Rongen, G. van (2005)

Decently and in Good Order
The Church Order of Dordrecht as revised by Synod Rockingham 2003 of The Free Reformed Churches of Australia commented on
Armadale
The Reformed Guardian
2005

The Reformed Guardian New Series No. 21

Third edition 2005 (First edition 1986: The church order of Dordrecht)

Rongen, G. van (2005) Title

 

 

 

 

DECENTLY AND IN GOOD ORDER

 

 

 

 

 

THE CHURCH ORDER OF DORDRECHT

 

as revised by Synod Rockingham 2003

of

The Free Reformed Churches of Australia

 

 

 

 

 

and commented on by

 

 

G. VAN RONGEN

 

 

 

 

 

The Reformed Guardian

New Series

No. 21

 

 

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DECENTLY AND IN GOOD ORDER

 

THE CHURCH ORDER OF
DORDRECHT
commented on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First edition: 1986

Second edition: 1995

Third edition: 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2005: Rev. G.van Rongen

49 Secret Harbour BVD
Secret Harbour WA 6173
gvrongen @ upnaway.com

 

 

Rongen, G. van (2005) ToC

Contents

 

Preface — 7
Introduction — 9

The Church Order of Dordrecht

Article 1 – Purpose and division — 15

I. OFFICES AND SUPERVISION OF DOCTRINE

Article 2 – The offices — 16
Article 3 – The calling to office — 17
Article 4 – Bound to a church — 20
Article 5 – Eligibility for the ministry — 21
Article 6 – Ordination and installation of ministers of the Word — 23
Article 7 – From one church to another — 27
Article 8 – Exceptional gifts — 28
Article 9 – Admission of ministers who have recently joined the church — 30
Article 10 – Officiating in another church — 30
Article 11 – Proper support — 31
Article 12 – Call to an extraordinary task — 32
Article 13 – Retirement of ministers — 33
Article 14 – Dismissal — 34
Article 15 – Bound for life — 35
Article 16 – Task of ministers — 36
Article 17 – Training for the ministry — 37
Article 18 – Students of theology — 38
Article 19 – Task of missionaries — 39
Article 20 – Task of elders — 39
Article 21 – Task of deacons — 40
Article 22 – Equality of respective duties — 42
Article 23 – Term of office — 43
Article 24 – Subscription to the Confession by ministers and teaching staff — 44
Article 25 – Subscription to the Confession by elders and deacons — 45
Article 26 – False doctrine — 46
Article 27 – Office-bearers and the government — 46

II. ASSEMBLIES

Article 28 – The ecclesiastical assemblies — 48
Article 29 – Proceedings — 49
Article 30 – Authority of the assemblies — 49
Article 31 – Appeals — 51
Article 32 – Credentials and voting — 54
Article 33 – Proposals — 55
Article 34 – Chairman and clerk — 56
Article 35 – Jurisdiction — 57
Article 36 – Consistory  — 58
Article 37 – Consistory and the deacons — 59
Article 38 – Constitution of a consistory — 60
Article 39 – Places without a consistory — 61
Article 40 – Meetings of deacons — 62
Article 41 – Classis — 62
Article 42 – Ministers who are not delegated to a classis — 64
Article 43 – Counsellors — 65
Article 44 – Church visitors — 65
Article 45 – Synod — 68
Article 46 – Relationship with other churches — 69
Article 47 – Censure in classis and synod — 70
Article 48 – Deputies of major assemblies — 70
Article 49 – Archives — 71
Article 50 – Mission — 72

III. WORSHIP, SACRAMENTS AND CEREMONIES

Article 51 – Administration of sacraments — 72
Article 52 – Baptism of infants — 73
Article 53 – Baptismal promise and education — 73
Article 54 – Public profession of faith — 74
Article 55 – Baptism of adults — 75
Article 56 – Lord’s Supper — 75
Article 57 – Admission to the Lord’s Supper — 77
Article 58 – Church records — 78
Article 59 – Attestations for communicant members — 78
Article 60 – Attestations for non-communicant members — 79
Article 61 – Support after departure — 80
Article 62 – Church services — 80
Article 63 – Catechism preaching — 81
Article 64 – Psalms and hymns — 82
Article 65 – Ecclesiastical feast days — 82
Article 66 – Days of prayer — 83
Article 67 – Marriage — 84
Article 68 – Funerals — 84

IV. CHURCH DISCIPLINE

Article 69 – Aim of discipline — 85
Article 70 – Mutual responsibility — 86
Article 71 – Consistory involvement — 87
Article 72 – Repentance — 89
Article 73 – Discipline in respect of communicant members — 89
Article 74 – Announcement during the procedure — 91
Article 75 – Re-admission — 92
Article 76 – Suspension and deposition of office-bearers — 93
Article 77 – Serious and gross sins on the part of office-bearers — 94
Article 78 – Christian censure — 94
Article 79 – Discipline in respect of  non-communicant members — 95

CONCLUDING ARTICLES

Article 80 – No lording over others — 96
Article 81 – Observance and revision of the Church Order — 96

Rongen, G. van (2005) Pref.

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Preface

 

Almost twenty years ago I wrote and published the first edition of this booklet, after ten years followed by a second.
They were intended to serve “the second generation” of our membership, and in particular the office-bearers.
Today we can speak of “the third generation”.
Whatever we may call today’s membership, a brief commentary on our Church Order is always helpful.

There are two facts that made a third edition needed. First of all: the second edition is no longer available. The other reason is that, especially following Synod Rockingham 2003, our Church Order has undergone a number of changes.

The text of the previous editions has been maintained as far as possible.
This also means that I may repeat what I wrote in the Preface of the first edition:

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance rendered by Mrs. M. Woonings in editing this book.

In the second edition I mentioned the name of my friend, Mr K.E. Hipkins. Also for this new edition he assisted me linguistically.

I appreciate the fact that this third edition appears in the New Series of “The Reformed Guardian”.

Again I express the hope that this booklet may serve the well-being of the congregations under the blessing of the Head of the Church, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

 

Secret Harbour, Western Australia

August 2005

Rongen, G. van (2005) Int.

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Introduction

 

1.
Let all things be done decently and in order”. More than once this apostolic command, taken from 1 Corinthians 14: 40, was included in the early Church Orders of the churches of the Reformation.
Article 1 of our present Order also refers to it.
This reference proves that adopting a Church Order is a serious matter, whilst at the same time expressing the intention and desire to be a true apostolic church.

2.
What actually is a Church Order?
In the year 1561 such a document was published for the Reformed church at Geneva, its title being “Ordonnances Ecclesiastiques” – ecclesiastical ordinances.
Its introduction considers it to be essential that:

The doctrine of the holy Gospel of our Lord shall be preserved in its purity, and that the Christian church be maintained by a sound government and police, and that also the youth be well and faithfully instructed in the things which have to be done … and which cannot be done without a certain fixed rule and manner, from which everyone can learn the duty of his particular office.
Therefore it seemed to be useful that the spiritual government which our Lord has shown us and has instituted by His Word, would be moulded in a good form, so that  it would have a place among us and be observed by us
.

This is fundamentally the same as what was written by Marnix of St.Aldegonde when the very first synod of the churches in The Netherlands had been convened at Emden in the year 1571. He said, it is useful

to establish some fixed and unchangeable agreements with each other, not only in the chapters of the pure doctrine, but also in the manners, ceremonies, and government of the churches; also to have communion and good understanding with each other, so that the churches may be able to diligently hear about each other’s condition and situation and assist each other in all the current affairs.

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3.
‘Emden’ did indeed compile a Church Order. It was based upon the Order the Reformed Churches in France had adopted in the year 1559.
We mention the latter because it informs us about another aspect of the nature of a Church Order: This French Order was the sequel to the Confession of Faith the Reformed churches in that country had adopted earlier in the same year.

Immediately after the last article of the Confession the title of the Church Order was printed. It read:

Concerning Church discipline, here is the first outline of its essentials as they are contained in the apostolic writings.

A good Reformed Church Order claims to show how the Lord Jesus reigns His church and how He desires it to be governed. It summarizes what the apostles have spoken, and applies it to the present circumstances. In this respect it is an elaboration of certain articles of the Belgic Confession of Faith, e.g. Articles 30-35.
A good Church Order is based on God’s Word.

4.
The confessional character of a Scriptural Church Order can be derived from what the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4, where he refers to the “unity of the Spirit” (verse 3) and “the unity of the faith” (verse 13). This is a unity “in the bond of peace”.
Each congregation – just like that of the Ephesians – must demonstrate its unity, being bound together by peace. For, and this is another aspect of the same matter, the church is “the body of Christ”, He Himself being its Head.
The apostle mentions the word “body” no less than three times in this periscope. And it is in this context and for this purpose that the glorified Lord Jesus Christ has given some special gifts to His church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (verse 12).
This duty, to be one body, and to demonstrate that this body is bound together by “the bond of peace”, is still the same today.

This, then, has been acknowledged by our Reformed churches. In Article 32 of the Belgic Confession of Faith they state:

It is useful and good for those who govern the Church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the Church.

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Our Church Order is, indeed, a set of ordinances for maintaining the body of the church, in the unity of true faith, and under the bond of peace.
A good Church Order is essential for the bond of churches, created by the Lord Jesus. Here is the word “bond” again! The bond of churches rests upon the bond of peace!

5.
Our Church Order is of a Reformed character. This will be clear from its history.
In the ‘good old days’ the contents of Article 80 – which can today be found near the end of the Church Order – appeared as Article 1, being  slightly longer. It now reads:

No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no office-bearer over other office-bearers.

However, in the sixteenth century it was thus formulated (in our translation):

No church shall in any way lord over another church, no minister of the Word, no elder, no deacon shall lord over another one, but everyone shall be on his guard against any suspicion and temptation to lord over others.

It will be clear that here again the confessional character of the Reformed Church Order is expressed. It says, as it were: We are no Roman-catholics, but have been granted the grace of returning to the Scriptural government of the church, to the one and only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore no congregation is more important, and no office-bearer is a higher authority than any other.
Even apart from this, the strong emphasis put on this particular article proves, that right from the beginning the great ‘Reformed principle’ was formulated: the bond of churches is a matter of a voluntary act of free churches in accordance with what holy Scripture states concerning the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace to be maintained. They have agreed to do certain things in the same way; to support each other in several respects; to have mutual supervision over each other in order that they may continue to be true and faithful churches of the Lord Jesus Christ; to create a certain form of jurisdiction in their midst; and to undertake a number of common activities, e.g. regarding the training for the ministry of the Word.

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It goes without saying, that neither creeds, confessions, nor church orders, ever attain parity with Holy Scripture. If ever anything in them is recognized as being incorrect or wrong, it must be amended.
A number of clauses, included in the Church Order, are nothing more than agreements between the churches to handle certain matters in an identical fashion, where in fact different paths could be chosen. Also contained in our Church Order are several stipulations, which cannot be traced back to any commandment of Christ or His apostles, yet they were laid down as being beneficial to the churches in demonstrating unity and presenting a common front. We may refer here to e.g. Articles 32, 42, 49, and 61.
Generally speaking our Church Order is based on ‘principles’ revealed to us in holy Scripture.
At the same time it is a further exposition of our Belgic Confession of Faith regarding the order to be maintained in the churches of Christ according to Articles 30-32 of that Confession.
It is therefore incorrect and very demeaning to hold to the belief that the Church Order, having been compiled by men, needs not to be taken seriously.

7.
The Church Order of Dordrecht – we owe it to the wellknown (inter)national Synod of Dordrecht 1618/19 – did not just fall from the air.
We have already made mention of the Church Order of Emden, 1571.
However, the very first preparations were made at the Convention of Wesel, 1568. They resulted in the publication of the so-called ‘Articles of Wesel’.
After ‘Emden’, other synods also had to deal with the Church Order, and on some of those occasions it was revised and/or extended. The Dutch churches had to learn by experience!
We mention here the names of the Provincial Synod of Dordrecht, 1574; of the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1578; of the National Synod of Middelburg, 1681; and that of The Hague, 1586.
The Synod of Dordrecht 1618/19 not only produced ‘the Canons of Dort’, but also thoroughly revised the Church Order. For this reason is has become known as “the Church Order of Dordrecht”.
Since then the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands have maintained it – with an interruption between 1816 and 1834.

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8.
On Wednesday April 28 in the year 1954, the first Synod of The Free Reformed Churches of Australia made the decision to adopt the ‘Church Order of Dordrecht 1618/19’.
However, realizing that this document was compiled for use in The Netherlands, it added the following stipulation:

that whenever a consistory deems it impossible to observe this Church Order, it shall consult the sister-churches (Acts of Synod Armadale 1954, Article 38).

At the very beginning of their existence our churches foresaw that this Church Order could not function in our situation without adjustments.
It is no wonder, then, that the Synod of Albany 1975, decided:

to appoint deputies with the instruction to revise the Church Order and to propose a definite text in English to the next synod. (Acts Article 25).

However, more time was required before this mandate could be fulfilled. In the year 1983 the Synod held at Kelmscott was able to adopt a revised Order (Acts Articled 46). And when classes could be established, the Synod of Rockingham 2000, revised our Church Order again.

9.
We would like to make further reference to the “Ordonnances Ecclesiastiques” of 1561. The members of Geneva’s consistory were convinced that it would become an important document in the life of the congregation. That is why its final article contained the following arrangement:

From the year 1564 this Church Order shall be read publicly every three years in St. Peter’s, on the first Sunday of the month of June.

The congregation had to become familiar with this document.
Our Church Order does not contain such a stipulation, yet we can fully agree with the committee of the Dutch sister-churches, which reported to their 1978 General Synod and added these words (in our translation):

One thing has become clear during our work …., the eminent significance of the knowledge concerning the Church Order for the peace, the edification, and the continuance of Reformed church life.
Therefore it would be very useful if the Church Order were to be made accessible for office-bearers as well as ordinary church members
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We may draw our readers’ special attention to the word “peace” in this quotation. In 1 Corinthians 14:32 the apostle Paul states:

God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

It is only then that he finishes this chapter by saying:

Let all things be done decently and in order.

Christ’s church has to live by the peace of God which is in Him, the Saviour, and must thereto maintain order in her midst!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 1

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Article 1 — Purpose and division

INTRODUCTION
For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ it is necessary to have:
I offices and supervision of doctrine;
II assemblies;
III worship, sacraments and ceremonies;
IV discipline.

From our Introduction we may repeat: This very first sentence of our Church Order refers to the apostolic command in 1 Corinthians 14: 40:

Let all things be done decently and in order.

Desiring to obey this command our churches have established a good order by adopting a number of regulations in respect of the four different matters that are mentioned in this initial article.
It contains more than just a formal division of the Church Order: It also has a confessional character, because it claims that according to holy Scripture the offices, assemblies, supervision over doctrine and worship, and church discipline cannot be excluded from the churches of the Lord.
It is not necessary at this stage to give a summary of the various parts in Scripture informing us about God’s will regarding these matters. That will be done when we begin to discuss them in sequential order. Besides, our confessional writings and the respective liturgical forms supply us with a sufficient number of ‘proof-texts’.

Our Church Order is based on some fundamentals.
These fundamentals, then, have been further worked out in view of our church life. This is why we shall find all sorts of arrangements and agreements concerning the training for and the calling to the ministry of the Word. These being: consistory meetings, classes and synods, liturgical forms, congregational singing, the way in which church discipline is to be administered, etcetera.

By reason of the above then, we can clearly see that this first article is not indeed merely a summary of content and a formal division of our Church Order, although it definitely does offer such a formal division.

This is why we are going to read after this first article:
I. Articles 2-27, on the offices.
II. Articles 28-49 on the assemblies.
III. Articles 50-68 on supervision over doctrine and worship.
IV. Articles 69-79 on discipline.
Articles 80-81 are concluding articles.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 2

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Article 2 — The offices

The offices are those of the minister of the Word, of the elder, and of the deacon.

