Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin.
So you have received a letter from your council, informing you that they have nominated you to the office of deacon or elder. Perhaps the news came somewhat as a surprise, and you first had to get over the shock. Perhaps not. Either way, you must now face the question: should I accept the nomination, or not?
Having already explained the roles both of congregation and of council in the election process, we now treat the calling of the man nominated for office. That is, we will do two things: explain what responsibility falls upon him as he considers whether to accept or decline this nomination, and explain of what the true call to office consists.
We consider a topic that is very important, but about which, nevertheless, little has been written.
The Church Order says nothing about the responsibility of the nominee. Article 22 speaks only of the role of the congregation and council in the election process. One gets the impression that the nominee really has no say in the matter.
Because the Church Order does not treat the subject, it is not surprising that VanDellen and Monsma do not treat it in their Church Order Commentary. Neither does P. Y. DeJong in his book The Ministry of Mercy for Today.
Yet the subject is important. Surely the nominee who takes his nomination seriously considers it important—he must accept the nomination, and be ready to serve God’s people in Christ’s behalf if elected, or he must decline, and then only with good reasons. Should he accept the nomination and be elected, he must be able to say “Yes” with conviction, when asked at the time of installation: “… whether you do not feel in your hearts that ye are lawfully called of God’s church, and consequently of God Himself, to these your respective holy offices” (Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons). Also our Belgic Confession, Article 31, stresses the importance of knowing one is called: “Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by indecent means, but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him, that he may have testimony of his calling and be certain and assured that it is of the Lord.”
Because of the importance of the subject, we do not want to overlook it in connection with our explanation of the process of electing and installing deacons.
The nominee must bear in mind that a call to office is an objective call by Christ through the church.
Throughout history, God did not always use the church to call men to office. In the Old Testament, God made known whom He would appoint to office by telling a prophet to anoint that man (I Sam. 9:15ff.; I Sam. 16:1-13); or by designating which house would serve in which office (the house of Aaron in the office of priest, and the house of David in the office of king). Israel had no choice in who would be their prophet, priest, or king; God revealed His will concerning this matter by His Word.
However, in the new dispensation, God uses the church. This is clear from Acts 6:1ff., which speaks of the choosing of the first deacons in the New Testament church. We read in verse 3 that the apostles said to the people, “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men … whom we may appoint over this business.” Through the church, elders and deacons are elected to office.
The objective call of the pastor, elder, and deacon takes place when the church elects a man to office. Obviously, one’s nomination to office is not the call itself, for usually only half of those nominated are elected. Nevertheless, the nomination of that man who is later elected to office is the beginning of the process by which God through the church calls him to office. When the church both nominates and elects a man to office, that man can know that he is called of God. The question asked of elders and deacons at their installation, already quoted above, indicates this. Notice: “whether you do not feel in your hearts that ye are lawfully called of God’s church, and consequently of God Himself, to these your respective holy offices?”
Why must the nominee remember that the call to office is an objective call of God through the church by election? On the one hand, to prevent any rash presumption on the part of the nominee; and on the other, to give the nominee who is elected confidence as he begins his work.
Not until a man is elected by the church may he consider himself to have been called by God to the office. To think otherwise is rash presumption. Perhaps this is not a danger for many nominees, but it can become one when, for example, a man has long desired the office. He may then come to believe that God has already called him to the office, when he has not yet been elected to it. Moses is an example of such rashness. He desired that Israel be delivered from Egypt’s oppression, and he knew that God would deliver Israel through him (Acts 7:25). So he forsook Pharaoh’s house, and went out to deliver them (Ex. 2:11ff.). But he was acting rashly. God had not yet called him to office. Therefore, God would not, and did not, bless his efforts; his plan to deliver Israel was not realized at that time. Only when God later called him to the work of delivering Israel was Moses given authority to do the work.
But it might be that the nominee is filled with questions when he receives his nomination letter. Why me? Can I do the work well? Am I really the right man for the office? Is my situation such, or are my weaknesses such, that I should decline the nomination? One who has such questions should not be in a hurry to decline nomination; rather, he should understand that if he is elected, God has called him to office. By calling him, God has judged him to be the right man for the office, and promises to give him the ability to do the work well.
Knowing that God calls a man to office through the church by election, we can understand better why so little is written about the role of the nominee regarding his nomination. His role is either to provide the council with weighty reasons why he should be removed from nomination, or to wait on God to make known His will through the election. The nominee must believe that if he is elected, God has called him to the work.
What reasons would be considered weighty enough to cause a council to remove a man from nomination?
