We saw that Article 79 as interpreted in the light of the Church Order (not in the light of that imaginary handbook), very actually declares that the Consistory only shall depose office bearers. Let us now return to Art. 85 (84 of our Revised Church Order) and see that this article sets forth an identical teaching. “No Church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no Minister over other Ministers, No Elder or Deacon over other Elders or Deacons.” So the article reads. The fathers of Dort did not insert into the article a clause explaining just what that action is whereby the one church lords it over other churches and one Minister, Elder, or Deacon over other Ministers, Elders, or Deacons. For in this article they were striking at that conception of church government embodied in the Roman hierarchy; and they must have felt certain that this would be understood by all; and so it is. As to the Roman hierarchy, it was (and still is, of course) an imposing structure. Its foundation was the lower clergy, the presbyters or priests and the deacons (who did whatever preaching there was done in those days) of the local churches. Its apex was the pope of Rome. The intermediate officers were the bishops and the archbishops. As to the bishops of lowest rank—there were ranks among them—each had charge of a number of churches over which he ruled as a superior officer with mandatory power—mark you, mandatory power. For this reason historians have given him the name “monarchial bishop”. That the Roman bishop was and still is such an officer is simply a fact that no student of Church History denies but that Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema sees fit to cover up. He writes (brochure p. 79), “We must explain the article (84) historically. The Roman Catholic Church presented many sorry examples of the evil to which this article refers. The larger churches lorded it over the smaller churches; the bishops of the larger cities over the bishops of the smaller towns.” This is stating only a part of the truth. The reverend should have added, “And the lowest ranking bishops lorded it over the local churches with their presbyters and deacons.”
We must indeed explain the article (84) historically but in doing so we must allow the full light of history to fall upon it. Explaining the article historically, we perceive that its idea is this, “No Consistory shall exalt itself as a superior officer with mandatory power over other consistories and their churches; the Ministers, too, shall refrain from this sinful action with respect to their colleagues and likewise the elders and deacons, in order that there be no hierarchy among us.” Thus, according to this article, no Consistory may say to a number of other Consistories, “Thou shalt,” or, “Thou shalt not,” which means that according to this article the character of the jurisdiction of one Consistory over others, and of one Minister over others and of one Elder or Deacon over other Elders and Deacons is advisory and not mandatory. And this implies, of course, that one Consistory may not extend its key-power over a number of other Consistories to depose any or all of them, should there be need of such action.
That this is indeed the idea of Art. 84 is admitted also by Dr. Ridderbos. He writes (does he not?),
“If the one church appropriates such authority over the other, then that is ‘lording it over’; but if the churches assemble in major assemblies, they are rightfully entitled to this power.” (Kerkscheuring, p. 23).
The original of this translation is found in The Standard Bearer for April 1. In this excerpt the doctor speaks of “this power”. The power to which the doctor here has reference is the “mandatory” or “key power”. Otherwise the statement is meaningless. For certainly to make itself guilty of “heerschappij voeren”, “lording it over,”—this is the sinful action that Art. 84 forbids—a Consistory must exalt itself as superior officer with mandatory power over a number of other Consistories. There is no other way. No one can conceive of another way. Power in the church is either mandatory as inclusive of key-power or advisory. A third kind of power there is not. And by power I mean right (authority), the right to command and (or) to advise.
Let us now once more get before us the contention of the doctor with regard to Art. 84. As has already been explained in previous writings (and also proved with quotations from the doctor’s Kerkscheuring) it is this: that what Art. 84 forbids is simply that a Consistory shall refrain from exalting itself as a superior officer with mandatory power over a number of Consistories. Whether also Classis (Synod) shall refrain from this action, the article (84) says nothing. As we have seen, the Schilder group are of a different conviction. They maintain that the prohibition of the article concerns also the Classis and Synod. As we have seen, they reason this way, “If one Consistory has nothing to say over the other, then also eight hundred Consistories have nothing to say over the one Consistory. For 800 zeros must remain zeros, even as organized, of course. And this precisely is what the doctor (Ridderbos) denies. His contention is that as organized—mark you, as organized,—the 800 zeros have a positive numerical value. Now this, of course, is as untrue as anything can be untrue. 800 zeros can have a positive value only if they be prefixed by a number, by a one or two or three. Besides, zeros spell nothingness and therefore cannot be organized. But Dr. Ridderbos seems to think that they can; for he writes, “And herewith is refuted that whole argument (of the aggrieved) of ‘eight hundred times zero is zero.’ The doctor certainly is mistaken.