In accordance with holy Scripture the Church Order distinguishes three offices:

1. that of the ministers of the Word.
They are called:

- those who labour in the Word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5: 17)
- (men who have,) by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to correct those who contradict (Titus 1: 9)

2. that of elders.
They are called:

- elders (presbyters) (Acts 14: 23; James 5: 14)
- leaders (Hebrews 13: 7, 17, 24)
- administrators (I Corinthians 12: 28)
- bishops (Philippians 1: 1; 1 Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 7)
- overseers (Acts 20: 28)

3. that of deacons.

They are mentioned in Philippians 1: 1; 1Timothy 3: 8, 10, 12; and without that name in Acts 6: 1-7.

The first section of our Church Order deals with these respective offices.
We can make the following subdivision:

Article 3: on the offices in general.
Articles 4-17: on the office of the minister.
Articles 18-19: on the training for the ministry.

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Articles 20, 21, 23: on the office of the elders.
Articles 20, 22, 23: on the office of the deacons.
Articles 24-26: on the office-bearers and mission and evangelization.
Article 27: on the office-bearers and the government.

As may be verified by this summary, most attention focuses on the ministers.
This does not contradict the contents of Article 80, which states that no office-bearer shall lord it over other office-bearers, but can simply explained by the fact that they are full-time workers throughout their entire lives, so that certain regulations concerning them, and which do not apply to the elders and deacons, had to be established.
Some of the ministers may receive a special calling for the training of students in the ministry of the Word – with which matter Article 18 will deal —, or for mission work – the task of the missionaries being explained in Article 25.

Our forms for the ordination of ministers, elders, and deacons clearly confirm that they are all serving under Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
The regulations and stipulations contained in our Church Order are very useful for the faithful execution of their respective offices in the service of the Lord Who governs His church.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 3

Article 3 — The calling to office

A. All office-bearers
No one shall take any office upon himself without having been lawfully called thereto.
The calling to office shall take place by the consistory with the deacons, with the cooperation of the congregation, after prayer, and in accordance with the local regulations adopted for that purpose.
Prior to the installation the names of the appointed brothers shall be publicly announced to the congregation for the approval on at least two consecutive Sundays. It no lawful objection is brought forward the ordination or installation shall take place with the use of the adopted Form.

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B. Elders and deacons
The consistory with the deacons shall give the congregation the opportunity to draw the attention of the consistory to brothers deemed suitable for the respective offices.
The consistory with the deacons shall present to the congregation at the most twice as many candidates as there are vacancies to be filled. From this number the congregation shall choose as many office-bearers as are needed.
Those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons.
If necessary the consistory and the deacons may present to the congregation the same number of candidates as there are vacancies.

C. Ministers
Before a vacant church extends a call the advice of the counsellor shall be sought.
The approval of classis shall be required for a repeated call to the same minister for the same vacancy.

Re. A:

This article is based on Hebrews 5: 4, that says:

And no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God.

The fact that this stipulation has been made is at the same time a consequence of the apostolic command issued in 1 Corinthians 14: 40.
This is clearly stated in the Form for the Ordination of Elders, where it says:

Being stewards of the house of God, they are to take care that in the congregation all things are done decently and in good order.

This article, then, is fundamental to the ensuing articles.

In the history of the Reformed churches there happened to be a clear reason for inserting an article like this into the Church Order.
During the days of the great Reformation all sorts of people presented themselves as ‘preachers’: ex-priests and –monks, who had been deposed or dismissed because of misbehaviour and who would now like to earn a living by acting as ‘traveling preachers’. There were also the Anabaptists, who claimed to have ‘the inner light’, a special revelation, and consequently an ‘inward calling’ to the ministry.

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In accordance with holy Scripture our Church Order clearly states that a calling is lawful only when it has been extended by a congregation, and that certain actions – e.g. that of examination – must be taken before it becomes effective.
For the same reason our churches are very much against the concept of ‘lay-preachers’. In this respect also they want to obey the apostolic command which says:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2: 2, which verse is sometimes called ‘the foundation of the theological seminaries’).

Re.B:

The procedure of nominating, electing, and ordination of elders and deacons needs no further explanation. It can be safely assumed that every local congregation has adopted a set of rules for it.

Re.C:

In the century of the Reformation the election of a minister was entrusted to the elders only. Later on the deacons were also involved, the number of people who were responsible in this respect being increased by that means..
However, after approximately a hundred years, it has been general practice to let the members of the congregation cooperate.
First of all they can draw the consistory’s attention to a ‘candidate’ or a minister whom they deem to be suitable to fill the vacancy.
To finalize matters, a general meeting is called, so that members can cast their vote. In the case of a sole candidate a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice, and in the case of two or more a name is required.
That the enfranchised members cooperate in this respect is in accordance with holy Scripture: Acts 6: 3; 2 Corinthians 8: 19.
By ‘enfranchised members’ we understand that until now this means: male members who have admittance to the Lord’s Supper – although here and there it is suggested to give female communicant members the same rights.

To enable the calling of a minister to proceed in an orderly fashion, some regulations will have to be laid down. Experience teaches us that with most

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congregations such rules do exist for the election of elders and deacons, when for calling a minister, indeed, they do not.
The final stipulation of this section is that in vacant churches advice from the counsellor is required. That is a minister who has been appointed by the classis to assist a vacant congregation. This stipulation has been made with the aim that in this respect also all things should be done decently and in order.

All this is a further elaboration of what we confess in our Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 31, on the election of ministers, elders and deacons:

We believe that ministers of God’s Word, the elders and the deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the Church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God. Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the LORD.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 4

Article 4 — Bound to a church

No one shall serve in the ministry unless he is bound to a certain church.

Even ‘historically’ Article 4 follows the preceding one. Originally it was inserted into the Church Order with the aim to stop the practice of the so-called ‘loose ministers’. These were people who claimed to be on a level with the apostles and evangelists. They went from one place to another and preached wherever they could. However, this practice ceased once the  Dutch Reformed churches came into being.

Meanwhile this article contains a principle of great significance. It is again of a confessional character.
The Church of Rome claims: Wherever the priest is, there is the church. Other churches state: Every minister is a minister of the whole of the national church.
Our Church Order, however, takes the Scriptural stand. Holy Scripture presents to us “the angels of the seven churches”, “the angel of the church in

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Ephesus”, “the angel of the church in Smyrna”, etcetera (Revelation 1: 20; 2: 1, 8, 12, 18; 3: 1, 7, 14).
This article, then, indicates the significant position of the local church.
Certainly, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a catholic and universal church. It is spread and dispersed over the entire world (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 27).
However:

All and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the Church. They must submit themselves to its instruction  and discipline.

This means that they have

to join this assembly wherever God has established it. (Article 28).

Well, this “congregation” and “this instruction and discipline” is to be found in the local church!
Consequently, as for the ministers of the Word, they have to preach the said instruction or doctrine, and administer the just mentioned discipline in a local church, ‘their’ church. They must be bound to a certain congregation.
Are they allowed to preach in their sister-churches? Article 10 will make it clear that this can happen only at the invitation and with the permission of the consistories concerned.
We, as Reformed churches, do not have any ‘ministers-in-general-service’.
This function has been created by churches that cannot or can no longer be called ‘Reformed’ because they are taking the above mentioned course of the Church of Rome.
Even professors at the theological college or university of our sister-churches in Canada and The Netherlands are not ‘ministers-in-general-service’, but are and remain ministers of a local church, having been set apart for the training of students in the ministry of the Word.
Concerning our missionaries the same things, mutatis mutandis, can be said.
This simple article, then, contains a fundamental principle of our Reformed church government!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 5

Article 5 — Eligibility for the ministry

A. Eligibility
Only those shall be called to the office of minister of the Word who
(1) have been declared eligible for call by the churches; or
(2) are already serving in that capacity in one of the churches; or
(3) have been declared eligible or are serving in one of the churches with which The Free

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Reformed Churches of Australia maintain a sister relationship. The churches shall observe the general ecclesiastical ordinances for the eligibility of those ministers who have served in these sister-churches.

B. Declared eligible
Only those shall be declared eligible for call within the churches who
(1) have passed a preparatory examination by the classis in which they live, which examination shall not take place unless those presenting themselves for it submit the necessary documents to prove that they are members in good standing of one of the churches and have successfully completed a course of study as required by the churches; or
(2) have satisfied the requirements of Article 8; or
(3) have satisfied the requirements of Article 9.

Re. A:
This section of the article states that in three different cases someone is eligible for call within our churches:
1. those who have been declared eligible by our churches;
2. those who are already serving in our churches;
3. ministers serving in sister-churches.

Re. B:
Section B of his article mentions three possibilities:
1. that a candidate to the ministry is called;
2. that someone with exceptional gifts, but without a theological training, is called;
3. that a minister who has served a non-sister-church and has recently joined one of our churches, is called.

Re.1:
Our Church Order restricts the candidates for such a first call to those who have been examined preparatorily by the classis in which they reside.
This ‘preparatory exam’ consists of:
1. a talk between a number of delegates, appointed by the classis for

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this purpose, and the candidate, concerning the motives that have led him to seek admission to the ministry of the Word; and the acceptance of their report by the classis;
2. delivering a draft sermon on a prescribed text from Scripture. The candidate is informed about this text three weeks prior to the exam;
3. an examination of the knowledge of holy Scripture;
4. an examination of the candidate’s ability regarding the exegesis of the Old Testament;
5. the same regarding the exegesis of the New Testament.
At least a fortnight prior to the exam the examiners concerned indicate the chapters from the Scripture, on which the candidate will be examined, one from the Old, and one from the New Testament.
6. an examination in the doctrine of the churches.
In addition to all this having a favourable result, the candidate must formally subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity. He is then declared as being eligible to be called by one of our churches.
It may be hardly necessary to mention that, prior to this examination, the candidate must be able to show proof of having successfully completed his theological training, as well as a declaration of membership in full rights, issued by the consistory of the congregation to which he has belonged during the previous twelve months or more.

Re.2:
Article 8 will deal with the procedure followed when a person with exceptional gifts, but not having pursued the regular course of theological study, presents himself for the ministry.

Re.3:
Article 9 will deal with ministers who have recently joined one of our churches.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 6

Article 6 — Ordination and installation of ministers of the Word

A. Regarding those who have not served in the ministry before, the following shall be observed:
1. They shall be ordained only after classis has approved the call.

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Classis shall approve the call:
a. upon satisfactory testimony concerning the soundness of doctrine and conduct of the candidate, attested by the consistory of the church to which he belongs; and
b. following a peremptory examination of the candidate with satisfactory results. This classis examination shall take place with the cooperation and concurring advice of deputies of synod.
2. For the ordination they shall also show to the consistory testimonials concerning their doctrine and conduct from the church(es) to which they have belonged since their preparatory examination.

B. Regarding those who are serving in the ministry the following shall be observed:
They shall be installed after classis has approved the call.
1. For this approval as well as for the installation the minister shall show good testimonials concerning his doctrine and conduct, together with a declaration from the consistory with the deacons and from classis that he has been honourably discharged from his service in that church and classis, or from the church only in case he remains within the same classis.
2. For the approval of a call of those who are serving in one of the churches with which The Free Reformed Churches of Australia maintain a sister relationship a colloquium shall be required which will deal especially with the doctrine and polity of The Free Reformed Churches of Australia.

C. The approval of a call shall require written certification by the calling church that the required announcements were made and that the congregation has approved the call.

Re. A 1:
The ordination of candidates to the ministry, mentioned in Article 5, will take place after classis has approved the call. This is dependent on a) satisfactory testimony concerning his doctrine and conduct, attested by the church to which he belongs; and b) the good result of the so-called ‘peremptory examination’.

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The peremptory examination is conducted by the classis to which the congregation extending the call belongs.
Some of synod’s deputies must also be present during this examination, as the ordination of a candidate to the ministry of the Word will have all sorts of consequences for the bond of churches.
This examination is longer and more intense than the preparatory exam. Neither of these examinations bears an exclusively scientific character, This does happen in the case of the final examinations of the theological university or seminary. They are intended to convince the churches, by their representatives, that the candidate is able to serve the congregation that has called him in all the respective aspects of the ministry of the Word.
For this reason a candidate is examined:
1. in his ability to deliver a sermon — the text to be chosen by himself —, the draft to be sent one week prior to the examination;
2. the knowledge of holy Scripture;
3. the exegesis of the Old Testament;
4. the exegesis of the New Testament;
At least three weeks before the examination the candidate is informed about the two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament in which he will be examined;
5. the doctrine of the churches;
6. his knowledge of the contents of our creeds and confessions;
7. ethics;
8. church history;
9. church politics;
10. the ‘pastoral subjects’:
a. homiletics, the ‘art’ of preparing sermons;
b. liturgics;
c. catechetics;
d. poimenics, pastoral care during visits, etcetera;
e. diaconics.

Here again certain documents have to be tabled first:
a. the letter of call;
b. a declaration of acceptance of the call;
c. a declaration regarding the candidate’s eligibility to be called as a minister, issued by the classis that has examined him preparatorily;
d. the declaration mentioned above, in the first lines of our comment.

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When the result of the examination is positive, the candidate must undersign the Subscription Form for ministers of the Word.
He receives from the classis a certificate regarding his admittance to the ministry. In this way the classis grants its approval to the call extended to the candidate.

Re. A 2:
The contents of the second point of section A is based on the possibility that, after his preparatory examination a candidate has served as an assistant to a minister, has continued his studies for some time, or for other reasons.

Re. B 1:
This section describes the procedure to be followed for the approval and installation of those who are serving in the ministry in our churches. It does not need any further explanation.

Re. B 2:
The same concerns section B 2 regarding ministers who have been called from one of our overseas sister-churches. It is clearly stated that the colloquium must investigate whether the minister concerned fully agrees with the doctrine and polity of our churches. It differs from the above mentioned examinations.

Re. C:
Before the approval of a call by the classis can take place, the calling church shall supply classis with a written certification that, after the required public announcements, the congregation has approved the call.
Lawful objections could be raised against the candidate’s doctrine, life, or his ability to serve as a minister. In the event of difficulties proving to be insurmountable, the bond of churches must intervene, if need be, by dealing with an appeal.
This action from the side of the congregation is not only a matter of supervision over a future member, but it is of great importance for the well-being of the congregation as the work of a minister of the Word is of great significance in the life of the congregation.
In other words: Making the necessary announcements is not a formality, for, if no objections have been made, the congregation is able, and even obliged, to receive its new minister with gratitude.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 7

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Article 7 — From one church to another

A minister once lawfully called shall not leave the church to which he is bound to take up the ministry elsewhere without the consent of his consistory with the deacons and the approval of classis. Likewise, no church shall receive him unless he has presented a proper certificate of release from the church and the classis where he has served, or from the church only if he remains within the same classis.

This article, concerning the calling of a minister to another congregation, contains five different elements:
1. how the call will be extended to him;
2. which particular rule for special cases shall be obeyed;
3. how vacant congregations have to act;
4. which bodies have to approve the call;
5. how the ordination has to take place.

Re. 1:
The way in which a call is extended to a minister serving another congregation is the same as the one described in Article 5.

Re. 2:
There are certain rules concerning the eligibility of ministers serving in sister-churches outside the bond of our churches.
An ‘unwritten’ rule is that no minister shall be called unless he has served his present congregation for a number of years, usually three as a minimum.
However, the Synod Kelmscott 1983 adopted the following rule:

that the classes be directed to admit such ministers only after submitting them to a colloquium doctum,

the last word.in our opinion being incorrect seeing the ecclesiastical character of this colloquium.

There is also a rule for the repeated calling of the same minister during the same vacancy. This shall – according to a decision made by the same synod – not occur

without prior advice of classis.

The reason for a repeated call is usually the fact that since the first call was decided a change in the circumstances has developed, either on the side of

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the minister or on that of the calling congregation.

Re. 3:
Another similarity to Article 5 is that in case of a vacant congregation the advice of the counsellor must be obtained.

Re. 4:
A double set of approvals is also required, one from the side of the congregation he has served and one from the classis to which his ‘old’ congregation belongs, and that of the calling congregation and the ‘new’ classis.
The two bodies first mentioned are expected to provide the minister with good testimonies regarding his doctrine and conduct, the classis issuing a ‘certificate of release’.
These ecclesiastical testimonies must be received by the consistory of the receiving church and its classis.

