SUPPORT THE RFPA BY BECOMING A MEMBER TODAY! Sign Up

Cart

Your cart is currently empty.

Gleanings in the Church Order (4): The Right to (Protest and) Appeal

Gleanings in the Church Order (4): The Right to (Protest and) Appeal

Introduction

We have already established that order in the church is important. As a reminder, Article 1 of the Church Order mentions four things—“offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments, and ceremonies, and Christian discipline”—that are “For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ." In Part One, we discussed offices; Part Two, assemblies in general, Part Three, legality at those assemblies. In the final part of this series, we explore the right to appeal. 

The Right to (Protest and) Appeal

Article 31 is the other main article consulted when an assembly decides legality. When a member is thinking about bringing something to the assembly, he should ask himself, “Have I complied with Articles 30-31 of the Church Order?” It would be very helpful for such a person to ask an officebearer (a minister or elder) that question. I would advise the member to ask his officebearers, not “Do you agree with me on this matter?” but “Does this comply with Articles 30-31 of the Church Order?” Help from someone, even, maybe especially, from someone who does not agree with the member’s position, is invaluable. Let us say that a member is convinced that a sermon preached by his pastor contains error and he has not convinced the consistory of his position. That member, if he still plans to appeal to the classis, should ask an officebearer to help him write an appeal that complies with Articles 30-31 of the Church Order.

Article 31 presupposes that the assemblies of the church can err. The decisions and rulings of consistories are not always right. Appeal of a consistory’s decision can be made to the classis where a multitude of counselors will adjudicate. The classis, which consists of two delegates from every regional consistory, is not infallible either. Decisions of the classis can be protested to the next meeting of the classis, and, if the member is still not satisfied, can be appealed to the synod.

An appeal is appropriate when a member is wronged by a decision. A decision with its grounds can be protested and appealed if the member views them as unbiblical or harmful to himself and/or the churches. A member should not make protests or appeals only because he does not like a decision. A decision might not be to a person’s liking; perhaps, he can live with it. But if a decision is harmful, he has the right, and even the duty, to bring the matter to the major assemblies for their judgment on the matter.

Article 31 speaks of appeals, but a member may bring three kinds of matters to a major assembly under Article 31: a protest, an appeal, or an overture.

A protest is an objection brought directly to an assembly against a decision of that assembly. A member might protest the decision of his consistory; a member might protest the decision of the classis; a member might protest the decision of the synod. Since a protest is the church orderly way to correct a decision of an assembly, every decision of an assembly is potentially protestable. If a decision were not protestable, then it would also not be correctable. An uncorrectable assembly making uncorrectable decisions is a dangerous thing and is akin to an infallible assembly, which is contrary to Reformed church polity.

An appeal is an objection brought to a major assembly against a decision of a minor assembly. If a member is not satisfied with the answer of his consistory, he may appeal to the classis; and, if still not satisfied, he may appeal to the synod. A member may not appeal directly to classis—he must first protest to his consistory. A member may not appeal directly to the synod—he must first appeal to the classis.

An overture is neither a protest nor an appeal because it is not introduced in response to a decision of an assembly, but is a request made to an assembly to initiate an action of importance. If a member desires all the churches of a region to do something, he brings an overture to the classis; if he desires all the churches of the denomination to do it, he brings the overture to the synod. However, a member may not bring an overture directly to the classis or the synod. If the overture is brought to the classis, it must first go through the member’s consistory; if it is brought to synod, it must first go through a member’s consistory and the classis. If the consistory and the classis disapprove the overture, the member still has the right to bring it to the synod, but he may not bypass the consistory and the classis. The principle behind such a procedure is found in Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, and 24:6, where a multitude of counselors is advised.

When a matter is decided by majority vote, that decision is settled and binding. “Settled” means that the matter is finished and it is no longer to be debated on the floor of the assembly and it means that it is finished in the churches. Members of the churches may discuss it, but their discussion of the matter may not include militating against it or stirring up opposition against it. Discussion of ecclesiastical decisions is profitable; militating against them is schismatic. While a member may disagree, he must be careful not to militate. If he is aggrieved, he should not gather a group against the decision but quietly, prayerfully, by himself, and perhaps with some help, bring his opposition in the orderly way. “Binding” means that the decision has authority so that everyone must obey the ruling of the classis or the synod.

Article 31 adds an exception clause: “Whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles of the Church Order.” Some have taken that to mean that if they are not personally satisfied, then the decision is not settled and binding for them. If they are convinced that the decision conflicts with the Word of God and the church order, they may speak and act against it. But that cannot be the meaning because of the word “proved.” To whom do you need to prove something—not to yourself because you are already convinced, but to the assembly whose decision you want to challenge by a protest or appeal! It does no good for a protestant or appellant to say, “Prove me wrong.” The burden of proof is on the protestant or appellant to prove that the assembly erred. The protestant or appellant must demonstrate this from the Word of God, the creeds, and the Church Order. Therefore, a protest or appeal is not to be a general expression of discontent, but must directly address and seek to refute a specific decision that the assembly has made by demonstrating that the decision and/or its grounds are erroneous.

If the protestant or appellant cannot convince the assembly, he must still submit to the decision. If he does not agree, he must acquiesce. If in good conscience he cannot submit to the decision or acquiesce to it, he may have to leave the church, but such a response to a decision must be very carefully considered and obviously has great repercussions for the member and his family.

 

Martyn McGeown is a pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He is also the editor of the RFPA blog and the author of multiple RFPA publications.

 __________

Interested in exploring these Articles for yourself? Check out The Church Order Commentary written in 1941 and republished in 2021:





Share this post:

Older Post Newer Post


Read More Articles

Book Review - Through Many Dangers
Book Review - Through Many Dangers
The following review was written by Dr. Robert P. Swierenga, Research Profess...
Read More
Quiz Your Knowledge of the Canons of Dordt (5)
Quiz Your Knowledge of the Canons of Dordt (5)
The RFPA blog editor, Rev. Martyn McGeown, enjoys teaching the creeds in his ...
Read More
Quiz Your Knowledge of the Canons of Dordt (4)
Quiz Your Knowledge of the Canons of Dordt (4)
The RFPA blog editor, Rev. Martyn McGeown, enjoys teaching the creeds in his ...
Read More
Translation missing: en.general.search.loading