Questions on Article 41
The president of the Classis is called upon to put the following questions before the delegates. This is usually done at the conclusion of the meeting and to these questions each consistory must answer through its delegates. The questions asked are:
“1. Are the consistory meetings held in your church?
“2. Is church discipline exercised?
“3. Are the poor and Christian schools cared for?
“4. Do you need the judgment and help of the classis for the proper government of your church?”
In the proposed revision of the Church Order these questions appear in Article 37. (This is the proposed revision of the Christian Reformed Church.) Several changes are suggested. Instead of asking whether the consistory meetings are held, the question is asked, “How often does your consistory meet ?” Instead of the general question concerning the care of the poor and Christian schools, it is specifically stated, “How does your consistory promote the cause of Christian day schools in your locality?” and nothing is asked concerning the care of the poor. Then there are two additional questions which are not found in the old redaction of this article. One of these is evidently intended to take the place of the omission concerning the care of the poor. These two questions are:
“How does the office of deacons function in your church?”
“Do all the members of your church receive a home visitation call at least annually by the minister and the elders?”
Another noteworthy change enacted in this article is found in connection with that part that prescribes the duty of the president of the Classis to put these questions to the delegates. The article merely states that “the president shall, among other things, put the following questions to the delegates of each church.” The revision, however, states: “At the beginning of each classical meeting the president shall interview the delegates of each church as to its spiritual condition and its faithfulness in doing the work of the Lord. Among other things the following questions must be asked.” This then is followed by the questions.
This revision is more in harmony with the original idea of the article for already in 1578 the Synod of Dort decided that “The president having offered prayer, shall ask each delegation in particular, whether the ordinary discipline is being maintained in their congregations; whether they are being attacked by heresies; whether they doubt the correctness of any part of the accepted doctrine; whether they are giving good heed to the poor and the schools; whether they need the advice or help of the brethren, regarding the government of their church; and other like matters.”
The obvious intent of all this was that the churches might conduct a mutual supervision over each other. The questions were designed to ascertain whether all things in the churches were done in decency and in good order. In order to determine this the president, asking the questions, could not be bound to a stereotyped list but had to be given a certain measure of latitude so that he might also ask about other matters as he saw fit. Today this practice has become obsolete and the supervision is limited to the four prescribed questions. Now, perhaps this can be explained somewhat from the fact that a more careful supervision is made by the Classis through its Church Visitors but even then, this can hardly be used as an argument against restoring a bit of flexibility to this function of the classis through giving the president of that body broader powers whereby the scope of this investigation might be enlarged. Although there is certainly a danger that such power might be abused with the result that a classical hierarchy is established, we, nevertheless, feel that there is as much danger in “too little supervision” as there is in “too much supervision.” Both are detrimental to the church and the welfare of the church is best served when a proper balance is attained. Further, because circumstances and conditions not only vary in different congregations but in themselves are always subject to change, we feel that this power cannot be kept in proper balance by restricting it to stereotyped questions and answers. (This would also apply to the questions asked in Church Visitation, see Article 44, D.K.O.) Today the tendency is too strong toward rigid adherence to the latter and this is not good for the church. In a matter such as this the aim of the Church Order would be more readily attained if the spirit of this article were given proper stress. There would then be much less danger that this custom of mutual supervision degrades into a mere formality appended to the Classis. There are evidences that this latter has already become reality to a certain extent and this is very detrimental to the true welfare of the church.
A few remarks must be made yet concerning each of the questions asked in this article. The first has to do with the “Consistory Meetings.” This is strictly a matter of good order and is of fundamental importance. The Classis does not interfere here with the work or function of the Consistory nor does she inquire into the internal affairs of the church over which the Consistory has sole jurisdiction. She does not ask what is done at the consistory meetings or how those meetings are conducted. Over these matters the Classis has no supervision. She may only inquire into one matter in this connection. That is: “Are the consistory meetings held?”
