I shall now argue on the negative side of the positive proposition: Resolved that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order in submission to Classis and Synod. I want to prove also this proposition false.
According to Joh. Jansen, though fundamentally and in the final analysis, a local consistory does not have the right to act contrary to the Church Order, it does have this right tentatively, for the time being, until classis meets, better said, until the synod meets, (which is every one or two years), for it can be expected that a local consistory, having departed from the Church Order, will, if rebuffed by classis, appeal its case to synod. But how does Joh Jansen succeed in circumventing art. 86 of the Church Order? By distinguishing between changing the Church Order as to its written letter and changing it in practice, and, secondly, by affirming that the article (86) forbids the former but not the latter. Now I have very serious objections also to this view of Jansen.
Firstly. As has already been pointed out, this distinction between changing the Church Order as to its written letter and departing from it in practice, is simply intolerable. The distinction, of course, is not present in art. 86. The article reads: They (the articles of the Church Order) have been so drafted that they may and ought to be altered, if the profit of the churches so require, but no particular congregation shall be at liberty to do so.”
The distinction in question is simply a handy expedient for circumventing art. 86, but it is an expedient as dangerous and it is handy. And this: brings me to my second objection to Jansen’s view. According to this view, between the meetings of synod, the local consistories and classes, in a word, everyone, officebearers and laymen alike may do exactly as they choose, so far as the Church Order is concerned. Once in a year or in two years, synod meets to restore order in the churches, if it can. After the adjournment of synod, a local consistory again goes to altering, augmenting, or diminishing the articles of the Church Order, in practice of course, exactly as it sees fit. It means that, in reality, the Church Order is a dead letter.
Finally, according to art. 86, the classis has no more right to change the Church Order than does the local consistory.
Thus all that a classis can say to a local consistory that has departed from the Church Order is, “you have broken your sacred pledge. Return!”
The classis then has not the right and duty to ascertain whether circumstances justified the departure or whether the article negated, is, as to content of such a character, as to forbid the temporary negation, and, on the basis of its findings approve or disapprove the departure. Doing so the classis by implication declares that it has the right to change the Church Order tentatively and in practice and likewise a local consistory. And if Classis, on the basis of its findings, approves the departure, it actually changes the Church Order in practice tentatively, of course.
So then, though a local consistory were able to show that the departure was fully justified by circumstances and was perfectly allowable so far as the article that was negated is concerned, the classis would still be in duty bound to censure the doing and advise a return to the Church Order, and this on account of the sacred pledge to refrain from private revision of the Church Order at all times. There is indeed a principle involved here. It. is this. May a believer break his sacred pledges, or is he in duty bound before God to do as he vowed. Certainly the latter.
Not even synod has the right to investigate whether circumstances justified the departure from the Church or whether the article negated forms a rule to which no exceptions may be taken ever in that its content is either directly or indirectly derived from God’s Word, so that in negating the article a local consistory is pitted against God’s Word—not even synod has the right and duty to investigate or allow itself to be informed whether such is the case and then on the basis of its findings either approve or disapprove the departure. For doing so, the synod declares by implication that a local consistory and a classis has the right to tentatively change the Church Order in practice. Thus, all that even the synod (the broadest assembly) may say to such a consistory is, “You have sinned; for you have broken your sacred promise. Undo your action. Return to the Church Order.” And in so admonishing, the synod does not declare that the Church Order is the infallible Word of God, but that a local consistory is in duty bound before God to keep its sacred, promise. A sinful corrupt promise must be broken but a sacred promise never.
But someone may ask, what is a local consistory to do, if it discovers that an article of the Church Order ought to be changed for the profit of the churches? Rev. I. Van Wellen, who understands our Church Order, but who once upon a time tried so hard to free himself from the binding power of one of its articles,—the reverend points out the way in his “Commentary on Church Order” (I. Van Dellen. Martin Monsma). He writes: “When a change in the Church Order is deemed necessary, the matter ought to be discussed in our Church Papers, and at Elders conferences, Men’s societies, etc. Then the matter should be brought to classes. If the classes agrees that the matter is worthy of Synod’s consideration, the classis; should overture synod. Matters may, of course, be brought to classis forthwith. But we deem a discussion and a careful consideration of the issues involved to be desirable in most cases. Matters concerning changes in the Church Order may also be brought directly to Synod by individual consistories.”
This is the right way. It is the only lawful way on account of the pledge. We may deal with the Church Order no differently than we my with our Three Forms of Unity.