CanRC and URC Church Order Committees

This article is a Press Release of the meeting of the combined committees of the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches to propose a common church order held December 11–12, 2002 at the United Reformed Church of Dutton, MI

Present were: Dr. NelsonKloosterman, 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. Jack DeJong, Mr. Gerard J. Nordeman, Rev. John VanWoudenberg and Dr. Art Witten of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC).

Dr. Kloosterman opened the meeting with a brief meditation on Luke 1:39–46 and prayer.

Motions to appoint Dr.Kloosterman as chairman and Rev. Sikkema as recorder of the minutes of this meeting were adopted. Mr. Nordeman was appointed to prepare the press release.

An agenda and timetable were adopted. The agenda included a presentation of a summary of the labors of the URC committee, a presentation of a summary of the labors of the CanRC committee, discussion and adoption of a modus operandi and its implementation, and the adoption of minutes and press release. It was decided to make the most use of available time by meeting in the evening as well.

The Mandate

Dr. Kloosterman shared with the meeting the mandate that the committee had received from the Fourth Synod of the URCNA, Escondido 2001:

a) That the current Church Orders of the two federations be evaluated in the light of the Scriptural and confessional principles and patterns of church government of the Dort CO.

b) That the CO Committee work together with a Canadian Reformed CO Committee to develop suitable and agreeable adaptation[s] of the Church Order of Dort, retaining and maintaining its principles, structure and essential provisions.

He then explained how the committee had worked with this mandate and the resulting proposals for a church order, having taken into consideration the Scriptures-based foundational principles for Reformed church government.

Dr. DeJong in a similar fashion gave an overview of the activities of the CanRC Committee and the mandate this committee had received from Synod Neerlandia 2001:

1. To work closely with the committee re church order appointed by the URCNA synod.

2. To evaluate the differences between the current church orders of the federations in the light of the Scriptural and confessional principles and patterns of church government of the Church Orderof Dort.

3. To propose a common church order in the line of the Church Order of Dort

4. To keep the Committee for the Promotion of Ecclesiastical Unity (CPEU) updated on the progress.

5. To provide the CPEU with a report in sufficient time for them to produce the comprehensive report for Synod in a timely fashion.

It became clear that the respective mandates were very similar. Differences between the current church orders of the federations were to be evaluated in the light of the Scriptural and confessional principles. A common church order maintaining the principles, structure, and essential provisions of the Church Order of Dort was to be proposed. Both committees had done extensive work in mapping the various church orders, including the Church Order of Dort, to facilitate this evaluation. To clarify terminology used, it is understood that when speaking of the Church Order of Dort we refer to the original Church Order of 1618 and the adopted version by the Christian Reformed Church in 1914 in its English translation (1920).

It was agreed to work as one committee to develop a draft for a common church order with a single set of minutes and press releases. However, the meeting also recognized that in this process the occasional need for one of the sub-committees to confer privately might arise.

While both committees had prepared a draft proposal for a common church order, the meeting adopted a motion to use the Church Order as adopted by the CRC in 1914 as a starting point, and to compare it to the proposals from both sub-committees. The respective mandates used words that this be “a common church order maintaining the principles, structure and essential provisions of the Church Order of Dort”. This, however, was not interpreted to mean a slavish following of each article, its wording and sequence in the church order.

The Introduction to the Church Order

The first item in this effort was a discussion on the need and place of an introduction in a church order. The CanRC introduction, as recommended by General Synod Lincoln 1992, provides an overview of the history of this church order. In the URCNA Church Order the introduction focuses more on a declaration of beliefs and the biblical basis for a church order. The URC Church Order also includes a section ‘Foundational Principles of Reformed Church Government’. The URC committee considers these foundational principles to be fundamental. While specific wording could be revised or improved on, the principles as based on Holy Scriptures must remain. Although adopted by an earlier Synod, the final status of these Principles among the churches has yet to be established. They currently read as follows:

FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF REFORMED CHURCH GOVERNMENT

1. The church is the possession of Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25–27).

2. As Mediator of the New Covenant, Christ is the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22–23; 5:2324; Colossians 1:18). 

3. Because the church is Christ’s possession and He is its Head, the principles governing the church are not a matter of human preference, but of divine revelation (Matthew 28:18–20; Colossians 1:18).

4. The universal church possesses a spiritual unity in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20; I Timothy 3:15; II John 9).

5. The Lord gave no permanent universal, national or regional offices to His church. The office of elder (presbyter/ episkopos) is clearly local in authority and function; thus Reformed church government is Presbyterian, since the church is governed by elders, not by broader assemblies (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5).

