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Sep 9, 2011 — Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X three years after he posted his 95 theses on a church door and subsequently showed no remorse for doing so. When he received the papal bull, Luther burned it in a huge bonfire ritual. But few people are aware that he burned something else along with it: the entire Codex Iuris Canonici, the four volumes of canon law or "church order" of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

In a newfound freedom those restrictive rules had to be thrown out the front door. The irony is that some of the same old rules had to be smuggled back in through the back door in order to combat disorder and anarchy in the now-Protestant churches.

Biblically based [church order] keeps us from repeating history's mistakes.

There was no escaping that. The church is the body of Christ, a creation of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a human institution. And human organizations of whatever kind require order. As John Calvin said, without some well-chosen laws churches are soon deformed, not reformed. Canon law may have been too restrictive, a case of too much human invention instead of clear divine imperative. But do away with it altogether, and the challenge is then to find a new order that flows from God's Word and is fitting for Christ's church on earth.

Calvin led the way in this search. He decided to frame a renewed constitution for his Genevan church, one that has served as a model for Reformed churches ever since. He insisted on a minimum of laws that were clearly drawn from the Scriptures and manifestly based on biblical principle. So, for example, the order he left for us features officebearers who are more than mere functionaries in congregational life: they are Christ-representatives called to provide leadership to God's people (apostolicity). Calvin’s order features local churches accountable to one another in broader assemblies (catholicity); it features church discipline exercised to maintain the purity of the church (holiness); and it features provisions for experiencing oneness in Christ, within the denomination and also with the broader church (unity). In the CRC’s Church Order we confess one holy catholic and apostolic church.

What mattered most to Calvin was that the laws and structures of church government would edify the body. The purpose of each and every article is to enhance the ministry of Christ's church. If any article proves a hindrance to that ministry, damming the flowing rivers of the Spirit at work, then it must be revised or abolished.

Without articles of church order as banks along the way, the waters of ministry flow chaotically. As Paul told the Corinthians, having no order at all is not an option — not in worship and not in the broader life of Christ's church. Biblically based church order keeps us from repeating history's mistakes, prevents us from being overwhelmed by controversies that paralyze us, and actually enhances the mission we're on.

For 25 years I’ve listened carefully as people divulged the pickles they’ve gotten themselves into — situations that suddenly overshadowed their unity in mission, their love and enthusiasm for Christ's cause, and the sacred trust they once had in each other. If I'd received a thousand dollars for each conversation, I'd be retiring with a multi-million-dollar nest egg. Many of those developments were perfectly avoidable. Even a casual acquaintance with church order might readily have provided the way to keep their pilgrimage alive and thriving.

In short, well-founded church order allows Christ truly to be "the only head of the church" and "the only universal bishop" of our souls (Belgic Confession, Article 31). 


So I really appreciate what Henry DeMoor has written as quoted above.   The intent of church order and the respect given to it deserve some serious attention.  But at the same time perhaps a few statements or concepts that Henry expressed need to be examined a bit further. 

First, the statement "some of the same old rules had to be smuggled back in through the back door in order to combat disorder and anarchy in the now-Protestant churches"  is making an assumption that these old rules "had" to be smuggled back in, rather than that the leadership felt uncomfortable without some of them.   To distinguish in this is not always easy.  Perhaps some were necessary, and others were simply attractive.  How do we distinguish?   """How

Second, "Biblically based [church order] keeps us from repeating history's mistakes. "    I would argue that this sounds good, but is not entirely true.   It is not absolutely impossible to either ignore parts of the church order, or to change it from being biblically based, to a man-based church order.   In other words, if our social and cultural desires make us uncomfortable with the church order, our inclination is often to change it, looking for obscure scriptural validation.   The church order by itself is a guide, but our committment to it, and to making sure that it is indeed scriptural and necessary, and leading to edification, is really what will keep us from making history's mistakes.   Our assumption that our church order is biblically based does not mean that it really is.   The Roman Catholic church assumed that their order was biblically based, but it wasn't.  

Third, "Without articles of church order as banks along the way, the waters of ministry flow chaotically. "   An interesting analogy, that makes me smile....    Naturalists would suggest that it is important for rivers to overflow their banks occasionally to enhance the growth of riparian areas.   Some have suggested that the church in Acts 2 was pretty chaotic, and was yet perhaps the greatest occasion of growth of the body of Christ at that time.   River deltas are low areas where a river splits up and spreads out into many different streams, often flooding and fertilizing the land between these streams before reaching the ocean.   It may be that river deltas where river banks are very low or non-existent are often the most productive part of the river.   Maybe this also applies to the body of Christ as embodied in our various ecclesia.  

