Ordination and Installation of Ministers of the Word
A. Regarding those who have not served in the ministry before, the following shall be observed:
1. They shall be ordained only after classis has approved the call.
Classis shall approve the call
a. upon satisfactory testimony concerning the soundness of doctrine and conduct of the candidate, signed by the consistory of the Church to which he belongs;
b. upon a peremptory examination of the candidate by classis with satisfactory results. This examination shall take place with the cooperation and concurring advice of deputies of the regional synod.
2. For the ordination they shall show also to the consistory good testimonials concerning their doctrine and conduct from the Church(es) to which they have belonged since their preparatory examination.
B. Regarding those who are serving in the ministry the following shall be observed:
1. They shall be installed after classis has approved the call.
For this approbation as well as for the installation the minister shall show good testimonials concerning his doctrine and conduct, together with a declaration from the consistory with the deacons and from classis that he has been honourably discharged from his service in that Church and classis, or from the Church only, in case he remains within the same classis.
2. For the approbation by classis of a call of those who are serving in one of the Churches with which the Canadian Reformed Churches maintain a sister-Church relationship a colloquium shall be required which will deal especially with the doctrine and polity of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
C. Further, for the approbation by classis of a call, the calling Church shall submit a declaration that the proper announcements have been made and that the congregation has given its approval to the call.
This article deals with the manner in which one becomes a minister of the Word in one of the churches.
The brother who is to receive this task can either be a candidate for the office or a minister who is already serving in one of the churches or in one of the foreign sister churches. In the latter two instances we speak of “installation,” while in the first case we speak of “ordination.”
First of all then about the ordination. What is the proper course of action for one who has been declared eligible for call according to the procedure described in Art. 4, and who has been called by a church? May a church, upon having received word that a candidate has accepted the call extended to him, ordain him without any delay or without any examination or involvement of the sister churches?
Essentially, this question has to be answered in the affirmative. When we confess that each church is an autonomous body, not dependent upon the others, we must also come to the conclusion that the election as well as the ordination of a minister is just as much a matter of this church alone as is the election and ordination of elders and deacons. But without retracting any of the above, we are to consider several other points as well.
The main argument for involvement of the federation is not that, generally speaking, a consistory lacks the manpower and ability to conduct a thorough examination of a candidate for the ministry. If this were an argument at all, involvement of the federation would not be required if a consistory did have the manpower and ability to examine a candidate in the mandatory manner. Yet we do not differentiate between consistories that are in a position to do this and those who cannot. In each and every case the federation is involved.
A consistory could say, “But the brother has been examined by a classis, he has been declared eligible for call, we have called him, he has accepted, and consequently we may ordain him without having to meet any further conditions.” In such a case the consistory would take the preparatory examination as a sufficient guarantee that the brother may be ordained.
The churches have made the provision that a candidate will have to undergo a peremptory examination, that is, a final, decisive, definitive examination. The other examination, the preparatory examination, was a preliminary examination: it only opened the way for a brother to solicit a call. It did not open the way into the ministry.
Now things are different: once the brother has been ordained, there is little the churches can do, unless very serious matters arise. When it comes to the point, the position of a minister of the Gospel is a very protected and “safe” position. Some even claim that the rights and position of a minister are much more protected than the rights and “position” of the church he is serving. Irrespective of whether this claim is correct or not, one thing is certain: that a church must realize full well what it is doing when calling and ordaining or installing a brother as its minister.
Something else has to be said as well: When one is ordained as a minister in the one church, he thereby receives the right to also preach the Word and administer the sacraments in the other churches of the federation and — according to the rules for “correspondence” — even in the foreign sister-churches. We can easily see what far-reaching consequences it has when one is ordained as a minister of the Gospel.
In Art. 15 we make clear that a minister is not free to go and preach somewhere else on his own initiative and authority, but that is not the point here. Here we stress that a minister receives certain rights and privileges
which affect the federation as well. Since the federation is affected, the churches have agreed that a definitive examination will have to precede the ordination and that this peremptory examination will be conducted by a classis. This time it is not a classis of the area in which the candidate lives but of the region where we find the church that called him.
The preparatory examination was requested by the brother; the request for the peremptory examination comes from the church in which the brother is to be ordained. This church knows: we may not ordain him unless the call has been approved by the sister churches, and we cannot expect this approval unless a peremptory examination has been conducted with favourable outcome. Thus it asks for such an examination.
