Eligibility for the Ministry
Only those shall be called to the office of minister of the Word who
1. have been declared eligible for call by the Churches;
2. are already serving in that capacity in one of the Churches; or
3. have been declared eligible in, or are serving one of the Churches with which the Canadian Reformed Churches maintain a sister-Church relationship.
B. DECLARED ELIGIBLE
Only those shall be declared eligible for call within the Churches who
1. have passed a preparatory examination by the classis in which they live, which examination shall not take place unless those presenting themselves for it submit the documents necessary to prove that they are members in good standing of one of the Churches and have successfully completed a course of study as
required by the Churches;
2. have served in churches with which the Canadian Reformed Churches do not maintain a sister-church relationship, and have been examined by the classis in which they live, with due observance of the general ecclesiastical regulations adopted for that purpose; or
3. have been examined according to the rule described in Article 8.
C. CALLING TWICE
The approval of Classis shall be required for a second call to the same minister regarding the same vacancy.
When a vacant Church extends a call, the advice of the counsellor shall be sought.
Article 4 deals with the question who are eligible for the ministry. Before we discuss this article, we are to say something about the terminology used.
For the first time we meet here the word “classis.” This needs some explanation.
We use the word “classis’ in two different meanings here, the one in the proper sense of the word, the other in a manner which might cause some misunderstanding.
The federation of the Canadian Reformed Churches is divided into various groups of churches that meet at pre-arranged times by means of their delegates. The smallest such area is a classical area. The churches situated in this area send each two delegates once every three months to a meeting which we call a classis.
Our ecclesiastical language uses many words which have been derived from Latin, for a long time the language used in the services and by the scholars and other educated members of the church. It is not strange that we are still using purely Latin words or words derived from the Latin. The word “classis” is one of those words which are pure Latin. It means a class, a group of people. It can also refer to a fleet or part of a fleet.
In our ecclesiastical language we use the word for an area as well as for a meeting. Thus we speak of “Classis Pacific” when referring to the churches in the classical area of British Columbia. It is in this sense that we use it in Article 4 when we say that candidates shall be examined by the “classis in which they live,” that is, by the churches in that particular area.
The word “classis” is also used of the meetings that are held once every three months, meetings or classes (the plural of classis) that are composed of two delegates from each church in that area. When we use the word classis in this sense, we should always put a date with it, for instance, the Classis Ontario South of December 10, 1986.
More will be said about this point in connection with Art. 44; the above remarks had to be made at this point to prevent misunderstanding.
As a group of churches a “classis” is a permanent phenomenon; as the three-monthly meeting it is impermanent, transitory, lasting only one or two days. In any case, it is not a permanent body that meets once in a while.
A church is not allowed to call just anyone who strikes its fancy. Nor is a church allowed to call anyone who has been declared eligible for call by just any religious body or by an institute which is entitled to confer degrees in theology. Conferring degrees is an academic matter, not an ecclesiastical one.
One who is called must have been declared eligible for call by the churches, that is, by the churches of the federation.
The second possibility is that one of the ministers is called who is already serving in one of the churches. This is a possibility that needs no further explanation.
A third category are those who are serving in one of the (foreign) sister churches with which the Canadian Reformed Churches maintain a sister church relationship. About this sort of relationship we speak in Art. 50, and will elaborate on it there.
One of the rules for maintaining and practising this relationship is that each other’s office-bearers are mutually recognized and that ministers of foreign sister-churches may be invited to conduct services in our midst when they are visiting here. Inasmuch as they are recognized in their office, we make the provision here that they may be called by the churches.
With the revision of the Church Order, the Synod of Cloverdale 1983 unfortunately provided that also those shall be eligible for call who have been declared eligible in the foreign sister churches, although they have no office in these churches and thus are not covered by the rules for this relationship.
How Declared Eligible?
The second part of this article describes the manner in which one is declared eligible for call.
There is in the first place the preparatory examination. The meaning of the word “preparatory,” although it also comes from the Latin, will be clear. This examination is to be done by the churches in whose midst the brother lives who aspires to the office of a minister of the Gospel.
