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Reformed Church in America
[Formerly the Ref. Prot. Dutch Church]
The Digest of our Constitutional and Synodical Legislation is herewith given to the Church. The preparation of it, often interrupted, has been a lengthy, but an interesting and pleasant labor. The great difficulty involved in its preparation was to handle the vast amount of material embraced in the twenty-one volumes of the Minutes of our General Synod, and keep the work within moderate bounds. (See pages 309-311, of this Digest.) In this, we fear we have not been very successful. As the work progressed it became necessary to condense the Articles again and again. It is believed, however, that every topic of importance in the entire legislation of our Church is fairly presented in this Digest. The topics are arranged in alphabetical order to facilitate easy reference and are generally treated in a narrative form, yet with constant reference to year and page; but the Synodical language is preserved where this seemed important and desirable. For the history of former Digests, see article “Digests” in this volume, pages 204-8. See also our last report, Minutes of General Synod, 1906, pages 595-6, made while this book was going through the press; and Synod's action thereon, page 414, directing that a copy be sent, "free of charge, to each of our Classes, Consistories, Teachers of Theology and Seminary Libraries.” The book is for sale to others, at a moderate price, by the Board of Publication.
The printing of the successive Constitutions (or Polities) of the Church seemed also demanded, because of the frequent references to the successive revisions, and in order to exhibit the modifications which were taking place in the department of Constitutional Law. It will be interesting to many to notice the elaborations which have taken place in some Constitutional lines, and the condensations in other lines, as well as the changes at different periods in reference to "requirements” or “recommendations.” The Articles in the later revisions are numbered consecutively, as in the earlier Constitutions, to facilitate reference to them. As the Constitution of the Church embraces also its Doctrines and Liturgy as well as its Polity, and these constantly imply and refer to one another, it seemed only proper to give also the references to its fundamental doctrines, as found in its Symbols. See Introduction; also Article “Constitution,” pp. 159-165; and “Explanatory Articles," pp. 263-7.
Names of individuals are not generally introduced in this Digest unless holding some prominent official position. The names of the Presidents of General Synod are given; of the Professors of our Theological Seminaries; and some names of those on important Special Committees which have a historical significance; also the names of important foreign delegates. The names of the donors to the Funds of the Church are also included, with the amounts and objects of their beneficence. Generally speaking, only the names of the earlier missionaries are introduced, as they are referred to in the earlier Synodical Reports, while later missionaries are not generally mentioned in such Reports; nevertheless, the full lists of all missionaries are given under the names of their respective fields.
The republication of the first and second volumes of the Minutes of the General Synod, including those of earlier bodies, is now very desirable for several reasons. Copies of the Minutes between 1813 and 1826 (embracing part of Volume I and the whole of Volume II), are entirely out of print. The editing of the so-called Volume I, of the Minutes, in 1859, was very imperfectly done, and whole sessions were omitted. That volume also failed to include the Minutes of 1813-16, which properly belonged to it. (See pages 309, 390, and 485, of this Digest.) Complete sets of the Minutes are very scarce, and generally inaccessible except to a very few. (See page 394 of this Digest.) The Minutes of the Catus were then only partially possessed, but are now approximately complete. The Church ought to have its earliest minutes in a completed form, properly edited, and obtainable for those who desire complete sets.
E. T. CORWIN.
CONSTITUTION OF THE REFORMED CHURCH IN
This consisted of the Rules of Church Government adopted at the Synod of Dort, 1619, freely translated, with eliminations of all references to State relations, and Explanatory Articles, showing how the original Articles were to be understood and applied in America. The Constitution also included the Doctrinal Standards and the Liturgy. The following is the Preface to the first American edition of the Constitution, issued in 1793. See Constitution, page 159 of this Digest.
PREFACE TO THE ENTIRE CONSTITUTION, EMBRACING
DOCTRINES, LITURGY AND GOVERNMENT, 1792.
In consequence of that liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free, it becomes their duty as well as privilege, openly to confess and worship him according to the dictates of their own consciences. To perform this aright, and bear a proper testimony against the heresies and false opinions which have always disturbed the peace and corrupted the purity of the Church, it has been found necessary to explain with candour and boldness, the Articles of Faith and Discipline, and accurately to distinguish between truth and error. Wherever such explanations constitute a bond of union wholly voluntary, and unattended with civil emoluments or penalties, they cannot be considered as an infringement upon the equal liberties of others, or as fixing boundaries and terms of communion, inimical to Christian charity. The unerring Word of God remaining the only standard of the Faith and Worship of his people, they can never incur the charge of presumption, in openly declaring, what to them appears to be the mind and will of their divine Lord and Master.
The Church is a Society, wholly distinct in its principles, laws, and end, from any which men have ever instituted for civil purposes. It consists of all, in every age and place, who are chosen, effectually called, and united by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. The different dispensations, either before, or since the coming of the Messiah, have made no essential change in the benefits of the everlasting Covenant; nor do the various denominations, or descriptions of particular Churches, under which, from many unavoidable circumstances of language, nation, or other causes of distinction, believers are classed, effect any schism in the body, or destroy the communion of saints.
At the reformation it was judged proper by all the Churches to ratify and publish their respective Creeds, and the adopted forms of their ecclesiastical governments. In America, since the late happy Revolution, the Churches of different denominations have found it necessary to organize themselves, agreeably to the present state in which the good providence of God hath placed them, and have already published their several constitutions. The Reformed Dutch Church