Testing the Decisions
At the time of writing this editorial, General Synod Fergus had just completed its work. The delegates, their wives and children, are glad about that! By now, the sixteen men will, Lord willing, happily be back at their homes enjoying the company of their families and their regular work in the congregations and in the market place.
That General Synod Fergus has finished its work means that the consistories and membership of the churches must begin their work – the work of testing the decisions. In our churches we have the excellent practice of ensuring that each family and single communicant member receive a copy of the Acts. Everyone ought to read through them. Admittedly, Acts of Synods do not make for the most gripping reading. It will not be the book you think of first to take along as you head to the beach this summer. And yet, it is important that the membership know what decisions have been taken. After all, the decisions will affect you. If you have questions about or difficulties with a particular decision, then you can approach your consistory on them.
As important as it is for everyone to read the Acts, it is the more crucial for the consistories to scrutinize them. The consistories have the duty to test them in the light of the Word of God, the Confessions of the church, and the Church Order. The consistories will need to see if the decisions taken on a variety of matters can stand in the blazing light of God’s Word, whether they conform to the Three Forms of Unity, and whether they were made in loyalty to our adopted Church Order. This was the norm under which the delegates laboured. The credentials with which the two Regional Synods sent them to General Synod Fergus bound the delegates to Scriptures, Confession, and Church Order. The ministers and elders promised to work under that yoke. We, now, must see whether they were faithful in this. This is not a matter of distrust. Not at all! Rather, it is a matter of fulfilling mutually agreed upon responsibilities. Testing the decisions of the General Synod is one aspect of what it means to be bound together in a federation of churches.
In Article 31 of the Church Order, we have agreed that “...whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.”
In order to see whether a decision agrees or is in conflict with the standard, it must be tested by the standard. Since the consistories as governing bodies of the churches must work with the decisions, the consistories must test. Bringing a decision into the life of the congregation must not be done automatically or slavishly but purposefully and consciously.
The consistory does not, by its act of scrutinizing the Acts of a General Synod, make the decisions settled and binding. Rather, the consistory must see whether it can hold the decisions which have been made as Fergus settled and binding. If, after having tested a decision, the consistory concludes that it was made in accordance with the agreed-upon standards, well and good! The consistory thereby acknowledges that decision to be settled and binding. If, however, after having applied the standards, the consistory concludes the decision cannot stand in light of Scriptures, Confession, or Church Order, then that particular decision is not considered as settled and binding. Prof. J. Kamphuis, quoting Voetius, says that if an ecclesiastical of testing the decision is in conflict with the Word of God, then it may not be executed. The necessary consequence of stating that a decision cannot be held as settled and binding is that the consistory then appeal it to the next General Synod.
General Synod Fergus decided to take advantage of today’s technology by maintaining a web page on the Internet. Every day the previous day’s decisions were posted. Anyone interested and with access to the Internet could follow the decisions as they were made instead of having to go by rumor and second- and third-hand information. In years past, we always had to wait several months for the Acts to be published before we could read the official text of the decisions. Now we could read them on a daily basis. This has both positive and negative aspects to it. The positive side is that it is good for the membership of the churches to be as informed as possible. Except for a few closed session items, the decisions taken by a General Synod are not made in secret. Why not get the decisions out as soon as possible! The negative side to it is that the sixteen brothers probably felt like they were in a fish bowl. Perhaps they even felt like the odd harpoon gun was aimed at them.
Since the decisions of General Synod Fergus are readily available on the Internet, it is very tempting to start commenting on them. However, we will refrain. Likely, there will be some discussion on various decisions in future pages of Clarion – especially, I would think, on those decisions that have to do with how we are going to relate to other Reformed churches at home and abroad since General Synod Fergus in some respects put us in a holding pattern, and perhaps even peddled us back. The question can be asked whether General Synod Fergus has not, in some cases, raised the bar too high. But I wasn’t going to comment...
General Synod Fergus has completed its agenda. Sixteen faithful men of God have done their work as best they could. It’s now up to the churches to test this work.