Below we have the most recent Form of Subscription, along with some supplemental material found in the church order. For more discussion on the signing of this form read the Form of Subscription Revision Committee Report. While Synod did not approve that report because it seemed to weaken the bonds of faith between us, it does demonstrate the struggles we have had in understanding the value and importance of this form. Synod continues to seek a way to make this form more effective in binding us together in the unity of faith.
In the meantime, here it is.
Form of Subscription
We, the undersigned, servants of the divine Word in the Christian Reformed Church in Classis, by means of our signatures declare truthfully and in good conscience before the Lord that we sincerely believe that all the articles and points of doctrine set forth in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort fully agree with the Word of God.
We promise therefore to teach these doctrines diligently, to defend them faithfully, and not to contradict them, publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, in our preaching, teaching, or writing.
We pledge moreover not only to reject all errors that conflict with these doctrines but also to refute them, and to do everything we can to keep the church free from them.
We promise further that if in the future we come to have any difficulty with these doctrines or reach views differing from them, we will not propose, defend, preach, or teach such views, either publicly or privately, until we have first disclosed them to the council, classis, or synod for examination.
We are prepared moreover to submit to the judgment of the council, classis, or synod, realizing that the consequence of refusal to do so is suspension from office.
We promise in addition that if, to maintain unity and purity in doctrine, the council, classis, or synod considers it proper at any time — on sufficient grounds of concern — to require a fuller explanation of our views concerning any article in the three confessions mentioned above, we are always willing and ready to comply with such a request, realizing here also that the consequence of refusal to do so is suspension from office. Should we consider ourselves wronged, however, by the judgment of the council or classis, we reserve for ourselves the right of appeal; but until a decision is made on such an appeal, we will acquiesce in the determination and judgment already made.
To be signed by professors, ministers, ministry associates, elders, and deacons when ordained and/or installed in office.
(Acts of Synod 1988, pp. 530-31)
Guidelines as to the meaning of subscription to the confessions by means of the Form of Subscription:
- The person signing the Form of Subscription subscribes without reservation to all the doctrines contained in the standards of the church, as being doctrines which are taught in the Word of God.
- The subscriber does not by subscription to the confessions declare that these doctrines are all stated in the best possible manner, or that the standards of our church cover all that the Scriptures teach on the matters confessed. Nor does the subscriber declare that every teaching of the Scriptures is set forth in our confessions, or that every heresy is rejected and refuted by them.
- A subscriber is only bound by subscription to those doctrines which are confessed, and is not bound to the references, allusions, and remarks that are incidental to the formulation of these doctrines nor to the theological deductions which some may draw from the doctrines set forth in the confessions.
However, no one is free to decide for one’s self or for the church what is and what is not a doctrine confessed in the standards. In the event that such a question should arise, the decision of the assemblies of the church shall be sought and acquiesced in.
Guidelines and Regulations re Gravamina
Synod declares that gravamina fall into at least two basic types:
- A confessional-difficulty gravamen: a gravamen in which a subscriber expresses personal difficulty with the confession but does not call for a revision of the confessions, and
- A confessional-revision gravamen: a gravamen in which a subscriber makes a specific recommendation for revision of the confessions.
Regulations concerning the procedure to be followed in the submission of a confessional-difficulty gravamen:
- Ministers (whether missionaries, professors, or others not serving congregations as pastors), elders, or deacons shall submit their “difficulties and different sentiments” to their councils for examination and judgment. Should a council decide that it is not able to judge the gravamen submitted to it, it shall submit the matter to classis for examination and judgment. If the classis, after examination, judges that it is unable to decide the matter, it may submit it to synod, in accordance with the principles of the Church Order, Article 28b.
- In all instances of confessional-difficulty gravamina, the matter shall not be open for discussion by the whole church since this type of gravamen is a personal request for information and/ or clarification of the confession. Hence this type of gravamen should be dealt with pastorally and personally by the assembly addressed.
Regulations concerning the procedure to be followed in the submission of a confessional-revision gravamen:
- The basic assumption of the church in requiring subscription to the Form of Subscription is that “all the articles and points of doctrine” contained in the confessions of the church “do fully agree with the Word of God.” The burden of proof, therefore, rests upon the subscriber who calls upon the church to justify or revise her confessions.
- Ministers (including missionaries, professors, or all others not serving congregations as pastors), elders, or deacons shall submit their gravamina calling for revision of the confessions to their councils for examination and judgment. Should the council decide that it is not able to judge the gravamen submitted to it, it shall submit the matter to classis for examination and judgment. If the classis, after examination, judges that it is unable to decide the matter, classis may submit it to synod, in accordance with the principles of the Church Order, Article 28-b.
- If the gravamen is adopted by the council and the classis as its own, it becomes an overture to the broader assemblies and therefore it is open for discussion in the whole church.
- If the gravamen is rejected by the classis it may be appealed to synod; and when the constituted synod declares the matter to be legally before it for action, all the signers of the Form of Subscription shall be free to discuss it together with the whole church until adjudicated by synod.
- Since the subscriber has the right of appeal from the judgment of a council to classis and from classis to synod, the mere fact that the matter is being appealed shall not be a reason for suspending or otherwise disciplining an officebearer, provided other provisions of the Form of Subscription and the Church Order are observed.
- A revision of the confessions shall not be adopted by synod until the whole church membership has had adequate opportunity to consider it.
a. The history of the functioning of the Form of Subscription shows that if such guidelines and regulations had been available and followed, considerable delay and confusion might have been avoided.
b. These guidelines and regulations will make the signing of the Form of Subscription more meaningful and will remove some common misunderstandings that now exist on the part of many officebearers.
c. These guidelines and regulations will prove helpful to council, classis, and synod in dealing with matters submitted to them for examination in accordance with the Form of Subscription.
(Acts of Synod 1976, pp. 68-70)