(Part 3)

by John Vantil

In my two previous instalments I held out the possibility that someone has stolen a very valuable painting from you. I asked how you would react if, in spite of all the evidence you presented, the police force and the courts will not hear or consider your case, but instead turn around and attack your credibility so that you have no hope, humanly speaking, of ever getting your valuable painting back.

Now imagine that this was not even your painting to begin with. As a national treasure this painting has been entrusted to you for safe keeping. As its custodian you are committed to the defence and preservation of this painting for future generations. As a responsible citizen you will do all you can to recover it, since you will have to give account for what has happened to it.

You thought that the authorities would have a common interest in the preservation of this painting, and that they would at least share your concerns. However it turns out that they are complicit in its disappearance. Indeed, you are now considered a troublemaker and therefore you must be silenced. Therefore you are now confronted with the reality of John 16:2 which reads, “They will put you out of the synagogues, yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

With this in mind, let us examine a little more closely some of the reasons given for the inadmissibility of appeals and letters that were discussed in the two previous instalments of this editorial. Near the end of my first instalment I asked a question why letters of concerned individuals were declared inadmissible as indicated in Articles 27, 28, 29, 47, 71 and 109 of the Acts of General Synod Carmen 2013 of the CanRCs.

Changes made to the right of individual members to appeal

We begin with Article 27. This article refers to a situation where a brother had appealed a decision of a previous General Synod to his consistory but the consistory would not agree with his concerns. The concerned brother then brought his concerns forward by way of an appeal to General Synod Carman 2013. In support of its decision to declare the appeal inadmissible, General Synod referred to a decision contained in the Acts of General Synod Chatham 2004, Article 20, which denies the right of an individual member to appeal a general synod decision directly to the next general synod.

Prior to General Synod 2001 there were numerous instances where material from individuals relating to the churches in common was received and dealt with by CanRC General Synods without first having to be presented to the minor assemblies. However General Synod 2001 made a change by declaring a number of such submissions inadmissible (see Acts of General Synod Neerlandia 2001, Article 45, Admissibity 2.1 and 2.2; Article 73, Admissiblity 2; Article 87, Admissibility 2.2, and also Article 89).

General Synod Chatham 2004 (Acts, Article 20) had to deal with two appeals regarding this matter. Two churches objected to this change, claiming that:

  1. Synod has changed the previous understanding of Article 30 and 31 of our Church Order and applied a new interpretation without any explanation” (Observations 3.2.1);

  2. There is “no evidence that this decision was based on a request from any individual or any of the churches” (Observations 3.2.2);

  3. History has taught reformed people the importance and the necessity of the individual’s right to appeal.” In addition “the right to appeal has been denied to individuals whereas in the past this was an accepted practice” (Observations 3.2.3)

  4. Acts of Synod are public decisions, decisions which every member of the federation is duty-bound to study, examine, and test according to the Word of God, confessions, and Church Order” (Observations 3.3.2);

  5. “All possibility for an appeal to the broadest assembly, which made the decision in the first place, is ruled out of order for these brothers” (Observations 3.3.3); and

  6. There is “the potential of hierarchy of a broader assembly lording it over individual members in the churches” (Observations 3.3.4).


In its considerations Synod 2004 ignored many instances where general synods had dealt with appeals from individuals prior to 2001. In consideration 4.1 Synod instead quotes Synod Abbotsford 1995 where it states that “it would be unfair to declare the personal submissions … invalid for this Synod because past Synods have been inconsistent on this.” The fact that Synods 1995 and 1998 may have questioned the admissibility of certain submissions does not provide a basis for Synod 2001 to suddenly declare such submissions inadmissible. How is justice served by changing the rules mid-stream? Is it right for the same individual, who had his appeal on the matter of the relationship with the OPC admitted to the two previous general synods, to now have his appeal to Synod 2001 on the same matter, declared inadmissible?

More importantly, were past synods really inconsistent on this?

The Acts of Synod 1992 show a number of examples of individuals addressing general synod without first addressing the minor assemblies. Articles 64, 72, 77, 101, 103, 115, and 120 all admit material from individuals without requiring that this material go through the minor assemblies. From the Acts of Synod 1989 we see the same. Articles 95, 130, 142, 144, 145, 146, 153, 155, and 161 from this Synod also admit material from individuals without requiring that this material come by way of the minor assemblies.

