The meeting of the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches to propose a common church order, held November 4–6, 2003 at the United Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan.
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 Van Woudenberg and Dr. Art Witten of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC).
Dr. Kloosterman opened the meeting with a brief meditation on Psalm 46 in which he reflected on how the psalmist reminds us about God’s presence in the church but also in the world: “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how He has wrought desolations in the earth.” Witness the devastating fires in California and other disasters. The world agonizes in pain. Yet: “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob our refuge.” Therefore we may continue in trust and confidence.
After opening prayer, an agenda and timetable for the next three days were circulated and adopted. The minutes of the August 5-7, 2003 meeting were reviewed and approved.
A review of the articles thus far adopted resulted in a few modifications in grammar and syntax. Several items yet to be done were noted. In the article dealing with ‘The Classis’ the following sentence was added: “Ordinarily a classis shall consist of between 8 and 12 churches.”
The matter of the number and choosing of delegates to general synod was once more discussed. It was clear that arriving at an appropriate formulation of such an article depends in great measure on understanding the nature and functioning of a general synod. Since the functioning process is normally identified in a set of regulations for general synod, it was decided to approach the 2004 Synods of the respective churches for a mandate for the Combined Committee to also formulate such synod regulations.
Since broader assemblies ought to be deliberative in nature the general consensus is that delegation from each consistory will result in numbers that would make this deliberative functioning impractical if not impossible. It was therefore agreed that the second to the last classis before general synod will choose delegates to that synod. The exact numbers or formula will be determined later after advice from the respective 2004 Synods has been received. Regulations for broader assemblies shall also delineate the function of the convening church and / or of the designated clerk serving the convening churches.
Dr. Witten presented an interim report regarding ‘gaps’ still to be addressed by the Committee. This report compared the Church Order of Dort, 1920 with the proposed church order thus far completed, identifying items still to be addressed.
Rev. VanWoudenberg presented a draft formulation of various appendices to the proposed Church Order. They included credentials for delegates to classis, regional synod and general synod as well as stipulations for a licensure exam, candidacy exam, ordination exam and a colloquium doctum. An ad-hoc committee of two members was struck to serve the Committee with recommendations regarding these appendices.
The Office of Minister
The following was added to Article 2: No one shall exercise an office without having been lawfully called to it. Also the stipulation was added in the relevant article that all ministers shall remain subject to the church order whether he serves as the minister of a congregation or as one charged with some other ministerial task. In the article dealing with the calling of an ordained minister within the federation, wording was added. The classis is to ensure the good order of the calling process. Written testimonies of his (the minister being called) good standing and of his release from the church and classis he last served are to be submitted.
An understanding was reached that it is the responsibility of classis to examine a student requesting a license to exhort or speak an edifying word in the churches. This is based on the consideration that such license to exhort extends beyond the local congregation and affects all the churches of the federation.
Regarding the preparation for the ministry, articles were formulated stating that competent men shall be urged 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. The council of his church shall see to it that his financial needs are met.
Anyone aspiring to the ministry shall seek licensure to exhort in the churches. Such licensure shall be granted only after the student has completed at least one year of theological education, and has sustained a licensure examination conducted by his classis. Stipulations for such examination to be specified in an appropriate appendix. Classis shall give license only to one who is preparing for the ministry and only for the duration of his theological training. All the work of the licentiate shall be conducted under consistorial supervision.
At the conclusion of his training a student shall ask his consistory to request classis to conduct a candidacy examination, as stipulated in the relevant appendix. Upon sustaining this examination, the classis, with the concurring advice of the deputies of regional synod, shall declare him eligible for call among the churches of the federation.
When, for weighty reasons and exceptional circumstances, a pastoral relationship has become irreconcilably broken, a minister may be released from his duties in the congregation only under the following conditions: A. This release shall not occur for delinquency in doctrine or life, which would warrant church discipline, B. This release shall take place only when attempted reconciliation, with the involvement of classis has been unsuccessful, resulting in an intolerable situation; C. This release shall occur only with the approval of classis and the concurring advice of the deputies of regional synod, which approval shall include provisions for proper support of the minister and his family for up to two years.
