Those who have attended previous synods know the confusion created by the adoption of documents without a clear definition of how they are to be regarded by the churches. Synod London 2010 had asked the Ad Hoc Synodical Rules Committee to address this issue.
That committee drafted a document that defines synodical actions and describes their authority. After the advisory made some minor edits to the document, Synod adopted “Definitions and Authority of Synodical Actions” as Appendix D of the URCNA Regulations for Synodical Procedure.
The document defines four types of actions: Doctrinal Affirmation, Pastoral Advice, Study Committee Report, and Synodical Judgment. The official appendix will appear in the Acts of Synod, but the following paragraphs unofficially summarize each.
A Doctrinal Affirmation is an interpretation of the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity on a specific point of their teaching. It serves the churches by directing them to the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity, applying them in response to doctrinal questions that have arisen in the churches. It should be received by the churches with respect and submission, and it may not be directly or indirectly contradicted in preaching or in writing. The Scriptures, Ecumenical Creeds, and the Three Forms of Unity alone may serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.
Pastoral Advice is Synod’s application of the Scriptures and the Confessions to particular circumstances in the life of the churches. It expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care and should be received with respect. It would be unwise to disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing. It may not however, serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.
A Study Committee Report is the documentation of the work performed in response to a Synod’s mandate, presenting one or more recommendations for action by Synod. It recommends an action to be taken by Synod on the basis of specific grounds. If a recommended action calls for Synod to adopt Doctrinal Affirmations or to provide Pastoral Advice, such an action should be clearly identified and distinguished as such. A Study Committee Report as such shall not be adopted by Synod; however, if judged of value, it may be referred to the churches for study. Any Doctrinal Affirmations adopted or Pastoral Advice given by Synod in response to a Study Committee Report should be received by the churches. A Study Committee Report cannot be appealed; however, Synodical actions arising from it may be appealed.
A Synodical Judgment is the answer of Synod to an appeal. Synod either sustains or denies an appeal by determining if and why grounds are valid or not and stipulating the grounds upon which the appeal is sustained or denied. A Synodical Judgment should be received by appellants with respect and submission, and shall be considered settled and binding, unless proven to be in conflict with God’s Word or the Church Order.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 15 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.