What has to be shown in the first place is, of course, the letter of call and the written confirmation that the call has been accepted. In general, for a letter of call a form-letter is used, although it is more and more realized that such a form-letter has its drawbacks. In order to assist consistories in the case of calling, such a draft letter of call is added under Appendices.
The letter of call has to be examined by classis, either by being read in the full classis or by being read by a few appointed members, to see whether there are any stipulations that are wrong or whether any stipulations have been omitted that should have been included. As far as this goes, it is to be hoped that the churches have learned their lesson. We are thinking here of the deletion of a clause in the letter of call by the consistory of the church at Winnipeg, a change made upon the request of the Rev. C. DeHaan. Classis was never informed of this deletion. Examination of a letter of call and of the declaration of acceptance should not be handled as a matter of routine or as just a formal gesture to which little attention is paid. Too much depends on it for that, as we have seen.
Secondly, the candidate is to submit written proof from the classis which conducted the preparatory examination that he has been declared eligible for call. In a rather small federation all churches will know who has been declared eligible. Besides, one might remark, our present means of communication and publication practically ensure that no one will be able to squeeze in under false pretenses. In spite of this we must insist on documentary proof so that we can always fall back on documents, should this become necessary. Examination of a candidate and deciding on his admittance — or not — is not just a personal matter; it is a church-matter. In private dealings we may go by a mere spoken word; in matters concerning the church we must have the written-down word.
What is needed further is a good attestation from the church to which the candidate has belonged since his preparatory examination. Although the consistories of the churches where the candidate conducted services would also be able to give a testimony concerning the soundness of doctrine as far as the “exhorting” is concerned, the supervision of doctrine and walk of life is a matter of the local consistory. They are the ones whose attestation has to be presented before the examination may begin.
Although in most instances the candidate will not have moved since his preparatory examination, the possibility exists that he did. If this is the case,
he will have to submit an attestation from each of the churches to which he belonged since that examination.
Usually an attestation is no more than a declaration that the brother is sound in doctrine and truly Christian in conduct. Although we will speak about attestations in connection with Art. 62, it has to be noted here that such a simple statement in reality is of little or no help in determining someone’s capabilities and fitness for the ministry. Should such an attestation not contain more than that? Should it not say something about the brother’s involvement in congregational activities, his interest and participation in the work of societies, and so on? An attestation is meant to help a classis to come to a conclusion whether the candidate may be admitted into the ministry in one — and thus in all — of the churches! Also consistories that give attestations should be aware of their responsibility in this respect and be specific in their attestations.
Once the documents have been examined and found in order, the examination can be undertaken.
First of all, there is the sermon proposal. At the preparatory examination a text is given, but at the peremptory examination the candidate himself may choose the text. He may take one of the sermon proposals which he already has, or he may prepare a new one. It is up to him in this case.
At least three weeks before, he will have been assigned two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament to study so that at classis he can prove that he is able to explain the Scriptures, understanding what the message is of the parts studied for this occasion. The time set aside for this part is usually the same as in the preparatory examination, and the procedure similar.
A following period is dedicated to examination in the doctrine of the church. We shall not repeat what was said about this point in connection with Art. 4, but only allude to it here.
Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is very important for a minister of the Word. Thus the brother is examined regarding his knowledge of their contents. What has to become evident is that the candidate is familiar with the Word of God, that he knows how to find his way in it, that he is acquainted with the contents of the various books and that he is aware of their unity.
Each classis sets its own time-limits for the examination. The total length of the peremptory examination is at least three hours, but each classis is free to determine how the time shall be divided over the various subjects. Thus there is no fixed time for examination in knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and oftentimes it is treated as a step-child, receiving some ten minutes or fifteen at the most.
Although we realize that there is the desire to limit the total time for the examination, the question is still justified whether the length of the examination should not be extended so that sufficient attention can be paid to each and every part of it. The Churches of the Secession in the Netherlands at
one time conducted peremptory examinations that lasted for one-and-a-half days, starting at ten in the morning and sometimes going on till nine or ten at night. We should not think too soon that we are demanding too much of a candidate. Admission into the ministry is a serious matter and a responsible task which should be dealt with accordingly. We do not advocate a return to the above-mentioned practice, but merely want to draw attention to the seriousness of the peremptory examination and its effects.
