Admission to Ecclesiastical Office
50. Calling is the lawful way by which qualified persons are promoted to a spiritual office within the church of God. Without this lawful calling it was never allowed to any person to meddle with any function ecclesiastical. Calling has, beside the calling of God and inward testimony of a good conscience, the lawful approbation and outward judgment of men according to God’s word and the order established in his church. None ought to presume to enter into any office ecclesiastical without having this good testimony of conscience before God, who alone knows the hearts of men. The outward calling has two parts: election and ordination. Election is the choosing out of a person or persons most able for the office, by the judgment of the eldership and the consent of the congregation to which the person is appointed. Election is to avoid a person being intruded into any of the offices of the church contrary to the will of the congregation to which they are appointed, or without the voice of the eldership.
51. The qualifications required of officers are the following: They must possess the qualifications described in the New Testament, as needful for persons exercising their office. They must be males. In the case of elders and deacons, they must be in full communion with the congregation. However, an ordained minister who, from any cause not involving church censure, is without a pastoral charge, is eligible as a ruling elder in the congregation where he is resident.
52. The session determine when it is expedient to have an election of ruling elders or deacons, and what number is required. The consent and approbation of the people of that congregation to which the person is appointed is by the suffrage either of all members of the congregation in full communion, or is restricted to those who are male, as the session determine. No person can be admitted as a ruling elder or deacon if the session be dissatisfied with his qualifications in doctrine or life, unless their judgment be reversed by the presbytery or a higher court. The session appoint a day for the ordination or admission, and direct an edict to be read by the minister from the pulpit, at least seven free days previously. The edict contains an intimation, that if any person have any objection to the life or doctrine of the party or parties mentioned, that objection must be given in to the session, and that if no objection be given in, the ordination or admission will be proceeded with on the day appointed. If any objections are given in, the party making an objection is required to substantiate it forthwith as an objection to life or doctrine.
53. The ordination or admission takes place in the presence of the congregation, at the close of one of the assemblies for public worship. The moderator puts the questions in the formula of subscription for office bearers, set forth in the Basis of Union. The corresponding question shall be addressed to the congregation. Then the moderator, in the case of parties not previously ordained to their office in any congregation, sets them apart by special prayer to their office, and commends them to the grace of God. There is no imposition of hands, but after offering up the ordination prayer, the moderator formally admits ruling elders as members of the session, and to the spiritual rule of the congregation. Thereafter, he gives to them the right hand of fellowship, in which he is followed by all the other members of session present. In the case of parties formerly ordained to their office, the moderator puts the questions to them, and admits them to office, without the ordination prayer. Of course this distinction does not prevent the exercise of special prayer, in immediate connection with the admission to office in a particular congregation of previously ordained officers.
54. Ruling elders and deacons are elected for life, or until they cease to be members of the congregation, or their resignation be accepted of, or they be held and declared to have resigned through long absence from sessional meetings (in the case of ruling elders), or from meetings of deacons’ councils (in the case of deacons), or they be deposed. A person formerly ordained to the office of the eldership is regarded as retaining the status of an elder, but he can become an elder of a particular congregation only when elected in that congregation; the case of a deacon is dealt with in the same manner. It belongs to the session to receive and accept the resignation of ruling elders and deacons.
55. The presbytery possesses the function of deciding whether men are qualified or not to be received into the number of enrolled students of theology, with a view to the pastoral office. It has also the function of determining, in due time after examination, whether they may be licensed to preach the Gospel or not, and of licensing them if they be found qualified in doctrine and life. When the presbytery have been satisfied with a student’s trials, the moderator proceeds to put the first four questions in the formula of subscription for office bearers, set forth in the Basis of Union. Then the moderator solemnly licenses the student to preach the Gospel within the bounds of the presbytery, and wherever else his lot may be cast in the course of God’s Providence. Thereafter the moderator addresses the newly-licensed preacher in suitable terms, and the presbytery then engage in prayer, the moderator conducting the devotions. Any minister or probationer belonging to any other denomination who desires to be admitted as a minister or probationer of the Presbyterian Reformed Church must apply to the highest court of the church, which alone has power to admit him. The highest court of the church shall examine him as to his qualifications in doctrine and life. When the court has determined to admit him, the moderator shall demand of him the questions in the formula of subscription for office bearers, set forth in the Basis of Union.
