On Sunday 10 September 2017, in The Reformed Churches (restored) an announcement was made regarding the church at Mariënberg. In this church there have supposedly been difficulties, which led the consistory (with the exception of its minister) “to suspend the co-operation within the classis North-East and by doing so has placed itself outside the federation” (according to this announcement).
The classis North-East has consequently decided to acknowledge “the group of church members together with Rev. M. Dijkstra” as the lawful church at Mariënberg. A far-reaching consequence!
Is classis North-East’s line of thought, however, correct? Does a suspension of the cooperation really imply a break-up of the federation? Especially if the intention has been clearly communicated to follow the ecclesiastical route? If this suspension has been qualified and the causes have been clearly pointed out? Has DGK Mariënberg indeed broken apart from the federation? This position paper by br. C.A. Teunis provides some imperative material regarding this matter.
By: C.A. Teunis
This position paper examines the difference between “suspension of the credentials” as used in an ecclesiastical sense, and a “normal suspension” as is common in daily speech. “Cooperation” is discussed as well.
In this position paper, commentaries on the Church Order written by Rev. Joh. Jansen, dr. H. Bouwman, Rev. H. Meulink and Rev. I de Wolff, and Rev. H. Bouma have been consulted.
1.) Rev. Joh. Jansen has written the book “Korte Verklaring van de Kerkenordening” (A Short Explanation of the Church Order), in our circles the first edition of 1923 is commonly used.
2.) In our churches Dr. H. Bouwman’s “Gereformeerd Kerkrecht” (Reformed Church Polity), part I and II, published in 1934, is often consulted.
3).The ministers Rev. H. Meulink and Rev. I. de Wolff wrote a “Korte Verklaring van de Kerkenordening van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland” (Short Explanation of the Church Order of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands). In this paper the third unaltered edition is used, published in 1967.
4). Rev. H. Bouma has compiled a collection of synod decisions, listed under every article of the C.O. The title is “Kerkorde van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland” (Church Order of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands). The most recent addition dates from 1 June 1998. This edition is known as “Bouma’s compilation”.
Furthermore, the Van Dale “Van Dale Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal” (Complete Dictionary of the Dutch Language), 12th edition, 1992 has been consulted, as well as some additional sources.
The structure of this paper is as follows:
- Credentials and Letters of Credentials
- Credentials and Suspension
- Cooperation and Suspension
*. Appendix: “De waarheid luistert nauw (4)” (The Truth requires Precision) in De Bazuin nr.02, 19 January 2011 (editor’s note: this appendix (in Dutch) can be requested via the contact page of this website).
- Credentials and Letters of Credentials
1.1. The Church Order
1.) The Church Order which was used prior to the redaction included in the Gereformeerd Kerkboek (the Dutch ‘Book of Praise’) 1984/1985.
Those who are delegated to the assemblies shall bring with them their credentials and instructions, signed by those sending them, and they only shall have a vote.
2.) The Church Order included in the Gereformeerd Kerkboek (the Dutch ‘Book of Praise’) 1984/1985.
Article 32: Delegation to the major assemblies
Delegates to major assemblies shall bring with them their credentials, signed by those sending them; they shall have a vote in all matters except those in which either they themselves or their churches are particularly involved.
1.2 Rev. Joh. Jansen: “Korte Verklaring van de Kerkenordening” (A Short Explanation of the Church Order), first edition 1923.
Credentials: no separate mention.
Letters of Credentials are testimonials, letters to send someone, letters of trust (page 152).
Conclusion with respect to Joh. Jansen:
The letters of credentials are proof of lawful delegation (page 153).
