The Calling to Office
No one shall take any office upon himself without having been lawfully called thereto.
Only those brothers shall be eligible for office who have made profession of faith and may be considered to meet the conditions set forth in Holy Scripture, e.g. in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
The election to any office shall take place with the cooperation of the congregation, after preceding prayers, and according to the regulations adopted for that purpose by the consistory with the deacons.
The consistory with the deacons shall be free to give the congregation the opportunity beforehand to draw the attention of the consistory to brothers deemed fit for the respective offices.
The consistory with the deacons shall present to the congregation either as many candidates as there are vacancies to be filled, or at the most twice as many, from which number the congregation shall choose as many as are needed.
Those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons in accordance with the adopted regulations.
Prior to the ordination or installation the names of the appointed brothers shall be publicly announced to the congregation for its approbation on at least two consecutive Sundays.
The ordination or installation shall take place with the use of the relevant forms.
The provision that no one shall take any office upon himself without having been lawfully called thereto has been taken directly from the Word of God. The letter to the Hebrews stresses that the Lord Jesus Christ was called by God to the office of our only High Priest, and states in this connection that one does not take this honour upon himself, but is called by God, just as Aaron was, Heb. 5:4.
From other places in God’s Word we know that the Lord took it very ill of anyone if he assumed an office or, without having been called to this task, did what only an office-bearer was allowed to do. We only have to think of King Uzziah, who entered the temple of the Lord to bum incense upon the altar of incense, 2 Chron. 26: 16 ff., or of the revolt of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Nu. 16.
In the rest of this article we speak of the manner in which the call to office is extended; first, however, it must be perfectly clear that the calling to office is the absolute prerequisite for becoming an office-bearer.
The fact that one must wait for a call implies that one is permitted to do only that work to which one was called. When one is called to the office of a minister of the Gospel, one is allowed to do just this work and then one should not interfere with the work of a deacon.
On the other hand, when one has been called to the office of elder, one should abstain from the work which belongs specifically to the task of a minister.
The call extended determines the work one will be allowed to do. This is not a matter of higher or lower, but of difference in task. That an elder is not permitted to preach or to administer the sacraments is certainly not because he has a lower rank than a minister, but this is only because he has not been called to do this.
A call needs not be a call for life. In Art. 24 we speak of the term of office of elders and deacons; they are called to their respective offices for a certain period of time. We shall come back to this in connection with Art. 24.
Although a minister is called for life, yet it must be stated that, if at a certain moment and for specific reasons the call ceases to exist, he is no longer a minister. One stays in office only for as long as one is “covered” by the call from a specific church for a specific task. We shall have more to say about this in discussing Art. 11.
This also implies that one who has been called by a church — and how else would one be called? — has an office and has authority within that particular church alone. The one church cannot call someone to work as an elder or a deacon or a minister in another church; it has no power to do so. It is no wonder that “intrusion upon the office of another” — be it locally or in another place — is mentioned among the serious sins which render one worthy of suspension, Art. 72.
Who May Be Called?
The Canadian Reformed Churches abide by the Scriptural teaching that only male church members are eligible for office.
More and more religious groups and churches are proceeding to the ordination of female church members. This practice is not the fruit of a better understanding of the Word of our God, but the result of being influenced at a rapidly increasing rate by unbelieving theories which endeavour to obliterate the differences the Lord has laid in creation and which turn all relations upside down.
This is not the place to go into all sorts of arguments pro or con; may it suffice that we state here expressly that only male members are eligible for office.
Are all male church members eligible? No, they are not. How could one who has not (yet) made profession of faith be entrusted with the care for and the leadership of the flock of Christ? Or how could one who is being disciplined because he hardens himself in a certain sin be called to the office in Christ’s church?
When stating that only those male church members are eligible for office who have made profession of faith, we certainly do not imply that every one
who has not yet made profession of faith does not fear the Lord or is unable to make a valuable contribution to the cause of the Lord and to the edification of the congregation. We may state with gratitude that many younger members — not only male members but female members as well — do contribute abundantly to the growth and the edification of the church. Yet we insist on it that one has to have made profession of faith before it is permitted to call such a brother to any office.
Does it need any further elaboration? We do not think so; it will be clear to everyone that we are not allowed to call anyone who has not answered in the affirmative to the questions at the public profession of faith. The questions at the ordination or installation of office-bearers are a further elaboration on the questions asked at the public profession of faith. One who himself has not (yet) been admitted to the table of the Lord can hardly be entrusted with the care for the holiness of that table.
May, then, all male members who have made profession of faith be called? No. We add another condition, or rather, we do not add this condition; it is a condition that the Lord has set in His Word, the condition as described by, for instance, the apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.
