The Rights of Consistory Members at Congregational Meetings

Reverend Herman Bel answers questions sent to him by the readers of The Banner in the department: The Reader Asks. Most generally we find this department both interesting and instructive. We found this also true of the article appearing in the October 2nd issue of this denominational paper of the Christian Reformed Church. 

There the reader asks: 1. Whether a consistory member may speak against a proposal introduced by the consistory? 2. Whether every consistory member who favored the proposal may speak on the motion? 

It was the opinion of the questioner “that members of the consistory who are against the proposal ought to keep still and that also those who are for it ought to keep still. If the congregation is in need of information the president should give it.” 

Because the questions are of practical importance and they often come up in the church, also in our churches, we deemed it well to give our readers Reverend Bel’s reply. The reply is as follows: 

“1. Let me call attention to the fact that we cannot speak of right or wrong, since there is no rule for the conduct of congregational meetings in our Church Order. 

We can only point to usage and custom in these matters. 

2. Though we cannot speak of the right and wrong in these matters we can speak of the wisdom of speaking against a motion introduced by the consistory, and also the wisdom of all the members who were in favor of the matter getting up to speak in defense of the same. 

It gives the congregation the feeling of division and of using pressure methods. 

After all the purpose of the congregational meeting is to gain the advice of the members of the church. Let them speak. 

When the division of the consistory members is sharp I doubt the advisability of bringing the proposal to the congregational meeting. 

3. However, the majority rules. What has been decided by a motion, properly discussed, and carried is binding according to our Church Order, unless it can be shown to conflict with the Bible, the Confession, or the Church Order. 

4. A consistory is not compelled to consult the church, but it is wise to do so unless the matter is controversial. 

There is one exception, the consistory must consult the church on matters of finances, spending, buying and selling, etc. See Articles on Incorporation. 

Conclusion: At a congregational meeting every member may express his opinion, but it is not wise for consistory members to argue in the presence of the church. That undermines the influence of the consistory.” 

In the main we are happy with this advice. It has not happened often, though it has happened, that a consistory member rose to the floor at a congregational meeting to oppose a proposal adopted by majority vote in consistory. To say the least this weakens the proposal in the minds of the members of the congregation, no matter how well the proposal was grounded. It is conceivable that a member of the consistory will oppose a certain intended proposal in consistory, vote against it, and the decision having been rendered notifies the consistory that for conscience’ sake he wants a negative vote registered in the minutes and that he will speak against the proposal in the congregational meeting. That is his privilege, it seems to me. However, when he allows the vote to be taken in consistory without voicing his objections to the proposal and fails also to notify the consistory that he will let his voice be heard at the congregational meeting, he has no moral right at the congregational meeting to oppose a proposal adopted by majority vote in consistory. Even though he is still opposed he should keep silent at the congregational meeting and allow the congregation to voice its opinion and judgment without coaching. 

We certainly agree with Reverend Bel that in, cases where the consistory members are sharply at odds on an issue the issue had better not be brought to the congregation until the debate has ended and a majority opinion in consistory has been obtained. 

What is said above respecting negative opinions on a certain proposal applies also to positive opinions. It stands to reason that if a proposal comes to the congregational meeting it got there by a majority vote of the members of the consistory. Surely these especially should keep silence at the congregational meeting lest they leave upon the congregation the sense of pressure. The congregation should be left free to decide the matter without any undue pressures by the members of the consistory. If all is done right and the proposal is really ready for the congregational meeting, the proposal will be so well grounded and explained by the president that the congregation will need very little other information or opinions from the consistory members; M.S.