But is this conclusion just? Not according to our opinion. It is natural that a Classis deposes a minister of the Word according to the rule: “Who installs also deposes.” The sphere of the minister of the Word reaches further than the local church. Therefore, the Classis must decide with respect to the installation into the office as well as with respect to the deposition of the minister of the Word. In case a local church wants to maintain a heretical minister in spite of the Classis, she would then lose the right to belong to the federation of churches (denomination). And as concerning the deposition of elders and deacons, we must ask whether this article (Art. 79) gives the right or whether it has ever happened that a consistory of a neighboring church, without being sought by the indicted consistory, single-handedly proceeded to help depose a member of another consistory? And, if a consistory does not of itself have that right, then this article does not ascribe this right to the aggregate of consistories as gathered in Classis. And no consistory would ever seek another consistory or a classis to depose itself even though a minority of consistory members were concerned. Moreover a consistory is not merely the sum total of so many consistory members but is as a unity the ruling power that Christ has ordained in a church. And the Classis, etc. is not a higher ruling body that as such has command over the deposition of consistory members but are broader gatherings of equal (like) rank with the consistory. There is no higher power in the church of Christ than the consistory.
This is then also clearly expressed in Article 84 where we read: “No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no minister over other ministers, no elder or deacon over other elders or deacons.” This article maintains the freedom and independence of the local church even as Article 29 maintains the duty of the local church toward the denomination. It indicates that the Reformed denomination is a federation of churches of equal rating. On the one hand it is true as Dr. Rutgers expressed it, (vgl. J. DeJong, College Voordrachten, pg. 158) that “this article certainly permits that the local church leaves jurisdiction in matters she cannot finish or that concern all the churches in common to the Classis and Synod. Insofar the local church abdicates her freedom and must do this because otherwise the denominational bond is impossible.” On the other hand, this article guards against a hierarchical domination by the Classis, etc. over the local church. The present question does not concern whether the elders, with the help of the neighboring consistory can be deposed as rulers; also not whether a Classis doesn’t have a federative jurisdiction over the local church, but whether the autonomous local church is subject to a coercive public authority of a Classical gathering so that such a gathering can depose a consistory that will not submit to its decisions. And then this article says clearly that the Classis does not have such power for Article 84 reads: “No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no minister over other ministers, no elder or deacon over other elders or deacons.”
D. In the foregoing we have sufficiently indicated from the principles of Reformed Church Right, as well as from the history and by references to those who among us are well known as authorities of highest rank in the Netherlands and also by referring to articles of the Church Order that the question put to us for solution,“Can the Classis Depose a Consistory?” must be answered negatively.
We are yet of the opinion that there is a way for us to come to the desired agreement. The whole committee is of the opinion that the Classis according to Reformed Church Right has the right to set a refractory consistory outside the denomination. In case the church adopts the position that a consistory that persistently is unwilling to abide by the decisions of the broader gatherings, makes itself guilty of actually breaking the denominational bond and, shall the consistory remain unwilling, it is left out of the denomination, as written above, so would the denomination be protected overagainst all independentistic strivings of local churches and consistories and also all danger of collegialistic hierarchy prevented. Respectfully submitted,
The two foregoing reports, submitted by the study committee appointed by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, were taken under study by the committee of pre-advice of the Synod of 1926. This committee, consisting of ten men, submitted its conclusions to the Synod in the form of the following report, found in the Agendum of the Synod of 1926, page 315. (The free-translation is by undersigned.)
The Report of the Committee of Pre-Advice Concerning the Question: “Can A Classis Depose A Consistory?”
Since 1918 a couple concrete cases of the deposition of a consistory by a Classis gave occasion for instructions from Classis Sioux Center and the consistory of Chicago I to be presented to the Synod of 1924 requesting that the Synod establish whether or not a Classis has the authority to depose a consistory.