Knowledge of the history of the church is important as well. In most instances twenty minutes to half an hour is dedicated to this plus ten minutes for further questions. What is to become evident from this examination is not whether the brother knows all sorts of facts and dates — however important these may be — but whether he has a good insight into the history of the church, whether he distinguishes the way in which the Lord Jesus Christ has gathered her and is gathering her in the unity of the true faith, and whether he sees how the Lord has preserved and defended her against all sorts of attacks, whether these came by force or by false doctrine. It should become equally clear whether the candidate is able to relate what happened in the past to the present situation so that errors are recognized and connections are seen.
Closely connected with the knowledge and understanding of the history of the church is his understanding of the polity of the church and his ability to apply it. For this part of the examination fifteen or twenty minutes is the usual time allotted with five or ten minutes available for further questioning.
A following subject is sometimes called “Ethics.” Once again, the danger is very real that candidates are asked to recite definitions of Ethics as given by various professors or others. We are not conducting an academic examination at an ecclesiastical assembly and should therefore not go in this direction. This is a point that has to be stressed repeatedly. Our official ecclesiastical language calls this part an examination of the candidate’s “knowledge of the commandments of the Lord in their meaning for the Christian life.” Perhaps we should translate the latter part as “their bearing on the life of a Christian.” Again: at the most twenty minutes are usually reserved for it; more often fifteen minutes are considered sufficient. Such a short period appears insufficient to give classis the opportunity to come to a warranted conclusion regarding the candidate’s ability to “explain” the Lord’s commandments in their bearing on our daily life. The usual “question period” follows.
The last part of the examination is sometimes erroneously called “Pastoral Theology” or “Pastoral Discipline.” This is an academic term which should be avoided. In our official ecclesiastical decision regarding the peremptory examination we speak here of “knowledge of the requirements for the execution of the various parts of the ministerial service.” Here we refer to the requirements for the preparation of sermons, catechetical instruction, family visits, etc.
Once more, the point is not whether the candidate knows all sorts of technical details, but whether he has a good grasp of what the work of a
minister is and how it should be executed. In other words, is there reasonable assurance that this brother is fit for the ministry and can we open the way for him to become a minister of the Word in one of the churches? All this places quite a burden and responsibility not only on the candidate but also on the classis that is to examine and in particular on the brothers who have been appointed as examiners. They, too, have to prepare themselves very seriously for their task.
There are a few other brothers involved here as well. Because admitting a candidate into the ministry is a matter which has its consequences for the whole federation, there is a wider representation than only the classis. Regional-synodical deputies — deputies ad Art. 48 — are also to be present and have the right to take part in the questioning. In most cases they use this right very sparingly, but if they deem it necessary to question the candidate regarding any point in order that their advice may be well-founded, they have the full right to do so and are not bound by any time-limit set by classis.
When the judgment of classis is favourable and the advice of the region-al-synodical deputies is in full accordance with it, the way into the ministry is declared open. If, on the other hand, deputies disagree and their advice is negative, the only course open is to put the matter before the next regional synod. Until regional synod has made a decision, the whole matter is held in abeyance. Upon favourable decision — reached in closed session — the candidate is asked to affix his signature to the Subscription Form for Ministers of the Word so as to confirm his agreement with and adherence to the Holy Scriptures as they are confessed by the churches.
When the church submits a declaration that the proper announcements as mentioned in Art. 3 have been made and that the congregation has not raised any valid objections, classis can approve the call. This is the end of the involvement of the federation. From this point on it is a purely local matter.
Usually the church involved asks for a representative of the sister churches to be present at the ordination and inauguration of the new minister; it also requests a minister to officiate at the ordination. Even if the candidate suggests a name, the invitation to conduct that service must come from the consistory.
One more condition is to be met before the ordination can take place. Attestations must be submitted not only to classis but also to the consistory from the church(es) to which the candidate belonged since the preparatory examination. All this is to safeguard the churches and to ensure — as far as humanly possible — that the purity of doctrine and the sanctity of life may be preserved also under the guidance and pastoral care of a new minister of the Word.
Ministers within the Federation
Once one has been admitted into the ministry, no further ecclesiastical examination is required, unless the suspicion arises that the minister may be unfaithful to his ordination vows. We shall speak about this in dealing with
Art. 26. This does not mean, however, that one can just move from the one place to the other at will. Not only is a call needed, there is also the involvement of the federation when a minister wishes to follow up that call. In this matter the churches have agreed to keep watch over each other to prevent that irregularities take place or that things are done stealthily. All things should be open and “above board,” so to speak.
