Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
“Persons who have not pursued the regular course of study in preparation for the ministry of the Word, and have therefore not been declared eligible according to Article 4, shall not be admitted to the ministry unless there is assurance of their exceptional gifts, godliness, humility, modesty, common sense and discretion, as also gifts of public address. When such persons present themselves for the ministry, the classis (if the particular synod approve) shall first examine them, and further deal with them as it shall deem edifying, according to the general regulations of the churches.”
Church Order, Article 8.
Background to Article 8
Article 8 has had limited use in the history of the Reformed churches, and has been appealed to primarily in emergency cases. In the beginning of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, it was necessary that men be admitted to the ministry who did not have very extensive formal training. At first there were no institutions of higher learning in the Netherlands where young men could be trained for the ministry. Before the founding of the University of Leyden in 1575, Reformed theological training was available only in Geneva or in Heidelberg.
The result of this situation was that many men were admitted to the ministry who were unsuited for the work. For this reason the particular Synods of South Holland and Gelderland petitioned the Synod of Dordt (1618-’19) to establish some rules that would make it much more difficult for the unschooled to be admitted to the ministry. The original decision drafted by Dordt was:
School-teachers, artizans, and others who have not pursued courses in languages, arts, and theology in the schools, shall not be admitted to the ministry of the Word, unless we have certain knowledge respecting their exceptional gifts: piety, humility, modesty, superior natural capacity, prudence, and eloquence. As often as such persons seek admittance to the office, the classis in the event the synod approves, shall examine them. In case of successful issue, they shall for a set length of time train themselves in the making and delivering of sermons. Thereupon the classis shall deal with them as can best redound to the edification of the churches.
For a short time after the Synod of Dordt this article was utilized. This was due to the great number of vacant congregations after the expulsion of the Arminians. Besides this, the University of Leyden had become suspect because of the influence of the Arminians.
Use was again made of Article 8 at the time of the Afscheiding, or Secession of 1834, when there was a serious shortage of ministers. This was also the case in the period immediately following the Doleantie, 1886, the reform movement led by Dr. Abraham Kuyper.
Article 8—An Exception
It must be emphasized that Article 8 provides for an exception. Even while it deals with this exception, Article 8 maintains the necessity of ministers being formally trained and prepared.
The article states: “Persons . . . shall not be admitted to the ministry UNLESS . . . .” Clearly Article 8 establishes the exception to the rule. The rule is that those desiring admittance into the office of the ministry complete a course of formal training. This is in harmony with the position expressed by the Church Order in Article 19, that the churches are to exert themselves that there may be students to be trained for the ministry of the Word.
Reformed churches have historically insisted on a trained ministry. The mystics and Anabaptists took a radical position on the issue of a trained ministry. They taught that all intellectual training for the ministry was unnecessary and even detrimental to the influence of the Holy Spirit. One need not have any particular preparation for the ministry, but could depend instead simply on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Today too there are groups that disparage formal training for the ministry.
For various reasons the Reformed did not go along with this view. Appeal was made to II Timothy 2:2: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” For over 3 years Jesus prepared His disciples for their apostolic calling. The Book of Acts indicates that several young men accompanied the apostle Paul on his missionary journeys, notably Timothy, who were prepared by him for the ministry. Reference is made in the Old Testament to the schools of the prophets.
From the beginning of the Reformation there was an insistence upon a trained ministry. Soon after the Reformation was established in Geneva, Calvin founded the Academy of Geneva where ministers of the gospel were trained to serve Reformed churches throughout Europe. Soon theological schools were established in other lands where the Reformed faith was brought, including Germany, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and eventually America.
It is important to note that although Article 8 provides for an exception, it does not do away with preparation for the ministry altogether. .The article allows for one who has not followed the REGULAR course of study to be admitted to the ministry. It is assumed that all who are admitted to the ministry follow some course of preparation. But it is possible for those who have not pursued the REGULAR course, that is, a complete seminary education, to be admitted to the ministry. That Article 8 does not dispense with all training for the ministry is plain from the original article as drafted by the Synod of Dordt. That article calls for tutelage under another pastor or group of pastors. It also calls for a “. . . set length of time (to) train themselves in the making and delivering of sermons.”
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1947 adopted the following declaration regarding admittance to the ministry by way of Article 8:
Synod reminds the churches that Article 8 of the Church Order was adopted in a time when there was a dire need for ministers of the Word. This article should function only in case of great need. This article should never be used as a means to ordain all layworkers who may desire such, and whose prestige would be increased by such action. The churches are reminded that the regular door to the ministry is a thorough academic training. This must be maintained in theory and practice.
Examination of Those Admitted According to Article 8
There are three phases to the examination of those admitted according to Article 8: licensure to exhort, candidacy, and ordination.
First, examination must be conducted with a view to licensure to exhort. If anyone desires to be admitted to the ministry according to Article 8, he should make application to his consistory. If the consistory is convinced that the applicant possesses the necessary exceptional gifts, it should present his request, along with its recommendation, to the Classis. The Classis, in the presence of the delegates ad examina, should examine the applicant to determine the presence of the gifts mentioned in Article 8. If the application is approved, both by the Classis and by the delegates ad examina, the applicant is given the right to speak a word of edification in the churches of the Classis. (See Church Order, Article 20.) This will be a period of probation. The length of this period is to be determined by the Classis. During this time the applicant may receive instruction from designated ministers of the Classis or from the seminary.
At the end of this probationary period the Classis, once more with the advice of the delegates ad examina, shall make a judgment of the fitness of the applicant to be declared a candidate for the ministry. The Classis shall conduct an examination of the applicant which is roughly equivalent to the praeparatoir (synodical) exam. If this exam is successfully sustained, the applicant may be declared a candidate for the ministry, eligible for a call from one of the churches.
Finally, the candidate shall be examined for ordination. Once a call has been received and accepted, the candidate shall sustain the peremptoir (classical) exam. It is understood that the examinations will ordinarily omit knowledge of the original languages.
The Exceptional Gifts Mentioned in Article 8
Article 8 maintains that exceptions to the general rule of regular seminary training may be made in cases of persons with exceptional gifts. The idea is not that these persons alone possess these gifts, and are therefore qualified to serve in the ministry. The fact is that all who serve in the ministry, also those who have pursued the regular course of study at the seminary, must possess these gifts. But the idea is that these persons possess these gifts in an exceptional way and to an exceptional degree.
First, there must be godliness. Godliness is just fear of the reverence for God. Humility and modesty are two aspects of godliness, the two outstanding manifestations of godliness. There is not room in the ministry, or in any of the other offices for that matter, for pride and self-seeking. Modesty is really an inaccurate translation of a word that emphasizes the idea of a holy life, a life ordered according to the will of God.
Second, he must be a man of common sense. This is also a poor translation. The original term emphasizes intellectual ability, a ready grasp of things. This is an important quality necessary in one who is to expound and teach the Scriptures.
He is also to be a man of discretion or discernment. This refers to good judgment. It is the ability especially to discern truth from error, right from wrong.
Finally, he must be a man with gifts of public address. The original refers to “eloquence.” But this is not just polished speaking style or salesmanship. It is the ability to express one’s thoughts verbally, the ability to communicate ideas in an orderly and clear way to the edification of one’s hearers.