The Loophole: Losing Your Ordination Without Cause


Is it possible in the CRC Church Order for pastors to have their ordination removed without cause?

The intent of Church Order Article 17a was simply to assist churches and pastors in their effort not to repeat their own past mistakes, but the way 17a is written...  

Let me tell you a story, and then leave you a question.

In 2009 I worked out an amicable separation agreement with the church I pastored. After submitting it to Classis, 17a was administered. I went to a counselor who gave me a clean bill of health after six sessions and recommended that I return to the ministry. It was not what Classis wanted to hear. They removed my ordination at the end of the year without even reporting my counselor's findings. 

Because 17a does not require any due diligence, or any hearing, or any witness of wrong doing as required by Scripture, I could not defend myself. I asked for what I had done that was worthy of the discipline of removal of my ordination, and I was simply told that I was not being disciplined - that would have required a hearing and charges and witnesses.

I was at a loss. How could our denomination allow for a loop hole that allowed ordination to be removed without "discipline" - without being discipled?

God is so good. I came to understand further the errors I made as a pastor and have grown immeasurably from this process, but it has been over a year now and no one from my Classis has contacted me. There has been no effort made to disciple me or walk along side me. I love the CRC, having come into it through a Home Mission church. I love Calvin Seminary for what it taught me. I love my CRC church and the healing I have found there. But I am confounded by the cold shoulder and lack of love I have experienced from my classis, my brother pastors, and my denomination.

The church is broken, but it is also the bride of Christ. I will not leave the ministry and the calling God placed on me. I love the church and will serve her. If the CRC does not want me as one of its ordained pastors, I can live with that. My only question is why have the pastors of the CRC allowed a loophole for the removal of their ordination without cause to remain in the church order?

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I don't know the details of your case.  But on the face of it classis should not be able to release you from ministerial office before two years have elapsed from the time of release from the congregation.   Unless the process of evaluation and assistance indicated a sooner release was advisable.  

Article 17

a. Ministers who are neither eligible for retirement nor worthy of discipline

may for weighty reasons be released from active ministerial service in

a congregation through action initiated by themselves, by a council, or

jointly. Such release shall be given only with the approval of classis, with

the concurring advice of the synodical deputies, and in accordance with

synodical regulations.

—Cf. Supplement, Article 17-a (process for evaluation and assistance and determination)

b. The council shall provide for the support of a released minister in such a

way and for such a time as shall receive the approval of classis.

c. A minister of the Word who has been released from active ministerial

service in a congregation shall be eligible for call for a period of two years,

after which time the classis, with the concurring advice of the synodical

deputies, shall declare the minister to be released from the ministerial office.

For weighty reasons the classis, with the concurring advice of the synodical

deputies, may extend the eligibility for call on a yearly basis.

d. In some situations, the classis may decide that it cannot declare the

released minister eligible for call after the minister has completed the

process of evaluation and assistance. The classis, with the concurring

advice of the synodical deputies, shall then declare the minister to be

released from ministerial office. 

I should also point out the inconsistency in this article 17 which seems to indicate a release "without cause or fault", and yet leaves a great deal of decision in the hands of classis to determine over the ordination or calling of someone, without identifying a justifiable reason.   In essence, this is a useless article.   If a pastor is let go by a church, then he may remain ordained, but can only operate in any case under the jurisdiction of some local church.   If no local church authorizes him, then his ordination will more or less lapse.   If classis "releases" him, this can easily be revoked by some church calling him and requesting "re-ordination", since he was released "amicably", and not "deposed".   This article largely adds process and protocol without essential and elemental effect.  imho. 

John, thanks for your response. I have spoken of 17a which is an error. It is Supplement, 17a. After all this time we have shortened it to 17a and that can be confussing. 

In 17a.4) the church order states: "If classis does not declare the minister eligible for call, it shall, with concurrance of synodical deputies, release the minister from office." 

Be careful to not that the minister is being released from office - the removal of the ordination - not the same as a release from service where the minister maintains the ordination. This removal of the ordination does not require cause. Where there is cause, Article 82-84 applies, and in this case the minister has the opportunity to address witnessess and the charges as Scripture requires.

How can anyone claim that the removal of a minister's ordination, that required four years of seminary to obtain, is not a form of discipline? Surely the minister did something wrong, surely there were witnesses, and the Bible requires that two or more of these come forward. I am suggesting that Supplement 17a is in violation of Scripture. What do you think?

First, I think that the supplement and the original article 17 ought to be amalgamated, and placed in sequence so that confusion is greatly reduced.   Then it also becomes more obvious how convoluted it is, and how it attempts to do two contradictory things at once, which is hinted at in article 17d.   On the one hand, no blame, just a disharmony of purpose.  On the other hand counseling and therapy.   And possibility of discontinuation of ordination/ministry.  

The essence of ordination is ministry.   This applies to all offices.  If ministry is not engaged in, then offices are not exercised, regardless of title.   The essence of pastoral/preaching ministry is that a church is required to be served.   If such a church does not manifest, and if duties or tasks of office are not exercised/performed then the ministry is absent.   Thus article 17 becomes a process of relatively little significance.   If it releases someone under article 17, then it is possible to request re-instatement, upon the request of a church who wishes to call the individual, since no blame or fault has been assessed. 

But then we have this whole business about counseling and therapy, implying some kind of problem.   And the article and supplement suggests that classis may simply declare the preacher ineligible for call, and declare him released, without indicating any reasons.  Thus we have a contradictory scenario within this article/supplement, which is not clarified as well as it should be. 

But, the article ought to be eliminated.   If counseling and therapy lead to the determination that the man is unsuitable for office in the opinion of classis, then  this should be mentioned, and should not be so ambiguous.  It should become part of article for deposition. 

In our present society, we so often have people who resign, or are laid off, rather than fired for cause, that the practice has entered the church as well.   I don't know if this practice  is speaking the truth in love, although I admit the intention is to cause the least possible hurt.   

 If article 17 was not voluntarily requested (which might be self-discipline) then certainly it is a form of discipline by others. 

John, you make a convincing arguement. Classis holds all the cards on the "released from office". They are not obligated to follow the recommendation of counselors, they are not obligated to prove cause, they are not obligated to follow any agreement between the minister and the church the minister is leaving. They must have the approval of synodical deputies, but the way the Church Order is worded, the deputies cannot withhold approval. One would assume that a classis would never do such a thing, but mine did.

Please understand that I made mistakes as a pastor, as did the elders of the church I served. I do not fault the elders, we are human and live in depravity - we make mistakes. This is why establishing sufficient cause is so important to being released from office in Supplement Art. 17a.; and it is why the Bible requires in both the OT and NT that two or more witness are required before disciplining a person for an offense. The arguement that being released from office is an act of grace and not discipline (though discipline should always be  done with grace) is the foundation of the loophole and is a bucket that holds no water.

I am stated clerk in the classis involved.  It should be noted that Coleman offered his resignation from ordained ministry, which classis accepted.