Bound to a Church
No one shall serve in the ministry unless he is bound to a certain Church, either to be stationed in a certain place, or to be sent out for the gathering of the Church from among the heathen or from among those who have become estranged from the gospel; or to be charged with some other special ministerial task.
When the Lord Jesus called His disciples, these men were called to a specific and unique task: They were to be witnesses of the Saviour; they had to be witnesses of what the Lord spoke and did, of all that He suffered, of His death and of His resurrection as well as of His ascension into heaven so that they could bring the message of the Word of life, of what they themselves had seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, and touched with their hands. They were sent by the Lord with a special mandate and authority, subject only to Him, accountable to Him alone. After them there were no more apostles, nor should any claim such a position. These apostles later on ordained office-bearers in each and every place. These office-bearers had no more than local authority and were elected by the church over which they had the oversight.
Today, too, we adhere to the principle that one can be called only by a church and can be an office-bearer only for as long as one is “covered” by that call. We do not recognize any ministers-in-general-service, called by classes or synods. This is the principle expressed in Art. 6. In the Romish church it is the rule that one is ordained by “the church” and then is free to go and minister anywhere with the authority of “the church.” Not so in the Reformed Churches.
Even though a minister may be invited by another church to fulfil a ministerial task in its midst, he is not a “minister-in-general-service” who can travel from place to place and do what belongs to the office of a minister. Both the office as such and the field of labour are confined to the one church which calls and installs and determines where its minister shall work. There are no exceptions to this rule.
A church may decide to assign a special task to its minister or to one of its ministers. In the first place, there are the missionaries. Article 18 speaks of them separately. Here they are mentioned to show that, although one particular church calls them, they do not have to fulfil their ministry in the midst of that church, since a special task is given to them which compels them to work far away.
Another possibility is that a church calls a minister to work especially among those who have become estranged from the Gospel or who have grown up in ignorance in our own vicinity. To use an example, if there is a large Italian or Chinese or Vietnamese section in a city, a church may decide
to call a minister to work especially among that particular segment of the population. If, for instance, one of those who fled communist oppression in their homeland and became a believer, should prepare himself for the ministry and express the wish to work especially among his fellow-refugees, a church would have to call him as its minister, and give him the special mandate to do that specific work.
We also mention the possibility that one is charged with some other special ministerial task. This could be a dangerous provision if the principle expressed in this article were lost sight of. Yet we must leave open the possibility mentioned here. In olden days it was customary that kings and others who maintained a court had a court chaplain. Further there were orphanages, hospitals or old age homes that had their own chaplains. Such court chaplains were appointed by the prince or the king; orphanage or old age home chaplains by the board of regents of the orphanage or old age homes. What was their position and what were their rights in the midst of the churches? The churches always insisted on it that these ministers be called by the local church, also if they served in orphanages or similar institutions, while the court chaplains were urged to form a consistory out of the members of the court.
What “other special ministerial task” could we think of? The churches consider the position of ministers who are appointed as professors of theology at the Theological College to be such that they have a special ministerial task, namely, the training for the ministry. Here we have one possibility. Art. 19 speaks of the professors of theology.
If we had such a large old age and nursing home somewhere that ministering to the occupants required a full-time minister, the way to go about it is that the church in whose territory such a home is found calls a minister whose task it will be specifically to take care of these members and possibly of others. In such a case it would be proper that the Home contributed an amount equivalent to the minister’s stipend so that the church could afford to call a minister for this specific field of labour.
Another possibility is that a minister is requested to serve as an army or prison or hospital chaplain.
We are not speaking now about all the “angles” that have to be considered in such a case. We only mention what might be considered to be a special ministerial task. In these cases, too, the call has to come from a specific church that assigns its minister this particular type of work.
Should, on the other hand, a minister be appointed to become a full-time instructor of Bible and Church History at one or more of our high schools, then we can no longer speak of a “special ministerial task,” however important it may be that the students are instructed in the Word of God and the history of His church. In this case the brother has entered upon another vocation. Whatever may be the case, always and everywhere there must be a church that calls and that determines and assigns the task. There should be no “ministers-in-general-service.”