Last time we concluded our article with a quotation from “The Church Order Commentary” which touched upon the matter of the distinction between major and minor ecclesiastical assemblies. As we stated then, we intend, D.V., to discuss this matter more fully in connection with another article of our Church Order but we desire to make just a few remarks in the present connection.
First, the quotation expresses the proper relation of major and minor ecclesiastical assemblies and, inasfar as it goes, it is correct. Such statements, for example, as: “But Reformed Church Polity does not hold that consistories have a lower and more limited degree of authority, and classis and synod a higher or more extensive degree . . . In fact Reformed Church polity knows of only one type and degree of authority; that vested in the local congregation or its ruling body, the consistory . . . The real unit is, therefore, the individual church. And the local churches, do not exist for the sake of the denomination, but the denomination exists for the sake of the local and individual churches,” express the Reformed view: the view always maintained by our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Secondly, although, as the introductory preface to the commentary indicates, this book “is not an official, that is, synodically approved, commentary on the Church Order,” we wonder whether the authors of this work at least would be ready to concede that the principles they establish in their writings were flagrantly violated by their church in connection with the sad history of 1924. That it is so has been shown many times in the past in ourStandard Bearer and we are convinced that many leaders in the Christian Reformed Church also know it is true but until the injustices are rectified in the way of confession and repentance, the guilt remains with them and God judges also the history of His church.
Finally, the statement, “. . . at major assemblies, a larger measure of authority is present than at minor assemblies, even as ten men are stronger than one alone,” touches a very vital matter. It is this matter that Article 36 treats when it speaks of “jurisdiction” of the synod over the classis and the classis over the consistory. What is this “jurisdiction?” What is this “larger measure of authority” spoken of in this quotation? The matter here is left undefined but we shall give attention to it; only this must wait until later, for first there are some other matters we wish to take up yet in connection with Article 30.
Matters Treated ‘In An Ecclesiastical Manner’
Article 30 states that “ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted and that in an ecclesiastical manner.” What is meant by this last phrase? The church order does not define “ecclesiastical manner” but we may, nevertheless, say a few things about it.
It certainly implies, first of all, that to treat things in, an “ecclesiastical manner” is the very opposite from doing the same in a “worldly manner.” Our Synods and Classes are not the same as the assemblies of civil government such as Congress or the Senate or, for that matter, any worldly assembly. That should always be evident in the very atmosphere in which the assemblies meet. Worldly assemblies are ruled by worldly and selfish aims and principles. Frequently legislators will resort to unjust practices simply to gain sufficient support to pass a certain bill in which they have personal interests or which has special importance for the section of the country they represent. Such practices must not be found in the assemblies of the church. Self-interests are forbidden. The will of Christ Jesus must be the sole criterion of all things and, consequently, since that will lies to be determined from the Word of God, it must be the aim of every member of the assembly and with respect to everything that is to be decided to show and to convince the assembly from the Word of God what is right and good. Only then can it be said, “For it seemed good unto us and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:25).
Hence, ecclesiastical assemblies also are not governed by involved and complicated Rules of Order. This is not because the church does not have and need rules to maintain decency and good order in her assemblies. These she certainly should have but these should not be so involved that they become a hindrance rather than a help. The result of such rules is that freedom of expression is often curtailed for fear that one will violate some technical rule and be called out of order by the president. This should not be. Rules should be simple and easily understood so, that there may be unhampered but orderly discussion of all issues for the objective of any ecclesiastical assembly must not be simply to arrive at a decision but rather to arrive at the truth. When the members of the assembly labor in that attitude the activities of the assembly will be performed in an ecclesiastical manner. It is when there is no more concern for the truth and there is striving toward other objectives that things begin to be done “unecclesiastically!”
