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The final paragraph of my introduction reads: “Now I believe that I have discovered all the issues in this disputation. If my opponent knows of others, let him advance them and I will be only too glad to consider them. If he knows of no others, he and I must keep ourselves strictly to these issues. Not doing so, we sidestep the main issue which is whether or not a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, i.e., the private right to revise its articles.”

The argumentation of my opponent does present issues which do not appear in “The statement of the issues” of my introduction. Some of these issues—the ones advanced by my opponent—I purposely eliminated as admitted material. I did so in order to place my opponent and myself close to the heart of the question which is whether a local consistory has the right to depart from the church order. However, as the elimination of what I termed “admitted material” was my doing and thus not also of my opponent (he had no opportunity as I did not beforehand come to him with my “statement of issues”) I am obliged and am also very willing to carefully consider all the issues which he advances in his argumentation, also those which I eliminated.

Examining the argumentation of my opponent, I discover in it VIII issues. They are:

I. Do the authorities on the Presbyterian or Reformed system of Church government reason on the side of the affirmative proposition, i.e., does my opponent have these authorities on his side?

II. Are the articles of the Church Order binding upon the conscience?

III. May the Church Order be changed?

IV. Is it well possible that in a particular situation the observance of the Church Order would clearly create harm and disorder in the congregation?

V. Is the Church Order binding?

VI. Is the requirement of the negative proposition incompatible with Christian liberty?

VII. Does the requirement of the negative proposition place the Church Order on a par with the Bible?

VIII. Is the requirement of the negative proposition hierarchical?

Before I begin my rebuttal, I have need of making just one remark. My opponent tells us that (to quote his own words), “the question in this debate is not at all whether or not a local consistory may arbitrarily and without good reason act contrary to the mutually accepted Church Order,” that, “if this were the question in our discussion it would be nonsense.” (I certainly agree with him here). According to my opponent “the question in this debate is whether a local consistory is so bound by the Church Order, that it may never, under any circumstances, make any decision, or take any actions which are contrary to the Church Order.” My opponent goes on to say: “We of the affirmative maintain that it is very well possible that in a particular situation the observance of the Church Order would be a physical impossibility, or would clearly create hardship or disorder in the congregation, and that in such circumstances the consistory would be perfectly free to suspend the rule for that instant, if at least the article in question does not concern a definite prescribed principle in Holy Writ. The opposition must prove that under any and) all circumstances it is always per se wrong for a local consistory to act contrary to the Church Order.” (My opponent seems to be forgetting here that as it is he who argues on the side of the affirmative, the burden of proof lies with him. “He who affirms must prove”).

Thus my opponent wants to argue on the side of the positive proposition: Resolved that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order only when and if it has true need and a very good reason. But my opponent should realize that not he but logic is master here. Now logic spurns this limitation, so that, in proving the proposition as he formulates it, my opponent, despite what he can do about it, will be proving that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order for a good reason or a bad reason or no reason at all. I shall make this plain right here. Consider that implicit in the right to disregard the Church Order for a good reason is also the right to pass judgment on the reason. Therefore the synod could do nothing about it, if a local consistory disregarded the Church Order for a very bad reason, if it maintained that according to its conviction, the reason was good. It means that the contention to the effect that a local consistory has the right to go contrary to the Church Order when it has good reason is equivalent to the proposition that a local consistory has the right to do exactly as it pleases so far as the Church Order is concerned. So, we may just as well keep ourselves to the propositions as originally formulated, although I have no objections at all in proving the proposition that a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order ever. In fact, this is exactly the meaning of the negative proposition. This is precisely what I am laboring to prove.

