Communicant members who move to a sister-Church shall be given, after previous announcements to the congregation, an attestation regarding their doctrine and conduct, signed on behalf of the consistory by two of its members.
In the case of non-communicant members such an attestation shall be sent directly to the consistory of the Church concerned.
“Sir, I am going to move in a couple of weeks. Would you please ask the consistory for my attestation?”
What is wrong with this question? It is not that the brother informs the minister or clerk of the intended move, nor is it that he does so some weeks before that event. The wrong element is that he asks for “my attestation.” “My attestation” does not exist. And consistories that publish: “We now can officially welcome brother A. and his family, for their attestation has finally arrived” use wrong terminology and promote a wrong idea. When one speaks of “my attestation,” he gives the impression that there is a sort of membership card in the archives of the church which is to be lifted out, given along, and deposited into the archives of the church in the other town or city. An attestation is no such thing. It is a testimony written concerning the brother or sister or their family, it describes their faithfulness or unfaithfulness in doctrine and conduct. Similarly, when someone wants to break with the church (wrongful in itself) he adds to his error by saying “I don’t want to belong to this church, I demand my attestation.” There is no such thing, and this person will not get what he demands either. More about this point later.
This wrong notion is promoted because of forms some consistories have printed up which can be used for most members and families. All that remains to be done is enter the name(s) of the departing member(s) and sign it. Although this does save some time, it is not a practice to be advocated or promoted. An attestation is a testimony written concerning this particular member or family. The printed forms usually state that “as far as is known,” the brother or sister is “of sound Christian doctrine and conduct.” Truly informative and something the “new” consistory can work with, is it not?
This “as far as is known” in effect undermines the declaration that the brother or sister is faithful in doctrine and conduct. Has the consistory never visited this brother or sister and did the brothers not observe him or her conversation in the midst of the congregation? Granted, there are always hidden corners in a person’s heart, this we all know. A physician who has examined a person and has taken all sorts of tests gives a “certificate of good health” and does not write “as far as is known, this man is healthy.” There are terms in our ecclesiastical life which are being used routinely but, upon closer scrutiny, cannot pass the test.
An attestation should contain relevant information, far more than the flat “of sound doctrine and conduct.” It should state whether the brother or sister was active in the midst of the congregation, participated in various activities, was a member of any society, came to church faithfully, and so on. If the brother was an office-bearer in the congregation from which he departs once or for more than one term, should this not be mentioned, so that the “new” consistory has some important information about the member right away? When a family moves, should it not be mentioned whether the children were faithful in coming to catechism classes, what their attitude was, whether they paid good attention, learned their lessons well, and behaved themselves properly?
For these reasons it is to be preferred not to use printed forms with a few lines available for “Remarks,” but to write a clear and personal testimony in each and every case. Only then can we justly speak of a testimony concerning doctrine and conduct. That we mention both doctrine and conduct is because both are equally important and so intertwined that they cannot be separated. This is also in accord with what we confess, for example, in Lord’s Day 31.
Why should one ask for and receive such a testimony when leaving for another city or town? We refer to a move which brings one outside the reach of the consistory of the church one belonged to thus far, to a region which is “covered” by the authority of the consistory of another church. If one moves to a region not so “covered,” other ways have to be sought to retain one’s bond with the church to which one belongs or to the closest church. In the latter case an attestation will be needed just as much as when one moves to a place where a church is found. Moving away from a place means in fact that one ceases being a member of the local church. Settling in another place does not mean that one automatically is a member of the church in that other place. Each local church is wholly autonomous and not a subdivision of a nation-wide body. “Transfer of membership” is impossible. When one settles in another place, one has to join himself to the church in that place by a voluntary, express act, and ask the consistory to receive one as a member.