Going further back, instances of this occurring can also be found in the Acts of Synod 1986 (Articles 71, 91, 92, 93, 101, 104, 119, 120, 136, 141, 144, 159, 160, 175, 185, 186, and 189), Synod 1983 (Articles 50, 70, 91, 123, 145, and 160), Synod 1980 (Articles 34, 60, 77, 83, 97, and 122), Synod 1977 (Article 28), Synod 1974 (Article 49, 146, and 159H), Synod 1971 (Articles 28, 33, 47, 48, 59, 76, 83, 86, 92, and 94), Synod 1968 (Articles 45, 50, 51, 71, 87, 91, 92, 134, 155IV, and 174), and Synod 1965 (Articles 31, 45, 105, 139, 178, and 179).

Where is the inconsistency?

From the above it is clear that prior to 2001 general synods have consistently admitted submissions from individuals containing appeals against previous general synod decisions. Furthermore, these general synods have also consistently admitted submissions from individuals in connection with matters affecting the churches in common. At the same time these general synods have consistently refused to admit material which was not submitted in accordance with Article 31 of the Church Order or which did not affect the churches in common.

The reader can see this for himself.

Change in understanding?

In consideration 4.2 Synod 2004 readily admits that there is no evidence of a request from an individual or from one of the churches to make a change to the application of Articles 30 and 31 of the Church Order. Instead Synod sidesteps the issue by questioning whether such a change has actually occurred.

It may be helpful to review the applicable text of these articles of the Church Order. Article 30 indicates that, “A major assembly shall deal with those matters only which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to the churches in common.” Article 31 indicates that, “If anyone complains that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to the major assembly….

These articles do not indicate any restriction on the right of individuals to address the major assemblies. Neither do they distinguish between the rights of individuals and the rights of churches. Article 31 of the church order is clear. “… Anyone … wronged by the decision of a minor assembly … [has] the right to appeal to the major assembly.” At the same time Article 30 is also clear: “A major assembly shall deal with those matters … which belong to the churches in common.”

This has been the practice prior to Synod 2001. Consistories did not make decisions on matters which belong to the churches in common, and anyone who was wronged by the decision of a minor assembly had the right of appeal to the major assembly.

What is Synod 2004 now telling us? If you, as an individual, have an objection against a decision of a major assembly, you now have to go to the minor assembly! Further, if you, as an individual, have a concern about a certain proposal to synod affecting the churches in common, you first have to go to the minor assembly!

This is not how the church order reads. Further, as I have shown in the previous section, prior to 2001 this is also not how the church order was applied.


The proof that Synod 2004 has, in its Article 20, made a change in the application of the Church Order is found in consideration 4.4. In this consideration Synod claims that “Consistory, unlike individual members, has the right to deal directly with the matters that belong to the churches in common. Consistory may do so because these decisions are to be considered settled and binding by the consistory. A consistory cannot appeal a decision of a major assembly to a minor assembly.

Articles 30 and 31 of the Church Order do not distinguish between individuals and consistories. If, according to the church order, a consistory cannot appeal a decision of a major assembly to a minor assembly, how can an individual? Has not Synod 2004 now created an artificial distinction between individuals and ecclesiastical bodies where none existed before?

In addition, are not the decisions of the major assemblies also to be considered settled and binding upon individual members?

Consideration 4.6 answers the last question. “There is a possibility that an ecclesiastical assembly may make a wrong decision. Yet, in general, decisions of the major assemblies ought to be held in high esteem. After all, the ecclesiastical assembly is not a discussion partner for individuals, but rather it is through these assemblies that the churches have spoken according to their rightful responsibility. With this in mind the individual should reconsider whether he may have come to the wrong conclusion.

Where have we seen something like this before?

In the Westminster Confession, chapter 31, we read, “It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.

This reasoning may sound very pious and humble, but it is a clear violation of justice to the members of these churches. Have not then the clergy become lords in the church (see 1 Peter 5:3)? Would it not be an act of unfaithfulness to the Head of the church if a prospective appellant did not proceed with a legitimate appeal or acquiesced in an unscriptural decision due to the weight of ecclesiastical power described above?

