Members of the Joint Committee of the Proposed Church Order have traveled the continent explaining the work they have done and seeking input for future modifications. It appears that the same structure was used at each site with different committee members reporting on different sections of the proposed church order. The meeting I attended drew a surprisingly large number of people.
We are grateful for the work of the committee who represented their work well at the conference. Rev. Van Woudenberg introduced the panel and read the mandate given to the committee by each Synod (URCNA & CanRC). Rev. Sikkema read the Introduction and Historical Background to the Proposed Joint Church Order. He also noted that “Foundational Principles” had been changed to “Foundational Statements.” He also said that those who analyze the Church Order must “be careful to read carefully.”
Mr. G. Nordeman offered an overview of the first section “Offices.” Several questions were asked, including why licensure was being taken out of the hands of the elders and put into the hands of the classis. The reply was that such licensure would not be limited to one church, but, since the licentiate would be exhorting in several churches of the federation, he should be examined by the classis.
Rev. Scheuers explained some of the major changes in the Church Order in the section on Assemblies. He explained why he thought Regional Synods would be beneficial to the federation. Rev. Scheuers, who has been president of the URCNA Synod twice, said that he considered the size of the URCNA Synod to be unwieldy, and believed this would make Synod more of a deliberative body than the way the URCNA does it now.
Rev. Nederveen led the assembly through the “Worship, Sacraments, and Ceremonies” Section of the Proposed Church order. He pointed out that the article dealing with the type of songs to be sung in a Worship Service (Article 35) was the only place where the committee had not come to a consensus. Interestingly enough, it appears the lack of consensus came not over Genevan Psalms vs. Hymns but over who would approve what songs could be sung in a worship service. While that remains a flashpoint in the URCNA, Article 41 (who may come to the Lord’s Supper) was said to be the flashpoint for the CanRC.
Mr. Van Gurp led the section of Discipline. Article 56 “The Withdrawal of Members” was discussed at length. Some believe that members cannot “self-excommunicate” themselves, which this article seems to permit. The discipline of a “mature non-communicant member” was also discussed. It is peculiar that the first step would be to suspend him from the sacraments—something he should not be participating in if he has not made profession of his faith.
The meeting lasted well over two hours. Several times ministers and (former) elders argued that this new Church Order was usurping the authority of the elders and placing it in the hands of the broader assemblies. Members of the URCNA were reminded that they are a Federation that is to work together, not a group of individual congregations. They were assured that elders were still the ruling body of the church. Apparently, not many were convinced. The buzz afterwards remained that the new Church Order shows a great distrust in the elders and puts everything in the hands of the broader assemblies. For example, if approved, consistories would no longer be permitted to grant licensure; that would be done by classis. Elders would no longer be able to invite someone to preach in the absence of their minister unless the individual was first approved by classis. Vacant churches would need Counselors; Church Visitors would no longer be “invited” to consistories but would inform consistories when they were coming to visit. Even ministers are told where they are supposed to visit the members of their church
In addition, if approved, Synodical Deputies would be present to oversee and approve almost everything a classis does. Although assured that the classis would still have the “final word,” one wonders how long it would take before that is reversed. This is the very system that many people in Michigan left fifteen years ago. It is no wonder that one church’s elders could be overheard to say that they had left that system once; they would not be afraid to do it again.
It is very clear the the CanRC members of this committee do not understand the great fear of hierarchy within the URCNA! One concern expressed over coffee afterward by elders from various churches was that the URCNA would try to adopt this church order even if the federation did not unite with the CanRC. Perhaps that comes because we have seen how our Synod has adopted things in the past that were never discussed in classes or consistories (i.e. the nine points and the invitation to the OCRC to join our federation).