Strictly speaking, one would have to be examined by that consistory and make profession of faith in order to be admitted to that church. However, attestations given by another church within the federation are accepted as a sufficient proof that the brother or sister is a “member in good standing,” and thus can be admitted without further examination, solely on the basis of that attestation. Sometimes we can read in reports that an “attestation is accepted.” This is a wrong expression, since no consistory has to make a decision that an attestation shall be accepted. It is a matter-of-course that attestations from other churches within the federation or from foreign sister churches are accepted. What is not a matter-of-course is that the brother or sister shall be accepted as a member.
Do not misunderstand this. When a good and favourable testimony is received, there is also the obligation to receive the brother or sister into full and
unrestricted membership. But the rare situation may occur when a testimony is so unfavourable that a consistory will have to come to the conclusion: “On the basis of this attestation we cannot receive this man or this woman into the communion of the church.”
Most likely this will happen only in the case of non-communicant members. One who was about to be excommunicated in all likelihood will not seek membership in another church. This writer recalls one particular case of a non-communicant member whom the consistory refused to receive as a member. Upon the request of the parents the consistory of a church sent an attestation which stated that the (adult) non-communicant member was totally indifferent, refused even to talk to the office-bearers, and had not attended worship services for several years. The consistory did, of course, “accept” the attestation as was its obligation, but on the basis of it refused to enter the name of the man into the membership register, although attempts were made to get in touch with the man. The “home church” was informed accordingly.
From the above it is obvious that one can drop out of sight quite easily. One asks for an attestation, moves to another place, but does not join himself to the church there. It is, therefore, mandatory that the consistory notifies the church in the place or area to which the member is moving of this relocation, possibly also the new address.
What should not be done under any circumstances is that in this communication the consistory gives additional information which was not mentioned in the attestation handed to the member. Also with respect to an attestation the consistory should remember that “in court and everywhere else” we “must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly.” No consistory should write behind the back of the member what it did not or did not dare to mention in the attestation.
A provision has been made that attestations shall be given “after previous announcements to the congregation.” It is not clear to us why this announcement is required and why the plural is used. We do not think that the general synod which made this change fully realized what it was doing. Now there are consistories which think that a request for an attestation must be announced twice to the congregation before it can be honoured. We have our doubts about the necessity of even one announcement, for the next reasons:
In defense of the provision that a request for an attestation must be announced to the congregation it has been asserted that the congregation may know something which the consistory does not know and should be mentioned in the attestation. It would be wrong, it is said, to give a member a good attestation when something is amiss with him or her, would it not? The congregation must have the opportunity to have its input in this case, it is said.
Is this really correct? And if a member should come with some statement or accusation to the consistory, would the consistory be allowed to deal with it, let alone mention anything in the attestation? We are convinced that taking these steps would be unjustifiable.
Only in an extreme situation would a consistory be remiss in its duty if it did not mention in the attestation what someone communicated to it concerning the departing member. It may be that there is such a serious sin in the life of the member that this may not remain concealed and that the consistory must be informed about it now that the member is going to leave and has requested an attestation. If this should be the case, the consistory is under obligation to inform the "new" consistory of the sin. But how often will this happen?
It could also be that some member is on the verge of coming to the consistory with one or two others to inform the consistory that their individual admonitions have remained without effect and that now that member is compelled to come sooner than anticipated, because the brother or sister is going to leave. Again: how often or rather how seldom will this happen? It is extremely rare already that a brother or sister comes to the consistory with witnesses. In view of this rare possibility should the rule have been made that attestations be announced?
Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that a brother or sister comes with an accusation against the departing member. What can the consistory do with that? Perhaps the consistory is unable to verify the correctness of the accusation, apart from the question whether it has the right to deal with it when one brother or sister comes without witnesses. Here we anticipate Art. 67. The fact that a brother or sister leaves and has asked for an attestation does not give a consistory the right to act contrary to what our Lord has commanded us, which command forms the basis for Art. 67.
Even if a brother or sister comes and informs the consistory of some (alleged) sin with the departing member, would the consistory be allowed to mention this in the attestation? Has the consistory investigated? Has the consistory made certain that the member coming with the complaint or accusation has followed “the way of Matthew 18?” Shall not in the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter be established? Is it certain that there is no repentance but, on the contrary, a hardening in sin?