So then, my opponent gains nothing by adding to the positive proposition, “only if it has real need or good reason.” My opponent himself brings this out rather effectively. He writes: “Such folly (the folly of a consistory arbitrarily and without good reason acting contrary to the Church Order) would lead to chaos. Imagine what would happen, if in a congested city as Chicago, a driver of an automobile would arbitrarily and) without good reason whatever, disregard the traffic rules, stop signs, traffic signals, and one way drives?” The thought of what would happen, I agree, is too horrible to contemplate. But wouldn’t the resultant havoc be just as great should that driver disregard every traffic rule for a very good reason? Methinks it would. If someone sets fire to my house, the building burns, doesn’t it, whether it was done for a most excellent reason of for no good reason at all. So, too, if our consistories departed from the Church Order, each from a different article, the result would be chaos, though the reasons were good. It is plain that my opponent gains nothing by limiting the positive proposition. Actually it is not limited by his addition. It means that the evidence I advanced to prove the negative proposition loses none of its cogency and force as indirect evidence of the falsity of the positive proposition as limited by that addition. My opponent therefore must still break it all down, if he will win in this debate. He can’t dispose of it by simply saying that it does not apply to the positive proposition as he formulates it. It still applies in all its force. Now my rebuttal. I first strive to break down the evidence my opponent advances in proof of the positive proposition.

I. My opponent reasons: A local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, for

a. The authorities on the Reformed System of Church government reason on the side of the positive proposition and thus I have these authorities on my side.

Is my opponent correct in this his contention? Let us see. He quotes Joh. Jansen to the following effect: “DUTCH QUOTE REMOVED.” The view here encountered is this: Only synod may change the written text of

the Church Order. In the two years that intervene between the meetings of the general synods, a local consistory, may depart from the Church Order and thus change it in practice and as always ready to obey the classis in the event the latter disapproves the departure. Thus the view contained in this excerpt (from the Kerkenordening of Jansen) is this, “A classis has the right to act contrary to the Church Order in subjection to Classis with the privilege of appealing its case to synod and, if need be, to the general synod.” But is this! the question in our dispute? Does this statement form the positive proposition on the side of which my opponent argues? Let me show that it is not. The contention to the effect that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order in submission to classis and synod is equivalent in meaning to the negative proposition that fundamentally and in the final instance a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order. But my opponent argues on the side of the positive proposition that a local consistory does have this right and may exercise it independent of the classis. And I will now show that I have every right to maintain that this is also his view and that he actually means to prove it.

  1. My opponent and his consistory acted contrary to the Church Order in a manner explained in my introduction. Did they, thereupon, indicate in any way that they were purposing to have classis pass judgment on their action? They did not. Fact is that they even refrained from consulting with the consistory of the sister church with whom the person admitted by them to the Lord’s supper had affiliated.
  2. If my opponent is not arguing and did not intend to argue on the side of the positive proposition that was given him, should he not have notified me before hand? This he failed to do. Through his silence he actually agreed to strive to prove the positive proposition that was given him. 3. In all his disputes with the classis he at no time indicated by anything he said that; what he contended for is that a local consistory has the right to go contrary to the Church Order in submission to classis. 4. How does the positive proposition, as restated by my opponent read? It reads: “Resolved that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order when it has true need for this and a good reason.” Thus it does not read: “Resolved that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order in submission to classis and synod” My opponent affirms even with great emphasis that he would strive to prove that a local consistory has the right in question only when there is true need and a good reason. In the paragraph in which he restates the positive proposition absolutely nothing is said about a local consistory having the right in question in submission to classis and synod. This is conclusive. So I shall have to ask my opponent to keep himself to the positive proposition as he himself restated it. Let us keep ourselves to the question in this dispute. If we don’t we at last won’t know any more whether we’re coming or going or where to go or whether we go at all; nor will our readers know. In fine, I am satisfied that I have made very clear that my opponent does not have the so-called authorities he quoted on his side. Fact is that he has them against him. (But let no one conclude from this that I am agreed with Joh. Jansen’s view. Fact is that; I am opposed also to his view. But this is another question). Just what is the difference between the view of Rev. Kok and that of Joh. Jansen? Precisely this: according to Rev. Kok the consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order independent of the classis. According to Joh. Jansen, the consistory has this right only in submission to classis, which is equivalent to saying that fundamentally and in the final analysis it does not have this right.

(This argument, under issue I is cont. on p. 159)

II.My opponent argues: A local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, for it is not binding upon the conscience, for its articles are but a collection of ecclesiastical rules, human regulations, and thus not the very infallible Word of God, which alone may bind the conscience of man.

