The offices are of three kinds: of the ministers of the Word, of the elders, and of the deacons.
While with this article the Church Order begins a discussion of offices in the church, Article 2 is really an introductory article. It is important to notice that the whole subject of offices is treated first, even before a treatment of ecclesiastical assemblies. This emphasizes the fact that the government of the church resides fundamentally in the office. It is in the idea of the office, especially that of elder, that our church government has its chief characteristic.
The main idea of the office is that Christ is the Head and King of His church and that He Himself rules over His church by His Word and Spirit. He is the chief and only Office Bearer (cf. Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:20-22; etc.). No man, church, or group of churches may subject themselves to any other yoke than the yoke of Christ. Christ’s word is law within the church. This position of authority which Christ occupies is His because of His work on behalf of His people given to Him from all eternity. He shed His blood for His saints, died for them, earned for them the full salvation of God. He is their Head, who, through His Word and Spirit, now works to make this full salvation their possession. As such He is the “Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (I Pet. 2: 25).
Christ exercises His authority in the church through men. He does this because His church is here upon earth and He is at God’s right hand in heaven. First of all, Christ causes His people to share in His anointing and establishes in the church the office of believers (cf. Lord’s Day XII). But institutionally, this same office of believers is manifested and comes to expression in the particular offices in the church. But the authority of these special offices in the church is derived from Christ; not from the congregation.
There were, in the early church, the extraordinary offices of apostle and prophet. These offices were limited to the period of direct revelation and became unnecessary with the closing of the Canon of Scripture.
The regular offices in the church include the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. The authority of these offices differs. The prophetic office, which has the authority to teach, is to be found in the office of minister. The royal office, with its authority to rule, is found in the office of elder. And the priestly office, with its authority to dispense the mercy of Christ, is found in the office of deacon.
The original article, changed in 2000, spoke of four offices. This point of the article was incorporated under the influence of Calvin’s exegesis of Ephesians 4:11. But usually the office of professor of theology is considered to be a part of the office of the ministry. And this is undoubtedly correct. Hence there are three offices established by Christ in the church, reflecting the threefold office of Christ. The implication of this position is that the training of students for the ministry is the work of the church institute. Our churches have followed this and have placed the Seminary under the control and direction of the church. This is the clear teaching of II Timothy 2:1, 2. Hence, a teacher in the Seminary must be an ordained
minister of the gospel (cf. Art. 5 of the Constitution of the Theological School).
No one, though he be a professor of theology, elder, or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the Word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto. And when anyone acts contrary thereto, and after being frequently admonished does not desist, the classis shall judge whether he is to be declared a schismatic or is to be punished in some other way.
While Articles 3 and 4 both speak of the calling of ministers who have not previously been in office, Article 3 speaks of the necessity of being lawfully called to this office.
The article is very old, dealing with a problem which appeared early in the Reformed churches. Soon after the Reformation came to the Low Countries, many Roman Catholic clergy left the Romish Church and became itinerant priests and monks. They often intruded upon the office of the ministry without being called. With fluent speech and pious manner they gained a following and made a place for themselves in some congregation. Even consistories would often permit them to function.
Already in 1563 the churches of Flanders dealt with this problem and decided “that none shall be permitted to administer the Word of God without a lawful call, and such as boldly intrude themselves shall be punished.” Five years later, in 1568, the Weselian Convention decided that none should be admitted to the ministry “without lawful calling, election, approbation, proper examination, and observance of that lawful order.” Subsequent synods (Emden, 1571; Dordrecht, 1574; Dordrecht, 1578) took additional action against officeless men. The article as we now have it was adopted in Middelburg in 1581.
While the idea of the lawful call is discussed in detail in Article 4, it is evident that the article speaks here of an objective call to the ministry. It is necessary to maintain the objective call to preserve decency and order in the church and to avoid all dangers of subjectivism. It is not merely a question of ability or learning (note the reference to a professor of theology) which fits one for the office. It is rather a question of authority and the right to preach. This authority can be given by Christ alone. Christ must call. But this calling of Christ does not come subjectively by means of some inner voice. It comes objectively through Christ’s own church. It is this objective call which clothes one with authority to work in the office of minister and to preach in Christ’s name and authority.
This is clearly the teaching of Scripture. The necessity of the lawful call is found in such Scripture passages as Romans 10:14, 15; Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:11, 12; Matthew 9:38; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 5:4. There are also examples in Scripture of this lawful calling coming through the church (cf., e.g., Acts 13:1-4; I Tim. 4:14; Tit. 1:5).
The article makes a point of insisting that one must be called to the specific office of minister, even though he functions in another office. This is because each office in the church is separate. This does not imply that there is difference in rank between officebearers. But it does emphasize that there is difference of kind and function.
The article defines the method of treating violators of this principle. They must be declared schismatic publicly in the churches. Or some milder form of discipline may be
administered. The classis is to judge in the matter. However, this does not alter the
principle that the consistory must admonish and perform the actual work of discipline.
The lawful calling of those who have not been previously in office consists:
First, in the ELECTION by the consistory and the deacons, after preceding prayers, with due observance of the regulations established by the consistory for this purpose, and of the ecclesiastical ordinance that only those can for the first time be called to the ministry of the Word who have been declared eligible by the churches according to the rule in this matter; and furthermore with the advice of classis or of the counselor appointed for this purpose by the classis.
Secondly, in the EXAMINATION both of doctrine and life, which shall be conducted by the classis to which the call must be submitted for approval, and which shall take place in the presence of three delegates of synod from the nearest classis.
Thirdly, in the APPROBATION by the members of the calling church, when, the name of the minister having been announced for two successive Sundays, no lawful objection arises; which approbation, however, is not required in case the election takes place with the cooperation of the congregation by choosing out of a nomination previously made.
Finally, in the public ORDINATION in the presence of the congregation, which shall take place with appropriate stipulations and interrogations, admonitions and prayers, and imposition of hands by the officiating minister (and by other ministers who are present) agreeably to the form for that purpose.
Decisions pertaining to Article 4
A. The election of a minister of the Word shall be conducted in the following manner:
1. The consistory shall make a nomination consisting usually of a trio of eligible ministers or candidates.
2. The nomination shall be submitted to the approbation of the congregation and unto that end publicly announced to her on two successive Sundays.
3. From the nomination the male members assembled on a congregational meeting which has been announced on two successive Sundays shall elect by secret ballot. The majority of votes cast shall be decisive. No members under censure nor adult baptized members have the right to vote. Blank votes must be subtracted from the total votes cast in order to determine how many votes a candidate must receive to have the majority which is required to his election.
B. Advice to classis and counselor. The following usage obtains:
1. That a counselor shall be designated for a vacant congregation to serve her with advice in case of difficulty, and to represent the classis in the process of the election.
2. That the nomination made by the consistory be submitted to the counselor for approval, who must see to it that the nomination does not conflict with the ecclesiastical regulations pertaining thereto. Further, that without this approbation being obtained the election cannot proceed.
3. That the congregational meeting upon which the election takes place shall be presided over, if at all possible, by the counselor. Likewise, the calling issued by the consistory, the composition of the call-letter, and the signing thereof by all the consistory members shall be under his supervision.
4. That also the counselor himself shall sign the call-letter as token of his approbation in name of the classis.
C. Peremptoir examination of candidates:
1. Examination shall be conducted in:
b. Practical qualifications, among which the following:
1) Personal spirituality.
2. Motives for seeking the office of minister.
3) Evidence of insight into pastoral practical labors.
c. Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, treating specifically of:
1) The nature of Holy Scripture.
2) The contents of Holy Scripture.
d. Knowledge of the confessions:
1) Meaning and purpose of the confessions.
2) The contents of the confessions.
3) The application of the confessions to our life.
f. Specimen of preaching:
1) Preaching before the congregation in the presence of classis.
2) Critical discussion of the sermon preached.
2. Further usage prevailing is as follows:
a. Voting by secret ballot regarding his admittance.
b. In case of a favorable outcome the applicant shall sign the formula of subscription.
c. Finally, that he be provided with written proof signed by president and clerk, wherein classis declares that it judges him qualified for the ministry of the Word.
1. To the final theological school examination there has been added a praeparatoir examination, which is conducted by the synod.
2. Candidates may not be called within one month after this praeparatoir examination.
3. For the consideration of calls received, the candidate is allowed the time of six weeks.
4. In case the candidate should not give satisfaction in the peremptoir examination, and the congregation nevertheless continues to desire him, he shall at the following classis be given opportunity for reexamination in those branches in which he appeared unsatisfactory.
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)
The lawful calling of those not previously in office is carefully defined by the Church Order. The reference is once again to the objective call of the church. This is not intended to deny the fact that there is also an internal call. In brief, the internal call consists in a subjective love for the ministry and desire to preach the gospel. It includes the awareness of the ministry as a way of self-denial and a willingness to walk that way. There must be present a certain amount of natural ability. And the Lord must open the way for the long years of study and preparation necessary to enter upon that office. This internal call is necessary to set a man on the course that leads eventually to the ministry and to give him the assurance that he is called.
But the external call is essential to the calling, and without it the internal call means nothing. The external call is the objective call of Christ Himself. It is this call which gives to one the right to preach the gospel in Christ’s name. It is only when this call places one in the office that his preaching will be the means of grace — the power of God unto salvation.
The lawful calling consists of four elements.
1) There is first of all “election.” Various methods of election have been tried in the past. The article proposes a different method from the method in use in our churches outlined in “A” of the footnote. The article speaks of election by the consistory and the deacons. The footnote proposes a method according to which the consistory nominates and the congregation chooses from the nomination. The method which we follow is preferable. On the one hand, it maintains the very important element, emphasized by the article, of the final authority of the consistory. This authority is retained and its rule in matters of election preserved when the consistory controls the nomination. This is scripturally necessary (cf. Acts 6:5; Acts 14:25; I Tim. 5:22; Tit. 1:5). But, on the other hand, it recognizes that the office of believers is also important. The church is not a spiritual minor, but has come to majority. While the office of believers is expressed through the special offices, this office of believers functions directly in the election of a minister of the Word. This, too, has scriptural basis (cf. Acts 1:25; Acts 6:1-6; II Cor. 8:19).
This election must be according to the regulations adopted by the consistory. These regulations are the rules of order governing elections, which have no direct scriptural basis, but which are adopted by the consistory so that elections are conducted decently and in good order. They may be varied from time to time if necessary. These rules, adopted in part by our churches as a whole, are found under “A” of the footnote.
The article also speaks of the “ecclesiastical ordinance” that only those may be called “who have been declared eligible by the churches, according to the rule in this matter; and furthermore with the advice of classis or of the counselor appointed for this purpose by the classis.” The article includes this provision because within a federation of churches, a minister, in a certain sense (cf. following articles), belongs to the denomination as a whole. He does not hold his office in the denomination at large, but he does preach throughout the churches. Hence, the classis has a voice in the matter. The rules governing this aspect of the election are found under “B” of the footnote.
The election must be after preceding prayers. Originally this article read: “after prayers and fasting.” The reason was that it was very difficult to find a minister qualified for the office when there was no approval of candidates by synod or classis. Later a prayer service was considered sufficient, and the requirement of fasting was dropped. We have interpreted this to mean prayers prior to the meeting.
