Should we still practice "mutual censure" at Classis meetings?

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This perhaps is a question for Henry DeMoor, but I would assume there are others who might like to give an opinion. 

Prior to the Church Order revision in '65, there was an article that required "mutual censure" at Classis meetings- Art. 43: At the close of the Classical, and other major assemblies, censure shall be exercised over those, who in the meeting have done something worthy of punishment, or who have scorned the admonition of the minor assemblies.

VanDellen and Monsma explain in their commentary this censure is done by the assembly and not the president or consistories as two other articles require.  In addition, the intent was to promote good order and unity at the end of the meeting- which even today is a cherished desire.  VanDellen and Monsma also state that we as a church may outgrow the need for this article- perhaps, but human nature being as it is...perhaps not.

The purpose was to bring to closure perhaps hurtful or harmful actions that happened at the Classis.  While the current Church Order does not require this, perhaps Classis themselves could initiate a process to complete the original intent.

My question is, of course if it can be answered, why was that particular Article eliminated in the revision?

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Participant

The idea that assemblies should conduct some form of mutual censure regarding the conduct of delegates at their meetings is indeed praiseworthy.  i commend "dutchoven" for raising it.  I would love to hear from a variety of folk how this could be accomplished on a regular basis.  So, by all means, let us hear your opinions.

I will now only address the factual question as to why this pre-1965 Art. 43 was dropped.  When the first draft of the proposed revised Church Order was presented in the denominational publications and in the Agenda of Synod, 1957, this article was omitted and these Agenda do not indicate why it was now omitted.  At least, I can't find it addressed there.

So "dutchoven" has answered the question well.  The only clue comes from Van Dellen and Monsma's commentary (note: it is the third edition of 1954 that has this, not their Revised Church Order Commentary of 1965): "We may note with gratitude that we have really outgrown the need of Article 43, at least as far as its first provision is concerned.  Yet the article does no harm in our Church Order ...."  This observation comes after they relate some narratives about the kinds of "atrocious behaviors" that occurred in this respect in the sixteenth century.

Frankly, I think officers of classis and officers of synod have a pretty good handle on the continued need for this when we occasionally still bend in that direction and often urge assemblies in closing exercises to find unity in the Lord and to encourage the same when they return to their home congregations.  But if there's a good way to reinstate this more formally, I doubt anyone would truly object.

So let's hear from you on the way we do our business at classis and synod and how we mutually keep each other accountable.

Maybe the wording should be brought up to date. Censure has negative connotations and reflects judgement from people not God. What we need to recognize is our disagreements that lead to malice or hate are a sin against God( I.E. Love your brother.). To settle disagreements that evolve to this point, should be settled with a act contrition  to God in  the form of prayer and reconciliation  between  each party for forgiveness.  So however we word or reword rules of the synod should be made very simple on the purpose for the article and encouraging  to the offending parties.

 I know you guys know this and that is what the Article 43 is  essentially  trying to accomplish. From the logical point of view, to be objective about your opinions you have to realize your never completely objective. So there is another reason to be forgiving and realistic about your opinions.

 This is common sense if you understand the Bible.

Thanks guys for listening to a rambling man. Hopefully you can decipher my point.

Ken

I agree with Ken that the word "censure" has negative conotations and that really isn't a good way to go about ending a meeting now.  I do think feedback and assessment of a classis and synod is important and written feedback forms are not usually a good way to go about getting the feedback as most people do not fill them out (especially after a long day) and so the feedback is rather limited. 

I think a better way of getting this feedback would be to use small group settings where good questions are asked and everyone gets a chance to respond (perhaps by going around the circle) with someone facilitating and recording in each group.  Questions like: What did you enjoy about the day?  What was the most difficult part of the day for you?  What do you plan on sharing with your council and congregation when you report on this meeting?  If after the small groups meet perhaps there should be a few minutes for each group to share something that they talked about.  These types of questions and a chance to share will hopefully bring out any issues that need to be addressed and help those planning the next classis meetiing.

I do not think it would be particularly helpful for this to be made into a church order item - it then becomes one more thing to check off the list of things to do for the day.  Perhaps classes can try this out and then share how it went on the Classis Network site and so it becomes a "best practice" and others want to try it out too.  Sometimes for things to be most effective they need to come from a group and work its way through the organization rather than from the organization down to the groups.

This idea came to me with some reflecting on Restorative Practices - I'll be blogging on that later today on the Classis Network.  Take a look later today and reflect there too.

Participant

Elizabeth , your comment is well taken.

At a Classis meeting there should be a time for evaluation of how good a job the assembly is doing- thus your comments perhaps of "What did you enjoy during the day?" Or "what do you plan on sharing..."

