The Ecclesiastical Route 3

3. A fix adopted

GS 2010 admitted that, where the ecclesiastical route is concerned, there was a dilemma. There had been a “back-and-forth battle of opinions at subsequent general synods” which was “extremely unhelpful in establishing equity and fairness”. Decades earlier a church had predicted this “bureaucratic mess” could happen.

(GS 2010 art. 62)

Thus far I have described the scene and begun proving from GS 2010 that there is an issue. In this article we continue the story. GS 2010 attempted to fix the problem.

Considerations of GS 2010

GS 2010 pondered the dilemma some more. Pertinent considerations are well worth quoting in full, as they will help us get a handle on why the issue existed.

3.5 It seems that the new sentence added to Article 30 in 1983 is the source of the difficulty. “A new matter which has not previously been presented to that major assembly may be put on the agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it” is to some in harmony with the pre-1983 understanding. This view takes it that “new matters” refers to topics or subjects not either historically or by way of the Church Order dealt with as matters for the churches in common. In this view, new proposals under an existing matter (topic) of the churches in common should be sent directly to general synod while only proposals of matters (topics) never dealt with by general synod before should first go through the minor assemblies. The newer view is that all proposals or submissions – whether concerning existing matters (topics) of the churches in common or not – must first be dealt with and supported by the minor assemblies before a general synod can deal with it.

3.6 The benefit of the older understanding of Article 30 is that every congregation has direct access to the broadest assembly on matters which are deemed to belong to the churches in common. This is desirable and healthy in our system of checks and balances whereby the autonomy of the local church is not lost (while it voluntarily binds itself to the decisions of the broader assemblies) and the threat of hierarchy at the broader assemblies is reduced. The benefit of the newer understanding of Article 30 is that it does not give undue influence to any one church who could potentially place a proposal on the agenda of a general synod without any of the other churches having seen it or studied it, much less interacted with it. The desire to have submissions first be tested, evaluated and filtered by the minor assemblies is beneficial in that it will ensure that only proposals which have won the support of a large number of churches reaches the broadest assembly. Such a check and balance helps protect the integrity of the bond of churches in the federation. A blending of these two approaches in a clear direction from synod would serve to benefit the churches and clarify the procedure for churches to address a general synod in the future.

(GS 2010 art. 62 cons. 3.5 & 3.6)

“Older” and “newer”?

The considerations of GS 2010 suggest that there is an older view and a newer view. The older view downplays the need for the ecclesiastical route. The newer view emphasizes it.

However, as we will see in future articles, the terms “older” and “newer” are relative, and maybe even suggestive. For it has been argued that what GS 2010 dubbed “the newer view” is in fact the original intent of Dort polity.

“Direction from synod”?

Also worth noting is that GS 2010 took it upon itself to propose a solution to a problem it had analyzed. Was GS 2010 justified in doing so without any church asking for this?

Both the older and newer views would not have been fine this. A proposal regarding a matter must come either from a church (older view) or via the ecclesiastical route (newer view). The fact that an appeal alerted GS 2010 to a dilemma in and of itself, so most will argue, does not give GS 2010 the right to address it, even if it was wise.

Revised Guidelines

GS 2010 denied the appeal but did proceed to provide direction. Changing the Church Order was not an option – that takes a proposal from a church. However, changing the Synod Guidelines was. For the last Guideline reads: “These Synodical Guidelines may be suspended, amended, revised or abrogated by a majority vote of Synod.”

GS 2010 therefore decided: “To add the following to the Guidelines of General Synod: For all matters of the churches in common, individual churches may address proposals or other significant submissions directly to general synod with the requirement that all such submissions are sent also to each church in the federation no later than six months prior to general synod.”

(GS 2010 art. 62 rec. 4.2)

The issue

The concern with the older view was that proposals could be submitted to a major assembly without other churches having seen it or had an opportunity to interact with it. The newer view argued that going the ecclesiastical route would ensure involvement of the churches. GS 2010 stuck with the “older view” and sought to address the concern of the “newer view” with this “older view”. What became new was that all proposals had to be sent to each church in the federation within such a time period that these churches could acquaint themselves with the proposal and, if desired, submit their thoughts to the major assembly.

In essence it meant that a proposal from a church would follow a process similar to that of a report from a synod committee. GS 2010 had provided a fix.

GS 2013, however, judged the fix to be contrary to the church order and rescinded it. We intend to review that, and the consequences of this, next time.

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