Every time that New Year’s Day falls on Saturday there is a comparatively widespread tendency in our churches,—sometimes proceeding no farther than an expression of dissatisfaction, but sometimes translated into action,—a tendency, namely, to disregard Article 67 of our Church Order and to cancel either the New Year’s Eve service or the New Year’s Morning service.
That tendency occasions this editorial.
First of all, let me remove the impression that I am unaware of the usual arguments that are brought up to support this tendency. My readers themselves have probably already marshaled them. I am also quite aware of them. They run somewhat as follows. When New Year’s Day falls at the end of the week, if we follow the usual custom, we will have worship services on Friday night (New Year’s Eve), on Saturday morning (New Year’s Morning), and then again twice on Sunday. That means “church” four times in less than three full days. Consistories can probably add to that the fact that for one reason or another,—legitimate or illegitimate,—these services are not as well attended as they might be. And perhaps ministers can add to that the argument that this is a killing pace: to prepare and deliver four good sermons in the space of less than three days, and that too, at a very busy time of the year. Besides, it is probably argued, these church holidays are rather artificial in character and non-Biblical, so that there is no direct and positive Biblical ground for having divine worship on these days. Moreover, as a practical matter, we can just as well eliminate at least the Saturday morning service and celebrate the beginning of the New Year on Sunday morning, January 2. Furthermore, those churches which have no pastor of their own can probably add to this the fact that it is difficult to get supply for their pulpits and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find reading sermons for special occasions of this nature, let alone the fact that it is not very pleasant, to say the least, to have reading at a special service.
Thus the arguments run.
And I make the point of this editorial in spite of these arguments and in spite of the fact that I am well aware of them.
First of all, negatively, because these arguments have no weight whatsoever. Personally, I have a goodly measure of sympathy for these arguments. I have always felt that the occasions of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Morning are, perhaps more than any other holidays mentioned in Article 67, rather artificial occasions. And the artificiality of New Year’s Morning worship is rather complicated by the common custom of installing new elders and deacons on that occasion. For that reason I also favor waiting with that installation until the first Sunday of the New Year, when a sermon befitting the occasion can be preached.
Nevertheless, the arguments as such have no weight when the question of holding services on these occasions is under consideration. Why? Because under Article 67 the consistories simply have no choice in the matter. The article does not read: “The churches shall observe, if they see fit . . . .” It does not even read: “The churches shall observe . . . . . Old and New Year’s Day ordinarily.” It reads: “The churches shall observe, in addition to the Sunday, . . . . . Old and New Year’s Day.” Period! Consistories, therefore, have no option in the matter.
In the second place, this is very definitely sealed by Article 86 of our Church Order, which reads: “These articles, relating to the lawful order of the church, have been so drafted and adopted by common consent, that they (if the profit of the churches demand otherwise) may and ought to be altered, augmented or diminished. However, no particular congregation, classis (or synod), shall be at liberty to do so, but they shall show all diligence in observing them, until it otherwise ordained by the general synod.”
That settles the matter: “. . . they shall show all diligence in observing them, until it be otherwise ordained by the general synod.”
That is, that settles the matter from a negative point of view, and technically. Under our Church Order, no consistory has the right to cancel these services. There can be no question about that.
One may argue that this is unreasonable, that it is legalistic, that precedent has been set in this regard, that no consistory has ever been “called on the carpet” for disregarding this rule. One may also argue that there are several other articles in our present Church Order that are not observed, that, in fact, cannot be observed, that are dead letters. All of these arguments do not change Articles 67 and 86; and one violation does not justify another. These articles have been drafted by common consent, and all our churches are bound by them voluntarily.
I can imagine someone saying: “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, why don’t you make a ‘case’ of it?”
That is not my point, especially not in the light of the fact that our churches have “winked at” this matter for some years.
Neither is my point that our Church Order should undergo a general revision. Personally, I do not feel that the time is ripe for such a gurnard revision; and I do not care to copy the example of other Reformed churches in that regard.
My point is that there is a certain danger in this tendency.
That danger is, in the first place, that this kind of action tends to breed contempt for our Church Order. For, after all, if one article can be disregarded, why cannot another, more important, article also be disregarded at the whim of the local consistory?
That danger is, in the second place, that we depart from good order. Good order would be that if any consistory feels that there should be more latitude in Article 67, that consistory brings the matter to the Synod by way of overture. This is very simple. The insertion of the word “ordinarily” in Article 67 would solve the problem. Or, if it is undesirable to change the article itself, let an overture ask for a decision of Synod to be attached to Article 67 as a footnote, such as we have under many of our articles.
But by all means, let us observe good order in the churches. And that means: maintain the Church Order, and observe it, as long as it is not otherwise ordained by the general synod.
To do less than that is independentism.
And independentism ends in anarchy: it is destructive of true denominational unity.