10 Sep GS 2022 art 155
GS 2022 Article 155 – Appeals against RSE 2019 Art. 11 (Pulpit Access)
- 1.1 The appeals of the Ottawa-Jubilee CanRC dd. Feb 7, 2022 (184.108.40.206), the Toronto-Bethel CanRC dd. Nov 20, 2021 (220.127.116.11) and the Hamilton-Blessings CanRC dd. March 25, 2022 (18.104.22.168) against the decision of Regional Synod East (RSE) 2019 Art. 11 which judged that “Classis Central Ontario (CCO) of Sept 13/Oct 10, 2019 erred when it did not accept [Burlington Waterdown]-Rehoboth’s request to make a judgment against the developing practice of Hamilton-Blessings and Ottawa-Jubilee to allow ministers from non-sister churches to preach on their pulpit.”
- 2.1 The appeal from the Ottawa-Jubilee CanRC was declared admissible.
- 2.2 The appeal from the Toronto-Bethel CanRC was declared admissible.
- 2.3 The appeal from the Hamilton-Blessings CanRC was declared admissible.
- 3.1 To consider all three appeals together as they deal with the same decision of RSE 2019;
- 3.2 To deny the appeals of the Ottawa-Jubilee CanRC, the Toronto-Bethel CanRC and the Hamilton-Blessings CanRC against RSE 2019 Art. 11.
- 4.1 Re 3.2: According to the Church Order, Classis has a role in giving advice concerning requests that have to do with temporary pulpit access. While the appellants consider that anything not expressly governed in the Church Order should be left to the freedom of churches, this consideration ignores the relevant principle of classical involvement in granting access to the pulpit (e.g. CO Art. 4.B.1&2) that can give guidance concerning the matter of giving pastors of non-sister churches temporary access to the pulpit. Furthermore, there are also relevant principles in CO Art. 44 and 76 where the churches agree to honour the decisions of the major assemblies. This includes synodical decisions concerning Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship (EF).
- 4.2 Re 3.2: Our current practice that pulpit access has been determined collectively by the churches is based on synodical decisions as expressed in the rules for EF (GS 1992 Art. 50). While Hamilton-Blessings contends that the provisions for EF do not prevent their practice, one cannot ignore that the existence of collectively agreed upon rules for pulpit fellowship at the federative level also have an impact at the local level. The local church, and the federation it belongs to, are not mutually exclusive.
- 4.3 Re 3.2: The practices of our sister churches in the exercise of their ecclesiastical relationships differ from ours in that they are also accompanied by specific regulations concerning local pulpit access. While Hamilton-Blessings is correct that the practice of sister churches which embrace Dort polity could prove to be a valuable resource of possible application of that same polity in the Canadian Reformed context, they fail to reckon with the fact that the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) have made explicit that local churches have the freedom to engage in occasional pulpit exchanges: “Fraternal activities between congregations which need not be reported to classis may include occasional pulpit exchanges, table fellowship, as well as other means of manifesting unity.” (CO-URC Art. 34 – Ecumenical Relations on a Church Level) Likewise, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), occasional pulpit fellowship belongs in the province of the local session as it is their task to “oversee all matters concerning the conduct of public worship” (OPC Book of Church Order, Chapter XIII, 7). The OPC explicitly affirms the autonomy of the local church in access to the pulpit; therefore, their rules for EF specify ‘occasional pulpit fellowship (by local option)’.
- 4.4 Re 3.2: Our current church order does not have a specific provision regarding pulpit access for guest ministers from non-sister churches. Toronto-Bethel acknowledges this in Consideration 6, speaking of this as a “gap.” At the same time, it argues in Consideration 7 that the onus for closing that “gap” lies with those who desire to ensure that present practice is codified. The other appellants make similar statements about where the onus lies, while RSE 2019 in turn places the onus on those who wish to change current practices. In line with the practices of our sister-churches (see 4.3 above), the churches could decide to adopt an article or provision in the church order specifically regulating local pulpit access. In this way our practices will explicitly reflect our church order.
The following synod member requested that his abstention from voting be recorded: Clarence VanderVelde.