The Report

The committee, appointed by the Synod of 1924 to study the question whether or not a Classis may depose a Consistory, was divided in its report. The first part of that report or the report of that part of the committee that answered this question in the affirmative appeared in the foregoing articles. The other side now follows:

REPORT X 

“The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to convene June, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois. Esteemed and worthy fathers and brethren: 

With all regrets the Committee appointed by the Synod of 1924 to answer the question, ‘Can the Classis depose a Consistory,’ (Cf. Acts 1924, pg. 15, 154) could not reach a much desired agreement. Although on various points there was complete harmony in the committee, yet it could not succeed in presenting onereport. One half of the committee herewith courteously presents you with the following report. 

Our report is divided as follows: A. First, a brief discussion of the Reformed principles touching upon our subject: B. Next, a discussion of points concerning which there are and there are not differences within the committee with reference to the history and the principle authorities of Church Polity; C. Then, a short explanation of Articles of the Church Order that are pertinent here; D. Finally, our decision. 

A. Reformed principles of Church Polity presented in the form of propositions as follows: 

(1) Each local church is in itself a real and complete church with full power. (D.K.O. Art. 84, Netherlands Conf. Art. 31). There is, therefore, no church or church assembly that can exercise itself over the power of the local church. The highest power in the church resides in the office bearers who in the Consistory are the representatives of that power which Christ has given to His church. 

(2) Yet, this does not mean that a local church must stand independently. The necessity of fellowship with all those who belong to Christ’s church demands affiliation with other churches. Also the divine right demands this for the Scriptures teach that such a federation of churches is proper. (II Cor. 8 and Acts 15). Relative to the manner of this federation, this is never imposed from the top but proceeds through mutual agreement, from the local church. Historically this is evident from the fact that the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands are not instituted as one general Reformed Church with local parts but came into being in each place, separately and in 1563 voluntarily joined together in ecclesiastical federation. The mutual agreement is then fundamental and the ecclesiastical federation rests upon the voluntary compliance of each local church. 

(3) By virtue of the ecclesiastical federation, the Classis and Synod have a certain jurisdiction over the local church. (Art. 36) by which each church that belongs to the federation is bound. Classis and Synod have not only the right to advise in the sense that the independents teach but to make decisions that are binding for all who belong to the federation. However, Classis and Synod are not higher ruling-colleges. The church of Christ knows of only one rule, namely, the consistory. Higher rule does not exist. Classis and Synod are assemblies of local churches. 

(4) The power administered through Synod and Classis is, therefore, never a power directly given her through Christ but it is a derived (afgeleide) power. The original power is concealed in the local church. The source of the ecclesiastical power is with the local church, the derived stream is Classis and Synod. Therefore, the power of Classis and Synod is never higher power but accumulated power just as two kings have, more power than one

(5) Classis and Synod then can never exercise rule over the local church. Their power rests on this that the local church, which in itself is independent, by entering the federation of the church, spontaneously declared to submit itself to the decisions of Classis and Synod insofar as these are not in conflict with God’s Word and the fundamental principles of the Church Order. It is thus authority of a confederation of churches that mutually agree that the minority submits itself to the decisions of the majority because otherwise a confederation is impossible. 

(6) The power of Classis and Synod is not an unlimited power but it is naturally limited. The power of the Classis and Synod is more limited than that of the consistory. The local church possesses power to administer the Word and sacraments; Classis and Synod does not. The local church can use the Key-power to excommunicate sinners; Classis and Synod, properly speaking, cannot do this. This aforenamed power is inherent in the local church and cannot be transferred any more than a judge can transfer the authority of his office or a man can pass over to his wife his marital authority. 

(7) What power then do Classis and Synod have? This follows from the ecclesiastical federation. Naturally, no local church can independently make decisions for the regulation of the ecclesiastical federation for thereby one church would make the law for the others. The ecclesiastical federation must decide on confessional matters, matters of protest (gravamin) against her, over rules for the offices of the church; for administering of the Word; for mutual assemblies, for the exercising of discipline and rules for worship. Also she is to judge in differences between churches or in matters pertaining to the churches in common. The broader gatherings can also be called upon to judge in matters relating to the local church. However, in these cases, it is only possible: (1) Where in the minor assemblies it could not be finished (Art. 30, D.K.O.). Right in this case does not exceed the right of the local church because she appealed to the broader assembly herself. (2) Where there is misadministration. If office bearers misuse their office to let in heresy, to oppress the congregation, the other congregations then have the right to come to the help of such a congregation. The broader gathering can then send representatives to such a local church in order through admonishing them to restore peace (rust) as soon as possible. Should this be impossible, the representatives of the Classis must give orders to have the oppressors deposed from their office. And should the whole consistory be unfaithful, there is nothing more to be done than that the representatives of the Classis call the faithful members of the congregation to choose other office bearers. 

