Assemblies: Appeals, Requests, and Overtures

In the Dort tradition there are two Church Order articles dealing with submissions to assemblies: articles 31 and 33. The Canadian Reformed Churches have entitled them “Appeals” and “Proposals” respectively. The question is, does this imply that there are only two types of submissions? It frequently happens that an assembly finds itself wondering how to classify a submission. It also happens that a submission seems to be both an appeal against a taken decision and a proposal regarding a decision to be taken.

This article reviews submissions to assemblies and suggests that there are in fact four categories of submissions that may come from persons or churches. Those four are: overtures, appeals, and requests; requests further subdivide into two types.

Articles 31 and 33

Church Order article 31 articulates the right of appeal from a minor assembly to a broader assembly. Nothing is said in this article about what makes for a proper appeal. However, it is commonly understood that an appeal may not introduce new matters into the case. It is the review of an old decision on previously considered grounds.

Church Order article 33 assumes the existence of proposals. It simply states that proposals concerning previously dealt with matters must be accompanied by new grounds.

Problems arise when an individual or church disagrees with a taken decision and expresses this disagreement in a submission to an assembly. Should this be an appeal (no new grounds allowed) or a proposal (new grounds required)?

This reality suggests that simply using Church Order articles 31 and 33 to distinguish between submissions to assemblies is not sufficient.

Classifying Factors

A first helpful question to ask is whether a submission is about a new matter or a previously dealt with matter.

If a submission concerns a previously taken decision, two further questions may be asked.

A second helpful question to ask is whether the submission challenges the decision itself, the grounds for the decision to the extent that it undermines the decision, or the validity of the decision. Challenging the decision itself requires adducing matters not considered. Challenging a necessary ground for the decision or the validity (logic) of the decision does not introduce matters not considered.

For example: The decision “women shall not participate in voting for office-bearers” with as grounds “1Timothy 2:12” & “voting is an act of authority” is proper to some. However, to those who do not consider voting an act of authority (and thus, 1Timothy 2:12 irrelevant to the matter), the decision is not proper. As the challenge concerns the relevance of grounds, no new matters would be introduced in the submission.

A third helpful question to ask is whether a submission adduces new grounds or not.


Using the factors mentioned, we speak of overtures, appeals, and requests. Requests subdivide into “requests to revise or rescind” and “requests to review”.

Note: the terms “overture”, “appeal”, and “request” was used by GS Orangeville 1968 to classify submissions. We have not yet researched whether the terms line up with what follows.


An overture is a proposal to an assembly concerning a new matter. As the matter is new, the grounds will be new. In the Canadian Reformed tradition, an overture will always originate in or with a local church. Overtures are not mentioned anywhere explicitly in the church order but their existence is implied by Church Order Article 33. Overtures are a type of proposal.


An appeal is a submission to an assembly concerning a decision previously taken. It is motivated by the conviction that the decision is wrong because a necessary ground is not true and/or the logic from grounds to decision is not valid. It requests a review of the decision with the grounds on which it was taken. Appeals are always submitted to the next major assembly.


A request is a submission to an assembly concerning a decision previously taken. It challenges the truth (or wisdom) of the decision taken. Thus it brings new material to bear on the matter. The fact that it deals with an old matter distinguishes it from an overture. The fact that it adduces new grounds distinguishes it from an appeal.

A request to rescind or revise request the assembly to rescind the previously taken decision and return to the pre-decision situation, or revise the decision (i.e. replace it with another). A request to rescind or revise (almost?) always concerns non-personal matters.

A request to review is mostly like an appeal. The difference is that an appeal does not introduce new grounds while a request to review does. It adduces material that could have been known to the assembly when it took the decision and should have been considered by it, but was not. A request to review (almost?) always concerns personal matters. (A request to review is similar to the secular “retrial in the light of new evidence”.)

Note: this implies objections submitted after the appointment and prior to the ordination of a brother to office are in fact requests to review (their appointment). This is clear from the fact that the submission of an objection against the decision to ordain someone does not go the way of an appeal to classis but goes the way of request to council.

In Short

We distinguish three categories of submissions to church assemblies: overtures, appeals, and requests. The category requests subdivides into two types: request to rescind or revise and request to review. The differentiating factors are whether a submission is dealing with a new matter or a previously dealt with matter, whether it challenges the truth of the decision or challenges the truth of a necessary ground and/or validity of a decision, and whether it adduces new grounds or not.