Appeals: Who and What

As explained in the article Assemblies: Appeals, Requests, & Overtures, submissions to church assemblies exist in three sorts: overtures, appeals and requests.

Appeal: Definition

An appeal is a submission to an assembly concerning a decision previously taken. It is motivated by the conviction that the decision is wrong. It challenges the validity of the decision and requests a review of the decision with the grounds on which it was taken.


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.

The Appellant

“Appellant” is the technical term for the party submitting an appeal.

If the original decision being appealed concerns a person, the appeal originates with one of the parties involved in the original decision: The church or person(s) concerning whom Assembly A took a decision, or Assembly A once an appeal has been upheld.

If the original decision being appealed concerns a matter, the appeal originates with any one belonging to the jurisdiction of the assembly that took the decision. Appeals against decisions of local church assemblies (consistory, council, and deacons) may be submitted by any communicant member of that local church. In the Canadian Reformed Churches appeals against decisions of major assemblies (classis, regional synod, and general synod) may only be submitted by local churches.

When an appeal is submitted, the church or person(s) asks Assembly B to judge whether the decision taken by Assembly A was correct. Once an assembly (B, C, or D) has judged an appeal it no longer plays a role in the appeal process.

 “Against” or “Concerning”

We commonly speak of an appeal “against” a decision. However, it is wiser to speak of an appeal “concerning” a decision. This avoids confusion concerning what is being appealed and who is involved.

Consider the following. If Assembly B upholds an appeal and Assembly A submits an appeal to Assembly C, is this an appeal against the decision of Assembly B? If so, what if Assembly B denies an appeal, and the appellant submits an appeal to Assembly C? Is his appeal against Assembly B or (still) against Assembly A? We commonly speak of this being a second appeal against the decision of Assembly A.

Things can become more complicated yet. What if Assembly B denies the appeal of the appellant and Assembly C upholds the appeal of Assembly A. The appellant submits an appeal to Assembly D. Is it an appeal against the decision of Assembly C or Assembly A? Is it a second appeal (because it is the second one submitted by the appellant) or a third appeal (because it is the third appeal concerning the decision)?

In our opinion, one should speak of an appeal concerning a decision. That way, no matter what assemblies decide concerning appeals, it is always clear that an appeal, no matter what occasions it, concerns a decision by Assembly A. It also makes clear that assemblies that have been involved in an appeals process, are no longer part of the appeals process as it moves from one assembly to the next.

No New Grounds

An appeal is asking an assembly of appeal to consider whether the decision taken by Assembly A is valid and if the grounds for the decision are true. This implies that any assembly of appeal may only consider what Assembly A considered (including whatever it actively refused to consider). No new grounds for upholding or rejecting the original decision of Assembly A may be introduced into the process.

If the appellant does want to bring in new grounds, the proper procedure is not an appeal to Assembly B (or C or D). Instead the appellant should request Assembly A to review or rescind/revise its decision in the light of the newly submitted materials.

In Short

An appeal is a submission to an assembly requesting it to review an existing decision. Only the parties involved in the original decision can submit an appeal. It is best to speak of an appeal “concerning” a decision as opposed to speaking of an appeal ‘”against” a decision. During the appeals process no new grounds may be introduced; if they are, the submission is not an appeal but a request.

The next article considers when there should be a stay of execution of the original decision.