6. In its subjection to its Heavenly Head, the local church is governed by Christ from heaven, by means of His Word and Spirit, with the keys of the kingdom which He has given it for that purpose; and it is not subject to rule by sister churches who, with it, are subject to the one Christ (Matthew 16:19; Acts 20:28–32; Titus 1:5).

7. Federative relationships do not belong to the essence or being of the church; rather, they serve the wellbeing of the church. However, even though the churches stand distinctly next to one another, they do not thereby stand disconnectedly alongside one another. Entrance into and departure from a federative relationship is strictly a voluntary matter (Acts 15:1–35; Romans 15:25–27; Colossians 4–16; Titus 1:5; Revelation 1:11, 20).

8. The exercise of a federative relationship is possible only on the basis of unity in faith and in confession (I Corinthians 10:14-22; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:16–17).

9. Member churches meet together in consultation to guard against human imperfections and to benefit from the wisdom of a multitude of counselors in the broader assemblies. The decision of such assemblies derives their authority from their conformity to the Word of God (Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1–35; I Corinthians 13:9–10; II Timothy 3:16–17).

10. In order to manifest our spiritual unity, local churches should seek the broadest possible contacts with other like-minded churches for their mutual edification and as an effective witness to the world (John 17:21–23; Ephesians 4:1–6).

11. The church is mandated to exercise its ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8; II Corinthians 5:18–21).

12. Christ cares for His church through the office-bearers whom He chooses (Acts 6:2–3; I Timothy 3:1, 8; 5:17).

13. The Scriptures encourage a thorough theological training for the ministers of the Word (I Timothy 2:14–16; 3:14; 4:1–5).

14. Being the chosen and redeemed people of God, the church, under the supervision of the elders, is called to worship Him according to the Scriptural principles governing worship (Leviticus 10:1–3; Deuteronomy 12:29–32; Psalm 95:1, 2, 6; Psalm 100:4; John 4:24; I Peter 2:9).

15. Since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, it is called through the teaching ministry to build up the people of God in faith (Deuteronomy 11:19; Ephesians 4:11–16; I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 2:2; 3:16–17).

16. Christian discipline, arising from God’s love for His people, is exercised in the church to correct and strengthen the people of God, to maintain the unity and the purity of the church of Christ, and thereby bring honor and glory to God’s name (I Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13; Hebrews 12:7–11).

17. The exercise of Christian discipline is first of all a personal duty of every child of God, but when discipline by the church becomes necessary, it must be exercised by the elders of the church, the bearers of the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 18:15–20; Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 5:13; I Peter 5:1–3).

After an extensive discussion the meeting reached a consensus that the introduction of the proposed common church order should include: 1) a historical background, 2) the Scriptural and confessional basis, 3) foundational principles, and 4) headings of the four sections of the church order. Rev. Scheuers will prepare a draft introduction for discussion at a future meeting.

The Authority of Assemblies

Much time was spent discussing the principle of ‘jurisdiction’. This is an area where both federations have distinct views colored by tradition as well as recent experiences. The authority of the elders and minister is unquestionably one given to the church by the Lord. But what authority do broader assemblies have in the churches? Language that is mutually acceptable must be found before articles that involve jurisdiction can be formulated. These articles must avoid language such as ‘jurisdiction over’, but should convey words and thoughts of ‘original authority’, ‘derived authority’, and ‘delegated authority’. The respective committees will give more thought to this subject before it is dealt with again at a future meeting.

Agreement was reached on wording of Article 1 ‘The purpose of the church order’, and Article 2 ‘The three offices’. At this point it was decided to deal with subsequent articles without numbering them. Their proper sequence within the church order will be determined later.

Ministers of the Word

Agreement was reached on part of the articles dealing with the duties and the lawful calling of the ministers of the Word. Also provisional agreement was reached on articles dealing with ministers being bound to a particular church, and ministers coming without a congregation from another federation. The need for an article dealing with ‘Exceptional Gifts’ (Dort Article 8) received much discussion. The individual committees will also consider this article before it is dealt with again at a future meeting. Provisional agreement was reached on articles dealing with provisions for the care of the minister and the retirement of the minister.

The last hour of the second day was used to review the agenda for the next meeting. In the meantime the respective committees will carefully study the various church orders, and be prepared to discuss the issues of jurisdiction, exceptional gifts, and the need for regional synods. The next meeting will take place D.V. February 13 and 14, 2003 at the URC of Dutton, MI, this being the more central location.

Appreciation was expressed to the Dutton URC for its hospitality and the exceptional help its secretary was able to give to the committee. Dr. Kloosterman, in his closing remarks, stated his thankfulness to the Lord for the brotherly manner in which the committee could proceed with its work. He wished that the churches of both federations would have seen and heard the fraternity and camaraderie so present in the discussions and deliberations. To God alone be the praise and glory.

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