Tomorrow we have a Classis Ontario West scheduled to be held in Kerwood (about two hours west of Hamilton). On the agenda are licensure examinations for four seminary students. Article 21 of our Church Order speaks to this:
Article 21: An Edifying Word
Besides those who have been permitted, according to article 8, to speak an edifying word, also others may be given such consent in accordance with general ecclesiastical regulations, for their own training and in order that they may become known to the congregations.
In our churches, students may appear before a classis at the end of their third year (we have a four year M.Div. program at our seminary). It used to be that you could only take the licensure examination after completing the third year and that’s the way it was when I did it back in 1999. However, today most students do a pastoral internship in the summer between their third and fourth years, so they take the licensure examination in March. If they sustain the exam, they will be given permission “to speak an edifying word” on the condition that they successfully complete the third year.
The licensure examination consists of two parts. In the first, the student presents a sermon proposal on an assigned text. The sermon proposal has been pre-circulated among the delegates. Two ministers are assigned to carefully evaluate the proposal. The main criteria that I use for evaluation are as follows:
- Did the sermon faithfully convey the main message of the text?
- Did this sermon proclaim Jesus Christ? If so, how?
- Was adequate attention given to context (literary & historical)?
- Did the sermon contain any obvious doctrinal errors?
- How did this sermon function on a communicative level?
After the student presents his proposal at classis, a closed session is held. That means that only office bearers from the Canadian Reformed Churches are permitted to sit in — everyone else, including the student, must wait outside. During the closed session, the written evaluation of the sermon proposal is read and then discussed. If the sermon proposal is judged sufficient, then the student is informed and invited to return, along with anyone who wants to observe.
The second part involves an oral examination in doctrine and creeds. The students are given topics to study beforehand by the ministers. So, for instance, tomorrow I will be examining a brother on the doctrine of justification, as well as giving him some general questions on creeds and confessions. I have 25 minutes in which to ask my questions and then the other delegates have 10 minutes to ask whatever questions they wish. Following the oral examination, the classis again goes into closed session to discuss the results. If this portion is also judged sufficient then the student is again informed and welcomed back into the assembly. The student is then asked verbally to promise that he will not preach or teach anything not in agreement with the Reformed confessions. Upon giving his word, the student receives a certificate which states that he has classical consent to speak an edifying word in the churches for one year. Again, with tomorrow’s examinations, these certificates will indicate that the student has permission from the date that he completes his third year of studies (in mid-May).
The examination is not long, but it can be nerve-wracking. This is the first official test of whether or not a student has any mettle for the ministry. It’s one thing to study at seminary, it’s quite another to be in front of an ecclesiastical assembly. My prayer is that the four brothers tomorrow will all have a good day and the desired outcome for their examinations.