We would like to add that, according to a decision made by a Dutch synod, that of Dordrecht 1893, the required advice of the classis which the minister is leaving must include its being satisfied that the calling church is in a position to provide adequate financial support for the minister, in accordance with holy Scripture. It would be wise for our churches to follow this rule.
The same can be said regarding a rule made by the Synod Arnhem 1902, that in ‘the letter of call’ the financial support in case of retirement – superannuation – is to be included.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 8

Article 8 — Exceptional gifts

Persons who have not pursued the regular course of theological study shall not be admitted to the ministry unless there is convincing evidence of their exceptional gifts of godliness, humility, modesty, good intellect, and discretion, as well as the gift of public speech. When any such person presents himself for the ministry, classis shall (with synod's prior approval) examine him, and upon a favourable outcome allow him as candidate to speak an edifying word in the churches of the classis for a set period of time. Thereafter the classis shall further deal with him as it shall deem edifying, observing the ecclesiastical regulations adopted for this purpose.

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This article states that the rule is: No admission to the Ministry of God’s Word without a theological training, but it does stipulate a course of action in the case of an exception. There may be persons with exceptional gifts.
These gifts – which are also required from those who have followed a theological training – must be convincingly evident as being exceptional.
Not for nothing is “Godliness” mentioned as the first one of these gifts. The person concerned must be filled with the Holy Spirit and the fear of the LORD.
“Humility” is the second – his exceptional gifts could easily make him proud and full of conceit. However, his Godliness has to be proved in his humility.
“Modesty” means that he leads a quiet and unblameable life.
One of the gifts must also be an exceptionally ”good intellect”. He must have an understanding of the Scriptures and be able to expose them to others.
“Discretion” means that he must be able to distinguish between sound doctrine and heresy, and have a degree of insight into the human character.
Apart from all this he should possess the gift of public address, enabling him to clearly express himself.

When such a person presents himself for admission to the ministry in this extra-ordinary way, the classis shall examine him, upon approval of synod.
This means that the local consistory and the classis, to which his congregation belongs, have to be convinced that he possesses all of these exceptional gifts. When that has been achieved, each will present a certificate concerning these gifts to the synod. Investigations having been made and the synod having been sufficiently assured as to the truth of these testimonies, approval is granted and the classis will then subject the person concerned to a preparatory examination.
This examination is identical to the one mentioned in Article 5, with the exception that the knowledge of ancient languages is not essential.
If the examination has a favourable result, the classis grants him permission to officiate in the churches of the classis for a certain period of time. In this way he has the opportunity to practise. This happens under supervision of the consistories of the classis-churches, while the ‘sermons’ are examined by some of the ministers appointed by the classis for this purpose.

When it becomes apparent that this also has favourable results the classis declares him eligible to be called to the Ministry of the Word.
All this is included in the ‘general regulations’ mentioned in the final

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sentence of this article.
It may be clear that the churches want to be diligent in caring for the faithful preaching of God’s Word in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 9

Article 9 — Admission of ministers who have recently joined the Church

A minister of the Word who has recently joined one of the churches and originates from a church with which the churches do not maintain a sister relationship shall only be admitted to the ministry with great caution. He shall not be declared eligible for call within the churches unless he has been well tested for a reasonable period of time and carefully examined by the classis in whose area he lives. This classis examination shall be conducted with the cooperation of the deputies of synod.

This article again shows the care of our churches for the faithful preaching of God’s Word.
At the same time it is proving that the door is open to those who really want to minister in a faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They too are acknowledged as gifts from the glorified Saviour (Ephesians 4: 11).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 10

Article 10 — Officiating in another church

No one shall preach the Word or administer the sacraments in another church without the permission of the consistory of that church.

Our ministers are not ministers of a ‘national church’ or of the bond of churches, but only of the local congregation.
This is the underlying principle of Article 10, a principle that was also expressed in Article 7.
Consequently a minister can only preach the Word and administer the sacraments with the permission of the consistory concerned.

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This permission is, as a matter of course, included in an invitation to act as a guest-preacher.
However, it may occur that a minister has valid reasons for asking permission from the consistory concerned to preach for a congregation other than his own – e.g. during the holidays, or during a family visit, or even when he would like to baptize one of his grandchildren!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 11

Article 11 — Proper support

The consistory, with the deacons, on behalf of the congregation which it represents in this matter, shall provide for the proper support of its minister(s).

Scripture teaches us that

the labourer is worthy of his wages. (Luke 10: 7; Matthew 10: 10).

The ministers of the Word must be maintained by those among whom they are working:

The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9: 14; see also Galatians 6: 6).

This duty of the congregation is executed by the consistory as representing the congregation.
According to Articles 5 and 6 the counsellor’s advice must be sought in the case of a vacant congregation extending a call to a candidate or a minister. The reason for this is that even this shall be done “decently and in good order”.
The consequence of this is that the counsellor ensures that the financial support which is promised in the ‘letter of call’ is indeed sufficient.
Apart from this, the accepted call must have the approval of the classis. Then the ‘letter of call’ shall be tabled, allowing the classis to assure itself as to the adequacy of the honorarium.
All this is a matter of brotherly supervision for the well-being of the churches.
A minister must be able to discharge the duties of his office without any financial worries.

This article does not give any directions regarding the way in which the

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money shall be raised. The best way in our opinion is that of regular voluntary contributions.

The provision of some directives is not in contrast with the voluntary character of these contributions.
The addition of ‘collections for the church’ should be avoided. With Lord’s Day 38 of our Catechism we profess that we “diligently attend the church of God …. to give Christian offering for the poor”. The collections in our worship services should be restricted to that!
The best way to deal with the financial affairs of the church is to include in the annual budget the whole of the expenditure: also the quota for the training for the Ministry, for mission work, etcetera, so that the weekly collections can be restricted to charity, not only as far as the indigent in the own congregation are concerned, but also covering all sorts of needs in God’s wide world. This may give the weekly collections in the church services more the character of an offer of thanksgiving, and will prevent them from becoming a matter of routine.

It may happen that a congregation is unable to fully support its minister. Since it is very important that whenever and wherever possible every congregation has its own minister, the sister-churches shall in such cases assist her. This shall be done through the classis, and if necessary through the synod.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 12

Article 12 — Call to an extraordinary task

If a minister accepts a call or an appointment to an extraordinary task the nature of the relationship between him and the church to which he is bound must be arranged with the consent of the classis. Some ministers may be appointed for the training of students for the ministry, others may be called for mission work.

The underlying principle of this article is that no minister can serve without a “lawful calling” extended to him by a local church. Consequently he has to be bound to such a local church.
This is even so when he accepts an appointment as, e.g., a professor at the

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theological seminary of the churches, or an army chaplain or a hospital chaplain.
It may be clear that such “an extraordinary task” cannot be accepted without the permission of the consistory.
The classis shall see to it that satisfactory arrangements are made regarding the relationship between the minister in question and the local congregation.
“With the consent of the classis” means that classis is informed about these arrangements, and that its opinion must run in tandem with that of the consistory. “Consent” in this case really means “consensus”.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 13

Article 13 — Retirement of ministers

If a minister of the Word, by reason of age, sickness or otherwise, is rendered incapable of performing the duties of his office he shall retain the honour and title of minister of the Word. He shall also retain his official bond with the church which he served last, and this church shall provide honourably for his support. The same obligation exists towards a minister’s widow and orphans.

A minister of the Word is a minister for the entire duration of his life.
However, there can be certain reasons why he will no longer be able to discharge the duties of his office to the fullest extent.
The first reason is that of age. In our churches and in some of our foreign sister-churches ministers have the right to retire at the age of sixty-five.
Another reason is chronic illness.
The term “otherwise” leaves the door open for other possibilities, e.g. disability as the consequence of an accident.

This article covers also the retirement of those ministers who are set apart for the training of students in the ministry of the Word.

The nature of the retirement of a minister of the Word is that he is relieved from the duties of his office. However, a retired minister remains a minister, and can be occasionally invited to preach God’s Word, administer the sacraments, etcetera.
Another consequence of the principle is that he is and continues to be a minister, is that the church he has served until his retirement must continue their financial support of him.

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It is a matter of course that the same obligation also applies to widows and orphans of the minister.
Our churches would be well advised to initiate funds for this purpose, at the earliest possible opportunity.
Usually the honorarium of a retired minister is less than that of an active minister. Hereby it is sometimes forgotten that most ministers, upon their retirement, are not in a position to buy a house for themselves. It would be a good thing if the consistories made timely provision in this respect.
Another consequence of the above-mentioned principle is that the minister-emeritus, in comparison to the minister who is called to replace him, is the ‘first’ and the latter the ‘second’ minister.
This means that if a congregation met with difficulties in financially supporting both ministers, she would have to request the assistance of the sister-churches for the financial support of the replacing minister.

Retirement procedure, according to Article 14, is as follows:
1. The minister requests his consistory in writing to relieve him from the duties of his office, giving the reason for this request.
2. The consistory, having considered this reason, grants him his request and declares him an emeritus at a time agreed upon by both parties; and issues him with an appropriate certificate.
3. The classis is informed and requested to approve the action, having been supported by the deputies of the synod appointed for this purpose.
4. The classis and the deputies ensure that there are sufficient reasons to declare the minister concerned an emeritus, and in consequence make sure that the consistory will indeed support the minister-emeritus honourably.
5. A certificate is issued by the classis and the deputies both to the minister and the consistory.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 14

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Article 14 — Dismissal

The consistory with the deacons shall not dismiss a minister from his bond with the congregation without the approval and the concurring advice of the deputies of synod.

The admission to the ministry of the Word takes place with the assistance and supervision of the classis and the deputies of the synod as representatives of the bond of churches.
A dismissal has to take place in the same way.

This applies to the following cases:
1. when a minister is going to retire according to Article 13.
2. when a minister for reasons of health can no longer remain at the place where he is serving but would quite well be able to serve a congregation in an entirely different environment.
3. when a minister lacks the talents to serve a congregation beyond a limited numbers of years.
4. when there are difficulties between the minister and his congregation that prevent him from serving there fruitfully, and it is desirable that he be disassociated from this congregation.
It may be clear that in the cases 2-4 no sin punishable with suspension or deposition is involved.
And further that in these cases an agreement be made concerning financial support for the period of time during which the minister is not yet installed in another congregation, or has not not yet embarked upon another profession. For at his dismissal according to this article he is declared eligible to be called by another congregation during a certain period of time.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 15

Article 15 — Bound for life

A minister of the Word, once lawfully called, is bound to the service of the church for life and therefore not allowed to enter upon another vocation unless it be for exceptional and substantial reasons. The decision of his consistory to relieve him of his office in order to enter upon another vocation shall receive the approval of classis, with the concurring advice of deputies of synod.

Ministers are human beings, and they may be tempted to resign their office when instances of extreme difficulties could affect their health, and they could obtain a more ‘lucrative’ position in society, or even when they desire to avoid church discipline.
However, our Church Order makes provision for other possibilities. A

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minister of the Word could, e.g., be appointed to an important political function in which he would be able to contribute considerably to the well-being of the country. He could also be appointed as a professor at a university or college.
This, then, is not only his own decision. The consistory and the classis together with the deputies of the synod – the same bodies which had their part in his admission to the ministry – are responsible for ensuring that there are indeed substantial reasons for him to enter upon another vocation.
It may be hardly necessary to say that in such cases the person concerned no longer has the right to call himself a minister.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 16

Article 16 — Task of ministers

The task of ministers is to faithfully lead in prayer, preach the Word and administer the sacraments. They shall watch over their fellow office-bearers and over the congregation. Together with the elders they shall exercise church discipline and see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.

In this revised version of the Church Order the word “office” has been substituted by “task”. This means that the element of someone having been appointed by a higher authority, e.g. the civil government – has been lost. On the other hand, in previous articles wherein the word “office” was used it was sufficiently emphasized that one is appointed to the office of the minister of the Word by being called by Christ through His congregation.
The contents of this article are an elaboration on what we confess in our Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 30:

There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments.

Six different elements are summed up:
1. he must faithfully lead in prayer;
2. he must faithfully preach the Word;
3. he must faithfully administer the sacraments;
4. he shall watch over his fellow office-bearers and over the congregation;
5. together with the elders he shall exercise church discipline;

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6. together with the elders he shall ensure that everything is done decently and in good order, which sentence is again referring to 1 Corinthians 14: 40, the Scriptural basis of our Church Order.
It may be remarkable that catechism and visiting the sick, etcetera, are not mentioned, but perhaps consideration could be given to this to be included in the second element, that of the preaching of God’s Word.

A further exposition of the task of the ministers is given in the Form for the Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 17

Article 17 — Training for the ministry

The churches shall support or, if possible, maintain an institution for the training for the ministry. The task of the professors of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures and to defend the sound doctrine against heresies and errors, so that the churches may be provided with ministers of the Word who are able to fulfil the duties of their office as they have been described above. The churches together are obliged to provide for the professors of theology and for their widows and orphans.

Here our Church Order differs from that of our sister-churches in Canada and The Netherlands. Our churches had to add the words “support, or, if possible”, since they are not strong enough to maintain their own seminary.
Notwithstanding this, the task of the professors of theology is described.
The positive side is: They have to expound the holy Scriptures. The negative aspect is: They have to defend the Scriptural doctrine against heresies and errors.
This distinction has been derived from John Calvin. It clearly shows that the foundation, and even the fountain, of theology is: holy Scripture.
For us today theology is a science that has as its field of inquiry God’s revelation, as it:
1. is contained in holy Scripture (the bibliological section).
2. gives shape to the church (the ecclesiological section).
3. is confessed in the dogma (the dogmatological section).
4. is proclaimed by the ecclesiastical office (the diaconological section).

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The professors are ministers who have been set apart for the training of students in the Ministry of the Word. Therefore they remain bound to the last church in which they have served, and keep their ‘radical’ as ministers.

This article suggests that the training for the Ministry of the Word ends as soon as one has passed the final exam at the seminary. However, such an institution should open the possibility for ministers to continue their theological studies until the degree of ‘doctor of theology’ is obtained.

In tandem with Article 11 this article stipulates that these professors receive financial support, as should also their widows and orphans in case of their demise. However, this support has then become the duty of the bond of churches, as they were the ones responsible for the professorial appointment.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 18

Article 18 — Students of theology

The churches shall strive to ensure that there are students of theology extending financial aid where necessary.

This article, then, does not deal exclusively with the financial aid extended to students of theology, who are not in a position to finance such a study, or have been financed, e.g. by their parents.
First of all it contains a clause regarding the task of the churches. It shows that the availability of a continuous supply of young men, able and desiring to train for the Ministry, should have the constant attention of the churches.

The expenses involved usually make it impossible for one particular congregation to extend financial support when the parents are not in a position to give that support.
The formulation of this article, then, suggests that the necessary aid is extended by the churches in general, either through classis or synod, for which purpose deputies are appointed.
It does not suggest that the financial aid must be refunded later on.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 19

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Article 19 — Task of Missionaries

When ministers of the Word are sent out as missionaries, they shall in the specific region assigned to them proclaim the Word of God, administer the sacraments to those who have come to the profession of th has commanded His church, and ordain elders and deacons when this appears feasible, according to the rules given in the Word of God.

This article briefly sets out the task of the missionaries.
This task is fourfold:
1. to proclaim God’s Word in their ‘mission field’;
2. to administer the sacraments to those who have come to faith as a result of the mission work;
3. to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded His Church, which includes a Christian life-style, according to Matthew 28: 19;
4. to institute the offices according to good order.
The aim of Mission work, then, is not only to call individuals to conversion and faith, but also to plant the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 20

Article 20 — Task of elders

The elders shall together with the ministers of the Word govern the congregation with pastoral care and discipline. For the up-building of the congregation they shall make home-visits as often as is profitable but at least once a year. They shall watch that their fellow office-bearers are faithful in carrying out their duties and ensure that in the congregation everything is done decently and in good order.

