We have already pointed out that the congregation must be given an active part in the choosing of her officebearers. The consistory, too, has an important duty to perform in regard to the election. Only when these two are combined and cooperatively executed does this matter take place according to the institution of Christ. That the whole procedure must be under the control, guidance and supervision of the consistory is clearly stipulated in Article 22 of the Church Order: “The elders shall be chosen by the judgment of the consistory (body of elders) and the deacons . . .” This statement does not abrogate the rights and duties of the congregation in the matter which might be the case if it were interpreted to mean that the consistory and deacons do this exclusively. That, however, is not the case.
If it were so, Article 22 would violate a sound principle of Reformed Church government; would deny what Scripture teaches concerning the appointment of officebearers in the church; and, would agree with the heretical Romish conception of the offices and its teaching concerning the minority of the believers. But fortunately this is not so. No individual, be he the pope, or consistory has the inherent authority to appoint men to the offices in Christ church. Men are called thereunto by God through the church itself and, therefore, this authority to appoint belongs strictly speaking to Christ alone and He is pleased, according to His revealed ordinance, to exercise it through the church. And when we speak here of the church, we do not refer exclusively to the offices, nor simply, to the general office of believers, but to both. Through both Christ calls and appoints men to serve Him as elders and deacons of the church. To properly carry out the election of officebearers there must be a mutual relation of cooperation between consistory and congregation. Each must perform their respective parts and the absence of either makes the election void by virtue of its having been done contrary to the institution of Christ. Where both are properly performed, those chosen are the true appointees of Christ, under whom the church is duty bound to submit itself.
If this sacred principle were borne in mind always, there would be less danger of the flesh projecting itself into these matters. Jealousies, envies, and evil strivings which are frequently evident would be reduced. Some men with excellent capabilities are modest and shun from the calling. Others, oft times with less capabilities, are openly bold and seek to impose themselves upon the church by using external influences to gain the desired position. This is not as it should be. It is certainly a true saying that, “If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work,” but that desire must always be subjected to the will of Christ and those who have such a desire must, therefore, patiently await the call of Christ through the church. It is conceivable that the desire for the office is motivated by carnal and fleshly reasons and then the above saying is no longer true.
The twenty-second article of the church order does not delegate to the consistory more authority than it should exercise in this matter, nor does it nullify the rights of the congregation. It speaks of the duties of both in the correct relation to each other. It proceeds from the Scriptural principle that the consistory is the ruling body of the church, vested with authority by Christ, and, therefore, in the matter of elections is called to exercise sound judgment in selecting prospective candidates for the offices; to exercise proper control and give good guidance so that the elections may be conducted in decency and good order. For the welfare of the church this supervision is of paramount importance. And there is wisdom in such an arrangement. Generally speaking the officebearers of the congregation know better than the individual members the needs of the church and the qualifications of those who are best able to serve those needs. There is less likelihood of one being placed on nomination simply because he is a blood relative. Although consistories are not above reproach and they, too, frequently err, there is less danger of unqualified men being nominated for the offices when these nominations are made by a smaller group of select men than if they were made by the broader gathering of the entire congregation. And, it eliminates the possibility of one who is under silent censure being, placed on the nomination. It is properly the consistory’s function which they must always exercise with much prayer, extreme carefulness, greatest diligence, seeking undividedly the welfare of the church and not that of the individual.
For this reason, what is known as Free Election, or in the Dutch, Vrije Stemming, is (with the exception of instances where a congregation is first organized and there is as yet no consistory) always to be condemned. According to this method the congregation is called together and, without a limited nomination of approved men, the members vote freely until the desired number of office bearers are chosen from out of the entire congregation. This method is wrong on especially two counts: (1) It invalidates the authority of the consistory to govern the election, and (2) it vests in the congregation more than its proper right. Its dangers are many. It is very possible that a member under silent censure is chosen to the office under this procedure. It is quite likely that the unqualified froward member who exerts personal influence will more readily be chosen than the modest, spiritually qualified member under this arrangement. It should, therefore, never be used.
The question may be asked as to what system then is to be regarded as proper? In answering this it may be pointed out that more than one procedure is possible. We do not have to abide here by a hard and fast method. Article 22 of the church order presents two possibilities and it is quite conceivable that both of them could be modified in various ways without destroying their principle correctness so as to make still more possible procedures feasible. In general tie may say that any method is correct and, therefore, usable that includes the proper supervision and labor of the consistory and extends to the congregation its rightful duties. We mention here the following:
(1) The consistory gives the congregation opportunity to direct attention to suitable persons. This is the equivalent of making a general nomination. To this the consistory reserves the right to add other names if desired. From this nomination the consistory then proceeds to choose the number of elders and deacons needed and presents their names to the congregation for approval. If there are no valid objections, the ordination of those chosen by the consistory can take place.
(2) The second method is quite similar to the first except that instead of choosing the exact numbers of office bearers needed, the consistory selects from a previously made nomination by the congregation, double the number needed and from these the congregation proceeds to elect one half. Also here approbation is required before installation can take place.
(3) The third method is that which is customarily followed in our churches and, I believe, also in other Reformed Churches both here and in the Netherlands. It consists in this. The original nomination, consisting of twice the number needed for each office, is made by the consistory. This nomination is presented to the congregation for approbation. If there are no objections the congregation is called to choose one half of those nominated and they in turn are then ordained in their respective offices.
There is much to be said in favor of this last mentioned method. Although all three methods are principally correct, the last-named has the decided advantage of being more systematic and orderly. It is a very workable arrangement. Further it places the whole matter under the control of the consistory and at the same time gives the congregation the right to exercise its proper part. If desired the provision of method No. 1, “that the congregation be given opportunity to direct attention to suitable persons,” may also be incorporated into this method and then it is as complete as it could possibly be.
Article 22 stipulates that the election of officebearers shall take place “according to the regulations for that purpose established by the consistory.” Many consistories do not have such regulations but are simply governed in this matter by the customs of the past. This might involve them in some technical difficulties and, therefore, it is better to have a set of written rules which may be amended or revised from time to time as necessity dictates. In their, “Church Order Commentary,” Monsma and Ivan Dellen offer a suggested list of such rules. Most of these rules concern simple parliamentary procedure. We will not quote them here but offer the following suggestions to those consistories that may desire to formulate a set of written regulations:
(1) These rules should be as concise as possible. Involved and complicated rules lead to more confusion than no rules at all.
(2) They should include matters of procedure which are not directly stipulated in our church order or in the decisions of our churches pertinent to the various articles. For example the rules need not include the stipulation that “Nominations be announced on two successive Sundays” as that is already a decision of our churches under Art. 22.
(3) These rules should cover every foreseeable difficulty that may arise in the voting process. For example, what constitutes a majority vote; what to do in the event of a tie vote; how to treat proxy ballots; etc.
(4) These rules may also stipulate the procedure to be followed in making nominations in the consistory.