Classical Exams

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With May just around the corner, many of us in Classis leadership are preparing for classis meetings. A large part of our meetings are often taken up with examining candidates for ministry. This has got me thinking of the place of these examinations in our classes. Our Church Order says that:

“The ordination of a candidate for ministry of the Word requires the approval of the classis of the calling church and of the synodical deputies. The classis, in the presence of the deputies, shall examine the candidate concerning the candidate's doctrine and life in accordance with synodical regulations” (Article 10a) .

This examination is the last step in a long process of being declared a candidate. I wonder if it is a bit redundant. Before the classical exam the candidate has been through four years of theological education, been examined and approved by the faculty of the seminary, been examined and approved by the Synodical Candidacy Committee and been approved at Synod. The Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government 2008 Revision commentary on Article 10 explains this step by saying:

“It is important to note that the ordaining of candidates, while actually accomplished within a congregational setting, is done by the authority of, and on behalf of, the whole church. In Reformed polity...ministers of the Word are ordained into a “denominational” office.... That is why synodical deputies are involved in the approving a candidate for ordination.”

Isn't this already covered by the process of becoming a candidate? Why this extra step? It seems unbalanced that someone who has gone through all the steps before could potentially be prevented from becoming a minister of the Word by a group who may not know the candidate well and only meets with them for an hour or two before needing to make a decision. Do we do things this way because it is the way we have always done it? Am I missing some part of the big picture around this issue?

What do you think?

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Participant

Elizabeth, at one time in our denomination's authority flowed per an "upside down pyramid" scheme with the local Council at the "wider top", and Synod at the "narrower bottom"- demonstrating a version of church polity that was in contrast to a Catholic Church style with all power concentrated in a select few.

This "reformed" version modeled and provided a decentralized form of authority, allowing the Classis- closer to the local council, to give approval to one becoming "minister of the word."  It still exists today per Church Order.

Today our denomination's model is inching closer to a "centralized" business model leaving the local congregation less and less involved, tipping the pyramid back upright with authority flowing from a narrower, more centralized and less personal place.

More efficient- perhaps; less connected with the churches of the denomination- definitely.

"Redundant"-only if you see the "centralized model" as the correct standard.

"Approved by those who may not know the candidate...", you must have missed the celebratory activity of a Classis Exam where those entrusting their innermost personal and spiritual lives to one becoming their pastor, rejoice together often family and church.

The Classis exam perhaps re-inverses that pyramid model back to where it should belong- the Classis, with the local churches putting a stamp of approval, along with its representatives (Synodical Deputies) who ensure Church Order is properly followed.

We have just completed three classical exams in our Classis, and from the feedback from the members of the congregation and Classis that attended- it was awesome, an unforgettable event celebrated together with the candidate (now minister) and the church receiving this pastor.

This step is an important bonding event for the church that calls the candidate; not merely a redundant step in an impersonal academic process.

In my humble opinion, here is the question: Where should the authority reside for declaring a candidate minister of the word- someplace far and impersonal from the church, or where the candidate will be embraced by those served?

  

Admin

Great question. I agree that the examination process does seem redundant. It certainly seemed that way to me when my wife and friends went through it years ago. And I'm sure it's on the minds of all the candidates that are (TODAY, as it turns out!) being examined by the candicacy committee.

The only problem is....I can't think of a step to eliminate!

I think Dutchoven's observation about what happens at (some? most?) classis exams is very true, and I wouldn't want to give up that step. Of course, we've also heard horror stories about classical exams, but hopefully those are the exception.

The others steps you mention seem equally important. So I don't know, maybe in this case the redundancy is OK, even good? What do others think?

Hi Guys(That includes you Elizabeth) I like Dutch's description of the inverted pyramid. Great word picture of our church structure. As far as classis approvals of pastors, we all know the system of church order rarely is the problem or the source of conflict and frustration. The way people use, manipulate, and interpret the order is the issue. We always have to keep this in focus when we talk about confessions or church order. We make church order function or hinder its function.

    Why we act as if the documents of church(except the Bible) are a issue. That is a fallacy.

Ken

I don't think it is a bad idea for a classis to examine a candidate, provided it is done as a service to the calling church, and provided proper respect is given to the responsibility of the local church to make the final decision.   In other words, it is possible that the classis will deem the candidate acceptable, but that the local church will become aware of issues that will create problems, and so will decide that the candidate has not passed the classical interview.   Or vice versa, that classis will find the candidate lacking,   but the calling church will find the candidate acceptable.   Classis should not lord it over the responsibility of the local church to decide.  It should only make stipulations that impact the interaction of the candidate with the other churches of the classis, if necessary.  