2) Secondly, the lawful calling consists in “examination.” Examination is a part of the “lawful call” because it becomes an indication of the qualifications of a minister, without which he cannot enter upon the ministry of the Word. In our system, examination by the classis follows approbation and does not precede it as proposed by the Church Order. We also have a praeparatoir examination, conducted by the synod (cf. “D” of the footnote). This is intended to determine whether a man is sufficiently prepared, particularly with respect to knowledge, for the ministry in the churches.
The peremptior, or “decisive,” examination is conducted by the classis. This must be held at a classical session because a minister serves within the churches at large and they all must have a voice in the matter. The synodical delegates must be present to represent the other classis or classes. They must also give their approval, without which ordination cannot proceed.
3) Thirdly, the lawful call includes “approbation.” In our system, approbation is observed by means of nomination and election. It has not the emphasis as in the system proposed by the Church Order. It is nevertheless necessary because the lawful call includes participation by the congregation. They must have a voice in the matter. It is through the whole church that Christ calls His servants. In this way hierarchy is also avoided.
It is in this connection that the footnote under “B” makes provision for a counselor representing the classis. He presides at the time of election to see to it that the proper rules are observed.
4) Finally, the lawful call includes “ordination.” This ordination must take place according to the Form adopted by the churches for this purpose. In this way all the churches have a uniform practice, and this confession must be used in the congregation in order that the people of God may be instructed in the truth and implications of the office of the ministry of the Word.
Ordination takes place with the laying on of hands. This signifies not some mystical and extraordinary grant of the Holy Spirit, but rather the gift of the Spirit of Christ to qualify and ordain to serve as a minister of Christ. Such an ordained man is lawfully called and, hence, invested with the authority to preach. This ceremony need not be repeated, because a minister is called to the office for life (cf. Art. 12).
Ministers already in the ministry of the Word, who are called to another congregation, shall likewise be called in the aforesaid manner by the consistory and the deacons, with observance of the regulations made for the purpose by the consistory and of the general ecclesiastical ordinances for the eligibility of those who have served outside of the Protestant Reformed Churches and for the repeated calling of the same minister during the same vacancy; further, with the advice of the classis or of the counselor appointed by the classis, and with the approval of the classis or of the delegates appointed by the classis, to whom the ministers called show good ecclesiastical testimonials of doctrine and life, with the approval of the members of the calling congregation, as stated in Article 4; whereupon the minister called shall be installed with appropriate stipulations and prayers agreeably to the form for this purpose.
Decisions pertaining to Article 5
A. Consistories of vacant churches shall not place on nomination names of such ministers who have not yet served their present congregation two years, unless there be preponderant considerations; and a counselor who deems it his calling to approve in the name of classis such a nomination shall be required to give an account of his reasons to classis.
B. A minister shall not be called more than once within a year by the same vacant church without advice of classis.
C. In case of difference of opinion between a counselor and a consistory regarding the legality of a call, the consistory shall not proceed without the consent of classis.
D. When a minister shall accept a call to another congregation before he has served his present congregation two full years, the congregation to which he moves shall repay one-half of the moving expenses incurred at the time of securing him by the congregation he is vacating.
E. The “Procedure” appended to Article 9 is understood to fulfill the “general ecclesiastical ordinance for the eligibility of those who have served outside of the Protestant Reformed Churches.”
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67; Synod of 1993, Art. 36.)
The article deals with the calling of ministers already in office who are called to another congregation. The article presupposes that a call to a given congregation at the time of ordination is not necessarily a permanent calling for a minister. He may go to another congregation.
The lawful calling of a minister already in the ministry is basically the same as the calling defined in Article 4. There are two exceptions. The first is that the examination by the classis is eliminated and replaced by the need for a minister to show “good ecclesiastical testimonials of doctrine and life.” These must be approved by the classis or by the classical deputies. The second exception is that ordination is replaced by installation because a minister is ordained to the office for life. But he is installed in different congregations because he holds his office only in connection with the local congregation.
There are many regulations spelled out in the article and in the attached footnote. The regulations made by the Church Order itself include:
1) This calling must be done with observance to the regulations made by the consistory.
2) Regulations for the calling of ministers from other denominations. Our churches have no specific regulations for this. But a colloquium doctum would have to be conducted. There is an indirect reference to this in the Constitution of the Committee for Correspondence (cf. Preamble).
There are also regulations for the repeated calling of the same minister during the same vacancy. The rule is found in B of the footnote. This rule is good because a congregation may set its heart upon one minister and bother him constantly with repeated calls. But further: if God has not called a minister elsewhere at a particular time, it is not likely that this situation will change suddenly.
The calling must take place with the advice of the classis and the counselor (cf. footnote to Art. 4, B).
Good ecclesiastical testimonials are needed. There is an adopted form for this purpose. This is not a mere formality which can be safely ignored. It is an important safeguard within the fellowship of the churches.
There are a few other regulations included in the footnote.
1) A minister must, under normal circumstances, remain within the same congregation for at least two years. There are several reasons for this ruling. It prevents a minister who is inclined to move about, perhaps especially in time of trouble, from placing an undue financial burden upon a congregation. But there is also an important principle involved. A minister cannot effectively work in a congregation in a time period of less than two years. This is under normal circumstances. The time element is a matter of discretion, as the footnote recognizes, when it adds: “unless there be preponderant considerations.” A certain climate, for example, may become physically harmful to a minister.
2) Differences of opinion between the counselor and the consistory must be settled at classis.
3) The minister who does move in less than two years cannot obligate his congregation to pay his full moving costs when he moved into the congregation he is leaving. The congregation to which he is going must pay one-half of the original moving expenses. This is not a principle, but a matter of sanctified wisdom.
No minister shall be at liberty to serve in institutions of mercy or otherwise, unless he be previously admitted in accordance with the preceding articles, and he shall, no less than others, be subject to the Church Order.
The article deals with cases of ministers serving elsewhere than in a local congregation. Our version is slightly different from the Dutch version. The Dutch article makes reference here to ministers who served as court preachers or ministers who privately served nobles, etc. This was very common practice in the Netherlands, but not a problem in our own country. But the article also covers ministers who serve as chaplains in institutions of mercy. The question arises: what is their status?
There are various principles involved in the regulation set forth in Article 6. These principles are closely related to each other.
First of all, the authority of a minister to preach does not reside in himself, but resides in the church of Christ. Hence, and in the second place, no person can hold the office apart from the institute of the church, i.e.,
the local congregation. It is from this congregation that the calling proceeds, and it is only in connection with this congregation that a man retains his office. It follows therefore, in the third place, that a minister who labors in some such special calling must be lawfully called according to the regulations of Articles 3 through 5. Further, he must labor only under the authority and supervision of a local congregation. It is in this way that the church preaches through him, that he performs official labors, and that his work is a means of grace.
This does not refer to teaching in a school, even Bible. This would be the case if the schools our children attend were parochial. But they are parental, and the obligation to instruct in them rests not upon the church but upon the parents.
No one shall be called to the ministry of the Word without his being stationed in a particular place, except he be sent to do church extension work.
This article arose out of the problem of itinerant preachers who were not (and sometimes refused to be) connected with a local congregation. Certain decisions were made against this practice as early as 1574. In 1581 the Synod of Middelburg spoke of the necessity of exceptions which would be approved by classis or synod. In 1586 the Synod of ’s Gravenhage made provisions for work of this nature to be done among congregations scattered because of persecution, and made provisions for mission work.
Our churches have no problem in this respect. Nevertheless, here, too, several important principles are involved. These principles are the same as those underlying Article 6. There may not be ordination of “ministers at large” by classis or synods. This was an early practice in some provinces of the Netherlands. No minister may labor except under the jurisdiction of a congregation and consistory.
The exception to this is mission work, although this is not an exception to the principles involved but only to the stipulation of the article: “No one shall be called … except he be stationed in a particular place.”
The article refers to all mission work, including church extension work. The original article read: “Except he be sent to gather churches here and there” (cf. Constitution of the Domestic Mission Committee).
But if a minister is called to do mission work he must even then be called according to the provisions of Articles 3-5 and must be sent by the local congregation through its consistory. In this way he is called and sent by Christ and labors under the supervision of authorized officebearers.
Persons who have not pursued the regular course of study in preparation for the ministry of the Word, and have therefore not been declared eligible according to Article 4, shall not be admitted to the ministry unless there is assurance of their exceptional gifts, godliness, humility, modesty, common sense, and discretion, as also gifts of public address. When such persons present themselves for the ministry, the classis (if the synod approve) shall first examine them, and further deal with them as it shall deem edifying, according to the general regulations of the churches.
The Reformed churches have always insisted on a trained ministry. This is to be traced directly back to the Calvin Reformation. Soon after the Reformation was established in Geneva, Calvin began the Academy, where ministers of the gospel were trained to serve the churches of the Reformation in all parts of Europe. The exception spoken of in this article was allowed only in time of emergency. This was the case in the early history of the Reformed churches in Holland, when as yet there were no institutions of higher learning. At the time following the Synod of Dordrecht, when many ministers were deposed because of their refusal to sign the Canons, this article was again used. The same was true of the days following the “Afscheiding” in 1834 and the “Doleantie” in 1886. Since that time this article has been seldom used.
The principles underlying this article are these. In the first place, while formal education is highly desirable, it is not essential. God may call to the office of the ministry whomever He pleases. Education is not an indispensable prerequisite but a matter of Christian discretion. In the second place, men with exceptional gifts may be endowed with these gifts from the Lord in preparation for the call to the ministry. However, it is important to notice that not the gifts themselves are exceptional, but the measure in which one possesses them.
These gifts are enumerated in the article.
Godliness is essentially the fear of the Lord.
Humility, while a part of godliness, is the grace to forget oneself and set one’s desires exclusively upon the glory of God.
Modesty means, strictly speaking, virtuous in the moral and ethical sense of the Word.
Common sense is very closely related to the Dutch word verstand, i.e., the intellectual ability and spiritual wisdom to apply the knowledge of the Word of God to the specific problems of life.
Discretion is the spiritual ability to discern between the truth and the lie, between right and wrong.
Gifts of public address do not refer so much to mere oratorical ability as to the ability to make the truth clear and understandable to the sheep and lambs of God’s flock.
The article does not mean to dispense with all training. It refers only to the regular course of study which the churches as a whole have set up as being, in their opinion, adequate for the preparation for the ministry. Such persons who seek the ministry under this article must have some training and must be examined by the classis. The procedure then is as follows:
1) There must be some assurance of these gifts on the part of the individual, who himself must take the initiative.
2) He would, under ordinary circumstances, apply through his own consistory for examination by the classis. His own consistory must equally be assured of the presence of these gifts. In case of disagreement, the individual would have the right to go to classis by way of appeal.
3) The classis, with the approval of the synod, must then examine such a man to determine for itself whether these gifts mentioned in the article are present.