First a general description of the task of elders is given: They shall govern the congregation with pastoral care and discipline. Together with the ministers they shall be the pastors of the congregation.
This includes:
1. supervision over the ministers, their fellow-elders, and the deacons. All must be faithful in the carrying out of their offices.
2. making home-visits, at least once a year at each ‘address’. This article does not say what these home-visits should consist of, but it may be clear that comforting, instruction, warning, and admonitions

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– whatever may be needed – belong to the task of the elders.
Making a good home-visit is an ‘art’. However, as this article, correctly, states that home-visits must be for the up-building of the congregation, they have to be put in the light, and under the authority, of holy Scripture. Therefore it is advisable to begin with Bible-reading, to be followed by a few sentences – not a ‘sermon’! – intended to open a discussion.
It is also advisable that the children from school-going age and older are present, although the home-visits are not intended as an examination of their Bible-knowledge etcetera.
The visiting elders shall ensure that every member of the family present is included in the discussion.
Older children, who have already made public profession of faith, may be visited separately.
It would be wise to sub-divide the congregation into as many sections as there are elders, so that each elder will be able to keep a special eye on those who have been particularly entrusted to his care.
In the meantime it may be clear that each elder is an elder of the whole congregation.
3. exercising church discipline, together with the ministers.
4. ensuring that everything in the congregation is done decently and in good order – which is another reference to the apostolic command of 1 Corinthians 14: 40 —, the foundation of our Church Order.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 21

Article 21 — Task of deacons

The deacons shall perform the ministry of mercy. They shall acquaint themselves with difficulties; visit, help and encourage where there is need, and urge church members to render assistance where necessary. They shall collect and manage the gifts of the congregation, and after mutual consultation, distribute them where there is need. The deacons shall give account of their policies and management to the consistory.

The ‘serving tables’ of Acts 6: 2 is a matter of care for the indigent, and not of assisting in the celebration of the Mass, as, e.g., in the Church of Rome.

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Our Church Order calls it “the ministry of mercy”.
This ministry shall be performed not only to the ‘poor’. This article speaks of “difficulties”, which can be of some different kinds: older or lonely people may need help in dealing with ‘odd jobs’, etcetera.
Therefore the deacons must visit, help, and encourage where there is need, and urge church members to render assistance. They do not have to do all these things by themselves - or with the help of their wives! They have to ensure that the congregation is indeed in this respect a ‘communion of saints’ according to Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21.
Because part of their duties has a financial aspect, they have to collect the gifts, take care of them, and distribute them where there is need. The latter shall be done after mutual consultation, for which purpose they shall regularly come together (Article 40).
The collection of gifts normally takes place during the worship services. However, in urgent cases the deacons may have to visit the members of the congregation, or some of them who are well-off, and ask them for some extra gifts.

We cannot deal with the liturgical aspect of the collections, but would like to make one relevant comment: The number of circulating collection bags is to be increased as soon as the collection of the offerings exceeds two or three minutes.

From the description of the task of the deacons it may be clear that this office has its own significance and difficulties.
Therefore we should not consider it a promotion when someone who before used to be a deacon is appointed and ordained as an elder.
After having served for the appointed time (Article 23) a retired deacon shall be given the same period of rest as retired elders, and not immediately added to the names of elders for possible election.
For the same reason the deacons shall not be requisitioned just from among the younger members, but simply as compared with the average age of the elders.

Our Church Order does not count the deacons among the members of the consistory, with the exception of what is mentioned in Article 37.
The question whether this is in harmony with Article 30 of the Belgic

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Confession of Faith cannot be dealt with here. It seems as if the Confession considers the deacons as full members of the consistory. However, this does not mean that according to our Confession the deacons are expected to attend all the meetings of the ministers and elders that are arranged to discuss their respective tasks as they are explained in Article 30 B.C. Our Church Order makes mention of certain consistory meetings whereby the deacons are supposed to be present (Articles 11, 36 and 37). It is a tradition that the deacons are present when the annual budget of the church is tabled by the Committee of Management, and is discussed.
In practical church life this discrepancy between the formulation of our Church Order and that of our Confession is not a real problem.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 22

Article 22 — Equality of respective duties

In the local congregation equality shall be maintained among the ministers, among the elders, and among the deacons, regarding their respective duties, and in other matters, as much as possible.

This article also is of a confessional character. Our Belgic Confession says in Article 31:

Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the Church.

This is confessed in opposition to the hierarchy in ‘episcopal churches’ such as the Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the Lutheran churches.
It is based on Matthew 18: 1-4 and parallel texts, on the answer of the Saviour given to the disciples’ question “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He said:

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

This is why the Reformed churches have no bishops, or superintendents, etcetera.

There must be equality:

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1. in the execution of the office. When there are two or more ministers, the one should not be given the task of preaching, the other that of visiting the church members, and so on. Even the position of chairman of the consistory shall be shared, e.g. on a monthly basis.
2. in all other respects, e.g. regarding the honorarium – although special circumstances have to be taken into consideration, for example the number of a minister’s children.

The consistory shall ensure that the workload is equally divided among its ministers.
Should this create any problems the classis can provide some help – although it is not known to me whether this has even been needed.
An even better way of avoiding problems of this kind is to split up a congregation when it has become too large to be served by one minister.

Mutatis mutandis the same rule applies to elders and deacons.
All this is, in a sense, repeated in Article 80 of our Church Order.

 

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 23

Article 23 — Term of office

The elders and deacons shall serve two or more years according to local regulations, and a proportionate number shall retire each year. The places of the retiring office-bearers shall be taken by others unless the consistory with the deacons judges that the circumstances and the well-being of the church render it advisable to call them into office again. In that case the rule of Article 3 shall be observed.

Holy Scripture gives us no indication of the duration of the term elders and/or deacons should serve in their respective offices.
Our Reformed churches have deemed it wise not to introduce the ‘lifelong’ elder or deacon. The main reason for this may be the wish to prevent a certain form of hierarchy from creeping into congregational life.
Our churches, however, have agreed to determine the minimum term of office to two years. The churches maintain their freedom not to restrict themselves to this minimum.

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Another rule agreed to is that each year a proportional number of elders and deacons shall retire.
Article 3 has already dealt with the calling of elders and deacons who can replace them. However, in certain instances it could be desirable and useful for the well-being of the congregation, that all or some retiring office-bearers would be able to continue their work in the midst of the congregation. In such a case the consistory together with the deacons shall present a single nomination, the enfranchised members of the congregation being given the opportunity to cast a (secret) vote; and the normal approval of the congregation being obtained, after which they have to be re-ordained as indicated in Article 3.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 24

Article 24 — Subscription to the Confession by ministers and teaching staff

A minister of the Word and all teaching staff at the theological seminary shall subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity of The Free Reformed Churches of Australia by signing the Form(s) adopted for that purpose. Anyone refusing to subscribe in that manner shall not be ordained or installed in office. Anyone who, being in office, refuses to do so shall because of that very fact be immediately suspended from office by the consistory, and classis shall not receive him. If he obstinately persists in his refusal he shall be deposed from office.

All those who are either directly or indirectly involved in the preaching of God’s Word, ministers, professors and other lecturers at the Theological Seminary, must subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity. Even candidates for the ministry, immediately after having passed their peremptory examination, must do this.
The churches must be absolutely sure that all fully agree with the Scriptural doctrine expressed in our confessional standards.

There are a number of different Forms, drawn up for the various offices.

If a minister refuses to sign, the consistory shall immediately suspend him, and the classis (entry to which is obtained by subscription to the doctrine of the churches) shall not receive him.

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The minister concerned, then, receives the opportunity to explain his feelings. However,  if he still persists in his refusal to subscribe as yet, he shall be deposed from his office.

The Subscription Form for ministers even includes a clause stating that, if a consistory, classis or synod, for good reasons, requires a further exposition of one’s feelings, for the preservation of the unity and purity of doctrine, the minister must be willing to give it. These ‘good reasons’ are, of course, based on specific statements made by the minister concerned.
This is another regulation and practice intended to ensure that the churches continue to conform with the Word of God, and remain faithful churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the first mark of the true church is, according to Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:

It practises the pure preaching of the gospel.

Many church groups, after having originally adopted a Scriptural confession, have, in the course of time, weakened their stand by requiring subscription to a Form which leaves the door open to all sorts of feelings that deviate from the official creeds and confessions. This is sometimes defended with the help of a range of theories concerning the value of a confession. One of the most recent theories is that the confession expresses the religious feelings of the church at the time it was written, but that these feelings were subject to evolution, so that in our modern times no one can be bound to the literal text of the official doctrinal standards.
Up today the LORD, in His mercy, has kept us free from this kind of deviation!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 25

Article 25 — Subscription to the Confession by elders and deacons

Elders and deacons shall also subscribe to these Three Forms of Unity by signing the Form adopted for that purpose. Anyone being in office who refuses to do so shall, because of that very fact, be immediately suspended from office by the consistory. If he obstinately persists in his refusal he shall be deposed from office.

All that has been said concerning the previous article can be applied to the elders and deacons. They, too, at the beginning of their term of office,

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must subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 26

Article 26 — False doctrine

To ward off false doctrines and errors the ministers and elders shall use the means of instruction, of refutation, of warning and of admonition, in the ministry of the Word as well as in Christian teaching and family visiting.

In its early days the Church Order included here an article on a form of ‘book censure’: No religious publications were allowed without the permission of the ministers in the classis, the province, or the professors of theology, the classis being informed. The Reformed churches, however, — unlike the Church of Rome — could not maintain this stand.

Meanwhile it is of great significance that the churches are protected against false doctrine and errors. Therefore it is expressly emphasized by means of this article that this is a special task for the ministers and elders.
Consequently they must keep themselves well informed. Which means that a minister’s honorarium must allow him to purchase the necessary books and to subscribe to various magazines. The churches themselves would be well advised to establish a ‘church library’, and by this means enable all office-bearers and other members to remain up-to-date in the affairs of the churches.
They must all be able to teach and warn the congregational members against heresies and errors in the preaching, at catechism-classes, and during the home visits.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 27

Article 27 — Office-bearers and the government

The office-bearers shall impress upon the congregation its obligation to be obedient and show respect to the government, because God has instituted it. They must set a good example in this regard and by means of proper communication invoke the government to protect the ministry of the church.

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This article can be divided into two sections:
1. on the attitude of the congregation towards the government, and the duty of the office-bearers in this respect;
2. on the duties of the office-bearers themselves, and in reverse (Colossians 4: 16).

Re. 1:
This is another article in our Church Order that is clearly of a confessional character. It emphasizes that what we confess in Article 36 of the Belgic Confession of Faith will have its consequences on our church life, that

because of the depravity of mankind, our gracious God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers.

The wording of this article of our Church Order reminds us of Romans 13: 1, on which our Confession is based:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

The office-bearers must ensure that an appropriate Christian attitude is demonstrated by the congregation.
The consistory as a body is not mentioned in this article. This may emphasize that every office-bearer has an individual task here.

Re. 2:
The second part explains the duties of the office-bearers themselves.
These are twofold:
1. They themselves must be a good example of obedience and respect for the government.
2. They must respectfully remind the government of its duty to continually protect the ministry of the church.
This again is in accordance with Article 36 of our Confession, where it says:

Their task of restraining and sustaining is not limited to the public order but includes this protection of the Church and its ministry.

Our Synod Kelmscott 1983 was of the opinion that deputies for correspondence with the government need no longer be appointed.

Each state is sovereign — The local church is in a better position to correspond with the state government. If there is a need to correspond

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with the Federal Government, the opinion is that the approach should be made through the local member of Federal Parliament who can take it up on behalf of the local church (Acts Article 113).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 28

Article 28 — The ecclesiastical assemblies

II. THE ASSEMBLIES
Three kinds of ecclesiastical assemblies shall be maintained: the consistory, the classis, and the synod.

On the basis of all this our Church Order distinguishes between three ecclesiastical assemblies:
1. the consistory;
2. the classis;
3. the synod.

Re. 1:
The consistory consist of ministers and elders. It is the only assembly directly based on holy Scripture.

Re. 2:
The classis consists of delegates from the consistories of churches in a certain region.
Together with the synod we call it: a major assembly, which does not mean: a higher authority with more power, but simply an assembly formed by a larger number of churches through their representatives.
The name “classis” has been derived from a Greek and a Latin word which means: to call together.
The Articles of Wesel, 1568 advised the creation of classes for the establishing and preserving of consensus in doctrine, ceremonies, and church discipline, and for common actions and mutual consultation in matters of importance regarding common interests.
Consequent on the appointment of delegates the consistory has the right, if

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necessary, to put all the decisions made by a classis to the test.

Re. 3:
The synod is an assembly consisting of delegates sent by each classis.
This ecclesiastical assembly cannot be based on Acts 15: 6. This “Jerusalem meeting” was of a different nature. It consisted of the apostles and the elders of the congregation of Jerusalem. The young churches were in need of some advice and even rules, given them by Christ’s apostles and the leaders of the ‘mother-church’. This situation was different from those held later on when church life had become well-organized — according to, e.g., the Pastoral Epistles of the apostle Paul. The ‘Jerusalem meeting’ was definitely not a synod!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 29

Article 29 — Proceedings

The proceedings of all assemblies shall begin and end with prayer.

A clause like this has had its place in the Reformed Church Orders since Emden 1571, on the ground of Acts 1: 14 and 24.
There is no rule regarding the reading from the Scriptures at the beginning of an ecclesiastical assembly. This is, however, a sound tradition.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 30

Article 30 — Authority of the assemblies

These assemblies shall only deal with ecclesiastical matters and in an ecclesiastical manner. A major assembly shall deal only with matters which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to its churches in common. A new matter may be put on its agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it.

This article deals with the agenda respectively of:
1. all the assemblies;
2. the major assemblies.

Re.1:
Before and during the first stages of the Eighty Years War (1568-1648) occasionally the Dutch churches kept themselves occupied with all sorts of non-ecclesiastical matters: e.g. with questions like these: Are we allowed to defend ourselves against the persecuting papists by force or arms? Are we allowed to free those who have been imprisoned for the sake of their faith? Can we, as churches, support the uprising against Spain for example by collecting funds for hiring mercenaries or by passing on military secrets?

However, since the National Synod of Middelburg, 1581, the present rule has been adopted and maintained.
Neither should the churches occupy themselves with a range of matters of an economic, social, political, or scientific nature. They shall restrict themselves to ecclesiastical matters like doctrinal affairs, church discipline, the maintaining of good order in the churches, etcetera.
This shall be done ‘in an ecclesiastical manner’, which means: not by command, or by force, but by convincing, admonishing, and ruling according to God’s Word.

Re.2:
The agenda of the major assemblies is determined by two groups of subjects:
a. those matters which concern the regional churches, e.g. matters regarding training for the Ministry of the Word;
b. matters which could not be resolved in the minor assemblies, e.g. appeals.
The matters mentioned under a. shall be put on the major assembly’s agenda by the convening church.
Those mentioned under b. are casual.

Since Synod Kelmscott 1983 another sentence has been added, to clarify the way in which a certain matter can be placed on the agenda of a major assembly: only by way of preparation in the minor assembly (Synod Rockingham 2000, only changed its formulation).
This means in the first place that the delegates of a consistory or of a classis cannot put anything on the agenda of either classis or synod on their own initiative.
Even a local church cannot have a certain matter put on the agenda of a classis without the other classical churches having had the opportunity of studying it.
If a local church wants a certain matter to be  put on the synod’s agenda, it must first of all be dealt with ‘in the ecclesiastical way’, by the classis. Via

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the draft agenda, which the convening church of the synod sends to all the churches, these churches have the opportunity to study this material.
According to Article 31, appeals are excepted from this rule.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 31

Article 31 — Appeals

If anyone complains that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly he shall have the right of appeal to the major assembly; and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.

This is an essential article in our Church Order. It is intended to serve peace and order in the churches.
We can say that it is founded on the apostle Paul’s words of 1 Corinthians 14: 33:

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.

