In our last article we stated that we believed that the current practice of permitting the minister to decide calls received from other churches is correct. We base this upon the fact that the call is addressed to him and not to his consistory. It is a call for his person, gifts, talents and services. The calling church through its call-letter urgently requests him as an individual servant of Christ to come over and help them. To that request he, and he alone, can and must respond according as the king of the church speaks in his heart, “go here” or “go there.” If this were not the case the form and content of the call letter would be a hoax. 

We also stated that the consistory must have a voice in the matter. Hers is the prerogative to either grant or refuse her minister the right to consider a call from another church. In the event of an acceptance of the call she must issue the necessary credentials of dismissal. The consistory must sever the bond between pastor and the congregation. In the event local circumstances are such that this would be improper and contrary to good order, the consistory must refuse the right to even consider a call elsewhere. 

It was also stated that in the process of considering a call mutual consultation between the pastor and the consistory of the church he serves is very necessary. The matter vitally concerns the congregation and her interest and well-being may not be bypassed in the minister’s consideration of a new field of labor. This danger is ever present and especially so when labors in a certain place are difficult and somewhat discouraging. Then consistory, therefore, should lay before the minister what she regards as best for the congregation. Through prayer and good counsel a proper decision will be reached.

We also wrote last time that this procedure was not always followed in Reformed churches and for that reason the original intention of the tenth article of our church order was quite different from the interpretation we now give to it. When this article was composed, the consistory or the classis decided the call instead of the minister. Examples of this may be cited. In 1601 Rev. Vosculius of Epe wanted to accept a call from Steenwijk but the classis resolved that he should stay and so he did. In 1604 William Crynsz, minister of Maasland, accepted a call from Den Briel. The church of Maasland and the classis of Delft resolved that he should stay. It was not until Crynsz had gained from the synod of South Holland a reversal of the decision of the two aforementioned bodies that he left the congregation to which he was connected. Rev. Hanecopius of Breda accepted a call from Gouda in 1620. Contrary to the advice of the particular Synod of South Holland, Breda insisted that their pastor should stay. Breda’s resolve was honored. Hanecopius did not leave for Gouda. 

Was this practice right? We think not but, nevertheless, it continued unabated until about the middle of the seventeenth century. Without attempting to justify this practice (for we think it was wrong), we may try to explain it. We must remember that during this period many ministers in the Reformed churches were guilty of wrong doing. Some of them began to preach without an examination and without a calling. Others were self-made itinerant preachers. Still others, stationed in a particular place; grew tired of their labor there and without the consent of the consistory and without notifying the classis they would simply leave as they saw fit. Though they did not receive another call they would go out and seek greener pastures for themselves and so became affiliated with another congregation. It was particularly against this last mentioned abuse that the tenth article of our church order was composed. Later many thoughtful men in the Reformed churches saw that the article was not altogether competent and that the treatment afforded many ministers under it was unjustifiable. The need for some change was felt. This became evident in 1771 when the following declaration was incorporated in the “Compendium of the Ecclesiastical Laws of Vriesland”: 

“dat het een beroepen dienaar vrij zal staan, zijne conditie te stellen in het aannemen zijns dienst (zoo hij eenige heeft, die der wille Gods en Zijn Woord gelijkvormig zijn) en in zulken geval zal men een vroom dienaar niet bezwaren in zijn conscientie, als hij billijke reden van vertrek zal hebben.” (“that a called minister shall be free to stipulate his condition (that is, if he has any, conformable to the Word of God and His Word), and in such a case one shall not burden the conscience of a pious minister, if he shall have a just reason for his departure.”) 

Although this rule did not at one radically alter the practice of letting the consistory decide the call, it was the beginning of a change that gradually transferred the right to decide the call from the consistory to the minister. Thus writes Ds. H. Bouwman in his “Gereformeerd Kerkrecht,” pg. 445: 

“Het recht eener kerk of van een meerdere vergadering, om het aanvaarden eener roeping te keeren, was tot aan het einde der 17de eeuw onbetwist. Daarna veranderde de beschouwing. Men erkende, dat men toch een dienaar niet tegen zijn zin kan dwingen.” (“The right of a church or of a broader gathering to stop the acceptance of a call was undisputed until the end of the 17th century. After that the conception changed. One acknowledged that one could not force a minister against his own conviction (zin).”) 

