with one another on various questions and united action was not always taken on vital issues. There was a danger that without the periodic meetings of the Synod the churches would begin to drift apart and fall into a sort of independentism. To avoid this and to somewhat meet the need that arose out of this undesirable condition, the particular synods began to send representatives to each other’s meetings. This was first done by the Particular Synod of South Holland which sent two ministers to the Particular Synod of North Holland in 1593. The practice soon became wide-spread. Only in the provinces of Drenthe and Zeeland was it lacking and, in the latter case at least, this was because it was forbidden by the civil authorities. When, however, the Synod of 1618-19 was finally called because of the Arminian difficulties that plagued the churches, this Synod also authorized the practice of “correspondence between particular synods,” and wrote the present article into the Church Order.
Although, as was stated, this practice is of no direct concern to us because we have not instituted particular synods, the idea of this practice is nevertheless of interest and might conceivably be applied on the level of our classes. There would be no principle objection to the practice of our two classes sending fraternal delegates to each other’s meetings. The provision of the Church Order regarding this matter as pertaining to particular synods would seemingly justify such a practice. Against it may be argued that it is not necessary since our General Synod meets annually and, further, whereas considerable distance is involved the expenses that this would incur would not be justified. There undoubtedly is some truth in these arguments but when consideration is given to some of the things that went on in the classis during and before the schism of ’53, it might have been a very good thing to have had some representatives of the other classis present at these meetings. Perhaps it would not be necessary to have such a delegation at every meeting of the Classis but on occasion it could be a good thing to establish and maintain a closer contact and unity between the two classes of our churches.
(Each synod shall delegate some to execute everything ordained by the synod both as to what pertains to the government and to the respective classes, resorting under it, and likewise to supervise together or in smaller number all examinations of future ministers. And, moreover, in all other eventual difficulties they shall extend help to the classes in order that proper unity, order and soundness of doctrine maybe maintained and established. Also they shall keep proper record of all their actions to report thereof to synod, and if it be demanded, give reasons. They shall also not be discharged from their service before and until synod itself discharges them)”â€• D.K.O. Article 49
This article, like the two preceding, also applies to the Particular Synods although the ruling regarding the appointment of synodical committees is in practice also applied to the General Synod. We believe it should be for otherwise there is nothing in the Church Order concerning this matter as pertaining to the General Synod and there should be because of the very general practice of the synod to appoint special study committees as well as its regular standing committees.
The proposed revision of the Church Order by the Christian Reformed Church is in this regard an improvement. In this revision we find just one article pertaining to Particular Synods, one article governing the General Synod, and then a series of several articles under the heading of “General Provisions.” We take it that these general provisions apply to both the Particular and General Synod and see no reason why they should not. With regard to the matter at hand then, namely, the appointment of committees, we find in Article 47 of the proposed revision this ruling:
“Synod may delegate to committees the execution of its decisions or the preparation of reports for future considerations. Synod shall give every committee a well-defined mandate, and shall require of these committees regular and complete reports of their work. However, synod shall never transfer its authority to them, since they are not ecclesiastical assemblies, and all church govemmental authority resides in the church assemblies only.”
In the churches of the Netherlands a revision of this 49th article has also been enacted. Originally the churches did not feel it necessary that Synodical Committees be appointed by the General Synod. Hence, the article (as we now have it) applied only to Particular Synods. In 1905 this was changed and the article was so revised that it applies now to both the General and the Particular Synod. This revision, however, was never adopted in our country, and consequently, we still have it in the original form. The reader will notice that in the revision the phrase “everything. . . both as to what pertains to the government and to the respective classes resorting under it” has been elided. Further, the original redaction specifies just one committee which is charged to do many and various things in behalf of synod while the revision provides for the appointment of separate synodical committees for the different matters or functions that demand attention. These changes are improvements for it makes for a broader distribution of the work and it is also a deterrent to the danger of hierarchism which is present when too much power is placed in the hands of a few. The rendering of 1905 then reads:
“Each synod shall deputize some to execute everything ordained by Synod and to offer their assistance to the classes in eventual difficulties, as much as possible separate groups of delegates shall be appointed for the various interests. At least two or thee deputies shall supervise the preemptor (decisive and final) examination of future ministers. All these deputies shall keep a good record of all their activities in order to report to Synod and in order to give reasons for their actions, if such be demanded. They shall also not be discharged from their service before and until Synod itself discharges them.”
The appointment and work of the committees of synod is a very important function. Our synod which will convene, DIV., in June will hear and treat reports of twenty different committees this year. Of these six are standing or permanent committees of synod and the remaining fourteen are committees that were assigned special tasks or special problems for study. Of course there is always a danger that Synod misuses the provision to appoint committees. That danger is that instead of solving the difficulties that confront her, the synod simply prolongs the problem by referring it to committee. This must be avoided and wherever possible the Synod should reach a decision on all matters presented to it. The advantage of this ruling, however, is that it avoids hasty decisions. By referring a weighty question to a committee, the churches have a year’s time to give thought, study and consideration to it before rushing into an “on the spur of the moment” decision that might have regrettable consequences later. G.V.d.B.