This is the basis also of that other text in which our Church Order has its very roots (14: 40):

Let all things be done decently and in order.

Article 31 contains a double sentence. Its first part deals with one’s right to appeal (1); the second with the binding force of decisions (2).

Re. 1:
One of the fundamentals of church life is that the Lord Jesus governs His church by His Spirit and Word, so by Holy Scripture.
The Scriptures are infallible. Ecclesiastical assemblies, however, are not infallible.
Our churches do not use the means of moral constraint in order to submit their members to their power and decisions.
Therefore there is the possibility of appealing against a decision made by an ecclesiastical assembly, if it goes against the Scriptures.
Its introduction was really a matter of reformation. For in the Church of Rome one must submit him/herself to what the church says.

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An appeal may be made

if anyone complains that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly.

This sentence is carefully worded. It does not say: If anyone is wronged, but: If anyone complains that he has been wronged. Here the freedom of the children of God is honoured.
By “anyone” we understand any individual church member. However, this does not exclude the minor assemblies from making an appeal.
It is a matter of course that prior to an appeal a request for revision may be made. This, then, is not expressed in Article 31, but one does have the freedom to act  first in this way.
Please, mark the words: the major assembly. For “the ecclesiastical way” has to be followed: from the consistory to the classis, from the classis to synod – and not from the consistory to the synod.

It may be clear that such an appeal can no longer be made if the person or assembly concerned appeals years after the decision was made by the minor assembly. The appeal must be made to the next major assembly.

The contents of a letter of appeal shall be:
1. the text of the decision against which the appeal is made;
2. the ground for the appeal;
3. the requested findings of the major assembly.
Notice concerning the appeal shall be given to the minor assembly – the consistory, or its successor, the next classis – , preferably in the form of a copy of the letter of appeal.

While the case is ‘sub judice’ – the appeal having been not yet settled by the major assembly – the execution of the decision has to be suspended. For, suppose an appeal is made against a call extended to a minister, and the decision executed, it would not make any sense to appeal, neither would it make any sense to include an article in our Church Order which would open the door to such an appeal.
Apart from this it may be clear from the second part of Article 31 that if anyone is of the opinion that the decision concerned was made against the Word of God, it cannot be binding to him.

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Re. 2:
The second part of the sentence of this article contains:
a. a rule;
b. an exception.

Ad  a:
The rule is that a decision of a major assembly is to be accepted as binding, even when it was made by a majority vote.
A decision made unanimously is, of course, to be preferred, but this cannot always be reached.

Ad b:
The exception can be twofold: a decision may be in conflict with the Word of God; it may also be contrary the Church Order.
It may be clear that the former possibility is the more serious one.
Here again it becomes apparent: The Lord Jesus Christ governs His church by His Word.

The words “unless it is proved” do not mean: unless it is proved to the successor of the assembly that made the decision – in case an appeal is made a against a decision of the minor assembly, for in that case inserting these lines into the Church Order would have been as unnecessary as ‘forcing a door open’. The assembly would immediately rectify the decision, so that a situation wherein a decision of a minor assembly would not be accepted as binding would never occur. The words “unless it is proved” must be interpreted as meaning: proved to the interested person or minor assembly.
Here again our Church Order is of a confessional nature, being in full harmony with Article 7 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, which says:

We may not consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with the divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all.

It would appear that the contents of Article 31 can be summarized as follows: There is an opportunity to make an appeal when you feel wronged; but you must accept the decision made on it by the major assembly, unless …

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The wording of this article suggests that the whole matter is thereby finished. (It might be wise to change the text into a clearer one!). For also the decision of the major assembly on one’s appeal can also be in conflict with God’s Word or with the Church Order.
In such a situation proof of a decision being in conflict with God’s Word or with the Church Order is to be given, either to a similar assembly, in case of a request for revision, or to a major assembly, in case of an appeal.

After one has gone all of the ‘ecclesiastical way’, from the consistory to the classis, and from the classis to the synod, one has either to accept the latest decision as yet  (which does not create any insurmountable difficulties whenever it is not a matter of conscience), or he/she has to ‘liberate’ him/herself from the binding decision.
The latter course had to be followed when the General Synod of the ‘forties, in The Netherlands, made decisions which were indeed in conflict with the Word of God, and when they interpreted the word “unless” in Article 31 as “until”, something that does not make sense, as we have shown in the above lines, and led to moral constraint.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 32

Article 32 — Credentials and voting

Delegates to a major assembly shall bring with them their credentials, signed by the minor assembly. They shall have a vote in all matters except those in which either they themselves or their churches are directly involved.

The text of this article no longer mentions “credentials and instructions”. The word ”instructions” and their tabling at a major assembly dates back to the days when there were no good mail connections, typewriters, computers, and photocopiers. The agenda of the major assemblies were determined partly by these instructions, and often this prevented the delegates of the other churches from preparing themselves.
This deletion from the text of Article 32 does not make it impossible for a consistory to draw up instructions for its delegates to the classis. However, it is a practice that must be limited to matters not requiring any preparation or study prior to the meeting – e.g. when the advice or consent of classis is required according to Articles 74, 76, and 79 of the Church Order, or when the classical churches are invited to send representatives to the ordination –

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or farewell-service – of a minister.

A major assembly is a meeting of churches, not of individual persons. The minor assemblies are present by means of their delegates. These delegates do not attend the meeting as office-bearers, but as representatives of the assembly that sent them.

That they have been delegated must be verified by their credentials.
Therefore a letter of credence must be signed on behalf of the delegating consistory or classis.
It would be superfluous therein to refer to e.g. Article 31 of the Church Order, since these letters are signed by a Reformed consistory or a classis of Reformed churches!
A major assembly can only be declared constituted after the letters of credence have been investigated and it has become clear that all the churches or the classes are duly represented.

It is not desirable to mandate the delegates to vote in a certain way. The discussion at the major assembly may bring some aspects of a matter to the fore that could not be considered by the minor assembly. The delegates must be left free to form their own opinion and vote accordingly.

Their letter of credence is the basis on which delegates have the right to vote at a major assembly. However, this right to vote is a limited one: They shall abstain from voting on matters which concern themselves or their own churches.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 33

Article 33 — Proposals

Matters once decided upon may not be proposed again unless they are substantiated by new grounds.

Time is ‘money’ and even more than that, also in church life.
A matter should not come up again for discussion unless it has to be amended. Therefore the decisions of former major assemblies must be read  accurately by the minor assemblies.
This means that the Acts concerned must be officially adopted by the

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assemblies themselves, and that they must be made available to the churches.
A consistory is a permanent body, so that the minutes of a certain meeting may be adopted by the next meeting. However, a classis of synod is not a permanent body. Therefore these assemblies should dispatch their business completely, which includes the adoption of their own Acts.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 34

Article 34 — Chairman and clerk

In all assemblies there shall be a chairman and a clerk. The chairman’s task is to present and explain clearly the matters to be dealt with and ensure that every one observes due order in speaking; he shall deny the floor to those who argue about minor things or who let themselves be carried away and cannot control their emotions, and discipline those who refuse to listen. His task shall cease when the assembly ends. The clerk shall keep an accurate record of all things worthy of being recorded.

This article deals mainly with the task of the chairman. It first sets out what this task includes:
1. He must present those matters to be dealt with. To this end it is essential that he is informed in time about incoming mail, and makes some study of difficult matters on the agenda.
2. He must ensure that the meeting is held in an orderly fashion. The discussions should not be disorderly. The best way is to hold the discussions in one or two rounds, so that during the second round proposals may be expected from those who participate in the discussion.
3. He mustsilence those who behave in a disorderly way, and if necessary reprove them. Even at ecclesiastical meetings all things should be done decently and in order.

In the second place this article deals with the duration of the position of the chairman. It says that this ceases when the assembly ends.
Our churches do not have the position of a ‘moderator’ or the equivalent. They want to be on their guard against hierarchy.
Even the position of the chairman of the consistory is not a permanent one, although it is entrusted to the minister. This many be proved by the fact that

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if a congregation has more than one minister, they chair in turns (Article 36).
This does not exclude the possibility that certain documents are signed by the chairman and the clerk on behalf of one of the assemblies after it has ended. Cases like that however – e.g. when an attestation has to be issued – must be dealt with formally during the meeting.

Apart from the chairman a clerk shall be appointed. He must write the minutes or the Acts which have to be adopted by the full meeting.

The Church Order does not speak about a complete ‘moderamen’, a classical or synodical board. As a matter of course, every assembly has the right to appoint a number of officials in addition to the chairman and the clerk if the workload should prove to be too much for just those two persons.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 35

Article 35 — Jurisdiction

The classis has the same jurisdiction over the consistory as the synod has over the classis.

For a time let us replace the word “jurisdiction” by “arbitration”, then it will be clear what this article is intended to convey. The major assemblies have been established also in order to act as arbiters, so that the peace of the churches may be preserved.
Article 35, then, is sequel to Article 31. In matters of appeal and suchlike the churches, by mutual agreement, have granted authority to the classis in respect of the consistory, and the synod has the same in respect of the classis.
This form of authority is fundamentally different from the authority the consistory has over the congregation. This is an ‘official’ kind of authority by virtue of the office of the office-bearers, and is why no mention is made in this article of the authority of the elders.
We may repeat: The major assemblies are no ’higher authorities’. A major assembly is just an assembly of delegates from a larger number of churches, but this does not increase their authority.

Meanwhile it may be clear that this article is also intended to prevent the churches from falling into the chaos and arbitrariness or independentism.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 36

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Article 36 — Consistory

In all churches there shall be a consistory composed of the minister(s) of the Word and the elders. It shall meet regularly and be chaired by the minister. If a church is served by more than one minister they shall chair in turn. The consistory shall also meet regularly with the deacons to deal with those matters as described for that purpose by the Church Order, and further with all things which the consistory considers necessary for general management, including the material affairs of the church.

After the ‘general’ articles on the ecclesiastical assemblies, the Church Order will now deal with them in sequence.
The first is the consistory, about which a number of regulations have been made.

Article 3 says first of all that in all churches there shall be a consistory, consisting of the minister(s) of the Word and the elders.
We have already learned from Scripture that the consistory is the only ecclesiastical assembly that was instituted by Christ’s apostles (see at Article 28). We referred to 1 Timothy 4: 14 which speaks of “the council of elders”; also Acts 20: 17, 28; 1 Timothy 5: 17; 1 Peter 5: 1-3; cf. Matthew 16: 19).

The consistory shall meet at regular intervals, either once a fortnight or once a week.
Furthermore this article deals with the presidium. The minister shall act as a chairman, but in churches with more than one minister the ministers shall preside in turn – e.g. each of them for a month.

In an earlier chapter we have already learned that certain matters must be dealt with by the consistory together with the deacons.
These men are given a voice in the calling of a minister, and also in the nomination of elders and deacons.
However, a few more reasons for a combined meeting are given in this article: The domestic affairs of the church, financial management, and all those things which in the opinion of the consistory are necessary for general management – e.g. for which particular purposes the Offerings in church are collected

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For all these matters the consistory shall arrange meetings with the deacons at regular intervals.

While discussing Article 21 of the Church Order we touched briefly on the difference between Article 30 of the Belgic Confession of Faith and Article 36 of the Church Order to determine which office-bearers belong to the consistory.
The Confession speaks of:

elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church.

The Church Order restricts the membership of the consistory to the ministers and the elders, and speaks in other articles of “the consistory and the deacons”.
It is not our task to solve this ‘problem’, but we would like to use an extract from a report of the deputies for the revision of the Church Order, appointed by the General Synod Kampen, 1975 of the Dutch sister-churches. They wrote (in our translation):

Art. 30 of the Belgic Confession of Faith clearly points to the outside, over against the hierarchical church government of the Church of Rome and also over against the territorial idea of the government ruling the church. In order to preserve the true religion the Lord has ordained Ministers of the Word, elders and deacons, and not popes, bishops, etcetera as in the clerical hierarchy. This is the spiritual police, which has to be distinguish well from the political forms of government which has been entrusted to the magistrates.
….. From the emphasis on the spiritual police it is derived that the magistrates are told: the church has her own, spiritual form of government and therefore her own ‘senate’ (council), different from your form of government and senate
.

According to these deputies a development has taken place since the Belgic Confession was written, a development by which the Church Order points to the inside, the internal life of the churches.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 37

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Article 37 — Consistory and the deacons

Where the number of elders and deacons is small the deacons may be added to the consistory by local arrangement. This shall invariably be done where there are less than three elders and less than three deacons. In these circumstances matters pertaining to supervision and discipline shall be handled with the advice of the deacons and matters pertaining to the office of deacons with the advice of the elders.

Some congregations are small, as is also the number of elders and deacons.
Our Church Order has made a provision in such a case: The consistory meeting shall always be combined with that of the deacons.
In both groups the other office-bearers shall act in an advisory capacity.
This shall be the rule whenever the number of each group is less than three.
Local rules must be made with this in mind.

The reason for including this article appears to be the danger that supervision and discipline – in the case of a small consistory – might be handled in a far too personal fashion, thus leading to partiality and arbitrariness.

Before the revision of our Church Order the deacons acted in such cases as ‘assistant elders’. This has been improved by introducing the element of advice.
That way

the offices …. remain distinct one from the other (Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 38

Article 38 — Constitution of a consistory

If a consistory is to be instituted for the first time or anew, the advice of classis shall be sought.

The required agreement of the classis does not mean that the initial or renewed institution is a classical affair. The desire to be instituted as a congregation has to live among the brothers and sisters concerned, and to be expressed at the correct place: to the consistory under the care of which they have been placed (Article 39). This assembly must bring the matter to the

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classis.
The agreement of the latter means that this body is of the same opinion, namely that it is time to institute the offices.

It is a matter of course that the newly instituted church is immediately incorporated into the bond of churches.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 39

Article 39 — Places without a consistory

Places where as yet no consistory can be instituted shall be assigned by classis to the care of a neighbouring consistory.

As far as this matter is concerned he situation here in Australia will always be different.

Our churches have done and are doing their best to prevent congregational members from being scattered across our vast country. The same applies to new arrivals from overseas’ sister-churches. Yet they have divided the country and ‘allotted’ a section of it to each of the congregations. Thereby the question as to how the consistories must handle the ecclesiastical position of the scattered has been left undecided, while only the consistories must decide whom they shall take under their supervision, and they only are able to judge whether or not one is justified in his intention to live ‘in the diaspora’ in view of the establishing of the Church of the Lord (Acts Synod Albany 1959, Article 27).
One of the first steps to be undertaken in this process is the formation of a ‘house congregation’. Its members are members in full rights of the congregation the elders of which have supervision over them and must assist them.

The classis is mentioned in this article because, when this matter is dealt with in the ‘classical’ way, difficulties regarding boundary disputes etcetera are avoided.

Now that our churches have been well established and concentrated in West Australia and also in Tasmania, ‘the work among the scattered’ is almost minimal. Only in the surroundings of the city of Hobart in Tasmania is there

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a group of members who are under the supervision of the consistory of the church of Launceston.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 40

Article 40 — Meetings of deacons

The deacons shall meet regularly to deal with the matters pertaining to their office. Their meetings shall begin and end with prayer.

The meetings of the deacons are not mentioned in the summing up of the ‘ecclesiastical assemblies’ in Article 28, because they are of a distinct character.
That is why it is expressly mentioned that they must begin and end with prayer, because they must be held ‘under invocation of the Lord’.

As for the execution of their office the deacons are under the supervision of the consistory, just as with each of the ministers and the elders.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 41

Article 41 — Classis

Neighbouring churches shall come together in a classis by delegating a minister and an elder, or if a church has no minister, two elders. Classis shall convene at least once every six months in person. The ministers shall be chairman in rotation, or one shall be chosen to be chairman; however the same minister shall not be chairman twice in succession. The chairman shall ask whether the ministry of the office-bearers is being continued, whether the decisions of the major assemblies are being honoured and whether there is any matter in which the consistories need the judgment and help of classis for the proper government of their church. Every classis shall determine where and when the churches shall meet again. The last classis before synod shall choose delegates to that synod.