At this point the article simply speaks of further dealing with such a person “as it shall deem edifying according to the general regulations of the churches.” These regulations would probably include the following steps:
1) There would be a certain period of probation, during which time the aspirant receives further instruction and brings a word of edification under the supervision of other ministers in the churches.
2) Another examination would be held similar to the praeparatoir examination.
3) The aspirant would be declared eligible for a call. Having received and accepted a call, he would submit to a peremptoir examination. This would be done by the classis with the synodical delegates present.
Preachers without fixed charge, or others who have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the ministry of the church until they have been declared eligible, after careful examination by the classis, with the approval of synod.
Decision pertaining to Article 9
Procedure for admission of ministers from other denominations:
A. A minister from another denomination desiring entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches under Article 9 of the Church Order shall apply to the Protestant Reformed classis nearest to which he resides.
1. The minister making application shall have publicly resigned his ministry and his membership in his former congregation and denomination and become a member of a local Protestant Reformed Church.
2. The minister making application shall meet with and seek the advice of a nearby Protestant Reformed consistory.
a. The consistory shall interview the minister sufficiently to make recommendations to the classis concerning the applicant’s qualifications for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches and to determine whether they would be willing to hold his ministerial credentials until he accepts a call, should classis approve his examination and declare him eligible for a call.
b. The advice of the consistory shall be forwarded to the Classical Committee along with the applicant’s formal request for entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
3. The minister making application shall furnish the following documentation:
a. A declaration of his reasons for desiring entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches and an account of his background in the ministry.
b. A testimonial from the consistory or session under which he previously labored concerning his purity of doctrine and sanctity of life. If this is not possible because his leaving makes him a persona non grata, the classis shall make investigation of the applicant’s previous labors.
c. A diploma, or statement of credits, from an accredited college and recognized seminary, to show the scholastic attainment of the applicant.
d. A statement of health from a physician.
B. Classis shall act upon the applicant’s request, with the concurring advice of the Synodical Deputies, taking into consideration the following:
1. All the documents listed under A, 3 above are found to be in good order.
2. The need for ministers in the Protestant Reformed denomination at the time of the application.
C. If the applicant’s request is approved, classis shall set a date for convening another classis for the purpose of examining the applicant, and shall instruct the Classical Committee to draw up an examination schedule. The examination shall commence with a specimen sermon, which sermon must be approved by classis and the Synodical Deputies before classis shall proceed to the rest of the examination. The examination shall follow the regular adopted schedule for the classical examination of candidates for the ministry (cf. Article 4) with two additions: Protestant Reformed distinctives, and Knowledge of the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. In addition, the applicant must express a willingness to abide by any past decisions of the Protestant Reformed synods concerning doctrine and practice.
D. After classis approves his examination, with the concurrence of the Synodical Deputies, the classis shall declare the applicant eligible to receive a call into the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the Protestant Reformed Churches, without further need of examination.
E. The newly accepted minister shall be required to sign the Formula of Subscription before the meeting of classis adjourns and shall be presented with a classical diploma.
F. His eligibility for a call shall be announced to the churches.
G. Until the newly approved minister accepts a call, his ministerial credentials shall be held by a Protestant Reformed consistory appointed by classis.
1. This consistory shall supervise the interim labors of the minister and shall see to the needs of his financial support. Financial assistance may be sought from sister congregations, if this is deemed necessary.
2. If the minister does not receive a call after three years, he, with the advice of his consistory, shall request Classis to renew his eligibility.
(Adopted by Synod of 1993, Art. 36; Synod of 1994, Art. 55.)
The original article is slightly different from our present form. It reads: “Novices, priests, monks, and others that have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the service (ministry) of the church except with great carefulness and due consideration, and after they also have first been proved for a time.”
The present form of the article is, regrettably, weaker than the original. For one thing, the loss of the word “novice” is not good. The idea is thoroughly scriptural (cf. I Tim. 3:6) and guards against the danger of admitting someone who seeks the office on the basis of enthusiasm for the cause. Secondly, there should be a period of proving, as the original article required. The office of the ministry is a very high office and should not be easily and quickly filled without careful consideration. While, as churches, we have seldom faced the problem, the office should be diligently protected.
The history of this article is to be traced to the Reformation in the Lowlands. At that time many tried to enter the ministry who had recently come from the Romish church or from some other sect. These included wandering priests, monks, or men who had at one time belonged to the Anabaptist movement. At the time the Reformed churches were established and recognized by the government this article went into effect. When the original article spoke of “novices” it referred to those who had been newly converted to the Reformed faith.
“Preachers without a fixed charge” are ministers who possess no congregation of their own. In our own time an example of such would be ministers who come to this land from the Netherlands. By “others who
have left some sect” the article refers to men who have left another church or sect and have joined our church and desire to enter the ministry.
The article stipulates that worthy applicants must surely be admitted, while unworthy applicants must be barred. To determine whether they are worthy, the classis must conduct a colloquium doctum, or regular examination. Their ordination into the ministry cannot take place without the approval of synod.
A minister, once lawfully called, may not leave the congregation with which he is connected, to accept a call elsewhere, without the consent of the consistory, together with the deacons, and knowledge on the part of the classis; likewise no other church may receive him until he has presented a proper certificate of dismissal from the church and the classis where he served.
Decisions pertaining to Article 10
A. When a minister accepts a call he shall ask of the consistory dismissing him to grant him a fitting testimonial bearing witness of faithful service performed, according to Article 5 of the Church Order, and expressing acquiescence in his departure, according to Article 10 of the Church Order. This testimonial shall be sent to the Classical Committee for examination and approval; thereupon it shall be delivered to the counselor who, upon finding it in good order, shall only thereupon proceed with the installation.
B. A minister who moves to another congregation becomes the charge of that congregation (for salary, etc.) immediately after he has preached his farewell to the congregation he is leaving (unless other arrangements have been made, e.g., for the taking of a vacation).
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.) (Cf. Ministerial Certificate of Dismissal and Testimonial, pp. 118, 119.)
This article, as well as Articles 3, 4, and 7, was adopted because of evils perpetrated by itinerant and self-appointed preachers. Some of these preachers, after wearying of service in one congregation, would without notice or permission leave in search of “greener pastures.” Their motives were often personal and wholly carnal. It is against this evil that the article was written.
There was a time when this article provided for what were called “conditional calls.” This was especially because of persecution but also because of lack of training for ministers. A minister might be forced to flee from his flock to save his life when persecution broke out in his area. Another congregation, not subjected to persecution, would call him conditionally, i.e., with the understanding that, should things improve in his original congregation, he would be free to return. Or again, some ministers were not very well educated. A congregation would call such a minister conditionally, i.e., with the understanding that if he proved incompetent, he could be released. As the situation stabilized, these conditional calls were dropped.
This article has been variously interpreted from time to time. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the article was interpreted in such a way that the power to decide a call rested almost entirely with the consistory. Ministers were sometimes even held in congregations against their own wills. Then again, especially lately, the article has been interpreted in such a way that the minister is almost solely responsible for determining a call. The consent of the consistory is little more than a formality.
The principles are clear.
In the first place, the bond which unites a minister with his congregation is by the appointment of Christ Himself and is a sacred tie. This tie cannot be lightly broken. Both the minister and the consistory must be very sure that Christ Himself has broken it.
Secondly, the office of the ministry is under the supervision of the consistory. They are responsible for the well-being of the congregation. And they must have a voice in the matter.
Thirdly, it is the responsibility of the minister himself to determine before the face of God when his work is finished in one place and when God summons him to labor elsewhere. Hence, the active and decisive part of the decision rests with the minister. But the consistory must exercise an advisory and consenting role.
It might be well to point out in passing that such a call is not determined on the basis of some “inner light” or special sign from God. It is rather to be determined by a prayerful and careful consideration of all the circumstances involved in such a decision. God reveals His will through the objective circumstances both of the congregation a
minister is serving and of the congregation which has called him.
The classis must have a voice in the matter since the minister is a part of the classis.
The procedure to be followed in leaving a congregation to take up work elsewhere includes the following steps:
1) The minister receives a call.
2) The article does not require that he ask for permission from his consistory to consider a call, although this is implied in the necessity of discussing the call with the consistory whose advice he seeks. Strictly speaking, he seeks the consent of the consistory only when he has decided to accept the call. He must inform the consistory of this, together with his grounds. Mutual consultation is implied, and room is left open for appeal if there is disagreement.
3) The minister is granted a proper certificate of dismission by his consistory, which is approved by the classis or the Classical Committee.
4) This certificate is sent to the counselor of the congregation whose call he has accepted. The counselor, if everything is in order, makes preparations for installation.
5) The minister becomes the responsibility of the new congregation after he has preached his farewell sermon.
On the other hand, the consistory, as representing the congregation, shall also be bound to provide for the proper support of its ministers, and shall not dismiss them from service without the knowledge and approbation of the classis and of the delegates of the synod.
The fact that this article is introduced by the words “On the other hand” indicates that there is a close connection between it and Article 10. The point is that Article 10 speaks of the duty of a minister to his congregation, while this article speaks of the duty of the congregation, through its consistory, to its minister.
The article speaks of the one obligation of financial support and lays down a certain regulation with respect to dismissal from service. The second part of the article clearly implies that the obligation of a congregation is much more than financial. Christ calls a minister through the congregation to labor in that flock. The minister is bound by sacred ties to the congregation calling him. The congregation is solemnly enjoined to receive a minister as a gift of Christ — a gift which must be received with gratitude. Hence the congregation must act towards her minister as a servant of Christ, an obligation mentioned also in the Form for Ordination.
But as far as the financial support of a minister is concerned, this also rests upon the congregation. It has not been at all uncommon for a congregation to abandon her minister and refuse him adequate financial support in an evil effort to get rid of him when they were wearied by him.
There are scriptural grounds for this obligation. In the old dispensation, provision was made for the priests and Levites (cf. Lev. 6:14-18; Num. 18:8-32; Deut. 12:11-19). The same is true of the New Testament, where this obligation is explicitly mentioned (cf. Matt. 10:8-10; I Cor. 9:7-18; II Cor. 11:7-12; Gal. 6:6). The call letter also speaks of and promises proper support and defines this as being sufficient to free a minister from all worldly cares.
There are several rules which are implied in this article. In the first place, it definitely makes the congregation responsible for the support of the minister. Occasionally objections have been raised against this principle and other methods used. Sometimes the support of the minister is left to free will gifts. But these are wrong.
In the second place, the article does not make rules defining the amount of support a minister is to receive. This is not the purpose of the Church Order, nor would this be possible. The Church Order speaks of “proper” support; in each individual case the Church Order cannot determine what this is.
In the third place, neither a classis nor a synod may determine this proper support. This belongs to the province of the consistory. The church visitors of the classis inquire into the matter. They may admonish a consistory and even report back to classis so that classis is given opportunity to advise a consistory if necessary. But beyond this, neither classis nor synod may go.
But in the fourth place, the consistory must provide proper support. Never should it be necessary for a minister to beg for additional money.
Fifthly, the Church Order does not define how this money shall be obtained by the consistory. Various ways have been tried: free-will gifts, pew rentals, budgets, drives, etc. In general, the best way is the most systematic way.
