In the second place, I would suggest the possibility of regular monthly reports to the consistory concerning catechetical instruction by both the pastor and the visiting elders. Moreover, these reports should be official and written, so that they may be entered in the records. Possibly this sounds like “red tape” to some, and perhaps the reports will at times be very brief, especially if everything is going well. But such reports will have the advantage that a consistory pays regular and conscious attention to this important part of the labor of the ministry. And the policy of having regular reports will result also in the consistory paying prompt attention to any irregularities which need correction and to any delinquency which needs to be nipped in the bud.
In the third place, I wish to make a few remarks concerning the visiting of catechism classes by the elders. This is something which is frequently neglected and thought lightly of. Sometimes it is considered a necessary evil; sometimes it is viewed as one of those annoying technicalities which must be tended to in order that the consistory may give the proper answers when the church visitors question them. I realize, too, that the visiting of classes is beset by difficulties of a practical nature. It is sometimes very difficult for elders to visit daytime classes, for example, because of their work. And not infrequently the elders have enough to do so that it is difficult to squeeze in visits to the evening classes.
Yet, let me call attention to the fact, first of all, that our elders surely would not think of treating the preaching of the Word on Sunday as the visiting of catechism classes is often treated, But then why should not our catechism classes be visited? Catechetical instruction is also preaching of the Word. Ideally, there should always be an elder or elders present in the catechism room; and these visits should not be considered routine in a bad sense. They should not be considered an annoyance; they should be more than formal.
A few suggestions concerning these visits are the following. In the first place, in order that the visits may be more frequent and in order to make it more convenient for the elders to visit, why would it not be possible that one elder visits a class, rather than two elders? I suppose that the objection will be that one is not a committee. I would suggest that a committee of two or three be appointed for a given month, and that these elders could divide their labors and each observe a different class. Then let each elder prepare his personal report on the classes he has visited; and then let the committee of elders come together and prepare their joint report for the consistory. The benefit of such a system would be that in the long run more visits would be made, a more complete picture will be obtained by the consistory, and yet there will be a confirmed picture from more than one witness. The result will be that the visiting of classes will be more than the “wax nose” which it is now sometimes. I would suggest, too, that in each consistory a schedule of visits and assignments be prepared by the elders; that this schedule be entered in the minutes; that they adhere to this schedule, so that they are responsible for visits to certain classes in certain months; and that the consistory require that reports of these scheduled visits be filed. In the third place, I would suggest that these reports be more than routine. The reports should pay attention to the items mentioned earlier in our discussion. They should report on the doctrinal purity and specificness of the instruction. They should report on class order, They should report on the faithfulness of the catechumens. The consistory should learn from these reports, for example, whether the catechumens are doing their memory work well or poorly, or whether they are perhaps getting away with reading their answers unbeknownst to the minister. They should report whether there is evidence that the minister prepares thoroughly, and whether there is evidence of class interest, whether there is evidence that the catechumens apprehend the instruction, etc. Reports of this kind can be helpful and can bring about improvement when necessary.
Finally, as I have already suggested, our consistories can profitably pay attention to some of the special problems connected with catechism instruction, as, for example, the proposal brought to our last synod to add catechism books about the Canons and about our church history. Nor need a consistory wait until such matters arise at a synodical level; an alert consistory can very well initiate proposals which may be of benefit to all the churches.
In conclusion, let me emphasize once again the great importance of proper catechetical instruction. If this importance is kept in view, our consistories have a strong incentive to exercise careful supervision. We must guard against a de-emphasis of catechetical instruction. Especially in times like ours the covenant seed is in dire need of all the sound instruction with which we can provide them. And our elders, together with the ministers, must with respect to this instruction function as faithful watchmen, so that the man of God may be throughly furnished unto every good work.
There is still another area for consistorial supervision which is, perhaps, less routine, but to which, by the same token, most consistories probably pay little attention, I refer to the matter of possible changes in and improvements of and additions to the instructional materials which we use in our churches. As I said, most consistories probably pay little attention to this; and this is understandable to an extent. Besides, we certainly must not forever be changing our catechism books. All change is not improvement. There must be a certain stability in this regard also. On the other hand, however, we must never merely drift along. We must never assume the attitude that we have arrived and that there is no room for improvement. Nor must we assume the attitude that this is only the business of synod and of the synodically appointed catechism book committee. This is not true. It is certainly possible and proper that a consistory should initiate proposals to improve and add to our instructional materials; in what better place than the bosom of the churches should such proposals originate? But let me take a concrete example. At our last synod the Catechism Book Committee brought to synod’s attention two possible additions to our instructional materials which they obviously also considered to be improvements. It is not my purpose at this time to discuss the merits of their proposal. I would rather call attention to the fact that the proposal was brought to synod and was by synod returned to the committee for further study and further light, It may be expected, therefore, that this committee will report to the next annual synod. There has already been some discussion at the 1967 synod of the merits of the proposal and of the necessity of the proposed additions; and this is good. Undoubtedly when the matter comes back to synod it will have to be discussed again. But this is not sufficient. This is a matter to which all our consistories could and should give specific attention. I wonder how many of our consistories have already done: so or will do so in the coming year. Probably many of our elders read this proposal in the synodical agenda last spring; and quite possibly they paid no further attention to the matter. But here is an area in which our consistories could be profitably busy. It is not my idea that every consistory should come with overtures or opinions about this to the next synod. But I do suggest that the consistories study and discuss a matter like this as a body; and I do suggest that if any consistory finds that it has something worthwhile to contribute they do so by consistorial decision and give the Catechism Book Committee the benefit of their study. This is a concrete example of what I mean in this part of our discussion.
All of the above items belong in the area of consistorial supervision. They belong not merely to the pastor. If a consistory follows the policy of leaving these matters to the pastor alone, that consistory abdicates its God-given position and responsibility and is also guilty of fostering clericalism. This we must not have; it is neither Reformed nor healthy.
THE MANNER OF EXECUTION
In this section I can be brief.
In considering the practice of this consistorial supervision, the chief and very obvious thing to say is: let the consistory pay attention to its work!
But I also wish to emphasize a few points and to make a few suggestions with respect to the execution of this task.
In the first place, I would emphasize that there ought to be careful consistorial regulation of catechetical instruction. As I suggested before, a consistory must not simply be a rubber stamp for the minister’s plans and proposals with respect to catechism classes. The consistory should actively oversee these matters and decide upon them. And I mean that such matters as the specific courses to be taught during a given season, as well as the schedule and the season of instruction, should be entered in the minutes of the consistory in detail. They should be so detailedly entered in the minutes that if, for example, there is a change of ministers during the season or between seasons, continuity may be maintained and the system may be followed where the former pastor left off, so that there will be no repetition and so that there will be no lapses in the instruction, and so that all the catechumens may benefit from the full course of instruction.
But to this quality of the instruction belongs, in the second place, the educational quality of instruction. Does the minister come well-prepared to catechism class? Or does he give evidence, perhaps, of “shaking something out of his sleeve”? Does he succeed in maintaining good order in his classes? Does he follow good teaching methods? Does he have the interest and the attention of his catechumens? And does he teach the lesson in such a way that he gets it across? Moreover, does he teach catechism merely in an intellectualistic way, or does he follow a spiritual approach, so that his catechumens are also aware that they are under the ministration of the means of grace, the ministry of the Word? For all these matters the minister is indeed responsible. But the minister is under the supervision and subject to the correction of the elders.