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We were discussing the last time the various methods which are used to support emeritus ministers. The most common practice is that such support is taken from a common fund which is set up by all the churches for this purpose. This practice is in usage in our churches and is also; in accord with the provisions of our church order, “. . . . and shall provide out of the Common fund of the churches, according to the general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.” From a practical point of view, however, this method encounters serious difficulties just as soon as the number of emeritations in the denomination becomes large. Either the ministers are not provided adequately “in their need” or the burden of assessment for this fund weighs so heavily upon the churches that other important activities must necessarily be retarded. There is, of course, a reasonable limitation to all things. Although our churches as yet have not been confronted by this problem it may be time to do some serious thinking and planning along these lines as some of our ministers are advancing in years and we do not know how soon the occasion may present itself when we will have to properly support several who may become inactive. When that becomes necessary the resources built up in a fund over a period of years are soon depleted. What then? 

In the previous issue of the Standard Bearer we also introduced the Pension Plan which is in current use in the Christian Reformed Churches. Concerning this plan we must now make a few comments. The plan itself is no doubt a sincere attempt to solve a difficult problem but our opinion of it is that it is both a wrong attempt and an inadequate solution. That it is inadequate is evident from just a precursory study of the limitations specified in the plan as these are applied to concrete situations. For example, just recently a young minister in the Christian Reformed Church, met with sudden death. He leaves a widow and five small children. She must be provided with housing and support for the family. If she is able to draw from both the Pension and Relief Funds the limitation is specified that she is to receive no more than fifty per cent of the average minister’s salary in that denomination plus one hundred and seventy five dollars per year for each child until they attain to majority. (Unless these figures have been changed in late years). This is the maximum to which she is entitled and when this income is compared to the current cost of living index it will become apparent that it will have to be subsidized in some other way or will fail to adequately provide for this family. For this kind of security (?) a minister is requested to contribute three per cent of his annual income. From a purely material point of view he would be wiser to invest the same premium in some life insurance policy where the dividends far exceed those the church is able to pay. Insurance companies have capital assets to back up these investments which the church; does not. When the church attempts to mimic these corporations, she makes a rather poor showing. By comparison she is unable to compete. To meet with any degree of success she must necessarily 6nter into the field of business itself which does not belong to her domain. As long as she does not do this any investment in such a plan would be worldly-wise foolish. Materially speaking one can find more sound security and more profitable investments than those embodied in the Pension Plan. 

There is, it seems to me, a still more serious defection in this plan. The principle upon which the rule in, our church order governing emeritation rests is that a minister who has given his life to the service of the church is entitled to honorable support when by reason of age or other infirmities he is no longer able to be active in the work of the ministry of the word. The churches are duty bound to care for him in his need. He has the right to that support. It is proper that those who labor in the gospel should olive of the gospel. (I Cor. 9:14) It is not, as we wrote before, a matter of charity but rather a matter of the obligation of the church toward the ministry of the gospel of Christ. Now this principle the Pension Plan in part destroys when it requires the ministers of the word to provide for their own emeritation. To deprive the church of either her spiritual or material obligations is a serious injustice. To lay aside principle for reasons of expediency can only result in the demoralization of all concerned. If, therefore, our present system of providing for emeritation is to be abandoned for another, we must proceed cautiously and carefully so that no principle is abused and make sure before initiating any change that it will really be an improvement. We do concede that there is room for serious consideration of this problem but that we are ready to enact any radical change in the method we have followed we are not prepared to admit. As the Dutch saying has it, “Alle verandering is geene verbetering.” 

E. Conclusion. 

In concluding this subject there are yet two things which are worthy of brief comment. The first of these is the phrase appearing in Article 13 of the D.K.O., “. . . . shall provide honorably in their need.” We have in mind particularly the last three words. Concerning the meaning of this phrase there is some difference of opinion. Some opine that “in their need” in Art. 13 is equivalent in meaning to the expression “proper support” in Art. 11 and if that is so the thought conveyed is that a retired minister and his dependents are entitled to full support from the churches whether they have need of it or not. Even though they may have other sources of income which will adequately provide for them, they can claim support in addition to this from the church which he last served. This view rests upon the axiom that the support implicit in emeritation is not a charity but a right. 

Others, however, understand this phrase to mean just what it says. It then refers to actual needs, needs which exist because the parties concerned have no other means of support. This interpretation means that an emeritus minister who is financially in a position to provide for his own needs is not entitled to material support from the churches and the churches are not obligated to provide for him. This view appears to be the most reasonable although it is not without difficulty. The difficulty is this. The right that a minister has to support after emeritation is derived from his having given his life to the services of the churches. How can the mere fact that he has a certain amount of this earth’s goods deprive him of that right? Certainly this right is not determined by the measure of one’s wealth. Didn’t the one who has much give his services just as fully as the one who has need? Are they not both, by virtue of this service entitled to the same rights? On the other hand, it is difficult to conceive of a minister of the gospel who has sufficient earthly provisions desiring to be an added burden to the churches in the years of his retirement. Consequently a real problem on this score is not likely to arise although the possibility of such a problem does exist. Beside this it may, be said that the idea of “providing” or “supporting” seems to imply the circumstances of need. The request for such support it seems would arise out of the need that exists. Hence where no need exists there very likely would be no request and likewise no obligation to provide. The Church Order Commentary gives three reasons validating this view. They are: 

“1. The adverb ‘honorably’ in the phrase points to the fact that our fathers were anxious that their incapacitated ministers should be able to live honorably. Not, that they should be supported by the churches concerned, even if the minister is in question had an income sufficient for him and his dependents.” 

“2. The rulings of Synods prior to 1618-1619, the essence of which is expressed in this article incorporated in our church order.” 

“3. The expression is a translation of the original, “in hunne nooddruft.” Admittedly this word is all-important for the present question. According to Van Dale’s dictionary it means: ‘dringende behoefte, datgene wat tot onderhoud van het leven noodig is, levensbehoeften, levensmiddelen.'” 

It would appear, therefore, that the churches are obliged to support only those who upon emeritation have no adequate means of self-support that they may live out their days free from worldly cares. 

Finally, we would consider the question whether a minister who is given emeritation must remain affiliated with the church he last served and from whom he receives his support? It is perhaps impossible to answer this question with either a definite affirmation or negation. There are both pros and cons that can be advanced. The strongest argument supporting the position that he must remain with the church last served is that his status by emeritation is that of minister of the word of that church and it is difficult to conceive of one being the minister of a church where he is not even a member. On the other hand a practical argument favoring the position that he may leave is that an aged minister may have relatives in another place that can provide him with both a home and care which he needs and which he cannot obtain if he remains in the communion of the church, he last served. Reason dictates, therefore, that circumstances must be taken into consideration in answering this question. The Reformed churches have always taken the position that the emeritus minister is free to leave the flock that gave him his emeritation and to join himself to another church and that if he chooses to leave he nevertheless remains minister of his last charge. Preponderant reasons, however, ought to be given for taking his step.