Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
To Article 4 of the Church Order, which deals with the lawful calling of ministers of the gospel, four decisions have been appended by our Protestant Reformed Churches. These four decisions concern the method of the election of a minister, the duties of the classical counselor or moderator, and the peremptoir and praeparatoir examination of candidates.
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, to decide the number of legal votes cast in order to determine how many votes a candidate must receive to have the majority which is required to his election.
This decision appended to Article 4 specifies that in the Protestant Reformed Churches the election of a minister shall take place according to the second method mentioned in Article 4. The election of the minister to be called is not to be made by the consistory, but by the congregation, from a slate of suitable nominees presented by the consistory. This nomination consists usually, but not invariably, of a trio of eligible ministers or candidates. This trio is to be announced for the approbation of the congregation on at least two successive Sundays.
This decision also specifies who are permitted to vote at the congregational meetings. Those who may vote at the congregational meetings are those male confessing members who are in good and regular standing in the congregation.
Certain groups are excluded from participating in the congregational meetings. It is not permitted that women vote in the congregational meetings of the church. There are good reasons for this. For one thing, to vote in the congregational meetings is to participate in the rule of the church. The Scriptures expressly forbid rule in the church to women (I Tim. 2:11, 12; I Cor. 14:34, 35). In addition, it may be argued that the right to vote in the matter of those who hold office carries with it the right to hold office, which the Scriptures also expressly forbid to the woman.
One of the departures from the Church Order by Reformed churches in recent years concerns this matter of participation by the women in the congregational meetings. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1957 decided that “women may participate in congregational meetings with the right to vote subject to the rules that govern the participation of men. The question as to whether and when the women members of any church shall be invited to participate in the activities of its congregational meetings is left to the judgment of each consistory.” The Synod of 1972 reaffirmed the decision of 1957: “Synod reaffirms that it is the right of women members, as full members of Christ and his church and sharers in the office of believers, to participate in and vote at congregational meetings on a level of equality with men.”
This is a departure from the policy and practice of the Reformed churches of the past. The granting of women the right to vote at the congregational meetings has paved the way for the clamor of our day that the offices be opened up to the women.
Besides women, this decision also prohibits two other groups from participating in the congregational meetings. Baptized members are forbidden to vote in congregational meetings. And those under censure (discipline) may not participate in the congregational meetings. Censure involves the revocation of the privileges of church membership, one of which is voting.
This decision also establishes certain regulations for the actual election. An election shall be decided by a simple majority, not two-thirds or three-fourths. That majority shall be based on the total number of ballots actually cast.
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.
Every vacant congregation is to have appointed for it a classical counselor or moderator. This moderator is to be appointed by the classis itself, or, if classis is not in session, by the classical committee. This moderator is usually the minister from the nearest neighboring congregation.
The special duty of the moderator is “. . . . to represent the classis in the process of the election . . . .” of a new minister. He is to approve the nominations made by the consistory to the congregation. It is best that this approval be in writing and not just over the telephone. If possible, the moderator is to preside over the congregational meeting at which the election takes place. He is to see that the details of the call-letter are in order and that he himself signs the call-letter. Usually the moderator also has charge of the installation service when the call of the congregation is accepted.
In addition to his involvement in the election of a new minister, a moderator may serve in other capacities. The decision provides for his serving the congregation and consistory “. . . with advice in case of difficulty . . . .” He may also install new elders and deacons, administer the sacraments, conduct weddings and funerals, etc.
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.
This decision concerns the classical examination, also called the decisive examination, the examination by which one is actually admitted to the ministry. Early in the history of the Reformed churches the necessity of examination of those seeking admittance into the office of the ministry became apparent. Many who sought admittance had little or no formal training. Many were entirely lacking in the necessary gifts for the office. An examination was necessary, that the churches might determine whether or not those aspiring to the office possessed the necessary gifts for the office. The first general synod of the Reformed Churches of Holland, the Synod of Wesel, 1568, instituted such an examination.
Initially this was the only examination to which candidates were subjected. At first the classis itself conducted the examination. In time the responsibility for the examination was given over to the universities. After the Arminian controversy, the classis once again assumed the direct responsibility for the examination.
Some noteworthy points ought to be made with respect to this decision.
