This semester we’ll be taking the first of two Church Polity courses offered at the seminary. We’ll cover articles 1-43 of the church order, and articles 44-76 next year. The textbook for the course is The Church Order Commentary by Idzerd Van Dellen and Martin Monsma. My copy of that book was a gift from Rev. Janssen before I came out here, and it looks as books should look: hard-covered, plain, and well-aged. I don’t know if it was stored in a bookcase made of American oak, but then again I’m not sure that’s so important for books.
A book like that deserves to be used, and since arriving here I’ve looked forward to using it. You may be more interested in staring blankly at a piece of moldy fruit for a few hours than in reading through a commentary on the church order, and I would leave you to it. I’m quite excited, really, to study the way that our church governs itself, to acquaint myself with the mechanisms by which our federation is held together.
Partly this is from having attended a church in the past that had no such mechanisms. When a dispute arose amongst the church leaders, the only solution was to split the church. There were no other means, no higher courts of appeal or rules of order, to which they could appeal to solve their personal differences with each other. And schisms are terrible things.
So although church polity looks like a dry subject, it is yet a very practical and necessary one. The assignments for the course reflect that. A pair of students are given a church political scenario that they have to research and for which they have to argue a certain course of action. The students are supposed to write individual papers, however, and then discuss their respective approaches in class. So third-year Jon and myself will each write a paper on the following scenario:
“Classis Ontario North receives an appeal against the preaching of the minister in Arthur Church (fictional). It is not quite clear what the appellants want, but they argue that their consistory has not listened to their concerns about his preaching. They supply some documents but a study of the dates of the exchange of letters as well as their contents leads the delegates to think that some documents are missing. Some delegates argue that the appeal is inadmissible. Others request that the Classis call the appellants to appear before it and explain their case better. In response other delegates state that article 31 only allows the Classis to judge based on the documents at hand. How should this issue be resolved? May a Classis (or Regional or General Synod) hear the appellants in person and perhaps cross-examine both parties? Outline what you think is the optimum appeal process. Should all appeals be dealt with in exactly the same way?” (From the syllabus).
This is enjoyable work, and I look forward to the research and to developing strong and refined arguments. The paper is due November 18, with the class discussion happening the following week.