The aforementioned’ Synod appointed a Committee to study this question and to report at this Synod (1926). This committee was not agreed in her judgment but brought a double report. The one report answered the question affirmatively, the other negatively. With respect to various matters that are related to the question and the answer that is to be given thereto, there is agreement in both reports. The request came to us through a member of the committee appointed by the Synod of 1924 to direct the attention of this Synod to the fact that the committee is agreed in judging that “it is lawful according to Reformed Church Right that a Classis sets a recalcitrant consistory outside the church federation.” From both reports the Synod will find material in our advice although we do not each time give reference to the denoted report.
Your committee, having taken both reports under study, renders as her judgment that the definite question must be seen upon the background of the broader question concerning the rightful authority of the broader ecclesiastical gatherings. When the principle that lies at the basis of this general question is clearly set forth, it cannot be difficult to answer the concrete question concerning the authority of a Classis to in various ways depose a consistory. Our investigation then treats:
I. The Rightful Authority of the Broader Ecclesiastical Gatherings in General:
II. The Real (be-mute) Question in Particular. I. The Rightful Authority of the Broader Ecclesiastical Gatherings in General:
A. This question touches upon the church as institute and therefore bears a specific ecclesiastical character.
The spiritual-ethical essence (wezen) and the ecclesiastical (kerkrechtelijke) form of the church must be distinguished. Only then can we arrive at the necessary clarity. With this distinction the unbreakable bond (federation) between the spiritual essence of the church and her ecclesiastical form must be maintained. The church then, as she functions under the management of the office, is the institutional manifestation of the mystical body of Christ. To this both reports refer. (See pp. 129, 130, 149.)
B. The question of the rightful authority of the broader gatherings arises from the distinction between the local churches and the church federation in which the local churches are related to each other.
It would be ideal if a local church could include all believers but this is naturally, for various reasons, impossible. As soon as there are more local churches, the question of the church-federation arises.
Now there is conceivable a three-fold federation of churches that are confessionally one:
(1) Either they stand in the strict sense autonomously next to each other so that the federation is alone of a moral (that of advice) but not of an ecclesiastical (kerkrechtelijken) (that of rightful authority) nature. (Independentism)
(2) Or they are not alone not autonomous but have also lost their independence through joining the ecclesiastical communion so that in the real sense they are no more churches but only one, that is, the catholic church. (Collegialism and related systems.)
(3) Or they maintain a federation with each other by which they indeed cease to be autonomous (that is, ecclesiastically over against each other for spiritually over against Christ this cannot be) but yet do not abdicate the ecclesiastical independence. (Reformed Church Right.)
In this last case, the question immediately arises concerning the federation of these independent and yet federated churches, namely, how can the independence of the local churches be maintained without doing injustice to the bond of ecclesiastical communion and, reversed, how can the ecclesiastical federation be maintained without encroaching upon the independence of the local churches?
C. Historically the point of departure of a group of churches lay in the local churches but organically and spiritually her unity lay in the body of Christ of which the ecclesiastical federation is the institutional manifestation, with the name in the Reformed sense.
1. From this follows, on the one hand, that ecclesiastically as well as spiritually, the unity of the churches of the ecclesiastical federation must be acknowledged. The Independentist do injustice to this unity and do not sufficiently reckon with the fact that all believers are members of the body. It cannot be said that this denies the spiritual but not the ecclesiastical unity for the ecclesiastical communion is rooted in and proceeds from the mystical spiritual unity of the body of Christ.
2. On the other hand, however, follows the fact that the foundation and life bond of the ecclesiastical communion are the local churches and that not for a moment may these churches abandon or let themselves be deprived of their independence. For:
(a) the incorporation into Christ does not concern (heft niet op) the individuality (personality) of the believers and from this follows that the unity of the members that comes to manifestation in the local church does no injustice to the personal freedom of believers;
(b) by name in the New Testament, believers aremature children. They are sons and daughters who also therein manifest the rich unfolding of the image of God, that they according to the example of God are relatively independent (with God alone is absolute independence). They, who meddle with the independence of the local church (to be distinguished from autonomy) do principle injustice to the image of God and the freedom and maturity of believers even as they who, on the other hand, teach the autonomy of the local church, in principle do injustice to the unity of the body of Christ.
(to be continued)