Among other things the first article of our Church Order speaks of the necessity of assemblies in the church for the maintenance of good order. By these assemblies is not meant the gathering of the congregation in divine worship but rather the meetings of such ecclesiastical assemblies as the Consistory, Classis and Synod. Concerning these assemblies we will write, D.V., in connection with later articles. At present, having just returned home from a six day session of Classis, we feel constrained to cast a few reflections upon these assemblies from the viewpoint of good order and offer some suggestions for improvement of the same. That there is room for improvement in the orderly execution of the work that comes before our major ecclesiastical assemblies (we have in mind now particularly the Classis) ought to be self-evident to those who attend these meetings. Taking the present six day session of Classis as an example we note: (1) That Classis in this time did not treat and come to a decision on a single case before her. (2) That Classis took six days to read material and refer the same to various committees. How is this to be explained? Could not this same work have been accomplished in one third of this time? Our conviction is that somewhere along the line of the execution of this work there is a deficiency in our order and, therefore, we would offer some pointed suggestions:
Our Classis should have an agenda, by which we mean a mimeographed report of the work that is to come before the body which is sent in advance to the various consistories. We do not suggest this particularly with a view to the present prolonged session of the Classis but we are convinced that this belongs to an orderly arrangement at any time. More than two years ago the consistory of Oak Lawn requested this, but their request was denied. At that time the request was motivated by these considerations: (1) It would give the delegates time to premeditate. (2) It would avoid hasty and erroneous decisions. (3) It would enable especially the elder delegates to have some conception of the amount of work before the body so that they could arrange, if possible, to be present throughout the entire session. And now we are convinced of a fourth motivation which is that such an agenda would help greatly to expedite the work of the
Classis. This will become more evident from our second suggestion.
Classis should instruct the Classical Committee to serve the Classis with advice concerning the legality of all matters coming before the Classis! It is simply a fact that a great deal of time is spent at each meeting of Classis dealing with the question as to whether or not certain matters are legally before the body. If Classis has an agenda which together with all the material the Stated Clerk would submit to the Classical Committee at a meeting held two or three weeks before Classis convenes, that Committee could look into the legality of each item and if there are some things that are questionable, the Committee could study them and bring some sound advice to the Classis which would in many instances save the Classis many precious hours and, perhaps, even save an elder a day’s wage. It is my conviction that a Committee such as this, composed of four ministers, can determine these legal questions with much more dispatch than the entire Classis and their advice in many difficult cases would be an invaluable assistance and guide to the broader gathering.
Our churches denominationally ought to employ a full time clerk! Permit me to elucidate upon this. By a full time clerk I have in mind a man who is clerically inclined and who could serve as the Stated Clerk of both our Classes as well as of our Synod. His task in general would be to serve the churches wherever clerical labor is needed. He would perform all the duties that are now performed in the spare time of three separate clerks. In addition, he would prepare mimeograph, (or in some instances printed) copies of all the material that is to be treated in the different ecclesiastical assemblies. Furthermore, he could be engaged to perform clerical labors for our Theological School, Mission Committee, etc. Denominationally, there is enough of this kind of labor to provide a man with full time employment. The churches would benefit from the services of such a person in many ways. E.g., the problem that arises every year (and seems to be getting worse) of getting the Synodical Acts out within a reasonable time after Synod adjourns could be handled by this person. The moderamen of Synod should meet immediately after Synod adjourns and compile the material and then put it in the hands of the clerk for editing and publication. E.g., too, the work of the Classis would be more efficiently performed if the delegates had before them in advance, black on white, the material upon which they must make decisions. Hasty and often later regrettable decisions would be avoided. More examples could be given. No doubt such a clerk’s services would prove to be worth more than the wages received. The work of the churches would be executed more orderly.
Our churches ought to adopt a set of parliamentary rules for its ecclesiastical assemblies in addition to the ecclesiastical rules we now have. Parliamentary order and ecclesiastical order are not mutually exclusive. Often our assemblies are delayed in their work by a question of parliamentary order. A set of such rules compiled in booklet form would serve as a guide and reference when such questions arise. It is true that no set of rules is or can be broad enough to cover every situation that may arise and it is also unwise to introduce unnecessary rules and, therefore, that which we advocate here should be concise and contain only basic principles of parliamentary order from which the assemblies could be guided to a quick decision in the situations that do repeatedly arise. This would avoid unnecessary and prolonged delays in many instances.
The above does not, of course, exhaust the possibility of suggestions. From them we wish merely to deduce that we have not yet reached orderly perfection but strive to avoid confusions and endless wrangling so that “all things may be done decently and in good order” in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. If these suggestions will help attain a measure of increase of that order they are worthy of consideration.
“The offices are of four kinds: Of the ministers of the Word, of the professors of theology, of the elders, and of the deacons.”
Having spoken in the first article of the helps which are necessary unto the maintenance of good order in the church of Jesus Christ, and having noted that these helps are five in number, we are now to consider them individually. The first of these is the offices which in the church occupy a very prominent place. Their importance is signified by the detailed treatment which is given this subject in Articles 2 through 28 of our D.K.O.
According to the above article the offices are four in number. This assertion is not above criticism as. it can be shown on the basis of the Word of God that there are not four, but three permanent offices in the New Testament church. Historically we might explain that the reaction of the second article is the result of the influence of Calvin upon the composers of our Church Order and is based upon his faulty interpretation of Ephesians 4:11. This passage reads as follows: “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers.”
The first part of this passage does not come into question here as that deals with the temporary offices in the New Testament Church but the last phrase, viz., “and some pastors and teachers” is the part that demands attention.
Concerning this part of the text, Calvin taught: “Pastors and teachers are supposed by some to denote one office, because the apostle does not, as in the other parts of the verse, say and some, pastors; and some, teachers; (note the punctuation, G.V.) but and some pastors and teachers. Chrysostom and Augustine are of this opinion; not to mention the commentaries of Ambrose, whose observations on the subject are truly childish and unworthy of himself. I partly agree with them, that Paul speaks indiscriminately of pastors and teachers as belonging to one and the same class, and that the name teacher does, to some extent, apply to all pastors. But this does not appear to me a sufficient reason why two offices, which I find to differ from each other, should be confounded. Teaching is, no doubt, the duty of all pastors; but to maintain sound doctrine requires a talent for interpreting Scripture, and a man may be a teacher who is not qualified to preach.
“Pastors, in my opinion, are those who have the charge of a particular flock; though I have no objection to their receiving the name of teachers, if it be understood that there is a distinct class of teachers, who preside both in the education of pastors and in the instruction of the whole church. It may sometimes happen, that the same person is both a pastor and a teacher, but the duties to be performed are entirely different.”
Next time, D.V., we will comment on this idea of Calvin’s and also write about the holy offices which Christ, our Lord, has instituted in His church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12)
G. Vanden Berg