A clerk shall be appointed whose task it shall be to keep an accurate record of all things worthy to be recorded.
In our Church Order we speak of only two brothers who are to serve an assembly for the conducting of its affairs: a president and a clerk. Yet it is customary to have at least three brothers who together form the “moderamen.” At a consistory and at a classis there are usually a president, a clerk, and a vice-president. The vice-president is then charged with substituting for the president when the latter is incapacitated or wants the floor in the course of the discussion. He is usually also charged with writing a press release containing the main issues of the meeting.
At regional and general synods the moderamen usually consists of four persons: the president, the first clerk, the second clerk, and the assessor or vice-president. The first clerk is then the one who writes the Acts, while the second clerk takes care of the correspondence resulting from the decisions made.
Occasionally the writing of the minutes and the correspondence are divided between two brothers at the consistory level as well. This is mostly done in larger churches with a considerable number of office-bearers and an increased frequency of meetings.
In Article 36 we speak of the clerk. A clerk is necessary at any ecclesiastical assembly in order that any decisions made may be written down and recorded. At major assemblies the "office" of the clerk ceases at the closing of the assembly, just like that of the president, even though he may still have a considerable amount of work left to be done as a result of the decisions made.
At the consistory level a brother may be (and usually is) appointed to serve as clerk at every consistory meeting, or even to function as the addressee of all church correspondence. It is not necessary, although desirable, that this brother is an office-bearer, If he is not, he would be bound to observe the same confidentiality as the office-bearers have to practise. Especially in large congregations it might be advisable to have a non-office-bearer function as clerk to divide the duties of the eldership among the brothers as equally as possible.
It is the duty of the clerk to keep an accurate record. The importance of accuracy cannot be sufficiently stressed. There should be no doubts or differences later on regarding the question what exactly was decided at such and such a meeting. This places quite a responsibility upon the clerk. Not everyone is able to formulate well and to record accurately what transpires at a meeting. A clerk should be chosen with care and prudence.
What is the clerk to record accurately? “All things that are worthy to be recorded.” Does he have to record all that is said and done at the meeting? If that were the case, he would be faced with an impossible task. Besides, is all that is said and done at a meeting “worthy to be recorded?”
What is important and what should be preserved for the future are the decisions of the assembly and what the grounds for its decisions were. Later generations may find it interesting to know what brother A. said about a certain point or what brother B. proposed in such and such a case, but these are things that are not part of what is “worthy to be recorded.”
In general, only such matters are worthy to be recorded which are acts of the whole assembly. Thus a motion made and seconded but withdrawn later on should not be recorded. On the other hand, a motion made and seconded but voted down should be found in the record, for the voting is an act of the assembly even though it was a negative vote.
Acts and Minutes
There is a difference between the recording of the proceedings of a consistory and those of the major assemblies. This difference lies in the features of a consistory and of the major assemblies.
A consistory is a permanent body which meets at certain times. A clerk has, therefore, the opportunity to make his notes at the meeting and later on, in the quiet of his own home, to write the minutes of the meeting, to read them later at the next meeting for approval.
This procedure is impossible at the level of the major assemblies. When a classis has concluded its agenda, it no longer exists. It is not so that “classis meets again after three months,” but after three months another classis is held, and this other classis cannot judge whether the “minutes” of the previous classis correctly formulate what was decided at that previous classis. Even the fact that the ministers are delegated to every classis and that elders often attend two consecutive classes does not change the character of a classis: each classis is a different meeting with no right as a classis to adopt as correct or to reject as incorrect the record of proceedings written by the clerk of the previous classis.
A consistory can have minutes; a broader assembly can only have Acts which are adopted by that very assembly before it is dissolved. If a classis or synod lasts longer than one day and has several sessions, there is no objection to having the Acts of the one day read and approved the next day. However, the Acts of the last session are to be read and adopted before the closing. In exceptional cases the moderamen may be instructed to finalize that part of the Acts which could not be presented to the assembly before its closing, but this will not happen too often.
What we call the “Acts” of our major assemblies are actually records of their “proceedings.” It includes such matters as opening and closing of the various sessions, official speeches by delegates from sister churches.
But since the term “Acts” has become the accepted designation for the record of the proceedings of our major assemblies, every one knows what is meant by it and there is no reason to change it.