I maintain: This reasoning of my opponent is false. The Church Order does indeed bind the conscience, though not the very Word of God, for a) Its articles are not a mere collection of ‘‘human regulations,” for in their aggregate they set forth the very and only system of Church government contained in and legitimatized by God’s Word. Therefore they bind the conscience of every local consistory that shares this conviction. A local consistory, of a contrary conviction, is in duty bound to withdraw from the denomination of churches organized on the basis of these articles and to select for itself a church polity other than the one set forth by our Church Order. B) The local consistory solemnly pledges (as has already been made plain) to show all diligence in observing not some but all the articles of the Church Order (also in practice certainly) until it be otherwise ordained by synod. Therefore on account of the sacred pledge but not, certainly, because they are the very infallible Word of God, the articles of the Church Order, without a single exception (the articles approved and adopted by all the churches on their broadest ecclesiastical meeting) are binding upon the conscience, for God’s Word demands of us that we keep our sacred pledges.

And just what was promised? Exactly this: to show all diligence in observing the articles of the Church Order, until it be otherwise ordained by the synod. Is this promise so binding that it may never be broken? Absolutely. Do the churches make this promise on the condition that any one of their number may break it whenever this is deemed necessary? Absolutely not. What good is a mutual promise that a local consistory may break whenever it deems this expedient or necessary, thus whenever it choses ? such a promise is absolutely worthless. It is mockery to make a mutual promise on such a condition, and it is an insult to sanctified intelligence to say that it was or should be made on this condition.

My opponent classifies the articles of the Church Order as follows: Articles whose content is derived directly or indirectly from the Word of God; 2) articles whose content, though neither directly or indirectly derived from God’s Word, are not contrary to it. The stand of my opponent is that a local consistory may depart only from the latter. Now I accept this classification of his, but add that it forms just one more reason why a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order. For, certainly, it cannot possibly be the right and the task of a local consistory to classify the articles of the Church Order to determine to which of these articles exception may be taken. Yet such would needs be its right, had it the right to depart from the Church Order, for the latter right includes the former.

III. My opponent reasons: A local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, for A) it may be changed, it may not be said with respect to its articles that they must be observed, for a) article 86 of the Church Order declares, “These articles, relating to the lawful order of the Church Order, have been so drafted and adopted by common consent, that they, if the profit of the church demands otherwise may and ought to be altered, augmented or diminished.” Breaking down this evidence consists in something more than simply quoting the rest of art. 86 (which reads): “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 be otherwise ordained by the general synod.” We will have to do some defining of terms here. I have already called attention to Joh. Jansen’s distinction between “changing the written letter of the Church Order” and “departing from its articles,” thus changing them in the mind and in practice alone. Jansen’s view is that consistories have not the right to change the written letter of the Church Order but that they do have the right to change the Church Order in practice. This is also my opponent’s view, as it appears in precisely those excerpts of Jansen’s Kerkenordering which he inserted in his argumentation. Hence, my opponent reasons thus:

A local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, i.e. to change its articles in the mind and in practice, for a) the written letter of these articles may be changed, for a) art. 86 expressly declares that the written letter of its articles may be changed.

I maintain: From the fact that according to art. 86 the written letter of the Church Order may be changed, it cannot possibly follow that a local consistory may depart from its articles, i.e. change them in the mind and in practice, for, whereas articles 86 explicitly declares that the letter of the Church Order may be changed only by the broadest ecclesiastical assembly, it must needs follow that the contention to the effect that a local consistory may change the Church Order in practice and in the mind, because art. 86 declares that its letter may be changed, is equivalent to saying that a local consistory may change the Church Order in practice because art. 86 declares that no consistory but only synod may change the letter of it. Such a reasoning certainly is sheer nonsense. Yet it is the reasoning of my opponent. Does it not follow from the fact that just because art. 86 declares that a local consistory shall refrain from changing the letter of the Church Order, a local consistory must also refrain from changing it in practice? Is not the one included in the other. Assuredly yes.

IV. My opponent argues: A local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, for it is very well possible that in a particular situation the observance of the Church Order would be a physical impossibility, or would clearly create harm or disorder in the congregation.

I maintain, a) The evidence here presented has no weight, for a) my opponent names no examples. He should have, for the statement is of such a character that it cannot be accepted on its face value. B) Though what he here says were very true, yet it would not follow therefrom that a local consistory has the right to act contrary to the Church Order, for a) my opponent himself admits that also the synod has this right.

