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In the former issue we explained that implicit in the idea of emeritation is retirement, either temporary or permanent, from the active ministry of the word. We further stated that this retirement is due to reasons of personal disability. It is our position that an emeritation proper is not granted because of circumstances in which others cause the continuation of the work of the ministry to be impeded. These cases should be treated under a different heading. Emeritation means that the minister who for valid reasons is unable to perform the duties of his office is relieved from active duty, supported by the church, and retains the honor and title of minister of the word of God. Where these reasons spell permanent disability the emeritation is naturally for life. Where they spell temporary disability the emeritation runs until such reasons for disability are removed and for a reasonable time thereafter during which the minister concerned may again be considered for a call by the churches. We now wish to take up a few other matters relating to this matter. 

B. The Request For Emeritation 

From whom should this request come? Some are of the opinion that only the minister himself can ask for an emeritation. Others hold to the view that the consistory should make this request. Still others, which view we are inclined to support, say that the request may be initiated by either the minister or the consistory. This, it seems, is the only proper course which is fair to all parties concerned for an emeritation concerns not only the minister directly involved but in more than one way effects the congregation itself. In 1893 the Synod of Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decided that, “Emeritation, where necessary, takes place upon the request of the parties concerned (either minister or consistory) by action of the Classis, supported by the Synodical Examiners of the Provincial Synod.” (Church Order Commentary, pg. 66) 

However, freely translated, Dr. Bouwman writes concerning the decision of the same synod as follows: “About the emeritation itself it is established: (a) that the request proceeds from the minister of the Word and that there is an expression that the consistory consents thereto, (b) that the reasons for disability to function in office be submitted, (c) that in case sickness is the cause of disability, this is made evident from the expression of two experts, (cl) that the classis considers the request legitimate. The emeritation itself goes through the classis, supported by the deputies ad examina of the Provincial Synod.” 

In our own rules we come upon the following: “The minister shall present his request for emeritation to his consistory who shall decide upon his request with approbation of Classis and Synod.” (Art. 3, Constitution of Emeritus Committee). 

If this rule means that the minister, and the minister only, can request emeritation, we think the rule is wrong. If it is intended merely to prescribe a course which is to be followed, namely, that the request goes through the consistory to classis to synod, we can agree with it although in our opinion it is not quite complete. There ought to be a provision inserted according to which also the consistory, which deems it necessary, may request emeritation for her minister. If this is not clone a minister can conceivably place a serious detriment upon the congregation. Let us suppose that a minister becomes seriously ill so that he will not be able to labor for several years. If he does not ask for an emeritation and the consistory cannot do so the congregation will be without a pastor for a very long time which is never a wholesome situation. The elders must “take heed unto themselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers, to feed the church of God.” (Acts 20:28) They must see to it that the church is shepherded and the disabled minister ought not to have exclusive power to stand in the way of the congregation having a pastor who is able to actively labor in the ministry of the word and dispense unto them spiritual things according to their need. If the consistory, therefore, considers it to be in the best interests of the church that the disabled minister receive an emeritation, he ought to accept that in the confidence that when the Lord once again restores him He will also provide for him a field of labor. Of course, if the congregation is large and can support two ministers such an emeritation would not be necessary. If, however, she cannot do this it: would appear quite proper for the consistory to make the request for emeritation. The validity of it would have to be judged by classis and synod which would also safeguard against any abuse or injustice. These broader assemblies would also have to decide the matter in cases where the minister and the consistory are unable to agree upon the matter. 

C. The Status Of The Emeritus Minister

The article states that these shall retain the honor and the title of a minister. This means that he remains in the office in the church he last served although he is now relieved of all active duty. He may preach the word if requested to do so and he is able. He may administer the sacraments. He may function in all the labor of the office and may even be delegated to the broader assemblies of the churches because in very fact he is a full-fledged minister of the word of God. His status is and remains unchanged through emeritation although he is no longer compelled to perform the work of the office. 

D. The Support Of The Emeritus Minister

According to Article 13 of the church order two things must be considered here. First of all, the article states that the support is to be “provided out of the common fund of the churches according to general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter,” and secondly, he is to be cared for “honorably in his need.” It is evident from this that, such support is not the same as a gift or charity but is something to which the minister is legally entitled. His rights are limited by his needs and the ordinances of the churches. These ordinances may be found in the Constitution of the Emeritus Committee. Article 7 of this constitution, for example, stipulates that “the obligation of giving this support rests in a legal sense upon the local church which the minister serves or has last served.” A minister then cannot make an imposition upon the classis or the synod or the committee for desired support. He must present his request to his local consistory. Likewise, the local church may not simply shift the burden of emeritation to the churches in general but must always remember that it is first of all her obligation to support the minister she has made emeritus. 

This immediately presents a problem. How would it ever be possible that a small congregation grant an emeritation? Small churches have sufficient burden to provide their active minister. To offset this difficulty a provision is made in Article 8 of the constitution according to which those congregations which are unable to support their emeritus minister can apply for support at the classis under which they resort. This request, if approved by the classis, is forwarded to a synodical committee which acts upon it until the Synod meets. When the synod gathers she passes final, approval upon the emeritation as well as the request for support and then assesses all the churches accordingly so that a common and adequate fund is established out of which the payments can be periodically made. 

In the short history of our churches we have no occasion of using the Emeritus Fund for real cases of emeritation. It has been used in the abnormal situations we referred to before. Should it become necessary to use this fund for several emeritations, we would very likely find out that such a system would be inadequate to properly provide for the needs or that the system would, lay a very heavy burden upon the churches. The Christian Reformed Churches have experienced this in the past. Many of those that had been given an emeritation were not adequately provided for in their need. Their support had to be subsidized in various other ways. Hence, in 1939, they made an alteration in Art. 13 of the church order by eliding the phrase, “in their need,” and then approved of a different plan by which the needs of the retired are met. They have established two funds. One is known as the Pension Fund and the other as the Relief Fund. Both of these are placed in the charge of a Board of Trustees consisting of five men appointed by the Synod. The Pension Fund is established by Synodical Assessments plus the payment of 3% of the annual salary of each minister desiring to benefit from it. No minister is compelled to contribute to this fund. The matter is optional with each one. Those who do contribute receive upon retirement the equivalent of 40% of the average annual salary of the ministers in that church. The widows of such ministers are entitled to 30%. Minor orphans receive a pension of $100.00 per person per year. Those who do not contribute to this fund are naturally not entitled to its benefits. They, upon retirement, receive aid only from the Relief Fund and then such aid is not to exceed 25% of the average Christian Reformed minister’s salary or 20% for the widow or $100.00 per year for each minor orphan. In the event that a minister draws from both funds the limitations are set at 66 and 2/3% of the average $alary for the minister; 50% for the widow and no minor orphan is entitled to draw more than $175.00 per year. 

These rules, as found in “The Church Order,” by J.L. Schaver, pg. 209, were adopted in 1939. Whether the figures given above have since been altered we do not know. But whereas our space for this issue is filled we will have to refrain from commenting on this until next time.