The more we think about it, the more we become convinced that, except in an extremely rare case to which we referred above, no consistory would even be permitted to mention in an attestation what was brought to its attention by a brother or sister who heard that brother A. has requested an attestation for the church at B. Thus we cannot see any other sense in the phrase “previous announcement” than that it is simply notifying the congregation that so-and-so is going to leave. Is it really needed to have this directive in the Church Order?
Before an attestation can be issued the request must pass the consistory. In some churches the consistory has given two of its members the right to issue attestations if nothing special has to be mentioned. Even so they will have to report to the consistory that they issued an attestation and what they wrote in it.
Another announcement that is oftentimes made is that “an attestation has been received concerning brother A. from the church at B.” Although it is correct that the congregation is informed about the arrival of new
members, it is a big question whether this has to be done through an announcement from the pulpit. The congregation will be informed by means of the bulletin anyway, and is this not sufficient? What is the sense of an announcement from the pulpit? Or is it thought that this is a requirement according to our Church Order? There is no need to do so.
It is Sunday morning. A brother knocks at the door of the consistory room and hands over a letter. One of the office-bearers opens it and says: “This is an attestation from the church at A. for brother B. We’ll have to announce this.” Wrong!
In the first place, a letter to the consistory, even though there is nothing wrong with the clerk opening it before the meeting and taking note of its contents, is a letter to the consistory and is to be dealt with at a consistory meeting before any action on it is to be taken, including making an announcement to the congregation. When the brothers are together as office-bearers before the service, this is not the consistory, even when all of them are present. Even when all office-bearers are in the consistory room before the service, so that we can say: “The consistory is here,” this does not yet mean that there is a consistory meeting. An attestation should definitely pass the consistory meeting before an announcement is made to the congregation either from the pulpit or via the bulletin.
The only case in which we could envision the need for an immediate announcement is when someone comes on the Sunday when the holy supper is being celebrated. Our consistories generally have decided that, with a view to this celebration, note shall be taken of any attestation shown so that guests may receive permission to partake of the supper. To extend what may be called an exceptional case to any and all attestations is incorrect, for then a decision is made without a meeting. This should be avoided.
No specific answer can be given to the question how long an attestation will be valid. In general, the churches accept an attestation as valid when it is no more than three months ago since it was issued. Members usually will submit it as soon as possible after their arrival to the church they wish to join. Who wants to be without membership in the church for any length of time?
Upon leaving the one place, one essentially ceases being a member of the church there. This is not to say that for some days or some weeks one is not a member of Christ's church; it only stresses the need to join oneself as soon as possible to the church in the new place of residence. No one who takes church membership seriously would wait more than three months before asking to be received as a member in the new place of residence.
Strictly speaking, the same applies to what are commonly called “travel attestations.” These are attestations requested by and issued to members who will spend a Sunday or some Sundays away from the home church and count on the possibility that the Lord’s Supper is celebrated on the Sunday they attend another church. It is recommendable to ask the consistory of that church to mark on the attestation that the holy supper was received on that
specific Sunday. Some even ask the consistory to mark on the attestation that they attended the worship services in that church on that particular Lord’s Day.
When a non-communicant member moves to another place, it is the parents who request the consistory to send an attestation concerning their child to the church they moved to. The attestation of a non-communicant member is sent directly to the other consistory.
Should an attestation be given to someone who breaks with the church? No. All such a member can receive is a statement giving date of birth, date of baptism, and whatever other “vital statistics” may be available. A consistory should in no way become an accessory before the fact of this separation. Attestations are given only when one moves to another place and wants to join the church there, not when one breaks with the church and wants to join another religious community. When someone submits the attestation to another church group in the new town instead of to the consistory of the sister church there, this is beyond the responsibility of the consistory. Had the consistory anticipated this course of events, no attestation would have been given.