First, the candidate to be examined ought to produce at the classis the following: 1) his certificate of membership from the congregation of which he is a member; 2) his diploma from the theological school; 3) the call-letter from the calling church.
Secondly, the decision states that the specimen sermon is to be preached “. . . before the congregation in the presence of classis.” This implies that the candidate shall preach at an official worship service called by the consistory that is hosting the classis. This is not consistently done in our churches.
Thirdly, the contents of the peremptoir examination as outlined by the decision appended to Article 4 points to improvements that could be made in the curriculum of our theological school. The peremptoir examination calls for candidates to be examined in the knowledge of the confessions. At present only one semester is devoted to all three of our confessions. This course is called “Reformed Symbols.” One semester simply does not do justice to a study of the creeds by the seminary student. At the very least a semester ought to be devoted to each of our three creeds. Also the candidate is to be examined in controversy, or apologetics. Presently this is not even a course taught in our seminary. If apologetics is part of the peremptoir examination, it certainly ought to be part of the curriculum of the seminary.
Finally, voting on the examination is to be by secret ballot. This brings up a matter of proper procedure. The general rule in ecclesiastical assemblies ought always to be that voting is by secret ballot when the vote involves persons. It is understood that a simple majority is necessary for the candidate to pass the peremptoir examination.
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 re-examination in those branches in which he appeared unsatisfactory.
This decision prescribes the praeparatoir or synodical examination. This is an oral examination before the synod that is conducted by the faculty of the theological school. For this examination candidates must be recommended by the faculty and by the Theological School Committee. In practice in our churches this has become the more decisive examination. It is a much more thorough examination than the classical examination.
The contents of the praeparatoir or synodical examination are as follows:
1. Specimen sermon.
2. Introduction to Dogmatics and Dogmatics proper.
3. Old Testament History.
4. New Testament History.
5. Church Polity.
6. Church History.
8. In addition, students are required to fulfill written assignments in translating, parsing, and exegeting Hebrew and Greek, the Biblical languages.
From time to time the question is raised whether it is really necessary for prospective ministers to sustain two examinations prior to ordination. Rev. G.M. Ophoff comments on this matter:
In a communion of churches with a seminary of its own and under its sole and strict control, the peremptory examination is superfluous. It is obviously unnecessary. Further, if the synod decides that an aspirant is qualified for the office, a classis cannot decide otherwise without militating against Article 31 (D.K.O.), for according to this article whatever a major assembly agrees upon by a majority of votes shall be considered settled and binding unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles of the Church Order. Finally, it must be considered strange that an aspirant should be examined with a view to determining his fitness for the office after he has received a call. Examinations for this purpose should preceed and not follow the call.
In favor, however, of retaining both examinations are the following considerations. First, there is a decided difference of emphasis in the two examinations. The emphasis of the praeparatoir examination is on the knowledge and grasp of the Reformed faith of the candidate. The emphasis of the peremptoir examination is on the personal gifts and qualifications necessary for the office of the ministry. Secondly, even though admittedly there is some overlapping and some repetition in the two examinations, having two examinations introduces an added safeguard against unqualified persons entering the ministry.
One practical consideration is whether the classical examination ought not to be made more important and substantive than it currently is in our churches. In practice, the synodical exam has supplanted the classical examination as the more decisive examination.
This decision also establishes certain guidelines for the calling of candidates. It prescribes that they may not be called in less than a month after their synodical examination. The purpose of this is to give all the vacant churches an equal opportunity to acquaint themselves with and call a candidate. In our small denomination this is usually not necessary. Most of the churches are familiar with the candidates.
Candidates are also given six weeks to consider calls. Ministers usually receive three weeks to consider calls. This provision, once again, allows all the vacant congregations the opportunity to extend calls to the available candidates. Although a candidate may take six weeks in the consideration of a call, this is not required of him.
Finally, this decision provides for the possibility of the reexamination of a candidate who has not satisfactorily sustained a certain part of this peremptoir (classical) examination. This could be done only if, notwithstanding his failure of a part of the exam, the congregation who originally called him still desires him to be their minister. This implies that this matter would have to be voted on at a congregational meeting. Such re-examination would have to be done at the next meeting of the classis.