(8) Does then the Classis or Synod not have the right to carry out the censure or deposition which they advised? Indeed, the Classis or Synod can admonish officebearers—complained against before them—and in the event they will not listen, decide that they must be deposed. And where this is a minister, apply censure to him (Art. 11, D.K.O.) because the office of the minister of the Word extends further than the local congregation. Nothing stands in the way of such apostate ministers to separate themselves with their followers and on the ground of a new confession to form a new church. But should they desire to remain in the ecclesiastical federation, the broader gathering must declare that they shall not be recognized as officebearers. Should the local churches recognize them as officebearers, nevertheless, in defiance of the decision of the broader gathering, then this in effect is a breaking of the ecclesiastical bond of federation. But the deposition of officebearers insofar as the local church is concerned,—the excommunication itself is an act that is carried out through the local church. The broader gathering can prescribe the form of deposition for the local church but whether this shall occur,—the act itself is and remains an act of the local church since censure, even as the administration of the Word and sacraments, is inherently the right of the local church and cannot and may not be transferred to another body. In case the consistory refuses to carry out the censure, there remains only this solution left: The consistory is declared to stand outside of the federation of churches. 

B. The committee has no differences concerning much that is found in the above recorded position. There is, for example, no question whether the Classis, etc. shall have jurisdiction over the consistory and that this jurisdiction signifies more than mere advice which the consistory may or may not accept as it sees fit. Voetius speaks of voorschvijven (prescriptions), opleggen (impositions). And Art. 31 says plainly,Whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles of the Church Order. Neither is there any difference among the members of the committee with regard to the fact that a consistory is obliged to submit to the decisions of the broader gathering also when the consistory is not agreed thereto. Rutgers (Kerkelijk Adviezen, I, Pg. 261) regarding this has the following: “It also seems to me that the consistory treads dangerously toward a certain independentism, holding alone to its own judgments. Thus, for example, the consistory says: ‘We can and dare not relieve A. from censure for the Provincial Synod has not convinced us’! As if this last was really necessary! And as if it is not rather truly necessary that a church submits itself to the judgment of many churches even though it may be that she maintains her earlier sentiments. It is a mistake to say that men, in an ecclesiastical manner, may and must not submit themselves to the judgment of the brethren, even though they may not be agreed and then may and must act accordingly . . . Men must subject their own judgment to that of the brethren (unless in cases for which there is an express word of God indicating that censure should not be applied to a certain person). And the responsibility is then also for the brethren through whose decision the individual conscience is freed.” And on page 213 Rutgers says: “Already by itself, in virtue of the ecclesiastical bond, a consistory cannot simply lay aside a requested advice of the Classis and proceed in its own way.” Also then when a consistory appeals a decision of the Classis to a broader gathering, she may not in the meanwhile, pending the appeal, act contrary to the decision of the Classis but must let the case rest in status quo

On the other hand, there is also no difference in the committee concerning the question as to how, in normal times, the Classis must act with regard to the Consistories’ own matters. All are agreed that then the Classis may not perform what belongs to the Consistory. The rights of the local church must then be maintained without injury even as those of the ecclesiastical federation.

There also is no difference in the committee concerning the question whether according to Reformed Church Right it is lawful that a Classis sets a rebellious (refractory) consistory outside the denomination. But the other part of the committee want it clearly understood that the final act of expulsion is regarded, not as an act of the rebellious consistory, but the act of the Classis to which it has right. Against this has this part of the committee no objection. If it is maintained that a consistory through her obstinate refusal to comply with the decision of the broader gathering, actually breaks the denominational tie, yet has it not the least objection to regard the action of the Classis that follows as the final action of expulsion. The Classis always has the right according to Voetius, “the peace, the brotherhood and special Synodical correspondence” to terminate with such a consistory. 

The difference lies here. Whenever the consistory is guilty of misadministration of the congregation and refuses to subject itself to the decisions of the broader gathering, whether then the Classis has the right to depose the Consistory. To this we mean to answer with a firm ‘NO.’ The Consistory is in very fact obliged according to the demands of the ecclesiastical federation to obey the decisions of the broader gathering (Art. 31). “Whatever way be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the Articles of the Church Order.” But should they do not this, remain unwilling, then no one can force them to do this according to Reformed Church Order. The State can force but the church cannot! Also according to the hierarchical system this can happen but not according to Reformed Church right. A Classis can depose a minister because she also decides with respect to his ordination into the office (Art. 79, K.O.). But the union of churches, the joining of the local church to the federation of churches, is a voluntary, accepted union and to her remains the right to again leave it. Whenever lawfully appointed officebearers of a church refuse to submit themselves to the decisions of the broader gatherings as they in the (act of) agreement of church, promised to do, they do ethically wrong, it may be sin before God, but the communion of churches may not force them to submit to the decisions of the broader gathering. No principle of Reformed Church Right nor any article of the Church Order (see below) gives this right. By continual refusal of the consistory to enact the decisions of the broader gathering, the proper way for the Classis is to declare that such a consistory has by this actually broken the ecclesiastical tie of federation and then on her part “the peace, the brotherhood, and special Synodical correspondence” can be taken up with such an obstinate consistory and the faithful part of the congregation called together to choose new officebearers. Such an obstinate consistory then stands with its followers outside of the denomination. 

(to be continued) 

—G.V.D.B.