A Borderline Case: The Question of Church Boundaries Examined - Rev. G.Treurniet Azn.
from (Dutch to English) by Jack VanderVeen
Originally published in the Gereformeerd Kerkblad voor Zuid-Holland vol. 46, December 1994.
Recently theGereformeerde Kerken (sister churches of the Can.Ref. Churches) in the provinces Noord-Brabant and Limburg re-established their boundaries. From now on, anyone taking up residence in one of these provinces will no longer have to solve the puzzle as to which church he ought to join. In the future, should a boundary become unclear or illogical, that boundary will be re-established. However, all those involved will have to abide by that agreement. This week's edition of "Nieuwsblad voor het Land van Heusden en Altena" contained quite a different article. This publication is a regional weekly that dedicates a fair amount of space to church news. In the November 24 issue I read the following: "The clerk of a Hervormde congregation calls it quits." His rest is deserved for he has been on the church council forever. Now two nominations are presented to the congregation from which a new clerk can be elected. One of the candidates lives three villages further away from the congregation. On his way to the Hervormde Kerk of which he is a member, he drives past two other Hervormde Kerken. (The Hervormde Kerk referred to in this article is the Dutch state church: de Nederlands Hervormde Kerk)
Nowadays that's possible in the Hervormde Kerk. In everyday language this is called 'perforation of church boundaries.' The Hervormde congregations have always had established geographical boundaries. If you live in town or county A then you belong to congregation A. In order to make profession of faith or to have your child baptized somewhere else you need a document from your own consistory, even if it meant that you would have to introduce yourself there because they had never seen you before [i.e. because you never worshipped in your own church]. This rule has stayed in place but now exceptions are possible. Here in the 'Land of Altena' on Sundays some members of the Hervormde Kerk for some years now cruise by one or more Hervormde Kerken to a church where they feel more comfortable. Today they can also become a member of the congregation of their choice, including all applicable rights and duties.
What should we think of such development? Do not say too hastily: that's happening in a far away place. Also in our own church federation not everyone sees the need to make binding agreements on this matter and to adhere to them.
We are also in communication with the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (sister churches of the Free Reformed Churches in North America). If ever we would make progress with these churches (and I don't want to speculate on that possibility) we will be confronted with that same issue in a big way. There are at least four cities with two CGK's without mutually established boundaries, or at least without boundaries that are adhered to. There are also the cases of persons living in a city with one, or even two CGK's, while they are members of a congregation in another town. There 'cruising past the church' within one federation has gotten out of hand. I get the impression that many are worried about this development but nothing is done to stop it. You put up with it and after a while you don't know any better.
While contemplating the topic 'church boundaries,' a thesis written about two years ago on this material comes in very handy: A Border Case. Origin and function of the territorial principle in reformed church polity. Dr. B.A.M. Luttikhuis, Hervormd minister in Leiderdorp and Hoogmade, received his Ph.D. for this study at the State University in Groningen. I suggest we first try to discover the train of thought in his book. Luttikhuis questions where the phenomenum originated, namely, that a local church has established boundaries that are binding for those who want to join such a church. His research is clearly 'tainted' by the practice in the Hervormde Kerk, from which perspective he views history. But nevertheless, he tries to do justice to each period on its own in the history of the church. He starts with the era after the apostles. The first Christian congregations were started in towns of the Roman empire. Precise church boundaries were not an issue; the towns were situated quite a distance from one another and people living in the countryside between cities were mostly non-christians. In time that changed and parishes were instituted in the country side around the city holding the "seat" of the bishop. That was done for pastoral reasons: for believing country folks the distance to the church of the bishop was too great. In the beginning such a parish also had no determined boundaries. All of that changed during the reign of Charles the Great. At that time the proceeds from the local tithes, instead of being channeled via the bishop, were allocated directly to the parish. For that reason a precise territorial boundary was needed. Later on, as a rule, such boundaries were also put in place in cities with more than one church. Dr. Luttikhuis emphasizes, on page 37: The system of parochial territories was not based on any specific theological motive. It was "a practical instrument of shepherding." On the one hand, the church had to be within walking distance while on the other hand there had to be a sufficient financial base to sustain the clergy.
