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Is it appropriate for a council or classis to instruct its delegates to broader assemblies to vote on a given issue in a particular way?

This question is from a real-life situation which Dr. Henry DeMoor has responded to based on his extensive knowledge of the Christian Reformed Church Order. The first answer given has been taken from the Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary written by Dr. DeMoor. We encourage you to share your own questions, comments, opinions as well.


Older versions of the Church Order spoke of credentials and instructions (e.g., pre-1965, Article 33), and some people have indeed chosen to interpret those last two words to mean that such “binding” of votes is therefore appropriate. I emphatically disagree.

These “instructions” (litterae mandati, i.e. letters of mandate) referred to the specific matters on the agenda of the broader assembly that the delegates were being authorized to deliberate and vote upon. Often they indicated a matter or two that were to be added to the assembly’s already established agenda: last-minute overtures, communications, or requests. Reformed churches have always made a sharp distinction between these litterae mandati and the so-called mandat imperatif to clarify that this has nothing to do with the latter: binding delegates to a particular vote. The “instructions” involved what they were to do, not how they were to do it.

Even Van Dellen and Monsma, known for their insistence on the priority of local congregations, make it quite clear that such binding would disallow true deliberation and ultimately reduce the role of delegates to that of “voting machines” (Revised Church Order Commentary, 1965 ed., p. 146).

Even in our democratic forms of government, members of congress or parliament are not deemed in principle to be bound on any given issue. They are sometimes forced to vote a certain way by their party, but that never seems to happen on issues that involve a moral position. In such sensitive matters, they are allowed to vote as their conscience dictates, even if a majority within their home constituency thinks differently on the matter.

It is understood, however, and probably worth repeating, that delegates to broader assemblies of the CRCNA are bound to transact all business within the framework of their obedience to the Scriptures, subscription to the creeds and confessions, and attachment to the Church Order (see Article 5).

Generally agree, but interesting that the Liberal (opposition) leader in Canada has recently said he would not permit candidates who disagreed with abortion rights, which it would seem is a moral issue.   In any case, would not a common sense approach be that generally delegates should be able to participate and be persuaded by discussion at the assembley, while in certain instances where a tremendous amount of discussion has already ocurred, the council may feel obligated to bind their delegates to a particular position, especially if they have put in an overture, or if their perception of an issue is such that they are concerned that delegates might be persuaded in the moment and come to regret it later?  

I would agree that  no council has the authority to bind a delegate's vote beyond the confessional standards, period. No council has the authority to bind a delegate's conscience at a deliberative assembly, the key word being deliberative. Otherwise there is no reason to deliberate. The Westminster Confession 20.2 forbids the binding of a person's conscience beyond scripture, because "God alone is Lord of the conscience." Any attempt by a council to do so would be liable to being overturned by classis and/or synod, and would reflect an unhealthy and ungodly attempt to control, domineer, or "lord it over" the delegate, as the Church Order says, art. 85.

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