Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Ironic Coronation of a GS Professor

I'm all for examinations. I think that elder candidates in the local church should be examined on whether they fit the criteria established for them in 1 Timothy and Titus. I think candidates for the pastorate should be intensely examined on their theology, piety, skills for ministry, and biblical knowledge in addition to the qualifications for elder in 1 Timothy and Titus. And, if the office must exist, I think that candidates for General Synod Professor of Theology should be the most vigorously examined. These men and women are responsible for training the pastors for our denomination, they speak with palpable gravitas at General Synod, they serve on commissions and frequently as delegates to the synod.

I hate coronations. It makes me feel physically queasy when I realize that someone's installation to a significant office of authority within Christ's church is a done deal before it should be. When we as the church abdicate our responsibility to examine potential office bearers we do ourselves and the glory of Christ no favors.

Unfortunately, we had a coronation at this past General Synod. Rev. Dr. Allan Janssen was nominated by the board of trustees of New Brunswick Theological Seminary and was elected by a (voice) vote of the General Synod. There was, however, no examination whatsoever. In fact it was apparent from the beginning that his election was a done deal. It was so obvious that in the workbook given to each delegate at the beginning of the week the following phrase was placed in the schedule "3:45: Colleges, Seminaries and MFCA, installation of GS professor Janssen." His installation was planned and scheduled before the synod had even had a chance to elect him (or not).

The issue in all of this is that according to the BCO the synod could have rejected Dr. Janssen even though the workbook had his installation scheduled and the President of the synod spoke openly of his installation before he was elected. Should they have turned him away? I don't know, and that's the problem. Maybe Dr. Janssen is a great Christian man with a brilliant mind and will serve the church well, or perhaps not. How was the average delegate to know? The BCO says, "A General Synod professor shall be elected by the General Synod by a majority vote of the members present." Technically we fulfilled the letter of the law, but it's clear to me that the spirit of the law was violated. Apparently Dr. Janssen thinks so as well. Writing in his own commentary on RCA church order he writes concerning the election of GS professors, "Finally, the church assures itself of broad support by requiring the election by a majority vote of the synod. The nomination of a candidate should not presume on election." (Constitutional Theology, 251)

Ironically, if ever there was a presumed election it was this one. My hope is that Dr. Janssen was screaming on the inside, that he insisted on a more genuine process but was turned down. I hope he was as uncomfortable with the process as I was. My disappointment is that it seems that in the modern church we've lost our stomach for serious examination and we have settled for pomp and circumstance coronations.


  1. Mr. Kappers,
    Full disclosure: I am Paul Janssen, Al's youngest brother. I am not, therefore, by any means the most objective person to leave a comment. However, my comment is not about Al. It's about the process.
    The serminaries act as agents of the General Synod. That said, they act on behalf of the Synod. Most specifically, they do so when they grant Certificates of Fitness for Ministry. (MFCA acts in a similar capacity, as I'm sure you know.) At nearly every General Synod, there are approximately 110-120 ordained ministers who have been granted the privilege of speaking to the whole Synod on all matters. There are a few professors, who have no more time than anyone else to address the assembly. Professors have a role in training ministers -- that is the point of their office. They are accountable to the General Synod for that teaching. You are suggesting that the General Synod should examine what the agents of the General Synod have already considered, with great consideration? Should the General Synod also examine every minister, thereby short circuiting the agency of the seminaries?
    It seems that you may not trust the seminaries. Why not just come right out and say it?

  2. Paul, I very much think the synod has the responsibility to examine the professors and to have an informed vote on them. I agree with your brother's commentary when he says that a nomination should not presume on election. Do you agree with his statement there?

    This comment wasn't about the seminaries, so I won't address that beyond stating that the person is more than a seminary professor. Perhaps at a later time I can post about the seminaries. I'm quite sure, though, that you and I would have differences of opinion there as well.

  3. Ben, saying that a nomination should not presume on election is not at all the same as saying that a nominee should be examined before the General Synod. The seminaries act as agents -- that is, on behalf of -- the General Synod. They have examined the whole life of the nominee prior to a GS meeting. They know what the person is teaching. They know how he or she is acting in faculty meetings. They know how a person is living his/her life. They know how he/she is influencing the life of the whole church in the ministry of teaching. They are best qualified to make a judgment. Hence, they make it (not every RCA pastor who teaches in a seminary is nominated...). The General Synod generally confirms the judgment made by its agency.

  4. If a nominee isn't examined by the synod what reason would there be for him not to be elected? Of course a nomination without subsequent examination is a presumed election! A nomination is certainly presumed when it is printed in the schedule before the vote!

    The responsibility for final affirmation of a candidate for the professorate is given to the Synod and Dr. Janssen's commentary says that this is so that he/she can be assured of broad church support. The board of one seminary hardly offers assurances of broad church support. If the Synod is going to have a vote it should be an informed one with the clear and open opportunity to question the candidate on their own. If the Synod shouldn't take this job seriously then we should have a BCO change proposed that leaves it to the seminaries to select the GSP's.

  5. Ben,
    I'm sorry that the concept of a seminary board working as an agent of the General Synod seems lost on you. I suggest that you look into the matter more deeply, and ask a lot of questions about the nature of agencies in the RCA. They may not work the same way that you have encountered in some other denomination.
    I get what you are talking about, how an election seems presumed when it's already printed in the agenda. But saying that an election should not be presumed is not the same as saying there needs to be a full-scale examination. If there was any controversy about the election, why didn't anyone ask any questions at the time? Why wait until it's all over and done with, to ask questions about the process? Clearly there were folks at the GS meeting who were able to avail themselves of the full extent of parliamentary procedure.
    Do I always agree with what GS professors say? Well, no I don't. But I do respect their wisdom and dedication and their profession and calling. They devote their whole lives to understanding the Scriptures, or Reformed theology, or other areas. Is that not deserving of some respect? Even some deference?