The reformers, according to Luttikhuis, simply copied the territorial parish system from the Roman Catholic church. For John Calvin it was a practical, rather than a principial matter. In Geneva the ministers divided all the tasks among themselves, regardless of the old division in parishes. All the elders were assigned their own ward to ensure nobody was left out. Then the author pays extensive attention to the Dutch fugitive situation in London. Here it was not the place where one lived that was determinative for church membership, instead it was determined by personal choice. In this specific situation (a Dutch minority in a British environment) people did not choose for the 'territorial model' but for the 'societal model.' Allegedly a constant tension between these two models remained within the Reformed Churches in Holland. "This formed a dilemma for the Calvinistic Reformation. It cannot and will not choose between the one simple solution of the Lutherans (the territorial congregation) and that of the Anabaptists (the congregation as a association), and instead tries to keep these two combined" (p.56). After the Uprising in the Netherlands and the institution of free Reformed churches the existing parish structure was retained. For the reformed people it was beneficial because in that way they could obtain the exclusive right to the ecclesiastical infrastructure" (p.58). For the government it was probably even more beneficial, "because in the existing structure the territorial boundaries of the municipality and the church are in general the same, ensuring a certain influence by the municipal government on the church government" (p.59).
In the 'General Regulation' that the government forced on the Reformed Churches in 1816 which changed it's name to "Nederlands Hervormde Kerk" the territorial division was not mentioned for the reason that it was considered perfectly self evident. It was considered obvious-and considered very valuable, especially for the sake of the good order (as viewed by the civil government and those in power in the church). Rev. H. de Cock experienced this when he had the nerve to baptize several children from other congregations. Dr. G.J.Vos Azn, a strong opponent of the Doleantie later on, called it "a serious church-political crime" (p.80). This political motive for territorial division of congregations became so prominent that the pastoral motive became of secondary importance. This became clear from the Royal (!) Proclamation of 1837 which automatically changed the church boundaries in case of a change in municipal boundaries. With that, the confusion of the 'societal model' and the 'territorial model' was not resolved but cut in two, favouring the latter. Also the Secession churches resolved the confusion, according to Luttikhuis, but in their case it was in favour of the societal model. They "proclaim that the confession is the basis after which the congregation is modeled and in fact distance themselves from the territorial model" (p.91).
According to Luttikhuis it was Dr. A. Kuyper who provided the territorial principle with a 'theological basis': he declared it to be a creation order (p.99). Actually, this basis was theological only in regards to church polity (p.103). Why Church polity? Well, Kuyper's principial-sounding story about the secessions of towns and villages 'as willed by God' and therefore the norm for constitution when instituting churches fits nicely in his plea for the independence of the local church. In turn, that 'plea is only an (opportunistic) means to serve the purpose that he pursued, which was to obtain the power of the church for the reformed party' (p.100).
Within the confines of the territorial boundaries, established by God, Kuyper uses the 'societal model.' "Following Kuyper's model the local church becomes, as it were, a society of which membership is mandatory" (p.104). For the sake of the Union of the Doleantie churches and the Secession churches in 1892 Kuyper proceeded to accepting the possibility of temporarily having two churches within one territory. But the principle remained: One church in one place. That failed, Luttikhuis states, because in most of the places, where in 1892 there were two reformed churches, today (following the Liberation and other schisms) we will find again two or more reformed churches (such as synodical, liberated, Christelijk Gereformeerd, Nederlands Gereformeerd and/or one or more Gereformeerde Gemeenten). It appears that "the territorial principle is not suitable to force a spiritual union within and among the congregations" (p.112).
Fairly soon the Reformed Churches, as well as Kuyper, distanced themselves from the 'one-church-in-one-place' principle. For the sake of the pastoral care in the ever-growing large cities pleas were heard favouring a parish-based model: more than one church in one place, provided they each have their own territorial district. Luttikhuis pays close attention to the developments in his own Nederlands Hervormde Kerk. In the new church order of 1951 a division in district-congregations was implemented in places with more than one ministerial position. The motive for that was pastoral: it was 'the only possibility to achieve something resembling a church community in the large cities' (p.178).