 

 

Classical examinations also include ministers who are new to the CRC. In fact Elizabeth's grandfather also had to submit to classis examinations in 1953.  He was very surprised about these examinations. He had 25 years of experience at that time and was treated as if he had just left Calvin Seminary the previous week.

How people feel about classis examinations mostly depends upon the people who are managing the examinations. I believe the last number of years many examinations are much kinder to the candidates and can actually result in celebrations rather than having most delegates hide in shame.

The decision for examination by classis should be left to the calling church.   When a calling church can call previous employment and references they may decide that a classical exam is unecessary. 

Great comments and good to think about.  Dutch - I think you hit on a few things that I hadn't thought about.  I agree that it seems like our denomination is going for a more "centralized" model and I am not convinced that is the best thing. So then maybe what needs to change is the process that happens BEFORE the classical exam.  I don't have any real ideas because all those steps seem important and yet it does seem like there should be somthing different because often the classis that does the examining does not know the candidate well - perhaps the church that is actually doing the calling knows the candidate but that is only two or three of the delegates to the classis meeting and they are not usually directly involved in the exam but just as observers and sometimes even called upon to defend their choice of someone for their minister. 

Over the last few years the denomination has been encouraging classes to develop teams of peple that journey with the person being called to ministry from the beginning of their call - before they even begin seminary - and not just for funding but for leadership development and mentoring.  Perhaps this is the key to how classical exams can be less "redundant" and more relevant.  Except, often the home classis of the person going into ministry is not the classis that ends up doing the exam. 

This issue has been on my mind lately because I am facing my classical exam next week.  I have some advantages, however, because it is also my home classis and I have been involved with the Leadership Development team, preached in many of the churches over the years, been a part of the classis for eight years and been examined there for a licence to exhort about five years ago.  Many of the pastors and elders there do know me and I think that makes it easier for me because even if I get really nervous and mess up on a few things they have had other interactions with me and perhaps are able to see better what is nerves and what is real. 

Maybe getting rid of the classical exam is not what is needed but I do think something needs to change.

I know of a situation where someone was examined in one classis and passed, but did not pass in another classis.  Not sure what that says to procedure or to the way these exams are done, but it certainly made me more alert. 

Participant

John, Just curious as to why a minister of the Word would be reexamined by another classis if they have already been ordained? Or are you talking about an Art. 23 situation or licensure to exhort?

I'm guessing that the person was first examined in a classis that did not pass the candidate and then was called by another church in another classis and was examined and passed.

The TODAY I read this evening April 16(!) - (Matthew 20: 20-28) made me think! An "inverted pyramid" model seems to match this text more closely compared to a "CEO model" where the person above is responsible for all the important decisions for all the people below him or her. Because the CEO model seems to be more efficient (consensus building takes lots of time) and most succesful large companies use this model, there is quite a push to upset the inverted pyramid.

As long as church leaders resist the temptation to have obtain more power and congregations resist the temptation to have professionals make all the decisions, won't we need to keep the consensus Inverted system where both Calvin Seminary, the local congregation and classis all need to agree that the candidates are able to become ministers. 

Participant

I see the value in the classical examination but at the same time have picked up the attitude from some of these classes that the examination step is because they don't fully trust Calvin Seminary or Synod. That's usually when the examinations are very tough with an almost, "we're going to challenge this candidate to see if CTS really DID do their job" attitude. That is wrong too.

I prefer the approach that our classis takes with candidate examinations that trusts they know the heavy stuff of church polity, doctrine and Bible. So the questions are focused more on what key understanding the candidate has from these areas directly relating to ministry as well as their personal life and spiritual practices. The whole purpose of the examination isn't to try and stump the candidate but rather let them shine to show themselves approved.

You're right Allen, when the exam ends up being about checking up on Calvin Seminary it isn't right.  It also isn't right when the examiner comes to the exam thinking: "I went through the ringer when I was examined, so this candidate will have to face the same thing." 

My exam a week ago didn't try to stump me or have me for lunch, and when I was asked something I didn't quite remember, the examiner helped me to figure out the right answer.  They really did use the time to help them all get to know me and let me shine.  It still isn't something I'd like to go through again - it was a very intense two plus hours.  After this experience and being an observer at another exam two days later in a different classis, I can see the value of the Classical exam and yet I wonder if there is still a way to streamline the process.