ARTICLE 30 – Authority of the assemblies
These assemblies shall only deal with ecclesiastical matters and in an ecclesiastical manner. A
major assembly shall deal only with matters which could not be finished in the minor assembly
or which belong to its churches in common. A new matter may be put on its agenda only when
the minor assembly has dealt with it.
ARTICLE 30 – Ecclesiastical Matters
These assemblies shall deal with no other than ecclesiastical matters and that in an ecclesiastical manner.
A major assembly shall deal with those matters only which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to its churches in common.
A new matter which has not previously been presented to that major assembly may be put on the agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it.
In dese t’samen-comstê sullen geen ander dan Kerckelijcke saecken / ende t’selfde op Kerckelijcke wijze ghehandelt worden. In meerder vergaderinge salmen niet handelen / dan ’tgeen dat in mindere niet en heeft af-gehandelt connen werden / ofte dat tot de Kercken der meerder vergaderinge int gemeyn behoort.
English translation of the Church Order of Dort (external link)
Decisions of FRCA synods
Topics related to this article
VanOene, With Common Consent
VanRongen, Decently and in Good Order
The federation of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia is a federation of churches. It is not a denomination with about five thousand individual members, but a federation of (presently) sixteen churches. I am not a member of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia. I am a member of one of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, to be specific: I am a member of the Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott.
This distinction is important. Only members have the right to put matters on the agenda of the official assemblies of the federation. The churches are the members of the FRCA. Not the individual members of the local churches. The Church Order stipulates that something can only be put on the agenda of a major assembly if it comes from the minor assembly. The assemblies are the consistory, the classis, and the synod (article 28). To put something on the agenda of a synod, it must come from the consistory through the classis to the synod. One exception to this rule is: when a matter belongs to the churches in common (art. 30), which is determined either by the Church Order or by a synod.
When the classis or synod meets, the churches are represented by the delegates. When the synod makes a decision, the churches do this together as a federation of churches. Not every church may agree with it, but we have promised to abide by the decisions made, for the sake of the unity among the churches. However, decisions of synods are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed. Any decision made by a synod can be changed by a subsequent synod, if new grounds have been provided through the ecclesiastical way (see art. 33).
No individual member of a local church has the right to put matters on the agenda of ecclesiastical assemblies. (Not even on the agenda of a consistory. The consistory determines its own agenda and has the right to refuse to deal with a letter, if it deems the matter non-ecclesiastical.) If he wants a consistory, classis, or synod to deal with a certain matter or to change a decision, he will have to approach his consistory.
Sometimes the word ‘precedent’ is used in discussions about decisions of synods. Often it will be in situation of appeals (see article 31), but sometimes it can also be applied to proposals that are at the table of synod. As if synod should make a certain decision because previous synods made such decisions in similar cases. This is a wrong perception of what the process of decision making in the churches is. Precedent usually is meant as a decision made in the past which compels synod to make the same decision again. Precedent does have its place in legal cases and can be used in court. But ecclesiastical assemblies are not a court of law, neither do they develop a jurisprudence. Once a synod closes, it is finished. A next synod makes a new start. A synod can appoint deputies for only three years and can give them a mandate for only three years. Therefore, any decision of a synod cannot be binding upon subsequent synods in the meaning that those synods must make the same decision in similar situations. Even though it would be wise for consistency, it is still up to the synod to decide, without being bound by previous decisions.
The delegates at synod are not experts. We cannot expect from them that they have knowledge of all previous ‘precedents’ like a lawyer has. We have the church order. The church order is sufficient and sufficiently clear. What makes the whole matter confusing is that we are going to drag all kinds of precedents into the discussion. If the church order is not clear, we must change it. If it is clear, we must abide by it.