Oene, W.W.J. van (1990) Art. 44

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Article 44

Classis

 

Neighbouring churches shall come together in a classis by delegating with proper credentials a minister and an elder or, if a church has no minister, two elders. Such meetings shall be held at least once every three months, unless the convening Church, in consultation with the neighbouring Church, concludes that no matters have been sent in by the churches which would warrant the convening of a classis. Cancellation of a classis shall, however, not be permitted to occur twice in succession.
In these meetings the ministers shall preside in rotation, or one shall be chosen to preside; however, the same minister shall not be chosen twice in succession.
The president shall ask whether the ministry of the office-bearers is continued, whether decisions of the major assemblies are 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.
The last classis before regional synod shall choose delegates to that synod.
If two or more ministers are serving a church, those who have not been delegated shall have the right to attend classis in an advisory capacity
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A classis “is not a meeting of ‘the classis,’ but of the churches of the classical region.” Thus it is expressed very well in one of the booklets containing a brief commentary on our Church Order. The whole terminology used in Art. 44 makes abundantly clear what we discussed before, namely, that a classis is not a permanent body which meets once in a while, but a meeting, a gathering of delegates from various churches. A classis is held; it does not “meet.”

A classis is a meeting of delegates from the churches in a specific region. It is at the classical level that the church federation begins and begins to be exercised. At the very onset of the practising of the bond it is made clear that there is a basic difference between a consistory on the one hand and a broader assembly on the other hand.

Why is one a member of a consistory? Because one has been called and ordained as an office-bearer of that church. One who has been installed as a minister, elder, or deacon belongs to the consistory because of that very fact, as we confess in Art. 30 B.C.

Why is one a member of a broader assembly, in this case of a classis? Because one has been delegated by the consistory to that assembly. The mandate and authorization of brothers who are members of a classis are given in and with the credentials. Therein their rights and obligations are laid down. Without such mandate and authorization one cannot be a member of

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a classis, even though this classis may give one the right to take part in the discussions. No right to take part in voting may be given to one who cannot submit proper credentials.

This article speaks of “neighbouring churches.” In our vast country this is a rather relative concept. Who would call the church at Winnipeg the “neighbouring church” of the one at Calgary which is several hundreds of kilometers to the West? Yet these churches are in the classical area of Alberta/Manitoba.

What is clear is that we should not act in a haphazard way but observe a certain order and regularity. We will find this also in connection with Art. 51, where we deal with cooperation in mission matters.

Who are to be delegated? The answer is: one minister and one elder per church. If a church has no minister, two elders should be sent, so that each church is equally represented. It is possible that at a given moment in a certain church only one elder is able to go. The next step is then to send a deacon along, so as to ensure equal representation. Even a non-office-bearer may be delegated if only one office-bearer is in a position to be delegated. This is not to be done except in extreme cases, but such a deacon or non-office-bearer may not be refused as a member of classis. With the examination of the credentials the fact of such delegation will be noted, and the brothers from the church concerned will be asked to explain why these men were delegated. But if it is made clear that the church had no other option except coming with an incomplete delegation, or even no delegation at all, the brothers must be accepted as legitimate delegates and consequently as full-fledged members of the assembly.

The matter of “equal representation” would also render it impossible to have a classis be a meeting of all consistories in the area concerned. Ideally such a meeting composed of consistories would make clear that — as it is now — the churches meet by way of their delegates. The result would be, however, that larger churches exercised a disproportionately large influence and could easily outvote and “overpower” the smaller churches. Such would be in total conflict with the very character of our church federation.

Which order is to be recommended for the delegation of elders? Should the brothers be delegated in alphabetical order? Then it could easily happen that someone never gets a turn or that one is delegated right after one’s ordination, perhaps even for the first time. In this manner some brothers might never receive the opportunity to be a delegate. It is better to take the order in which the brothers are ordained. In this manner there is a period of three years during which they most likely will have a chance of being delegated.

If a church is served by more than one minister, the ministers are delegated alternately. It will not happen very often among us that there is a church with two ministers in active service. If this is the case, they are delegated every other time.

What about the wages which are lost by elders when they have to take a day or two days off in order to go to classis? And what about the travelling expenses of the brothers who are delegated? It is a general rule that the cost of wages lost is borne by the delegating assembly. This applies not only in

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the case of a consistory but also with respect to classis and regional synod.

Matters are different with respect to the travel and meeting expenses. Since classes are usually held in the same place, it would be unfair towards churches whose delegates have to travel quite a distance if they always had to bear the largest share of travel expenses. Likewise, it would be unfair if the receiving church always had to bear the cost involved in having to provide meeting room, lodging, and food for the members of classis.