That motive is applauded by the author but he bemoans the strict adherence to the territorial principle, blaming an error in pattern of thought: mixing up rights and obligations. Already since the expositions of Calvin the thought has been that it is "the old model of being Reformed" means that a congregation has a "pastoral duty of caring" for those living within the radius.
Now the thought that a governing body, in this case the consistory, has certain indisputable and definite rights in regards to all the inhabitants of its territory has a totally different origin: it is civic/state political. What happens in the 19th century in understanding of the regulations, and even more so in the 1951 church order, is the assumed interpretation that the duty of spiritual care is to be equated with right of governing (p.189). In the Hervormde Kerk it did not take long before the territorial principle ceased to function. In 1964 the General Synod gave permission for 'extra-ordinary district congregations', which was a 'solution' in places where certain modalities did not get their due share. In a pluralistic church as the Hervormde Kerk the territorial principle seems to be unworkable but there was not, and still is not, the courage to acknowledge that and to let go of the principle. Repeatedly exceptions were considered to be temporary or at least emergency solutions. Even though it is becoming clear that the phenomenum of sectional congregations ('deel-gemeente' as these extra-ordinary district congregations are called today) is an established fact, officially the principle is maintained. This, in spite of the odd person speaking up, which is noted with agreement by Luttikhuis, claiming that the apostolic character of the congregation demands structural openness (pp. 212, 219). Even with the 'perforation of the congregational boundaries' in 1991the rule remains in place, but now we only see exceptions, also for individuals. Luttikhuis concludes: "The church should again concentrate on her apostolic task....on the basis of which it should take a more flexible position regarding the many different forms of congregational life."
Theological or pastoral?
We did not summarize all parts of Luttikhuis' book on purpose. Not only would that have taken too much space-the author gives a clear, well documented overview of church history starting with the apostolic era-but it also did not appear necessary to follow the story. In the following paragraphs we want to comment on a few points raised by Luttikhuis. Even though this commentary is mainly critical, it does not detract from our appreciation for the work that he accomplished and the manner of presentation. But no single publication is the end to any discussion (and this article is no exception to that rule).
Let's start right away with a point that touches the meaning of the book as a whole. We quote from page 14: "The original motive for the forming of parishes is the pastoral motive. The parish is not a goal but a means; an instrument with which the bishop can fulfill his pastoral task. There is therefore no concern at all for the theological legitimization (this would incorrectly elevate the means above the goal)." Later, when dealing with the era after Emperor Charles the Great, Luttikhuis writes: "It certainly is important for the later developments in the parochial system to point out once again the fact that a specific theological motivation of legitimizing the parochial system in these turbulent times is not what we are dealing with: the parochial system has no higher status than that of a practical instrument for spiritual care and maintaining of order" (p.30). Similar remarks we read, among others, on the pages 37 (quoted above), 62, 70 and 229-30.
I'll be quite honest: I have great difficulties with this. Specifically I have in mind an expression like 'no higher status than...' When the author suggests that initially there was no broad and in-depth scholarly reflection as basis for the 'territorial model,' there is no doubt he is correct. That is the case as well for many policy decisions in church history. It is not necessarily incorrect to say: it is not theology that is normative, but God's Word. But Dr. Luttikhuis also means: you should not act as if the 'territorial model' is principially better than other models. In the past it was chosen for pastoral reasons but nowadays other possibilities can be chosen on pastoral grounds as well. (There were other grounds too, such as judicial and political, but with those the author is, quite correctly, less impressed.) I am convinced that Luttikhuis does not give enough weight to the pastoral motives which played a roll in the past, especially with the reformers. "Theologically the parochial system does not have a higher status than that of a practical instrument of spiritual care"-when I read that, I think: isn't that status high enough? Could it be any higher? Are there in the flock of the Good Shepherd arguments that are more principial than pastoral arguments? The use of the term 'pastoral' in Luttikhuis' dissertation leans towards the meaning: 'only practical, not principial, not binding for all times.'