A new level of frustration

Synod Carman 2013 provides us with an example of this new “interpretation” of the church order in practice. We jump to Article 71 of the Acts of this Synod. The appellant here follows the process envisioned by Article 20 of Synod 2004. She has objections against a decision of a general synod and presents an appeal to her consistory setting forth the reasons for her objections. The consistory denies her appeal and subsequent appeals to Classis and Regional Synod are also denied. As she is unable to accept the answer of the Regional Synod, she appeals to General Synod.

But what happens? The appeal to General Synod is declared inadmissible on the basis of Articles 30 and 33 of the Church Order. Consideration 3.5 of this decision asserts that the appellant “has not submitted an appeal but simply a restatement of what she submitted to the minor assemblies.” In addition this consideration stated that “An integral element of an appeal is that it presents grounds to show how one has been wronged or grieved by the decision of an ecclesiastical assembly.

Is this an honest assessment of what happened?

A close examination of the appeal in question reveals that the appellant has specifically identified the grounds for each of her four requests and each of the grounds addresses elements of the Regional Synod decision that she is appealing. The insinuation that the appellant did not provide grounds in her appeal is nothing less than a blatant falsehood. General Synod’s claim that this appeal is inadmissible on the basis of Articles 30 and 33 of the Church Order has no foundation. As a result of this decision the appellant has, in effect, been denied her right of appeal. The order prescribed by Article 20 of General Synod 2004 was followed and this was the result. Has not the “troublemaker” now been silenced? What is the message sent by this decision to the rest of the members of the church? How can any other appellant expect to do better?

Does Synod 2004 truly answer the claims in the appeals of the two churches? Technically individuals still have the right of appeal and Synod does not deny that individuals too have the responsibility to test the decisions of the major assemblies. However the interposition of minor assemblies between the appealing individual and the broader assembly which made the decision in the first place is indeed the beginning of hierarchy. The additional hoops that appellants are now forced to jump through go beyond the requirements of the church order.

The last ditch

There is another aspect of Synod 2004’s decision on the right of individual members to appeal which deserves further attention. Consideration 4.5 of Article 20 of the Acts of this Synod asserts that, “For the individual, his local consistory is to be considered the minor assembly. When the consistory accepts a decision of a general synod, the individual’s appeal is against the consistory and therefore Article 31 directs his subsequent appeal to the broader assembly of classis, and then regional synod and general synod.

The above consideration works under the assumption that the general synod is the highest authority in the church. However this is not true. It is the consistories which are faced with the responsibility of either accepting as settled and binding, or appealing, or possibly even liberating themselves from general synod decisions should they be proven contrary to the Word of God or the Church Order.

Is it not the consistories which are the highest authorities in the church? And if the consistories are delinquent in their duty then must not the individual members themselves act to separate themselves from unscriptural decisions and call the congregation back to the true service of the Lord?

The basis for such a separation can be found in Bound Yet Free, edited by Prof. J. deJong, in the article “Concerning the Government of Christ’s Church,” written by Prof. C. Veenhof where he writes, ”Such a separation or secession may have a varying character, depending on whether the whole assembly of believers is involved, or only a majority of the believers, or finally the minority, since the majority has either been misled by the unfaithful leaders, is unconcerned and uncaring, or hesitates too long before coming to a courageous decision” (page 163).

Prof. Veenhof also writes, “In such cases, the faithful consistory members had to do all they could to convince the unwilling consistory to take the step. If they did not succeed, they had to take action against the unwilling consistory. In this way, the faithful consistory members became the true, legitimate consistory of the local church. The unfaithful consistory became a revolutionary counter-consistory. The faithful consistory (or perhaps the three, two or one faithful consistory members) summoned the congregation and thus brought about reformation. With the congregation, it separated itself from the revolutionary, un-ecclesiastical administrative organization, and the church thus liberated was and remained the old, free, and independent church at that place” (Bound Yet Free, page 166).

Despite the opposition he may receive from corrupt authorities, the responsible citizen will do all he can to recover the stolen painting.

In the next instalment, the Lord willing, we will take a closer look at some other appeals and why they were declared inadmissible by General Synod Carman 2013.