Let us state the matter concretely by speaking in terms of Consistory and Classis (Synod). As was said, a Consistory, any Consistory, is not a superior officer with mandatory power over other Consistories. This is a point that no one disputes. All are agreed that it is the plain teaching of Art. 84, thus agreed that the one Consistory—the x—is zero as far as its right to exercise mandatory power over other consistories is concerned. Now, if this is true, if with respect to the other Consistories with their churches, the mandatory power of a Consistory, any Consistory, is zero, then certainly 800 such powerless Consistories are devoid of power to rule over other Consistories (it would be absurd to maintain the contrary, wouldn’t it) even as organized in Classis (Synod). Now this precisely is what Dr. Ridderbos denies. His contention is that as organized into Classis (mark you, as organized into Classis or Synod the 800 powerless Consistories do have key-power over another Consistory. He maintains, in other words, that as organized, the 800 zeros have a positive numerical value. That this is actually the doctor’s conception is plain from the following statement from his Kerkscheuring. “But if the Churches (Consistories) assemble in major assemblies (Classis, Synod) they are entitled to this power.”
But certainly, 800 zeros—as zeros, mark you,—cannot be anything else but zeros, even as organized. Certainly, 800 powerless Consistories—powerless in their separate existence with respect to the other Consistories—remain powerless, even as organized. It simply can’t be otherwise. Let me illustrate. An Elder has mandatory power over the congregation as the vicar of Christ and the Elder only. Thus as far as mandatory power is concerned the common members are zeros. (Now I trust that no one will misunderstand me in this statement). Let ten common members in the church organize and they are still zeros though organized, that is, in their organized state they are not the Consistory with key power over the congregation, the simple reason being that, not being in office, they possess no such power separately. To constitute as organized, the Consistory, each of the ten must be an elder with key-power over the church to begin with. For zeros as organized cannot possibly be anything else but a zero. And for this very reason a hundred common citizens of the state of Michigan not in office do not constitute as organized the state legislature. And again for this very reason twenty-five consistories in their separate existence devoid of mandatory power with respect to one another, do not as organized into Classis constitute an entity with mandatory power over the churches. This is simply impossible; for zeros even as organized cannot be anything else but a zero.
Yet, marvelous to say, Dr. Ridderbos maintains that this is very well possible. He insists that a Classis (Synod) is such a strange phenomenon,—an organization of zeros that constitute in their corporate capacity an entity with key-power over the churches, thus an entity with power to rightfully depose officebearers. But the doctor comes with no argument. All he does is to appeal to Art. 36 of the Church Order. He should not have done that, for thereby he brings the whole Church Order under a cloud and with it the fathers of Dort. As if these fathers were capable of incorporating any such strange teaching in their Church Order!
The Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema also appealed to Art. 36 of the Church Order in support of his theory that Classis (Synod) rightfully deposes office-bearers. But the reverend did more than this. He also came with argument and much of it. For evidently he felt that Art. 36 cannot be used as a proof text for his theory. It seems that this was not felt by doctor Ridderbos. For all he did was to quote this article. But not so Rev. G. Hoeksema. He came with argument. And from his argument it appears that in contradistinction to Dr. Ridderbos, he perceived, and this must be said to his credit certainly, that 800 zeros even as organized into Classis (Synod) possibly cannot be anything else but a zero. He even affirms this with emphasis as I have proved with citations from his brochure. Here is one of them,
“To get beyond that, to get combined consistory authority over the combined churches and over each other you must unite these consistories into a large whole, into the large consistories we call Classis and Synod. Then the Classis can ask submission of the individual Consistory as a member of the larger body. And only then can you defend the right of the Classis to depose a Consistory. . . . The question is, what kind of a ‘kerkverband’ has been established? Is it a mere federation? Then deposition of Consistories by Classis is out of the question.” (Brochure, p. 46).
Notice the expression, Is it a mere federation?” The question is equivalent to asking, Is it a mere Classis, that is, a number of local churches federating on the basis of the Church Order? If so, then deposition of Consistory by the Classis (Synod) is out of the question.” Here the reverend affirms with emphasis that 800 zeros even as organized possibly cannot be anything else but a zero. Had the reverend only abided in this light and returned to the Church Order and its teaching, all would have been well. But the sad thing is that he forsook the light when he addressed himself to the impossible task of proving that after all 800 zeros can indeed be made to amount to something more than a zero if we only take care to properly organize the zeros. For the reverend admits and even affirms, again with emphasis, that in their separate existence the consistories indeed have no mandatory power over one another and that therefore the thing’ to do is to organize them into the major consistories we call Classis and Synod, and that these zeros as so organized do have mandatory power over the local churches. So he says. But as we saw he failed to tell his readers how such a consistorial Classis is to be brought into being, in what way, by what specific act. The reverend went no further than to say that it must be done. But what I mean to bring out is that the reverend did not abide in the light.