And finally, the minister ought not to labor in a secular vocation. The work of the ministry is a full-time task, and the minister ought not to be distracted from this work by any secular vocation (cf. Art. 12).
While the last part of the article is negative, it speaks of the possibility of dismissal from service. In general, it ought to be noticed that this is to be distinguished from emeritation (spoken of in Article 13) and suspension and deposition (spoken of in Arts. 79 and 80). Emeritation refers to the time when a minister lays aside the active duties of his office because of illness or old age or for some other reason while retaining the office itself. Suspension and deposition is dismissal from the office, in distinction from dismissal from service, of which this article speaks.
There are various reasons why such dismissal may become necessary. Among these reasons are to be found incompatibility between a minister and a congregation, which does not involve sin; trouble in a congregation which makes a minister’s work ineffective; inability or unwillingness on the part of a congregation to support its minister; a particular climate detrimental to the health of a minister, etc.
In case dismissal becomes necessary, the procedure to be followed is:
1) The congregation through the consistory relieves the minister of all active duties in the congregation.
2) This can be done only with the knowledge and approbation of the classis and the delegates from synod.
This stipulation is required in order that an impartial body may judge and because the minister belongs to the churches in common.
3) He is granted license to preach in other congregations and is made eligible for a call.
4) While he is waiting for a call, he remains a member of the congregation which has dismissed him and holds his office in that congregation. This remains true until he receives a call elsewhere. That congregation also remains responsible for his support. It stands to reason that this can be only a temporary measure. In case he should not, after a definite period of time, receive a call elsewhere, his ministerial status should be terminated and a congregation would no longer be responsible for his support.
Inasmuch as a minister of the Word, once lawfully called as described above, is bound to the service of the church for life, he is not allowed to enter upon a secular vocation except for such weighty reasons as shall receive the approval of the classis.
The article discusses the possibility of a minister leaving his office altogether. It is, therefore, to be distinguished from Article 10, which speaks of the consistory dismissing a minister from service within that congregation although the minister retains his office (cf. Art. 13, which speaks of emeritation).
There is an important principle underlying this article. On the one hand, the Reformed churches did not agree with the Romish position on the matter of the office. The Romish church taught (and teaches) that an officebearer can never be separated from his office, even if he should commit a gross sin. This is a direct conclusion from the position of the Romish church that ordination, or Holy Orders, is a sacrament. Our fathers maintained that it was possible for an officebearer to lose his office.
On the other hand, however, the Reformed churches took the position that a minister, once lawfully called, is bound to the service of the church for life. While it is possible for him to lose his office, under all normal circumstances he retains his office till he dies. There were good reasons for taking this position, even though this principle is not directly taught in Scripture. For one thing, there are many examples in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, of men who functioned in their offices for life. This was true of the prophets, of the apostles, and of such men as Timothy, Titus, James the brother of the Lord, and others. In the second place, this would seem to follow from the fact that the office of the minister demands of him his complete love for the church and the Word of God, his entire devotion to the cause of Christ, his continuous perseverance in the work, and his wholehearted separation to the calling. These things are implied in such passages as John 21:15-17; II Corinthians 5:14; John 9:4; Luke 9:62; I Corinthians 9:16, 17; II Timothy 4:1-5, 10; Romans 1:1; Acts 15:26. Besides this, as Rev. Ophoff writes: “It follows from the nature of matters that the teaching ministry is called for life. The office of ministers of the gospel comes only through long and persistent searching of the Scriptures. The Word of God is deep and inexhaustible…” (cf. mimeographed notes on Church Right). From all these considerations we may well conclude that our fathers had a correct understanding of the office of minister when they penned this article.
Nevertheless, the possibility is taken into account that a minister must leave his office to enter on a secular vocation. The word “secular” is not a happy translation. Originally the Dutch reads: “een andere staat des levens.” Hence the idea is not simply that the minister enters upon some non-religious kind of work, but that he enters on a different vocation from the ministry. This
would surely include such vocations as lawyers, doctors, politicians, factory workers; but it would also include the vocation of Bible teacher, editor of a religious periodical, president or teacher in a Bible college, etc.
To leave the office of ministry for a secular vocation is an exception to the rule. There must be “weighty reasons” for doing so. Such weighty reasons could conceivably be failure to receive a call after dismissal according to Article 11, inability to function in the office during times of persecution, failure of a congregation to support its minister, awareness on the part of a minister of his lack of spiritual qualifications, etc. But such action as this, and the reason why a minister pursues such a course of conduct, must receive the approval of the classis. Originally the article included the words “and the delegates from Synod” after the word “classis.” It would have been well if this were retained.
If a minister would nevertheless resign from office without the approval of his consistory and of the classis, he would become guilty of faithless desertion of office and would become worthy of suspension and deposition according to the provisions of Article 80.
Ministers who by reason of age, sickness, or otherwise are rendered incapable of performing the duties of their office shall nevertheless retain the honor and title of a minister, and the churches which they have served shall provide honorably for them in their need (likewise for the orphans and widows of ministers) out of the common fund of the churches, according to the general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.
Decisions pertaining to Article 13
A. In the case of ministers who through no fault of their own have been deprived of a congregation, it is both possible and mandatory that, pending the reception of a call to another congregation, such ministers be temporarily declared emeriti.
1. The minister who through no fault of his own has been left without a fixed charge may apply to a consistory of the classis in which he resides for emeritation, and such consistory may declare him emeritus.
2. This shall not be done, however, without the approbation of the classis and of the deputies of the synod.
Responsibility for Support:
1. Since the minister becomes emeritus not of his own congregation but of a congregation he has not served, the obligation to support him and to provide honorably for him “in [his] need” shall not rest upon the local congregation but upon the churches in common, and he is to be supported out of the common Emeritus Fund of the churches.
2. In such cases, if the abandoning church has been subsidized from the Needy Churches Fund, the amount of such subsidy shall be transferred to the Emeritus Fund, pending the next meeting of synod.
B. If an emeritus minister transfers his membership to another congregation in the denomination, his ministerial credentials are also to be transferred to that congregation. This transfer is to be made in the following manner: The consistory of the church which the emeritus minister served last formally requests the consistory of the church which the emeritus minister wishes to join to exercise supervision over him.
(Adopted by Synod of 1956, Art. 177, Suppl. XVIII; Synod of 1995, Art. 62, Suppl. XXI.)
This article deals with the emeritation of ministers. The term “emeritus,” while not appearing in this article, has come to be used generally to refer to a minister retired from active service. The term comes from the Latin and means literally “out of merit.” It refers to the fact that a minister has, because of his faithful service to the church, earned the right both to the title and honor of a minister when he retires from active service as well as to the support of the church. This principle has always been maintained by Reformed churches and surely is the implicit teaching of Scripture. A minister does not have the opportunity to provide for his future in his lifetime and is, according to Article 12, bound to the service of the church for life. Hence the churches who support him during his active ministry have the obligation to care for his needs when he can no longer serve the church.
This article teaches two different ideas: the status of ministers emeriti and the support of ministers emeriti.
As far as their status is concerned, the article teaches that a retiring minister retains the honor and title of his office. He retires from his active duties in the congregation which has last called him. The article presupposes, of course, that at his retirement he is a member of the congregation in good standing and has labored faithfully in his calling. Such a minister remains in office even when he does not perform the duties of the office. His legal status is that of minister in the congregation which he has last served. He continues to possess the rights and privileges of a minister: the right and privilege to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and perform other official functions in the church.
It is possible that, for one reason or another, a minister takes up residence elsewhere and transfers his membership to another congregation. But even should he do this, he retains his office in the congregation he has last served. Preferably, therefore, if circumstances permit, he should also remain in that congregation.
He is always subject to the supervision and discipline of the consistory where he holds his emeritation. In case his conduct warrants such action, this consistory can still suspend and depose him from office. In the event this happens, his status as emeritus minister ceases.
The article mentions two reasons for emeritation: age or sickness. If he retires because of age, his emeritation will be permanent. If he retires because of sickness, it is possible that his emeritation be for a time only.
The article also adds to the reasons for emeritation: “or otherwise.” This refers to emeritation because of inability to labor due to a serious accident, or emeritation to grant time to a minister for further study. It has also been interpreted to include cases where a minister retains his office while he does not actively function in a particular congregation. Two examples of this are professors of theology and ministers deprived of a congregation through no fault of their own.
The procedure to obtain emeritation is described in the “Constitution of the Emeritus Committee.” The Constitution apparently provides for the minister himself to take the initiative in seeking the status of emeritus minister. Under normal circumstances this would be proper procedure. But there are circumstances when a consistory itself would have to take the initiative. This would happen, e.g., when a minister is unable to function in his office but refuses to recognize the fact.
Normally, after a minister requests emeritation, the consistory passes upon the question. If emeritation is granted, this decision is subject to the approval of classis and synod. The matter of emeritation is handled by an Emeritus Committee of the synod. Provisions are made for the care of a minister during the interim between ecclesiastical assemblies.
Secondly, the article discusses the support of such ministers who receive their emeritation.
In general, the article speaks of support “in their need.” It is possible that a minister be emeritus but that he receives no support, as, e.g., professors of theology. Further, this support is not a matter of benevolence but of legal right. This is emphasized by the Constitution, which confer.
The article requires that this support be “honorable.” It must not be a grudging or stingy support, but it must be sufficient for a minister to live decently and honorably. This support must also be given to the widows and orphans of ministers.
The article also speaks of the responsibility for support: “The church which they have last served shall provide honorably for them in their need … out of the common fund of the churches.” The article therefore, teaches that the responsibility of support rests upon the local church, while this support itself comes “out of the common fund of the churches.” The Constitution has interpreted this to mean that the local church is responsible for the support of an emeritus minister and may only draw from the common fund of the churches when it is unable to provide for such support itself. There are reasons why a change in this procedure might be advisable. In the first place, a minister has served all the churches, and one could argue that his support when emeritus should rest upon all the churches. In the second place, a church might be hesitant to call a minister when he nears retirement age because it would be responsible for supporting him. But even if this procedure were changed, the local congregation retains the responsibility, and support must come through this consistory to the minister.
The article adds that this support must be “according to the general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.” This refers to the Constitution of the Emeritus Committee and any other rules which may, over the course of the years, be drawn up. For details, confer the Constitution and the footnote added to this article.
If any minister, for the aforesaid or any other reason, is compelled to discontinue his service for a time, which shall not take place without the advice of the consistory, he shall nevertheless at all times be and remain subject to the call of the congregation.
Article 14, which speaks of a leave of absence, continues the general subject of discontinuance of service of a minister. But, in distinction from the other articles, this refers to a temporary release from the duties of the office.
Once again, this article has its origin in the practice of ministers of the churches of the Reformation to labor here and there and to leave a congregation without following an orderly procedure.
The article does not speak of emeritation or of permanent dismissal from office. It rather speaks of a temporary release from the service of the church during which the minister retains his status: “… is compelled to discontinue his service for a time.” Thus a definite time is referred to. This may be a stipulated time (which is preferable) or a time the length of which is required by the nature of his absence. The release from the duties of office ceases therefore when the time is expired. The length of time ought to be a matter of definite understanding between a minister and his consistory.