56. It is a principle of Presbyterian church government that the whole proceedings of a congregation connected with the appointment of a minister should be conducted under presbyterial superintendence. This principle requires that no public meeting of a congregation should be held to take any steps connected with the choice of a minister, unless some member of presbytery be present to preside at it. In general, a presbytery should not proceed to moderate a call until they have ground to believe that the congregation are, on the whole, very much of one mind as to the person whom they mean to choose. When the presbytery are prepared to moderate in a call, they fix a day and hour for doing so. Notice of the day and hour and intended procedure must be given from the pulpit of the vacant congregation, seven days intervening between the notice and the day appointed. The presbytery may hold a specially appointed meeting, or presbytery may empower the interim moderator to proceed to moderation in a call. At the specified time, the moderator conducts worship and preaches in the church of the vacant charge. At the close of worship the form of a call is produced and read. The congregation are then asked whose name they desire to have inserted in the call. The suffrage belongs either to all members of the congregation in full communion, or is restricted to those who are male, as the session shall determine. When the call has been agreed to, the persons present whose names are on the communion roll are invited to come forward and affix their signatures. After the call has been subscribed, the moderator attests it as thus subscribed.
57. Dissents from a call can be received only when they are given in immediately after the call has been attested by the moderator. When an objection made is seen to involve a charge affecting the orthodoxy or moral character of a minister or probationer, the presbytery must insist upon the objectors either framing a libel and proceeding with it in the usual form, or abandoning the objection. The presbytery may decline to sustain the call, either on the ground of the number of dissents, or on the ground of the weight due to the reasons or objections adduced. Or for other good cause the presbytery may refuse to put the call into the hand of the minister.
The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers
58. It being manifest by the word of God, that no man ought to take upon him the office of a minister of the gospel until he be lawfully called and ordained thereunto, and that the work of ordination is to be performed with all due care, wisdom, gravity, and solemnity, we humbly tender these directions, as requisite to be observed.
59. Ordination is always to be continued in the church. Ordination is the solemn setting apart of a person to some public church office. Every minister of the word is to be ordained by imposition of hands, and prayer, with fasting, by those preaching presbyters to whom it doth belong. It is agreeable to the word of God, and very expedient, that such as are to be ordained ministers, be designed to some particular church, or other ministerial charge. He that is to be ordained minister must be duly qualified, both for life and ministerial abilities, according to the rules of the apostle in I Timothy 3:2-6 and Titus 1:5-9. He is to
be examined and approved by those by whom he is to be ordained. But, if any person be found unfit, he is not to be ordained. No man is to be ordained a minister for a particular congregation, if they of that congregation can show just cause of exception against him. This ordination is the act of a presbytery, unto which the power of ordering the whole work belongs: yet so as that the preaching presbyters, orderly associated, are those to whom the imposition of hands doth appertain, for those congregations within the bounds of that presbytery. And therefore it is very requisite that no single congregation, that can conveniently associate, do assume to itself all and sole power in ordination.
60. He that is to be ordained for any place must address himself to the presbytery, and bring with him testimonial of his diligence and proficiency in his studies, what degrees he hath taken in the university, and withal his age (which is to be twenty-four years), but especially of his life and conversation. Which being considered by the presbytery, they are to proceed to inquire touching the grace of God in him, and whether he be of such holiness of life as is requisite in a minister of the gospel, and to examine him touching his learning and sufficiency, and touching the evidences of his calling to the holy ministry, and in particular his fair and direct calling to that place.