Then later in writing about the “consent” of Art. 10 the Prof. has the following to say: “Welk karakter draagt deze bewilligirig? In de 16e en 17e eeuw, zoo hebben wij gezien, lag de beslissing feitelijk in handen van de kerkeraad en classis, maar sedert de tweede helft der 17e eeuw werd aan den dienaar al meer de vrijheid van beslissing gelaten. Dit is ook noodig. De dienaar des Woords zelf is de geroepene, en hij is voor God en voor de gemeente verantwoordelijk, dat hij in deze roeping niet willekeurig handelt. Een dienaar, die leeft voor des Heeren kerk, zal het niet licht opnemen, wanneer eene roeping to hem komt, en zal niet alleen overwegen, wat voor hem zelven goed is, maar ook wat tot het welzijn der kerk dienstbaar is. Een beroepen dienaar zal de zaak der roeping stellen voor het aangezidht des Heeren en van Hem smeeken licht en wijsheid, opdat hij eene rechte keuze kan doen. Hij zal ook, indien de verhouding goed is, raadplegen met zijne kerkeraad.” (“What character does this consent bear? In the 16th and 17th century we saw that the decision lay factually in the hands of the consistory and the classis, but since the second half of the 17th century the liberty of the decision was left more and more with the minister. And that was also necessary. The servant of the Word himself is the one that is called, and he is responsible, both to God and the congregation, that he will not act arbitrarily. A minister who lives for the Lord’s church shall not take it lightly when a call is extended to him, and shall not only consider what is good for himself, but also what will serve the wellbeing of the church. A minister receiving a call will bring the entire matter of that call before the face of the Lord and. will supplicate Him for light and wisdom in order that he may be able to make a correct choice. He will also, that is, if the relationship is harmonious, enter into consultation with his consistory.”) 

With this we heartily agree. Neither is it necessary that the present article of our church order be changed. In its present form it is capable of this interpretation as we showed in our last article. We must remember that if the consistory decides, an unreasonable consistory may easily do injustice to a pious minister. If, on the other hand, the minister has the sole right to decide, an unscrupulous minister abusing this privilege does injustice to the church. And these things are simply actualities which exist in this present world of sin in which the church for a time must abide. The only safe course, therefore, as we see it, is that the consistory decides the right to consider and that the minister, given that right, has the responsibility of the decision. 

In concluding our discussion of this article we may take note that it stipulates that acceptance of a call shall be done “with knowledge on the part of the classis.” In the Dutch this is “voorweten,” prior or foreknowledge. Just what does this mean? 

In the commentary of Monsma and Van Dellen this is interpreted to mean that “the minister who desires to accept a call to another church must, therefore, seek consent from his consistory not only, but also the approval of the Classis. And that before he notifies the calling church that he has accepted their call.” The minister then could send a provisional letter of acceptance to the church concerned. He should notify the consistory of the calling church that he has determined to accept the call of their church, that his present consistory has given consent, and that he is seeking classical approval.”

Perhaps this, too, was common practice in the churches a few centuries ago. Yet, the question arises as to whether it is proper and whether it does not vest in the classis a power that does not belong there. It is not the current practice in our Protestant Reformed Churches we know. The classis is not asked to approve of the acceptance of calls nor is it informed of these acceptances before they are officially made. When a minister accepts a call, the consistory dismissing him sends the credentials to the Classical Committee or if Classis is about to meet to the Classis itself. This is done after and not before the acceptance of the call. The classis (or through its committee), finding these credentials in order approves them and sends them to the calling church with this additional credential: 

“The classical committee of Classis _______________ having examined the above credentials, approves them and herewith authorizes the counselor of the church of ________________ to proceed to the installation. 

The above named classical committee.” It appears that this procedure is neither giving consent nor dissent, approving nor disapproving of the acceptance of the call. It is merely expressing satisfaction that the credentials given by the dismissing consistory are in good order. Thereupon it can advise to proceed with installation. Neither does it appear right that a classis exercises the right of approbating, the acceptance of a call. The aforementioned commentary states as a reason for which classis should have this opportunity the following:

“Because then classis has a very definite interest in the matter. There may be so many vacancies in the classis or in the neighborhood of the church which the minister concerned is serving, that in the estimation of the classis he cannot well be spared at that time. Classis may also judge that the continued labors of that particular minister are very desirable in the church which he is serving.” 

With this we disagree. Classis is an advisory body. Only in instances when there is sharp disagreement between a consistory and minister in this matter may she express herself. Then she is requested to do so. Apart from such cases she must confine herself to “examining the credentials.” The rest lies outside her jurisdiction. If Classis does more, it would seem she would also have the right to extend calls which she never does except through a particular consistory and congregation.