“The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.”Article 19, D.K.O.

In accordance with the stipulations of this article of our church order, our Synod has a standing committee and has established a permanent fund to which our seminarians who have need may apply for financial assistance. Synod has also made rules governing the support that is granted from this fund and unless certain requirements are met, the applicant’s request for aid is refused. One of the most significant of these rules is the one that bars any married students from receiving financial aid. Some of those now serving in the ministry in our churches were refused assistance under this rule in their student days. A few years ago we received three applicants to our Theological School from the Episcopal Reformed Church who, because they were married, could not be aided with E.B.P. Funds. At that time a separate society was organized which raised the needed funds which, because of the ruling of Synod, could not be obtained directly from the E.B.P. Committee. Today, with our ministerial shortage, we have applicants who desire to be admitted into our Theological School but who are confronted with the problem of supporting their families during the interim of study and preparation for the ministry. For some these things make the way into the ministry very difficult while for others it becomes a virtual impossibility. Is this right? Is it in harmony with the meaning of the 19th Article of our Church Order? 

This leads us to ask two questions. The first of these is: “Do we, as churches, adequately fulfill the intention of Article 19 of our church order by merely setting up an E.B.P. committee and fund?” We would answer this question negatively and will point out later that the real intention of this article is far broader and, in a certain respect, altogether different from this. Our second question is, “Are our Synodical rulings with respect to this matter in conflict with the intention of Article 19 of our church order so that this intention is virtually nullified by these rulings?” This question we refrain from answering with either a blank “yes” or “no” but would rather discuss it somewhat in detail especially since Classis East is overturing the Synod of 1955 to review and reconsider this entire matter. The question before the Synod will be, “Should we, in the light of our present circumstances and with a view to future exigencies, maintain our present rules, drop them altogether, or change them?” It is well, especially with a matter of this proportion, that Synod does not act hastily under the influencing pressures of present circumstances, to do what will not only be later regretted but will prove detrimental to the churches in years to come. This can be avoided by discussing thoroughly in advance the implications of the problems involved and then, when rules are to be made, to make sure that they comply with the intent or principles of the church order so that under the rules the mandate of the church order is not obstructed but rather is more easily executed by the churches. And Article 19 of the church order deals with the important matter of perpetuating the ministry of the word and then it should be remembered, as one author aptly expressed it, “The purpose of Article 19 is not to help needy students, but rather to help the churches.” That is a principle and our rules ought to be governed by it so that the welfare of the churches is placed above that of any individuals. Further, that is of greatest importance because this matter involves the ministry of the Word and nothing effects the welfare of the churches more keenly than this. Too often matters of this nature are evaluated on a dollar and cents basis and this is a serious mistake. The money involved is certainly a factor of consideration but there are elements, involving the welfare of the churches, which are more weighty and should be considered first but which are sometimes entirely ignored. These we purpose to bring out in subsequent writing under this article. 

To begin with, then, let us give a brief historical sketch of this article. The churches of the Reformation soon realized their need of trained ministers of the gospel. To undergo such training required years of schooling and involved considerable expense. There were a few who could afford this and, consequently, many promising youths were compelled to seek occupation in other fields. It was in a letter dated March 21, 1570 that Marnix of St. Aldegonde first called attention to this matter in the Refugee Churches. Among other things he suggested in his letter that the churches should establish a common fund from which those preparing for the ministry of the Word could receive assistance if needed. Acting upon this suggestion the Synods of Emden 1571, Dordrecht 1574, Dordrecht, 1578, and ‘s-Gravenhage 1556 adopted measures whereby support for needy students was obtained. This was then the beginning of the E.B.P. Fund. 

Of interest it is to know why this fund for needy students is called the E.B.P. Fund. These letters represent the Latin phrase, “ex bonis publicis,” which means, “out of the public goods” or a public grant or endowment. In former times, especially in the Netherlands, there was a very close relation between the church and the state. When Protestantism became victorious over Roman Catholicism much of the latter’s lands and possessions were taken over by the government and revenues derived from these properties were given to the church so that out of these public funds emeritus ministers and needy students were supported. And, so the expression, “ex bonis publicis,” has remained in usage unto the present time and although, strictly speaking, it is a misnomer, it is still applied to the current practices of the church. 

Now, to return once more to the 19th Article of the Church Order. Our redaction of this article, which is the same as that of the Christian Reformed Church, differs from that of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands in one particular. It omits the phrase, “in theology.” The Article, as maintained in the Netherlands, reads: “De gemeenten zullen, voor zooveel noodig, arbeiden, dat er studenten in de theologie zijn, die door haar onderhouden worden.” The omission of the phrase, “in theology,” was occasioned by the desire to also aid those students who were engaged in work preparatory to their studies in theology in other schools. This practice the churches in the Netherlands does not admit. The Reformed Churches there do not help students other than those directly engaged in theological study. The reason for this seems to be that there is too much of a risk that students, after receiving help for some time, will undergo a change of mind and never enter into theology and become of service to the churches that assisted them. Omitting this phrase, as is done in the redaction of 1914, allows for the possibility of extending aid to students during their preparatory studies. If the inclusion of this phrase makes such assistance impossible, its omission would seem to be justified for preparatory work in theology is very essential. 

However, there is also a danger in this omission. Without the phrase, “in theology” an emphasis is placed in the article upon that which is of secondary importance and the main purpose or intention of the article is virtually lost. As our present article reads, the main thrust of the article is that the churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, to support students preparing for the ministry. But the, intent of the article is to express that the churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students in theology. That is something else. The matter of support is of secondary importance and is brought in because the lack of material resources should not be a barrier to entering the ministry for one who has the capabilities and desire for the office. Then the churches ought to give support. This then becomes a means unto the attainment of a certain end. And the end or purpose is to obtain students in theology. That is first in importance as the calling of the church is to perpetuate the ministry of the word and this can be done only when there are men constantly prepared for that labor. These suitable candidates must be found and then, if there is need and insofar as is necessary, the churches must also aid in supporting them during their years of preparation. 

This emphasis in the article follows from its position and relation to the preceding article which speaks of the Professors of Theology and their task. II Timothy 2:1tells us that the church must maintain this office and this, too, can be done only when the churches also exert themselves toward securing capable men to be instructed. Articles 3 to 21 of the Church Order set forth the various principles for the orderly maintenance and perpetuation of the ministry of the church. This must be remembered lest we be distracted to occupy ourselves with too many other things of lesser importance. From this point of view, the omission of the words, “in theology” is to be regretted. They should be retained and a further addition made to the article allowing for support of those engaged in preparatory work, provided an assurance is given of their intention to enter into the work of the ministry. 

We must add a concluding remark of clarification to the above lest we be misunderstood. It is true, of course, that men are ultimately inclined toward and brought to seek the work of the ministry through the calling of God. What has been previously written on that subject may properly be repeated here. This calling is indispensible. However, this does not abrogate the calling of the churches to exert themselves toward locating such men whom the Lord is pleased to call and to even aid them in bringing them to the awareness of that calling. There are times when a little advice or encouragement is beneficial. No doubt consistories, ministers and even parents could do much more than is done toward directing those young men who are worthy and qualified to seek the labor of the ministry of the Word. Even as those lacking essential qualifications should be advised against seeking this labor, those who show indications of promise ought to be encouraged. At any rate, let the churches do what is possible and necessary that there may be students for the future ministry of the churches. That is first! 

(to be continued) 

G. VandenBerg