In my previous installment on the general subject, “Should I Prepare for the Ministry?” I have called attention to various objective considerations which must be faced in answering this question. These must certainly be considered. However, they are not the only considerations; and they alone, apart from various other considerations, will not serve as an adequate guide in reaching a proper answer to our question. There are various matters of a more subjective, personal nature which we may generally classify under the question that heads this article, namely: Are You Qualified?
These subjective considerations are, in the main, of two kinds. In the first place, there are those qualifications which may be classified as intellectual and academic. They are concerned with the question: do you have the various natural talents and abilities and knowledge which will qualify you to prepare for the gospel-ministry? And, in the second place, there are those qualifications which may be classified as spiritual. They may be included under the question: do you have the spiritual virtues and equipment which warrant your presenting yourself as an aspirant to the ministry of the Word?
To the above questions we must now address ourselves.
Before we turn to the questions themselves, however, let us try to face and solve a rather personal, and sometimes embarrassing, problem which arises in connection with this matter of the personal qualifications, both natural and spiritual, of aspirants to the ministry, The problem is this. Is it not rather brazenly conceited for a young man to come and present himself to the churches and to say, “I believe that I have the qualifications to attend our seminary and to prepare for the ministry of the Word and sacraments?” After all, there is a very personal and subjective aspect to this aspiring to the ministry. The whole initiative comes from the individual himself. No one else makes, or ought to make, this decision for him. His parents cannot and should not attempt to make the decision for him. They may give him counsel. They may guide him. They may pray for him. But it is he, not his parents, who will prepare for the ministry; and it is he, not his parents, therefore, who must make the decision. In fact, it would be a most serious mistake either for others to attempt to make the decision or for the aspirant to attempt to shunt off the decision to others. For not only is it true in general that a man in a position where he does not fit and does not belong is an unhappy man; but this is, I think, especially true of the ministry. A man who does not belong in the ministry and who is not really qualified for the ministry, but who has been urged and even coerced into the ministry against his own better judgment,—such a man will be a very miserable and unhappy creature indeed. Here is a fact of life that may well be remembered by any who may be tempted on this score. Don’t ever nag and coerce a young man into the ministry; and don’t bribe him to .prepare for the ministry. The decision is for him to make; and he must be left free to make an honest and conscientious decision before the face of God.
But the very fact that this decision is a personal one and that the initiative and the first move must come from the aspirant himself makes the problem all the more embarrassing. Is it not conceited to say, “I aspire to the ministry?” Does it not involve a self-examination and a self-judgment concerning one’s own abilities and qualifications? Will not “people” say, “Who does he think he is, anyway, putting himself forward for the ministry?” I will go a step farther. Does not such a decision, such a presenting of one’s self for the ministry, involve such pride and conceit as would necessarily disqualify a man for the ministry?
Nor is this a purely imaginary problem!
On the contrary, it is very real. And I have, in my limited experience, known young men who broached this very problem. Moreover, it is certainly true that a young man who aspires to the ministry must not be motivated by pride and conceit and self-seeking. He must surely aspire to the ministry out of the proper motive of humility. For with humility he must be clothed throughout his ministry. If he is not, he will surely be a discredit to the ministry of the Word, and, ultimately, a failure.
How, then, must this problem be viewed?
There are several element to be considered.
Without treating them exhaustively, let me mention some of these.
1. An aspirant who applies for admission to our seminary must come with a testimonial of his consistory that he is a member in full communion, sound in faith and upright in walk. This is more than a mere formality. This is certainly the fundamental testimony of the church as to a man’s spiritual qualifications. If a man is not a communicant member of the church, sound in faith and upright in walk, he is spiritually not qualified for the ministry or for preparation for the ministry. Of course, the premise here is that the consistory lives up to its calling to be diligent in the government and oversight of the flock, and that thus there are no rotten and dead members on the membership roster who are called members in good standing. But, assuming now that the consistory does indeed do its duty, such a testimonial is basic as far as spiritual qualifications are concerned. Moreover, this is an objective testimony of the church, not merely a subjective judgment of the aspirant himself. The question is sometimes raised whether the power and the obligation of the consistory in this matter extends any further than the granting of a mere testimonial that the aspirant is a member in good and regular standing. If this is the limit of the consistory’s power, then the granting of such a testimonial is automatic, and no consistory could refuse such a testimonial, unless the member concerned is under discipline. Unless I am utterly mistaken, this has been the usual understanding of this requirement. Personally, I believe that the consistory’s power should be broader than this, and that an aspirant to our seminary should not only have a testimonial in this formal sense, but a positive recommendation that the consistory considers him to have the necessary spiritual gifts, and that too, in the necessary degree, to qualify him for admission to our school with a view to the ministry. I base this belief on these considerations: a) It is not true that mere membership in good standing ‘qualifies one for the office. Not everyone is spiritually qualified to be an elder or a deacon; and it is the right and the calling of the consistory to decide who are qualified and shall consequently be nominated. The same is true of the ministry, even from the point of view of a man’s spiritual qualifications. A man may be in good standing; but he is not necessarily exceptionally gifted from a spiritual point of view. Or his past may show that he has some particular spiritual weakness or a sullied record which would make it unwise ever to admit him to the ministry, even though he may be a member in good standing. b) There is no ecclesiastical body more eminently qualified to grant or not to grant such a recommendation than the aspirant’s own consistory. This is true for the simple reason that, all other things being equal, there is no body more intimately acquainted with a man’s spiritual qualifications. Who are in a position to know a man spiritually more than his own pastor and elders? This, in my opinion, merits consideration by the churches. The requirement of such a recommendation could very well serve to assist and encourage those who are qualified and to safeguard against those who are not qualified.
