The consistories and the major assemblies shall ensure that proper care is taken of the archives.
The history of the church is “made” and “written” by the local churches. It is there that faithfulness or unfaithfulness determines the course. There the description of the history of the church in general begins.
For this reason it is of great importance that all documents and records be preserved and filed in good order. This importance is not realized by a large part of the membership, nor was it sufficiently realized by many churches in the past.
We wonder how many consistories could produce all the minute books that were filled from the day of the church’s institution on. In not a few instances there is a big gap, with one or more of these books having disappeared through negligence and forgetfulness. We then do not even make mention of copies of letters that were exchanged, of Acts of classes or regional synods.
In some instances it is difficult to determine which documents should be preserved for the future. Consistories receive whole stacks of mail, addressed to the church, which do not even deserve to be taken to the meeting and should be discarded right away. We mentioned this before.
Without making any claim that the items that will be mentioned constitute the whole of what is worth to be kept and preserved in the archives, we suggest that the following be found among them.
The minute books definitely should come first. This is not only necessary in order that previous decisions in a certain matter can be consulted if needed, but also in order to prevent that matters which were dealt with before are raised again without substantial and new grounds for this having been adduced. We recall that at least for the broader assemblies a provision for this was made in Art. 33. It would be very beneficial if consistories abided by this rule as well. Further, all local bulletins should be preserved.
Not all communications received deserve a place in the archives. Requests for support from all sorts of organizations may be discarded, as well as invitations to attend functions of non-ecclesiastical or ecclesiastical groups which consider the church to be one organization among many. There are also communications of no historical value from sister churches, such as invitations to attend ordination or installation of ministers, anniversary celebrations, etc.
On the other hand, what should be preserved is any letter or report dealing with consultations among churches regarding differences or matters of mutual interest. If, later on, the matter comes up again, previous consultations and conclusions will be very helpful in either preventing new discussions or shortening them considerably.
As for attestations, it is not necessary to keep all of them. By far the larger part can be discarded after the particulars such as church from which the member(s) came, their proper names and the dates of birth, baptism, profession of faith, and marriage have been properly entered into the books of the receiving church. The attestations to which this applies are those in which no special remarks are made regarding either the doctrine or the way of life of the member(s).
It seems prudent, however, to keep all attestations in which something special had to be written about the brother or sister, either to elaborate on the “virtues” or to inform the sister church of the “vices” of the member(s). This applies especially when discipline is involved. In that case an attestation should not be discarded so that, if necessary, it can be used for future reference. No objection to removal of such an attestation from the archives appears to exist if the member has passed away. Merely moving to another church forms no reason for deleting the attestation, for the “new” consistory may wish to have more information about the brother or sister's past.
A consistory would act wisely when making definite rules about attestations so that it is not left up to one or two brothers to decide whether or not an attestation should be kept or destroyed.
Classical documents, too, should be preserved. Also in this case, however, discretion is needed. Provisional agendas and convocations to a classis or synod are not necessarily of historical value. On the other hand, Acts and reports are, and should therefore be kept. This applies to Acts and reports of all major assemblies. Also of importance are copies of reports to the general synod, which are sent to the churches by order of the previous synod.
Herewith, however, we have crossed over to the archives of broader assemblies. Although, as noted at the beginning of this section, the history of the church is “made” or “written” by the local churches, it is of great importance what is discussed, decided, and done at broader assemblies. At those assemblies all the churches of a particular region are directly involved and influenced. For this reason it is mandatory that not only the Acts and the correspondence received and sent are deposited into the archives of classis, regional and general synods respectively, but that also the various reports by advisory committees be found therein.
The Acts contain decisions only, mostly with their substantiation in the form of considerations and conclusions. Only the decisions are binding, and for this reason one could argue that various reports which were prepared and submitted either by committees appointed by the previous broader assembly or by advisory committees at the assembly itself might be readily eliminated from the archives, since they are not binding upon the churches anyway. It would, however, amount to a great loss if this was done. Much can be learned from such reports and the way in which the committees arrived at specific recommendations. In case such recommendations are taken over by the broader assembly, the historical value of the reports is even enhanced. We are thankful for the preservation of the various documents produced at the National Synod of Dordrecht 1618-1619 which resulted in the formulation of the Canons of Dort.
If a broader assembly takes a wrong decision in accordance with the report and recommendations of an advisory committee, it will be easier to point out where the reasoning went wrong when the reports of the advisory committees can be consulted, so that a corrective decision can be prepared.
The reasons adduced above for the proper maintenance also of Art. 43 C.O. may have shown sufficiently why proper care should be taken for the archives. Local churches and broader assemblies all have the obligation to preserve for the next generations what may help them see and understand how the Lord kept His church in times past. What to many may seem a rather unimportant point is, in fact, one of the features of obedience to the command: “Tell it to the coming generations!”
Since broader assemblies exist only for a short time, churches are appointed to take care of classical, regional and general synodical archives respectively. On behalf of the churches in the specific regions the archives are inspected regularly by a church appointed thereto by the latest regional or general synod and reports on their findings are sent to the next regional or general synod, whichever may apply. In the case of classes a report is given annually, usually at the September classis.
It goes without saying that the cooperation of all clerks is mandatory as well as indispensable. Fortunately, in practically every church someone can be found whose great love for and interest in the history of the church is combined with accuracy. It would be a shame if these gifts, which the Lord gave for a purpose, were left unused through negligence and disinterest on the part of the churches.