License to Exhort -- May a council use an approved lay person lead in worship, including preaching?


A number of years ago, church order made provisions for a local congregation to request Classis to approve a lay leader the license to exhort for a varitey of reasons.  The one I was familiar with was a congregation remotely located and this person licensed to exhort could assist the pastor with leading in worship and was approved to exhort after examination by the local classis.  It is now my understanding that this work can now be met with the office of the Commisioned Pastor.  Again, one who has been examined by the local classis and can now assist the pastor in the leading of worship and to be engaged in the Minsitry of the Word.  I think I have most of my facts straight with the exception of maybe the use of terms which may be incorrect.

My question is, may a local Council use a lay person whom they deem acceptable to lead in worship, including the preaching of the Word?

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See Article 23 and 24, and their suppliments.  The denomination makes exception for special circumstances under the title of "Ministry Assistant."  Specifically look at pages 40 and 41.

Here is the link to a pdf of the church order:

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Article 43 of the Church Order speaks of licensure given by the classis for persons to have the right to exhort.  Commissioned Pastors also receive the right to preach after they have been examined by classis and subsequently ordained.  This is covered in Article 24.

The council is not permitted to use a "lay person" who has not been given the right to exhort of preach by the classis for preaching in his or her own church.

If you wish to get "behind" these regulations, I urge you to read my commentary on Article 43.  The commentary is available from Faith Alive Resources, our denominational publishing ministry.


Thank you all for your input.  A number of you have taken time to review this question and commented honestly.  I believe the answer is clear and appreciate those who attempt to abide to the intent of these guidelines as set forward in Church Order.

In the interests of not making this quite so easy, I would like to point out that a license to exhort was originally so-named in order to distinguish it from preaching.  It was thought that those qualified to exhort, were not really qualified to preach, so we would call them exhorters who exhorted, but did not preach.  We distinguished three types of service/sermon leaders;  those who preach, those who exhort, and those who "read".   Of course, in some rare cases, we have preachers and exhorters who mostly read their sermons.....   And it is hard sometimes to distinguish between an exhorter who seems to be preaching, and a preacher who seems to be reading, or exhorting. 

The church order including the supplements,  itself does not specify the origin of the sermons that the council may approve.  The reason for council approving the sermons was to prevent heresy or personal attacks, mostly, but the church order does not say that.  Nor does the church order indicate how it is to approve sermons or by what method.   The thought is that a crc committee approving reading sermons should be good enough, but the church order does not say that.  There is no direct indication in the church order as to the possibility of the range of the origin of a sermon that it might approve. 

Article 43 seems to deal with a student fund, and the license to exhort (strange that they are put in the same article).  There does not seem to be an indication in the article itself that 43b only applies to those who have no intention of entering the ministry. 

Article 53 indicates that others (non-preachers and non-exhorters) may be asked by consistory to lead a service.  They should refrain from official acts of ministry, including preaching, but may read a sermon approved by  consistory.   There is no indication as to the method of approval of the sermon.   The acts of ministry are "entrusted to the church and its ordained leaders and not to a specific office..."(supplement).  Therefore it would seem that consistory could approve someone (presumably an elder) to lead a service, and read a sermon.  It would also seem that consistory could approve a sermon.  If the "sermon" is written by an ordained elder, there does not seem to be any direct prohibition for approval.   The reader cannot preach nor exhort by virtue of not being a preacher or exhorter;  therefore he must only "read", thus fulfilling the requirements of the church order as read.  Do you have a reference for a decision on this issue? 

I have a question for Dr. Henry DeMoor.   In an earlier discussion, you indicated that elders could lift their hands for the blessing and benediction when leading a service, even though the church order did not so indicate.  I was not able to find a reference for that.  Could you refresh us as to when and where that was decided?  It's also interesting that your commentary seems to have no difficulty with ordained elders ordaining new elders("laying on of hands"), even though that is indicated to be an "official act of ministry" as well(page 119). 

I think this is sometimes a touchy issue for a whole bunch of reasons (I have read your entire church order commentary).   Just wondering if it is permissable to sometimes disagree with some of the comments in your commentary?  

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On that same page 119 of my Commentary, my advice for those who are not (or not yet) ordained is "Do not raise your arms and pronounce the salutation and the benediction.  You will undoubtedly upset someone if you do.  Instead, change these pronouncements into prayers: "The Lord bless us and keep us ..."

Then, indeed, I advise such folk not to "do the laying on of hands" but have the chair of the elders and the chair of the deacons do it because they ARE ordained and because Synod 2001 ruled that official acts of ministry are entrusted to the church's ordained leaders, not to a specific office.  That reference in on page 294.

You are also free to call all of what I write a "bunch of hokey" (or any other similar expression) since it is what it says it is, a Commentary, but nobody should undercut the authority of the Church Order itself.  We have covenanted to observe it faithfully.


