Held at the First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI, on Wednesday, September 12, 2007, with a continued session on Wednesday, September 26, 2007.
Classis East met in regular session on Wednesday, September 12, 2007 but had to continue in session on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 to finish its business. Each congregation was represented by two delegates; Rev. G. Eriks was the chairman of these sessions.
At issue with the classis were three appeals from members of the Grace PRC relative their pastor’s home schooling his children. Two of the appeals were treated by the classis, a third was not considered to be legally before the classis since it was judged that the matter was not finished by the appellant and his consistory.
Classis did not uphold the remaining two appeals. The first appellant contended that, in keeping with what he believed to be the requirements of Article 21 of the Church Order, his pastor’s home schooling was not an acceptable practice and, further, that his consistory should work with his pastor to send his children to a Protestant Reformed Christian school. Classis did not uphold this first appeal, on the ground that the appellant misinterpreted Article 21 of the Church Order. The appellant argued incorrectly that Article 21 requires that all families, regardless of circumstances, must send their children to our schools, and consistories must work with these parents until their children attend these schools. The intent of Article 21 is, rather, that the church (consistory) promote good Christian schools, not force them, and urge parents to use these schools, not coerce them, and that the preaching regarding the demands of the covenant should be done persistently, in a wise and timely manner.
The second appellant asked the consistory to require that their pastor reenroll his children in our Christian schools so that peace in the congregation could be restored. This appeal was not upheld, on the ground that such an action by a consistory would improperly require their pastor to act against his conscience. Home schooling falls within the area of Christian liberty; no member, not even an officebearer, may be required to act against his conscience on a matter of Christian liberty, though in certain instances an officebearer’s holding to his conscience may jeopardize his office; therefore the consistory may not seek to restore peace in the congregation by forcing their pastor to enroll his children in PR schools against his conscience.
But classis was not finished. Classis adopted advice to the appellants’ consistory on two matters raised by the consistory to the classis: 1) that classis uphold their position on home schooling and 2) that classis uphold the right of their pastor to educate his children at home. Classis decided to deny the consistory’s request to uphold them in these matters.
The grounds adopted by classis (summarized and paraphrased):
1) The consistory’s decision that their pastor has the right to educate his children at home is based on a wrong interpretation of Article 21 of the Church Order. The consistory believes the focus of Article 21 to be that there be good Christian schools, so that believers who need the aid of Christian schoolteachers do not have to send their children to public schools.
The consistory’s position described above was judged by classis to be a wrong interpretation of Article 21 of the Church Order. In the first place, Article 21 of the Church Order, said classis, both in its original form (schoolmasters) and in its present form (schools), refers only to parental Christian schools or Christian day schools. Secondly, Article 21 not only mandates consistories to see to it that there are good Christian schools established and maintained by the community of Reformed believers but also requires the consistories to see to it that the parents have their children instructed in these schools according to the demands of the covenant, and to urge parents to use these schools if at all possible.
2) The consistory’s decision that their pastor has the right to educate his children at home is based on the erroneous position “that there are no principles or biblical reasons that would serve as grounds for the consistory to prohibit officebearers of the church from home schooling their children even when Christian day schools are available.” The error is that of not recognizing the principle that a consistory member is bound to observe Article 21 of the Church Order. Article 21 is binding on all consistories of the Protestant Reformed Churches and requires every minister and elder to promote the establishment and use of good Christian schools in community with other Reformed believers. An officebearer who does not send his children to good Christian schools, when they are available, and gives no valid reason for his action (so that the consistory can give these reasons to the congregation) cannot effectively fulfill the duties required of every consistory member by Article 21. Officebearers must be examples to their congregation.
3) The consistory’s decision that their pastor has the right to educate his children at home is based on the erroneous view that their pastor’s appeal to his conscience must be decisive in their decision. The deciding factor should be thereason(s) why the pastor does not use the good Christian schools. The validity of these reasons is to be judged by his consistory. One’s conscience may be weak for lack of knowledge or it may be defiled by our sinful natures, so it may not be decisive in this matter.
Classis then advised the appellants’ consistory to take the following actions (summarized): 1) to require their pastor to give reason(s) for not sending his children to our schools and to judge whether these reasons are valid; 2) to address the issues that hinder their pastor from sending his children to our schools, so that, if possible, his children may return to these schools; 3) should the consistory find the reason(s) for their pastor’s actions to be valid, the consistory should inform the congregation of the nature of the reason(s) given by their pastor for home schooling his children, and 4) should the consistory find their pastor’s reasons for his home schooling of his children to be invalid, and should they be unable to convince their pastor to use the good Christian schools, then the consistory is to inform classis of this fact and to present to the classis how they intend to proceed.
In its last action regarding the appeals and advice to the consistory involved, Classis appointed a special committee to assist the consistory in implementing these decisions should they desire such help.
In other business, Classis approved pulpit supply for the Faith PRC daughter group now meeting. Classis was in closed session to deal with a matter of discipline. Classis also adopted a letter to be sent to the former members of Covenant PRC informing them of the decisions of Synod 2007 regarding the grounds for their dissolution and encouraging them to seek other Protestant Reformed congregations as their church homes.
Expenses of classis amounted to $2010.70. Classis will meet next on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at the Georgetown PRC.
Jon J. Huisken Stated Clerk