At the November 2019 meeting of the Midwest Presbytery of the RPCNA, I was made eligible to receive a call as a minister of the gospel. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, candidates for the ministry are required to pass thirteen Presbytery exams before they may be ordained to gospel ministry.
If the notion of a Presbytery is foreign to you, a brief explanation might be helpful. A Presbytery (from the Greek word for an elder: presbyter) is composed of the elders of churches in a geographic region that form a broader court above the local churches. In Acts 15, such an assembly adjudicated a problem too difficult/controversial/far-reaching for individual congregations to resolve. Much fruit has come out of such assemblies – the great creeds and confessions of the faith have come through these God-ordained church councils.
In Presbyterian churches, a minister’s credentials are held by a Presbytery and not a local congregation. As such, Presbyteries are responsible for approving men to become ministers. Much more can be said on this, so I would suggest James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ if you wish to plumb the depths of Presbyterian church government. A free PDF copy can be found at Monergism.
With that by way of background, Presbytery exams for candidates are not easy. Our forefathers might have called them “trials” rather than “exams”. A fellow student stood on the floor of Presbytery for three hours in the taking of five exams (Preaching 2, Exegesis Paper, Systematic Theology 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts). I “only” took three this time around (Systematics 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts) and was examined on the floor of Presbytery for two hours.
In addition to the examiner, any Presbyter can ask the candidate questions. When the exam concludes, the entirety of the Presbytery votes up or down on the exams – each presbyter gets an equal vote.
Undergoing these trials can be grueling. But the blessing of being confirmed through the elders of the church is tremendous. Why? Because godly men confirm a man’s inward calling. Consider that the Lord tells potential ministers of the gospel:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV)
When we present ourselves approved to God, we do so through the means of a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) through which safety is found for both church and candidate.
Why must the calling be examined externally and by a multitude of counselors? Because our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We often think of ourselves more than we ought. Sometimes, we might even think less of ourselves than we should when the devil and the flesh want to discourage a man from serving Christ’s kingdom. As such, Paul writes to Timothy that presbyteries must confirm the calling on a man, finally leading up to his ordination by the laying on of hands by the presbytery:
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14, KJV)
It is the presbytery that confirms the giftedness of the calling and that the man is approved and is capable of “rightly dividing the Word”.
It is a tremendous blessing to not doubt the gifting and calling of the Lord to sacred gospel ministry. No man should feel confident in themselves to proclaim the gospel without a presbytery’s confirmation. There is security in going before God’s people with a calling confirmed by the elders of Christ’s Church.
It also is a comfort to the people of God to know that the man standing in front of them week after week has his calling confirmed and has been approved to feed the Word of Christ to them and to walk with them as an undershepherd of Christ.
For that, and many other reasons, it is a tremendous blessing to be a Presbyterian. I have three more exams to take before being ordained (Lord willing). The Lord may have other plans for me if a congregation does not call me, or I am unable to pass my final three ordination exams.
But through this process, it has been a great comfort to know all has happened under the Christ appointed means: oversight of godly counselors that Christ purchased as gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11) and who are granted the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:19) as undershepherds of Christ.
In all this, Christ as the Head of His Church is glorified and His people are protected. Presbyterianism, the Biblical form of Church Government, is a great gift from Christ to His people.
Soli Deo Gloria!