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Keith Knight and other commentors: 

Permit me to suggest some constructive guidelines from someone who has "been there and done that" (Retired, former church visitor, pastoral mentor, unofficial "pastor's pastor", and Article 17 casualty).  Two wonderful Christian princilples/goals jump out at me to address the issues you so wisely are raising - Resolution and Reconciliation.  Pastor-church issues need to be resolved, settled and put behind us if meaningful ministry is to be done in the future by all parties.  Reconciliation by mutual agreement is primary (whatever the resolution) as testimony to Christ's Love and Unity in the church.  I also believe a proper understanding of our present Church Order, Article 17 can be made to function even better in both a Christian and Reformed manner.  Therefor I would suggest the following:

1. Some Classis could appoint a classical study committee whose membership would include all facets of extertise appropriate to study this issue, making recommendations for Synodical adoption either via changes to the C.O. 17 or guidelines to govern its use.

2. Such a classical study committee would focus on strengthening and empowering both the classical and synodical approval requirements before any enactment of Article 17 separations.

3. Reformed polity is not congregational even when we say that the essential autority resides with the eldership; but this eldership authority is not defined by just one congregation, but rather by the office of elder as one on all levels - classical and synodical.  For this reason we have required both classical and synodical consent before any final action submitted by a local church.

4. A sudy could be made, as someone else wrote, of the various reasons for proceeding with Article 17 (doctrinal, moral, professional, personality, whatever) of past cases to highlight that not all Article 17 separations are created equally.

5. A study committee could evaluate if there have been any weaknesses in the Article 17 process on several levels:  How much couseling and conflict resolution sessions were there from the beginning?  Was there a failure on the part of regional pastors and the Pastor-Church relations to do all it could do to resolve and reconcile?  Was there a "cooling off period" to avoid premature decision-making?  Did classis properly and adequately participate in the process before making final consent?  How much did the Pastoral Relations try to encourage another church or ministry to give an open door to a minister before being let go?  How much time was given for the pastor to try and find another ministry?  How involved was the entire congregation involved (the silent majority) or was this a "one council decision" not representative of the full body?  Many more questions could be asked.

6. An ad hoc pastoral committee could be appointed by classis, composed of persons with expertise in all the necessary areas to objectively evaluate each situation, give pastoral guidelines, and work toward resolution and reconciliation.  This pastoral committee would give classis reports and finally its recommendation to proceed before any Article 17 may be effected.  Elders rightly "take it slow" in the discipline process (often more from neglect and lack of meaningful counseling and discipling).  Article 17 needs to be slowed down and broadened out to reflect the multitude of counselors among the eldership (church, classis and synodical). 

More could be said.  I empathize with classical delegates, church councils and as I know all too well the personal pain and frustration of seeing such separations take place in the beautiful Body of Jesus Christ.  We can not settle for anything less that the best Resolution and Reconcilation in these matters; and we must see more loving and meaningful corporate involement on the classical and synodical levels regarding Article 17 separations.  I think I hear you saying, and I totally agree - "There has to be a better way - and there is".  In light of the above, I hope we can move ahead and give evidence of Christ's Love and reconciling Spirit among us; plus we are not ignorant of the Devil's devices who rejoioces in unresolved pain, bitterness, abandonment, displacement, and casting aside of many who still desire to serve the Lord and just don't understand what happened.  Lord, give us Wisdom, Love and Unity.


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