The cost of travel and meeting as well as the cost involved in multiplying the Acts and mailing them to the various churches, and of conducting correspondence as a result of the decisions of the broader assembly are borne by the churches together and defrayed from a quotum per communicant member.

It is wise to set a maximum for claims for lost wages. If one of the brothers is of the opinion that he would have to sacrifice too much by being a delegate to a broader assembly because the amount he can claim is far less than what he would lose on that day, he can ask not to be delegated and the consistory would have to grant him his request. Such a case will not happen all that often, but if it happens, a consistory is not allowed to lay a heavier financial burden upon the one member than upon the other. The brother must be excused.

 

Examination of Credentials

Does a classis exist at the very moment that all the brothers who were delegated are assembled in the room where the classis is to be held? No, not at all. A classis has to be constituted first.

We speak of a “convening church.” The churches of the classical region alternately have the task of convening a classis. The order in which they receive this mandate is alphabetical. To this convening church proposals and other documents for the next classis must be submitted so that it can send a provisional agenda to the churches well in advance. The consistories then have the opportunity, if necessary, to pay ample attention to the points which will be on the table of classis.

It is on behalf of the convening church that the meeting is called to order. Usually this is done by this church's minister or, in case a church has no minister, by the elder who chairs the consistory meetings. A vacant church sometimes asks its counsellor to do it on its behalf. Sometimes one can read in press releases that the opening of the meeting was in the hands of “the chairman of the convening church,” whatever this strange bird may be. This is a misnomer, because no such phenomenon exists in the Reformed Churches.

Even the opening of the meeting with singing, prayer and Scripture reading does not mean that now there is a classis. Before a classis can come into existence the credentials have to be examined and the names of those officially delegated have to be checked against the attendance list which the brothers were requested to sign upon entering.

Examination of the credentials is not a matter of routine, but should be taken and carried out seriously. The credentials should be read by the brothers

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who were requested to examine them and to report to the meeting. These brothers are usually the delegates from the church which was convening church for the previous classis. They shall examine the credentials to see whether these contain any provisions which cannot be accepted, whether the brothers who signed the attendance list are indeed the ones who were appointed by their consistories, and whether the consistories mentioned anything that should receive the special attention of classis.

What is to be done if any discrepancies are found and who is to decide about any difficulties arising from them? Is it the committee formed by the two brothers from the previous convening church? Or is it the brother who called the meeting to order on behalf of the convening church? Or is it perhaps, the consistory of the convening church which was either aware of or anticipated difficulties?

None of the above has the authority to make a decision or a ruling about these difficulties. The decision is solely in the province of and rests with the meeting which has been called to order and opened.

The meeting itself has to decide whether the reasons adduced by a church for delegating a deacon or a non-office-bearer can be considered sufficient. The possibility also exists that, as a result of difficulties in a particular church, there are two delegations, both claiming to legitimately represent the Church at A.'Such a situation is not imaginary. The churches were faced with such a situation more than once. What should be done in this case?

The examining committee will report any irregularity or discrepancy to the meeting. Although all those present from other churches may know all about the situation and for themselves may have come to a conclusion, the question should be dealt with in a proper and ecclesiastical manner. No highhanded action or hasty decision should be permitted.

The question is to be put before the meeting and is to be discussed without participation by the four brothers from the church involved. If necessary, these brothers can be asked for clarification or further information, but the decision whom to admit as the legitimate delegates of the church at A. is to be made by the meeting on well-founded and clearly formulated grounds. One of the two delegations will have to be refused, and this is a serious matter which will have grave consequences for the church in A. These consequences are there also for the whole federation of churches. It is the meeting of delegates which is to decide about it.

We spoke of “the meeting of delegates,” for this is its character before a classis has been constituted. As soon as classis has been constituted, there is no longer a “meeting of delegates” but a classis with members. After the constitution of classis it is wrong to refer to a brother as “the delegate from the church at A.” In Parliament this may be proper, at a broader ecclesiastical assembly it is not. There he is addressed as “Brother A.”

In almost all instances no difficulties have to be reported by the examining committee, and the constitution of classis can take place without delay. If no objections are raised, the brother who chaired the meeting until this moment requests the “suggested moderamen” to take up their respective positions, and once they have done so there is a classis.

