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, classis, or regional synod shall be permitted to do so, but they shall endeavour diligently to observe the articles of this Church Order as long as they have not been changed by a general synod.
Having arrived at the last article of our Church Order, we are reminded of the very first beginning, when reading the words “the lawful order of the Church.” It was to maintain the good order in the church that all these articles have been adopted as the conditions for the bond of churches. Of these conditions we say that they have been adopted “with common accord.” It was a decision of all the churches to adopt these provisions, and it was done at a meeting where all the churches were represented, a general synod.
When using the words “with common accord” we do not wish to assert that all agreed right away with all the provisions and their wording. Some of these provisions may have been adopted by a majority vote. However, the churches accepted these decisions, even though there may not have been unanimity. Such is still the custom, and we are correct to state that there is a “common accord,” or mutual agreement. All the churches have bound themselves to maintain the good order.
Our Church Order is the common property of all the churches. This implies, as we state in this article, that it can be changed only by the same common accord by which it was originally adopted; that is at a meeting where all the churches are represented, a general synod. No general synod, however, would be allowed to decide on its own initiative to make a change merely because the churches are all represented there anyway. The churches have made clear in what manner such a change should be prepared and effectuated. Article 30 is clear in this respect.
For what reason would a change be allowed? “If the interest of the churches demands such.” In that case it is not only permitted but even mandatory, for then these articles ought to be “changed, augmented, or diminished.” The reason must be that the interest of the churches is thereby promoted, that what could prove harmful to this progress must be removed, or that new provisions are to be introduced for the sake of this progress.
The churches are to ensure that the changes be kept to a bare minimum. It is not only very frustrating and bothersome when each general synod has to deal with proposals for change, so that practically every three years a new
edition of the Church Order has to be published, but it is also unnecessary. There may always be points which one church or another would like to see worded differently or even changed to some extent, but each church has to ask itself whether it is really necessary for the interest of the churches to bother the next general synod with another proposal and whether the interest of the churches really demands that change.
A major revision, the desirability of which was expressed by the very first general synod of the churches (Homewood-Carman, 1954, Acts Art. 94), was undertaken and this revision has now been concluded at the Synod of Winnipeg 1989. It should serve the churches for a long time.
Our Church Order has remained surprisingly constant ever since the basis was laid in 1568. Everyone who goes over the various editions and redactions will be impressed by this constancy. We are extremely grateful for the wisdom which the Lord gave to our forefathers, even though we disagree with them in minor points. We are equally thankful for the faithfulness which our Lord has worked throughout the centuries so that we in our days may still continue in that same, truly Reformed path. The necessity should be very pressing if the churches must be urged to bring about more changes in the Church Order. Times and circumstances change and have changed since Wesel 1568, and will change. We have taken these changes into account with our major revision, nevertheless remaining on the old track. A drastic change in the overall conditions around us must occur if we are again to adapt our Church Order to it.
Since all the churches have agreed to the “lawful order,” they are all bound by it, not by constraint or any alleged higher authority but by their own voluntary decision. They are also obligated to be faithful to these their obligations. No church has the right to deviate from the provisions of the Church Order. No broader assembly except a general synod may bring about any changes or consider itself at liberty to follow a different course.
All “shall endeavour diligently to observe the articles of this Church Order.” All are permitted to suggest and propose changes in the approved manner, but no one is permitted to act in a manner as if these changes were already in effect.
To be able “diligently to observe the articles of the Church Order,” the churches should know and understand them, to begin with the office-bearers.
If the present work may have contributed to this knowledge and understanding, this will be a very rich reward.