A recent example of the inadequacies of the church order, is the deposition or release of a minister who had taken on another occupation.  Besides being entirely unscriptural, it misses the point of what it means to be a minister.  For example, the apostle Paul continued in his tent-making while he preached.  And didn't he also take a three year hiatus in his ministry before he resumed his preaching after his conversion? 

But, what does it really mean to be a "minister"?   A servant, right?  diakono, right?  The point is not whether they have taken on another occupation.   Does that mean they are no longer qualified to baptise or lead communion, or to preach?   Or even to revert back their occupation to that of a pastor or preaching elder?   What does another occupation have to do with that? 

So to me in this case the church order is spiritually disfunctional.   And the proclamations of a classis in this regard are after the fact.  They don't "release".  They simply "acknowledge" what has already happened.   And illegitimately suppose that someone who was previously qualified to preach, is now unqualified?  someone who previously performed baptisms is now unqualified?  simply on the basis of taking on another occupation?   Not on the basis of some actual dereliction of duty, or moral failure, or theological heresy?   to me this is absurd and meaningless.  or perhaps beaurocratic "double-speak". 

I would love for someone to explain this to me. 

The reason why I have thus far chosen not to answer is that your example is not clear.  There's a huge difference between a release from ministry at a certain place and a deposition.  If Art. 14 is used, for example, the minister needs to rethink his or her calling in its entirety, but if Art. 17 is used, the minister just becomes eligible for a new call and is not rethinking the internal call at all at this point.  In both instances, the Church Order makes provision in Art. 14 for a return to ministry after a "hiatus."  If your example would be clearer, John, perhaps more people could respond.

Perhaps it is in the terminology.   When a person resigns from ministry, then the classis attempts to "release" him at his request.  As if they could compel him to unresign.   I just see inconsistencies, and words that do not follow logically or consequentially from previous words in the articles.

So we have in article 14c " a minister may not forsake the office..."   and then ..."may however be released..."   and then in 14d  "shall be released", and then article 14e   "may be declared eligible for call" and "re-ordained".  

Lots of procedure etc.  He may not forsake, but if he does.....   But of what substance is this article?  

If for example, this article was not there, what would be the effect?   A minister would take up another occupation.   The church would make an announcement of information: that so and so has left the pastorship and has become a teacher at the local school.   Four years later, a church in a neighboring town calls the former preacher, and installs him as pastor/preacher.   All this can also  happen with classis "releasing and not forsaking and declaring eligible and re-ordaining", but what is the difference?   It could presumably also happen without all this procedure.   What is the benefit and significant difference this article makes?  

Even if the teacher were to ocassionally preach a sermon and perform a baptism, what would be the harm?  What great scriptural principle would be broken? 

The same question applies to article 17.   If the article was not there, what would be the effect?  

If the purpose was to highlight a benefit in having classis or a classical committee interview someone who has not been in active pastorship/preachership for three or more years, then why is the article not written in that way?  

(Just a note:   you seem to exist within the procedural box, while I am looking at it from outside of it and thus looking at the larger seems to me.  Maybe that explains why the question is confusing.   Hopefully I've made the question clearer.   If not, I will be willing to try again.  )


Not to preempt your reply, Henry, but following are concerns I have with the church order.  And I will make you a deal:  if you can promise me that your book answers all of these concerns, then I promise to buy your book. 

I wrote this in September, 2008.

I've been perusing the church order today, to see what I could find out about installing elders, and begin to realize how ridiculous it is in so many ways. 

((  these are personal comments for edification, not vetted through the council of our church, which is a small church and has many other things of greater importance to deal with, so I’ve not bothered them with this )

Perhaps my recent reading of the book, "Pagan Christianity" has colored my mind somewhat, but most of my thoughts are not new, just coalesced into an overall perspective. 

1.  For example, do you realize how absurd and unscriptural it is to name a church as "vacant"?  (which the church order does).  First of all, if it really was vacant, then it would not be a church.   Second, to suggest that a lack of a minister makes a church vacant, is no more valid, than to say a church is vacant because there is no pianist, or no janitor, or no child on the third pew.  The term "vacant" brings to mind a bunch of blank-eye zombies on the pews, and a zombie elder leading the service, etc.  The term reduces the greater membership of that church to a matter of no consequence.  It also minimizes the presence of the Lord among His people.  It emphasizes the centrality of the pastor at the expense of the Spirit.   So not only is it unscriptural, it is also unChristian to use that type of phraseology. 

