Hierarchism in the CRC?

Which matters are legally before Synod, and therefore have a right to appear in the printed Agenda? And who determines this?

You say: Synod sets the rules for this, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, and you can find these rules in the book let, Rules for Synodical Procedure.

However, the matter isn’t quite that simple. Who interprets these rules? Who applies them in particular instances? Is there a danger that synodical rules are arbitrarily applied at times, and that the possibility is even there that rules take precedence over the Church Order itself?

I believe the answer to the last question is, Yes. That danger is definitely there. Classis Grand Rapids East saw that danger in 1974 (cf. Overture 7, p. 635 in ‘74 Acts). That danger has not diminished since that time.

The Smithers CRC consistory sent two communications to Synod of 77: One protesting the action of Synod ‘76 in connection with the Dutton appeal; the other asking Synod not to adopt the Marriage Guidelines Report as printed in last year’s Agenda.

Much to its surprise, the consistory received a letter from the Stated Clerk of Synod informing us that our communications would not be printed in the Agenda, since they had not been carried “as far as possible in the minor assemblies” (referring to a synodical rule, cf. Acts ‘59, p. 23). (The Smithers consistory did not ask Classis to endorse either of the communications.)

Is the Stated Clerk applying this rule fairly in this case? We believe he is not. (It ought to be pointed out that the Stated Clerk asked and received the endorsement of the Synodical Interim Committee for this action.!) A look at the context of the 1959 decision will, I believe, confirm our opinion. Overture 8 (p. 512, Acts ‘59) states:

“One of the major problems which afflicts our ecclesiastical system is that Synod is overloaded with work that should be done elsewhere. The most obvious form in which his violation of good order shows itself is in the many overtures asking Synod to study various matters. Frequently classes ask Synod to make large sweeping studies without giving evidence of the Classes having carried such studies as far as possible. Classes ought not to ask Synod to study the matter. They ought to study it themselves.”

Now, I fully endorse this overture. I have been saying this myself on other occasions. Synod tends to become a “dumping ground” for all our ecclesiastical problems. Still in 1977. We’ve had study reports galore, one after another. It’s time that stops.

However, that whole problematic is neither here nor there with regard to our communications. And the rule which the Stated Clerk referred to simply doesn’t apply. We are not asking Synod to study a new matter. We are simply asking Synod to do something which Synod alone can do, since both matters have been before Synod previously, having gone the normal route of consistory, classis, synod. What can classis do about this? Nothing! That’s one of the reasons we didn’t present it to classis for endorsement. We didn’t have to. We never doubted our right to send these communications directly to Synod. That is a basic right of Reformed church polity. “Our Synodical Agenda is . . . distributed. . throughout the denomination to encourage free and wide study and discussion in order that Synod’s decisions may be made with the knowledge, consideration, and support of the churches” (Overture 7 of Cl. G. R. East, ’74 Acts). That is a very important principle of Reformed church polity, and we must be careful not to violate or curb the freedom and autonomy of the local churches in any manner whatsoever.

What I’m saying is that I believe the Stated Clerk erred in making the judgment he did, and that the danger of arbitrarily deciding what does and what does not get into the Agenda is too great. When in recent years synod after snyod was presented with requests to study or reconsider the matter of Women in Office or Lodge Membership (the exact problem that the 1959 decision was meant to deal with), the Stated Clerk dutifully included it in the Agenda. But when a protest regarding a very important matter comes to the first following Synod after the original decision, it is omitted from the Agenda. I see this as a very dangerous precedent, and as a trend toward hierarchism in the CRC. We’d better take a good hard look at the matter before it gets out of hand.

(Note: For those who wish to pursue the matter a bit further, we refer to Monsma, The Revised Church Order Commentary, p. 130, 1st column.)