Under the above caption The Standard Bearer for January 1, 1947, contains answers to some questions sent in by a brother in Sioux Center, Iowa. His questions were these:
1. What is the character of the jurisdiction of Classis over the Consistory?
My answer: Advisory, not mandatory.
2. What remains of the autonomy of the local church, if according to Art. 79 of the Church Order of Dort, Ministers of the Word, Elders and Deacons, who have committed a public and gross sin, shall be suspended and expelled from their office by preceding sentence of their Consistory and of the nearest church; and if, according to the same article, the ministers shall not be entirely deposed except by the judgment of the Classis?
My answer: There is no conflict here at all. I fully explained this.
3. Who deposes Ministers of the Word, the Classis or the Consistory?
My answer: Each Consistory deposes its own Minister.
There was also a fourth question that may be ignored here.
The brother has replied. He writes, “Thanks very much for your answers to my questions. I am agreed with your answer to my first question; but I do not agree with your answer to my third question.” Whether the brother agrees with my answer to his second question, he does not say.
In replying I must first of all remark that the brother is woefully inconsistent. Consistency demands that if he agrees with my answer to his first question he must agree with my answers to his second and third question as well. For the three answers are essentially one by a common unifying idea, which is that, according to the Church Order of Dort and our Three Forms of Unity, all key-power is concentrated in the Consistory alone and thus not also in the Classis, the latter being not a consistory but an assembly of delegates from a number of autonomous local churches. If this is true—and according to the Church Order and our Confession, it is true—it follows that the character of the jurisdiction of Classis over the Consistory is advisory and not mandatory; but then it also follows just as well that Art. 79 of the Church Order is not in conflict with the doctrine of the autonomy of the local church but is in full agreement with this doctrine; and that not the Classis but that the Consistory only may depose its Minister of the Word. So the brother must do one of two: either reject or accept all three answers.
In explaining why he disagrees with my answer to his third question, the brother quotes from the “Verklaring van de Kerkenordening” of Joh. Jansen and from “De Kerkelijke Tucht” of Dr. H. Bouwman. Now Jansen and Bouwman were good and competent men. However, with our churches organized on the basis of Dort’s Church Order and with our names under our Confession, the teachings of Bouwman or of Jansen or of any other authority on Reformed Church Polity may not have such weight for us that we quote them against our Church Order and our Confession. And that is exactly what the brother does. He quotes Dr. IH. Bouwman to the effect that the Classis and the Classis only may depose a minister of the Gospel. (This is actually Bouwman’s teaching. On page 267 of his “De Kerkelijke Tucht” appears the statement, “De afzetting van dienaren des Woords mag alleen geschieden door de Classis,) Now certainly this teaching is in violent conflict with Art. 84 of the Church Order of Dort. I quoted that article. In my articles on the Five Fundamental Principles of Reformed Church Polity—articles that the brother has also read—I proved that this teaching is in conflict with every cardinal article of Dort’s Church Order and with the doctrine contained in our Confession as well. Now let the brother or anyone else show with the Church Order and our official Confession (not with quotations from this or that writer) that in reality I proved nothing; that my interpretations of the articles of Dort’s Church Order are thoroughly wrong and that thus that teaching of Dr. Bouwman is not in conflict with the Church Order, definitely with Art. 84, but in perfect harmony with it. And this the brother does of course not by quoting from this or that writer on Church Polity but by coming with the Church Order itself and with our Confessions. In this way we serve the cause of truth. Of course, the brother can take the stand that Dr. Bouwman, just because he was Dr. Bouwman, must be right. But he must not take that stand. That is a bad stand to take. For then we are blind followers of men. Also the interpretations of Dr. Bouwman and of everyone must be tested by the very articles of Dort’s Church Order and by the doctrine contained in our official Confessions. In a following article we will examine the grounds (quoted by the brother) upon which Dr. Bouwman tried to base that teaching of his.