At a classis of these churches it is ascertained first of all that the brother has a right to be examined. Not just anyone is permitted to present himself for such an examination. One has to meet certain conditions to be allowed to come and be examined.
The first requirement is that he is a member in good standing of one of the churches. It was not necessary to add here the word “communicant,” since the previous article already contained the provision that one is not eligible for any office unless he has made profession of faith. The candidate has to present an attestation to show that he is such a member and has been one for at least three years. If he has been a member of the same church for more than three years, an attestation from this one church will suffice; if he moved during the last three years, an attestation is required from each church to which he belonged during this period.
Further he has to show proof that he has completed the required course of study. The churches do not demand of someone presenting himself for the preparatory examination that he has followed the courses and passed the examinations at the churches’ own Theological Seminary, although this is the normal procedure. They have left open the possibility that someone is admitted to the preparatory examination who obtained his theological degree elsewhere. Yet he cannot be admitted without any further assurance that he has “mastered” the Reformed doctrine and polity. For this reason the General Synod of Orangeville 1968 decided:
To be admitted to the ecclesiastical examinations candidates shall submit proof that they have completed their studies at our own Theological College. Candidates who took their theological training at other institutions shall present a certificate issued by the Staff of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches stating that they have followed and/or completed a course of studies conforming with the training provided by the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches. (Acts Synod Orangeville 1968, Art. 171)
Once the documents have been found in order, the examination can take place.
The character of this examination must be kept in view, and it should be realized that it is an ecclesiastical examination which is to ascertain that this brother has indeed such a knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and of the Reformed doctrine based on them that the members of that classis are convinced that he is able to serve as a true minister of the Gospel. Sometimes examiners ask a candidate to read from the Hebrew or from
the Greek text of Scripture. Whether this is to demonstrate the knowledge and skill of the examiner or of the candidate we shall leave undecided. What is certain is that it is wrong to do so, and this for more than one reason.
In the first place, the certificate from the faculty of our College is sufficient guarantee that the candidate has acquired the necessary knowledge of the languages in which God’s Word came to us. This does not have to be investigated or demonstrated again.
In the second place, an ecclesiastical examination should be conducted in such a manner that each and every member of that classis not only can follow it but also is able to judge and evaluate it. Any member of that classis who has not studied Hebrew or Greek cannot judge whether the text is read properly or whether a grammatical form was explained correctly.
What should be kept in view all the time is the character and purpose of the examination: Can we wholeheartedly and without hesitation declare of this brother: insofar as we are able to ascertain this brother's motives are pure, he is thoroughly Reformed in his understanding of the Scriptures and is able to expound them as well as the Reformed doctrine based on them; we, therefore, are happy and thankful that we can open the way for him to be called to the office of minister of the Gospel?
There is still the misunderstanding that the “screening” of candidates for the ministry is to be done at the Theological College and that, when after some years in the parsonage someone proves that he is not fit to be a minister, the faculty of the College is responsible for not having stopped him and prevented him from continuing his studies.
This is what we called it: a misunderstanding. The faculty of our Theological College definitely pays attention to the question whether, in their view, a brother lacks the gifts necessary for serving in the ministry, and they will undoubtedly discuss it with the brother, dissuading him from continuing, but this is all they can do. If a student lives as a child of God, studies faithfully and passes his courses with the required weighted average, he will graduate and receive his degree. No one can prevent him from presenting himself for the preparatory examination.
It is not the faculty of our College that declares one eligible for call but the classis that examines the brother and investigates whether he has the gifts required for the office. That is the place where the decision is made and where one is to be stopped, if this appears necessary. This places a heavy responsibility upon the brothers at that classis. They will hesitate to refuse a brother's request to be declared eligible for call; but it is better to disappoint a brother than to risk the well-being of the churches.
Also for this reason every one should be able to follow and understand in all respects what is dealt with during the examination.