There are various reasons for such a release. The article itself merely says: “for the aforesaid or any other reason.” By the word “aforesaid” the article is not speaking of emeritation however; the meaning must be that a minister receives release from a portion of his duties because of old age or release from all his duties on a temporary basis because of illness. But there is added the phrase, “any other reason.” It is quite possible that this originally referred to persecution, when a minister was forced to flee. But there may be other reasons. These would include leave of absence for further studies, leave to work on a Bible translation, leave to travel as a delegate to a foreign country, leave to inspect a mission field, etc.
The article uses the strong word “compelled”: “If any minister is compelled to discontinue his service….” This ought to be interpreted to mean that a temporary leave from the duties of the congregation would serve the good of the church where the minister labors for the good of the churches as a whole.
The minister’s status is that of a legal minister of the Word in the congregation to which he belongs. He remains subject to the call of the congregation. They are responsible for his support. He is responsible to them in his work and is under their discipline and supervision. This is true also as far as his work during his leave is concerned. He must return again to his congregation when his leave expires. It is possible that, during his absence, the congregation calls another minister. In that case he is made eligible for a call after his leave. He may also consider a call during his leave. But all this is by mutual consent. The principle is that the tie between a minister and his congregation remains in force and a minister continues to hold his office in the local church.
The procedure to secure such a release is as follows: The minister seeks the advice of the consistory. This advice must first be granted before a minister can leave. The advice is granted only when the reasons for the leave are satisfactory and conditions in the congregation warrant such a leave. If conditions should warrant a return even before the leave has expired, the minister would be under the obligation to return. If there is disagreement, this must be resolved by classis.
No one shall be permitted, neglecting the ministry of his church or being without a fixed charge, to preach indiscriminately without the consent and authority of synod or classis. Likewise, no one shall be permitted to preach or administer the sacraments in another church without the consent of the consistory of that church.
Decision pertaining to Article 15
In case any one of our candidates has not received a call after three years and still desires that his candidacy remain in effect, he shall address himself to synod, who shall treat his case as may be proper.
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)
The evils against which this article is directed are identical with those mentioned in connection with Article 9. In the early history of the Reformed church, Anabaptists, priests who left the Romish church, and even common laymen took it upon themselves to preach. These and others often abandoned congregations where they did preach for awhile and went elsewhere. Sometimes they would be accepted by another congregation; sometimes they would simply force themselves on another congregation; sometimes they would organize a new congregation and begin to preach in it. They preached indiscriminately wherever the opportunity presented itself.
Thus this article follows from others. It follows from Article 4 which speaks of the lawful call. It follows from Article 7, which establishes the principle of the need to be stationed in a particular place. It follows from Article 9, which speaks of preachers without a fixed charge. While all these articles refer to the same general evil prevalent in the Reformed churches, it must be remembered that the times when the Reformed churches were formed were sometimes chaotic, both because of persecution and because of the fact that sound principles of church government had not yet been completely developed.
We have mentioned before that the office of a minister resides within a congregation, and a minister can hold this office only within a given congregation. The reasons for this are evident. In the first place, the minister can never possess his office on his own, separated from the church of Christ of which he must be a member. Secondly, the calling to the office is through Christ’s church and can be held by a minister only as a part of that church. In the third place, the local congregation is a complete manifestation of the body of Christ. But this is true as the congregation functions through its threefold office of minister, elder, and deacon. Thus, only when the office is held in the local congregation can this manifestation of Christ’s body in the institute be complete.
However, this article is based upon another very important principle, closely related to the one defined above. That is the principle of supervision of the preaching. The preaching must be under the supervision of the synod and classis as far as admission into the ministry is concerned. But the more definite supervision of the preaching is the work of the consistory. They must have the oversight of the Word and doctrine. This principle must be maintained. Christ calls to the office by the congregation through the consistory. The authority to preach, therefore, comes from Christ, through the congregation functioning through its consistory. And the supervision of the Word and sacraments, in obedience to Christ, is the work of the consistory alone.
With these principles in mind, we can turn to the article.
In the first place, two kinds of preachers are referred to: those neglecting the ministry of their church, and those without a fixed charge. In the strict sense of the word, these men were not really ministers at all, since a man without a fixed charge cannot hold an office. They were vagabond ministers or self-appointed ministers. But the article can also refer to those who are dismissed from service under the regulations of Article 11. The same principles hold for them.
The evil referred to is preaching indiscriminately. The Dutch spoke of “preaching here and there.” These men would preach wherever they could get an audience. But this indiscriminate preaching refers also to ministers of one congregation preaching in established churches without the consent of the consistory. The setup in the Netherlands is somewhat different from ours in this land. There each consistory had
the rule over a certain territory marked by definite territorial boundaries — which boundaries included several congregations. Over these congregations one consistory would have the rule. This article forbids a minister from preaching in another territory without the consent of the consistory. But in this country, where we have no such boundaries, the rule still applies. It has reference to a minister intruding upon another congregation without consistorial consent.
The consent of the synod or classis is mentioned particularly with reference to the general supervision which both these ecclesiastical bodies have over men who are entering the ministry for the first time.
To this article is appended a footnote which deals with candidates who receive no call. Their candidacy expires after three years. If the term of the candidacy is to be extended, the procedure is: the candidate must himself take the initiative in seeking such an extension. Should he fail, his candidacy automatically expires. If he does desire to obtain an extension, he must address this request to synod, with which body the final decision rests.
The office of the minister is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word, to dispense the sacraments, to watch over his brethren, the elders and deacons, as well as the congregation, and finally, with the elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.
In speaking of the duties of a minister of the gospel, the article uses the expression: “The office of the ministry.” It must be understood that the article is not using the term “office” in this connection in the technical sense of the word as referring specifically to a position of authority under Christ. Rather, the term refers to the task and assignment of the office. But it must not be forgotten that the peculiar task of the office follows from the nature of the office which the minister holds. His work is unique because of the position he occupies in his office.
In general, concerning these duties, the Church Order does not mean to be exhaustive in listing the duties of a minister. There are other duties referred to in the Formula of Subscription, the call letter, and the Form for the Ordination of Ministers. But the Church Order speaks of the fundamental duties of a minister from which the other duties follow.
The duties mentioned specifically in the article include his duties as a minister and as an elder. The duties which he must perform as a minister are as follows:
1) To continue in prayer. It is possible that this article refers in this clause to a minister’s private prayers, which are so very essential to his work. Nevertheless, it may also refer to the minister’s calling to lead the congregation in prayer at public worship, to pray with others and especially with those of his flock who need prayer (cf. Acts 6:4; James 5:14, 15).
2) To continue in the ministry of the Word. This, of course, is the heart of the minister’s office. All other tasks which he performs are either related to this task or are incidental to it. He may have to perform administrative work; he may write articles or books; there may be other work which he must perform. But this is all incidental to and must never stand in the way of his supreme calling to preach the gospel. This is a principle matter, for this is specifically his authoritative work in which he exercises the authority of Christ. He is a prophet, the mouthpiece of Christ, called to proclaim Christ’s Word authoritatively. Never must anything else interfere with this task. Nor must he be tempted from this calling to play the role of psychologist, marriage counselor, doctor, sociologist, or any other work. He must, in the words of the article,continue in preaching. He has the one calling to bring the Word of God. To do this he must regularly occupy the pulpit and preach the gospel from Sabbath to Sabbath. But he must also diligently study the Word, filling himself with it and preparing himself to proclaim and expound it.
3) To dispense the sacraments. This is also part of the minister’s fundamental calling to preach. For the sacraments are the means of grace added to the preaching as the gospel for the eyes of God’s people. Thus this belongs to his official work in which he functions with the authority of Christ.
There are various duties not mentioned in the article.
1) Teaching catechism. This, too, is part of the preaching of the Word. It is official ministry of the gospel to the lambs of God’s flock. It is the means of grace especially adapted to the seed of the covenant to prepare them for their place in the church.
2) Sick and family visitation. Here, too, we have part of the minister’s official work of preaching. But in this aspect of his work he brings the Word of God privately and applies that Word to the specific needs of the individual members of the congregation. In this he labors also as pastor.
3) Officiating at weddings. The Church Order speaks of this part of his work in another place. In this particular work he functions as a servant of the state as well as a minister.
There are also certain duties spoken of in the article which refer to the calling of a minister as elder. It must be remembered that the minister is an elder, although he is a teaching elder. This does not mean that a minister is in a higher or superior office, with authority over his fellow officebearers. He is their equal. But at the same time he is elder as well as minister; pastor as well as teacher.
Because this is true, the duties of a minister as he functions as an elder are more specifically referred to in Article 23. In this article the following duties are mentioned:
1) To watch over his brethren. This refers especially to his fellow consistory members, although surely implied is the entire congregation. He is pastor of the whole flock of Christ. He shepherds the entire sheepfold including the officebearers.
2) To exercise church discipline. This work he does in cooperation with the other elders. It is part of the government of the church.
3) To see to it that everything is done decently and in good order. This
must be done within the congregation and the consistory. The rule of decency and good order is Scripture itself. In this work the minister ought to be eminently qualified.
VanDellen and Monsma speak of assistants to the minister which are sometimes used (cf. their Commentary). While this is possible, a minister ought not easily give up his work and the specific duties assigned to him. There is altogether too much of this in our day, even in Reformed churches. And it must be remembered that these assistants can never officially preach the Word of the gospel.
Among the ministers of the Word equality shall be maintained with respect to the duties of their office, and also in other matters as far as possible, according to the judgment of the consistory and, if necessary, of the classis; which equality shall also be maintained in the case of the elders and the deacons.
The historical occasion for this article is the deep-seated fear in which our fathers lived of the horrors of Roman Catholic hierarchy. They detested this evil with all their hearts and included this article to avoid all possibility of it. That such was the position of our fathers is, e.g., evident from the fact that in 1581 the Synod of Middelburg received an overture requesting the appointment of “inspectors and superintendents” to oversee the churches. This practice was followed in some congregations. But, fearing that this would lead to the same hierarchy against which the article was written, the synod rejected this overture on the grounds that it was“onnoodich ande zorghelick,” i.e., “unnecessary and dangerous.”
The principle is sound. Hierarchy of any sort has no place in the church of Christ. How often was it not necessary for the Lord to rebuke His disciples because they debated among themselves who was the greatest. Christ is the chief and only Officebearer in His church, and all other officebearers are under Him.
It is well that we define, first of all, the scope of the article in respect to this matter of equality. The article does not refer to the equality of the offices. There are three such offices in the church: the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. And, while these three offices are different in kind, they are not higher or lower offices. There is an equality of the office as such. But the article is not referring to this.
Secondly, the article does not speak of equality among officebearers of various congregations within the denomination. That all officebearers are equal is certainly in complete harmony with Scripture. But this is not the point here, as is evident from the reference to “the judgment of the consistory.”
Finally, the article is not speaking of the various individual differences among officebearers — differences in talents, experience, gifts, zeal, etc.
Rather, the article speaks of equality among those who hold the same office: ministers among ministers (where there are more than one in a congregation); elders among elders; deacons among deacons. And it speaks of equality in that which is of essential importance to the office, namely authority. All officebearers are of equal authority within their own office.