The council from whose service he has been released shall announce his eligibility for call. This eligibility shall be valid for no more than two years, where after he shall be honorably discharged from office.
The Office of Elder and Deacon
The council shall provide adequate preparation of elders and deacons by means of instruction and training regarding the duties of each office. The procedure for the lawful calling of elders and deacons shall consist of: First, the council shall nominate only male communicant members who meet the biblical requirements for office and who indicate their agreement with the Form of Subscription. Prior to nominating, the council may invite the congregation to direct attention to suitable men. The number of nominees shall be at least equal to, or at most twice, the number of vacancies.
Second, after public prayer, elders and deacons shall be elected by the congregation according to the regulations adopted for that purpose, to a term specified by the consistory.
Third, the council shall appoint the elders and deacons and shall announce their names to the congregation two weeks prior to entering office, in order that the congregation may have opportunity to bring lawful objections to the attention of the consistory. They shall be publicly ordained or installed with the use of the appropriate liturgical form and shall subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity by signing the Form of Subscription.
Elders and deacons, having been elected in accordance with local regulations to a term specified by the consistory and having been appointed by the council, shall subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity by signing the Form of Subscription, and shall be ordained or installed with the use of the appropriate liturgical form before entering upon their work.
The duties belonging to the office of elder consist of shepherding and ruling the church of Christ according to the principles taught in Scripture, in order that purity of doctrine and holiness of life may be practiced. They shall see to it that their fellow-elders, the minister(s) and the deacons faithfully discharge their offices. They are to maintain the purity of the Word and sacraments, persist in praying for the congregation, assist in catechizing the youth, and promote confessionally Reformed schooling at all levels. Moreover they shall visit the members of the congregation according to needs, engage in family visiting, preserve and promote concord and unity among the members and between the congregation and its office bearers, exercise discipline in the congregation, promote the work of evangelism and missions, and ensure that everything is done decently and in good order.
In every assembly a clerk shall keep an accurate record of the proceedings. A regional synod, consisting of three or more classes, shall ordinarily meet once per year. If it appears necessary to convene a regional synod before the appointed time, the convening church shall determine the time and place with the advice of its classis. The regional synod shall deal only with matters properly placed on its agenda by the churches via the classes and with lawful appeals of decisions of classis. The chairman, vice-chairman and clerk shall be chosen at the meeting to facilitate the work of the synod. In addition to hearing and acting on the reports of its deputies, it shall determine the time and place for the next regional synod, and designate a convening church.
Regarding the term of the deputies of regional synod it was agreed that the deputies shall serve until they are discharged from their duties by their regional synod.
As discussed earlier, a general synod shall consist of delegates chosen by the classes. A general synod shall meet at least once every three years at a time and place set by the previous synod, which shall also designate a convening church. If it appears necessary to convene a general synod before the appointed time, the convening church shall determine the time and place with the advice of its regional synod. The chairman, vice-chairman and clerk(s) shall be chosen at the meeting to facilitate the work of the synod. In addition to acting on reports that were mandated by the previous synod, a general synod shall deal only with matters properly placed on its agenda by the churches via the classes and the regional synods.
The last hour was used to review the agenda for the next meeting. The press release was presented and approved. Again it was stated that it is important to understand that the Committee, in fulfilling its mandate, is only preparing a church order proposal. And, while considerable time is spent in formulating the various articles, taking in consideration their history and their function in the new united federation, it is still a working document. The Committee will present its report to the 2004 Synods of the respective churches and is looking forward to receiving comments and feedback.
This next meeting will take place D.V. August 10–12, 2004 at the Ebenezer CanRC in Burlington.
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. Seldom had he experienced such good harmony and patient deliberation in the work of a committee. To God alone be the praise and glory.
For the Committee Gerard J. Nordeman