The Process of Appeals
There can be more than one stage of appeal concerning a decision. Since each assembly judging an appeal can uphold or deny an appeal, there are many possible scenarios.
It is generally argued that there are three stages of appeal: from local to classis, from classis, to regional synod, from regional synod to general synod. In the light of CanRC GS 2010, article 93, consideration 3.2 it could be argued there are at least four stages of appeal, also from general synod to general synod.
We wonder whether the number of assemblies determines the number of possible appeals. In our opinion, wisdom suggests that once a decision has been rejected or maintained by three assemblies (including the assembly that originally took the decision), the matter should be considered closed. To continue the appeals process would be evidence of a spirit of litigiousness. There can then be as few as two stages of appeal and as many as four.
In this article we presume general Canadian Reformed practice. This means a minimum of three stages of appeal. Strictly speaking there is no maximum number of stages of appeal.
In an attempt to keep things clear this article speaks of assemblies A, B, C, D, and E. Assembly A is the assembly taking the original decision. Assembly B judges appeals against A. Assembly C judges an appeal once B has considered an appeal concerning the matter. Assembly D judges an appeal once C has dealt with it, and Assembly E once Assembly D has dealt with it. In most situations A would be a consistory or council, B a classis, C a regional synod, D a general synod, and E the next general synod. If A is a classis, B would be a regional synod, C a general synod, and D & E following general synods. If A is a general synod, B would be the following general synod, etc.
- WARNING: in what follows the terminology will be confusing. The implications of upholding or denying an appeal with respect to the disputed decision depends on who the author of the appeal is. Hence we will be rather verbose, indicating not only whether an appeal was upheld or denied, but also whether this means the decision was maintained or rejected.
- REQUEST: As author I admit writing this article has not been easy. Should you feel something is unclear or wrong, please email me so that I can address the matter by clarifying or correcting it.
Since the Canadian Reformed appeals process generally has three or four stages, there are 8 to 16 possible scenarios. The most prevalent once are described below. Clicking on the scenario will expand the list item into a description of the process.
The scenarios are theoretical. It would be a sign of lack of wisdom if one assembly decided one way, and the next the other way, and the next a third way. The sad reality of church practice is, though, that this at times does happen. Also church practice is tainted by sin and weakness.
It is easy to get lost in the detail of a theoretical description. In the attempt to make things clearer, each scenario is accompanied by an illustration. All illustrations work with a situation where Consistory A has decided to withhold Br. Z from the Lord’s Supper for hardening himself in a particular sin. The process begins with Br. Z submitting an appeal to Classis B. Thus Consistory A is Assembly A and br. Z is the original appellant. For the duration of br. Z’s appeal to classis, the suspension is changed from a silent suspension to a simple suspension.