Press Release of the meeting of the combined committees of the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches to propose a common church order held June 21–24, 2011 at the Ebenezer Canadian Reformed Church, Burlington, ON
Present were: Rev. William Pols, Rev. Ronald Scheuers, Rev. Raymond Sikkema and Mr. Harry Van Gurp representing the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), and Dr. Gijsbert Nederveen, Mr. Gerard J. Nordeman, Rev. John VanWoudenberg and Dr. Art Witten of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC).
Dr. Nelson Kloosterman was absent with notification. In view of this, the meeting appointed Rev. Scheuers to function as chairman. Rev. Scheuers opened the meeting with a brief meditation on Ephesians 1, prayer, and a word of welcome.
A general discussion took place on the specific mandates received from the respective synods. The CanRC Synod Burlington 2010 charged the committee to discuss with the URCNA brothers the comments and feedback received from the churches as well as a general direction regarding a few articles in the PJCO. The URCNA Synod London 2010 mandated the committee to continue working closely with the church order sub-committee of the Canadian Reformed Churches to draft joint regulations for synodical procedure and to address matters yet unfinished. The committee was also mandated to develop Forms of Discipline for a united federation. Regarding the latter, the CanRC brothers, after consultation with the CanRC Liturgical Forms committee, agreed to work on this as well.
The minutes of the July 28–30, 2009 meeting were reviewed and approved, as were the agenda and timetable for the next four days. Synod Burlington 2010 had received forty-five letters from the churches outlining various concerns and recommendations for changes to the PJCO. The CanRC brothers prior to this meeting reviewed these submissions and proposed a number of amendments. While in several instances it was decided to retain the proposed article as submitted to the churches and the respective synods, in other instances some changes for improvement were agreed to. Some were of a minor grammatical and formatting nature and could be adopted without much debate. Others took considerable study and deliberation. The following is a brief overview of the more significant amendments agreed upon.
Art. 3—The duties of the Minister—was changed to remove any possible misunderstanding about the minister lording it over the elders.
Art 4—Preparation for the Ministry. The synods of both churches had mandated the combined committee to finalize this article. In particular section 4a Theological Education. Concerns have been expressed about synodical boards over which the churches actually have no control whatsoever. Also, in the past, institutions for theological training controlled by the churches have become corrupted and unfaithful to biblical teaching. The committee concluded that the responsibility for allowing this to happen actually lies particularly with the churches that were to oversee and control these institutions. Reflected in this is the faithfulness or lack thereof of the churches. It is important that the churches take full control of theological education specific to the confessions and creeds of the churches. The committee therefore decided to adopt the following wording for PJCO 4a:
A. Theological Education
To train men for the ministry of the Word, the churches shall maintain and support a theological seminary that is properly accountable to the churches.
Competent men shall be encouraged to study for the ministry of the Word. A man aspiring to the ministry must be a member of a church in the federation and must evidence genuine godliness to his consistory, who shall ensure that he receives a thoroughly reformed theological education. This consistory with the deacons shall also help him ensure that his financial needs are met, if necessary with the assistance of the churches of classis.
Regarding Art 4b—Licensure—a number of churches raised questions about a student being able to exhort after only completing one year of theological education. It should be kept in mind that students may come from different seminaries. Some already have taken at least three courses in Homiletics in their first year of studies. The committee further considered that typically no sermon is delivered that has not first been passed by the student’s supervisor. Also, no student can exhort before he has passed a licensure examination. It is decided to leave this part of the article as is.
Art. 5—Calling a candidate—had undergone extensive editing with the result that it reads awkwardly. The revised wording now also includes the terminology “approbation” of the congregation and “advice” of the counselors.
Art. 10—Support and Emeritation of Ministers. The wording “shall contribute towards his retirement” does not obligate the church to look after the needs of the minister upon his retirement. This has been changed to “shall provide for his retirement.”
The wording in Art 25 has been changed to be consistent with Art 17. It now reads in both articles: “schooling that is in harmony with the Word of God as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity.”
Also the wording in Art 28—Regional Synod—and Art 30—General Synod—has been harmonized. In addition, art 28 was changed to allow for the convening of a regional synod to be cancelled if the convening church, in consultation with its classis, concludes that no matters have been submitted by the classes that would warrant the convening of a regional synod. Cancellation of a regional synod shall not be permitted to occur twice in succession.