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That we speak of the “suggested moderamen” is because it is customary that the various ministers in the classical area take the different positions by rotation. At the previous classis a moderamen for the next classis was “suggested,” following the normal order. Classical regulations are in force in practically all classes. The previous classis could not make a decision in this respect which would be binding on the next classis. All it could do was suggest a moderamen. The convening church, having gathered this information from the Acts of the previous classis, has included the names of this suggested moderamen in the provisional agenda, and the meeting will not lightly deviate from this schedule. It remains within its province, however, to decide upon an election for members of the moderamen if for various reasons such action is deemed advisable.

Again, a situation like that will not occur very often, although the possibility is there.

 

Agenda

The first item to follow after the constitution of the classis is the adoption of the agenda. The agenda which the convening church sent a few weeks before classis is to be held was only a provisional one, listing proposals and documents that have come in until that date. The adoption of the definitive agenda is up to classis. Some items may have been submitted to the convening church after the mailing of the provisional agenda; in addition the brothers from various churches may have brought some more material along; some items may have been inadvertently omitted, or something which should be deleted may have been included in the provisional agenda. In short: no definitive agenda can be adopted before classis has been constituted and before the meeting has taken note of all items with which it will have to deal.

After the adoption of the agenda no new items may be added. As for proposals, etc., the churches should have received them beforehand, so that no surprises are foisted on them. Art. 30 is clear in this respect. It must be stated here that this does not mean that no proposals may be made at classis about points which are already on the agenda. To make such a claim would show a lack of insight into the character of a broader assembly.

If any church member felt the need to appeal according to Art. 31, he or she will have known betimes when a classis would be held, so that there was sufficient time to prepare such appeal and have it on the table of classis before the agenda is adopted. There is no excuse for being late with an appeal.

Certain items will be found on every classical agenda, such as reports, question periods, adoption of Acts, approval of press release, etc. The September classis especially has the point “Appointments,” since committees, examiners, churches, have not been appointed to permanent positions or a permanent task, but only for a limited time, usually not exceeding the period of one year. To some extent we can speak of a standard classical agenda. The contents of the various points may differ from classis to classis.

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Frequency

In essence, the time and place of the next classis is determined by the previous one. In practice, it is standard procedure to set the date for the next classis at three months from that moment. The period between two classes should not exceed three months.

It could be that the need arises to have a classis before the date set. We have no specific arrangement for this, but it is customary that the convening church, upon receiving a request for an earlier classis consults with its neighbouring church and then calls the churches together with sufficient notice.

There are also instances when no full classis is required but when a so-called classis contracta will suffice. Such a classis contracta, as mentioned before, is formed by the convening church and its neighbouring church. A convocation is to be sent to all the churches in the classis, but in this case they do not have to send delegates if they do not consider this necessary. Such a classis contracta is usually convened for the approbation of a call or for release of a minister who accepted a call to a church in another classis. This is and should be done in this manner only when everything is “normal.” In case of difficulties a full classis should be convened to deal with the matter.

What if the convening church has received very little or no material for the next classis? Should a classis be held anyway because that is the rule? Should the churches be obligated to get brothers out of their daily work in order to delegate them?

In the early years after the institution of the Canadian Reformed Churches much had to be organized and built up. The financial means, however, were very limited. In practice once or twice a year a classis was held, at least in Western Canada. Later on this was “legalized,” so to speak, by inserting the provision that a classis should be held once every three months “unless great distances render this inadvisable.”

We may state that at present great distances no longer constitute much of a hindrance and also that the financial position of the churches has improved considerably. For this reason the above provision was removed. It also could have been misused to delay a classis unnecessarily, and this would not make for a healthy situation.

Yet we do take into account that there may not be sufficient material to warrant the convening of a classis simply because the three months are up. It is therefore provided that, upon consultation with the neighbouring church, the convening church may postpone a classis for three months, so that six months elapse between two classes. Such postponement may take place only once but not two times in succession. After six months a classis must be held. Here, too, arbitrariness and disorderly conduct should be avoided and prevented.

 

Chairmanship

As a rule, the ministers shall preside in rotation. This is achieved by having them serve as chairman, alphabetically. In many classes it is so arranged that a minister becomes chairman at the one classis, clerk at the next one,

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and assessor at the one after that, while at the following classes he is not a member of the moderamen at all, until his turn comes up again.

The serving in rotation results in that every minister in the region concerned gets his turn. This prevents that one would get the almost permanent position at a classis and thus would be regarded as a more or less permanent “moderator.” In order to prevent this it is also provided that, in case it is the custom in a specific region that each classis chooses its own chairman, the same minister shall not be chosen twice in succession. No promotion of hierarchy is allowed and, although the one is better suited to chair a meeting than the other, no impression should be given that one is indispensable or that he is the only one who can “do a good job” as chairman.