First of all we shall deal with ministers who are serving in one of the churches. They shall not be installed in office in the “new” church until after classical approval of the call. Article 9 speaks more extensively about classical approval; therefore we shall confine ourselves here to the conditions on which an installation may take place.
It does not need any further elaboration that also in this case the letter of call and the official declaration of acceptance must be presented. Further there should be the good testimonials regarding doctrine and conduct, given by the church he served. This is nothing new either. What is new is that he has to submit to the consistory as well as to the classis a declaration given by the consistory with the deacons that he has been honourably discharged from his service in that church. Thus the new church can rest assured that the brother did not just pack up and ship out, without the consent of the consistory with the deacons, but that it is with their full consent that he left the church he served to take up a new charge elsewhere.
Besides the declaration from the consistory he also needs a classical document testifying to his honourable release from his service in that region. Most likely he had been appointed to various tasks, such as that of examiner, church visitor, or counsellor of a vacant church. The receiving classis must be assured that the brother did not shirk his obligations towards the sister churches. Such a classical declaration is not needed if the move is from the one to the other church in the same classical region. It is obvious that such a move will not bring any change in his position within that region except, perhaps, in the case of a counsellorship.
When the church submits a declaration that the proper announcements have been made and that no valid objections have been lodged by the congregation, classis will approve the call, and the installation can take place. It happens frequently that no classis is scheduled for a few months or that a classis has been postponed due to lack of material to be dealt with, and that a church would prefer not to wait for another two or three months for the classical approbation of the call. Rather than convening a full classis earlier than scheduled for the sole purpose of the approbation of a call, the calling church may request that a “classis contracta” be held, a sort of miniature classis, usually formed by two representatives of the convening church and of the neighbouring church, at which the approbation can take place. We’ll come back to this point when we discuss Art. 44. Be it stated here that all churches in the region are to receive the convocation notice and are free to send delegates, although they are not obligated to do so in this case and although it is understood that only the two above-mentioned churches have to be represented at such a classis contracta. The term in itself is sufficiently clear.
Ministers from Foreign Sister Churches
As was mentioned in connection with the previous article, ministers in foreign sister churches may be called just as freely as ministers who are serving within our own federation. Before they can be installed, however, there are a few additional conditions to be met, a few more than in the case of our own ministers. To the classis to which the request for approbation is submitted they shall in the first place show proof that they had already been called to the ministry. None of the ministers received such a document at his ordination and we know that it would be asking too much if we demanded that they submit it. There are, however, other ways of ascertaining this and obtaining the necessary documentary proof.
One of the possibilities is that the deputies for relations with foreign churches give the brother a document confirming that he was properly called and ordained as a minister in the church at A. He could also ask the church at A. to give a statement confirming that on a particular date he was properly ordained as a minister in that church. From whatever reliable source he asks it, such a document is needed for the approbation of a call. If such a document is not available, all further action is to be suspended until it has been submitted.
As long as our foreign relations are restricted to those churches with which we share a common root, so to speak, one might consider such a requirement rather superfluous. Yet we must insist on it, since — as we already remarked above — the churches must be protected and act upon written submissions only. Besides, if the foreign relations are expanded and we come into contact or even enter into a sister church relationship with churches from a completely different background, we will need these safeguards more than ever.
The second document to be submitted for approbation of the call is the letter of call, followed by the declaration of acceptance. Then there are the usual testimonials regarding doctrine and conduct, and proof that the brother has been orderly released from his previous ministry.
Another extra condition is that he submit to a colloquium that will deal particularly with the Reformed doctrine and church government. The usual term for such an occurrence was “colloquium doctum,” which means “a learned discussion.” The Synod of Orangeville 1968 deleted the word “doctum” (“learned”) to prevent the misunderstanding that such a discussion had to be conducted on an academic level. This would conflict with the ecclesiastical nature of a classis as well as of the approbation of a call. This discussion is to be conducted in order to ensure that this minister understands and adheres to the Reformed doctrine and church government.
As in the other cases, a declaration is required from the consistory that the proper announcements have been made and that no valid objections were raised by the congregation. Upon receipt of classical approbation the installation may take place. It will be clear that such an approbation requires a full classis and that it should not be decided upon and given by a classis contracta consisting of only four or six members.