No one who has recently come to the confession of the Reformed Religion shall be declared eligible for call within the Churches unless he has been well tested for a reasonable period of time and has been carefully examined by classis with the cooperation of the deputies of the regional synod.
Is it difficult to understand that someone who has seen his eyes opened for all the grace and mercy which the Lord God has bestowed upon us in our Saviour Jesus Christ is eager to have others share these riches? This already applies to all who, like Timothy, have known the Scriptures from their youth up. Would it, then, not apply the more to those who for a long time lived in ignorance and the darkness of heathenism or who had been brought up in false doctrine, and were once caught in the snares of superstition? Can we understand it when there are some who then feel the urge to become preachers of the same Gospel of which they had been ignorant or which, perhaps, they hated and tried to undermine as once the apostle Paul did? Once someone said, “There are people who, when they have been converted, feel it their duty to become a minister of the Gospel.” This is then caused by the mistaken idea that one would be able to prove himself grateful to the Lord only by entering into the ministry, or that one is able to convey the riches to others only when he is a preacher of the Word.
Nothing is farther from the truth. To one who seeks these opportunities they present themselves everywhere; and our gratitude for having our eyes opened for the treasures of our Saviour should be shown in the first place in that we live out of the fulness of our Redeemer’s merits so that others can see what a redeemed life is.
Should one who came from a purely heathen background or from a sectarian background feel the desire to prepare himself for the ministry of the Word, due caution is to be exercised with the admission of such a person into the ministry.
Generally speaking, we who have been brought up in the fear of the Lord, who have always lived in the church, have heard the Word of God preached to us — even though for many years we understood little of it — attended a Reformed school, were taught at catechism classes, and built each other up at the society meetings, are frequently not aware of the enormous privileges received therein and of the tremendous treasures of knowledge and insight we have amassed thereby.
Someone who becomes a believer at a later age has missed all this. He has to make up for it in a relatively short time. Even so, his background will slow him down and continue to hamper him for as long as he lives. This is something we can notice even with men of renown in the history of the
church. There are only relatively few persons whose background has little or no influence on their thinking and understanding of God’s holy Word.
If someone who was brought to faith expresses the wish to train for the ministry, it is unlikely in our days that he would be able to enter upon this service in a dangerously short period of time. Even if he were in possession of the degree required for admission to our College, he would in all likelihood have to get some additional credits besides having to study at our College for some four years. One could not call a period of five or even six years of study a “rush job.”
Things were different in the age of the Reformation, the days when our Church Order was shaped. When the persecutions were still raging and when it could cost a person’s life even to have a Bible in one’s possession, it was less likely that someone would seek such a dangerous position. As soon as the greatest danger was past, at least in some regions of the country, the situation became different. There were in the first place many priests who wandered from place to place and sought to receive the position of minister of the Word. Further, there were the many monks whose monasteries had been “confiscated” and who now were faced with the choice: either choose a “secular” vocation or seek to serve as a minister.
With many of those seeking the ministry there may still have been a remnant of the old feeling that “ordination is for life.” Others may have been sincere in their desire; again others may have considered the ministry to be a way of securing a steady income and support. When reading the old Acts of provincial synods, one sees a multi-coloured variety of cases and rationales.
In view of the dangers involved for the churches should persons be admitted too readily into the ministry, the provision was inserted that no priests, monks, etc. should be admitted unless they had been observed and tested for a considerable time so that they might prove themselves to be sincere and capable. Herein the churches obeyed the command that the Lord gave through the apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 3: 6: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The same warning still holds for our days and situation. It is a warning which applies not only to receiving someone into the ministry; it is equally binding in the case of deacons and elders.
We no longer mention the various categories found in earlier redactions of this article. We only speak of one “who has recently come to the confession of the Reformed Religion.” It is clear that we refer here specifically to a person who already had the position of leadership comparable to or even the same as that of a minister. If we were referring to just anyone, this would not make much sense, since the period of study required is a sufficient period for the testing mentioned in this article. The person we are referring to here is one mentioned in Art. 4 B 2. In some instances he may come with a congregation; in other cases he may come alone or only with his own family. He should not right away be admitted into the ministry and — if he takes his congregation along — this congregation should not be received right away into the federation with all the rights and privileges connected with this. The churches must be convinced that those requesting admission not only are
sincere, but also do indeed adhere to the Reformed Religion and thus do stand with us on the same basis.
When a request comes for admittance or affiliation, it should be realized that, once the minister (and his congregation) has been received into the federation, he is eligible for call, even though it may be expected that he will continue to lead his flock at least for a considerable time to come.
Here we do not use the term “recent converts” but speak of one having “come to the confession of the Reformed Religion.”
No time can be set for the period of testing. Much will depend on the brother's background and previous history. One who comes from a sectarian background will face a longer period of testing than one who has a background much closer to our own.
No one has to feel offended by this provision or by the testing. On the contrary, one who is sincere in his desire will gladly accept it and submit to it. If, on the other hand, someone should object and for this reason withdraw, we can be assured that the churches will only benefit by his withdrawal. It sheds no favourable light on one’s request if that is his reaction when his request is dealt with seriously and thoroughly and according to a rule which has proved its worth for more than four hundred years. When such a brother comes, he will have to be examined on the classical level. Regional-synodical deputies are to be involved and are to take part in the examination.
Further we refer here to what was said in connection with Article 4.