In this connection a word may also be written about the “majority rule.” In worldly assemblies as well as in the assemblies of the church it is generally recognized that a majority vote decides a given matter. And this is undoubtedly correct. However, it should be borne in mind that in ecclesiastical assemblies there should be a diligent and sincere effort put forth to reach agreement, as much as possible, on the various matters that are presented for consideration and decision. Matters should not be rushed through as soon as there is reasonable assurance that one more than half is in favor of the motion before the body. Matters must be thoroughly discussed and the members of the assembly must labor patiently with one another to convince each other from the Word of God in order that the outcome, if at all possible, may be a united opinion. This of course, does not mean that a minority of the assembly may endlessly prolong discussion as is sometimes done. The filibuster does not belong in ecclesiastical assemblies. It is not an ecclesiastical way of conducting business. When nothing new is brought forth in the discussion, it is time to call for a vote and then the rule of the majority prevails.
Matters Legally Before the Assembly
When a certain matter is not legally before an assembly, it is evident that it cannot be treated “in an ecclesiastical manner.” All things must be done legally, i.e., according to law. Now it often happens in the ecclesiastical meetings that the question arises as to whether or not a certain matter has “legal status.” In our churches, to the best of my knowledge, there are no set rules governing the matter although these will undoubtedly be introduced in the near future since a committee has been appointed by the Synod this year to look into this matter. Generally in the past all matters that appear on the agenda and that conform to a few general rules of the church order were regarded as legal. In Classis East, unless this has been changed of late, a prepared agenda is not provided in advance of the meeting. Matters are simply brought directly to the Classis up to the time that Classis convenes. In Classis West and in the Synodical assemblies matters must be submitted to the Stated Clerk within a certain deadline in order to appear on the agenda and anything that does not appear there can be treated only by special action of the body. This is the preferred way. It is not only more orderly but it gives the members of the assembly time in advance to deliberate upon matters to be decided which is without question advantageous.
The Christian Reformed Church has seven rules with respect to matters legally before the Synod. These are:
“1. Only certain kinds of ecclesiastical matters. D.K.O. Art. 30.
“2. Not matters already considered unless necessary. D.K.O. Art. 46.
“3. Appeals or protests by Consistories or individual members who cannot yield to classical decisions and who have given notice of such appeals or protests to the Classes concerned. If a member of the Church presents a communication to Synod when he has been unable first to, present it to his Consistory and Classis, such a communication shall be received as information, provided that the stated clerk of Synod receive evidence that it was impossible for the communicant to present his matter to Consistory and Classis; Synod shall decide whether it shall act upon such matters received for information. Protestants and appellants shall as a rule not be permitted to plead their cases before Synod but before the Advisory Committee on Protests and Appeals unless their matter is taken up by Synod directly.
“4. Reports by special committee: and boards appointed by previous Synods.
“5. Overtures by Classes.
“6. Overtures which though unsuccessfully submitted to a Classis for adoption are considered by their authors to be of such importance as to require synodical action.
“7. All other matters which Synod by a majority vote declares acceptable. As much as possible the rule shall be adhered to that no proposals of importance shall be presented to Synod that have not appeared on the Agenda, so that Consistories and Classes may have opportunity for previous deliberation.”
We cite these rules not because we are in agreement with all of them but to illustrate what determines the legality of matters presented to ecclesiastical assemblies. Sometimes a layman will present a matter illegally to a major assembly and it has to be declared out of order but the assembly is hesitant to do so because it is consciously aware of the fact that the party involved didn’t understand the technical procedure. Of course, ignorance is no excuse. Advice can always be sought. Nevertheless, it is difficult to turn one away on those grounds and so it is well to observe and remember some of these points for, although we have as yet nowritten rules, many of the ideas expressed in the above rules are observed and practiced in the assemblies of our churches.
P.S. Undersigned is aware of a series of Articles currently appearing in “The Contender” and written by Rev. M. MacKay reflecting upon a former series written in the Standard Bearer by the undersigned on “The Church and State.” We will, however, give Rev. MacKay time to finish his writings before making, comment.