The article speaks especially of equality with respect to the duties of his office. Each officebearer must share equally in the duties of his office. In preaching, catechizing, sick visitation, family visitation, etc., the officebearers must exercise equality. The article, however, adds: “and also in other matters as far as possible.” No doubt this refers to such
matters as honor, salary, houses, etc. There is to be no subordination of any kind practiced. Even the idea of an “assistant pastor” is out of keeping with this article. This regulation does not preclude the possibility of variations in some of these things. One minister with a large family may need a larger salary than a minister without a family at all. The point is that all must be treated with equal fairness. Hence the article adds the words: “as far as possible.” It must be recognized that there are differences of time, experience, ability, circumstances, age, etc. which have to be taken into account. Exact equality in all matters is not always possible. Nor is it always wise. But the consistory itself must decide by vote on all these matters. And provision is made for appeal to classis if there is disagreement.
The office of the professors of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors.
The article goes back historically to the work of Calvin in the Academy of Geneva. From the beginning, the Reformed churches believed strongly in an educated ministry. This requires professors. While we do not consider the professor of theology to occupy a separate office (cf. notes on Art. 2), this article certainly has a valuable place in the Church Order. More often than not the heresies which sweep the church begin in the seminaries and are brought from the seminaries to the pulpits, where the people are infected.
Two duties especially are mentioned.
1) Expound the Holy Scriptures. The idea is that the exposition of Holy Scripture lies at the basis of all the subjects taught in the seminary. Professors are, therefore, to be students of God’s Word, adept at the original languages of Scripture and thorough and careful exegetes of Scripture. They must see to it that this exposition is the basis of all the teaching.
2) Vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors. It is quite obvious that these two duties cannot be separated from each other. Exposition of Scripture is necessary to accomplish the vindication of sound doctrine and will surely result in it. The errors referred to are all the errors of pagan religions, Roman Catholicism, modernistic religions, sectarian religions; but also heresies which arise within the church and constitute an immediate threat to the well-being of the church.
The duties referred to here are the duties of all ministers of the gospel. But these duties are mentioned specifically in connection with the work of professors because they are entrusted with the training of future ministers upon whom this calling will fall. They must teach the future ministers of the church to do this work. Besides, professors provide leadership within the churches in this respect. This is not because of their superior abilities and superior office; it is rather be-
cause all their time is devoted exclusively to this. Professors must therefore accomplish this in the classroom, in preaching and speaking, in books and articles, at ecclesiastical assemblies of the churches in common.
For rules governing the appointment of professors, confer the Constitution of the Theological School.
The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.
The historical background of this article dates to the Synod of Emden. That synod made provision for the support of students who would later be bound to the service of the church which supported them. This was done especially when students were sent out of the country to study at such places as Geneva, Heidelberg, Basel, and Zurich. Later the University of Leyden was established to train ministers in the Lowlands. At the time of the established church, the support of these students was taken over by the government. The money used was from the confiscated property of the Roman Catholic Church. Hence the old name for this fund: “Ex Bonis Publicis”; i.e., “Out of the Public Goods.” The name has been changed in our Churches to “Student Aid Fund.”
The duty enjoined upon the churches in common is twofold.
1) The chief duty is that the churches shall exert themselves to provide students for the ministry. From the very beginning of the Reformed churches there has been a shortage of ministers. But the Church Order, in this article, recognizes the fact that a congregation without a minister is in an abnormal situation. Nor is this abnormality alleviated by classical appointments. A congregation must, to perform her work, have a pastor of her own. But the duty described in the article is the duty of the congregations individually. If the churches are to have ministers, these ministers must come from the congregations themselves. And, indeed, upon the individual congregations falls the responsibility of preaching the gospel — though this responsibility is performed through the offices in the church.
This exertion must take place through various means. In the general training of covenant youth in catechism, preaching, and family visitation this obligation is brought to the attention of God’s people. The congregations may be admonished through the preaching to give more attention to this responsibility. The consistories may use the means of personal encouragement and admonition.
2) Secondly, the duty is placed upon the churches for the support of the students. The length of education requires considerable money. And mere money must not be an obstacle in the pursuit of the calling of the ministry. In our churches this duty is fulfilled by the churches in common. But this does not preclude the possibility of support coming from the local congregations to aid their “sons”; nor even from the classis.
This support must be “as far as necessary.” This reference is both to the need for
ministers and the support given to students. Support should, if necessary, be given throughout the whole time of education. Nor need this support be repaid, since it is support and not a loan. Repayment need be made only when a student does not enter the ministry. For additional rules, confer the Student Aid Committee Constitution.
Students who have received permission according to the rule in this matter, and persons who have according to Article 8 been judged competent to be prepared for the ministry of the Word, shall, for their own training, and for the sake of becoming known to the congregations, be allowed to speak a word of edification in the meetings for public worship.
This article has a long history marked by considerable vacillation on the question of the rightness of student preaching. The article was originally concerned with the private training of students when the work was left to individual ministers because there was no seminary. The Convention of Wezel dealt with the need for students to gain experience in preaching through the means outlined in this article.
In 1586 the Synod of ’s Gravenhage ruled favorably on the practice of student preaching. But in 1619 the Synod of Dordrecht forbade the practice. However, Dordrecht forbade the practice in part because the University could no longer be trusted. It was filled with Arminianism. The churches of the Secession in 1834 once again permitted it, but the churches of the Doleantie did not favor the practice. The Gereformeerde Kerken ruled against the practice in 1908, and this has remained the rule. In 1914 the Christian Reformed Church reinstituted the idea and composed our present version.
The article refers to the “preaching” of those still studying in the seminary and of those judged competent to preach under the provisions of Article 8. Candidates, while not referred to, are also included. The article refers, therefore, to those who are not ordained to the office.
All these are permitted to “speak a word of edification.” There is a deliberate distinction made between this word of edification and the preaching of the gospel. The difference is to be found in the fact that students may not pronounce the benedictions and may not administer the sacraments. But the basic difference is that the “preaching” of the students is not the official ministry of the Word because these students have not been ordained into office. Thus the idea of the lawful call, of the office, and of the preaching is guarded.
The question has often risen whether this is a valid distinction. Many have maintained that it is not. These point to the following considerations:
1) There is no difference in content between preaching and an edifying word.
2) If a student edifies he surely is instrumental in administering the means of grace.
3) A student is called officially by the consistory for the particular service in which he preaches.
But it is better and more scriptural to maintain the distinction.
1) It is certainly true that, ideally, there is no difference in content. But this is not the point. An ordained ambassador has divine credentials, so that he alone can bring the Word of Christ officially and authoritatively.
2) An edifying word may be a means of grace, and hopefully it is. But it is a subordinate means of grace, subordinate to the official preaching in the same sense in which society discussions and personal Bible reading are a means of grace.
3) In this day of total disregard for the official calling, it is important to insist on this aspect of the office.
The article states reasons why students should be permitted to speak an edifying word. One reason is the good of the students; the other reason is the good of the churches. There has been considerable de-
bate also on this point. The objections which have been raised are:
1) Students come with inferior sermons and are not always edifying.
2) Churches gain little benefit from these sermons.
3) The danger is always there that imperfect exposition and even false doctrine may do considerable harm.
But all these dangers can be avoided if proper supervision is given to student preaching. This supervision is, according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Theological School, left to the faculty. Supervision includes hearing the sermons to be preached in the churches, making necessary revisions and changes, judging whether a sermon is edifying, giving licensure to preach, revoking this licensure if necessary.
The advantages of this practice are real. The experience which a student gains is inestimable. The congregations receive supply when they are vacant. And the congregations come to know the students and their abilities.
The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.
The original article of the Synod of Dordrecht was adopted in 1586 at the Synod of Den Haag. This version was considerably different from our present version. It read, “Everywhere Consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters who shall not only instruct the children in reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but likewise in godliness and in the Catechism.”
There were definite reasons why this kind of article was adopted by the churches in the Netherlands. The church was then a state church standing in close connection with the government. The government was a supporter of the Reformed faith. Hence, the government operated the schools, although this operation was performed through the churches. The churches, therefore, assumed responsibility for the spiritual quality of the schools. And the church gave religious instruction in the schools. Hence the addition to the original article: “and in the Catechism.”
But in America the situation is different. Here there is separation between church and state. And the responsibility for the instruction of the children in the day schools is assumed by the parents.
This is also correct. The responsibility for the instruction of the children in the subjects of the school curriculum rests upon the parents and upon them alone. This instruction is assumed by the parents as their responsibility when they make their vows of baptism. Indeed, the church is responsible for the instruction of the seed of the covenant as far as the knowledge of Scripture is concerned and because this instruction is an official means of grace. But the instruction in the knowledge of God as He reveals Himself to His people though creation, providence, and history is a responsibility resting upon covenant parents.
The article assigns to the consistories a certain responsibility with respect to this covenant instruction given in the schools. It does not mean to establish the principle that the responsibility of establishing, maintaining, supporting, and governing Christian schools rest upon the consistories. This would be parochialism and has never been the position of the Reformed churches. But it does mean to entrust consistories with the solemn obligation to point parents to their covenant obligations and admonish parents to fulfill these obligations to the best of their ability. Note the language of the present article: “… in which parents have their children instructed….”
The consistories have this responsibility because the instruction of children comes under the spiritual supervision of the consistories. The schools which parents establish
must be “good” schools. They must be good in the spiritual and ethical sense of that word, not merely from a formal viewpoint. That is, the instruction must be, in the strictest sense of the word, Christian. The knowledge of God must be taught in every branch of learning.
This is according to the demands of the covenant. The covenant is God’s gracious bond of fellowship and friendship established with His elect people through Jesus Christ. It is a covenant which God wills shall be continued through the instrumentality of covenant instruction (cf. Gen. 18:19; Ps. 78:1-8; Prov. 22:6, etc.).
Because this important covenantal obligation rests upon covenant parents, it is part of their calling as a covenant people in the world. This calling and its fulfillment come directly under the supervision of the consistory. Hence the consistory has certain definite responsibilities in this respect.
Among these responsibilities we may mention the following: The consistory must urge the establishment of our own schools where there are none, if this is at all possible. The consistory must urge support of these schools where they exist. The officebearers in Christ’s church must pay attention to the instruction given by the teachers in the schools and encourage the teachers in their work as much as possible. They must encourage young people to study in preparation for a profession of teaching. They must discipline where there is an obvious failure to perform this sacred calling. But never, under any circumstances, must the consistory assume control of the school, the school board, or the society.
The elders shall be chosen by the judgment of the consistory and the deacons according to the regulations for that purpose established by the consistory. In pursuance of these regulations, every church shall be at liberty, according to its circumstances, to give the members an opportunity to direct attention to suitable persons, in order that the consistory may thereupon either present to the congregation for election as many elders as are needed, that they may, after they are approved by it, unless any obstacle arise, be installed with public prayers and stipulations; or present a double number to the congregation and thereupon install the one-half chosen by it, in the aforesaid manner, agreeably to the form for this purpose.