2.  Second, article 3 says all who meet biblical requirements can fill any of the offices, but the bible does not indicate any academic requirements for holding any of the offices, and later the church order adds academic training requirements for ministers, which is a contradiction in requirements, an extra-biblical requirement. 

3.  Third, the church order requires classis to meet four times a year, and my impression is that most only meet twice a year?  (Which is probably okay, but there it is in the church order...)

4. The church order requires two services per Sunday, and a very sizeable number only have one service per week. 

5.  The church order requires ministers to conduct worship services, and in a very sizeable number of cases, churches have others conducting half or more of the service. (Not that I necessarily have a problem with that, but ....)

6.  An elder is appointed for a fixed term, and must be "re-installed" and considered unordained, which has no biblical grounds, while a teaching elder, or pastor, or minister of the word has no fixed term.  This puts to ridicule the church order notion that these various offices are equal in dignity and honor, but different in function.


  7.  In addition, the amount of attention paid to office of ministers, preachers, etc.  in the church order is incredible (24 articles), compared to that paid to elders and deacons(one article), if you simply look at the table of contents to get an overview.  If they are equal in theory, they are not equal in practice, which puts the lie to the statement, or disobedience to the practice. 

8.  Another example of this unequal treatment is the fact that ministers supposedly require classical approval to be ordained, while elders and deacons do not.   

9.  Another example is the expectation that preachers, or ministers of the word, may administer the sacraments, while supervising elders do not.  I have not discovered any biblical grounds as justification  for this.  Certainly, if there is dignity and  honor attached to this,  then  this implies a difference in dignity and honor.   Some  elders can do it, but others, who do not happen to be preachers, can not?  Certainly  one would not suggest academic training as a requirement  for such  a simple  task?  

10.  Using the term "organized" vs "unorganized" church in the CRC context, is a misuse of the English language, and also leads to an emphasis on paper, and forms, rather than on the spiritual organization that should be the focus of any church .    Perhaps it is a small thing, I admit, but the use of derogatory terms to describe various worshipping groups which are part of the body of Christ, and for that reason alone are already "church", is not a Christian thing to do.  (Using the term "emerging" for a church that has been around and functioning for ten years, is also an anachronism.)

11.   The church order supplements in the table of contents, probably ought to have titles, not just numbers,   in order to provide a quicker reference as to their pertinence or relevance.  (I appreciate the recent change where the supplements are printed within the relevant articles.) 

12. Classis declaring a terminated minister’s eligibility for call on a yearly basis, or for whatever term,  implies that the simple lack of a call makes a pastor ineligible, until of course, when he receives a call, which would make him eligible. What business does classis have with the eligibility, unless there are specific reasons that make the individual unsuitable? (supp article 8)

13.  13.The use of terms such as "practica", "gravamen", "colloquium doctum", "mission deo" or "approbation" and "abrogated", hearkens back to the ancient desire of ancient priests and bishops to remove itself from regular people, rather than to improve communication with them. These terms should not be used in such documents.


  • 14.     For classis or synod to require a demonstration of need, from a local church, before that church can call anyone, is in direct violation of the principle of equality of church-classis-synod, with the local church having original authority. The local church obviously has a need, or they wouldn’t call a pastor, and they obviously believe that the person they desire to call will satisfy that need. Unless the one they call can be shown to be a detriment to their Christian life and growth, why should classis try to override their decision?
  • 15.    When classis or synod stipulates certain requirements for candidacy, why should that preclude or forbid local churches or classis from addressing these same requirements? (Supp art 8E8) (Supp art 10,6) Classis has no right, nor does Synod, to forbid any questions that might be asked by Council or Classis.
  • 16.      It is absurd to request permission from classis for any church to establish a new ministry position. (supp article 12c) That should be solely the decision and discretion of the local church.
  • 17.     It is absurd to establish governance on the issue of a minister serving in another denomination, or a non-denominational church. If this has only to do with how the pension fund works, then establish criteria for the pension fund specifically without all the window dressing around these positions. If the church chooses to fund pensions in a secular fashion, as it has done, then it ought to use the same provisions and options, such as funding by years of service, paying into the plan as part of the compensation package, opting into or out of the plan, and purchasing retirement benefits for years of contract work or for time spent in other churches/denominations.
  • 18.      Supp art 15 imposes a definition of "proper" support on local congregations that implies that these congregations are not responsible, or that the pastors are part of a union. As a suggestion, these may be good guidelines, but the wording implies no exceptions, and also implies a derogatory attitude towards congregations who have made alternate arrangements for support, which synod would deem "improper". This is an uncharitable attitude and un-Christian attitude towards those congregations.
  • There are some good points in the church order, 2008, including an attempt to protect the spiritual welfare of the churches, but there is also often a spirit of following form rather than function, of ordering the congregations about, of hierarchy, of "requirements" rather than suggestions or advice, and of contradictions. There is a preponderance of attention paid to synod, and classis, which should have separate working documents. (I appreciate that the the articles relating to synod have recently been removed into a separate document.)

