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On a Report of Classis East

I request your allowance for a response to and correction of the report by the Stated Clerk on the “cross issue” before Classis East this past September and October (The Standard Bearer, Nov. 15, 1991). Reference was made in that report to a decision taken at the May Classis. According to the report, “Classis had decided that . . . the consistory had violated Article 31 of the Church Order by requiring that these brothers remain silent about their position in the churches” (p. 95, first column, second paragraph). I was part of the committee of pre-advice that formulated the advice adopted. I assure you we did not advice, nor did Classis adopt, the position described in the clerk’s report, though indeed he may have in all sincerity interpreted it as such.

The matter should not go uncorrected because such a position (i.e., that to require silence in the churches violates the Church Order) is so patently contrary to Article 31 that is would be beyond debate that Classis erred in adopting it. And secondly, the implication of such a decision by Classis, had it indeed been made, would be that henceforth one may feel free to voice public disagreement with settled and binding decisions of our major assemblies.

There can be no question that Article 31 of the Church Order means that the decisions of our assemblies (including those of Classis East in May and in September/October!) are settled and binding throughout our churches, and those who disagree with them ought not publicly in conversation to voice their opposition to them, no matter what their reaction to them is after having read the report of the stated clerk in the SB! 

However, if this matter is now to become a matter of open discussion in our churches (which is almost inevitable in light of the rather detailed treatment of it in the SB) the “discussers” ought at least to know what the decision of the May Classis actually was.

The pertinent parts of that decision of the May Classis read as follows:

3. We advise the Classis to declare that the Southwest Consistory in its denial of the (appellants’) request for transfer erred in interpreting Article 31 of the Church Order to require the (appellants) to be totally silent re their convictions on the cross issue. 

a. Evidence that Southwest Consistory’s position is that Article 31 of the Church Order does require the (appellants) to be totally silent re their convictions on the cross issue. (I omit here the evidence from the documents which follows in 1) and 2) – KK.) 

b. Grounds for this advice: 

1) Our churches have always recognized that the binding and settled character of ecclesiastical decisions (cf. Art. 31 of the CO) forbids members of the churches, who disagree with these decisions, to militate against them in the churches. This means that such members may not agitate against, make propaganda against, speak disparagingly of, seek to convince others of the wrongness of such decisions. The Southwest Consistory goes far beyond this requirement in its demand of total silence. 

2) This requirement of total silence on the part of those who disagree with binding synodical decisions makes it impossible for such members to: 

a) receive instruction re these decisions. 

b) answer the legitimate inquiries of a Consistory re their position. 

4. We advise Classis to declare that SW Consistory erred in its denying the (appellants) the right of transfer on the ground that the continual insistence of the (appellants) to instruct their children re: their positions is in itself a militating against the decision of the 1990 Synod. Grounds: 

a. The decision of Classis adopted in B., 2. of the advice designating the (appellants) as the weaker brothers in the cross issue and allowing them to live their conscience in the churches gives to the (appellants) the right to instruct their children re: their conviction of conscience. 

b. The (appellants) indicate that in the instruction of their children in the cross issue they will not militate against the decision of the 1990 Synod. (Here again I omit the evidence from the documents as quoted in 1) and 2) – KK.)

From the May decisions quoted it should be evident that:

1. The issue was not whether dissenting brothers have the right to talk about their dissenting position throughout the churches (we all agree, this is forbidden), but whether they have the right to instruct their children about their position in the privacy of their home. 

2. This right was granted 

a. in the context of their consistory’s requiring “total silence,” and 

b. in the context of the reminder that Article 31 forbids all militating against Synodical (all broader assemblies’) decisions [3. b. 1) above setting the boundaries]. 

c. in light of the assurance of the protestants that they would not charge any others with sin in this matter.

I trust this will clarify the decision. I am not convinced that it is either possible or good to avoid all discussion of the issue; but let all be careful in their discussion not to be guilty of agitating against settled and binding decisions (per the requirement of Art. 31).

(Rev.) Kenneth Koole 

Jenison, MI

Response

I’ve re-read my report of the proceedings of the September / October meetings of Classis East and find that it can stand as it is. And, in reading Rev. Koole’s response to it; I find in his letter a great deal of amplification of the decision but really nothing “corrective.” The report quoted nearly verbatim the decision of classis. I find it difficult, further, to sort out whether Rev. Koole is trying to correct facts or impressions. His letter seems to indicate that I have “interpreted” the decisions of classis. Let me lay that issue to rest as quickly as I can. I am in no position to interpret anything that classis decides. Classis speaks for itself. Neither I nor anyone else can speak for her. And, further, your readers ought to know that I bend over backwards not to interpret but rather to report as objectively as I possibly can. That was especially true in this case since I, as a member of Grandville’s consistory, was involved in this case. 

To comment any further on the matter places me in the position of becoming a commentator on the decision. This I may not do nor, for that matter, may Rev. Koole (whether. he was on the committee of pre-dvice or not makes no difference – what’s in the written documents is what counts). 

The report, by its very nature, gives a summary of the decisions of the classis. If anyone has questions about the decisions, he/she may write for the full, complete decisions of the classis. This is true, I believe, for all decisions of classis taken in public session. That approach would be far more advisable, in my opinion, than writing and responding to letters of “correction.” What we still don’t have, even after Rev. Koole’s letter, is a complete transcript of the decision. 

Jon J. Huisken 

Stated Clerk, Classis East