A few days ago I had the joy of being part of a presbytery meeting of the Great Lakes Gulf Presbytery of the RPCNA. This was my first ever opportunity to witness the functioning of a presbyterian church and I was really excited. The agenda of the meeting was to examine two candidates; one candidate was examined to be ordained for pastoral ministry and the other was examined to be given a license to preach.
The examination of the first candidate began with a preaching assignment, which he did admirably well. However, it was the next examination component that really interested me – the Personal Godliness exam. An elderly presbyter and the candidate sat next to each other, facing the audience (other presbyters), and the latter was questioned on his personal life. Questions ranged from subjects like Bible reading habits, current books being read to family worship, personal finances and the support of the wife for his pastoral endeavor. The questions were put forward graciously and the candidate responded in an equally gracious manner. After each exam there was a voice vote where the delegates either sustained or declined to sustain the candidate’s performance. In this case there was a unanimous vote approving the performance. Then a similar exam followed called the Soundness of Faith exam in which questions relating to difficult doctrines like election, free-will, holy days, worship were asked. The candidate answered the questions with alacrity and confidence. The presbytery examined the second candidate also and unanimously agreed to give him a license to preach.
The presbytery meeting demonstrated to me how the Church can obey the clear commandments of scripture on choosing an overseer. Paul says that on overseer must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2); the preaching assignment (and this one being just one out of many such preaching assignments) adequately gauged this quality in the candidate. In the book of Titus Paul adds that the overseer must also be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9) – meaning that he must possess knowledge of and skills to refute false arguments. To me, the Soundness of Faith exam examined this quality well in the candidate. Finally, Paul mentions a list of things on personal integrity and family management in both his epistles as qualifications for elders. The personal godliness exam (which is conducted twice in the life of a candidate taken under care of the presbytery) admirably did the job of ascertaining these character traits in the candidate.
I want to thank God for the presbyterian form of church government. At the risk of appearing chauvinistic, my prayer is that God would raise up many presbyterian churches in India so that the church of Christ will have godly people in leadership who will feed the flock and preach the gospel faithfully.