    There is a preponderance of attention paid to ministers, which detracts from the idea that all offices are equal in dignity and honor. There is a lack of scriptural reference for administration of the sacraments by ordained preachers, vs other ordained elders.

     There is more pretentiousness within the church order, which maybe uses the biblical admonition to "do things in good order" as a kind of excuse to heap precept upon precept, far beyond what is necessary or advisable. 

    Perhaps the Spirit will allow you to understand my comments, which are intended for the benefit of the CRC as a whole.  

    All the best, and God's blessings. 

    John Zylstra, President of Church Council



    Dear John,

    It is truly difficult to communicate with each other to the benefit of all who visit this website when assertions are made that are simply not true.

    I will give you but two examples.  In number 1. of your September 2008 material you forwarded you make the assertion that the Church Order of the CRCNA uses the terminology: "vacant church."  It may be that you read this in synodical decisions, perhaps even one or two recorded in the Supplement to Church Order articles, but I can assure you with certainty that the Church Order itself uses no such terminology.  In number 3. you say that the Church Order requires meetings of classis four times a year.  In point of fact, it is three times a year (Article 40b).

    So, no, the Spirit does not allow me to understand your comments here even if it was intended for the benefit of the CRC.  I do not question your motives.  But you are not speaking the truth.

    I would also like you to cool your terms.  Superlatives like things being "absurd" and "heaping precept upon precept" are not helpful.  To accuse prior synods of "pretentiousness" in adopting articles of the Church Order such as they are also goes far beyond what is required to make your argument.  I don't believe young people in our denomination are helped by such rhetoric.

    Please do not refer to me as being in a "procedural box."  I do not recognize myself to be there.  Are you quite sure that you are the one that is seeing the "larger picture"?  Is that not possibly also a bit on the pretentious side, to use your words?

    Let's speak the truth to one another in love, not use hyperbole to make sure we win our arguments.

    It's reassuring that at least you read what I had to say.   It's confusing that of all the points I made, you were able to find only two small discrepancies, and thus avoid addressing all the rest, and avoiding the still legitimate points made even within the two supposed discrepancies.

    Of your two points, to distinguish between the supplements and the church order, is diverting and technical.   It does not address the real issue of churches being referred to as "vacant", which term the article 8 supplement uses.  Most consider the supplement to be part of the order, since most of the supplement articles are written in a similar fashion and with a similar effect,  and which is why the supplement has now been inserted in its relevant locations within the order.   However, even if the order did not use it, the perception and common usage of the term still relates to my valid point, and even without using the word, the church order still seems to leave the impression (IMHO). 

    Your second discovery on my behalf, that the church order only prescribes three times per year for classis to meet is correct, my mistake, but still does not invalidate my main point;  classes usually don't meet every four months in my experience.   

    In this vein, I'm surprised that you did not draw attention to my point number 7, about the 24 articles for ministers vs one for elders and deacons combined, since it is actually 18 articles for ministers vs one for elders and deacons combined (plus at least five for combined offices of deacons, elders, ministers).  But even so, whether 18 or 24, the point of the huge difference is still the same. 

    You should be aware that in critiquing the church order, I am speaking the truth in love, and that we are all corporately responsible.  The fact that I never really studied the church order seriously until 2008 does not make me less culpable, since I have been a serving elder at least five times.

    My language is deliberately superlative, because that is how I feel.  And it is not just a matter of some intellectual disagreement;  it is to me a matter of a spiritual problem, and a lack of reliance on scripture and scriptural principles.  

    Most young people do not read the church order until they become old, and even then most have not read it, and particularly not the supplements. 

    Okay so we each think the other is in the small box, and we each think we see the larger picture.....   Either way, you have not really addressed or answered anything on what I have raised, and my deal is still that if your book addresses all these issues, then I promise to buy it (and read it).   You have not affirmed that yet, and so I am led to believe that your book does not address these issues. 

    But I do not want to be unkind.   If you think I am missing part of the larger picture you may tell me what I am missing.   It is possible that I am only seeing half of it.   And of course it is possible that I have not missed the larger picture, but simply see it differently. 

    In any case, thankyou kindly for your response. 


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