Convening an Early Synod

When Synods met once every two years, circumstances sometimes arose in the interim that necessitated the calling of the Synod at an earlier date. Provision for this was made in Article 50 of the Church Order, which states: “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 the time and place.” Since, however, the churches now meet every year in Synod, the urgency of this rule is reduced by one half. Nevertheless, even within the space of twelve months certain abnormal circumstances can arise that would necessitate a change in the date of the synodical meeting and so it is good to have these provisions in the event such an emergency should arise.

We must make a few observations in this connection concerning our own history during the years 1953 and 1954. The first of these is that in connection with the calling of an early Synod, the Church Order clearly authorizes the calling church to determine the time and place where such meeting is to be held. This is rather important. Our readers will recall that our Synod in June, 1953, did not finish its agenda and decided to reconvene in March of 1954. During the interim the schism, caused by De Wolf and his followers, took place. It must also be kept in mind that during this interim the Classis acted in the controversy. Classis declared Rev. De Wolf and others schismatic and recognized the consistory of Revs. H. Hoeksema and C. Hanko as the legal consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church. And this consistory was the consistory of the calling church of the Synod of 1953. Hence, although it may be admitted that the reconvening of a Synod is not the same as the calling of a new Synod, it is certainly reasonable and logically correct to say that Article 50 of the Church Order gives the calling church the authority to determine the time and place of this meeting. In light of the Church Order this is certainly much more correct than to ascribe this power to the stated clerk of the Synod. Nothing in the Church Order substan­tiates that. When then the consistory of the First Church, because of the circumstances which had arisen, changed the place of the meeting from First Church to Fourth Church, there was no breach of Church Order nor did this action of the consistory in any way make that Synod illegal as some seem to think. On the other hand, it is unthinkable that the opposition group, though it met at the designated place, could be considered the legal Synod of the denomination. They not only ignored the consistory of the calling church but they also received those who had been officially and le­gally declared schismatic by Classis East.

Our second observation here concerns a matter of Church Order that is related to the matter of protest which under­signed submitted to the Synod in 1959 and 1960. I am not going to discuss this protest now because it has been treated very thoroughly by a study committee during the past year and decided by the Synod of 1960 and those who are in­terested in the matter may obtain all the material by procur­ing a copy of the Acts of Synod. Neither am I going to discuss the decision of Synod or my personal reaction to that decision. The only matter of concern here is my conten­tion in that protest that under our present two Classes system, there are certain rules and regulations of the Church Order which cannot be rigidly enforced. The reason for this is that our Church Order is constructed on the assumption that a Synod is represented by several Classes. The rules in­corporated into the Church Order fit that setup and when they are applied to a different setup, they simply do not fit. Now with respect to the matter of my protest the relevant question concerned the rights of delegates to vote in matters that concerned their particular Classis and with the decision of the Synod in this matter, one can do very little because, in effect, it says two opposite things. But be that as it may, I can concede that the Church Order would deny the dele­gates of a classis the right to vote in a matter of protest against that classis and yet, this rule cannot be enforced in a two classes setup without doing great injury to the func­tion of the Synod. A modified rule should be adopted but this Synod did not do and so the problem still is there and can easily come up again as it did in 1957.

The same thing is true in Article 50 of the Church Order. It holds that at least three classes must deem it necessary before an early Synod can be convened. The Christian Re­formed Church has changed this to read that a majority of the classes must deem it necessary. Taken either way, the rule cannot be enforced in our case because we do not have three classes and you cannot speak of a majority of two. Consequently, we need a new rule to fit our circumstances. Such a rule has also been adopted by Synod in this case. It reads thus:

“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.”

Under this rule it appears to be rather easy to have an early Synod convened. However, in actual practice this is not the case. In fact, it is very difficult to have this done. For example, suppose that toward the end of the calendar year a church or several churches in Classis East desire an early Synod. The matter would be brought to the Classis in January. If the Classis agreed that this was necessary, they would apply to the calling church. The consistory of that church would bring the matter to Classis West which would meet in March and if they also concurred, the Synod could be convened in April at the earliest which would only be a couple months before the regular time. A Synod that was desired in November, let us say, could not be convened for almost a half year. Now suppose that we reverse this. The matter becomes a little better then. A church in the West brings a request for an early Synod to the September Classis. This Classis applies to the calling church which brings the matter to Classis East in October. A Synod could then be called in November but then notice that this is very unlikely to happen because the Synod has just met in June and this would mean that some very extenuating circumstances would have to arise between June and September to bring this about. And if the situation in the West just missed the September Classis, it would have to wait until March and then the earliest possible time that this process could be com­pleted would be late April or early May. The little time that is gained would hardly make it worthwhile to go through the process. Fortunately it is rarely necessary as long as annual Synods are being held.

Procedure at Synod

Most of us are acquainted with the procedure of our ec­clesiastical meetings. That the Synod (and Classes or Con­sistories also) meets and performs its work according to correct procedure is important, not only because Scripture itself demands that all things be done in good order, but also because this is the only way that the work can be done efficiently. Incorrect procedure leads to all kinds of con­fusion which results in erroneous decisions and these are always detrimental to the churches.

A few years ago our churches adopted a set of rules by which the meetings of Synod are to be regulated. We are not going to discuss these here since they will be included in the new printing of our Church Order book that will be made available at a nominal cost in the near future. Every family will want to have a copy of this book since it will contain much valuable information. No consistory member can afford to be without it. When it is available the committee in charge of having it printed will undoubtedly inform you as to where you can obtain your copy.

To the adoption of rules, some always object. Monsma and Van Dellen express this sentiment with respect to similar rules that were adopted in 1945 by the Christian Reformed Church. They write in “The Church Order Commentary” as follows:

“As stands to reason, some rules of procedure are neces­sary for the orderly and efficient operation of our synodical gatherings. But we do believe that rules of procedure which go into great detail are apt to work harm as well as good. We feel, for instance, that part VI of the Rules for Synodical Procedure is in many instances too involved and too tech­nical. To multiply rules and stipulations for our ecclesias­tical gatherings we deem not only needless but also danger­ous.”

Then a bit further: “Multiplication of detailed rules and regulations for ecclesiastical assemblies have a binding tendency and are apt to turn our gatherings into the direc­tion of mere business meetings, whereas we should far rather promote the larger consideration of the spiritual interests of the churches. And for the due consideration of the spiritual interests of our churches we need a certain amount of liberty. Rule upon rule and precept upon precept will have a binding and choking effect upon our synods or classes as deliberative gatherings and upon the majority of the delegates to these assemblies. When rules are multiplied, delegates in many instances will hesitate to take the floor for fear of being called to order for transgressing some rule . . .”

Although the dangers that are sounded in this quotation may indeed be considered, we do not believe that the rules that have been adopted by our Synod are in any way de­trimental to the function of that body. Neither do we believe that they are as involved as is sometimes presented. Most of the rules merely express orderly practices that have always been accepted. After getting accustomed to the few innova­tions these rules have introduced, we find that they have had a very healthy effect upon the proceedings of our Synods. Evidence of this was our last held Synod which had a very large agenda and yet all the work was completed in eight days. Without taking away any credit for this that rightly belongs to the capable leadership of the president of Synod, Rev. C. Hanko, we feel that part of this was due to the rules of order and the systematic way in which the work was performed according to these rules.