Article 44 — Church visitors
Each year classis shall authorise at least two of the more experienced and able ministers to visit the churches in that year. If necessary the classis may authorise a capable elder to carry out this task together with a minister. It shall be the task of these visitors to inquire whether all things are regulated and done in full harmony with the Word of God, whether the office-bearers fulfil the duties of their office faithfully as they have promised, and whether the Church Order is being observed and maintained in every respect, in order that they may in good time fraternally admonish those who are found negligent in any thing, and that by their good counsel and advice all things may be directed towards the edification and preservation of Christ’s church. They shall submit written reports of their visits to classis.
This article deals with the following points:
1. when, by whom, and where the church visitation shall be carried out;
2. its nature;
3. its purpose;
4.report to the classis.
The visitation shall be carried out every year.
Visitors must be some of the most experienced men and capable ministers, appointed by the classis for this purpose.
If necessary a capable elder can accompany a minister. This will occur in classes with a small number of ministers.
All the churches of the classical region must be visited.
Prior to the visitation an announcement shall be made to the congregation, so that, if there are any unsolved differences between congregational members and the consistory, these members may be given the opportunity to consult the visitors.
It is a custom that every classis, adopting a number of these guidelines, must also include at least the following items:
a. the faithful execution of the offices, both individual and collective;
b. adherence to the sound doctrine;
c. the observance and maintaining of the adopted Church Order;
d. the promotion of the up-building of the congregation by word and deed.
The purpose of church visitation is:
a. in the negative: admonishment of negligent office-bearers;
b. in the positive: advising and assisting the churches in the promotion of peace, edification and well-being.
Church visitation can be based upon holy Scriptures. Acts 11: 22 tells us that the congregation at Jerusalem heard about the establishment of a church at Antioch, that mainly consisted of former gentiles. They delegated Barnabas, who (according to the original text) went by all the places where he could find Christians to speak with them, until he arrived at Antioch. Then it says (verse 23):
When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.
So one congregation, Jerusalem, contacted the other, Antioch, and the ‘church visitor’ could be glad because he found a true Christian congregation and unity of faith between these two churches.
This, then, is the purpose of church visitation. The churches need to be assured that the sister-churches are still showing the marks of the true church.
This is useful and even essential for life within a bond of churches, for then a consistory doesn’t need to hesitate when there is a request for attestation, because it knows the church in question to be a faithful church. It also knows that there is consensus in doctrine and church life between itself and the other congregation. The same can be applied to invitations extended to a minister from another congregation; both the minister concerned and that particular congregation have the same basis of faith.
So, church visitation is of the greatest importance for the visited church, and consequently for all the churches.
It now stands to reason that the visitors report their findings to the next classis.
Acceptance of positive findings means continuing life together in the bond of churches with mutual acknowledgment as being faithful churches of the Lord.
This article doesn’t make mention of the presence of the deacons at church visitation, but it is obvious that they are supposed to attend that particular meeting of the consistory.