Now, over against that, I would not want to assign to the word 'pastoral' (= shepherding) the meaning: 'rigid, as flexible as a concrete wall.' Sometimes a shepherd acts quite flexibly because not all sheep are alike and in all respects today's flock is not the same as yesterday's. However, it's just the clear and binding rules that oftentimes are good for the flock. In a pastoral sense, that is. That does not mean, though, that it applies in this case too and that the territorial system ought to be the norm. More about that later on.
But I think it is important at this moment to point out a contradiction which, in my opinion, is incorrect and confusing: no specific theological motive but a pastoral motive, according to Luttikhuis. My response: if you want to relativize the pastoral motive in that way (only practical and not principial) then that is something that I absolutely cannot work with.
Territory or society?
The next issue on which I disagree with Dr. Luttikhuis is the tension that he notices in the history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, starting with the 16th century. The tension between the 'territorial model' and the 'societal model' between which, according to him, the churches were not willing to make a choice. In the end the confusion was resolved because the Hervormde Kerk chose the first model while the Secession Churches chose the latter. To start with, I have difficulties with the term 'societal model.' That expression suits the Baptist view on the church but it does not fit the Reformed churches. It is typical for a society that you yourself apply for membership. The Reformed Churches however always professed that by baptism-as a rule as a baby, therefore not actively, let alone taking the initiative-you are ingrafted in the church (Lord's Day 27). Furthermore, the term 'society' sounds rather non-committal. To join the church-again according to the reformed confession-is never a matter of choice (Belgic Confession art 28). That is not contradicted by the situation in London, England, where there was a congregation of fugitives besides the English church.
In the first place, that was far too much of an extraordinary situation to enable one to draw general conclusions from it and secondly, also there, it was beyond dispute that you had to join the church, so the label 'societal model' is unwarranted. Does that mean there was not a continuous tension or dilemma in the history of the Reformed Churches when dealing with the question which model to choose for the congregation? Of course there was. The tension was this: the Reformed Churches wanted to be confessing churches while the civil government usually urged them to be a people's church, without strict adherence to the confession and, consequently, without discipline. That dilemma certainly caused much tension. As the Reformed Churches in practice became more and more "people's churches" the phenomenum of churches-within-the-church appeared: pious gatherings. When after 1816 there was official freedom of religion this already long existing tension was one of the causes leading to the 1834 Secession. However, neither that tension nor the Secession have anything to do with the 'territorial model.' The baptizing of children from other congregations by Rev. H. de Cock (before the Secession) was seen by all involved as an emergency solution. After the Secession such practice certainly did not become the norm. Therefore I do not understand how Luttikhuis can state (p.90) that the 'territorial model' was pushed aside by the secessionists. The seceded churches also had geographical boundaries. Sure, in the beginning, when church life suffered many maladies, from time to time things must have been done that were inconsistent. Because of differences there were two congregations for a while in a few places (e.g. in Leiden). But it certainly is not true that the Secession Churches did away with the territorial principle. Sure, they desired to be confessing churches but because of that they did not chose against the territorial model. That was never the cause of any tension. What did cause tension was the "people's church" (without discipline). But that is a totally different matter!
Kuyper a church politician?
Luttikhuis is extremely negative about the person of Dr. A. Kuyper and his opinion. Already on the first 12 pages, which are dedicated to Kuyper, Luttikhuis states that "all the time Kuyper was primarily (being) led by considerations of opportunity and strategic effectiveness" (p.93)". We read: not only sometimes, not often but all the time. Also, he was not led largely but primarily. The proof for this harsh conviction? Five lines from one of Kuyper's letters. A private letter about a specific situation. To put it mildly: a very narrow basis for such a destructive verdict. And yet, this profile sets the tone for what is to come. Kuyper is portrayed as a slick talker and an opportunist who only defended the independence of the local church because that suited him best in his quest for power. Does that mean that I would defend the notion that Kuyper never was calculating and always had impure motives? Certainly not. I must say, I have mixed feelings about much of what Kuyper did and wrote. On the one hand you detect a righteous striving for the cause of the LORD, also when others gave up (if strictly power would have been Kuyper's aim he would have done a lot of things differently), on the other hand you can detect quite often too much of a down-to-earth, too much of a calculating approach. The latter creates in me a feeling of distance from Kuyper, something that does not happen when, for instance, reading from or about Groen van Prinsterer. Nevertheless, I do not think that Luttikhuis has shown that Kuyper's defense for the rights of the local church was a matter of church politicking. Mind you: imagine that would have been the case. How could it be explained that sincere believers and scholars, such as the theologian Dr. F.L. Rutgers and lawyer A.F. de Savornin Lohman stood next to Kuyper in the struggle for the rights of the local church, even when it came to a head with the Doleantie?