This article deals with the following subjects respectively:
1. of what a classical meeting consists;
2. the frequency of these meetings;
3. who will preside over them;

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4. some permanent agenda items;
5. appointing of delegates to the synods.

Re. 1:
A classical meeting;’ is not a meeting of ‘the classis’, but of the churches of the classical region. ‘The classis’ as a permanent body does not exist, the consistory being the only permanent ecclesiastical body.
This is why every classical meeting must finalize its own agenda, including the adoption of its Acts or minutes.
The churches attend the classical meetings by way of their delegates: a minister and an elder, who are obliged to hand over their credentials.
Vacant churches may delegate two elders. Small consistories may delegate a deacon if two elders are not available.

Re. 2:
The frequency is: at least once every six months.
Sometimes a classical meeting has to be continued at a later date, for example when a time-consuming exam makes it impossible to finalize the ‘normal business’, or when an appeal requires the appointment of a special committee to report to the next session.

At the end of every classis the date and venue of the next meeting of the classical churches shall be determined.
However, it may happen that the appointed ‘convening church’ is requested to call the churches together at an earlier time for the handling of an urgent matter. It is advisable that classes have a rule concerning such cases in their ‘Classical Regulations’

Re. 3:
The ministers shall preside in turn, but the meeting may also choose a chairman – which happens in exceptional cases only, e.g. when the minister to preside, personally or his church, is involved in a matter to be dealt with at the very meeting, e.g. an appeal or suchlike.
To prevent domination by one of the ministers it is ruled that the same minister shall not be chosen twice in succession.
The Church Order does not cover every possible case. So that, if there is only one minister in a classical region, he must preside all the classical meetings as long as the other churches are vacant. If all of the classical

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churches are vacant one of the elders-delegates must preside.

Re. 4:
Apart from other items on the agenda, which are determined by a number of articles in our Church Order, there are some permanent items on the agenda. These are usually summarized as: “question time according to Article 41 CO”. Nevertheless, these agenda-items are still of the greatest significance. They clearly show that life within the bond of churches can be a great blessing, since the churches have supervision over each other, and in that way are being kept alive as faithful churches of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This ‘question time’ is a threefold one:
a. first there is the question whether the ministry of the offices is continued;
b. then whether each of the churches honours the decisions of the major assemblies according to the Church Order;
c. whether they need any help or the judgment of the classis in any matter – which, e.g., can be that of church discipline.

Re. 5:
This point does not need any further explanation.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 42

Article 42 — Ministers who are not delegated to a classis

If two or more ministers are serving the same church, those who have not been delegated shall have the right to attend classis in an advisory capacity.

The background of this article is probably the desire to have some continuity in the labour of the classical meetings, and not to leave the talents given to the churches by their Head and King unused.

During almost three centuries the Dutch Church Order created the opportunity for all the ministers (also for those who as ministers of larger congregations were not delegated) to attend all the classical meetings and to have voting rights. Since the General Synod of Utrecht 1905, however, this has been reduced to being permitted attendance only in an advisory capacity.

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Their presence is even required when they have to report on church visitation, and to act as examiners, etcetera.

There is no rule making it impossible for them to act in the ‘moderamen’, but it is very unlikely that this will ever happen.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 43

Article 43 — Counsellors

Each vacant church shall request classis to appoint as counsellor the minister it desires as such, to the end that he may assist the consistory in maintaining good order and especially may lend his aid in the matter of the calling of a minister; he shall sign the letter of call.

The churches live together in a bond of churches with the aim of assisting each other whenever needed.
Normally there is a classical meeting every six months. So a vacant church would have to wait for some time before she would be able to call a minister with the advice of the classis. In order to avoid such situations the Church Order contains the provision of this Article concerning a counsellor.

The vacant church may make her own choice and request the classis to appoint him.

He will be able to serve the consistory with advice in all sorts of matters, but it is a rule that the calling of a minister will not take place without his advice, and that the letter of call is signed by him.
This does not mean that it is compulsory for the consistory to ask for his opinion regarding the candidate or the minister to be called. His only duty is to ensure that the calling of a minister takes place ‘in good order’.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 44

Article 44 — Church visitors

Each year classis shall authorise at least two of the more experienced and able ministers to visit the churches in that year. If necessary the classis may authorise a capable elder to carry out this task together with a minister. It shall be the task of these visitors to inquire whether all things are regulated and done in full harmony with the Word of God, whether the office-bearers fulfil the duties of their office faithfully as they have promised, and whether the Church Order is being observed and maintained in every respect, in order that they may in good time fraternally admonish those who are found negligent in any thing, and that by their good counsel and advice all things may be directed towards the edification and preservation of Christ’s church. They shall submit written reports of their visits to classis.

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This article deals with the following points:
1. when, by whom, and where the church visitation shall be carried out;
2. its nature;
3. its purpose;
4.report to the classis.

Re. 1:
The visitation shall be carried out every year.
Visitors must be some of the most experienced men and capable ministers, appointed by the classis for this purpose.
If necessary a capable elder can accompany a minister. This will occur in classes with a small number of ministers.
All the churches of the classical region must be visited.

Prior to the visitation an announcement shall be made to the congregation, so that, if there are any unsolved differences between congregational members and the consistory, these members may be given the opportunity to consult the visitors.

Re. 2:
It is a custom that every classis, adopting a number of these guidelines, must also include at least the following items:
a. the faithful execution of the offices, both individual and collective;
b. adherence to the sound doctrine;
c. the observance and maintaining of the adopted Church Order;
d. the promotion of the up-building of the congregation by word and deed.

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Re. 3:
The purpose of church visitation is:
a. in the negative: admonishment of negligent office-bearers;
b. in the positive: advising and assisting the churches in the promotion of peace, edification and well-being.

Church visitation can be based upon holy Scriptures. Acts 11: 22 tells us that the congregation at Jerusalem heard about the establishment of a church at Antioch, that mainly consisted of former gentiles. They delegated Barnabas, who (according to the original text) went by all the places where he could find Christians to speak with them, until he arrived at Antioch. Then it says (verse 23):

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.

So one congregation, Jerusalem, contacted the other, Antioch, and the ‘church visitor’ could be glad because he found a true Christian congregation and unity of faith between these two churches.
This, then, is the purpose of church visitation. The churches need to be assured that the sister-churches are still showing the marks of the true church.

This is useful and even essential for life within a bond of churches, for then a consistory doesn’t need  to hesitate when there is a request for attestation, because it knows the church in question to be a faithful church. It also knows that there is consensus in doctrine and church life between itself and the other congregation. The same can be applied to invitations extended to a minister from another congregation; both the minister concerned and that particular congregation have the same basis of faith.
So, church visitation is of the greatest importance for the visited church, and consequently for all the churches.

Re. 4:
It now stands to reason that the visitors report their findings to the next classis.
Acceptance of positive findings means continuing life together in the bond of churches with mutual acknowledgment as being faithful churches of the Lord.

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This article doesn’t make mention of the presence of the deacons at church visitation, but it is obvious that they are supposed to attend that particular meeting of the consistory.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 45

Article 45 — Synod

The synod shall be held every three years. As long as there are two classes each classis shall delegate four ministers and four elders.
At the close of synod the time and place for the next synod shall be determined and a church shall be appointed to convene it. A synod shall be convened before the appointed time at the request of a classis. Its time and place shall be decided by the church appointed as convening church for the next regular synod.

This article deals with the following subjects:
1. the frequency of the synods;
2. their composition;
3. the ensuing synod.

Re. 1:
The frequency of our synods is once every three years.
However, there is an exception: if there are urgent reasons the convening church shall determine an earlier date. This shall be done when at least two classes request an earlier convening. The convening church must obtain the approval of her classis regarding time and venue for this synod.

Re. 2:
Each classis sends four ministers and four elders.

Re. 3:
Each synod, at its conclusion, determines the – regular – time and place of the next synod and appoints a convening church.
Our churches have adopted a set of Rules dealing with:
- the convening church;
- delegates;
- officers of synod;
- advisory committees;

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- visitors;
- general procedures;
- rules for debate;
- voting;
- deputies;
- treasurer and finance;
- rules for synods.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 46

Article 46 — Relationship with other churches

The relationship with other churches shall be regulated by synod. With churches of Reformed confession sister relations shall be maintained as much as possible. On non-essential points of ecclesiastical practice other churches shall not be rejected.

The relations with foreign churches concern all our congregations, and must therefore be an item on the synod’s agenda.

Not all of the foreign churches that have their origin in the Reformation of the sixteenth century carry the word ‘Reformed’ in their name. Our churches have entered into relationships with a number of Presbyterian churches on various continents.

Maintaining this relationship can pose problems caused by the language barrier – e.g. regarding the Korean churches. This is why Article 46 uses the phrase “as much as possible”.

One way of keeping in contact with these churches is: by sending delegates to their major assemblies and receiving their delegates at our synods.
The last sentence of this article contains an old regulation. Every church has its own history of oppression and struggle against heresies and errors and subsequent reformation. Furthermore, every church exists within its own cultural environment, and this has led to divergences in church polity and liturgy.
Even confessions and church orders may vary. However, in this respect there must be a fundamental unity of faith.

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The background of this article also is explained together with that of Article 28: concerning the world-wide character of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches this in John 17: 11, 17, 20, 21; Ephesians 3: 14-4: 6; 1 Timothy 3: 15, and other places.
We must also take to heart the apostle’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14: 36:

Did the Word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 47

Article 47 — Censure in classis and synod

At the close of the major assemblies censure shall be exercised over those who in the meeting have done something worthy of reproof.

Let all things be done decently and in order,

for:

God is not the author of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14: 40 and 33).

This is the background of the contents of this article.

By ‘censure’ is meant: admonishing, warning, reprimanding, reproving.

This censure is additional to that of the chairman (Article 34).
It is, of course, different from the Christian censure the ministers, elders and deacons must exercise, according to Article 78, in relation to the execution of their office. Here it is a censure concerning possible misconduct at a classical or synodical meeting.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 48

Article 48 — Deputies of major assemblies

Each synod shall appoint deputies who are to assist the classes in all matters provided for in the Church Order. A classis may request these deputies to assist in cases of special difficulties. Each synod shall also appoint deputies to carry out its own decisions. Different deputies shall be appointed as much as possible for separate matters. All deputies shall keep proper record of their work and submit a written report.

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Major assemblies are held at regular intervals. Unlike the consistory they are not of a permanent character, but between two classes or two synods certain matters must often be dealt with. For this reason both ecclesiastical assemblies appoint a number of deputies, who are instructed to execute certain matters ordained by these assemblies.

Our synods have appointed deputies for various reasons, e.g. for correspondence with foreign sister-churches, and deputies for the assistance of the classes in those cases mentioned in various articles: Article 5 (peremptory examinations), Article 14 (dismissal of a minister), Article 15 (relief from office), and Article 76 (deposition of a minister).
The same deputies shall, upon the request of a classis, assist the classes in cases of special difficulties..

In order to prevent an accumulation of appointments and duties the Church Order rules that for separate matters, as often as possible, different groups of deputies shall be appointed.

These deputies must all keep an accurate record of their activities – which, amongst others, means that they make minutes of their meetings – and submit a written report to the next major assembly. If required, they can be called to the latter to justify their actions.
This final sentence of Article 48 shows that deputies are not rulers of the churches, but their servants.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 49

Article 49 — Archives

The assemblies shall ensure that proper care is taken of the archives.

It is often very difficult to write the history of a local church or of the churches in general. And sometimes it is almost impossible to retrace a certain document.
Therefore our churches follow the action of the Dutch sister-churches, which have inserted a special article regarding the archives. It is to be hoped that both local churches and major assemblies carefully observe the Church Order in this respect!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 50

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Article 50 — Mission

The churches shall endeavour to fulfil their missionary task. In doing so they shall observe the provisions of this Church Order. When churches cooperate in mission work they shall as much as possible observe the division into classes.

It is not very clear what is meant by the phrase “they shall observe the provisions of this Church Order”. It could refer to the institution of congregations as a result of mission work, whereby all the regulations of the Church Order in respect to the offices, the assemblies, supervision over doctrine and worship, and discipline (Article 1) are to be taken into account.
However, it is more likely that this phrase refers to the execution of the missionary calling by setting apart some ministers for this particular work (Article 2), who are bound to a certain church (Article 4), the ‘sending church’. They must receive a ‘lawful calling’ according to the stipulations made in the Church Order (Article 5).

However, the second part of this article is clear. The churches shall, as much as possible, cooperate along the lines of their division into classes.

This article emphasizes that mission work is not the task of individuals or of mission societies and suchlike, but that it is a calling of the churches.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 51

Article 51 — Administration of sacraments

III. WORSHIP, SACRAMENTS AND CEREMONIES
The sacraments shall be administered only in a church service by a minister of the Word with the use of the adopted Forms, and under the supervision of the elders.

This article is based on what we confess in Article 33 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, and Question and Answer 66 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
It only adds that the sacrament shall be administered in the midst of the congregation and by those who have been mandated to administer them by Christ, the Head of the Church.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 52

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Article 52 — Baptism of infants

The consistory shall ensure that the covenant of God is sealed by baptism to the children of believers as soon as feasible.

We must say again that the first part of this the sentence is also more or less a repetition of what we confess in the Belgic Confession and our Catechism.
No further comment is needed.

We do not practise the administration of baptism in the family circle or in a special baptismal chapel and therefore in the absence of the congregation. Holy baptism is the ceremony by means of which one is incorporated into the Christian Church (Article 34 BC).

There must be an opportunity to administer the sacrament of baptism in every church service. It shall not be postponed until special ‘baptismal Sundays’.

The clause “as soon as feasible” used to be the cause of some heated discussions between adherers of ‘early baptism’ and ‘late baptism’, as they called each other.
During the first centuries after the Reformation the administration of baptism of infants took place indeed as soon as possible. This was proved by the baptismal questions which were addressed to “the fathers and witnesses”. Later on a different practice came into being.
Here in Australia this is not a cause for friction and debate, since all infants are born in a hospital and as a rule are released together with their mother. Although, an increasing number of parents are opting for home births in care of midwives.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 53

Article 53 — Baptismal promise and education

The consistory shall make sure that the parents honour their vows to instruct their children, to the utmost of their power, in the doctrine of the Scriptures as summarised in the confession, and to have them instructed in the same by the instruction provided by the consistory.
In accordance with the same vow, the consistory shall see to it that the parents, to the best of their ability, and with the cooperation of the communion of saints, give their children education (as stipulated by the civil government) which is based on Scripture and Confession.

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One of the consequences of the promises given by the parents at the baptism of their children is that the ministers and elders have to ensure that the parents give their children an education compatible with the doctrine of the church.
Here the emphasis must be upon the duties of the ministers and elders exercising supervision of the parents.

This includes school education.
We have to be very thankful to the Lord because He has enabled us to offer the children of our congregations a genuine Reformed education, at both primary and secondary level.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 54

Article 54 — Public profession of faith

Those who desire to publicly profess their faith shall be examined by the consistory on their motivation and knowledge of the doctrine of God’s Word. The public profession shall take place in a church service with the use of the adopted Form.

The examination of those who desire to publicly profess their faith consists af two aspects:
1. their motivation, whether they have a sincere desire to confess the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and to show this in a Christian way of life;
2. their knowledge of holy Scripture and the confessional standards adopted by our churches.
Whereas this examination is the responsibility of the consistory, the whole congregation is involved when the names of those people have been publicly announced and no objections have been brought forward.
The Form clearly refers to “the doctrine of the Word of God, summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian Church”.
Making public profession of faith, then, includes the declaration that the adopted confessional standards are in accordance with God’s Word.

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It also includes the acknowledgment of the church in which this public profession is made as a faithful church.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 55

Article 55 — Baptism of adults

Adults who have not been baptised shall be grafted into the Christian church by holy baptism upon their public profession of faith.

Adults present themselves to be baptised. Therefore the administration thereof is preceded by their public profession of faith.

The revised Church Order of our Dutch sister-churches has here an addition that says (in our translation):

They are therefore called to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and shall promise to do so when they are baptised.

