The Report of the Committee of the Synod of 1924 on the Question “Can A Classis Depose A Consistory?â€쳌 (Concluded)

d) In the first volume of “Politica Ecclesiastica,” Voetius answers thirty-four particular questions that relate to the matter of ecclesiastical power. Question 22 is: “As part of the ecclesiastical power, does it belong to the Synodical gathering of the churches to exercise the right of excommunication in the event of misgovernment or incurable evil?” (atque ab ea exerceri). The familiar answer is: “I do not see why this cannot be done in cases and events such as mentioned above.” 

Now there were in the days of Voetius, Reformers who were not free from independent tendencies. He calls them recensiores (novices?). And note then in the afore-mentioned question 22: “By some novices the right of excommunication is questioned but others, by distinguishing and reconciling the conflicts, viewed this in this way, that not the excommunication itself but the directive and preparation of the decision (to excommunicate) belongs with the Synod in the event of misgovernment, while the excommunication itself or, if you prefer, the execution of it must be left to the local church. 

With the novices Voetius does not agree. The manner in which he speaks of “the others” indicates clearly what his position is. In the event that a congregation is not yet as corrupt as the consistory so that there remains a healthy and better element, Voetius says, “that the formal excommunication can be performed with and in the presence of this better element since the Synodical power (potestas synodi) has previously given the directive (guidance) and with her representatives supplied the deficiency of the local church (defectum supplebit). 

The matter, however, is somewhat different in the event the consistory is hopelessly corrupt. In this case it naturally cannot proceed according to Article 79 of the Church Order and along the lines of the novices (recensiores). Voetius says, “Yet these distinctions (guiding, preparing, executing) do not raise difficulties in the aforementioned cases. Those who with us acknowledge the Synodical power must also reckon to the Synod the power of excommunication (Synodico corpori tribuendum); if not formally, then yet in the place of coming action through which the curse is announced with the warning of peace, the brotherhood and the special Synodical correspondence, whether publicly or secretly or by both means.”

The trend of Voetius’ reasoning is clear. He means to say: “In some cases it may be possible to act according to the principle of the novices (recensiores) but to carry this principle through cannot be maintained if a broader gathering has not the right of excommunication.” He then concludes by saying: “We see this, that such doubtful cases . . . the limitation and application of a presbyterial Synodical Church right may not hinder (constitutionem politiae non dabere impedire). When Voetius speaks of an action by which the curse is pronounced with warning, etc. (opzegging), this certainly means more than an admission (aflegging) of the interpretation that a consistory eo facto has broken the denominational bond and thus has ipso facto placed itself outside of the denomination. 

Very significant in this connection is the answer that Voetius gives to Question 23. “Is this ruling power so adhered to the consistory that in the event necessitated by her laxity in ruling, it cannot be taken from her and given to another for the welfare and upbuilding of the congregation?” In four conclusions which we report here in brief, he gives this answer: 

(1) This power does not have an indelible character (character indelebilis). This is evident from periodic retirement (of office bearers) and the difficulty of suspending and deposing them from the office.

(2) This ruling power is imparted to the ministers and elders by the congregation and, therefore, can, in case of necessity and for righteous causes, be taken away by her; at least the exercising and use of it for a time may be obstructed. (Final deposition from office must proceed along the lines of Article 79 of the Church Order and carried out with the help of the broader gatherings.) Whenever the broader gatherings either cannot or will not help a church in this, the church does it by herself in case it is necessary. If also this cannot happen because of lawful obstacles, she separates herself from the consistory, as in the time of the first Reformation and especially during the repeated disputes with the Remonstrants. 

(3) This ruling power can be temporally or finally denied the usual office bearers and placed on the elders of the neighboring church or churches of the same denomination until order is restored and the consistory reinstated. Voetius does not see that there is a single reason why some new defenders (promachoi) of the Independency of the Churches assert that to no minister is given power to rule in a single instance in another church. (With calling on Art. 84 D.K.O.) 

(4) A church that is destitute of neighboring ministers and of all help and assistance of the Synodical bond, does all it can to use not only the usual and in every case competent power of freedom but also the power of authority. They do not unlawfully take to themselves all power that belongs to the ministers and consistories, but that by which they can bring all the actions and parts into conformity until that which is lacking is restored, To these actions belong: gathering together to discuss God’s Word, the making of decisions concerning things which are necessary for that determined time, the right of protest, and when corruption is total, the right of a new church organization. These and similar things were proven by-the pious in the time of the Waldenses and of the first Reformation in 1517 . . . . by some churches which in England were deprived of faithful and orthodox ministers and to which were given corrupt and disorderly ministers. And that these things have happened in cases of necessity and in confused circumstances, we will defend in agreement with the things we have exposed against the Romish priests. Yet we do not want a misleading inference to be drawn from this for the usual and regular rule and for the peaceful time of the church. 

By this last Voetius certainly means this: that when there is a regular Reformed Church Institute (geregeld Geref. Kerkinrichting), the churches simply act according to the accepted Church Order where especially in Articles 30, 31, 36, 79 and 84 is clearly given what the relation of the local church is to the denomination federation. And what it signifies that a Classis has jurisdiction over a local church and the consistory. Circumstances may arise that a church must protest,—that a church can get no help from a broader gathering, in which case she is compelled to use some rights inhering in the denominational federation and that according to “common accord” are stipulated in the Church Order,—but in a regular Reformed Church denomination these extra ordinary things, by exception permitted, are not necessary. 

