Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Granville, Michigan.
(Every year [or if need be oftener] four or five or more neighboring classes shall meet as a particular synod, to which each classis shall delegate two ministers and two elders. At the close of both the particular and the general synod, some church shall be empowered to determine with advice of classis, the time and place of the next synod.)
Church Order, Article 47.
(Each synod shall be at liberty to solicit and hold correspondence with its neighboring synod or synods in such manner as they shall judge most conducive to general edification.)
Church Order, Article 48.
(Each synod shall delegate some to execute everything ordained by synod both as to what pertains to the government and to the respective classes, resorting under it, and likewise to supervise together or in smaller number all examinations of future ministers. And, moreover, in all other eventual difficulties they shall extend help to the classes in order that proper unity, order, and soundness of doctrine may be maintained and established. Also they shall keep proper record of all their actions to report thereof to synod, and if it be demanded, give reasons. They shall also not be discharged from their service before and until synod itself discharges them.)
Church Order, Article 49.
Articles 47-49 of our Church Order deal with particular (regional, or provincial) synods. These articles are in parentheses in our Church Order. The explanation for this is that we do not have particular synods in our denomination. We have only a general synod. Strictly speaking, these articles do not apply to our ecclesiastical situation.
Nor is it likely that we will ever have particular synods. The smallness of our denomination makes this prohibitive. Neither are particular synods necessary in our day when it is completely feasible for the general synod to meet every year. Our present ecclesiastical structure serves us well.
This is not to say that there is nothing in Articles 47-49 that applies to us. On the contrary, there is something in each of these articles that has application to our churches, even though we do not have particular synods. It would be better, however, that a future revision of our Church Order removed the stipulations in these articles that do apply to us and included them under other articles.
Article 47 describes the nature of particular synods. Particular synods are made up of groups of classes, usually four or five classes, in one region. The particular synods are to meet at least once a year, a stipulation that we now apply to our general synod. To the particular synods are to be delegated two ministers and two elders from each classis.
As is the case with our general synod, a calling church is designated to convene the particular synod. Usually the synod will meet in the facilities of this church. The consistory of this church will call and oversee a special worship service prior to the meeting of the synod. The “Rules of Order” for the Synod of our Protestant Reformed Churches require that on the evening preceding the beginning of synod “… a prayer service, in charge of the convening consistory, shall be held in the city in which synod is to meet. The members of synod are expected to attend this service in a body.” Ordinarily the president of the preceding synod leads this pre-synodical service and preaches an appropriate sermon.
Article 47 provides for the convening of an early or special particular synod. Usually this would be due to difficulties that a classis could not satisfactorily resolve. How this special synod would be convened is not specified. Generally, the rule is that the classis desiring the special meeting of synod would contact the other classes and explain their reasons for such a special meeting. If the majority of the classes are in favor of the special meeting, the particular synod is convened by the calling church. The “Rules of Order” of our general synod state: “When a classis desires an early synod, it shall apply to the convening church, whose consistory in turn shall seek the approval of the other classis.”
Article 48 provides for correspondence between particular synods. The article merely says that each particular synod shall be at liberty to solicit and hold correspondence with its neighboring synods. Clearly, however, Article 48 intends to encourage such mutual correspondence. Denominational unity demands this.
In our situation, Article 48 applies to our classes. There ought to be mutual correspondence between our classes. That mutual correspondence ought to include: exchange of minutes; notification of, the other classis of significant decisions, decisions that are of significance to the denomination broadly; even sending observers to the meetings of the other classis who can then briefly report on the proceedings of the neighboring classis. More could be done in this area than is presently being done.
Article 49 empowers the particular synod to appoint various committees. The article speaks of “delegating some to execute everything ordained by synod.”
These committees may be either standing committees or temporary committees. Our general synod has several standing committees: Domestic Mission Committee, Foreign Mission Committee, Committee for Contact with Other Churches, Theological School Committee, Emeritus Committee, Student Aid Committee, Catechism Book Committee, Emeritus Committee, Student Aid Committee, Catechism Book Committee, Finance Committee, Yearbook Committee, and Board of Trustees.
Besides these standing committees, synod may appoint special study committees or committees to implement a particular synodical decision. In recent years, our synod has appointed a committee to index past synodical decisions and a committee to investigate ‘the health insurance needs of our clergy.
It used to be the case that our synod had a standing “Synodical Committee,” just as each of our classes has a “Classical Committee.” Some years ago, however, this committee was discontinued. The committee had no work regularly and when synod had a particular task to be performed, this task was assigned to a special committee.
Article 49 also calls for a committee “to execute everything ordained by synod . . . as to what pertains to the government . . . . ” This provision reflects the state-church arrangement that was in place in the Netherlands when our Church Orderwas written. Any future revision of the Church Ordershould remove this provision.
The most significant stipulation of Article 49 concerns the appointment of delegates ad examina, or synodical deputies. “Each synod shall delegate some . . . to supervise together or in smaller number all examinations of future ministers. And, moreover, in all other eventual difficulties they shall extend help to the classes in order that proper unity, order, and soundness of doctrine may be maintained and established.”
Article 49 does not specify the number of delegatesad examina that are to be appointed. Each of our classes appoints three ministers as primi delegatesad examina and three ministers as secundidelegates ad examina. Each of these appointments is for a three-year term.
Other articles in our Church Order refer to the delegates ad examina,
—They must be present at the peremptory examination of candidates for the ministry, Article 4.
—They must be present at the admission of ministers from other denominations, Article 9.
—They must be present at the release of a minister under Article 11.
—They must be present when a classis considers a minister’s request for emeritation, Article 13
—They must be present when new congregations are organized or received into the denomination, Article 38.
—They must be present at deposition proceedings, Article 79.
Our synod has adopted the following “Rules for Synodical Delegates Ad Examina“:
I. At the conclusion of the examination, at which they shall have the privilege to cross-question the candidate, these delegates shall submit a joint report and their reason for their advice. II. If the vote of the classis is contrary to the advice of the delegates, and no agreement can be reached, the question of admission shall be decided by synod. Until such time the ordination of the candidate shall be postponed, and in the meanwhile no congregation of another classis shall have the right to extend a call to him and no classis shall be permitted to examine him. III. The delegates for examination shall submit a report of all their activities to synod.
Significantly, Article 49 also makes the delegates ad examina available to a classis in case of difficulties. The church visitors are available to a consistory in case a consistory is experiencing difficulties. In much the same way, the delegates ad examina may serve a neighboring classis that is experiencing difficulties. In this case, of course, they have no right to impose themselves on the classis. They must be summoned by the classis. And they serve only in an advisory capacity.
The synodical delegates ad examina play an important role in safeguarding the unity of the churches. By their involvement in examinations, in admission of new congregations, and in assisting classes in difficulties, they see to it that the fundamental basis for the unity of the federation is maintained—the pure doctrine of the Scriptures, the Reformed faith. Theirs is a serious responsibility!