It also seemed to have dawned on the late Dr. H. Bouwman that 800 zeros even as organized into Classis (Synod) cannot be anything else but a zero. For as we saw in the attempt to prove the crooked thing straight—the thing: deposition of office-bearers by Classis (Synod)—he came with the strange, impossible view that in a crisis, as when there is need of a power to depose a rebellious Consistory, all the Consistories transfer their key-power to the Classis (Synod) and thereby bring it into being as a major Consistory with key-power to depose office-bearers; but that, when the crisis is past, the key-power reverts to the local Consistories, and the major Consistory is again a common Classis.
In conclusion. Since 800 zeros even as organized cannot be anything else but zero it follows that Art. 84 of the Church Order very actually declares that also Classis (Synod) shall refrain from exalting itself as a superior officer with mandatory power over the Churches to depose their office-bearers, should there be need of this action. It again means that Dr. Ridderbos does the Church Order violence in maintaining that in Art. 36 it vests the Classis (Synod) with this power. For if the Church Order in Art. 84 and in Art. 79 as well declares that Classis (Synod) shall refrain from the exercise of that power—mandatory,—it follows that the “jurisdiction” (zeggenschap) of Art. 86 must be advisory as to its character and not mandatory, that thus it is not the teaching of this Article that Classis (Synod) can rightfully depose office-bearers.
It is not so long ago that the divines in the Gereformeerde” churches of the Netherlands were bitterly opposed to the view that, according to the Church Order, Classis (Synod) rightfully deposes office bearers. Here is the way they expressed themselves,
Translation: And then let it be remarked in the first place that a Classis or Synod does not have the right simply to depose from their office a Consistory or a certain number of consistory members. To such an episcopal and hierarchical power the major assemblies are not entitled. (De Reformatie, April 2, 1926).
And Dr. Van Lonkhuyzen also quotes the late Dr. H. Bouwman to this effect:
Translation: “Your question if in my lectures I ever have said that a Classis can depose a Consistory strikes me as somewhat strange. I do not recall ever having taught this. And I would say that this is impossible.”
Yet this same Dr. Bouwman could write not so many years later, “The opinion that major assemblies (Classis and Synod) cannot censure consistory members in the sense of excommunication but only in the sense of severing the denominational bond or tie between them and the recalcitrant consistory, must be rejected as unreformed and at complete variance with what our Reformed synods and our canons (authorities on ecclesiastical law) have taught. (Geref. Kerkrecht, D. 11, Bladz. 73).
The above quotations with the exception of the last one are from the brochure of the Rev. G. Hoeksema. Also the following from this booklet, “The deposition of a consistory was considered a terrible act of hierarchy. . . . the authorities in the Netherlands are changing their views faster than their disciples here can keep up with them.” This was written some twenty-two years ago.
Why this change of conviction, if a conviction it was? Dr. H. Bouwman stated, did he not, that the opinion that a Classis cannot depose a consistory, is unreformed and at complete variance with older authorities on Church Polity. Didn’t he know that when he stated also as professor that, from the point of view of Reformed Church Polity, deposition of officebearers by Classis is impossible? That the devines across the sea changed their conviction means that now they have to be telling themselves that there was a time that they were in error. Are they so certain that they are not in error today?
As was explained, the bishop in the Roman Catholic Communion was a superior officer with mandatory power over the several churches placed in his charge. According to the construction that Dr. Ridderbos and Rev. G. Hoeksema and others place upon the Church Order, definitely upon Art. 86, the Classis, too, is a superior officer or council with mandatory power over the several local churches delegating to the classical assembly. The Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema affirms this with emphasis. This is the way he expresses himself in his brochure,
“The deeper principle involved in this dispute is whether or no the consistory is subject to the real governing authority of the major assemblies (Classis, Synod? The latter question we answer in the affirmative. . . . The big question is, who must be obeyed. . . .? It is the Classis and Synod that consistory members promise obedience and always under penalty, in case of refusal, to be suspended. . . . According to this system—the federation idea—a Consistory is not subordinate to Classis at all. “Het bestuur blijft altijd bij de kerkeraad”. Such a Consistory can, of course, impossibly renders itself unworthy of office by refusing obedience to a body to which it is subordinate.”
These sentences from the pen of the reverend show very plainly that in his view the Classis (Synod) is a superior officer or council with mandatory power over the churches. For according to the reverend, the consistories must obey Classis (Synod) and thus are subordinate to them even under penalty, in case of refusal, to be suspended. Will the Rev. G. Hoeksema or Dr. Ridderbos or any of the others make plain the difference between the monarchial bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and their Classis (Synod), make plain the essential difference between that system of Church Government embodied in the Roman hierarchy and their system?