With Common Consent
When reading Article 1 of the Church Order, we are reminded of I Corinthians 14:40, where Scripture says,
But all things should be done decently and in order. Commentaries on the Church Order remind us of this text and usually also quote verse 33: For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
Originally the first article was the one in which our forefathers condemned all hierarchy. Some deplore the fact that this article has lost its place at the head of the articles. 1 We, on the other hand, do not deplore it, for the present Article 1 of the Church Order is the article which gives the basic principles – if we may use this term.
In this article we speak of the necessity of a Church Order as well as about its character.
It is necessary that for living together within the federation we do have a Church Order – and this is against those who advocate a more or less loose organization without binding agreements or even no organization at all.
The character of our Church Order as a voluntary, yet binding, agreement is also pointed out in here – and this is against those who abuse our Church Order and make it a stepping-stone to introduce hierarchy. "All things must be done decently and in order," the apostle enjoins.
This is a must, because God is not the Author of confusion but of peace. This is not what we would expect. We would expect the apostle to write: "God is not the Author of confusion, but of order."
Several commentators explain it in this manner and this is how they lay the connection between what the apostle writes in I Corinthians 14:40 and the provision in Article 1 of our Church Order: that for the maintenance of good order it is necessary that there be offices, etc. They point out that God is a God of order and the Author of order. To this end they remind us of the order which is found in creation, in the course of the celestial bodies; they tell us of the order found in the realm of the animals: the Lord prevents chaos, they say, by seeing to it that the order is maintained. And since God is the Author not of confusion but of order, it is not strange that the apostle Paul reminds us of it and derives an argument from it for the necessity that there be order also in the church.
However, what is overlooked is that the apostle does not say that God is the Author of order, but that the Lord is the Author of peace. And because God is the Author of peace, everything must be done decently and in order.
What is peace in the Scriptural sense? What is the shalom?
Let us listen to someone who wrote a book explaining various words and expressions from God's Word.2
The Hebrew word shalom has the basic meaning of well-being. This included health and the general state of things with a person. Not only the individual person, but also the whole nation can enjoy this peace. The condition of well-being comes into existence when relations in religious, political, and economic respects are established. Such a condition of shalom rests upon solid relations, upon an established order. If the order is disturbed anywhere, there can be no peace.
This may concern the good order between God and man; it can also be the good order between nation and nation. The relations between men who were not related by blood were fixed in a covenant. Shalom and covenant belong inseparably together. Without a covenant (without clear and sworn agreements concerning the mutual relations and without keeping them strictly) there can be no peace – only threat and fear.
'Shalom' is something which is seen in the fruits of the labours and in the way in which people go about with each other. Righteousness and peace kiss each other, Psalm 85:11 says. Shalom is not a feeling, but a condition in which normal life is being lived. It is something tangible: "one experiences it with one's whole existence."
Righteousness – i.e. faithfulness, keeping one's word, fulfilling the obligations of the covenant – and peace kiss each other: then there is that overall well-being of which God is the Author. He cannot give His peace if the conditions of the covenant are not met. This applies not only to the covenant which God has established with us; it applies also to the covenant which the churches have made when they established their federation. Then they made a solemn agreement and gave each other the promise that they would deal with each other federally as well as locally within this federation in the manner described in the articles of the Church Order. Without such a written and solemnly adopted agreement they would not know what each church could expect from the other churches and thus peace would evade them. However, God is the Author of peace and He visits His peace upon those who keep their promises, even if they have sworn to their own hurt.
In their Church Order the churches have laid down the condition for their living within the federation.
They have agreed to do certain things in the same way… to create a certain form of jurisdiction in their midst; and to undertake a number of common activities.3
The churches have not transferred any part – however small – of their Christ-given authority. Knowing their own sinfulness and frequent lack of insight, they have, for their own protection, in some instances restricted themselves in the exercise of their own authority by providing that the sister churches shall be engaged and/or consulted before any action is to be taken, 4 but they have never delegated any authority. Yet they abide by their promises laid down in their Church Order and they abide equally by the decisions of the major assemblies – whether they agree with them or not – as long as the brothers at these major assemblies deal with matters which have been entrusted to them in that same faithfulness to the conditions of the covenant of the churches.
Truly Reformed church polity – once again – is not: walking a tightrope or doing a balancing act between independentism on the one side and hierarchy on the other side. It is living together and keeing the promises, fulfilling the conditions of the covenant.
Righteousness and peace greet each other. Faithfulness, observing the conditions, the obligations which the churches have voluntarily taken upon themselves, will result in peace. For God is the Author of peace. Therefore all things must be done decently and in order.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. Peace shall be within your walls, O Jerusalem.