Notice how this question was phrased—the council must remove a man from nomination. The nominee does not remove himself; his desire to be removed does not in itself remove him. He might tell the council that he does not wish to be on nomination, but if the council does not remove his name he is nominated anyway. K. Sietsma, in his book The Idea of Office, writes: “Occasionally it occurs that a brother declines the office, but, not having been granted release, persists in his unwillingness to accept because he feels himself unqualified. We would judge that in general this is not permissible. It is not for the brother to judge his own gifts. He must believe that the Lord, who has called him, will use for blessing the gifts that he owns, modest though they be.”* By “declines the office,” Sietsma does not mean that the brother simply refuses to serve, but that the brother gives the council reasons why it should release him from nomination to office.
On what basis, then, might one request to be released from the nomination?
The first instance Sietsma gives is that “he can prove that his election is in conflict with Scriptural principles” (p. 66). It is possible, of course, for a council to err in the matter of nominating men to office. The burden of proof is on the nominee who wishes to be removed from nomination to show that the council has done this. Assuming our councils take seriously their work of nominating men to office, the nominee will most likely have to present information about himself of which the council was not aware.
A second weighty reason for asking the council to remove one from nomination, would be that the nominee is unable to serve because he is in the process of moving away from the local congregation (p. 67).
A third reason would be that one is “already deeply committed to another place” (p. 68). Sietsma allows for the possibility that this “other place” is one’s earthly labor. While it is true that in some instances one’s work might be compromised by serving in an office, we ought be very careful not to place commitment to one’s earthly work above kingdom work. Justifiably to use this as a reason, one would have to convince the council that his particular circumstances are such that he would truly be unable to fulfill his calling to work were he to be elected to office.
But this “other place” could also refer to other kingdom work. For example, if one can demonstrate that the circumstance in his family is such that he would truly be jeopardizing his ability to be a husband or father, he could ask to be removed on this ground. Again, it must be understood that every officebearer who has a family will have to work harder to be a good husband and father because his church work keeps him busier; and one must be willing to do this. But in a case of extreme hardship, a man might request on the basis of this ground to be released. The same could be true of our teachers, to use another example. I have nothing against teachers serving in office in the church; many have served very well. But teaching the covenant children of the church is a demanding work in itself. If one thinks that his work, and the church’s children, would truly suffer if he were elected to office, he would have a weighty reason for requesting to be removed from nomination.
Before using any of these reasons, however, the nominee should carefully search his soul to be sure that he would truly be seeking the glory of God by seeking to be removed from nomination. He must understand that, by nominating him to office, the church has already judged him fit to serve, and expressed her desire that he serve.
What is the nominee’s responsibility, if he has no intention of asking to be removed from nomination?
First, it is to believe that he is by God’s grace qualified for the office, and to pray that God give him grace to cause him to continue to be the kind of man God requires him to be.
One who believes that he is qualified for office has examined himself—a task that must be done carefully. A proud man will conclude that he is qualified in his own strength—thereby showing that he is not really qualified. False humility might cause a man, knowing his sins and weaknesses, to conclude that he is unfit for office. Moses was an example of this. He tried to avoid God’s call by saying, “I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10). In contrast to this, the prospective officebearer must know that, by God’s grace alone, he does have the spiritual and natural gifts necessary for the work. Being convinced of this, he will begin his work with the proper boldness and conviction which God requires of him.
Secondly, he should ask himself whether he is committed to serving faithfully if he should be elected. If he lacks this commitment, he should not seek to be removed from nomination, but should rather pray that God give it to him, and examine whether his heart is right before God in this respect. When, by God’s grace, one finds in himself this willingness to be faithful, he can be assured that God will bless him in his work.
Thirdly, the prospective nominee must ask himself whether he loves the church of Jesus Christ—not just the church universal, but the church as manifest in the congregation of which he is a member. It is a congregation made up of saints who are still sinners; in it are people who are not always easy to work with or visit; and in it are some whom he might not so quickly consider friends, even if they are brothers in Christ. Does he love this church? Does he seek her salvation in Christ? Does he desire that she, as the body of Christ, grow in grace and knowledge and all virtue? And would he be willing, as an officebearer in that church, to give of himself, as one appointed by Christ and in Christ’s service, to this end?
Finally, the nominee must pray that God will work through the upcoming election to do what pleases Him, and he must pray for grace to be subject to God’s will.
In these ways, he shows that he takes his nomination seriously, and is ready to serve God his Savior, and Christ his Lord, if chosen to office.
*K. Sietsma, The Idea of Office, (Jordan Station, ON: Paideia Press, 1985), page 66.