We have never heard any complaint about this arrangement and have never heard of one who had the firm conviction that elders should also be eligible to serve as chairman. Many elders would not even want to do it and the danger is great that any who would want to do it, are not free from hierarchical aspiration. When ministers shall preside over the meetings of the consistory as is stipulated in Art. 38, it is in the same line that they also preside over the sessions of the broader assemblies.

By providing that no one shall be chosen twice in succession to be chairman of a classis, the churches did not tell the brothers how to vote, but they only wanted to prevent that anyone should serve twice in succession.

The question has been raised whether or not, if a church is being served by more than one minister, also the non-delegated minister(s) would be allowed to serve in the moderamen as per regular schedule. We would like to answer this question by putting another question: “Why not?” One does not even necessarily have to be a member of the assembly to serve as its chairman or clerk. Why then would a non-delegated minister not be allowed to take the chair? He is permitted to attend classis in an advisory capacity, this article states, and there is no reason why he should not be allowed to chair the meeting, although he would not be permitted to take part in voting; however, he is not allowed to do so anyway, not having been delegated.

 

Question Period

A question period — as stated before — is only an opportunity to ask questions and possibly to receive answers. This applies to broader assemblies as much as it applies to consistories. A classis is no exception.

Usually there are two question periods on the classical agenda: a “personal question period” and a “question period ad Art. 44.” As for the “personal question period,” strictly speaking it is there only to ask questions about what transpired at the meeting or about difficulties or uncertainties one may have in specific matters. It should be remembered that this is a major assembly, not a consistory.

The “question period ad Art. 44” is the one mentioned in this article. It is a question period in which not so much the churches ask questions but in which the president asks the churches questions. At least, this is what the text of this article requires.

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Frankly, we cannot see the sense of the first part of the president’s questions. They will have made sense in the early years after the Reformation, when things were oftentimes in a disorganized state. They also may make sense in days of deformation and general slackening, but at the present time and even for as long as this writer has taken part in ecclesiastical assemblies he could or cannot see any sense in asking “whether the ministry of the office-bearers is being continued, whether the decisions of the major assemblies are being honoured.” If it happened in the past that the president did ask these questions, an incredulous look might appear on the faces of several members of the assembly as if the president were pulling a trick on them. To them the “question period ad Art. 44” was only the provision in the second part of this paragraph: do you need the help of classis? The other questions only produced a smile which accompanied their emphatic “Yes!”

That the questions contained in the first half are asked at the church visitation does make sense. There they are in place and there they should be asked and answered, and the latter with more than a simple “Yes” or “No,” which is all that is needed at classis. As a means of mutually taking heed of each other the classical questions are totally inadequate as well as slightly out of place.

The “question period ad Art. 44” also provides the churches with the opportunity to receive help “for the proper government of their church.”

It is at this moment that a church can ask for advice as to how to deal with certain situations as well as whether to proceed or not to proceed with specific disciplinary action and also announce the name of the sinner.

We are to differentiate between “advice” and “advice.” In the one case a church is bound by the advice it receives, in the other case it is not.

Our Church Order provides that in certain matters the advice of classis shall be asked. The above question whether a consistory may proceed with the discipline is one of these cases. In this and the other instances which are mentioned in our Church Order a church is bound by the advice. That is what the churches have agreed upon.

If, however, a church comes to classis and puts one or other difficulty before it, stating that the consistory could not reach a definite conclusion in spite of many efforts in that direction, and therefore would like to have the advice of classis, or if a consistory has come to a conclusion but is not totally convinced that it is the right one and therefore would like to hear the advice of classis before proceeding with the matter, this church is not bound by the judgment or advice expressed. The consistory will certainly keep this in mind when considering the matter again after the brothers have reported on the classical advice and will not but for serious reasons deviate from it. But the ultimate decision is the consistory’s. It does have the right to decide differently.

No consistory should abuse this opportunity by presenting all sorts of questions and “problems,” nor should any consistory come to a classis in order to shirk its own responsibility. It should be remembered that the ultimate responsibility rests with the consistory and that in this case a consistory can

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never hide behind a classical advice or judgment. Even when advice is asked as stipulated in the Church Order, a consistory must have come to the conclusion that it should proceed with the discipline or any other action for which classical advice is required.