2. One who purposes to enter our seminary must be interviewed by the Theological School Committee, and his admission is dependent upon the recommendation of this committee and the decision of Synod. It is the right and the duty of said committee not only to check up on the aspirant’s intellectual and academic qualifications, but also to examine him as to his reasons and motive for seeking to enter the ministry, as well as his personal spirituality. Of course, not only must the committee do its duty carefully and thoroughly in this respect, but it behooves the aspirant to be honest and forth-right. Moreover, the aspirant must be prepared, too, to abide by the decision of the committee and of the Synod, whether such a decision is favorable or unfavorable. Naturally, there is a judgment to be made here by the committee. And while when it comes to academic (entrance) requirements, an aspirant must meet certain objective standards, it becomes more difficult to make a judgment as to a man’s spiritual qualifications. In view of this difficulty, such a recommendation is not, of course, fool-proof. Nevertheless, within limits, here again is the objective testimony of the churches, something more than the mere subjective judgment of the aspirant himself.
3. Throughout his stay at school the aspirant must prove himself. From an academic point of view he must prove himself to the extent that unless he maintains a C average in his studies, he is not even allowed to undergo synodical examination. Moreover, no student who has a failing grade in any subject is allowed to take his final examination before synod. But also from the spiritual point of view a student must prove himself. One of the requirements of our school is as follows: “The student shall conduct himself in and out of school as a Christian. Failing in this, he shall be admonished by the faculty in conjunction with the Theological School Committee. If after these repeated admonitions the student remains obstinate, he shall be expelled from school. In case a gross sin has been committed, he shall, with the approval of the Theological School Committee, be expelled immediately.”
4. Finally, any aspirant to the ministry must, when he has completed his course in school, face two examinations. In these examinations he must not only give account of his knowledge and ability in the various theological branches, but again he is examined also from a spiritual point of view. This is accomplished in the examination in what is called “Practica,” both at Synod and in the classical (preemptor) examination. This examination, according to the decision of our churches in connection with Article 4 of the Church Order concerns “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.”
Hence, it is very evident that the decision is ultimately not left to the aspirant all by himself. All of the above takes place before he can ever be ordained as a minister. This is for the aspirant’s own good as well as for the safeguarding of the churches. No minister is called and ordained merely on his own recommendation; but when he is called and ordained, he has been judged (provided all concerned do their duty carefully) to be qualified for the ministry, and he comes equipped with the testimony of the churches to that effect.
Nevertheless, you say, when at first a man applies for admission to our seminary, this implies that he considers himself qualified, both from a natural and a spiritual point of view. Otherwise,—if he is honest,—he would not seek admission. And this is correct. But it is definitely not improper, but proper, for a man to desirethe office. The question is whether that is a holy or an unholy desire. The question is whether a man’s own, subjective judgment that he is qualified is motivated by pride or by humility, by self-seeking and vainglory or by a genuine seeking of the cause of Christ. If when he by way of earnest self-examination concludes that he is qualified and that therefore he should prepare for the ministry, he also does so not in pride and boastfulness, but as clothed with humility and with the acknowledgement that what qualifications he possesses are not of himself, but are a gift, and with the confession, “All that I am I owe to Thee,” then there is nothing improper about his action. In fact, it would be highly improper and sinful for such a man, recognizing the gifts which God has graciously bestowed upon him, to refuse to employ those gifts in the service of the Lord.