Our churches have left this sentence out of their Church Order, apparently because there are no difficulties in this respect among us.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 56

Article 56 — Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper shall be celebrated at least once every three months.

The ancient Christian church used to have ‘the breaking of bread’ at least every Sunday (Acts 2: 42, 46; 20: 7). At Jerusalem, according to the patristic literature, it even happened every day until far into the second century. Already in the early stages of Church history the idea of the sacrament that the Lord’s Supper was a sacrifice of man had crept in. It was soon accompanied by the theory of the transsubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine, and their elevation. The celebration of this sacrament degenerated and became the Mass, with its ‘show’ character.
A consequence of the idea of a sacrifice was, that participation of the ‘lay people’ was no longer an essential part of the Mass.
This led to the practice whereby the communion was reduced to a few times a year. To many people ‘communion’ at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost was a maximum.
The Lateran Council of 1215 ruled that everyone had to partake in the communion at least once a year, at Easter. This was also the result of another

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rule, dating back to the middle of the eleventh century, which said that at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost the people had to offer a sacrifice for the financial support of the priests, but this prevented the poorer people from partaking in the communion except at Easter.
The above-mentioned dates were partly taken over by the churches of the Reformation. However, on the other hand we can say: They followed the frequency of the so-called ‘Gemeinde-kommunion’.
During the late Middle Ages there was some reaction against the show-character of the Mass. In places this led to the institution of separate communion services, namely in the South of Germany and in some regions of Switzerland. Consecration of the elements did not take place during the celebration. The people made use of the elements that had been consecrated during the Mass, but full emphasis was put on the “communion”.
So, the participation of the congregation, a remnant of the Lord’s Supper according to Holy Scripture was preserved.
These ‘Gemeinde-kommunion’-services were held at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas.

The Reformers took over these dates of communion.
However, on more than one occasion John Calvin expressed his strong desire to return to the practice of the ancient Christian church, but the Reformed churches have never complied with his wishes. In his own city, Geneva, the civil magistrates strongly opposed his efforts, and in other important cities like Zurich and Bern, the usual practice was also maintained.
In the Southern Netherlands (today’s Belgium) the churches agreed to a minimum of four times a year, in the Northern part of that country this minimum was determined as six times. But later on four times was added as an alternative.

This, then happened to be the rule of the old version of the Church Order:

The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least every two or three months.

Since the Church Order was revised by Synod Kelmscott, 1983 the minimum frequency has been reduced to at least once every three months.
Alongside the historical Form our churches have adopted an “Abbreviated Form for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper”, following the Dutch sister-churches. It is rather strange though that the wish to have such a brief Form was related to the desire for a more frequent celebration of this sacrament,

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when it was really intended to be used “for the second service” wherein the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is ‘continued’.

The Church Order does not make any mention of a ‘preparatory sermon’, nor of a ‘thanksgiving service’. Both are included in the Form.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 57

Article 57 — Admission to the Lord’s Supper

The consistory shall admit to the Lord’s Supper only those who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life. Members of sister churches shall be admitted on the basis of a good attestation concerning their doctrine and conduct.

Our churches do not follow the practice of ‘the open table’ at the Lord’s Supper. In some church groups every one who feels the desire to participate in the Lord’s Supper is welcome. The responsibility rests entirely on the individual.
According to what we confess the responsibility lies with the consistory and, indeed, with the whole congregation.

Admittance is granted to those who have learnt to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11: 19), and have therefore made public profession of faith.
For the same reason our churches do not practise “children’s communion”.

As for persons who want to join our churches and have made public profession of their faith in another church that is not one of our sister-churches, the consistory shall investigate whether they

confess that the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian Church, is the true and complete doctrine of salvation.

The words “and lead a godly life” have been added to keep the Table of the Lord pure and holy by keeping away those who do not lead such a life, even though they have made their public profession of faith.

The same necessary supervision has led to the introduction of the rule expressed in the body of this article.

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It may include those members of sister-churches who move from them and join their ‘new’ church. They are admitted to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of the attestation issued to them by their former consistory.
It also includes members from sister-churches who desire to participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as guests. They are admitted when they can prove to be ‘members of good standing’ in their own congregation, having admittance to their Lord’s Supper there. This proof can be obtained by asking their consistory to issue to them a declaration concerning their doctrine and conduct.

Supervision regarding admission to the Lord’s Supper belongs to what Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith calls the second and third marks of the true church:

It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them. It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 58

Article 58 — Church records

The consistory shall maintain church records in which the names of the members and the dates of their birth, baptism, public profession of faith, marriage, and departure or death are properly recorded.

Although the contents of this article date back to the days when there were no registration-offices for birth, marriages, and death, our churches have maintained records for their own purposes. Registers concerning particulars of all members must be compiled and kept up-to-date.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 59

Article 59 — Attestations for communicant members

Communicant members who move to another congregation shall be given, following appropriate announcements to the congregation, an attestation regarding their doctrine and conduct, signed on behalf of the consistory by two authorised office-bearers. This attestation shall also record their children who have not yet made public profession of faith. The consistory of the congregation concerned shall be notified in due time.

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There are two kinds of attestations:
a. concerning communicant members and their children;
b. concerning non-communicant members.
The former shall be handed over to the applicants, while, in the meantime, and correctly, the consistory of the congregation concerned is informed.
The communicant members are expected to hand in their attestation to the consistory of their ‘new’ locale, in this way requesting that they be taken under its supervision and discipline.
The latter are dealt with in Article 60.

In actual fact, an attestation is nothing more than a statement regarding the member’s doctrine and conduct.

This article clearly states that the request for an attestation must be presented for the congregation’s approval before it can be issued. This means that an attestation has to be requested some time, say at least a fortnight, prior to one’s departure.
The purpose of such an announcement is to give the other members of the congregation the opportunity to raise any possible objections.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 60

Article 60 — Attestations for non-communicant members

An attestation for a non-communicant member shall be sent directly to the consistory of the church concerned with the request to take the member under its supervision and discipline.

Attestations regarding non-communicant members are not handed over to them, but sent to the consistory concerned. The reason for this is that these members have not taken full responsibility for their membership by making public profession of faith. The ‘new’ consistory is requested to take these members under its supervision and discipline, whereas communicant-members make this request themselves, as explained under the previous article.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 61

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Article 61 — Support after departure

When members depart to another congregation where they will be cared for in institutions, aged persons homes or nursing homes, they shall in respect of deacon support remain under the care of the church they are leaving. If this is not possible support will be arranged by consultation between the consistories and deacons concerned.

Further to the previous article, dealing with the departure of members of a congregation to another congregation, this article contains a rule in case of members departing to another congregation whilst needing continuing support from the deacons.
There is a rule: They remain under the care of the church they are leaving. However, there is an exception: ‘as much as possible’, and if it is not possible the consistories and deacons involved shall consult with each other.

The first line of this article clearly states that these members become members of that ‘other congregation’. In the past, cases like these have created much confusion in our sister-churches. Therefore it is a good thing that we now have a rule to aid us in these matters.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 62

Article 62 — Church services

The consistory shall call the congregation together for church services twice on the Lord’s Day.

Holy Scripture does not rule on the frequency of our Sunday church services. Our churches have determined it at two.

The Bible does not contain a complete order of the service either. In our churches the order followed is the one suggested by the General Synod Middelburg, 1933 of the Dutch churches, or the old liturgy dating back to the days of the Reformation whereby the order of “the two great commandments” and that of “the Lord’s Prayer” is obeyed: first the preaching of God’s Word and only then the Offerings and intercessory prayers, things that are related with “the neighbour”.
The latter order is also apparent in the old prayer forms found in the “Book

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of Praise”. It would be wise to use these Forms more often in our church services.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 63

Article 63 — Catechism preaching

The consistory shall ensure that as a rule every Sunday the doctrine of God’s Word as summarised in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed, preferably in the afternoon service.

Catechism preaching has always had an important place in the Reformed churches.
The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a confessing church. Her members have to know what she confesses and teaches. Teaching her members about her confession on a regular basis will be conducive to her spiritual well-being.
Catechism preaching is the administration of God’s Word in the full sense of the word. The many proof texts that a good edition of the Catechism contains, show that the contents have been taken from the Bible. The Catechism summarizes the doctrine of holy Scripture, obeys the apostle Paul’s command of 2 Timothy 2:2, that ‘the sacred deposit’ shall be passed on to the coming generations.

The origin of catechism preaching was a combination of what is today  catechism-class and catechism preaching. First of all in the afternoon services the young members of the congregation were given instruction. They had to recite part of the Catechism, from the youngest group to the oldest. The minister then explained to them a “Lord’s Day”. The explanation ended with a sermon in which the whole congregation was addressed.
Later on these two elements were separated, so that today our youngsters normally have ‘catechism class’ on a weekday, while in one of the two church services catechism preaching takes place.

The great significance of catechism preaching becomes apparent when we compare the standard of preaching in those church groups that no longer have catechism preaching. The same could be said regarding the Scriptural knowledge of the average church member. We have every reason to be thankful to the Lord for this privilege.

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Our churches would be wise to ensure that the regular catechism preaching is not interrupted by all sorts of ‘specials services’.

For several reasons the old practice of catechism preaching being in the afternoon service is no longer strictly followed.
The revised version of our Church Order simply says “preferably in the afternoon services”.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 64

Article 64 — Psalms and hymns

In the church services only the psalms and hymns approved by synod shall be sung.

We can be thankful for the fact that since the days of the great Reformation the churches are again ‘Psalm-singing churches’. The Book of Psalms has been given back to the congregation, these songs of the Covenant and the Kingdom of God.

Although our churches do not take a negative stand regarding the singing of hymns (even the Bible contains a number of songs outside the Book of Psalms), they would be wise to ensure that ‘hymn-singing’ does not replace ‘Psalm-singing’ – as has happened in many large church groups. Some years ago this writer received a letter from a Sri-Lankan minister, who wrote: “Heresies are usually sung in church before being preached from the pulpit”. He certainly had a point!

It may be emphasized that our churches, at Synod Kelmscott 1983, restricted the singing of hymns from the new edition of “Book of Praise” to an ‘acceptable list’ (Acts Articles 31 and 32, Appendix 5; see also the Acts of Synod Launceston 1985, Article 59a).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 65

Article 65 — Ecclesiastical feast days

On Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day, and at Pentecost the consistory shall call the congregation together for church services. The sacred events which the congregation commemorates in particular on these days shall therein be proclaimed.

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Just as the Scottish reformer John Knox abolished the ecclesiastical festive days’, the Dutch Reformed Church originally did likewise – as a reaction against the Roman-catholic practice which created all sorts of ‘holy days’.
However, the civil authorities of The Netherlands (who had a strong influence on church life), from where our Church Order originates, insisted that they should be kept.
So far the historical background of the regulation contained in this article.

The inclusion of this article does not mean that our churches must strictly adhere to an ‘ecclesiastical year’ with an ‘Advent’ of four weeks and ‘Lent’ with its seven ‘Passion Sundays’, etcetera.

Synod Armadale, 1956 (Acts Article 20) decided to advise the churches to arrange an annual service of prayer and thanksgiving for harvest and labour on the third Sunday of the month of February.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 66

Article 66 — Days of prayer

In times of war, general calamities and other great afflictions the presence of which is felt throughout the churches a day of prayer may be proclaimed by the church appointed for that purpose by synod.

The contents of this article are a remnant of the ancient custom of appointing days of prayer and fasting, concerning which the permission of the magistrates had to be requested, because public life would come to a complete standstill on these days.

By having adopted this article the churches maintain order, so that in times of great difficulty a day of prayer can be held in all the congregations on the same date.

Every synod shall appoint a church called to nominate such a day of prayer, if desirable.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 67

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Article 67 — Marriage

The consistory shall ensure that the members of the congregation marry only in the Lord, and that the ministers — as authorised by the consistory — solemnise only such marriages as are in accordance with the Word of God. The solemnisation of a marriage shall take plac in a private ceremony, with the use of the adopted Form.

In today’s situation, where our ministers can be licensed to solemnize marriages, the ceremony no longer takes place during a church service.
However, this doesn’t mean that the churches are without supervision on the solemnisations.
First of all the consistories must ensure that members of the congregation marry in the Lord, and thus according to the teachings of holy Scripture.
The ministers are bound to the same rule. They cannot make use of their license at will.

Although the solemnisation must take place in a private ceremony, it would be wise to arrange these ceremonies at a time when the members of the congregation are able to attend.

Even the supervision of the whole congregation over its fellow-members also means that proper announcements are to be made in time.

The solemnisation of marriages that “are in accordance with the Word of God” must be with the use of the adopted Form.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 68

Article 68 — Funerals

Church services shall not be conducted for funerals.

In the liturgy of the Church of Rome there is an official funeral service complete with a special celebration of the Mass, as sort of a sermon and prayers for the rest of the soul of the deceased, while after having been sprinkled with ‘holy water’, the deceased is buried in ‘consecrated earth’.
The objection of the Reformed Churches to this custom is the –historical – reason for the inclusion of this article.

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No objections can be made against the local minister conducting the funeral of members of his congregation. It belongs to his task to comfort according to everyone’s needs (Form for the Ordination of Minister of God’s Word).

Burying the dead is a biblical tradition. Cremation originates in heathendom, and is in contradiction with our belief that we ‘sow’ our deceased until the day resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 42-44).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 69

Article 69 — Aim of discipline

IV. CHURCH DISCIPLINE
Church discipline shall be exercised in accordance with the Word of God and to His honour. Its aim is to reconcile the sinner with God and the neighbour, and to remove the offence from the church of Christ.

One of the marks of the true church is (Article 29 Belgic Confession of Faith) that it exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.
As Reformed churches

We accept only what is proper to preserve and promote harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God. To that end, discipline and excommunication ought to be exercised in agreement with the Word of God. (Article 32 Belgic Confession of Faith).

This is why our Church Order contains a special section on ‘Discipline’, wherein the various aspects and stages of church discipline are set out.

The first article informs us about the aim of discipline.
It begins by saying that church discipline must be exercised in accordance with the Word of God and to His honour.
In this matter the church must act in harmony with what the Scriptures in the Old and the New Testament teach us about the administration of discipline.
As for the Old Testament we may refer to the many places in the ‘books of the Covenant’, Exodus 21-23 and Deuteronomy, and also in the book of Numbers (e.g. Exodus 22: 18-20; Deuteronomy 13: 6; 17: 7; 19: 19; 22: 24; 24: 7).
Regarding the New Testament we may mention the instructions the Lord

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Jesus gave to His apostles-to-be in Matthew chapters 16 and 18 (respectively verses 19 and 15-20), and to the writings of the apostle (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5: 2); also to the gospel according to John (20: 23).
Scripture as a whole teaches us the necessity of church discipline.
This may be clear to us when we read how the Lord Jesus in His ‘disciplinary sayings’ referred to the Old Testament (compare Matthew 18: 15 with Numbers 19: 17; Matthew 18: 16 with Deuteronomy 19: 15), and how the apostle Paul did the same (1 Corinthians 5: 2, 13 compared with Deuteronomy 17: 7).
From the very beginning the LORD God wanted to preserve the purity and holiness of His covenant people. His honour is at stake when sin gets a foothold within the church.
A church without the administration of discipline, or a church that makes misuse of its authority to discipline (Article 29 Belgic Confession) must be an abomination in the eyes of God.

The aim, then, of church discipline has been described in the above.
Our Church Order formulates it accordingly: the sinner – a person who lets his/her life be dominated by sin – has to be reconciled with God - for sin disrupts the relation with Him – and with his/her neighbour – if he/she had sinned against one of the commandments of the ‘second table’ of God’s Law. And the offence must be removed from the community of the church of Christ, either by the above-mentioned reconciliation, or by excommunication (Deuteronomy 17: 7; 19: 19). For the holiness of the church of Christ is God’s own holiness (Isaiah 17: 6; 1 Peter 1: 16).

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 70

Article 70 — Mutual responsibility

If anyone departs from the pure doctrine or is delinquent in conduct and this is a secret matter which does not give rise to public offence, the rule which Christ clearly prescribes in Matthew 18 shall be observed.