On purpose we say, “those who may be considered to meet the conditions.” This is expressed very carefully. We can judge only what we as human beings are able to see and to conclude. We might have said too much if we had written, “who meet the conditions.” On the other hand, we are to honour the conditions which the Lord Himself has set. No church would be allowed to call someone who lives in adultery or who is a known swindler.
Some consistories have the custom of reading the relevant part of Scripture before the nomination takes place. This reminds the brothers every time anew of the requirements for office.
How It Is to Take Place
In the first place we find the provision here that the election leading to the call shall take place “with the cooperation of the congregation.”
Although the government of the church rests with the office-bearers, this does not mean at all that the congregation has no voice in the matter and that all it can do is accept and bear what it pleases the office-bearers to impose upon them. It is clear from Scripture that even the apostles did not appoint elders without the cooperation of the congregations. The election of the “Seven,” which is described in Acts 6, was done in this manner that the congregation “picked out from among” them seven brothers. Yes, even the appointment of Matthias as an apostle to take the place of Judas did not happen without the full cooperation of the assembled congregation.
Not only the election of Matthias took place after prayer had been offered up; prayer was also offered before the Seven received the laying on of hands. The appointment of elders in every church, of which Acts 14: 23 speaks, did not take place without “prayer and fasting.” This praying and fasting was deemed necessary, not because of the extra risk involved for those who were office-bearers but because of the great importance of the
office and because of the great responsibility which the office placed on men who were weak in themselves.
Choosing and appointing office-bearers is no light task, something which is done in a few minutes between jobs; it is a responsible action that is to be weighed and well-considered by all who take part in it.
We speak here also of “regulations adopted for that purpose by the consistory with the deacons.” This implies in the first place that such regulations should be in existence.
It would not be good if every time anew the brothers had to ask themselves, “How are we going to do it this time?” Nor would it be good if decisions about procedure had to be taken on the spur of the moment when the brothers are faced with the task of solving a specific case. We should never make up or change regulations with a view to a specific case. Being sinful and imperfect human beings, we are so soon inclined to let ourselves be influenced by persons or by our personal opinion about a brother, by our likes and dislikes. This might prevent us from making such rules or such changes in rules as would be most beneficial to the congregation. For this reason regulations should be drawn up without an election being imminent. If it appears that changes should be made, the proper time for such changes would be the time after an election has been concluded and long before the next one is due.
For the assistance of our consistories, a sample of such regulations is added as Appendix A. It is accompanied by an explanation of the various provisions.
The article provides that the regulations are to be adopted by “the consistory with the deacons.” For the use of this term we may refer to Article 38. When in this connection we speak only of “the consistory” this is done for the sole reason of avoiding the use of the longer designation every time.
Draw the Attention
The fuller and more extensive the involvement of the congregation in all sorts of matters concerning the church, the better it is for the whole community of the church.
The leadership, the government of the church, and the final decisions rest with the office-bearers as a body; but they are always to remember that they are nothing without the congregation. A tug-of-war, however, is of no benefit to anyone. It will, therefore, be wise if the consistory with the deacons gives the congregation the opportunity beforehand to draw the attention of the consistory to brothers deemed fit for the respective offices.
Mind you, this action on the part of the congregation must make sense. In the first place, it is definitely not a sort of advance poll that would more or less obligate the consistory to “put a brother on the nomination.” No one should say, “I know of at least ten brothers who mentioned so-and-so in their letter-of-recommendation to the consistory, and he is not even on the list!”
A consistory is not obligated to make anyone mentioned by the congregation a candidate for office. The invitation to the congregation to draw the attention of the consistory to certain brothers is given to enlist the help of the congregation.
In a smaller congregation the office-bearers usually know the members quite well and have a fair idea of who would be fit for office. Generally speaking, no other member can give the consistory reasons why a brother should be recommended which the consistory did not know as yet.
It is different in a larger congregation. There it becomes near-impossible for all office-bearers to know all the members so well that they can judge who is fit for which office. That is where the help of the congregation is most beneficial.
So we come to the second point which is to be kept in mind. Recommendations must make sense. Simply sending a letter to the consistory with the words, “I recommend the brothers A., B., C, and D. for elder and brothers E. and F. for deacon.” is utterly useless. It is equally useless to write, “I recommend..., for they must be considered to meet the requirements of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.”
Sometimes one can find these last-mentioned words in responses to the announcement that “letters must be signed and also contain the reasons why these brothers are recommended.”
In both instances the purpose to which the help of the congregation is requested is totally neglected.
The consistory does not know everything. There may be brothers who, in all quiet and modesty go their way and occupy their place in the midst of the congregation inconspicuously but who would make excellent elders or deacons, so to speak. When someone writes a letter to the consistory informing it about qualities of the brother of which the office-bearers may not be aware but which are evident to those who know the brother more intimately, then the consistory is really helped. That is the purpose of the request to “give names.” Just “giving names” without giving additional information is a waste of time; the consistory already has a list of all names and mere mention of a name does not offer any help.