 

Delegates

Each year a regional synod is to be held. Such a regional synod is composed of delegates from the various classes in the region concerned. The last classis before the scheduled date of a regional synod is to choose delegates to that synod. By then the provisional agenda for the regional synod may be known, classes may have had to deal with some matters that will be on the docket of regional synod and so can make use of this knowledge when choosing delegates. This could not be done at an earlier classis.

Apart from the fact that it is not possible to choose delegates from each church to go to regional synod, it is not necessary either. At classes each church must be equally represented. At regional synods each classis must be equally represented, not each church. Thus it may happen that from one particular church two or even three brothers are chosen whereas from several other churches none is elected. There is nothing wrong with that, as we may expect that classis looks for and chooses the men it considers most capable and fit for the task.

 

Non-delegated Ministers

The last paragraph of this article at times proved to be controversial. Some claimed that too important a place was assigned to the ministers and that they exercised a disproportionate influence by being allowed to attend all classes and to be there in an advisory capacity.

Everyone will understand that the right to attend classis is more than a right to sit in as an auditor, a member of the audience. For this no special provision would have been necessary. “Attending classis” means being a member of the assembly without, however, the right to vote, which right is reserved only for those who were delegated.

At one time ministers also had the right to vote even when not delegated, but this privilege has correctly been rescinded. They may take part in the discussions and give advice but are excluded from the decision taking.

Not many of the Canadian Reformed Churches will have more than one minister in active service. As remarked before, in cases where this happened, it was in preparation for the division of the congregation into two autonomous churches. Thus this provision does not affect the churches to a large extent. Besides, the number of vacant churches frequently guarantees that the majority of the members of classis are non-ministers, which is an effective counterweight to any influence which a non-delegated minister may have, if we are to speak of “counterweight,” that is.

But what we should avoid specifically in this case is a tug-of-war, as if we were to ensure that a precious balance be maintained. This is not the way in which we are to act in matters of the church of Christ. The provision is

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there, and originally was not inserted without reason. The question is now whether there are compelling reasons to remove it from our Church Order. Thus far no such compelling reasons have been adduced.

Above we spoke of “ministers in active service.” But what about retired ministers? What is their position, and would they have the right to “attend classis in an advisory capacity?” Once again we answer with a question: “Why not?” They are still the minister of the church they served last. No change has come about in their position. The only thing that happened is that they have been relieved of their duties and obligations, while none of their rights and privileges have been taken away. This also means that they still have the right “to attend classis in an advisory capacity.”

It would not be wise to have them serve in the moderamen on a regular basis, since they have been relieved of their duties and might feel obligated to interrupt a trip or visit to faraway regions because their turn comes up to serve at classis. No one, however, can take away any of their rights and privileges.

Herewith it be stated that one’s right to attend classis in an advisory capacity applies only in case it is a classis where “his” church is represented. If he moves to another classical district, for example from Alberta/Manitoba to Ontario South, he has no more rights at a classis in that area than any other church member there except that, being an office-bearer, he may stay and listen to the discussions when non-office-bearers are requested to leave because a matter has to be discussed in closed session.

 

Open to All?

The previous paragraph mentioned the possibility that non-office-bearers are requested to leave the meeting. This is done when classis decides that the session shall be “closed.”

We differentiate between “open session,” “closed session,” and “restricted closed session.” An “open session” is not the same as a “public session.” The latter would mean that anyone is allowed to come in and listen in, regardless of whether he is a church member or not. The churches do not allow non-church members to sit in on ecclesiastical assemblies, at least not on the level of classis or regional synod. They do not know of “public sessions.”

At “open sessions” any church member is permitted to sit in and listen. This is all they are allowed to do and they should refrain from any action which would interfere with the meeting.

“Closed sessions” are those where all non-office-bearers are requested to leave. Such sessions are needed when personal matters are discussed, when advice is asked and given in disciplinary cases, or when for other reasons classis judges it necessary to observe a certain measure of confidentiality.

In extreme cases classis may decide to go into “restricted closed session.” This means that all non-delegates are requested to leave — except ministers who are there in an advisory capacity — irrespective of whether they are office-bearers or not. At the classical or even regional synodical level this will happen only very seldom. At general synods it does happen when professors are to be appointed at the Theological Seminary and all sorts of

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personal matters may be raised and discussed. The fewer persons are involved in such cases, the better it is. It is up to classis to make decisions in this respect.

The Acts of the closed or restricted closed sessions are to be sent to the churches in closed envelope and be clearly marked as confidential. A classis does not have the right to withhold the Acts of such sessions from the churches, for the churches are the final judges. Besides, these Acts do not contain or report on the discussions but communicate only the decisions, and the decisions are to be submitted to the scrutiny of the churches.