1.3 Dr. H. Bouwman: “Gereformeerd Kerkrecht” (Reformed Church Polity) part I
In the index:
-Credentials: not mentioned
-Letters of credentials: not mentioned
-Letters of testimony: not mentioned
-Letters of instruction: not mentioned
1.4 Dr. H. Bouwman: “Gereformeerd Kerkrecht” (Reformed Church Polity) part II
1.4.1. In the index:
-Credentials: not mentioned
-Letters of credentials: see also letters of instruction
-Letters of testimony: see also letters of instruction
-Letters of instruction: see also letters of testimony
1.4.2. Letters of Credentials
a.) Page 28: Those who are delegated to an ecclesiastical assembly are authorized as delegates with a letter of credentials to represent the churches, and to act according to the Church Order in those matters that are charged to them.
b.) Page 60: Letters of credentials should not be constrained (Synod of Hoorn 1584). Thus, the churches by delegating should declare that they will act according to the Church Order, just as article 31 declares that whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding.
c.) Page 140: A proper letter of credentials does not only mention the names of the delegates with their alternates, but also has a declaration that they are given instruction and authority to deal with all matters which are lawfully brought to the table according to God’s Word, the confession of the church and the adopted Church Order. Furthermore the letters of testimony should be signed lawfully by the chairman and clerk of the consistory.
1.4.3. Letter of Instruction
a.) Page 17 and 18: The letters of instruction are official testimonies of lawful delegation of the churches, which are the actual possessors of ecclesiastical authority, and which bring together by their delegates the authority, which they themselves possess, for certain matters and in special occasions. The consistory gathers as frequently as she wants, but the major assemblies gather only a few times. The consistory deals with all matters brought forward, which are deemed necessary for the well-being of the congregation, the major assembly deals only with those matters, which are submitted according to the agreed upon manner.
The consistory has an own authority, the major assembly has derived authority. The consistory can exist without major assembly, but the major assemblies not without a consistory. This of course does not imply that the unity of churches comes into existence by major assemblies. The unity exists, even if no classis or synod is being held, because the churches are one in Christ, and one in the common confession.
b.) Page 59: The churches bring their power together by their delegates, and judges by her delegates. For this reason the delegates should be provided with letters of instruction, which shows that they are lawful delegates.
c.) Page 61: The lawfulness of the ecclesiastical assemblies depends thus on the letters of instruction.
d.) Page 128: The letters of testimony provide evidence that someone has been lawfully sent, and received instruction to act on behalf of the sending church.
1.4.4. Conclusion with respect to Dr. H. Bouwman
Letter of credentials: an authorization to represent the churches as a delegate, and to act according to the Church Order in consigned matters.
Letter of credentials = letter of instruction = letter of testimony.
1.5. Bouma’s compilation
Bouma’s compilation provides templates for a letter of testimony for delegates to major assemblies in Appendix 24 (pertaining to art. 32 C.O.). The conclusion of a letter of testimony from a consistory to a classis states: “He furthermore declares that according to article 31 he will accept as binding the decisions made by a majority vote, unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.”
This concluding sentence also applies, with some modifications, to a letter of testimony from a classis and regional synod to the next major assembly.
1.6 Conclusion with respect to: Credentials
Credentials has the meaning of trust.
1.7 Conclusion with respect to: Letter of credentials
A letter of credentials is a letter of testimony. This is a written evidence of delegation, which has to be provided to receive a place and voting right in an assembly.
A letter of credentials is a letter of testimony or letter of instruction, thus a statement that the delegates have authority to act and decide on behalf of the sending church(es), which decisions the churches will consider as settled and binding, unless they are proven to be in conflict with the Word or God or the Church Order
(A Short Explanation of the Church Order by Rev. H. Meulink and Rev. I. de Wolff, page 81) .
2.1 “Van Dale Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal” (Van Dale Complete Dictionary of the Dutch Language
Suspension: to plan for a later date; to postpone
2.2 Rev. Joh. Jansen: “Korte Verklaring van de Kerkenordening” (A Short Explanation of the Church Order), first edition 1923.
The word suspension occurs one time in his explanation.
On page 85 in discussing the article of the CO in place at the time concerning probation sermons by students of theology, Rev. Joh. Jansen mentions that the Synod of ’s Gravenhage 1914 assigns to this suspension a period of three months.