Herewith I have dealt with the evidence my opponent advanced in proof of the positive proposition. 1 am satisfied that it is broken down completely, so that the positive proposition remains unproved.

I must now deal with the evidence advanced by my opponent to prove the falsity of the negative proposition: Resolved that a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order.

V. My opponent argues: this negative proposition is false, for the Church Order is not binding. I maintain that it is binding, for the churches solemnly promise to show all diligence in observing its articles until it be otherwise ordained by the general synod. That a local consistory does promise, I have already conclusively proved. I need not repeat myself. But I want to add that art. 86 allows no exceptions to this promise. Notice its language. No particular congregation, no classis…but they shall show all diligence in observing them, until it be otherwise ordained by the general synod. To get away from the absoluteness of this language, one must simply play with words. And to say that the promise not to change the letter of the church order does not include the promise not to change the Church Order in practice is simply preposterous. Assuredly, a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order ever, I say ever. Art. 86 does not even read: “may not alter the letter, mark you, letter, of the Church Order,” but simply, “may not alter.” The distinction between altering the Church Order as to the written letter and altering it in practice is thoroughly nonsensical.

VI. My opponent argues. The negative proposition is false, for its requirement is incompatible with the scriptural idea of Christian liberty.

I maintain that this reasoning of my opponent is false. For according to Scripture a man is truly free if a) in obeying the rule he does so willingly under the impulse of true faith, b) if the rule that is obeyed is truly good. As to a local consistory, voluntarily and as constrained by the love of Christ, it takes upon it the yoke of the Church Order and as constrained by this same love it promises never to depart from any of its articles except in collaboration with all the churches on their broadest assembly (the synod). b) The rules of the Church Order are good, even though it cannot be said of all of them that their content is derived directly from the Scriptures. Hence, in obeying them, the churches are superbly free, in the true, Christian sense. B) If the promise to refrain from departing from the Church Order except in collaboration with all the churches on their broadest assembly (synod), is destructive of Christian liberty, the like promise made with respect to the Three Forms of Unity (the thirty seven articles, the Canons of Dordt, and the Catechism) is likewise destructive of Christian liberty. Is my opponent maintaining that our local consistories are bound in the unscriptural sense because they have not the right to ever preach contrary to these creeds? If he is consistent he should.

The rule must be good. The Church Order is a collection of good rules. Even my opponent is agreed to this. How he extols the Church Order. He writes: “A Church Order is very essentialto the welfare of a Church denomination…In fact congregational and denominational life would be impossible without such rules and regulations.”

These, certainly, are true words. Yet my opponent insists that a local consistory shall have the right to break these rules, whenever it deems this necessary.

VII. My opponent argues: The negative proposition is false, for its requirement that a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order ever, places the articles of the Church Order on a par with Scripture.

I maintain: This reasoning of my opponent is false, for A) this requirement does not repose upon the dogma that the articles of the Church Order are infallible (we have no such dogma) but it proceeds, does this requirement, from the mutual, voluntary, promise, on the part, of all the churches, to show all diligence in observing them until it be otherwise ordained by the broadest ecclesiastical assembly (synod). B) If the requirement of the negative proposition places the Church Order on a par with the Scriptures, then also the requirement of our Formula of Subscription places our creeds on a par with the Holy Scriptures. Yet, certainly, my opponent, would not maintain the latter. But if he is consistent, he must.

VIII. My opponent argues. The negative proposition is false, for its requirement that a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order is hierarchical.

I maintain: This reasoning of my opponent is false, for A) this requirement is not imposed upon the consistories by a human power superior to them, (hierarchy) but it is a requirement that proceeds from the mutual, voluntary, promise of all the churches to show all diligence in observing the articles of the Church Order until it be otherwise ordained by the broadest ecclesiastical assembly (synod). B) If the requirement of the negative proposition is hierarchical, then also the requirement of the Formula of Subscription. Yet, certainly, my opponent would not maintain the latter. But if he is consistent, he must.

In fine, whereas my opponent failed to prove the positive proposition and whereas he failed to prove the negative proposition false both directly and indirectly through breaking down the evidence that I advanced to prove it true, it follows that we have arrived at the definite and unavoidable conclusion that a local consistory has not the right to act contrary to the Church Order, But, let the readers judge.