Henry, I would by no means  call what you say in the commentary a bunch of hokey;  I think you are expressing some very common understandings.   Nor do I hold you responsible for the way the church order is written, or for what it says or doesn't say, nor for what people think it says (when it doesn't).   And in this your comment, I would agree with you in any case.   But in the issue of whether an ordained elder could write a (pre-approved) sermon, the church order itself does not directly seem to forbid it, if the consistory gives permission.   You seem to agree that ordained elders could raise their hands in the blessing, or conduct ordination of elders, which are considered to be official acts of ministry (sort of).   Therefore official acts of ministry are permissable for ordained elders, though not often done.   The church order does not specify chair of elders for these tasks, so it would seem not restricted to that, although that would be a reasonable way of doing it without restricting another elder if the circumstances seem to advise it under the approval of the consistory. 

I agree we should attempt to guide ourselves by the church order, but I suspect you are also aware of the sometimes arbitrary selection of church order articles to live by.   The range of options within the parameters of the church order are also larger than many people realize, do you agree?   I would also suggest that it is permissable to express some disagreement with the church order and the way it is written, even while respecting the intents of it, and living with it in the meantime. 

Could you tell me when synod decided that it was okay for ordained elders to raise their hands and pronounce the blessing/benediction?  


I would like to drill down to Article 53a a bit more.  I am finding that there is an interpretation that a local consistory may on it's own without any interaction from the local classis to permit any person of there choosing to conduct worship services.  Permission is granted by the authority of the local congregation after leadership finds that the individual is reformed in his teaching and may preach/exhort only within the walls of that congregation.  Examination is needed only if he is preaching/exhorting in other churches within the classis.  This interpretation is based on Article 53a period, going no further to what CO may say.  Any thoughts out there???

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John V.,

The interpretation of Article 53 you report certain councils holding is definitely not acceptable.  When the article says "Worship services," it means all worship services, in your own as well as other congregations.  When it then calls for licensure to exhort, it is referring back to Article 43 (license by the classis) and Article 22 (students, by the denomination -- Board of Calvin Seminary).  Councils that permit a person to exhort without licensure by the classis are in violation of the Church Order.  If they wish to start or continue such a practice, they must ask synod to change the Church Order so that, in amended form, it is allowed.  Of course, Article 53 does say that an unlicensed person appointed by the consistory may "read a sermon," that is, literally read one prepared by a minister of the Word and approved by the council.  If you then ask why is all this the case, the answer is that councils are accountable to the classis in the important task of guarding the pulpit so as to maintain good Christian and Reformed preaching in accordance with who we are as a denomination.


Thank you Henry, I appreciate your depth of knowledge and understanding of a document we as a denomination have agreed to honor.



Oh but this is happening Henry- a bending of the the short ticket I have had on this “planet ride” there have been "others" in the pulpit - rightfully or wrongfully so; and my hunch is this coming Sunday it will be happening somewhere beyond the cloistered walls of the Church Order.

An ordained pastor may begin and end a service but invite others to "teach" the congregation, or give a narrative which in itself is a one-way conversations of spiritual journey with full knowledge of a Council, or wink on the part of a Classis; perhaps an aged evangelist who is dear to a congregation who has spent a long time traveling 50 miles each Sunday to "lead" a small group of people that now ordained minister would find "led to;"  or to consider a small struggling church that no longer can be "organized" and reverts to "emerging" in order to survive and while no pastor can be afforded members of that group continue on to minister to each other. 

So yes, perhaps we need to take a look at Art 53a and see if there is a way to "stretch the mold" it to the extent it does not break with our correct interpretation of collaborating as a denomination to protect which we have cultivated for so long- solid reformed preaching... and that I must admit is unfortunately slipping a way down a slope whether an ordained minister or not is standing in the pulpit.

My thoughts are not to indict anyone- nor a particular process, but just this...I'm wondering, hopefully not wandering:-)

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Yes, Dutchoven, I am quite aware that this happens.  And with respect to the exceptions that are always there, I assure you that I am not a legalist and a wink from the classis is sometimes OK.  What I don't accept is that churches start doing this on a regular basis.  I've heard of one that has a young person as an "apprentice," taught the entire seminary curriculum by the ordained pastor on the scene, truly believing that one day he can become a candidate that way.  I think that's just wrong and it shows how some do not covenant to follow the rules faithfully in spite of their vows of ordination, submitting to the government of the church.


Community Builder

One more thing.  Emerging congregations, whether an initial plant or one that has reverted from organized status, are not obliged to follow the Church Order.  They should move in that direction, of course, anticipating organized status down the road, but an unordained person leading an emerging congregation is not a violation of the Church Order.


Thanks Henry for your comment...dialogue is necessary in our denomination, monologue seems to get us in trouble- i.e. "Fractured Flocks..." per recent Christian Courier (I really need to read that article), or the Blog "Why I left the CRC..." (after reading it the best discriptive reaction- wow.)

Yes, there is room for exception; and I find your comment "emerging churches are  not obligated to follow church order" rather interesting... my fertile imagination paints a "lemming run" for emergent status by some flocks circling not knowing were to land.

Your words continue to offer wisdom and please find time to write a sequal to your most recent book- there must be more  stories without end you have gathered that will enlighten all of us on this jewel called the CRCNA.



The final chapter has been written.  Even though a strict interpretation of church may suggest that an unordained lay member should be examined by classis prior to being licensed to exhort, the route prefered was to embrace the concept that the local council answers to no higher assembly and to "waive" the classical exam and simply review the individuals qualifications and grant permission to exhort.