(e) In the last volume of the Politica Ecclesiasticus, published in the year of his death, 1676, Voetius mentions a case wherein a consistory neglects or withholds applying excommunication upon a member. He says: “I think that the consistory does nothing absurd if she refers this whole case to the Classis and persuent thereto to the Synod, because by her advice or decision it will be determined whether the excommunication will be carried out or withdrawn (differat aut absolvat).” Voetius goes a step farther yet and judges that a consistory in this case conforms itself to the request of the Synod; that the Synod utters the sentence of excommunication and through her deputies or through the deputies of the Classis (in which the local church is incorporated) shall be (let) carried out. In this case Voetius thus gives to the broader gatherings the competency to handle a discipline case from the beginning to the end. And in this case a Reformed Classis (not a so-called Classis in the collegialistic Ned. Herv. Kerk) does what belongs to the consistory. 

(2) The practice of the Reformed Churches in her most flourishing period. As it comes before us, Voetius gives to a Classis the right to depose a Consistory. And this right of deposition is according to historyexercised. 

(a) In Haarlem in 1618, during the difficulties there, there was a new consistory placed and functioning next to the old consistory. The Synod of North Holland made three decisions: to thank the old consistory for their faithful service;—to depose the new consistory (uit het ambt zetten),—and to, according to the discretion of the deputies who had to execute the first two decisions, choose and install another Consistory. Therefore, the Synod itself carries out her decisions through her deputies and actually does what is Consistorial for the deputies take the place which according to Articles 22 and 24 of the Church Order belong to the Consistory. To be noted is that the old,faithful, Consistory simply is thanked and does not even remain to install their successors in office. 

(b) The same Synod that met in Enkhuizen on October 9th, e.v.d. had to settle difficulties in the congregation of Hoorn and decided to send a committee (deputaatschap) “with full power and commission to treat the case in the name of this Synod as if Synod, as now gathered, was present thereabouts, and that accordingly the Synod will hold in effect whatever is done there by her committee.

The deputies gathered December 4, 1615, and the following days. Also here there were two consistories. The one was thanked for its faithful service (on their own request they stepped out of office) and the other was discharged from their service. A new consistory was “by the authority” of the deputies instituted. The old consistory, however, remained in active service until the time and while the new consistory “according to the proper order shall have been installed in her service.” 

(c) Soon after the adjournment of the Synod of Dordt, the Synod of South Holland gathered in Leiden from July 27 to August 17, 1619. A large number of Remonstrant preachers were “discharged and deposed.” 

It was decided further to compose a, form to be read in the churches with two consistories and by which thedeposition of the Remonstrant consistories would be carried out in the behalf of the Synod. Where the Remonstrants had everything in control, the consistory would be deposed by Classis. 

(d) In order to prove that a broader gathering is impotent over against an obstinate consistory, Rutgers and Lohman in Rechtsbevoegdheid der Plaatselijke Kerken, point out the well-known case of Ds. F. Van Leenhof, minister of Zwolle. The Synod of Overijsel deposed him. The consistory, supported by the government of the State and Province, did not heed this sentence and maintained him. The Synod had not deposed the consistory but yet put them under the ban of excommunication (“onder ban en censure gezet”). Herewith spoke out the Synod, that she had jurisdiction (zeggenschap) and competency (rechtsbevoegdheid), but she is smitten with paralysis to proceed further because of the meddling of the government. Also apart from this and taking into account that this occurred in the beginning of the 18th century, that there was no deposition is no proof that the Synod did not have the competency. 

(e) The same jurisdiction that the Classis has over the consistory, the Synod has over the Classis. That discipline had to be applied to a whole Classis has naturally only seldomoccurred. Yet there is an example of this. But what men did was something other than to declare: “You have made yourselves worthy to be set outside of the denomination.” 

The “Friescke Synode” (1599 at Joure), because of all sorts of trouble, difficulty and disorder deprived Classis Zevenwouden of her authority so that she could be a Classis no more, but the ministers who till then were residing under her shall continue under the neighboring state where they formerly were for the preservation of good order. The Classis Zevenwouden was not set outside of the denominational federation for then she would remain a Classis; an independent Classis. “Sal wezen geroeyeert ende te nyete” involves much more. At the following Synod, (Sneek, May 20, e.v.d. 1600) it was called, “the deposition of the Classis Sylvanae.” The Classis Bolsward served a gravamen (protest) against the decision of 1.599 but the Synod of Bolsward, July 1601, decided because of reasons of the Classis: “Classis Zevenwouden is not to be restored to good standing.” Here was then a disciplinary action by which this Classis ceased as Classis to exist even as by the deposition of a Consistory, the Consistory ceases to exist as a Consistory. 

Yet one other example is that of the action of the National French Synod of Montpellier, 1598. It resolved in consideration of three Classes that as these were opposed to the ruling of the Prov. Synod against which they should have tendered appeals, they, by sending no delegates, shall be removed and deprived of their rights. Also here we must not be deceived with the “setting outside the church federation” for this is disciplinary action of depriving (ontneming) of official ecclesiastical rights, thus with deposition.” —F.M. Ten Hoor and G.D. DeJong. 

—G.V.D.B.