The tenth article of our Church. Order reads as follows: “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.”
“Let all things be done decently and in good order.” These Scriptural words, as Calvin observes, express “a rule by which we must regulate everything that has to do with external piety.” In this connection, however, we would apply them particularly to the minister who receives and is called upon to consider a call from another congregation than the one he serves. Either an acceptance or a decline of the call may have far reaching effects upon the churches concerned as well as the future course of one’s ministry. Good order is fundamentally abiding in the will of the Lord and without this all labor in the ministry of the word is made ineffective. It is then especially imperative that the minister considering a call do the right and orderly thing in order that the Lord’s blessing upon his labor and the church he serves may not be impaired.
That the churches are also aware of the importance of this matter is evident from the tenth article of the church order which sets forth an orderly procedure to be followed and which safeguards, in as far as possible, against all abuse. It provides the minister with the liberty to consider and decide upon calls received while also requiring the consistory to acquiesce in the decision made. This implies that the minister does not consider and decide wholly on his own but takes his consistory into consultation in the matter in order that the ultimate decision may be mutually agreeable. Following this procedure each consistory member must avoid imposing his own selfish wishes upon the situation and remember it to be his duty to be resigned to the Lord’s way which is for the best interest of the church. One cannot be moved by carnal and ulterior motives in deciding spiritual things.
It can be shown that historically this article has been interpreted so that the function of the consistory consisted in much more than giving consent. This body would make the decision and to this the minister would acquiesce or, if he could not agree, appeal the matter to the Classis. This is based upon the position that the bond of union between a pastor and his congregation is of such a nature that it cannot be broken by any single individual. The minister alone cannot sever this tie. With this we can agree but whether the consistory has the prerogative to decide upon a call that is addressed to her minister is a question which is open to debate. There is no doubt that the consistory must have a voice in the matter but that voice need not be exclusive nor decisive. Its limitations and power must be clearly marked in order that its abuse may be prevented.
Considering Article 10 we fail to see that it gives credence to the thought that consistories are empowered to decide in the matter of ministerial calls. More than one factor brings us to this conclusion. In the first place, the article itself speaks of the consistory giving consent which in the Dutch isbewilliging. This is not the same as to decide. One can give consent or agree with a matter that has already been decided upon but then the action of decision proceeds the expression of consent. If, then, it is the prerogative of the consistory to consent, it is implied that the decision is made by another. It would be foolish to state that a consistory must give consent to its own decision.
It might, perhaps, be pointed out that the minister is really deprived of the power of decision if his decision is ineffective until he obtains consistorial consent. Without her consent he cannot accept a call. It appears then that the ultimate power of decision in the matter still reposes in the consistory. This would be quite true if consent meant only approbation of the decision made. Then the consistory would in effect make the decision real or have it annulled by her final action. For this we find no justification but rather interpret consent to also imply the granting of the right or permission to the minister to consider and decide upon a call received. The thought then is that a minister cannot consider a call until his consistory has given its consent. It stands to reason then that the consistory that grants this prior consent will also acquiesce in whatever decision is reached. In this way the consistory exercises her rightful authority in the matter at the proper juncture and the freedom of the minister to consider and decide upon the call is not infringed upon. And, this does not exclude mutual consultation in arriving at the decision. Likewise in justice to the matter should the minister consult with the consistory of the calling church.
In the second place it must be considered that the first part of this article cannot be separated from the last part. Giving consent is connected with granting a proper certificate of dismissal. This does not mean that when a consistory grants her minister permission to consider a call she gives him a dismissal certificate but it does imply that should he feel inclined to accept the call the proper certificate would not be withheld. If there are reasons or circumstances for which a consistory cannot give proper dismissal to her minister, she should not even allow him to consider a call to another church. Such situations could and frequently do exist. Suppose that the minister’s teachings are called in question or that the uprightness of his walk is disputed and the consistory is investigating. Suppose there is trouble in the church in which the minister is personally involved so that his leaving might be detrimental to the entire congregation if he left without clearing the matter. No consistory may before God subscribe to the certificate of dismissal of ministers under those circumstances and to do so is to be dishonest with God and the sister church to whom they commend their minister. To avoid the more difficult situation where the minister accepts the call and then must be defused the proper dismissal credentials, it is better that the consistory withhold the right to even consider. Perhaps it is not the easiest course to follow but then it is not a question of utility. It is a matter of good order! Often consistories in difficult situations have followed the course of least resistance and to avoid further trouble or to get rid of the undesirable have granted their minister dismissal when they should never have done so. The consequence of such action can only be the perpetuation of misery. Consistories must be honest before God and consider then the testimonial to which they must subscribe when they send their minister to another church. We quote it here in full with the italics our own: “The consistory of the Protestant Reformed Church of ______________ declares by these presents that the Rev. _____________ in this church from _______ 19____ to _____ 19____ has ministered in the office of minister of the divine word faithfully and diligently, adhering in doctrine and life to the word of God, as interpreted by our forms of unity and the church order.
And considering that sufficient reasons have been adduced for the consistory to acquiesce in his acceptance of the call of the church of _________, we unhesitatingly recommend him to the classis ____________ and to the church of ____________ with the prayer that the great King of the church, who says to this of His servants ‘go’, and he goeth, and to that one ‘come and he cometh, may make him there also a rich blessing.
Resolved to give him this testimonial of dismissal at our meeting of _________ 19_________.”
Now the part of this credential which we have italicized is especially important. The consistory in giving consent to the acceptance of a call by her minister does more than sever the tie that once bound them. She also testifies that her pastor has been “faithful and diligent to the Word of God in doctrine and in life.” She “recommends him without hesitation to the Classis and the church that has called him.” Unless she can do so in good conscience before God she may not consent to release him nor should she permit him even to consider a call elsewhere. Her task and duty, as consistory, is to “take heed that the minister faithfully discharge his office” (Art. 23 D.K.O.) and if that is not done she may not simply get rid of him by releasing him to another church but she must faithfully administer discipline over him.
It seems to us, therefore, that it belongs to the work of the consistory to see to it that all things are in suchgood order that her minister can consider another call should it be received. Not the minister is to determine whether all is in that order but this is left to the judgment of the consistory. Upon her consent the minister is then free to decide upon a call according to the dictates of his conscience.
Let us suppose, however, that all things are in good order so that there is no reason for a consistory to refuse permission to consider a call. The minister decides that he must accept a call. The consistory, however, wishing to retain the services of a faithful minister expresses that it is its judgment that the Lord wills him to remain with her. Whose decision is in such an instance to stand? It would seem that both the consistory and the minister should weigh carefully each other’s reasons and attempt to come to an agreement. If this is impossible, which is very unlikely, the matter might be referred to the Classis for disposal. In no case, however, ought a consistory to attempt to bind the conscience of her minister who feels the Lord calls him to another place of labor.