Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

The office of the president is to state and explain the business to be transacted, to see to it that everyone observe(s) due order in speaking, to silence the captious and those who are vehement in speaking; and to properly discipline them if they refuse to listen. Furthermore his office shall cease when the assembly arises. 

Church Order, Article 35.


This article describes the office, or duty of the president of ecclesiastical assemblies. The article originated with the Synod of Embden, 1571. Originally it concerned only the president of the particular and general synods. It was the Synod of Middelburg, 1581, that revised the article so that it referred to the duty of the president in all the assemblies, including consistory and classis.

It is worthwhile to compare our Article 35 with recent revisions by other Reformed churches.

Article 32b of the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church reads:

In every assembly there shall be a president whose duty it shall be to state and explain the business to be transacted, and to see to it that the stipulations of the Church Order are followed and that everyone observes due order and decorum in speaking.

Article 35 of the Church Order of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches reads:

President. In all assemblies there shall be a president whose task it is: 

a. To present and explain clearly all matters to be dealt with; 

b. To ensure that every one observe due order in speaking;

c. To deny the floor to those who argue about minor things or who let themselves be carried away and cannot control their strong emotions; 

d. To discipline those who refuse to listen. In major assemblies the office of the president shall cease when the assembly has ended.

The duties of the president are referred to in other articles of the Church Order. Article 37 treats the duty of the president of the local consistory. Article 41 deals more extensively with the office of the president of the classical meetings. Mention is also made of the duties of the president of the major assemblies in the Rules of Order both of the classes and of the synod.

Stating and Explaining the Business

The first duty of the president is “… to state and explain the business to be transacted . . . .” This duty of the president was especially important in the days when no printed agenda was handed out to delegates in advance. Today delegates have a rather thorough knowledge of the business coming before the classis or synod from the agenda. Even though this is the case, certain matters included in the .agenda may need elucidation and explanation. When this is necessary, it becomes the responsibility of the serving president.

This implies that it is the duty of the president to be sure that the delegates have a clear understanding of matters being treated on the floor of the assembly. If it becomes plain in the course of discussion of a certain issue that there is misunderstanding on the part of any delegate, the president ought to do his best to remove the misunderstanding and clarify the issue.

The president ought also to be sure that motions presented to the assembly are clearly stated and not open to misunderstanding. No ambiguous motion ought to be allowed to stand.

Enforcing the Rules of Order

The second duty of the president, according to Article 35, is “… to see to it that everyone observe due order in speaking . . . .”

This is the main task of the president at our major assemblies – to regulate discussion and debate. The president is to see to it that there is an orderly transaction of the business. He is not to force the discussion in a certain direction; or influence the discussion to his own personal ends, but he is to direct the assembly so that there may be a free, open, and sufficient discussion of the issues. In sum, it is the president’s special duty to safeguard the deliberative character of our major assemblies.

This duty of the president includes several things:

1. Giving everyone who desires to speak the opportunity of the floor.

2. Preventing one or two from monopolizing the discussion.

3. Seeing to it that speakers address only the subject under discussion, cutting off those who speak on unrelated subjects.

4. Cutting short those who go on and on.

5. Seeing to it that delegates use good manners and show proper courtesy when speaking.

6. Insisting that speakers address the chair, and not other delegates.

7. Not allowing discussion without any formal motion.

8. Seeing to it that motions are carefully and properly formulated.

9. Preventing unduly prolonged discussion and bringing the discussion to a close by calling for the question.

10. Maintaining proper solemnity, preventing the assembly from becoming lighthearted or even raucous.

11. Making sure the stipulations of the Church Order are followed.

12. Enforcing the rules of parliamentary procedure.

This does not prevent the president himself from addressing the assembly on a given issue. If he feels the need to do this, however, he must relinquish the chair to the vice-president. In this case, the vice-president retains the chair until after the assembly has disposed of the issue. When the president does this, he addresses the assembly not any longer as its president, but as an ordinary dele gate.

Silencing the Captious

The third duty of the president mentioned in Article 35 is “… to silence, the captious and those who are vehement in speaking . . . .”

Two different sorts of persons are in view here. “Captious” persons are those who are sharp in their speech, who make sarcastic remarks, who are caustic when referring to others, whose talk irritates and offends. “Those who are vehement in speaking” are those who lack self-control and do not exercise appropriate restraint when speaking. They lose their temper and blow up, or are unable to control their emotions. In the language of James 3, they do not know how to bridle their tongue.

These types of individuals the president is to “silence.” Usually an exhortation from the president to the offending party will be sufficient. In some instances, it is not. In this case, Article 35 gives the responsibility to the president “… to properly discipline them if they refuse to listen . . . .” What this means is that the president, in the name of the assembly, forbids the individual to continue to speak. That is the fl discipline” Article 35 has in mind, not discipline in the sense of formal church discipline, the exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In certain cases the president may even call for a motion of disapproval and censure from the assembly. In extreme cases, the individual may be banned from the meeting.

Duties of the Vice-President

Nowhere in the Church Order are the duties of the vice-president set forth. The Church Order does not even require that the assemblies have a vice-president (cf. Article 34), although neither does it forbid the election of a vice-president. All our assemblies, consistory, classis, and synod, elect vice-presidents.

Generally, the duties of the vice-president include all the duties of the president when he is called upon to act in the place of the president. This may be either because the president relinquishes the chair temporarily, or because for one reason or another he is unable to function in his office.

When not occupying the chair, the vice-president is to assist the president in every way possible. He should assist the president in determining whose turn it is to speak, especially when there are several who desire the floor. He should remind the president of any item on the agenda that may have been overlooked. And he should assist the president in enforcing the rules of procedure and debate.

Term of Office

Article 35 states that the office of the president “… shall cease when the assembly arises.” The president is not a permanent officer of the assembly, but only the presiding officer at that particular meeting of the assembly. This is a necessary safeguard against hierarchy. When the assembly is adjourned, the office of the president ceases. However, it is the case that the last serving president of classis and synod functions at the beginning of the next meeting of classis and synod to the point that the assembly is legally constituted and the newly chosen officers can function.

The only exception to this provision is the president of the consistory. His office as president of the consistory is not temporary but permanent, according to the stipulation of Article 37 of the Church Order. A new president of consistory is not chosen at each new meeting of the consistory, but the serving pastor is automatically the president of the consistory. In case a congregation has more than one pastor, they preside over the consistory meetings by rotation.