Decision pertaining to Article 22
Nominations and congregational meetings shall be announced upon two successive Sundays.
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)
While Article 21 begins a new section of the Church Order and deals with a general responsibility resting upon the consistory as a whole, Article 22 begins a discussion of regulations pertaining to the office of elder.
It was John Calvin, the Reformer of Geneva, who once again restored the office of elder to its rightful place in the church of Christ. This office had been all but lost in the Romish church. Calvin saw clearly, from Scripture, the true nature of this office and its importance in the church.
The office of elder has especially two different names in Scripture: presbuvtero" and ejpivonopo". Contrary to the position of Roman Catholicism, these two names designate the same office. They merely look at this one office from two different points of view. In proof of this, confer such passages as Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5, 7; I Timothy 3:1; I Peter 5:1, 2. References to this office are also found in Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 6, 22. From all these passages it is evident that this office of elder is a reflection of Christ’s kingly office. This office is therefore the ruling office in the church. Christ, the perfect Officebearer, unites in Himself, through His exaltation, the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. This is, in turn, reflected in His church in men who are endowed with the authority which Christ possesses and which He confers upon men of His choice. As the office of minister reflects the prophetic office of Christ, and as the office of deacon reflects the high priestly office of Christ, so also does the office of elder reflect the ruling office of Christ. The elders, therefore, constitute the ruling body in the church.
This article speaks specifically of the election of elders. Concerning this election of elders, we notice first of all that the consistory and the congregation cooperate in this work. (For a discussion of the principle involved here, cf. notes on Art. 4).
In the second place, the election of elders is essentially the lawful call of elders. That is, it is the call of Christ Himself to the office. The requirements for such a lawful call are therefore, as we may expect, essentially the same as the requirements for the lawful call of ministers.
1) Strictly speaking, the examination is eliminated. But the examination is principally performed by the necessity of choosing men who are qualified for this office. These qualifications are listed in Scripture in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The election of qualified men is of the utmost importance and must be carefully observed.
2) Election. There are two methods which can be used, according to this article, just as in the case of ministers. One method is that according to which the consistory presents a nomination of twice the number of elders needed, from which nomination the congregation chooses one-half. The second procedure is one according to which the consistory submits for approbation as many elders as are needed. It is only when this procedure is followed that the congregation must be given the opportunity to suggest suitable persons. But even then, the consistory holds the decisive vote.
3) Approbation. The approbation will necessarily be different according to the method of election in use. If the consistory submits to the approbation of the congregation as many elders as are needed, then approbation takes place only once. It is done when the congregation approves of the slate of elders. If the congregation itself votes from a nomination, then approbation takes place twice. It takes place when the nomination is submitted to the congregation for approval (cf. the footnote to the article). And it is done again when the slate of elected elders is submitted for approbation before ordination. This second approbation is required by the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, which see. Both approbations are important. The first is necessary to keep unwor-
thy and unqualified men from the important office of elders. The second is important to ensure that the men to be installed are worthy to be ordained.
4) Installation. According to the article the installation shall take place with public prayers and stipulations according to the Form for that purpose. The Form is important because, on the one hand, it makes for uniformity of practice in all the churches of the federation; and, on the other hand, it gives instruction as to the office and admonishes the congregation and the officebearers concerning their responsibilities.
There are several additional points. The article speaks of local regulations. These local regulations are adopted by each individual consistory. They may include rules on such matters as: brothers or relatives serving on the consistory at the same time; reelection of retiring officebearers; procedure at congregational meetings dealing with matters of voting, majorities, counting ballots, etc.
A footnote is added that nominations and congregational meetings must be announced on two successive Sundays. There are two reasons for this. One is to insure that all the members are informed of the nomination. The second is that opportunity may be given to bring objections against the nomination or against the election.
The office of the elders, in addition to what was said in Article 16 to be their duty in common with the minister of the Word, is to take heed that the ministers, together with their fellow-elders and the deacons, faithfully discharge their office, and both before and after the Lord’s Supper, as time and circumstances may demand, for the edification of the churches, to visit the families of the congregation, in order particularly to comfort and instruct the members, and also to exhort others in respect to the Christian religion.
Article 23 speaks of the duties of elders. The word “office” in the article is used in the same sense in which it was used in Article 16; i.e., in the sense of task or duty.
The duties of elders are only briefly described and the article is not intended to be exhaustive. There are probably several reasons for this.
1) The Wezelian Convention included a long list of the duties of elders, but this was shortened considerably by the Synod of ’s Gravenhage in 1586.
2) The duties of elders are described in more detail in other places. They are described in part in Article 16. They are described in other articles of the Church Order as, e.g., in the articles which deal with Christian discipline. They are described in the Form for Installation.
3) The purpose of the Church Order is to set forth these duties only in a general way so as to distinguish the office of elder from the office of minister and the office of deacon.
In general, the office of elder is that of government or supervision. This government is, first of all, over the congregation. The elders must see to it that they “exercise church discipline … and that everything is done decently and in good order.” This refers to the doctrine and life of all the members of the congregation. It lays also upon elders the responsibility for censure and excommunication. Each individual is under the supervision of the consistory in all his walk and life from a spiritual viewpoint. But the consistory must also supervise the organic life of the congregation in societies, congregational meetings, etc.
Secondly, the work of the consistory is that of supervision of their fellow officebearers. The purpose is to see to it that all the officebearers perform their duties faithfully. The elders must see to it that the deacons, both collectively and individually, perform the duties of their office in dispensing the mercies of Christ. The deacons are not a ruling body. They are under the supervision of the elders and are accountable to them. The minister is also under the supervision of the elders. He, too, is subject to their rule. This is true as far as his personal life is concerned. He is not above the consistory in any way. His doctrine and conversation are subject to the scrutiny of the consistory. But especially his preaching is under their supervision. But the authority of the elders must also be exercised among themselves. Each individual elder is under the supervision of the body to which he belongs.
It is important for the well being of the church that the elders faithfully perform their work. Each elder has the individual calling to watch over the church and he must, of necessity, engage in much personal labor. However, he has his authority only in conjunction with the other elders, so that no individual elder can take unilateral action. Every decision must be by the body, and the official action of the elders must be by the consistory as a whole.
This article calls special attention to the work of family visitation. It emphasizes very strongly the need of this work, devoting almost half the article to this subject.
The article requires that this work be conducted “both before and after the Lord’s Supper.” This requirement has its historical occasion in the history of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Many, in the early days, had just left the Romish church and had need of a great deal of instruction, admonition, encouragement, and help. It was necessary to inquire whether the members were prepared to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and whether, after the Supper was celebrated, they had received the benefits of this means of grace.
The article adds: “… as time and circumstances may demand.” Hence we, as a general rule, conduct family visitation once per year. But we ought never, on this account, to minimize its importance. It is a most wonderful opportunity to bring the Word of God to the individuals in the church of Christ and address that Word of God to the particular needs of each member.
The article makes this work the work of the elders, not excluding the pastor. It states the purpose of doing this work as being:
1) The edification of the church;
2) The comfort and instruction of the members;
3) The exhortation of others.
This last has caused some question. Without doubt it refers to people outside the church. This, too, has its origin in the early history of the Reformed state church. The consistory in a given area was entrusted with the responsibility of the spiritual care of all the people within its boundaries. Hence, this stipulation scarcely applies any longer as far as its historical intention is concerned. Yet it can be interpreted to refer to the calling of each consistory to perform the work of the “extension of God’s kingdom, especially the promotion of missions” (cf. the questions asked at the time of Church Visitation).
The deacons shall be chosen, approved, and installed in the same manner as was stated concerning the elders.
The office of the deacons, while instituted by the apostles in the early church, was lost in the Roman Catholic Church. It was reinstated in the churches of the Reformation which followed John Calvin’s teachings.
Article 24 deals specifically with election to the office of deacons. It prescribes the same procedure for their lawful call as for the elders. This includes, once again, all the elements of the lawful call of any officebearer (cf. Arts. 22 and 4). This is proof of the fact that the office of deacons is on a par with the other offices in the church of Christ.
While the article does not mention anything concerning the nature of the office and the qualifications of the deacons, this is quite in harmony with the Church Order. This is not done with respect to the other offices. In every case, only the election and task of officebearers is defined. Nevertheless, we may, in brief, observe the following.
As far as the nature of the office is concerned, negatively, the deacons do not constitute a business office or central accounting agency in the church. Nor are the deacons younger men in training for the office of elders to which presently they shall graduate. The office is not a natural office but a spiritual one. Positively, the office is on a par with the other offices in the church. It is instituted in the church to manifest Christ as the merciful High Priest of His people. The qualifications of the office are spiritual therefore. Men must be sought who possess these spiritual qualifications. They are unique to the office. It is quite possible that some men have qualifications for the office of deacon, but not for the office of elder. The opposite is also possible.
These qualifications are found in Acts 6:1-7 and I Timothy 3:8-12. They are summarized in the Form for the Installation of
Officebearers. These qualifications must fit the deacons for being diakonioi, i.e., those who serve. Thus, the task of deacons, though related to the material and physical needs of the people of God, is essentially a spiritual task requiring men with spiritual qualifications.
The office of deacons is frequently de-emphasized and even lost in today’s church. This is, in part, due to the inroads of government welfare; in part due to the tendency of our times to seek help from every source but the church. The office of deacons is worthy of renewed study and practice.
The office peculiar to the deacons is diligently to collect alms and other contributions of charity and, after mutual counsel, faithfully and diligently to distribute the same to the poor as their needs may require it; to visit and comfort the distressed and to exercise care that the alms are not misused; of which they shall render an account in consistory, and also (if anyone desires to be present) to the congregation, at such a time as the consistory may see fit.
This article sets forth briefly the duties of deacons and is not intended to be a detailed and exhaustive enumeration of their work. The main and prescriptive elements are mentioned.
Before we look more closely at the duties mentioned in the article, two remarks should be made. In the first place, the deacons must put forth every effort to resist the encroachment of the government into this area of the church’s calling. This must be done by instruction of the people of God and by faithful performance of the work by the deacons. Secondly, the work of the deacons must not be construed to preclude the personal acts of mercy among the saints mutually.
The duties mentioned are the following:
1) The deacons must collect the alms and other contributions of charity. There is no difference between the two words. Alms refer to gifts of mercy. The word comes from the Greek ejgehmosuvnh. Contributions of charity mean gifts in addition to the usual funds collected at the worship service. These include gifts of food, clothing, real estate, legacies, etc. Both, however, refer to gifts and not to payments. The deacons are not in business.
The article defines the office of deacons as being to collect these gifts. This is not merely a reference to passing the collection plate during the worship service. The reference is to the fact that the deacons must be able to carry on their calling by obtaining from the congregation the necessary funds. The congregation has the solemn obligation to provide the deacons with ample funds; but the congregation must be made aware of the need. There must be close cooperation between congregation and the deacons that this may be accomplished.
2) Secondly, the article mentions faithful and diligent distribution. The work must be done with faithfulness and diligence because it is the Lord Christ’s work. It is a work of mercy which reflects in the church the mercy Christ shows to His people. It must be work done promptly. The poor must not suffer. Hence the deacons must constantly be looking for those who need assistance.
