GS 2010 art 151

GS 2010 Article 151 – CCU Church Order Subcommittee re: Proposed Joint Church Order (PJCO)

1.          Material

  • 1.1        Report from CCU Church Order Subcommittee to General Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010 (8.2.b).
  • 1.2        Following is a list of the churches who have submitted letters with input of clarification or revision of the PJCO. Letters from Hamilton-Providence, Toronto, Carman East, Guelph, Elora, Chatham, Orangeville, Grassie, Grand Valley, Coaldale (2 letters), Winnipeg-Grace, Calgary, Chilliwack, EdmontonImmanuel (2 letters), Owen Sound, Fergus-Maranatha, Flamborough, Neerlandia, Willoughby Heights (2 letters), Attercliffe, Surrey, Carman West, London, Langley, Glanbrook, Fergus North (4 letters), Ancaster, Yarrow, Abbotsford, Lincoln, Winnipeg-Redeemer, Cloverdale (4 letters), Dunnville, Aldergrove, Lynden, and Barrhead. (Agenda items 8.3.B.1-46).

2.          Observations

  • 2.1        In its main report the committee notes that it worked closely with the Committee re: Church Order appointed by the Synod Escondido 2001 (and continued by Synod Calgary 2004 and Synod Schererville 2007) of the URCNA. Since Synod Smithers, the combined committees met twice in Burlington, ON, once in Chino, CA and once in Dutton, Michigan.
  • 2.2        On October 25, 2007 the committee sent a letter to the Canadian Reformed Churches to encourage feedback that has been processed through the consistories, and to remind them of the March 1, 2009 deadline for input. The Joint Committee received fifty-two submissions regarding PJCO 2007 as submitted to General Synod Smithers and General Synod Schererville. Thirty-five of these submissions came from Canadian Reformed Churches. By far the majority of these came directly from the consistories. A few were submissions authored by individuals but “passed along” by their consistories as worthy for consideration by the committee. Seven of the thirty-five submissions were received after the March 1, 2009 deadline set by Synod Smithers 2007.
  • 2.3        In order to evaluate the input received, the Joint Committee decided that the United Reformed brothers would make recommendations to the Joint Committee regarding input from the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Canadian Reformed brothers would make recommendations to the Joint Committee regarding input from the Canadian Reformed Churches.
  • 2.4        After reviewing all the input from the churches, received both via correspondence and via the regional conferences, the Joint Committee was able to revise PJCO 2007 and draft a new document which was labelled PJCO 2010.
  • 2.5        Regarding PJCO Article 36 (Psalms and Hymns), General Synod Smithers expressed a strong preference for the majority position, while General Synod Schererville expressed a strong preference for the minority position.
  • 2.6        The Joint Committee arranged for four sets of regional conferences, seeking to give as many churches of the federations as possible the opportunity to attend a conference.
  •  The first conference was held in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada on April 18, 2008.
  • The second set of conferences was held in Western Canada: on October 25, 2008 in Abbotsford, British Columbia; on October 27, 2008 in Edmonton, Alberta; on October 28, 2008 in Lethbridge, Alberta; and October 29, 2008 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The third set of conferences was held in Iowa-Michigan, USA: on March 11, 2009 in Rock Valley, Iowa; on March 12, 2009 in Lynwood, Illinois; on March 13, 2009 in Wyoming, Michigan. The fourth set of conferences was held in California, USA: March 23, 2009 in Visalia; and March 24, 2009 in Chino.
  • 2.7        To facilitate the dissemination of the PJCO and the four column comparison document to the churches, the committee set up a web site to which it also posted the Press Releases and some other matters. The address of this website is churchorderpjco/. On this website there is also a link to a bookstore which from time to time carries the very important Church Order Commentary (1941) written by Idzerd VanDellen and Martin Monsma. The Joint Committee found this English commentary very helpful, particularly because of how it provides historical context and background. The committee encouraged the churches to consult this commentary when trying to understand and evaluate the PJCO.
  • 2.8        A number of the letters deal with minor corrections relating to sentence structure, grammar, word changes, additions and deletions. A number of these corrections sent in to the committee were not adopted and now these churches are sending them onto General Synod. Other letters deal with more substantive issues, some of which did go to the committee, but the churches are not satisfied. 2.9     The committee recommends, in concert with the Church Order Committee of the URCNA, that “Synod adopt the PJCO 2010 as the Church Order for a united federation of the URCNA and the CanRC,” and that “Synod reappoint the current committee for the sake of continuity…”