In times past the classis that had to examine the candidate appointed a few brothers to examine him in private regarding his motives for seeking the ministry. Sometimes this was mistakenly called an investigation whether the
brother had the “calling” to become a minister. No one has a calling except one who is called by a church. The brother comes to be declared eligible for call; he does not have one yet and is not yet in a position to receive one either.
It is good that attention is paid to the reasons why the brother seeks the ministry, but this should be done as an integral part of the examination. That is a matter of ecclesiastical style.
Once the documents have been found in order, the examination can take place.
Three weeks before the classis is held the candidate receives a text from one or two examiners who were appointed to this task by a previous classis. He has to prepare a sermon on this text and to read this sermon at classis. At least in one classical area it is the rule that two copies of the sermon proposal shall be sent to each church so that all who are delegated to the classis can read it beforehand. It is practically impossible to judge a sermon well and thoroughly when hearing it being read once. Some members of the churches seem to be able to do this only too readily; it would, however, be too superficial a way of dealing with such an important matter on which so much depends for the candidate as well as for the churches if it were done in that manner in an ecclesiastical examination.
Although it must be remembered that the brother is standing only on the threshold, yet this sermon should give clear evidence that he has grasped the meaning of the text, that he is able to make this meaning clear to the congregation, and that he knows how to show this meaning in its relevance to the lives of God’s children in our days and times. No one may expect that the candidate shows the knowledge and the insight of one who has served in the ministry for many years; yet it must be clear to all present that the brother has the necessary ability.
After the sermon has been delivered, it is evaluated. First the two ministers who were appointed for the sermon evaluation receive the opportunity to give their remarks and judgment; then the other members of classis have their say. The general conclusion determines whether the examination will be continued or the candidate will be advised that classis is unable to comply with his request, since it is convinced that he lacks the necessary gifts to be a minister of the Word.
Mostly the evaluation takes place “in camera,” in what is called a closed session, that is, a session where only office-bearers are permitted to be present besides the classis. In the end the two ministers mentioned above are usually requested to pass on to the candidate any worthwhile criticism voiced during the evaluation.
This practice of discussing and evaluating the sermon proposal in a closed session is regrettable. The advantage of this procedure is that criticism and remarks can be summarized and passed on in a more systematic manner. The disadvantage is that much of the remarks will be received second-hand, so to speak, and that the candidate misses the opportunity to hear all the brothers and to respond to their remarks, perhaps even to defend his sermon. Some members of classis may speak more freely if the candidate is not there; on the other hand, it may make them more careful when the candidate is present.
If the conclusion is favourable, the examination can be continued. Two or more weeks before the classis is held, the candidate has received one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New Testament to study and to explain during the examination.
The Old Testament comes first. Although the candidate should use only the Hebrew text, yet every word that is spoken should be intelligible to all who have to judge the examination. This does not mean that an examiner is not allowed to point to a particular word and to ask what it means precisely in the particular form in which we find it in the text. It may be necessary to do this, but it should be done sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. It serves no purpose at all to ask the candidate to explain to classis the difference in meaning between a verb in the Pu‛al and in the Pi‛el. He knows this, otherwise he would not have graduated.
A time is set for this part of the examination, usually twenty minutes with ten minutes added during which the other members of classis may ask questions about the chapter or about what the candidate said during the examination.
The examination on the New Testament follows. This, too, usually lasts twenty minutes plus ten. This time, of course, the candidate has the New Testament in Greek in front of him, from which he translates directly. The same procedure is followed as with the Old Testament part.
Then comes examination in the doctrine of the church. Sometimes it is called an examination in dogmatics, but this is erroneous. It is equally incorrect when an examiner asks the candidate to recite definitions of dogmatics as given by various dogmaticians of renown. A candidate was subjected to examinations in dogmatics at the Theological Seminary. He is now being examined regarding his knowledge and understanding of the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of the church is still not to be identified with the dogmatics of Dr. A. or Prof. B.
The time set for the examination in this subject varies from 30 to 45 minutes, with a ten or fifteen minute question period added.
The whole examination, including the sermon, may take up to two-and-a-half to three hours.