The committee was persuaded by the arguments presented that the wording of Art 40—Public Profession of Faith—could be improved upon. The revised article now reads:
Those who desire to profess their faith and thereby be admitted to the Lord’s Supper shall be evaluated by the consistory regarding their motives, their knowledge of the Three Forms of Unity, and their walk of life. This profession of faith shall occur after proper announcements to the congregation, and with the use of the adopted liturgical form.
Regarding Art 43—Admission to the Lord’s Supper—Synod Burlington 2010 of the CanRC had asked that the committee consider the fact that the admission of visitors from churches with which we maintain ecclesiastical fellowship is best served by a letter of testimony, but it should be understood that very few churches in North America are familiar with such a practice. The admission of visitors from other churches has historically been viewed as an exception to the rule and needs to be regulated by the elders. The criterion “Biblical Church Membership” was considered nebulous by this synod and several churches that had written. The committee agreed and has changed this article as follows:
The consistory shall supervise participation at the Lord’s Supper.
To that end, the consistory shall admit to the Lord’s Supper only those members who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life.
The consistory may also admit visitors who profess the Reformed faith provided that it secures from them a satisfactory testimony in either written or verbal form about their doctrine, life, and church membership.
Art. 57B—The Departure of Members—was discussed in view of comments from the churches and Synod Burlington 2010 of the CanRC. The stipulation that a request for a letter of testimony be made in writing has been removed. The question of membership was considered at length. One becomes a member of a local congregation, not the federation. A transfer of membership is therefore not possible. To send the letter of testimony to the consistory of another church could be interpreted as a transfer. The onus and responsibility of the individual is a fundamental principle. A person departs and freely joins a church. On the other hand, the spiritual care of an individual must be transferred from one consistory to another. There has to be a safeguard that a person does not fall between the cracks in this process. In view of these considerations, the committee agreed to the following wording for this section of the article:
Upon their request, a letter of testimony shall be given to those members who are departing to a church with which the federation has ecclesiastical fellowship. The consistory shall send a copy of this letter to that church, requesting it to accept them under its spiritual care.
Departing members remain under the supervision and care of their consistory until they are received as members into that church. The departure of members shall be properly announced.
The regulations for various examinations were once more reviewed for correctness, consistency, and language. This resulted in some changes to four sets of regulations.
The committee spent the last two days of its meetings on developing a set of forms for discipline. They consist of: 1. Form for excommunication of communicant members; 2. Form for readmission; and 3. Form for excommunication of non-communicant members.
The existing forms were considered as a basis for the proposed forms, and various commentaries were consulted in the process. The committee is grateful that a set of forms including prayers can be presented to the synods and churches of the respective federations. The proposed forms will be included as part of the report of the committee with the recommendation that they be adopted and the committee be relieved of this task.
The mandate to develop regulations for synodical procedures was discussed and the regulations currently in use by the respective federations were compared for similarity. However, due to the different structures of the respective synods and the history of the churches, there are some procedural differences between the two sets of regulations. New regulations will be drafted that reflect the wording of the new PJCOA. General agreement was reached on what should be included in the regulations. A sub-committee consisting of the six brothers living in Ontario was appointed to prepare a tentative set of regulations while keeping the full committee informed of its progress. These proposed regulations will be presented to the respective synods with the recommendation that the present committee be re-appointe to finalize the regulations when the PJCO is adopted and union of the two federations is indeed planned. The committee will now draft its final report to the respective synods. This should as much as possible be one report. The committee will also present the synods and churches with another 2-column document that contains only the changes to the PJCO 2010, as well as a clean copy of the complete PJCO 2012. Also included will be a brief document with comments on the reasons and deliberations that led to the changes.
In closing comments the committee members reflected on the many hours spent together on this work for the churches. The common thread again was the appreciation for the harmonious and brotherly atmosphere in which the committee could perform its task. Dr. Jack the Jong was remembered for his contributions in the early years and the sadness felt when illness forced him to resign. Appreciation was expressed for the contributions of Nelson Kloosterman to the work of the committee. His leadership and his gifts and talents were much appreciated by the members of the committee.
With this the committee considers that it has completed the tasks given to it by the synods of the respective federations. It is the prayer of the committee that the Lord will be pleased to use these labors to the benefit of the churches, and, if it is His will, for a combined federation. To God be the praise and the glory. Following prayer of thanksgiving, Rev. Scheuers closed the meeting.
This press release, as well as copies of previous releases can be found at the following web sites: http://sites.google.com/site/churchorderpjco and http://www.canrc.org/resources/press/index.html
For the committee
Gerard J. Nordeman