Distribution implies the spiritual work of the office. The deacons must not allow their office to degenerate into a welfare office which merely mails out checks. They must bring the assistance personally (cf. below).
The standard is “according to need.” This is, of course, a matter of discretion and wisdom. Need, generally speaking, implies and includes the things of ordinary comfort. There should be, in the lives of God’s people, no lack. But it is always better, and more in keeping with the Scriptures, for the deacons to err on the side of liberality than on the side of stinginess. The need must, however, be determined by the deacons, not by the poor.
In passing we may note that Christian school tuition is certainly a need.
The article speaks of distributing the alms “after mutual counsel.” The deacons may never act individually. The matter of benevolence must be discussed in the deacons’ meetings. The needs of the poor must be discussed; the amount and kind of aid; and any other problems which may arise. It is this rule which reduces the possibility of arbitrariness and misuse of benevolent funds. But the rule does not preclude the possibility of an emergency committee of the deacons which is given power to act in matters of great urgency.
3) Thirdly, the article speaks of visiting and comforting those in distress. The deacons’ duty is not simply the relief of the material needs of God’s people. The deacons represent Christ, our High Priest; and their duty is to bring comfort and sympathy by means of the Word of God. They must do this also in connection with the alms which they distribute. Hence, their work is not only with the poor, but also with the distressed. This refers particularly to widows and orphans. But in this work they function with the authority of the Word of God (cf. the Form for Installation).
4) Fourthly, the deacons must exercise care against misuse of the alms. There are, conceivably, two evils. One is carnality on the part of the poor. The other is mismanagement of funds. The alms are not for wasteful and luxurious living. Thus the work of the deacons includes also the right to investigate the financial circumstances of the poor. They may have to advise various changes in the way in which these people live. They may have to instruct in the principles of Christian stewardship. They may have to adjust the giving of alms from time to time. They may have to distribute the alms in other ways than cash grants.
All of this implies that there must be cooperation between the deacons and the poor. On the part of the deacons, there ought never to be need for inquisition and needless invasion of privacy. On the part of the poor, there ought to be honesty and frankness to make their situation known.
5) Finally, the deacons are required to render account of their activities to the consistory. The reason for this is obvious. The deacons are not independent, but are under the supervision of the elders, who are the ruling body (cf. Art. 23). These reports to the elders should be regular, and of sufficient detail for the elders to determine whether the deacons are faithfully doing their work. A mere financial report is not sufficient.
The deacons must also render account to the congregation. This is not to gain congregational approval however. But the work of mercy is the work of the congregation, which it performs through the office of deacons. Hence, the congregation must know whether the work is being carried out. The report must be made with discretion, so that names and amounts are not revealed, and “at such a time as the consistory may see fit.”
In places where others are devoting themselves to the care of the poor, the deacons shall seek a mutual understanding with them, to the end that the alms may all the better be distributed among those who have the greatest need. Moreover, they shall make it possible for the poor to make use of institutions of mercy, and to that end they shall request the board of directors of such institutions to keep in close touch with them. It is also desirable that the diaconates assist and consult one another, especially in caring for the poor in such institutions.
In general, this article is also rooted in the history of the Reformation churches in the Lowlands. Its original formulations were made in the light of the church-state relations which existed in the Netherlands. Our present article dates back to the Synod of Dordrecht and contains some provisions not applicable to our present times. Particularly, the government engaged in works of mercy through various agencies and bureaus, and the church was forced to cooperate with them.
However, once again we reiterate the principle: the Reformation reaffirmed the work of deacons and established this office in the church. The office must be closely guarded so that no other agencies are allowed to intrude into this work. The church is solely responsible for the care of the poor.
Quite naturally, in our country several problems arise with respect to such matters as social security, unemployment benefits, old age pensions, etc. A great deal of wisdom is required to maintain the office in these respects.
The article speaks of diaconal cooperation and urges cooperation in three areas:
1) The first is “where others are devoting themselves to the care of the poor.” This refers specifically to the government in the Netherlands. In our country it would probably refer to such agencies as government welfare agencies, the Red Cross, etc. It would be preferable if this part of the article could be dropped. However, even during the Depression of the 1930s many church families were on government relief because the church was unable to care for them.
2) The second relation spoken of in the article is that between diaconates and institutions of mercy. The duty of the deacons is to “make it possible for the poor to use such institutions.” By this is meant such institutions as homes for the aged, Pine Rest, institutions for retarded children, etc. If the poor cannot afford their use, but must have this care, our deacons shall make such care available and provide for the payments.
In order that this may be done effectively, the article speaks of cooperation between the directors of such institutions and the deacons.
3) The third relation spoken of is one of mutual assistance and consultation between diaconates. This does not refer to broader diaconal assemblies comparable to classis and synod. It refers rather to mutual consultation
and assistance between local diaconates. The principles are that, while one diaconate may not intrude upon the domain of another, nevertheless the bond of unity between congregations must be expressed and enriched by diaconal cooperation. One congregation may have many poor, while another has few. The injunction of Scripture applies: “Bear one another’s burdens.”
4) Finally, as a footnote, we may observe that the first obligation of support rests upon a person’s family. This is in keeping with I Timothy 5:8. This principle is often neglected.
The elders and deacons shall serve two or more years according to local regulations, and a proportionate number shall retire each year. The retiring officers shall be succeeded by others, unless the circumstances and the profit of any church, in the execution of Articles 22 and 24, render a reelection advisable.
Decision pertaining to Article 27
In case of difficulties in the congregation, the officebearers then serving shall continue to function until their chosen successors can be installed.
(Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)
This article has a rather important history. The principle, namely that the offices of elder and deacon are not permanent, was maintained already by John Calvin. He was afraid of the hierarchy of the Romish church and found nothing in Scripture to indicate that the term of elders and deacons must be for life. He therefore instituted the principle of mandatory retirement.
In the early history of the Reformed churches, both in Geneva and in the Netherlands, the term of office was set at one year. Soon it was extended to two years. And later to a longer term yet.
Our present article dates from the 1905 revision in the Netherlands and the 1914 edition adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in our country.
At present, in the Netherlands, longer terms are common, sometimes extending five or six years. In our churches, the general rule is three years.
The principle of the article is, negatively, that the office of elder and deacon is not permanent. Scripture itself is silent on the matter. It is, therefore, a matter to be decided upon by the general principle of the well-being of the church. The chief reason for maintaining a limited tenure is the constant and very real danger of hierarchy within the church. (For detailed arguments pro and con, cf. VanDellen and Monsma, pp. 125, 126.)
The article speaks of a limited tenure, the minimum of which is to be two years. This is considered to be the minimum for effective labor in the offices referred to. Generally speaking, two years is indeed the minimum; longer terms are surely desirable. Both the profit of the officebearers individually and the profit of the congregation are served by longer terms. Even with three-year terms, one-third of the consistory changes every year. Especially when some problem is with the congregation for an extended period of time, changes in the consistory make it difficult to deal effectively with the problem. This is, however, a matter of local regulation and is under the jurisdiction of the consistory.
Definite retirement from office means that those who have filled their terms shall retire and be succeeded by others. This retirement must be on a proportionate basis. Since the retiring officebearers are to be succeeded by others, they are not eligible for reelection. The period of retirement is not
stipulated in the article. This, too, is a matter of local regulation. The minimum is, of course, one year. This minimum is the general rule in our churches for the reason that qualified men should not be idle.
Provision is made for reelection under certain circumstances. The article reads: “… unless the circumstances and the profit of any church, in the execution of Articles 22 and 24, render a reelection advisable.” This usually refers to the possibility of failing to obtain a new nomination of qualified men. But should a man be renominated without the minimum of one-year retirement, he must retire first and then be reelected.
The footnote speaks of one exception to the rule concerning retirement. It permits continuation in office in case of difficulties in the congregation. These difficulties are of such a kind that they make installation of new officebearers unwise or impossible. These difficulties may be trouble in the congregation, trouble involving one or more of the retiring officebearers, trouble involving one or more of the newly elected officebearers. Installation is then postponed temporarily.
The consistory shall take care that the churches, for the possession of their property and the peace and order of their meetings, can claim the protection of the authorities; it should be well understood, however, that for the sake of peace and material possession they may never suffer the royal government of Christ over His church to be in the least infringed upon.
Article 28, which speaks of the responsibility of the consistory with respect to church property, is a formulation adopted in 1914 by the Christian Reformed Church. The original Article 28 adopted in the Netherlands at the time of the Synod of Dordrecht spoke of a closer relation between church and state than that which is found in this country. It was more in harmony with Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. The original article reads:
As it is the duty of the Christian governments to promote the sacred services of the churches as much as possible, and to recommend their activity to all their subjects by personal example, and to assist the ministers, elders, and deacons in all cases of need or emergency, and to protect them in the execution of their tasks as governors of the churches, so also the ministers, elders, and deacons are in duty bound zealously and in sincerity to urge obedience, love, and respect toward the magistrates upon the whole congregation; they shall, moreover, make themselves good examples to the church in this matter, and through the manifestation of due respect and the establishment of correspondence with the civil authorities they shall endeavor to secure and hold the good will of the government toward the churches; to the end that, each doing his duty in the fear of the Lord, all suspicion and distrust may be avoided and that thus due cooperation may be maintained for the welfare of the churches.
While the historical occasion for this formulation is not known, Joh. Jansen speaks of two possible reasons for the adoption of the article in its original form. One is the possibility that the church wanted to secure civil approval for the Church Order with the intent to raise it to the level of civil law. The other is that the church wanted to avoid Erastianism, which the Arminians favored.
Whatever the reason may be, the present article is rooted in the view of this country that church and state must be separated. The church and state occupy two distinct Christ-given spheres of authority which may never be merged or blurred. Neither the one nor the other may intrude outside its own sphere into the sphere of another. Nevertheless, there are mutual responsibilities. The church is obligated to obey the civil authori-
ties and instruct her members to do so as long as the state does not demand obedience to some law which is a violation of God’s will. The state, in our country, is obligated to provide for peaceful Sabbath worship and to protect the property of the church.
This article, in the light of this situation, places certain responsibilities upon the consistory. The consistory must, in behalf of the congregation, protect the temporal possessions of the church. The congregation as a whole, functioning through the consistory, must act responsibly with respect to her property. The congregation is placed in the position of stewardship over the property the Lord has entrusted to her — property which is the means to promote the historical manifestation of the kingdom. The consistory must, therefore, take care that the church is in a legal position to claim the protection of the civil magistrates. This involves, first of all, organization and incorporation. While incorporation is not specifically mentioned in the article, this matter is referred to in the questions asked by the church visitors, which confer. This is not only a matter of right; it is a matter of duty, according to the article.
But there is an important limitation. The Church Order recognizes the fact that the state is often hostile to the church; that the state has in the past and will in the future attempt to impose itself upon the sphere of the church. This must never be permitted. The church owes her allegiance in all these matters solely to Christ her Head. Hence, the church must resist any effort on the part of the state to infringe upon Christ’s royal government in the church, even if it means loss of peace and temporal possessions.