I observed a classical exam recently. There is nothing unusual about that. Over the last ten years, classis Chatham has conducted more than fifteen exams. We have examined candidates for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, people seeking to become commissioned pastors, and applicants for classical licenses to exhort. We have also conducted a colloquium doctum for a pastor coming into the Christian Reformed Church from a Presbyterian church. In a previous classis I witnessed the exam of a person seeking ordination under Church Order article seven. Though I have witnessed the occasional moment of high drama or temporary setback, my overall impression is that one exam is pretty much like another.
The exams share a similar format; two people sitting on a stage having as natural a conversation as is possible given the circumstances. The exams cover pretty much the same ground. There will be an evaluation of a sermon (where applicable), and the candidates knowledge of the Bible, theology, the Reformed confessions, and practical matters will be probed. Questions from the floor will be allowed, which is one place things can get interesting. There is really no way of preventing a delegate from pressing his or her pet concern. Then the candidate will be excused and after prayer the delegates will discuss and vote.
One exam is pretty much like another, even though the offices and roles the person will be admitted to are very different. A minister of the word will be ordained for life and be eligible to serve anywhere in the CRC, but for the candidate the classical exam is the culmination of a long series of exams, assessments and interviews. Licensees will typically have one exam, but their function is limited to exhorting and their will likely have to be renewed periodically. Commissioned pastors are limited to the ministries they serve, but could serve in that ministry for a long time, and the classical exam is the one opportunity the broader church has determine whether the candidate meets the synodically approved standards. Even so, one exam is pretty much the same as another.
My first experience as an examiner was for the practica portion of an exam for a classical license. My only guidance came from a mentor who suggested that I ask questions that were specifically related to preaching since that’s what the exam was for. I suspect that in most classes something like that happens; the weight of the exam is left up to the discretion of the examiner. When more people seek licenses to exhort or ordination as commissioned pastors, we ought to think about how exams can be tailored so that one is not simply like another.