This question, however, ought to be changed somewhat. A minimum change would be that the word “regularly” be inserted after the word “held.” Otherwise, for example, in a Classis where the meetings of Classis are held twice a year or once in six months, this question could be asked and a consistory that has met only once or twice in the interval between Classis could answer it affirmatively. This would not be right. Although the answer is undoubtedly correct, the very purpose of the question is defeated. The supervision intended is not accomplished. The question really means, “Are the consistory meetings held regularly, i.e., at regular intervals?” Does the consistory meet in compliance with Article 37 of the Church Order? This is generally understood to mean that in every church the consistory shall meet at least once a month. That, it seems, would be the minimum requirement. More frequent meetings may, and in many instances should, be held. This is fundamental to good order for the affairs of the church are regulated and executed through the offices which Christ has instituted in the church and then when the office bearers do not conduct regular meetings, there is something fundamentally wrong in that church. This the Classis has the right to know. Thus it would be better to ask whether the meetings of the consistory are held regularly or, as the proposed revision suggests, “How often are they held?” Then the president might ask further whether the frequency of the meetings in a given church is adequate to meet the needs of that church. If the answer to any of these questions is negative, the guilty consistory must be admonished by the Classis and, if necessary, further investigation be made of the matter.
The next question concerns the administration of Christian discipline by the consistory. This, too, is a very important matter because where discipline is neglected the inevitable ruin of the church follows. Insofar as is possible, the church must be kept pure. She is the body of Christ in whom God dwells through the Holy Spirit. That body must be properly maintained. Of this discipline we shall have occasion to write, D.V., in connection with later articles of our Church Order and so we need not discuss that here. It may be noted, however, that the matter of discipline in connection with this question may and undoubtedly should be taken in the broad sense of the word. The question then does not mean simply whether the consistory actually has cases of censure and perhaps occasion to excommunicate the impenitent and recalcitrant members. Rather the idea is whether the consistory observes that all things, doctrine and life, are maintained in the church in harmony with the Word of God. Does the church faithfully punish evil doers with the spiritual power of the keys of heaven’s kingdom? The preaching of the Word is itself a chief means of discipline and, therefore, this question may also well imply an inquiry into whether or not the Word is so preached that its discipline is felt in the congregation. In connection with this, therefore, the president of the classis has room for several pointed questions if he is allowed the liberty to depart from the “form questions” and broaden the scope of his inquiry. The devil, the world and all the powers of sin are very busy to spoil and break down the church. Should not we then be the more vigilant to be assured that every possible measure is taken to safeguard the church against these evils and to preserve her in the truth and in righteousness? It is easy to follow a formality by asking a general question but it is something else to really investigate the matter of exercising discipline. Yet, even where it may cause pain, the latter must be done either by the consistory itself or through the processes of this mutual supervision. Finally, it is certainly better to unveil any lack or wrong doing in this respect when it can still be amended than after it has done irreparable damage to the church.
The third question that is asked concerns the proper care of the poor and the Christian schools. These two may be considered separately since they are not really one and the same. A church may, for example, provide for its poor but neglect Christian education or in another case the reverse may be true. First of all then, the question is whether each consistory sees to it that its poor are taken care of. This is very necessary because this work is a reflection of the mercy and love of Christ. It is a question then as to whether or not the High Priestly office of Christ is truly reflected in the church. Moreover, the church has received a direct commission from Christ to look after the poor whom He said, “Ye have always with you!” It is a question whether this command of Christ is being observed. The matter touches upon the other question that is inserted in the proposed revision, namely, “How does the office of deacons function in your church?”
Concerning this we have written at length in connection with Articles 25 and 26 of the Church Order. We need not repeat that here. We must remark, however, that caring for the poor consists of more than setting up and taking offerings for a Charity or Benevolent Fund. If there are no poor in a congregation, the diaconate can and should render assistance as the need may be in other churches or in institutions of mercy where the sick and afflicted are cared for. A church that shows a sizable income in its benevolent fund and very little or no expenditures is lacking in a most important work. The alms of God’s people must not only be diligently collected but they must also be distributed with the same diligence. Some diaconates are efficient in the former but lacking in, the latter. Is this done in your church? How is this important work carried out?
Also in connection with this the president of the Classis might make further inquiry with a few direct and related questions to the delegates of each consistory. If this were done, some churches would undoubtedly be found to be in need of admonition and in the place of bank accounts collecting interest there would be poor assisted in their misery and afflicted alleviated in their sufferings.
Next time, D.V., we shall continue the discussion of these questions with the one pertaining to the support of Christian schools and the last one dealing with the help and judgment of the Classis in the government of the local church.