This article has received the heading “Mutual Responsibility” because our Church Order is a Reformed order. Over against the development that took place in the course of the ages and which led to the ‘romanizing’ of the churches, whereby the authority and power was put into the hands of the ‘clergy’, the churches of the Reformation returned to the Scriptures.

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The Bible shows us how first of all every individual member of God’s church is addressed in the Law of God when it says (Leviticus 19: 18; Matthew 22: 30):

You shall love your neighbour as yourself,

and (in the negative, Leviticus 19:17);

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.

This, then, is of the greatest importance for the life of the whole congregation. Its members bear mutual responsibility for each other (James 5: 19, 20):

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way, will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

For this reason our Church Order reminds us first of all of the clear rule of Christ described in Matthew 18, a rule which must be applied when someone has committed a sin that is not of a public nature. The Church Order very nicely formulates it as

a secret matter which does not give rise to public offence.

This ‘secret matter’ can be a departure from the pure doctrine as well as delinquency in conduct.
The word “clearly’ has a message for us all. We shall not neglect Christ’s rule!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 71

Article 71 — Consistory involvement

The consistory shall not deal with any report of sin unless it has first ascertained that both private admonitions and admonitions in the presence of one or two witnesses have remained fruitless, or the sin committed is of a public character.

The ‘rule of Matthew 18’ is further described in this article and elaborated on.
It is emphasized that if one comes to repentance after brotherly admonitions, secret sins shall not be made known – which means: made known to the consistory, let alone to the congregation.

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Here again the aim of discipline comes to the fore: the saving of the sinner in the way of repentance.

On the other hand, if there is no repentance after the person concerned has been admonished personally or before one or two witnesses, the consistory shall be informed.
These witnesses have to testify that the sinner has been admonished and that he/she was found unwilling to break with his/her sins, even not now that they themselves have admonished him or her (Matthew 18: 17).
Their testimony is important, because (Deuteronomy 19: 15):

By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

This is the basis of the procedure that follows and wherein the consistory plays a prominent role.
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church (Matthew 18: 17), which is to be understood as the church organized under the office of eldership (Acts 14: 23; James 5: 14). So first of all, the consistory is to be told.
The consistory must see to it that the reporting is done in the correct, Scriptural way.

At the end of this article a distinction is made between ‘secret sins’ and ‘public sins’.
Secret sins are first of all those mentioned in Matthew 18: 15, where the Saviour said:

If your brother sins against you ……

Even these sins, whereby someone in the congregation is personally wronged, are in the long run a matter of the whole congregation. She is mobilized by the Saviour Who wants the internal relations among the members of the congregation to be determined by obedience to ‘the second great commandment’.
They are not, however, restricted to these kinds of sin. They all refer to sins which are known only to a small number of people.

It is sometimes very difficult to draw a line between these two groups of sins. Whether or not a particular sin has to be classified as a public one, depends e.g. on the size of the congregation. In a smaller congregation a sin will soon be public, but not so in a larger one.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 72

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Article 72 — Repentance

When someone repents of a public sin or of a sin which had to be reported to the consistory, the latter shall not accept his confession of sin unless the member concerned shows real amendment. The consistory shall determine whether the congregation shall be informed afterwards.

Church discipline is aimed at the salvation of the sinner and the removal of the offence from the church of Christ.
In case of repentance, after the consistory has started to add its admonitions, it shall accept the confession of sin if it is accompanied by sufficient signs of repentance.
It is the consistory’s responsibility to determine whether the whole congregation will be informed about this confession.
This shall happen if the sin was of a public nature. If the offence was publicly committed, it must also be publicly removed from the church of God.

It is really significant that this article on repentance and the reconciliation of the sinner precedes the articles describing the continuance of the church discipline procedure. This shows us again that discipline is aimed at the salvation of the sinner.
In civil courts a confession of guilt can be the ground for a conviction. Not so in covenant  life of the LORD with His people!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 73

Article 73 — Discipline in respect of communicant members

A communicant member who obstinately rejects the admonition by the consistory or who has committed a public or some other serious sin shall be suspended from the Lord’s Supper. If he continues to harden himself in sin, the consistory shall publicly announce this to the congregation so that the congregation may be engaged in prayer and admonition and the excommunication may not take place without its cooperation.

This article deals with the continuing of church discipline:
1. with the first disciplinary step: the denial of admission to the Lord’s Supper;
2. with – hopefully not — the last step of the procedure – : excommunication

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Article 74 will deal with the execution of discipline between those two specific points.

Re. 1:
There is a non-disciplinary denial of the admission to the Lord’s Supper, namely when a certain case – e.g. a quarrel between two church members – was not solved in time.
However, this article deals with disciplinary denial only.
It is a matter of course that those who have been denied admission to the Lord’s Supper are not entitled to answer the questions asked at the administration of the sacrament of holy baptism. Neither are they allowed to participate in the election of office-bearers.
All this means that whereas one’s rights within the covenant community has not yet been denied him/her by excommunication, their execution is suspended. Here is a parallel with the case of an office-bearer, who is still an office-bearer but is not permitted to execute the duties of his office.
It is a matter of the consistory being aware of its calling to keep the congregation of the Lord pure and holy, and at the same time being long-suffering towards the sinner. There must be room for ‘numerous subsequent admonitions’.

Re. 2:
This first disciplinary action is indeed an initial step. For the consistory has to watch the sinner’s reaction: will he/she repent? Is it clear from this ‘provisional excommunication’ – as the denial of admission to the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called – what will happen if he/she continues in sin?
The accepted Form extensively shows us the seriousness of excommunication: The sinner is in the name and authority of Jesus Christ our Lord declared:

Excluded from the fellowship of Christ and from His kingdom. He (she) may no longer use the sacraments. He (she) has no part any more in the spiritual blessings and benefits which Christ bestows upon His Church. As long as he (she) persists in sin, let him (her) be to you as a Gentile and an outcast.

This shall not happen but with the consent of the classis.
This ecclesiastical assembly acts in a supervising capacity. Its judgment regarding the necessity to continue the procedure of church discipline has to be the same as that of the consistory. ‘Consent’ is here approximately the

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same as ‘consensus’.
This supervision is voluntarily accepted by the consistory because of the serious character of church discipline: It is a matter of life or death! The consistory, entrusted with the authority by the King of the church, has to be absolutely sure that they are on the right track.
Excommunication is called ‘an ultimate remedy’. It is executed for the well-being of the congregation, but first of all for that of the sinner, who may recognize that it is his/her own obstinacy which keeps him/her from participating of Christ and all His benefits, and may, as yet, repent.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 74

Article 74 — Announcements during the procedure

In the first public announcement the name of the sinner shall not be mentioned. In the second public announcement, which shall be made only after the advice of classis has been obtained, the name and address of the sinner shall be mentioned. In the third public announcement a date shall be set at which the excommunication of the sinner shall take place in accordance with the adopted Form. The time interval between the various announcements shall be determined by the consistory.

This article explains what must be done between the first and the ‘last’ disciplinary action.
The Form our churches have adopted for this purpose covers in its respective parts all the stipulations made here, whereby information is given about the above mentioned attempts, the denial of admission to the Table of the Lord, and the many admonitions.
Three public announcements are to be made:
1. The first announcement does not include the name of the sinner, in order to spare him/her.
The element of patience and long-suffering and the desire that the sinner may repent as yet may be apparent.
2. The second announcement includes this name. But it shall be made after consent has been given by the classis.
3. The third announcement informs the congregation about the imminent excommunication.
From the first announcement the congregation is urged to pray for the sinner. From the second they are asked to admonish him/her.

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By making these announcements – the time lapses between them is determined by the consistory – the silent consent of the congregation is obtained: Excommunication is a matter of the whole congregation, for its own holiness is at stake!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 75

Article 75 — Re-admission

When someone who has been excommunicated repents and desires to be again received into the communion of the church, the congregation shall be informed of this desire in order to see whether there are any lawful objections. The time between the public announcement and the re-admission of the sinner shall be not less than one month. If no lawful objection is raised the re-admission shall take place, with the use of the adopted Form.

Excommunication is the ‘ultimate remedy’. Although it does not happen very often, when a person in question does repent, and subsequently desires re-admittance to the community of the church, it may be seen as being a result of the ‘ultimate remedy’ having been applied.

He who covers his sins will not prosper.
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy
. (Proverbs 28: 13).

This mercy includes the re-admission to the community of the body of Jesus Christ, together with all the benefits thereof, e.g. the joy of participating in the Table of the Lord.

The re-admittance procedure is sequel to that of church discipline. The congregation is informed. Silent approval is obtained when no lawful objections have been brought forward. After a period of at least three Sundays the person is re-admitted into the congregation by publicly confessing his/her sin, for the purpose of which the accepted Form is used.
Undoubtedly this will create joy, not only in heaven (Luke 15: 7 and 10), but also within the congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ here on earth!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 76

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Article 76 — Suspension and deposition of office-bearers

If a minister, elder or deacon has committed a public or otherwise gross sin, or refuses to heed the admonitions by the consistory, he shall be suspended from office by the judgment of his own consistory and of the consistory of a neighbouring congregation. In the case of a minister this neighbouring congregation shall be appointed by the classis. If he hardens himself in the sin, or if the sin committed is of such a nature that he can not continue in office, an elder or a deacon shall be deposed by the judgment of the above-mentioned consistories. Classis, with the advice of the deputies of synod, shall judge whether a minister is to be deposed.

A special article has been included in the Church Order regarding discipline in relation to office-bearers.
1. in relation to ministers of the Word;
2. in relation to elders and deacons.
The difference in procedure is only the additional regulation regarding the ministers, of who the classis, with the advice of the deputies of synod, mentioned in Article 14, must judge whether they ought to be deposed.
The reason for this special regulation is that the ministers were also admitted to the Ministry of the Word in the presence of deputies of the synod. The bond of churches is involved in both cases.
However, in both cases – of ministers as well as elders and deacons – the judgment of the consistory and that of a neighbouring congregation, appointed by classis, is required. This, again, is a sort of ecclesiastical ‘safety valve’, which is offered by the bond of churches because in serious cases like these no mistakes must be made, no injustice done.

The sins worthy of suspension or deposition are further defined in Article 77. Article 76 only refers to the rejection of the admonitions of the church and to being engaged in a serious sin.
The former means that the admonitions concerning secret sins – plural! – have arrived at a sort of rounding off. The latter are not necessarily public sins only – compare the illustration of the term “serious sin” in Article 77.
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be kept holy!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 77

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Article 77 — Serious and gross sins on the part of office-bearers

As serious and gross sins which are grounds for the suspension or deposition of office-bearers the following are to be mentioned particularly: False doctrine or heresy, public schisms, blasphemy, simony, faithless desertion of office or intrusion upon that of another, perjury, adultery, fornication, theft, acts of violence, habitual drunkenness, brawling, unjustly enriching oneself; and further all such sins and serious misdemeanours that rate as ground for excommunication with respect to other members of the church.

Here a number of serious sins worthy of punishment by office-bearers’ suspension or deposition are summed up.
The addition of the last few lines means that not each of all these sins would be grounds for excommunication in respect of other church members, but others are.
Consequently, church discipline must be administered in these cases after the office-bearer’s suspension or deposition, in the way described in Articles 73 and 74.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 78

Article 78 — Christian censure

The ministers, elders, and deacons shall mutually exercise Christian censure and shall exhort and kindly admonish one another with regard to the execution of their office.

To the ‘supervision over doctrine and worship’ belongs also the so-called ‘censura morum’ or ‘fraternal censure’.
This is in particular exercised in relation to the execution of the office of the ministers, elders and deacons. They exhort and admonish one another in a brotherly manner.
Usually this ‘fraternal censure’ is exercised prior to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. This may be a good ‘time table’, but our Church Order does not mention any relation with the Lord’s Supper. The point, then, is not whether or not the office-bearer would be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, but whether they execute their office in a faithful way.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 79

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Article 79 — Discipline in respect of non-communicant members

A baptised member shall be admonished by the consistory when he as an adult fails to make public profession of faith or where in other respects he is not loyal to the calling to new obedience in God’s covenant. If he obstinately rejects the admonition of the consistory and thereby clearly demonstrates that he is indifferent and averse to the covenant or is even hostile to the service of the Lord, the matter shall be made known to the congregation without mentioning the name of the sinner; and the congregation shall be urged to pray for him. If the member continues in sin and is unwilling to listen to the admonitions, then with the advice of the classis the consistory shall make a second public announcement, mentioning the name of the sinner and the term after which the excommunication shall take place. If he does not in the said term show any real repentance, the consistory shall in a church service exclude him from the communion of the church, using the adopted Form. If he, after this excommunication, comes to repentance and desires to rejoin the communion of the church, he shall be admitted by way of his public profession of faith after the consistory has made his repentance known to the congregation.

With the exception of newborn babies all members of the congregation are ’baptized members’. Actually this indication is incorrectly used for those who have not yet made profession of faith. The term ‘non-communicant members’, as used in Article 60, is therefore to be preferred.
This article deals only with indifference and aversion to the covenant and hostility to the service of the Lord. No specific sins, either public or secret, are mentioned.

The procedure is as follows:
The consistory has to admonish the person concerned. These admonitions arrive at a certain point at which it is clear that there is indifference and even hostility. Then the consent (= concensus) of Classis is to be obtained, after which an announcement to the congregation is made. In this announcement his/her name is mentioned and a term set. Just as in cases of discipline regarding communicant members (Article 74) the congregation is urged to admonish and pray for him/her. If no repentance is shown within the said

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term, excommunication shall take place in a church service, with the use of the adopted Form.

The Church Order does not make mention of a certain age. Not every youngster reaches the age of adulthood at a fixed time!

Re-admission in case of repentance shall take place in the way of making public profession of faith. In the announcement concerned the congregation shall be informed about his/her repentance. And the same joy to which we referred under Article 75 shall be there!

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 80

Article 80 — No lording over others

CONCLUDING ARTICLES
No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no office-bearer over other office-bearers.

We may briefly repeat from the Introduction that in earlier days the present Article 80 used to be Article 1.
The Reformed character of our churches is expressed here: They are living under the one and only universal Bishop and the only Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Under Him no congregation is of greater importance than the other, no office-bearer is a higher authority than the other.
Even when the churches have agreed to do certain things in common or in the same way, and when they submit themselves to the supervision of the sister-churches, and have created a certain form of jurisdiction in the bond of churches, this was a voluntary act of free churches in accordance with what holy Scripture teaches us concerning the unity of the Spirit that must be maintained.

Rongen, G. van (2005) Art. 81

Article 81 — Observance and revision of the Church Order

These articles, which regard the lawful order of the church, have been adopted with common accord. If the interest of the churches demands such, they may and ought to be changed, augmented or diminished.
However no consistory or classis shall be permitted to do so, but they shall endeavour diligently to observe the provisions of this Church Order as long as they have not been changed by synod.

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This final article deals with the Church Order itself.
It starts with a sort of solemn statement which says: This order has been adopted with common accord.
There is room for amending, augmenting or diminishing all these articles, but this is a matter of the churches in general that have agreed to them being accepted.
This is why our Church Order also concludes with its last rule – adopted by all the churches – that they shall diligently observe its provisions as long as they are not changed. At the same time it may become clear why in Article 31 the possibility of a major assembly’s decision being in conflict with the Church Order is mentioned as an exception to the rule: decisions of major assemblies are binding.

The statement made in the first lines of this article proves that it was an important moment in the history of the Reformed churches when at the well-known Synod of Dordrecht 1618/19 “The Church Order of Dordrecht” was adopted.
The same can be said about the day when our churches decided to establish a federation of churches and to adopt “The Church Order of Dordrecht” (Acts of Synod Armadale 1954, Articles 7 and 38).
It can even be applied to the moment when Synod Rockingham 2000 adopted the revised version of this Church Order (Acts Article 90).

The brief comment, offered in this booklet, may assist the churches in the observance of this Church Order to the well-being of the congregations which have been bought by the blood of our beloved Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.