May Major Assemblies Depose?
I have some questions with respect to synodical authority raised by your current editorial series, “Church Unity, Reformed Synods, and Independency” (The Standard Bearer, Feb. 1, Feb. 15, and March 1, 1992).
Does classis or synod have the right and responsibility to depose officebearers? If so, for what reasons? When officebearers promote secession from their denomination, is this a legitimate reason for their deposition?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Regarding your first question, concerning the right of major assemblies to depose officebearers, I have treated this, if briefly, in the editorial of June 1, 1991 that occasioned my present, short series of editorials (“The Binding Decisions of a Reformed Synod”). The Protestant Reformed Churches have insisted from the very beginning of their history that the major assemblies have no authority to discipline. Christ has given the keys of the kingdom to the local church in the office of pastor and teacher and in the office of ruling elder. Only the local church may preach, administer the sacraments, and exercise discipline. This includes the deposition of officebearers. This is the church polity of the New Testament (cf. I Cor. 5, where the local church excommunicates). This is the church order of Dordt, which gives the local church the power of discipline (Articles 71- 80) and never grants disciplinary power to the major assemblies. The Protestant Reformed position is expressed in the main by the Christian Reformed authorities on Reformed church order, Idzerd VanDellen and Martin Monsma, in their commentary on Article 79 of the church order of Dordt (cf. The Church Order Commentary, Zondervan, 1954, pp. 327- 329).
Deposition of officebearers by a major assembly is an attack on the autonomy of .the local church and hierarchy.
What the denomination can do when a consistory refuses to discipline officebearers as the major assemblies have advised, or when a consistory otherwise refuses to consider decisions of the major assemblies settled and binding, is to declare the offending consistory outside the denomination as a body that has broken the denominational union.
As to your second question, secession from a denomination is not always sinful. Indeed, it is sometimes a calling from God so that failure to secede is sinful. This is the case when the denomination displays the marks of a false church by corrupting the gospel, denying the authority of Scripture and the confessions, polluting the sacraments, and refusing to exercise discipline upon the openly and impenitently ungodly, especially the heretics (cf. the Belgic Confession, Articles 28, 29). But there is a right and a wrong way to go about seceding. The right way is the way of protest and appeal followed by secession if synod refuses to heed and if the consistory is convinced that it cannot in good conscience before Christ remain within the denomination. The wrong way is to remain within the denomination without following the way of protest and appeal but all the while agitating against synodical decisions and making public charges of sin against fellow officebearers and fellow church members in the forum of public opinion. The only way of dealing with sin in the denomination that the Reformed church order recognizes is the way of protest and appeal (cf. Art. 31 of the church order of Dordt).
Officebearers guilty of schism are worthy of deposition according to Article 80 of the church order of Dordt. But only the consistory may, or can, depose them. If the consistory refuses, contrary to the advice of the major assembly, the denomination must set that church outside the denomination as having broken the denominational union.
The Son of David Through…?
Please permit one more response to your article, “The Genealogy of Jesus (or, Jesus the Son of Nathan)” (the Standard Bearer, Dec. 15, 199l). I cannot agree with your position that Jesus is descended from David through Nathan, and is therefore not of the royal line. Let me defend as briefly as I can the position that Jesus is the Son of David through the royal line.
First, let me argue for the position that the genealogy of Matthew is that of Jesus through his mother Mary, while Luke’s genealogy is that of Jesus through Joseph.
1. The very fact that the genealogy of Luke does not make mention of Mary is a strong indication that it is Joseph’s genealogy.
2. Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes physical descent. Not only is this implied in the word “begat” used throughout, but this is also the significance of the statement in Matthew 1:1 that this is the book of the “generation of Jesus Christ.” The word for “generation” is a word that means “genesis or origin.” Thus, the emphasis of the genealogy in Matthew is on the organic line of Christ. Then it cannot be the line of Joseph who had no organic connection with Jesus.
3. The argument that making Matthew’s genealogy the genealogy of Jesus through Mary forces us to interpret “begat” in verse 16 also as actual physical begetting, so that then Jacob begets Joseph, which cannot be the case if the genealogy is that of Mary, carries weight. However, the problem is really the same in Luke, where in every case except that of Adam, “the son of” is used in the sense of “physically begotten.” This argument can be used with regard to either genealogy.
4. The argument that the translation of the King James Version of Luke 3:23 is incorrect, is tenuous at best. It is argued that rather than “Jesus . . . being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” we should read, “Jesus . . . being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli.” But this is an interpretation of the text, not a translation. The KJV is equally as valid and defensible.
Secondly, the argument that the prophecy spoken to wicked King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) prevents the coming of Jesus through the royal line is not necessarily correct. That prophecy is found in Jeremiah 22:30, “Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.” This prophecy need not be understood to preclude the possibility that the royal line nevertheless continued through Jeconiah. We know that he was not childless, Matthew 1:12. All that the prophecy means is that no son of Jeconiah will any longer prosper, sitting on the throne of David and ruling over the nation of Israel from Jerusalem. That is exactly what happened as a result of the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem. No son of David ever sat upon the throne again ruling in Jerusalem.
Third, the position that Jesus did not descend through the royal line does not do justice to the promises spoken to and about Solomon. There are several of these. The word of God to David in I Chronicles 22:10 is an example: “He (David’s Son) shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever. N It is the same one who will build the Lord’s house (Solomon) whose throne will be established for ever. It seems clear that the “sure mercies of David” were continued through David’s son, Solomon.
In the fourth place, the position that the royal line continued through Solomon gives great significance to historical events in connection with that line. For example, Athaliah’s attempt to destroy the seed royal was an attempt on the part of the Devil to prevent the coming of Christ. Hezekiah’s concern in his sickness was not merely that he was going to die, or even that he was going to die without a male heir. But his great concern was that if he died without a son, not only would the royal line come to an end, but Christ could never be born.
Fifth, one of the important issues in this whole discussion of the genealogies is Jesus’ RIGHT to the throne of His father David. The fact of the matter is that if Christ did not descend from David through the royal line, He has no more RIGHT to the throne than any other Israelite. The right to the kingship of Israel belonged only to those who descended through the royal line of David.
And what is the outstanding significance of Jesus’ descent from David through the royal line? It serves to illustrate the fundamental truth that God is faithful to His covenant promise notwithstanding the unfaithfulness of His covenant people.
(Rev.) Ron Cammenga