61. The rules of examination are these: That the party examined be dealt withal in a brotherly way, with mildness of spirit, and with special respect to the gravity, modesty, and quality of every one. He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues, and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, and rendering some portion of some into English. Inquiry shall be made as to what authors in divinity he hath read, and is best acquainted with, and trial shall be made in his knowledge of the grounds of religion, and of his ability to defend the orthodox doctrine contained in them against all unsound and erroneous opinions, especially these of the present age, of his skill in the sense and meaning of such places of Scripture as shall be proposed unto him, in cases of conscience, and in the chronology of the Scripture, and the ecclesiastical history.
62. If he hath not before preached in public with approbation of such as are able to judge, he shall, at a competent time assigned him, expound before the presbytery such a place of Scripture as shall be given him. He shall preach before the people, with the presbytery, or some of the ministers of the word appointed by them, being present. The proportion of his gifts in relation to the place unto which he is called shall be considered. And as for him that hath formerly been ordained a minister, and is to be removed to another charge, he shall bring a testimonial of his ordination, and of his abilities and conversation, and his fitness for that place shall be tried by his preaching there, and by a further examination of him.
63. If the sustained call be to the ordained pastor of a congregation in another presbytery, the induction cannot be proceeded with until a judgment has been obtained in favor of the translation, either from the presbytery within whose
bounds that congregation is situated, or from the superior court which has jurisdiction over that presbytery. The other presbytery decide either that the translation is expedient, and that the call ought to be presented to the minister, or that the translation is not expedient, and that the call ought not to be presented to him.
64. When, all obstructions having been removed out of the way, a presbytery are prepared to fix a day for the ordination and induction of a probationer, or for the induction of a previously ordained minister, the edict is to be served from the pulpit of the vacant charge on a particular Sabbath, at an interval of not less than seven days from the ordination and induction. By the edict, public intimation is made that the presbytery will proceed in due form to the settlement, if no objection to the life or doctrine of the probationer or minister be previously brought forward and substantiated. Any objections at this last stage must be substantiated immediately to the satisfaction of the presbytery.
65. Upon the day appointed for ordination, which is to be performed in that church where he that is to be ordained is to serve, a solemn fast shall be kept by the congregation, that they may the more earnestly join in prayer for a blessing upon the ordinances of Christ, and the labors of his servant for their good. The presbytery shall come to the place, or at least two ministers of the word shall be sent thither from the presbytery, of which one appointed by the presbytery shall preach to the people concerning the office and duty of ministers of Christ, and how the people ought to receive them for their work’s sake.
66. After the sermon, the minister who hath preached shall, in the face of the congregation, demand of him who is now to be ordained, the questions in the formula of subscription for office bearers, set forth in the Basis of Union. For the induction of a previously ordained minister, the questions in the formula of subscription for office bearers shall be demanded of him. The corresponding questions shall be addressed to the congregation. The probationer kneels, and the moderator ordains him to the ministry with solemn prayer and imposition of hands. It is the practice for all ministers present to stand around and lay their hands on his head. The ordination prayer having been concluded, the moderator formally receives and admits the new minister, in the name of the presbytery, and by authority of the Divine Head of the church, to the pastoral charge of the congregation, and, along with the other members of presbytery, gives him the right hand of fellowship. In the case of a previously ordained minister, the moderator receives and admits the minister to the pastoral charge, and gives the right hand of fellowship. It is usual for the admission, in this case, to be preceded or followed by prayer. This being ended, let the minister who preached, briefly exhort him to consider of the greatness of his office and work, the danger of negligence both to himself and his people, the blessing in this life, and that to come, which will accompany his faithfulness, and withal exhort the people to carry themselves to him, as to their minister in the Lord, according to their solemn promise made before. And so by prayer commending both him and his flock to the grace of God, after singing of a Psalm, let the assembly be dismissed with a blessing.
67. That records be carefully kept in the several presbyteries, of the names of the persons ordained, with their testimonials, the time and place of their ordination, of the presbyters who did impose hands upon them, and of the charge to which they are appointed. That no money or gift, of what kind soever, shall be received from the person to be ordained, or from any on his behalf, for ordination, or ought else belonging to it, by any of the presbytery, or any appertaining to any of them, upon what pretence soever.