List of Candidates for Office
Once the consistory with the deacons has made up the list of candidates for office, this list is presented to the congregation.
How many names is the list to contain? In any case as many names as there are vacancies to be filled.
Sometimes it is thought that the list must contain twice as many names, but this is not necessary at all. In many instances only one name is presented, and no one objects to this. We are referring now to the election of a minister. In a large federation with few vacancies a congregation can permit itself the luxury of having two or even three names presented to it. From these three names it then chooses one to be called as its new minister. If he declines, others can be found and nominated. When a federation is not so
large and when there are quite a few vacancies, a consistory will act wisely when presenting just one name to the congregation. If there are two names and the one who is chosen and called declines the call, it is difficult then to present again the other name to the congregation.
Thus, in the case of choosing a minister, usually just one name is presented. Why should there, then, have to be two names for every vacancy in the case of elders and deacons? There is no compelling reason for that either.
Usually a consistory does present twice as many names as there are vacancies to be filled, although it is not an absolute necessity. If the consistory with the deacons cannot, with a good conscience and wholeheartedly, come to eight nominations for four vacancies, it is not wrong if the brothers present only six or seven names to choose four from. Should it be necessary to come with twice as many names, then the brothers are in grave danger of putting someone on the slate of whom they are convinced that, in fact, he is not suitable but inasmuch as they have to have eight names and expect that he will not be chosen anyway, they add his name nevertheless.
Such would be irresponsible. As many names as there are vacancies to be filled may be presented or at the most — but not necessarily — twice as many.
Sometimes it happens that a consistory presents two names for each vacancy separately so that the congregation does not choose four out of eight but four times one out of two. This would be advisable only in case a congregation is divided into four separate wards or sections in each of which one vacancy is to be filled and which each has its separate “Section-Consistory.” If there is no such division, this practice is highly inadvisable and even outright dangerous. Knowing our sinful heart we can easily see that the temptation is there to make up such sets of candidates that it can be predicted beforehand with almost 100% accuracy who of each set will be chosen and that things are being manipulated. It is therefore much better and safer to leave the congregation the choice from the complete slate of candidates.
All that remains now in this connection is to ask who may take part in the election.
Strictly speaking, we do not expressly state this in our Church Order; we mention the congregation as the body which elects. A consistory could therefore not be accused of violating our Church Order if it decided to let also the sisters take part. But there is a consensus among us and some of our general synods have also dealt with the question. Serious objections on this very issue are alive among many of our members. They fear that granting our sisters the right to take part in the election will lead towards opening the office to them as well. Besides, they say, taking part in elections is an act of government, and this is not in their province.
Others state that all we have to do is acknowledge a right of which they are convinced that the sisters already have it.
Fear is a bad counsellor, and if the sisters have the right to take part, fear may not hold us back from recognizing this right and giving them the opportunity to exercise it.
The assertion that taking part in elections is an act of governing is definitely incorrect. The consistory gives the congregation the opportunity to advise the consistory by means of an election, but ultimately the consistory is not bound by this advice, although it must have very good and compelling reasons to deviate from it. It is the congregation that elects; it is the consistory with the deacons that appoints and calls. Advising is still not the same as governing.
The general synods that dealt with the question whether the sisters have or should have the right to take part in the elections could not come to a definite conclusion, and thus we abide by the consensus prevailing thus far that only male communicant members are allowed to take part in the election for office-bearers.
Further, a point which should have the attention is whether one has to be present at the meeting where the election is held in order to be able to take part in it. In many congregations it is customary that, if one is prevented from attending the election meeting, he can send a ballot in a sealed envelope, signed inside with his name, and that this ballot is counted with those cast at the meeting.
The question is whether this is correct. If one is legitimately prevented from attending a meeting, one has to accept this and should also accept the consequences, one of which is that one cannot take part in elections. Accepting letters with ballots also promotes absenteeism: because one can vote anyway, what need is there to attend a meeting for this purpose? Saying that it is absolutely wrong would be saying too much. Our consistories should, however, ponder the question whether the practice should not be discontinued.
Appointment and Call
After the election the consistory with the deacons meet for the appointment of the elected brothers. The result of the election is evaluated and those are appointed and called who, according to the regulations which the consistory with the deacons had drawn up, are eligible for appointment.
It is not necessary that one has received more than 50% of the votes. It all depends on the regulations in force at the moment.
