Article 36 — Consistory
In all churches there shall be a consistory composed of the minister(s) of the Word and the elders. It shall meet regularly and be chaired by the minister. If a church is served by more than one minister they shall chair in turn. The consistory shall also meet regularly with the deacons to deal with those matters as described for that purpose by the Church Order, and further with all things which the consistory considers necessary for general management, including the material affairs of the church.
After the ‘general’ articles on the ecclesiastical assemblies, the Church Order will now deal with them in sequence.
The first is the consistory, about which a number of regulations have been made.
Article 3 says first of all that in all churches there shall be a consistory, consisting of the minister(s) of the Word and the elders.
We have already learned from Scripture that the consistory is the only ecclesiastical assembly that was instituted by Christ’s apostles (see at Article 28). We referred to 1 Timothy 4: 14 which speaks of “the council of elders”; also Acts 20: 17, 28; 1 Timothy 5: 17; 1 Peter 5: 1-3; cf. Matthew 16: 19).
The consistory shall meet at regular intervals, either once a fortnight or once a week.
Furthermore this article deals with the presidium. The minister shall act as a chairman, but in churches with more than one minister the ministers shall preside in turn – e.g. each of them for a month.
In an earlier chapter we have already learned that certain matters must be dealt with by the consistory together with the deacons.
These men are given a voice in the calling of a minister, and also in the nomination of elders and deacons.
However, a few more reasons for a combined meeting are given in this article: The domestic affairs of the church, financial management, and all those things which in the opinion of the consistory are necessary for general management – e.g. for which particular purposes the Offerings in church are collected
For all these matters the consistory shall arrange meetings with the deacons at regular intervals.
While discussing Article 21 of the Church Order we touched briefly on the difference between Article 30 of the Belgic Confession of Faith and Article 36 of the Church Order to determine which office-bearers belong to the consistory.
The Confession speaks of:
elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church.
The Church Order restricts the membership of the consistory to the ministers and the elders, and speaks in other articles of “the consistory and the deacons”.
It is not our task to solve this ‘problem’, but we would like to use an extract from a report of the deputies for the revision of the Church Order, appointed by the General Synod Kampen, 1975 of the Dutch sister-churches. They wrote (in our translation):
Art. 30 of the Belgic Confession of Faith clearly points to the outside, over against the hierarchical church government of the Church of Rome and also over against the territorial idea of the government ruling the church. In order to preserve the true religion the Lord has ordained Ministers of the Word, elders and deacons, and not popes, bishops, etcetera as in the clerical hierarchy. This is the spiritual police, which has to be distinguish well from the political forms of government which has been entrusted to the magistrates.
….. From the emphasis on the spiritual police it is derived that the magistrates are told: the church has her own, spiritual form of government and therefore her own ‘senate’ (council), different from your form of government and senate.
According to these deputies a development has taken place since the Belgic Confession was written, a development by which the Church Order points to the inside, the internal life of the churches.