Be it as it may, CO Art. 43 in the pre-65 Church Order dealt with "morals of the community," or assembly.  It recognized that we often are not as perfect as the "image we assume to see in the mirror," and on occasion- really act imperfectly.

At Classis meetings, just like any other human gathering, there is potential for "bullying"- now there is a term everyone understands today. Or even "sarcastic humor" to drive home a point- heaven forbid that delegates would stoop to this level!  However, we are all human and live in a culture that puts a high value on "winning;" losing an argument or giving in to someone else's ideas may not be palatable.

The key to this practice is the word "mutual."  No one is driving home a point, or hammering on someone in particular, but anyone would be allowed to say within the rules: "You know, what you said really cut me to the quick because your assessment was wrong."

Articles in the current Church Order point to an action initiated by leadership, or officeholders within the Council. The forgotten CO article in the '65 revision (the foundation of today's CO) dealt with an assembly "together," not specifying who started the process- therefore allowing anyone to speak to the issue in an organized manner.

I think we have all experienced (either personally or through observation) the negative comment in the heat of discussion; or unfair phrase that perhaps swayed the outcome of a legitimate request.  Frankly, mutual censure would be an opportunity for Classis as an assembly to take a "time out;" an opportunity to begin a restorative journey- not necessarily the end result.

It also would perhaps be also bit preventative in nature by allowing the possibility of calling an unfair or harmful comment on to the floor for "censure." Perhaps even more importantly, not allowing something to fester on into a "Classis 19th hole" discussion, only to reoccur at subsequent meetings.

Even more importantly, it would allow the Classis leadership to look deeply into the hearts and minds of delegates who feel harmed or hurt- perhaps to begin devising a way to begin a process of restoration if needed.  Quick restoration perhaps would result from dialogue that puts everyone in context.  If not, then the issue would be laid bare- and open for appropriate action.

You know, a checklist item forces the majority to look over their shoulders at times to see if someone or a minority has been run over, and perhaps, with the proper amount of coaching- requires them to stop and be a Good Samaritan. 

 

 

I think you are right in theory - but I'm not so sure it works that well in practice.  Do people really feel comfortable saying something like: "Your comment really cut me..." in a large group setting?  Perhaps there are a few people who might, who are comfortable in speaking in larger groups, but I'm not sure that most of those attending a classis meeting really do.  I've been in council meetings where mutual censure is done and never has anything ever been brought up - mostly the elders and deacons look down at their hands or their agendas and mumble, "I have nothing."  It could be that they really have nothing but I have always wondered if the practice is really accomplishing what it is meant to.  I wonder if it might be easier for most people to say what they are feeling if they are asked, in a more informal setting, well crafted questions in an atmosphere of safety, where people are expected to listen to each other.  

Participant

On the matter of mutual censure at council meetings and the "mumbles" that people "have nothing," perhaps the following paragraph taken from my new Commentary on the Church Order (Article 36b) may be of assistance:

"There are ways in which councils could make mutual censure a more edifying experience. Councils could change the emphasis from scrutiny of the individual to communal self-examination.  Doctrine and life still have a bearing, but the focus is on the performance of official duties.  Councils could arrange for regularity of discussion but do away with the link to the Lord's Supper.  Mutual censure is more appropriate, say, after the reading of elders' and deacons' minutes and the pastor's report.  Councils could ask in what ways their fellow officebearers are meeting or not meeting the needs of the congregation.  They could use the time to adjust present goals and objectives, if necessary.  Councils could structure each occasion thematically.  They could focus on, say, evangelism, pastoral care, proclamation, benevolence, political awareness, church education, stewardship, or discipline, and discuss these matters in depth.  In preparing for a classis meeting or for the arrival of church visitors, councils could use the appropriate guides for these events to launch the discussion.  Councils could use this slot on the agenda to discuss needs of the congregation when a pastor leaves and a mandate for the search committee is to be drafted.  In any case, councils should never place the matter toward the end of a meeting.  They should take sufficient time for meaningful dialogue and focus on the positive as well as the negative."

Hi Henry,

I am new to the CRC as of 7/2010 and an applicant to the EMPC program.  As a participant in David Koll's "Welcome to the CRC" week, I was encouraged to purchase and read your commentary.  So, I am half way through and finding it to be very helpful!  I appreciate your experience and clear writing style.  I have especially have benefitted from your responses to the questions at the end of each section.  Thank you for investing in this project and the Lord’s work here at Hope Community Church, Flagstaff.

Our previous pastor allowed the director of our preschool to sit in on the entirety of our council meetings on a regular basis.  Is this a violation of Article 35?