First of all, blank ballots are eliminated when the votes are counted. Leaving a ballot completely or partially blank can have various reasons. It can be an expression of disagreement or discontent with the slate of candidates as such, a sort of protest. However, this is such un-ecclesiastical behaviour that it should be ignored completely. Another reason could be that someone does not know the candidates or does not know all of them well enough to make a responsible choice. Then there is no other way open than to mark only as many names as one can conscientiously recommend for office.
Still another reason could be that one does not wish to abstain from taking part in the election, yet cannot vote for as many as are needed because, in his opinion, there is not a sufficient number among the candidates who are really fit for the office for which they have been nominated.
No doubt, we could think of other reasons, but the above will be the most common ones. In any case, blank ballots are eliminated from the calculations.
The total number of votes is then divided by the total number of candidates in order to arrive at a conclusion as to who can be declared elected. A consistory may have made the provision that only those will be appointed who have received more than fifty percent of the valid votes.
Let us say that there were 100 ballots and that there are 10 candidates. Those one hundred ballots yielded 475 names: 500 needed with 25 blank ballots or partially blank ballots. This means that the mean per candidate is 47.5. If a consistory decided that one should have more than 50%, no one can be appointed who received 46 votes. A candidate must, in that case, have received 48 votes in order to be eligible for call.
A consistory may also have made the provision that those shall be appointed who received the most votes, but that no one may be appointed who has less than one/third of the votes, 32 in this case. The latter provision renders it possible to appoint a brother without another election being necessary in case only a few received a clear majority or in case one of those elected and appointed is, upon his request, released from the appointment, thus creating a new vacancy.
Upon appointment of those declared elected, the consistory with the deacons calls the brothers to the respective offices by informing them of their appointment. Some consistories do this in writing, others delegate the section elder(s) to convey the message. In whatever way it is done, the brothers should be informed before an announcement is made to the congregation.
Before the brothers who were called may be ordained or installed, their names must be publicly announced to the congregation for its approbation.
We speak of ordination or installation. What is the difference? The term “ordination” is used in the case of those who are not yet in office. This applies to candidates for the ministry, elders, and deacons.
The term “installation” applies to ministers of the Gospel who come from another place and, having accepted a call, are now to be installed in their office in the new congregation. They do not cease being a minister so that they have to be ordained anew. As soon as they have been released from the call of the “old” church, they are subject to the call from the “new” church, the precise moment for this having been agreed upon by the two consistories involved.
Elders and deacons are called only for a specific term and have to be ordained (again) when entering upon a(nother) term of office.
The question has been asked whether objections can be brought in against a nomination before the election takes place. Generally speaking, no. A consistory is not even obligated to make the names of the candidates known some time before the election.
In most churches it is customary to publish the slate the Sunday before the election takes place, but this is not obligatory. Publication of the list of
candidates is done with a view to giving the congregation the opportunity to think about whom to vote for, possibly to talk with one or more of the candidates to learn to know them better and to see whether one may consider them fit for the office. Thus publishing the names of the candidates beforehand is done to facilitate the making of a choice, not to ask the congregation for their approbation. A consistory would be perfectly allowed to make the list of candidates known at the very meeting at which the election takes place. In more than one instance this is done in the calling of a minister.
It is possible, of course, that a member knows something about one of the candidates which is of such a serious nature that the brother ought not even to have a chance of being elected. In such a case it is the member’s duty to inform the consistory about it. This is different, however, from lodging objections against a brother’s candidacy. Such lodging of objections is permitted when the names of those called to the respective offices are announced from the pulpit. This announcement must be made on at least two consecutive Sundays to see whether anyone has any lawful objections to the ordination or installation.
Although the congregation was engaged in the election of the brothers, yet only the male communicant members took part in the voting. At this juncture, however, each and every member has the right to bring in objections to the ordination or installation of an appointed brother.
It will be understood that these objections must be more serious and substantial than personal feelings, likes and dislikes, minor controversies, and so on. A member must be convinced that the Lord does not want to see this particular brother as an office-bearer for specific and serious reasons. If this is the case, the consistory must be informed. If the consistory accepts the objections as valid, the call will be taken back, and the congregation will be informed about it, without, however, giving the reasons why. If the consistory disagrees, the ordination or installation will take place: the responsibility is the consistory’s; it is off the member’s shoulders.
Once the above steps all have been taken, the conclusion of the procedure is the ordination or installation. It must take place with the use of the relevant forms.
These forms have been adopted by the churches so as to ensure that the proper explanation of the office is given, that the proper questions are asked and the proper vows are made. It would be wrong if an officiating minister gave his own personal views on the office and were free to ask questions as he saw fit. The churches must be sure that in each and every member church of the federation the office-bearers have been properly chosen and ordained or installed so that the communion can be maintained and members who move can be advised wholeheartedly and with a good conscience to join the sister church in their new place of residence.
We shall pay attention to these forms when speaking about the articles that describe the specific duties of the various offices.