Preaching in Other Places
No one shall be permitted to preach the Word or to administer the sacraments in another Church without the consent of the consistory of that Church.
When we speak of “another church,” we refer, of course, to another member of the federation of churches. No one should understand this expression as referring also to another “denomination.” Our Church Order speaks only of the obligations which we have within the federation towards one another, of the duties we have taken upon ourselves within our bond as churches. This is not to say that preaching in another “denomination” is up to the minister and that for this he does not need the permission of any consistory. Ministers are not allowed at all to conduct services in another “denomination” whether without or with the permission of a consistory or board within that “denomination.”
Anyone is allowed to deliver a speech or a lecture anywhere without asking anyone for permission to do so. Conducting services in his capacity as a minister of the Word is a different matter. No one receives a “general office” of minister of the Word, as a sort of inherent quality that goes with him wherever he goes and gives him the inalienable right to function as a minister wherever he is and wherever the opportunity arises. He owes his status only to the call of that particular church, and this call restricts him to the work within this church, for its consistory’s authority does not reach beyond the boundaries of this particular church.
By virtue of the bond between the churches the consistory of another church may ask him to do some ministerial work in their midst as well, and this happens frequently; but it is different from a request coming from a group with which we have no bond as sister churches. The boundaries of the church must be respected and it must be realized that acting as a minister in a group with which we are not one, practically amounts to “competition” and does harm to the unique character of the church. It also tends to undermine the call to repentance and to return to the path of obedience. A consistory or board of some “denomination” cannot give any of our ministers the right to conduct services there, in direct “competition” with the church he is serving and to whose call he is subject. Accepting such an invitation would amount to a practical denial of the call by the church he is serving. The flock would not be guided in and preserved in the Truth, but be confused and led away from the path of the Holy Catholic Church.
As said above, only when the consistory of one of the churches asks him to do so is a minister allowed to go there for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. He does not need the permission of his own consistory for this, unless he has to request permission to be
away for that particular Lord’s Day. For “getting a Sunday off” he does need permission; for preaching in another church he does not. It is from the consistory of that other church that the invitation has to come.
There are no longer any “general office-bearers” such as the apostles were or the evangelists of whom the Scripture speaks. Their office was not restricted to any particular church, and they had the right to go and preach everywhere the Spirit sent them. Such is no longer the case. The Holy Spirit calls through the church now, particularly through the consistory.
A minister is allowed to work in another region, even far away from the church whose minister he is. This is the case when he is sent to “unorganized territory’ where there is no church yet. We speak of this in Art. 6. It is clear that no consistory has any authority over the area where he is working and consequently no permission can be obtained.
There was reason for inserting this provision in our Church Order. In the days of the Reformation there were many places where no institution had taken place. There were many former monks and priests as well as sectarians of Anabaptist origin who travelled from place to place to preach and administer the sacraments wherever an opportunity was offered, whether there was a consistory or not. Also in this way they tried to support themselves financially, as they had no other source of income.
Matters are not much different in our days. All around us we read of travelling preachers who go from place to place and organize services as if there were no church at all in that place and as if only with their coming the light had arisen. Indirectly we are warned against this behaviour by being reminded in this article of the reach of the call: a consistory’s authority reaches as far as the congregation is found and a minister’s call covers only that particular field. At the same time we are indirectly warned to watch out that we do not fall into all sorts of snares woven by wandering preachers who do not have the consent of the consistory and who, in fact, undermine its authority and care for the flock.
The main element in this article, however, is that the call to which a minister is subject is limited to the church by which he was called.