Does Luttikhuis want to defend the notion that Lohman was after the power of the church for the reformed party? (I mention Lohman because there were such vast differences between him and Kuyper).
The Liberation as the time when it all came out?
A final point that surprised me somewhat is Luttikhuis' position on the Union of 1892. He is of the opinion that the Secession churches chose for the societal model while the Doleantie churches chose for the territorial model (pp.110-111). After the Union the territorial model dominates but the opposition between the two models is not removed. That was to become the reason for the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk to secede. That is also the cause of the Liberation in 1944 (p.111). Luttikhuis even typifies the Liberation as "the time when both groups came to their own" (p.107) namely the Secessionists and those of the Doleantie (also known as A and B churches). He reinforces this thesis with a fact that was already mentioned in the summary: where there were two reformed churches in 1892 (within the united federation) in most places, a hundred years after that there are again two or even more, but now belonging to different federations. There is no denying that. However, did Dr. Luttikhuis succeed in what he tries to prove? I don't believe so.
In the first place: the differences between A and B churches cannot be said to have originated with the two contrary positions of the 'societal model' and the 'territorial model' simply because there are no contrary positions. Sure, there were critical questions on the part of the concerned secessionists about discipline in some of the Doleantie churches but that had more to do with the distinction of professing church versus people's church (as mentioned above). The territorial system was not at issue. Secondly, later schisms had all kinds of causes but the above mentioned contrast was not among them. It is also contrary to the facts to characterize the Liberation as the disentanglement of the A and B churches. It is a known fact that in some places (e.g. Harlingen and Bunschoten-Spakenburg) the fracture line in 1944 is very similar to the division between the families in the A and B churches. But there is no proof that had anything to do with the preference for the different models of congregations. Furthermore, the phenomenon of that (to some extent) recognizable fracture line was more often the exception than the rule. The great majority of the former A and B churches became synodical churches. It is safe to say that the actual number of former A churches in the Liberated churches was greater than that of the former B churches, but a study to determine exactly how much greater has never been done.
These few critical comments on Dr. Luttikhuis' book will suffice, a book that is beneficial, even if it is only because there is not that much literature about this topic. I hope you were able to follow the arguments. This story is a bit more in-depth than usual but that's only because of the topic. When discussing a dissertation like this, one is sometimes forced to use a few more difficult words than one would in a story in which you can choose your own terminology. Next I'll try to express my own opinion regarding the desirability and preservation of geographical church boundaries.
The 1936 General Synod pointed the churches to "the rule that everyone ought to be a member of that church which coincides with the boundaries of the town in which he lives" (Acts art. 62). Synod 1990 once more expressly reminded the churches of that agreement (Acts art. 62). The starting point for this rule is that each church has its own territory. It is not spelled out like that in the Church Order but that is assumed to be the starting point (see for instance art. 38 and 39). That territory can encompass one town or city or it can consist of several towns (or parts thereof) or it can be less than one town such as a subdivision. In that case it is important that the boundaries are clearly defined. The churches among themselves as well as the classis have to pay attention in order to avoid mysteries, ambiguities, blind spots or inconsistencies in the description.