After classis has gone into closed session, the examination is evaluated. Examiners express their judgment first, in the order in which they did their part; the other members add their comments, if they so desire. If the judgment is unfavourable, it is most likely that a few members will be appointed to inform the candidate in private. If the outcome is favourable, the candidate is informed of this in classis. He is asked to promise that he will not teach anything that is not in full accordance with Scripture as confessed by the churches. In some instances classes have modified the Subscription Form of which we speak in Art. 26 in such a way that it can be used for candidates for the ministry as well. If such is the case in a particular area, he will be asked to affix his signature to it.
The successful candidate receives proof in writing that he has passed the preparatory examination and has been declared eligible for call within the Canadian Reformed Churches. He receives permission to “speak an
edifying word” or “to exhort” in the churches for the period of one year. Should he not have received a call before the year is over, he may request an extension which is given without another examination.
It is also possible that the candidate wants to continue his studies for some time, yet wants to be able to serve the churches on the Lord’s Day. A classis will not refuse examination and the requested permission to “exhort,” even if the candidate states that for the time being he will not consider a call owing to continuation of his studies.
In case the examination takes place at a regularly scheduled classis, no special costs are involved for the candidate. If he requests a classis to be convened earlier than scheduled and if this means extra expenses for the churches involved, the candidate is under obligation to reimburse the churches for these extra costs.
Ministers from Non-Sister Churches
What happens when a minister from a church with which the Canadian Reformed Churches do not maintain a sister-church relationship comes and asks to be declared eligible for call? He is not eligible as such even though he is a minister.
It may not happen all that often that a minister alone comes with such a request. Most likely he will take care of a congregation and will have tried to take his congregation along in the way he has learned to be the way of obedience. Whether he comes with a flock or not, the case remains basically the same: his being received into the federation must follow the regular procedure.
What is this procedure? In the first place he will have to submit proof that he has been lawfully called to the ministry. No self-styled adventurers need to come with a request. This condition does not imply that we recognize the legitimacy of his position or approve of the community from which he comes. It only means that we want to make sure that everything was done in an orderly way and that we can be reasonably sure that this man has not made himself what he is.
Secondly, he has to submit a written exposition of the reasons which led him to his request to be declared eligible for call within the Canadian Reformed Churches. Merely making an oral declaration is not sufficient for such a serious step and decision. When he has to give a written account, the brother himself is compelled to realize full well what he is doing, and why he came to such a request and what the consequences of it are or may be for himself, for his family, and for the congregation which he takes along, if he has succeeded in convincing others of the correctness of the course he is following.
The churches, on the other hand, have the opportunity to see everything in writing and to consider the question what the consequences may be of acceding to this request. It must be realized that receiving the brother into the federation as a man eligible for call and, if he receives one, as a minister of the Gospel may have far-reaching implications for the federation as such.
It is a step which must be weighed and considered thoroughly by both parties involved.
In the third place a good testimonial concerning his conduct is required. Everyone will understand that we do not ask for an attestation regarding his doctrine. This would be worthless if it came from a body which itself does not uphold the Scriptural truths. In other instances it might be a testimony coming from a body that maintains doctrines which deviate from Scripture and differ greatly from what we confess.
A testimony concerning his daily conduct is a different matter. The Lord tells us in His Word that we should live in such a manner that an unbeliever, too, may see our godly walk and praise our heavenly Father for it. Of an office-bearer it is required that he has a good reputation among outsiders, and so we learn from God's own Word that even the testimony of an unbeliever would not be worthless. However, when the brother submits testimonials concerning his daily conduct, he will in all likelihood not ask pure unbelievers and haters of the Lord to provide him with a document of that nature.
We gladly hear what others have to say about his way of life. Besides, if he comes alone or with his family, it may be expected that he has already joined one of the churches before he comes with his request. In that case members can testify about his conduct.
Finally, an examination is required which shall be on no lower level than the preparatory and peremptory examinations to which our own candidates for the ministry have to submit. We did speak about the preparatory examination above; the peremptory examination will be discussed in connection with the following article.