2.3 Dr. H. Bouwman “Gereformeerd Kerkrecht” (Reformed Church Polity) part I and II
The index of part I and II makes no mention of the word “suspension”.
2.4 Bouma’s compilation
In an explanation of art. 3 of the current Church Order reference is made to the decision of the Synod of ’s Gravenhage 1914, art. 77 (page I – Art. 3-2).
Here to the word “suspension” a period of three months is assigned.
This is the only time Bouma’s compilation mentions the word “suspension”.
2.5 Conclusion with respect to Suspension
The word “suspension” is time-bound and does not have the meaning of termination or to discontinuation.
- Credential and Suspension
In De Bazuin nr. 02 of 9 January 2011 Rev. Van Gurp wrote an article “De waarheid luistert nauw (4)” (The Truth requires Precision) about credentials and suspension. This with regards to the position that it would be possible to suspend the credentials.
Rev. Van Gurp shows that the expression ‘to suspend credentials’ in fact does not exist.
It makes no sense.
Below follow two citations from this article:
“It is necessary to consider carefully what is meant by the expression ‘to suspend the credentials’.
The expression in fact does not exist. Even the Van Dale Complete Dictionary of the Dutch Language does not mention it.
Thus the suspension of credentials actually makes no sense. The brothers probably referred to the letters of credentials, an old-fashioned word which in the new edition of the church order has been replaced by letters of testimony.
At every ecclesiastical assembly these letters are first examined.”
“If in a marriage a husband says to his wife that he no longer deems himself bound to his promise to be faithful and suspends this binding, temporarily for a month, then we would not trivialize this either: it is just temporarily, for a month. This means a break-up of the marriage bond.
In addition to this, those who decided upon this did not appeal to classis.”
- Cooperation and Suspension
To cooperate means to work together, collectively, on the same task.
To suspend means to postpone, which is a temporary matter.
To suspend the cooperation in an assembly may be necessary because there is an obstacle, a hindrance to continue together at that moment. Such a hindrance may be that the one party accuses the other party of proclaiming falsehood, and maintains this accusation.
A preliminary request to take away the accusation of proclaiming falsehood was done by the accused party, in accordance with art. 48 C.O.
The persistence in maintaining the accusation of falsehood was brought about in the refusal of the request to take back that accusation.
Then there is a hindrance to the possibility to cooperate.
Because it pertains to maintaining life in accordance with the ninth commandment.
That hindrance should first be removed.
That is possible by the competent authority.
If that appropriate authority acts accordingly then cooperation is again possible.
To obtain a decision from the appropriate authority at least one of the parties must appeal to that competent authority.
In the current situation one party clearly communicated that they would appeal to the competent authority. This announcement was made immediately following the announcement to suspend the common gathering.
This showed the desire to continue the cooperation, but first the hindrance had to be removed.
In such a situation there is certainly not the desire to resign from the bond of cooperation.
5.1 To suspend means to postpone
To suspend refers to a time-bound period.
5.2 Credentials and Cooperation: two words with a different meaning
1.) Credentials mean trust.
To suspend the credentials is impossible, it is in fact to break the trust and therefore makes a responsible cooperation impossible.
2.) Cooperation is to work together on the same task
To suspend the cooperation is
-to maintain the desire to cooperate, and
-to postpone the cooperation until the hindrance is removed,
so that the cooperation can be continued as before.
5.3. To maintain art. 31 C.O. is the basis for cooperation in mutual trust
It is in conflict with the truth to proclaim that an appeal to the competent authority, to remove the hindrance, has to be qualified as placing oneself outside the bond of cooperating partners.
An appeal to the appointed church body rather shows the desire to continue the cooperation in a pure manner.
5.4. Trust and compliance to art. 31 C.O. are closely tied
The direct link between giving trust and maintaining art. 31 C.O. is remarkable: the decisions agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered binding, unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.
5.5. Cooperation in trust rests on God’s Word
Cooperation in trust requires precision, it is based on God’s Word.