The starting point is that there are boundaries. The logical conclusion is: we adhere to those boundaries. They count for consistories, members of the church as well as aspiring members. That is also assumed without saying so in the Church Order (art 63 and 64). It was established as such in the 'rule of 1936,' confirmed (and complemented) in 1990. That's how it has been arranged in the Reformed Churches. But now we see: apparently it is no longer obvious in the Dutch ecclesiastical scene. It has already been noted that the Hervormde Kerk 'perforated' the geographical church boundaries in 1991. That means that those boundaries are no longer fixed. The synodical Gereformeerde Kerken already put this in practice in 1984 (De Hoeksteen 1994 p.74). I am not aware of comparable decisions in the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken but I have the impression that official boundaries hardly exist there anymore. Yet there are the necessary arguments to maintain the 'territorial system.' Let me mention a few.
1. We begin of course with God's Word. In the Old Testament neighbouring autonomous congregations did not exist. They did, however, exist in the New Testament. How were these congregations defined? Undoubtedly geographically. We never read about modality congregations, instead we read of congregations in such-and-such a place. Titus has to appoint elders in all cities (Titus 5:1), not in family clans, social classes, groups of friends or groups of people with the same age.
2. The church is a communion of saints, not only on Sundays but seven days of the week. It is important then that you not only live close to the church building but also as close as possible to one another. Then territorial divisions are obvious.
3. A point that concerns all of the above is the office-bearers' task of oversight, which is a matter of life and death for the church (Acts 20:28). As a rule it is preferable to have a territorial division which can serve as the basis of a division in wards or resorts.
4. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that there are different gifts within the church (1 Cor. 12: 4-11). This is deliberate, because within a body there is the need for many different functions. Geographical boundaries are a good way to spread these gifts equitably and to avoid the creation of one-sided congregations.
5. Dr. Luttikhuis is of the opinion that, although a congregation has a duty of 'pastoral care' within her service area, the consistory cannot claim 'exclusive right' in that territory (Kerkblad December 3rd). I heartily disagree with him. In this way the authority of important rulings in the church order, such as art 3 and art 10, are stripped of their force. Surely, a congregation and consistory have certain rights within their territory. But of course those rights are not absolute: they were entrusted to the congregation by the Head of the church.
6. The next argument is that of clarity: you know where you stand. If you move to 'that' town you belong to 'that' church. That also avoids the unworthy pull from two congregations for families that are new to the area.
7. Connected with this is something that I consider much more important. It may even be the most fundamental argument: it is the Son of God who gathers the church (Lord's Day 21). He does that through His Spirit and in accord with the providence of His Father. The Triune God gives you a place in the church.
If you leave it up to the people to freely choose the church of their choice then it is a given that they will view the church as just another club. Therefore it is a matter of a good concept of the church, something quite rare nowadays. It is not you that chooses your brothers and sisters, instead, the LORD does that for you.
I believe that consistently maintaining the 'territorial system' is also an effective weapon against a number of real dangers to the church.
1. First of all: the danger of consumerism. The church can succumb to becoming the supplier of spiritual food and rituals of your taste. But the church is not a supplier that you choose at will. She is your mother (2 John 1). I'm also reminded of 2 Tim. 4:3: if the preaching and / or the discipline in church X are not to your liking, the thought to repent does not enter your mind but instead you go to church Y because it is not as strict. And I am thinking of the next generation as well: how do you teach your children the difference between a church and a fast food outlet?
2. Connected with this is the danger of individualism. You don't have to adopt the whole of Kuyper's thesis on towns and cities that came into being through God's providence and are therefore normative for the institution of churches in order to realize that it is bad situation when of your three neighbours the one goes to church A, the second to church B while the third one attends church C. Such behaviour is bad for the church, bad for the community and it is bad for the mutual communion and sense of responsibility of A, B and C.
3. An unnecessary great distance in miles is a real threat to active participation. To drive that extra distance on Sundays is not too bad but during the week it easily becomes a bit too much. Mom and Dad probably have a car but (in the Netherlands) the kids have to use their bikes.
4. There is the unavoidable and very destructive danger of churches growing apart when boundaries are 'perforated.' Within the three church federations mentioned above there already are congregations of different direction, modality or position. When boundaries no longer function that process will grow stronger and become virtually irreversible, greatly damaging the spiritual unity of the church and hindering the spreading of the gospel.