Because of the far-reaching consequences which possible admission of such a brother may have for the whole federation, this examination has to be attended also by regional-synodical deputies, or, in short, Deputies ad Art. 48. They represent the federation as such and have to have their input. In the discussion of Article 48 we shall deal with their position and task further.
When everything is favourable, there follows the signing of the Subscription Form for ministers and admission into the federation as a minister in case a congregation comes along. If the brother does not bring a flock along, he will simply be declared eligible for call, after having promised that he will not teach anything contrary to or deviating from Holy Scripture as the churches have summarized the doctrine of it in their confessional formulas.
According to Article 8
The third category mentioned are those who have been examined according to Article 8 CO. As we still have to speak about this article, we let this point rest for the moment.
Sometimes it happens that a minister is called for the second time by the same church. This brings no difficulties with it if a few years have passed and that church in the meantime had another minister. Things are different if the
second call comes rather shortly after the first one and if the same vacancy still exists.
Calling a minister is a serious matter. Deciding upon a call is no less a serious matter. We may expect of each other that these decisions are not made without asking the Lord for guidance and the light of the Holy Spirit, so that the decision may be pleasing to Him and in the best interest of His churches.
If a minister has come to the conclusion that he had to decline a call, we may not make sport of it and say, “Well, let’s try again.” Is it, then, never permitted to call the same minister again when the vacancy continues and efforts to get another minister to come over to serve that church have not yielded the desired result? Yes, it is permitted, but only on certain conditions.
In the first place, the reasons why the call had to be declined the first time must have been removed or in any case have lost their importance to such an extent that they no longer constitute an impediment to acceptance of another call from the same church.
It is, of course, possible that other difficulties and conditions have arisen that would prevent a minister from accepting a second call, even though he has to say, “No” to the question whether the original reasons are still there. Thus a second call does not necessarily mean that a minister has to accept it.
When a church has received an affirmative answer to its question whether the original reasons for declining have been removed, and when that church wants to call that minister again, it has to ask the advice of the sister-churches. It has to go to the next classis, put the matter before the meeting and ask for advice whether to proceed with a second call. This is to prevent that a church takes such a step lightly and without sufficient ground. Here we keep watch over each other to see that things are done properly and in such a way that the style of the church is followed.
Art. 4 speaks of the “approval” of classis. The word “approval” is actually too strong, even though we are using the word “approbation” in other contexts, a word that has the same basic meaning. It is better to read “the advice” of classis, whereby we keep in mind that we are in duty bound to follow the advice of a major or broader assembly by virtue of the promises made. We spoke of this in the beginning and will come back to it later on when dealing with the major assemblies.
In Art. 45 we speak of counsellors. A counsellor is a minister who has been appointed to assist with his advice and help a church that is vacant, that is, that has no minister.
If there are two ministers in a church and one leaves to serve elsewhere, this church is not vacant, although there is one vacancy. There still is a minister to provide the necessary help. When, however, there is only one minister in a church and he leaves, a counsellor is appointed to assist the consistory, mainly although not only, with the calling of a new pastor and teacher.
About his position and obligations as counsellor we shall speak with Art. 45.
Here it is mentioned that in the work of calling, his advice shall be sought. He is also to co-sign the letter of call. This is an extra assurance for the minister who is called that everything was conducted in the proper manner.
May he refuse to sign such a letter of call? Certainly. If he is convinced that there were irregularities in the procedure which cast doubt on the correctness of the call, he may not co-sign the letter of call, giving his reasons to the consistory as well as, later on, to the first classis to be held. The consistory may also go to this classis, asking it to judge the refusal of the counsellor.
There is another possibility: that the counsellor is convinced that the stipend promised is totally insufficient for the ministerial family and the consistory does not want to accept his advice to make it match the needs of the minister the consistory is going to call.
In case of conflict the matter has to be submitted to the next classis. Such a situation will not arise very often. In by far the most instances there is a good cooperation between a consistory and its counsellor.