Article 3 — The calling to office
A. All office-bearers
No one shall take any office upon himself without having been lawfully called thereto.
The calling to office shall take place by the consistory with the deacons, with the cooperation of the congregation, after prayer, and in accordance with the local regulations adopted for that purpose.
Prior to the installation the names of the appointed brothers shall be publicly announced to the congregation for the approval on at least two consecutive Sundays. It no lawful objection is brought forward the ordination or installation shall take place with the use of the adopted Form.
B. Elders and deacons
The consistory with the deacons shall give the congregation the opportunity to draw the attention of the consistory to brothers deemed suitable for the respective offices.
The consistory with the deacons shall present to the congregation at the most twice as many candidates as there are vacancies to be filled. From this number the congregation shall choose as many office-bearers as are needed.
Those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons.
If necessary the consistory and the deacons may present to the congregation the same number of candidates as there are vacancies.
Before a vacant church extends a call the advice of the counsellor shall be sought.
The approval of classis shall be required for a repeated call to the same minister for the same vacancy.
This article is based on Hebrews 5: 4, that says:
And no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God.
The fact that this stipulation has been made is at the same time a consequence of the apostolic command issued in 1 Corinthians 14: 40.
This is clearly stated in the Form for the Ordination of Elders, where it says:
Being stewards of the house of God, they are to take care that in the congregation all things are done decently and in good order.
This article, then, is fundamental to the ensuing articles.
In the history of the Reformed churches there happened to be a clear reason for inserting an article like this into the Church Order.
During the days of the great Reformation all sorts of people presented themselves as ‘preachers’: ex-priests and –monks, who had been deposed or dismissed because of misbehaviour and who would now like to earn a living by acting as ‘traveling preachers’. There were also the Anabaptists, who claimed to have ‘the inner light’, a special revelation, and consequently an ‘inward calling’ to the ministry.
In accordance with holy Scripture our Church Order clearly states that a calling is lawful only when it has been extended by a congregation, and that certain actions – e.g. that of examination – must be taken before it becomes effective.
For the same reason our churches are very much against the concept of ‘lay-preachers’. In this respect also they want to obey the apostolic command which says:
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2: 2, which verse is sometimes called ‘the foundation of the theological seminaries’).
The procedure of nominating, electing, and ordination of elders and deacons needs no further explanation. It can be safely assumed that every local congregation has adopted a set of rules for it.
In the century of the Reformation the election of a minister was entrusted to the elders only. Later on the deacons were also involved, the number of people who were responsible in this respect being increased by that means..
However, after approximately a hundred years, it has been general practice to let the members of the congregation cooperate.
First of all they can draw the consistory’s attention to a ‘candidate’ or a minister whom they deem to be suitable to fill the vacancy.
To finalize matters, a general meeting is called, so that members can cast their vote. In the case of a sole candidate a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice, and in the case of two or more a name is required.
That the enfranchised members cooperate in this respect is in accordance with holy Scripture: Acts 6: 3; 2 Corinthians 8: 19.
By ‘enfranchised members’ we understand that until now this means: male members who have admittance to the Lord’s Supper – although here and there it is suggested to give female communicant members the same rights.
To enable the calling of a minister to proceed in an orderly fashion, some regulations will have to be laid down. Experience teaches us that with most
congregations such rules do exist for the election of elders and deacons, when for calling a minister, indeed, they do not.
The final stipulation of this section is that in vacant churches advice from the counsellor is required. That is a minister who has been appointed by the classis to assist a vacant congregation. This stipulation has been made with the aim that in this respect also all things should be done decently and in order.
All this is a further elaboration of what we confess in our Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 31, on the election of ministers, elders and deacons:
We believe that ministers of God’s Word, the elders and the deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the Church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God. Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the LORD.