5. Connected again to this is a possible surge of unspiritual competition, causing churches to destroy one another rather than build each other up. Young people, for example, look for a church with many people their own age, or people who consider themselves intellectuals find a church where many members have a university degree. They don't consider it their problem that other churches are left with only older people or without people that can assume leadership roles.
6. Do you experience difficulties in the church? Then the temptation is strong to walk away from them (by moving to another church) rather than trying to solve those difficulties.
Of course I know that, to a certain extent, all these dangers are also applicable to a federation that adheres to geographical boundaries. Even in a 'territorial' congregation one can fall prey to consumerism. You can move house for debatable reasons. It is also possible that the great distance to the church closest by can be such that involvement suffers. But that does not detract from the fact that the doing away with or, what is practically the same, the declaration of no longer being bound to geographical boundaries, will make it worse.
Aren't there going to be practical problems when consistently adhering to the territorial system? Of course there will be. To mention a few:
1. Churches in older parts of a city often experience an imbalance in age groups (many pensioners and students, few families).
2. Sometimes churches in new or high density subdivisions grow so rapidly that cohesion and oversight become a problem.
3. Rural churches may lose many members due to lack of employment and/or lack of Christian schools.
4. Often churches in large cities are small while exactly in those places there is a need for manpower to actively evangelize and be busy with Christian outreach programs.
I'll be the last one to minimize these difficulties but I cannot see them being addressed properly when you let go of the territorial system. It's not a good solution for any of these problems. Furthermore, and I want to emphasize this, there is no way of return. The proof is there in other denominations that once you start perforating geographical boundaries, literally and figuratively, the floodgates are opened. It's quite possible that in unity talks with other churches it will prove to be a hard nut to crack. But then that's the price we'll have to pay. I am firmly convinced that territorial boundaries for a reformed church federation are not negotiable.
I address the issue on purpose because, at this moment, it's not a hot topic. And I hope it won't become one either. But then we will have to pay attention to 'minor' issues; for example: in our federation, when a church is disbanded it quite often happens that the remaining members are given the choice which church to join. I believe one has to be very careful with that, also when in the future a clear boundary has to be established. Exceptions to the rule tend to set precedents which in turn form the grounds for others to claim such an exceptional position as well. Should then personal and/or historical bonds be completely discounted? That's not what I'm saying. Just that disbandment of a church is a sensitive issue which has to be taken seriously. In such cases, ecclesiastical assemblies are not allowed to make decisions without the input of those involved. That also means that in the church we not only think in terms of 'efficiency.' The church is made up of people, living people. Therefore, in such a situation, church boundaries are not determined in the study. Take for an example this situation from outside our province: the citizens of Kampereiland live slightly closer to IJsselmuiden than they live to the church at Kampen. Yet for six hundred years they have been, and remain, members of the church at Kampen. Historically and socially the ties with the city and the church at Kampen are that strong, and is of such great importance for those involved, that you cannot just move a boundary strictly based on distance. But then again: there is a clear agreement. Leave it up to the churches, and not to individual members of the church, to settle these matters. Keep in mind that the very first line of our church order is virtually a literal quote from Scripture (1 Cor. 14:40)
Is there no exception possible to 'the rule of 1936'?
Of course it's not as simple as that. But then: provide proper grounds for an exception, consult with all involved to make a specific decision, and then also present it as an exception. For example, off and on we have to deal with the placement of a member in a nursing home that is situated in the territory of a neighbouring sister church. The rule in that case is: the person that moves becomes a member of that neighbouring congregation. But sometimes old age and/or dementia cause difficulties in making contact with the unknown office-bearers and members of that church while those who are well-known are still able to make contact. Providing distance is not a problem, it is possible, after consultation, that the person in question remains a member of his or her 'old' church. Mind you, experience has taught us that it has to be made clear to the congregation that this situation is an exception for otherwise in no time you will get perfectly healthy people that move house without requesting an attestation. At those times we have to repeat: not so fast, we have boundaries. And boundaries are there for a good reason.