Acts: Made Up of “Articles”

Exegesis is the activity of determining what a text says, hermeneutics is the rules for exegesis. This applies not only to Scripture, it also applies to legal texts, such as church orders, regulations, and acts of ecclesiastical assemblies. One basic rule for working with legal texts is understanding that not all texts or all parts of texts carry equal weight.

This article is the first of several explaining the hermeneutics for acts of ecclesiastical assemblies, more specifically, of general synods of the CanRC. It explains the different types of articles one finds in acts.

Different Types of Articles

The CanRC have the practice of recording their acts chronologically. The acts of a general synod read like a running blog account of what the synod “did”. By the way, that’s what “acts”, the English word for the Latin “acta”, intends to say: the Latin acta means “the things done”.

As an aside: English custom is to record acts in the past tense, Dutch custom is to record acts in the present tense. Hence one will frequently encounter a mixture of tenses in Canadian Reformed acts.

As to the acts, one article may indicate how the session was opened, noting devotions happened and who led them. Another article may indicate the assembly was adjourned for a break. A third article will indicate discussion was held on a matter and that it was sent back to the advisory committee for further consideration. A fourth article will describe what a synod received to deal with, what it thought of this, and what it decided in regards to this.

The first three types of articles inform the churches that synod followed due process. The fourth type of article is of a different sort. Here one finds the matters where the assembly did something on behalf of the churches (e.g. adopt a hymn to be sung in worship) or is asking the churches to do something as part of the federation (e.g. to support needy students at the seminary). One also finds here matters where the assembly did something as the church (e.g. judge an appeal).

It is the fourth type of article that the churches upon receiving the acts will review in the light of CanRC CO art. 31. It is this type of article where one finds statements that bear a measure of authority within the bond of churches.

In Short

In the acts of assemblies, the different articles have different purposes. Only one type of article comes to the local church with authority as it is within the bounds of Scripture and taken with common accord.

For the hermeneutics of the text of this type of article see the article Acts: Types of Texts & Their Authority.