Price, Gaulkin and Sullivan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Sullivan, J.A.D.
This appeal involves the ouster of ten persons from membership in a religious society. The First Baptist Church of Englewood has been in existence for many years. Its present pastor, Rev. J. I. Goodman, came to the church about 1949. He is the focal point of the present dispute, the factual background of which is as follows.
Factionalism had developed in the church over the way its affairs were being handled, and on or about June 4, 1957 a letter was circulated among church members critical of the pastor, the chairman of the board of deacons and the chairman of the board of trustees. The letter was sent by a group of ten church members of which Howard L. Moorman appears to have been one of the spokesmen. Thereafter, on or about July 18, 1957, at an alleged special meeting of church members sponsored by the same group and presided over by Howard L. Moorman, Reverend Goodman was purportedly voted out of office. On August 2, 1957 another meeting of church members was called to consider charges brought against the ten members of the dissident group by the joint boards of trustees and deacons. The substance of the charges was that these persons had circulated among the church membership an unauthorized letter dated June 4, 1957, containing statements which were unfounded, untrue and unchristian. At the meeting the circulating of the letter by the persons in question was admitted and its contents were discussed in detail. After an acrimonious hearing, a resolution was allegedly adopted silencing these persons. Actually the meeting accomplished little and conditions continued to deteriorate.
In January 1958 ten members of the church, including some of those who had been silenced, commenced suit against Rev. J. I. Goodman in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, charging that he had been voted out of the pastorship by the church membership but refused to leave the pulpit. The complaint also charged a mishandling of church finances. Not to be outdone, the First Baptist Church and the chairmen
of its boards of trustees, and deacons, on February 3, 1958 filed a Chancery suit against 11 members of the church including those who had commenced suit against the pastor of the church, charging them with interfering with the orderly conduct of church meetings and services, attempting to oust the pastor at a rump meeting, and with other improper conduct.
The suits were consolidated, and at the suggestion of counsel for the 11 members, a consent order was entered appointing a commission to conduct a hearing, take testimony and make findings and recommendations on the following questions:
"1. The definition of a person qualified to vote in a meeting of the First Baptist Church of Englewood, N.J.
2. The legality of the silencing of certain members of the Church.
3. The legality of meetings held under the auspices of Howard L. Moorman and persons associated with him.
4. The right of Reverend J. I. Goodman to continue in office as Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Englewood, N.J."
Three Baptist ministers were appointed to the commission, a hearing was held and a unanimous report filed making recommendations on the questions submitted to the commission. As to point 1, the commission defined who were qualified to vote at church meetings. As to point 2, the commission found the silencing of the members was not legal for reasons given in the report. As to point 3, the commission found that the meetings held under the auspices of Howard L. Moorman and persons associated with him were illegal for reasons stated in the report. As to point 4, the commission held that the right of Reverend Goodman to continue as pastor was a question that could be decided only by a vote of the duly constituted membership of the church. It was recommended by the commission that a meeting of the church membership be held on notice to all ...