How Should We Define “Minor” and “Major” Assemblies?


Article 28 speaks of “minor” and “major” assemblies. What is actually meant by these adjectives, and is this the best way to refer to the council, the classis, and the synod?

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Indeed, in Reformed polity the classis and the synod are referred to as “major assemblies,” and the council and classes are referred to as “minor assemblies,” even in the Church Order itself. The intent is not so much that classis and synod have a higher authority than that of the council of the local church, although that is secondarily and derivatively true. It is higher only because it is cumulative. The primary intent is to honor the principle of catholicity: the greater the geographical spread of churches represented, the more significance we attach to the decisions made.

In the classis and in the synod we are dealing with the phenomenon of accumulated authority. For the local council, there is accountability to the broader church. It is for this reason that you will often hear the expression “broader assemblies” in our circles. I admit that we don’t often hear the term “narrower assembly.” But the adjective “broader” does say more precisely what “major” refers to.

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"...higher authority because it's cumulative..."   That is a really intiguing concept.  Secondary and derivative, but still higher.  It's very hard not to think of that in some sort of democratic way....  so that the more people are voting, the higher the authority.  and then I want to take the next step and say that the greater the majority in the vote, the more authoritative it is.  I know this is not a valid progression of logic, but my instincts are to give so much credibility to democratic decision making.  somehow that is what happens at assemblies, and yet I don't want to say that the church discerns God's will via the number of votes.....   and neither do I want to place all the authority in a person.   It's a dilemma for me as to how to think about cumulative authority specifically, and authority of decision making in the church more broadly.  Thanks for thinking about this with us!