Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

“Preachers without fixed charge, or others who have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the ministry of the church until they have been declared eligible, after careful examination, by the classis with the approval of synod.” 

Church Order, Article 9.

Background to Article 9

The original Article 9 is quite different from its present form in our Church Order. The original article read:

Novices, priests, monks, and others who have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the service (ministry) of the church, except with great carefulness and caution, and after a definite period of probation.

Our present article, a result of the revision of theChurch Order by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1914, has dropped the reference to “novices, priests, and monks” and in its place has inserted the phrase “Preachers without fixed charge.” The revised article requires a classical examination and approval by the synod, whereas the original article simply required that “great carefulness and caution” be exercised. 

The revision of 1914 has departed from the spirit of the original article in at least two instances. First, the revision has dropped any reference to “novices.” This really is the heart of the article. Article 9 is a warning against ordaining novices. A novice is a recent convert to the Reformed faith. The main thought of the original article is: “Novices . . . shall not be admitted to the service of the church, except with great carefulness and caution, and after a definite period of probation.” 

Secondly, whereas the revision of 1914 makes the application of the article only to those who seek the office of the ministry, the original article was broader and had application to all the offices in the church. The original article warned against the admittance of novices “to the service of the church” generally, that is, to all the offices of the church, elder and deacon as well as minister. 

Article 9 is closely connected to Article 8 of the Church Order. The purpose of Article 8 was to insure that only those who are adequately qualified be admitted to the office of the ministry. Reformed churches have always insisted that ministers be trained and educated. They also insist that candidates give evidence of their qualifications by submitting to a thorough examination. Just for this reason, Article 9 goes on to warn the churches against ordaining novices. The article fences the office of the ministry in the Reformed churches, and by implication the other offices as well. It fences the offices especially against enthusiasts who come to the Reformed faith from outside who desire, for one reason or another, a place in the office of the ministry.

The History Behind Article 9

The restriction of Article 9 became necessary after the Reformed churches became established and recognized by the government. At this time many flooded into the Reformed churches who did not any longer have to fear persecution or reprisal. At the same time, many former priests and monks who had served in the Roman Catholic Church sought a place in the ministry of the Reformed churches. 

Early on it became evident that many who sought office in the Reformed churches were insincere, poorly trained, seeking only economic advancement, or overly enthusiastic. Decisions were soon taken to protect the churches from these “novices.” The Synod of Dordt, 1574, already decided: “Those former monks or Papists who desire to proceed to ministry in the churches, shall not be permitted except they be examined by the Classis.” This became the basis for the incorporation of this article in the Church Order by the Synod of Dordt, 1618-’19.

Article 9 Concerns “Novices”

By novices the original article referred to those who were newly converted to the Reformed faith. The term is derived from Timothy 3:6 where, in connection with the qualifications for elders, the Apostle says, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Here “novice” refers to a convert from heathenism to the Christian faith. The meaning in the Church Order is slightly different—a recent convert to the Reformed faith. 

The article forbids the ordination to office in the Reformed churches of those who are novices. The novice knows but little of the life and doctrine of the Reformed church. He is inexperienced and unproved. Rather than to be placed in a teaching position, he himself is in need of further instruction. 

There are not only dangers for the church in ordaining a novice, but dangers for the man himself. Given man’s sinful nature, such an action could easily result in the man’s being lifted up in pride, and so fall into the condemnation of the devil (I Timothy 3:6). This regulation not only has the good of the church in view, but also the good of the novice.

Besides the passage in I Timothy 3:6, there are other Scriptures that apply. In I Timothy 3:10 the apostle Paul insists that before a man is appointed to church office he must be proved. In I Timothy 5:22 the Apostle warns Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” This is just another way of saying, “Don’t quickly ordain a man to office.”

Three Types of Novices

The original article specifically mentions three types of novices: “priests, monks, and those who have left some sect.” 

Priests were those who actually did hold office in the Roman Catholic Church. With great care and only after a period of testing were former priests to be permitted to hold office in the Reformed churches. It is worth noting, by the way, that the Reformed churches did recognize the office of the priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Re-ordination in the case of priests was not insisted upon, but only installation to office if a former priest were granted a place in the ministry in the Reformed churches. The Reformers themselves had, for the most part, been ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, and after their withdrawal from Rome continued as officebearers. 

The case of the monks was different. In the Roman Catholic Church the monks belong neither to the clergy nor to the laity, but form really a third class of members of the church. They were a special class of men who bound themselves by certain ascetic vows and who often dedicated themselves to special types of service in the church. Monks were not ordained to office by Rome, and consequently were not recognized either by the Reformed churches. 

There were also those “who have left some sect.” By this phrase the original article had in mind especially former Anabaptists. The word “sect” is used in the article less technically than we use it today. By a sect we refer to a religious group that has no connection to mainstream Christianity and that denies the fundamentals of the Christian faith, such as the trinity and the deity of Christ. “Sect” is used in the article of any group that is neither a part of the Roman Catholic Church nor of the Reformed churches. This applied particularly to the various groups of Anabaptists. In many instances, Anabaptist preachers were self-appointed and unordained. These, the Reformed churches, for the most part, did not recognize as lawful officebearers.

Preachers without Fixed Charge

The present article has been revised so that it refers now to “preachers without fixed charge.” This phrase refers to ministers not of our Protestant Reformed Churches, but some other denomination, who for one reason or another have severed their relationship with their former denomination and who seek the ministry in our denomination. In the past this article was applied to ministers who came to America from the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. 

The procedure that this article calls for is the examination of such applicants for the ministry by the Classis. The Classis must conduct a “colloquium doctum,” that is, a theological discussion. This will be an examination of the applicant’s knowledge of the Reformed faith, qualifications for the ministry, and personal godliness. The guidelines for the “colloquium doctum” would be the examination of candidates outlined in Article 4. The delegates ad examina must be present at this examination. 

Following the “colloquium doctum” conducted by the classis, the applicant’s request must also be approved by the Synod. The applicant would then be declared eligible for a call from one of our churches. 

The original article called for a period of proving which, although not specifically mentioned in our present article, might still be decided advantageous by the Synod. This period of proving might also include some work done at our Seminary.