In our previous writing we began to discuss the 49th article of our Church Order; an article that treats the subject of the appointment of synodical committees. Today the provisions of this article apply to all of the committees which are appointed by the Synod whereas originally it applied specifically to one central committee. Various committees are given different mandates and, functioning during the interim between Synods, they are to “execute everything ordained by Synod . . .”
More specifically, however, we may say that this article alludes to those functions that are performed by the Synodical Delegates Ad Examina and to the Synodical Committee.
The first of these consists of a committee of three, with their respective alternates, that is appointed not by the Synod but by the Classes. These appointments are submitted to the Synod for approbation and so they become “Synodical Deputies.” Their function is to “supervise all the examinations of future ministers.” The rules governing this committee are three in number and are found on page 58 of our Church Order manual. They read:
“Article 1. 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.
“Article 2. 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.
“Article 3. The delegates for examination shall submit a report of all their activities to synod.”
In addition to this function, the Church Order in Articles 11 and 79 requires the presence of these synodical deputies whenever a case of dismissing or deposing a minister of the Word appears at the classis. This is a very serious matter and cannot be done except with the advice of these deputies any more than the examination of a candidate with a view to being admitted into the ministry can take place in their absence. In both cases the above rules would apply, i.e., if no agreement can be reached the matter would have to be decided by the synod and these activities of the deputies must all be reported to synod.
Since 1957 our churches have not had a standing “Synodical Committee.” Prior to that year we did and, in compliance with the 49th article of the Church Order, this committee was limited “to execute those decisions with which the synod had charged it” (Art. 4 of the Synodical Committee Constitution, p. 54, D.K.O.). As a result of this the Synodical Committee seldom had any work to do. If, during the time that Synod was in session, things arose that needed attention, Synod either took immediate action or appointed a special study committee for the task. And when matters arose during the interim of Synods which were referred to the Synodical Committee, its hands were tied because its mandate was so limited. The Synodical Committee became a committee in name only and virtually every year its report to Synod would in effect be that the committee had done nothing because Synod had not given to it any specific mandate.
In 1956 the consistory of South Holland overtured Synod as follows:
“The consistory of South Holland instructs Classis to overture Synod to eliminate the Synodical Committee as one of our standing committees on the ground that it is useless:
1. The committee’s constitution allows it only ‘to execute those decisions with which the Synod has charged it, conform the Church Order.’
2. However, Synod has seldom, if ever, in the history of our churches charged this committee to execute any decisions, so that this committee has been inactive.”
Classis West hesitated to advise the outright elimination of this committee. Their decision in the matter was to request “synod to consider the advisability of continuing the synodical committee.”
When the matter was taken up by the committee of pre-advice at synod, it was decided to advise synod to appoint a study committee to consider ways and means by which the synodical committee could serve some useful purpose. (Acts of Synod, 1956, p. 74.) It appears as though there was a feeling that the committee should be retained but at the same time a rather strong conviction that the committee should be given something to do. The committee of pre-advice further suggested three possibilities:
“1. That the committee could be made responsible, under certain regulations, for the calling of early synods,
2. That the committee could adjust assessments in case of changes in the financial situation of our churches during the interim between synods,
3. That the committee could arrange subsidy for newly organized congregations during the interim between synods.”
At the synod of 1956 this matter was committed to a study committee that reported back to synod the following year. The report of this committee is found on page 159 of the 1957 Acts and is marked “Supplement XVII.” It is too lengthy to quote here but we will cite the conclusions which the committee came to after their investigation of the matter. They are:
“That the Church Order itself does not prescribe a standing synodical committee.
Moreover, that it could prove very dangerous to have a standing committee of this nature, which would be charged to act with synodical authority.
And, finally, that there is no specific task that could not be done either by standing committees or especially appointed committees.”
The suggestions of the committee of pre-advice of the 1956 synod were also considered by this committee for study and with respect to these they found:
1. That Article 50 of the Church Order takes care of the matter of calling an early synod.
2. That the matter of adjusting subsidies can best be left to the Classis or at least the Classis could provide ways to help in cases of real need. It is dangerous and may lead to hierarchy to put such authority in the hands of one committee.
3. Subsidy arrangements for new churches are generally left to Synod itself.
As a result of this study, the committee then came to the following conclusions and advice:
“1. Your committee can find no basis for such a synodical committee in our Church Order.
2. Your committee can find no need for one, as our past history has proven.
3. Your committee proposes to synod to follow the advice of the South Holland consistory, to henceforth eliminate the synodical committee as a standing committee of synod.”
In Article 106 of the minutes of the 1957 synod this advice of the committee was adopted and since then we have not had a synodical committee.
The interesting point about all this centers in the two alternatives we face in considering the propriety of a standing Synodical Committee. On the one hand, if such a committee is to function, it must have authority to do so and since it is a committee that would have to deal with matters in the interim between synods that are really synodical matters, such a committee would have to be vested with a measure of synodical authority. This raises the question whether synod may ever delegate its authority to another body. On the other hand, to have a committee in name only, with no authority to act when situations arise is quite pointless and useless. It is better then to eliminate this standing committee as has been done. Furthermore, not only is the former alternative dangerous and contrary to Reformed Church Polity but the very fact that the synod now meets annually makes it even more unnecessary to have a standing synodical committee. In most cases matters can wait until the time of the annual synod and should an emergency situation arise that is really critical, it would be much better to call an early synod than to permit two or three men to decide for the whole church in a situation like this.
“The general synod shall ordinarily meet once every two years unless there be urgent need to shorten the time.
To this synod three ministers and three elders out of every classis shall be delegated. If it becomes necessary in the opinion of at least three classes to call a meeting of synod within two years, the local church designated for this purpose shall determine time and place.” —Article 50, D.K.O.
In 1936 the Christian Reformed Church revised the above article so that their redaction of it now reads:
“The General Synod shall ordinarily meet annually. Each Classis shall delegate two ministers and two elders to this Synod. If at least a majority of the Classes deem it necessary that the Synod meet either earlier or later than the regular time, the local church charged with convening the Synod shall in due season determine when and where it is to meet.”
The main change here is that the revision specifies annual meetings of Synod instead of once in two years as in the original. A further change is in the number of delegates from each Classis. In effect, our churches have also changed this Article by making provision for annual meetings and specifying the number of delegates under the “Rules and Regulations of Synod.” For sake of clarity and to avoid contradictions, however, it would be better if our Synod proceeds with the plan to reprint our Church Order that the wording of articles like these be changed to conform with current practices.
The latest proposed revision of the Church Order by the Christian Reformed Church adds the following to the above article:
“. . . in consultation with the Synodical Committee. The task of the synod shall be to establish and maintain the confessions, the Church Order, the liturgical songs and Forms, and the order of worship.”
Our comments on matters pertaining to the General Synod will have to wait until the next time.