Press Release of the Meeting of the Combined Committees of the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches to Propose a Common Church Order November 1-3, 2005

Present were: Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, 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. Kloosterman opened the meeting with Scripture reading and prayer.

The minutes of the August 8–10, 2005 meeting were reviewed and approved after some minor corrections were noted. An agenda and timetable for the next three days were circulated and adopted.

Correspondence was received from URCNA and CanRC consistories. The committee is encouraged by and thankful for the comments and reactions to some of the proposals formulated. It is an indication of the seriousness with which the work of the committee is being studied and assessed by the churches. It has also challenged the committee to revisit various matters and revise certain articles based on insights communicated to us in this way. Responding to questions and correspondence may not always be possible because the committee does not see its work to this point as a finished product as it remains open to further evaluation and revision.

A review of the articles thus far adopted resulted in a few modifications. The last paragraph in the article regarding the weekly worship services was modified to read as follows: “At one of the services each Lord’s Day, the minister shall ordinarily preach the Word of God as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism by treating its Lord’s Days in sequence, and may give such attention also to the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort.”

Some thought was given to professional language editing of the proposed church order for consistency of language and style. A qualified volunteer for this work will be sought in the church community. A start will be made to sequence and number the articles completed thus far.

A number of items of old business were handled. The articles on who can preach in the churches and admission to the Lord’s Supper were briefly discussed but more study is required. It was decided to leave these matters for now and deal with them at the next meeting.

Under new business, a start was made with the section dealing with ecclesiastical discipline. The first article in this section was formulated as follows: “Ecclesiastical discipline, one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, is spiritual in nature and exempts no one from trial or punishment by the civil authorities.

The purpose of ecclesiastical discipline is that God may be glorified, that the sinner may be reconciled with God, the church, and one’s neighbor, and that offense may be removed from the church of Christ.”

In the same section consensus was also reached on articles dealing with consistory involvement, the reconciliation of a member, the discipline of a communicant and non-communicant member, and the readmission of an excommunicated person. The following will be proposed:

“When a member’s sin in doctrine or life is of a private character and does not give public offense, the rule prescribed by Christ in Matthew 18 shall be followed. A private sin from which the sinner repents after having been admonished by one person alone, or subsequently in the presence of two or three witnesses, shall not be brought to the consistory.

When a member does not repent after having been admonished in the presence of two or three witnesses concerning a private sin, or when it is alleged that a member has committed a public sin, the matter shall be brought to the consistory. Only then shall the consistory deal with any alleged sin in doctrine or life.”

“The reconciliation of a member, whose sin is public or has become public because the admonition of the church was despised, shall take place only upon evidence of genuine repentance, and in a manner which best promotes the edification of the church. For the welfare of the congregation and the sinner, the consistory shall determine if the member shall be required to confess the sin publicly.”

“A communicant or a mature non-communicant member whose sin is properly made known to the consistory, and who then obstinately rejects the repeated and loving admonitions of the consistory, shall, in agreement with the Word of God, be subject to church discipline according to the following stages:

A. Silent Discipline: a member who persists in sin shall be suspended by the consistory from all the privileges of church membership, including using the sacraments and voting at congregational meetings. Such suspension shall not be made public by the consistory.

B. Public Discipline: if the silent discipline and subsequent admonitions do not bring about repentance, and before proceeding to excommunication, the sinner’s impenitence shall be made known to the congregation by indicating both the member’s offense and failure to heed repeated admonitions, so that the congregation may speak with and pray for this member. Public discipline shall be done with the use of the synodically approved liturgical form, in three steps, the interval between which shall be left to the discretion of the consistory.

1. In the first step, the name of the sinner shall ordinarily not be mentioned so that he may be somewhat spared.

2. In the second step, the consistory shall seek the concurring advice of classis before proceeding, whereupon the member’s name shall be mentioned to the congregation.

3.In the third step, the congregation shall be informed that unless there is repentance, the member will be excommunicated from the church on a specified date.

C. Excommunication: if these steps of public discipline do not bring about repentance, the consistory shall excommunicate the impenitent sinner, using the synodically approved liturgical form.”

“When someone who has been excommunicated repents and desires to be readmitted into the communion with Christ and His church, the congregation shall be so informed. If no lawful objections are presented to the consistory within one month after the public announcement, readmission into the church with all its privileges shall take place, using the synodically approved liturgical form. One who has been excommunicated as a non-communicant member shall be readmitted only upon public profession of faith.”

An article dealing with the suspension and deposition of office-bearers was agreed on: “When a minister, elder, or deacon has committed a public or grievous sin, or when he refuses to heed the admonitions of the consistory, he shall be temporarily suspended from the duties of his office by his own consistory with the concurring advice of the consistories of the two neighboring churches.

Included in the sins requiring suspension from office are these: false doctrine or heresy, schism, open blasphemy, simony, desertion of office or intrusion upon that of another, perjury, adultery, fornication, theft, acts of violence, habitual drunkenness, brawling, unjustly enriching oneself; in short, all sins which would warrant the discipline of any other member.

Should he harden himself in his sin, or when the sin committed is of such a nature that he cannot effectively continue in office, he shall be deposed from his office by his consistory. In each case the concurring advice of classis is required, and in the case of a minister the concurring advice of the deputies of regional synod is also required.

Suspension or deposition in itself does not necessarily require further ecclesiastical discipline.

A man once deposed may be reconsidered for office only after a sufficient period of time, only upon evidence of genuine repentance, and only through the regular procedure for entering office.”

Regarding the article on mutual censure it was agreed that: “The minister(s), elders, and deacons shall conduct mutual censure regularly, whereby they exhort one another in a loving and edifying manner regarding the discharge of their offices.”

The article dealing with Psalms and Hymns received considerable attention. After extensive discussion of the principle of singing only synodically approved songs in the worship services it was decided to leave this article for a future meeting and reflect on it some more.

It was also decided not to include an article on indigent members (Dort art. 83) since such an article is not currently in either the CanRC and URCNA church orders and the concept is already covered in the article regarding the task of the deacons.

Two brothers were assigned the task to formulate articles on the definition, accountability, and duties of the missionary and the respective tasks of missions and evangelism.

The next meeting will take place D.V. March 14-16, 2006, in the Grand Rapids area. The press release was read and approved for publication. In his closing remarks Dr. Kloosterman stated his thankfulness to the Lord for the brotherly manner in which the committee again could proceed with its work. Appreciation was also expressed to the host church for its hospitality and service. A considerable amount of work could be accomplished.

After Scripture reading and closing prayer by Dr. Kloosterman, the meeting was adjourned.

For the Committee Gerard J. Nordeman