“Ministers already in the ministry of the Word, who are called to another congregation, shall likewise be called in the aforementioned 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.”
The above article defines the proper procedure to be followed by a consistory of a vacant congregation in extending a call to one who is already stationed in the ministry of the Word. In so far it is repetitious of Art. 4 as there is no essential difference in calling a candidate or one already engaged in the ministry. The only difference is that the latter is not required to resubmit to examination before Classis and the ceremony of the laying on of hands it not reenacted at his installation. Hence, it would be redundant to repeat what has been written under the previous article.
There are, however, in the above article certain points of interest that are worthy of brief consideration. Although it is seldom practiced, our church order here allows for the possibility of one of our churches calling a minister of the word from outside our own denominational circles. To the knowledge of the undersigned this has been done only twice in our brief history and in both instances the calls extended were declined. Our church in Oskaloosa, Iowa at one time extended a call to Rev. P. De Koekkoek and our Roosevelt Park church (now Second Grand Rapids) called Rev. J. De Haan, both from the Christian Reformed Church. Our churches have no rule of limitation in this matter except that which is also incorporated in this fifth article of the church order which states that “the minister called must show good ecclesiastical testimony of doctrine and life” and, of course, without these testimonials a minister called from without could not be installed with Classical approbation. Whereas, then, these credentials are in themselves a potent safeguard and the possibility of any of our churches acquiring a minister from without is very small, it hardly appears necessary that the churches add a special ruling on this matter. But in the Netherlands and also in the Reformed and Christian Reformed Churches in this country this provision of Article 5 of the D.K.O. has had rather promiscuous usage.
Consistories of vacant churches must also consider that ministers who have not served in their present charge for more than two years are not eligible for a call. This rule is not inviolable. There may be instances where a consistory has very preponderant reasons to place a name on the nomination of one who has served his present congregation less than two years and no one can deny them that right. It belongs to their autonomy. Everyone of our ministers in good standing are eligible at any time for call but before any church will call one contrary to the general rule, they should have valid reason that is convincing to their counselor who must also give an account to the Classis. And if the counselor and the consistory cannot agree as to the validity of the reasons given, the call must be held in abeyance until the advice of the Classis itself can be obtained.
There is undoubtedly good sense in this reasoning. It is generally agreed that too short pastorates are detrimental to the churches and the minister himself. It takes time for a minister to work into his congregation and he himself must feel that it is virtually impossible to do any real constructive work in less than two or three years. The deepest spiritual need of the congregation is discovered only after intensive and lengthy labor and the longer a minister works in the congregation the more he discovers this need. Besides this, especially in smaller churches it becomes a financial impossibility to obtain a new minister every two or three years. Moving expense is no small item and where distances are great it could and sometimes does create a real hardship.
Likewise consistories are advised to refrain from calling the same minister more than once during the period of one year without the advice of the Classis. The reason for this is to be found in the very seriousness of the call. If, after prayerful consideration, one is moved to decline a call, that decision must be considered final. It is not likely that circumstances will be so altered within a year’s time so as to justify the reversal of such an important decision. However, whereas that is not altogether impossible, room is allowed for the exception.
When then a minister in a fixed charge receives a call from another church, he is confronted with a serious question. He must prayerfully ascertain whether the Lord would have him continue in his present place of labor or whether the call received is indicative that the Lord has appointed him to a new field. Unless his motivation in seeking a decision is to do the will of Christ, who says to one servant, “Go here” and to another “Go there,” it will not go well with him no matter what his decision may be. The servant of the Lord must be ready to labor wherever the Lord will send him whether it is to his liking or not.
Oft times, however, sinful and selfish considerations move men to either accept or decline a call. Life is full of sin and its results and the ministry, too, is not wholly freed from its contamination. A minister may tire of his present charge and may openly or secretly solicit the vacant churches for a call. Such practices are always to be condemned for it is God who calls to the office of the ministry, through His church, and none should ever, therefore, solicit as he would for an ordinary secular position. Likewise, one might accept a call for reasons of personal gain or honor. The offer of a larger salary may be a sinful enticement to leave a congregation that is very much in need of his continued services or the fact that the calling church is considerably larger and has more prestige and recognition may be a sinful motivation. The minister may be sinfully lazy and so eagerly avail himself of the opportunity to enter a new charge where, as it is sometimes rather crudely put, “he can turn the pile over.”
If, however, the minister of these and similar considerations leaves his congregation contrary to the Lord’s will, he may be sure that the blessing of God will not follow him in his new field of labor. What he secretly coveted and thought to be gain will prove to be to his own detriment even as our Heidelberg Catechism states in Lord’s Day 50, “Neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts can profit us without thy blessing.”
And God cannot be mocked!
On the other hand, it is also conceivable that the Lord sometimes speaks through natural circumstances directing his servants in the way He would have them go. There may be, for example, a minister with a large family serving in a small congregation that is incompetent to provide adequate support. He may receive a call to a larger church that is able to provide his needs and those of his family. It may be the Lord’s way of relieving the smaller church of an unfortunate situation. (P.S.—Another way of relieving this kind of situation is that the smaller church receives adequate support from the Churches at large to meet its obligations.)
A minister may be hampered by his consistory or parishioners making his labor virtually impossible. Because of some past difficulties the church may refuse to give him their support and cooperation so that his ministry becomes stagnant. In such circumstances the Lord may assign him another place where he is able to labor with fruit. Yet, it must also be borne in mind that a minister may not seek another call as an escape from a difficult situation for then his troubles will only follow him but after he has done the utmost to rectify the situation and it has become obvious that future labor is impossible is he justified in accepting another charge. The necessity of a change in pastorate may be providentially created when the climate of a certain locality impairs the health of the minister making his labor difficult and so many things need to be taken into consideration.
The minister, in distinction from the candidate, is given three weeks to consider and furnish a reply to the call extended. Normally this is long enough although if circumstances warrant it, he may be granted a brief extension of time. This extension, if granted, should under no circumstances be indefinite so that the congregation is left endlessly waiting. It should he definitely stated as to when a reply is expected. If after that time no answer is forthcoming and the minister offers no valid reason for his indecision, the call should be revoked and a new nomination made and another call extended. In considering a call the minister must consult with and receive the consent of his own consistory for unless he does this he cannot receive the required credentials in the event he should choose to accept. Without these credentials no other church may receive him. These credentials, according to the present article of our Church Order, must also receive the approval of the Classis the minister is leaving as well as the one he is entering. We hope, D.V., to discuss them in connection with Article 10 and in the present connection are only to note that the granting of credentials by any consistory must never be a mere matter of “processing a form” but must be done in integrity to God and the sister church.
—G. Vanden Berg