Dave

Participant

Dave,

Thanks for the encouraging note about my commentary being helpful to you.

I will assume that the director of your preschool is not ordained to any office in your church, i.e., that he or she is not a minister, elder, or deacon.  Note that I have a response to a similar question about an unordained person attending council meetings as the second Q&A attached to Article 35.

The short answer here is that everything depends on what "sitting in" means in your question.  If it means that he or she attended but just observed, did not participate and did not vote, there is no violation of Article 35 because, in principle, all meetings of council are open to the public.  The only exception is when the council must meet in executive session.  If "sitting in" actually meant that he or she participated in the discussion but did not vote, then there might still be no violation.  Councils are free to grant the "privilege of the floor" to unordained visitors, especially on issues that concern such visitors directly.  If it meant that he or she participated in all discussion on every issue, that would start to be a violation of a sort: it would be a matter of common courtesy to defer to the regular members of council on most issues except where you yourself are definitely involved.  You'd be exceeding the boundaries of just having the "privilege of the floor" for a reason.  If, finally, it meant that he or she voted on issues while not ordained, that would most definitely be a violation of Article 35.  The council, says the Belgic Confession, is made up of ministers, elders and deacons, not the unordained.

Hope that helps a bit.  Blessings in the EPMC program.

 

Participant

It worked! Yes, it appears "mutual censure" worked at our last Classis meeting as we hoped it would; whether it will in the future we will see.

Mutual Censure was put in the Agenda identified as a "time of unity and accountability," and placed as the last item prior to "Closing Remarks and Prayer,"

it was clearly defined by the Chairman as a tool that was designed to allow any comment on the table that would be helpful to bring closure to this session of Classis for the delegate- both if it addressed a problem, or merely praiseworthy.  A "round Table" open discussion format was utilized, starting with the first person to the left of the Chair. If no comment was necessary, a simple "pass" could be used and the opportunity for comment would move on to the next individual.

It was rather interesting, few chose the "pass" option. The comments from the new delegates to Classis were most enlightening and helpful- and rather positive. Oh we had a couple of pointed comments to individual members, some sitting right next to each other- but interestingly enough, reconciliation began- if not flourished between the participants. That is not to say, things were left unsaid; but it was an opportunity to begin a "process" that may have been left undone, and later become unmanageable.

We actually had two sessions of Classis, a shorter one the night before that ended in a "concert of prayer" organized by "prayer and praise" worksheets. All delegates gathered around each church's delegation in succession, laid their hands on their shoulders- and prayed earnestly for each of the church's item(s) of praise or concern. Then throughout the next day session, time was set aside to pray together. Perhaps the atmosphere of group prayer helped "level the plain" for Mutual Censure at the session's end...perhaps not, but it worked this time.

Too often in the past we may have taken ourselves too seriously and become blinded to the "shoes" of another;  walking together in prayer prior to the "path of censure" may have allowed for a different journey. There remain skeptics I am sure to this plan, but this time group mutual censure worked.

May we continue to find ways to build "unity and accountability," and if this works- we will continue our journey together...gracefully.

  

Thanks Dutch,  That is good to hear in a time of polarization that is becoming too toxic.

Thanks for sharing this Dutch.  I'd love to hear more about how the chairman set it up and how it all worked - maybe a topic for the Classis page!  Is this going to become a regular thing for you in Classis Yellowstone?

Participant

The idea of "mutual censure" for Classis is still evolving, and since nearly half of our delegates are not repeats, the whole concept will take time to unfold; for the couple of time we have done this it has been met with somewhat expected, yet surprising results.

One time, the conversation was rather heated, and the chair needed to rule one emotional delegate out of order- who when "called out" graciously retreated resulting in reconciliation and a Classis motion to deal forthrightly with the brother's need.

Most often it allows a bit of editorial time by the participant.  This is not all bad since often some delegates are not included in the conversation of the day, and this is the first time the individual actually was asked an opinion- the result is a surprisingly enlightening thought.

However, the last Classis the time was met with general silence- "pass" was the most common answer.  This is not all bad either, b/c it indicates struggle perhaps played itself out during the duration of the meeting.

Our "mutual censure" is actually termed mutual accountability, and is directed for the current session at hand- this is a strict limitation enforced by the chair.

So far mutual accountability seems to have allowed for conflict resolution; few have left Classis like "deer in headlights" as issues zoom by.  This was the intent, and as mutual accountability develops in the coming Classis meetings it may continue to allow for a more gracious and constructive Classis "endgame"...Lord willing.

Will the upshot be no more conflict in Classis...perhaps not; conflict resolution is the target of this device and it will continue to be used to create common ground until it is no longer useful, or desired.  Isn't that how Classis works- or should work?