Is a Congregational Meeting Necessary to Call a Chaplain?

Our church council called a special congregational meeting to vote on calling a chaplain. Is that necessary when the chaplain isn’t going to be working at our church? 

Another congregational meeting! Can’t the council take care of this? No, for good reasons that reveal two important principles of polity in the Christian Reformed Church. 

The first principle is that all ministers—pastors, professors, missionaries, chaplains, church planters, and others—must have a call from a local church council. They are accountable to their calling council for their doctrine and life, whether employed by that local church or not. Ministerial credentials are held by the local church, not the classis or the denomination, because the local church council is the body that ordains individuals to office, including ministers of the Word, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors. Why? Because in CRC polity, ordination clings to a specific task or ministry role, not to the person, and because in CRC polity the local church is the fullest manifestation of the church in its purest form—”a complete church of Christ,” as theologian Louis Berkhof said. The further things get away from the local church, the more nervous Reformed people get! The church order’s strong linkage of ordination, role, and local church reflects strong theological commitments to the local church.  

The second principle is the meaningful involvement of the congregation in selecting office bearers. God calls people to serve in office through the affirmation of the church. Individuals sense God’s call in their hearts, but that call must be confirmed by the church’s recognition of their gifts for ministry. The council, as the governing body of the local church, nominates persons for office, and the congregation votes to affirm those names or to elect between the names presented. Even when drawing lots is used, the meaningful involvement of the congregation is important, and a vote must occur at some point in the selection process.

So a chaplain needs to be nominated for a call by a local council, and the congregation needs to vote to affirm that person’s call to ministry. Instead of viewing this as another meeting to attend, why not see it as an opportunity to hear about God’s call on a person’s life and to affirm that person in ministry! 

About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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