3.          Considerations

  • 3.1        The report of the committee indicates that the work could be carried out in a spirit of brotherly harmony and growing understanding between the brothers of the United Reformed Churches and of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
  • 3.2        Seeing it is not the task of Synod to do committee work, the letters from the churches that deal with minor matters and linguistic questions should be referred back to the Church Order Committee (COC) for final consideration and evaluation.
  • 3.3        A considerable number of letters, however, deal with the same major items and thus require input and direction from General Synod.
  • Among these are the following:
  • Article 4 – Preparation for the Ministry.
    • A.           Theological Education – Seeing as this article is incomplete, the following wording is proposed to the Joint Order Church Committee for its consideration and adoption: “The churches shall maintain an institution for the training for the ministry and shall support theological education that is properly accountable to the churches.
    • B.         Licensure – A number of our churches raise questions about a student being able to exhort after only completing one year of theological education. This objection is related to the fact that students from Hamilton need three years of theological education before they can exhort in our churches. It should be noted that there is an obvious discrepancy here between our respective churches that no doubt should be discussed and resolved. At the same time it should be noted that students coming from Mid- America take at least three courses in Homiletics in their first year of study and that more attention is given to the preparation of sermons.
    • With regard to (Westminster) California, the catalogue appears to indicate that only one course in Homiletics is required.
    • In light of these different approaches the COC committee should give serious consideration to raising the minimum requirement to two years before granting licensure to exhort.
  • Article 25 D. Mutual Oversight
    • It can be questioned whether a classis needs to inquire of the churches whether or not “Confessionally Reformed Schooling is promoted.” The committee is advised to leave the matter of schooling to the local churches and not make it a matter of classical concern.
  • Article 36 – Psalms and Hymns
    • From the letters received, it becomes obvious that all the churches which wrote support the Majority Report and thus would like to see the renditions of the Psalms and Hymns “approved by general synod.” The COC is urged to decide accordingly.
    • At the same time, the COC realizes that exceptional situations can arise as is the case of a church plant being done among different ethnic groups that do not worship in English. In such cases the advice of classis should be sought before proceeding to use alternative Psalms and Hymns.
  • Article 43 – Admission to the Lord’s Supper
    • A considerable number of churches wrote to Synod Burlington-Ebenezer commenting on the current wording of this Article. Many of these comments highlight dissatisfaction with the expression “biblical church membership” and wonder what it means and how it will be applied.
    • The churches in our federation are reminded that the elders of the local church are directly responsible for the doctrine and life of their members. Visitors, on the other hand, constitute “exceptions” and it needs to be understood that “exceptions” are always hard to regulate. Notwithstanding this, the COC is asked to consider the following:
      • a)         The printing of this article in three paragraphs would clarify the fact that the first part deals with the responsibility of the consistory, the second part with the participation of members, and the third part with the admission of visitors.
      • b)         The admission of visitors from churches with which we maintain ecclesiastical fellowship is best served by a letter of testimony, but it should be understood that very few churches in North America are familiar with such a practice.
      • c)         The admission of visitors from other churches has historically been viewed as an exception to the rule and needs to be regulated locally by the elders.
      • d)         A number of churches cite those biblical passages that refer to the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15; John 5: 31, 8:13, etc) and thus conclude that a verbal testimony is insufficient. It should be noted, however, that these passages all deal with legal or judicial proceedings. There is disagreement as to whether these passages can be applied to the celebration of the sacrament.
  • The COC is urged to adopt the following re-wording of the Article:
    • The consistory shall supervise participation at the Lords Supper.
    • Only those members who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life shall be admitted by the consistory. Visitors who profess the Reformed faith may be admitted to the Lords Supper provided that the consistory secures from them a satisfactory testimony about their doctrine and life, in either written or verbal form.
  • Article 45 – The Church’s Evangelism Calling
    • The committee should take another look at the style and content of this Article. The present wording is awkward. The COC is asked to give due consideration to the following wording:
      • Each church shall fulfill its evangelistic calling in faithfulness to the Word of God and by relying on
      • the Holy Spirit. It shall make known the good news of Jesus Christ to those in its area who do not know God or are estranged from him and his service with the aim of having them join the church through profession of faith.
  • Article 57B. The Departure of Members
    • Numerous churches disagree with the fact that a departing member needs to submit a “written request” in order to receive a letter of testimony.
    • Several churches also disagree with the requirement that the consistory send a letter of testimony to a local church.
    • The wording should be changed by the PJCO to:
      • Upon request, a letter of testimony shall be given to those members who are departing to a church with which the federation has ecclesiastical fellowship. The consistory may send a copy of this letter to such a church, requesting it to accept them under its spiritual care.
      • The departure of members shall be properly announced.
  • 3.4        From the letters received, it appears that the status of the PJCO needs to be clarified. Currently the Canadian Reformed Churches are governed by the Church Order adopted at General Synod 1983, and it will remain so until such time as a future General Synod decides that agreement has been reached on merger. Then, and only then, will the text of the Joint Church Order be finalized and implemented.
  • 3.5        While the committee recommends that the PJCO 2010 be adopted, it should be noted that there are a number of unfinished matters that need to be resolved before final adoption can be given.
  • At this time sufficient work has been done to warrant the provisional adoption of the PJCO. This provisional adoption indicates our strong commitment to unity with the URCNA.
  • In addition, it alerts our churches to the fact that they need to pay close attention to this foundational document.

4.          Recommendation

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1        To thank the Church Order Committee for the great amount of work that it has done over the last number of years.
  • 4.2        To adopt the PJCO provisionally as the Church Order for a united federation of the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Canadian Reformed Churches.
  • 4.3       To reappoint the current Church Order Committee.
  • 4.4         To mandate the Church Order Committee as follows:
    • 4.4.1     To give a final evaluation of the letters from the churches.
    • 4.4.2     To finalize those matters deemed to be yet unfinished (see: Article 4 PJCO).
    • 4.4.3       To adopt the recommendations under Consideration 3.3 in consultation with the committee of the URCNA.
    • 4.4.4     To prepare a final edition for Synod 2013, sending it to the churches six months prior to synod.