The specific concern of this note can be stated by this question: Is the proposed revised Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church really a primary document? Another way of putting the question is this: Does this document have the character of a basic constitution of the church?
This question is prompted by certain language that occurs no less than seventeen times in the proposed revision. In order that we may get the full force of this feature of the revision, the language referred to is here reproduced in italics in the seventeen settings in which it occurs.
“Those who have been trained elsewhere shall not be eligible for call unless they have met the requirements stipulated in the synodical regulations and have…”
With regard to the examination of one who has not received the prescribed theological training “classis shall proceed as circumstances may warrant and in accordance with synodical regulations.”
“Ministers in the Christian Reformed Church are eligible to call, subject to synodical regulations.”
With regard to calling ministers coming from other denominations, “the cooperation and concurring advice of the synodical deputies is required, and all applicable synodical regulations shall be observed.”
On the same matter the synodical deputies shall “see that all other pertinent synodical regulations are observed.”
In the case of the ordination of a candidate for the ministry, “the class in the presence of the deputies, shall examine him as to his doctrine and life in accordance with synodical regulations.”
A minister coming from another denomination shall be examined in a Colloquium doctum conducted “in accordance with synodical regulations.”
Concerning the release of a minister from service in his congregation under certain “intolerable” circumstances, “the consistory shall give such a release only with the approval or the classis with concurring advice of the synodical deputies and in accordance with synodical regulations.”
“Retirement shall take place with the approval or the consistory and classis and in accordance with synodical regulations.”
“A retired minister shall retain the honor and title of a minister of the Word and his official connection with the church which he served last, and this church shall be responsible for providing honorably for his support and that of his dependents according to synodical regulations.”
“Students who have received licensure according to synodical regulations shall be permitted to exhort in the public worship services.”
“Appellants shall observe all ecclesiastical regulation regarding the manner and time of appeal.”
“Each assembly shall also provide for the safeguarding of its property through proper incorporation according to rules approved by synod.”
“The convening church, with the approval of the Synodical Interim Committee, may call a special session of synod, hut only in very extraordinary circumstances and with the observance of synodical regulations.”
“The consistory shall see to it that choirs, and others who sing in the worship services, observe the synodical regulations governing the content of the hymns and anthems sung.”
“Children legally adopted by members of the congregation may be baptized provided that the applicable synodical regulatory be observed.”
“To administer these activities synod shall appoint a denominational mission committee whose work shall be controlled by synodical regulation.”
When we compare the monotonous frequency of the above instances with similar language in the present Church Order, we are struck by a marked difference. The writer finds only four comparable instances in the current Church Order. And it is well to take note of the language used in these four instances. Article 4 refers to “ecclesiastical ordinance,” Article 5 to “general ecclesiastical ordinances,” Article 8 to “general regulations of the churches,” and Article 13 to “general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.” The adjective “synodical” does not occur in these instances.
The first observation one would make on this matter is already posed in the first paragraph above. Does such language used again and again suggest that this document is a primary document, a constitution of the church? Or do such repeated references suggest that this document is somehow subordinate to a body of synodical regulations that constitute the actual rule of the church in all these affairs? The impression left on the writer is plainly the latter. The constitutional character of this proposed document is therefore seriously undermined by the undue prominence given to regulations adopted by different synods with their varying composition and tendency and mood.
A second observation is suggested by the repetitious use of the word “regulation(s).” There is something almost offensive about this constant refrain. Are the office-bearers of the church of Jesus Christ to be tTeated as children who must constantly be reminded of the rules? Are not such office-bearers “sober-minded,” “orderly,” men of God who are not “novices”? Must they be dealt with after the manner of “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line”? To be sure, the work of the church cannot be carried on without procedural rules. We may call them “by-laws.” Let such necessary rules or by-laws be gathered in a separate place with proper reference to the respective articles of the Church Order which such rules are intended to implement. But let the text of the constitutional Church Order be rid of all these suggestions that it is subordinate to a body of generally unknown synodical regulations and rules.
A third observation is the most fundamental. Just what principles of church government infonn this proposed Church Order? One gains the general impression that this document is more a manual of usages and practices than ot principles. A very brief statement of the most general principles is given in the Introduction (Article 1), in which refercnce is made to the apostolic injunction that all things be done decently and in order, and to the function of the Church Order as regulating “the organization and activities of the churches, so that they may fulfill their calling according to the Scriptures and the Reformed creeds.” Good as such very general principles are, their statement hardly helps us in dealing with some of the most significant questions that press themselves upon us in the government of the church.
What, for example, is the center of authority in the organized church? What is the relation of the consistory to the classis and synod in the government of the church? Does the role given to synodical regulation in the proposed revision comport with the principles of church government found in Articles XXX to XXXII of the Confession of Faith? Article 29 of the proposed revision states that “a. Each assembly exercises, in keeping with its own character and domain, the ecclesiastical authority entrusted to it by Christ” and “b. The classis has the same authority over the consistory as the synod has over the classis.” Just what is this authority? The standard of comparison in the allocation and exercise of this authority seems to be the authority that synod has over the classis. Are we to understand this ecclesiastical authority and responsibility in terms of a descending scale with the synod having the greatest and final authority and the consistory having the least authority, an authority that is always qualified by the supreme regulatory authority of the synod? Just what is the philosophy of church government coming to expression in the articles of the proposed revision?
Questions such as these press themselves upon me as I study the proposed revision of the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church. Many features of the proposed revision call for commendation of the committee’s work. But the questions raised in this brief article make at least this member of the church doubt that the time is ripe for adoption of the proposed document.