Licensing Candidates or Probationers to Preach the Gospel
The Holy Scriptures require that some trial be previously had of those who are to be ordained to the ministry of the Gospel, that this sacred office may not be degraded by being committed to weak or unworthy men; and that the churches may have an opportunity to form a better judgment respecting the talents of those by whom they are to be instructed and governed. For this purpose presbyteries shall licence probationers to preach the Gospel, that, after a competent trial of their talents, and receiving from the churches a good report, they may, in due time, ordain them to the sacred office.
Every candidate looking toward licensure shall ordinarily be taken under care of that presbytery to which he most naturally belongs.
It is proper and requisite that a candidate applying to be taken under care of a presbytery be a communicant member of a particular church approved by the presbytery, and come with a written recommendation from the session of the church of which he is a member. It is the duty of the presbytery, for its satisfaction with regard to the piety of the candidate, to examine him respecting his experimental knowledge of religion, and the motives which influence him to desire the sacred office. And the presbytery shall continue to show its concern after such examination, for the progress of all the candidates under its care, and shall advise with them with regard to their preparation for the work of the ministry.
Because it is highly reproachful to religion and dangerous to the Church to trust the holy ministry to weak and ignorant men, the presbytery shall admit a candidate to licensure only if he has received a bachelor of arts degree, or its academic equivalent, from an accredited college or university. He must also have completed at least two years of study in a theological seminary.
The candidate shall be examined by the presbytery, or by a committee appointed for that purpose, in the English Bible, theology, ecclesiastical history, and in the original languages of the Scriptures, except that the examination in the languages of Scripture maybe waived upon the presentation of a transcript showing that creditable work has been done in these subjects. Every candidate at the time of his examination in theology shall read a brief, written statement of his belief before the presbytery and file the same with the stated clerk. If the examination of candidates is referred to a committee an examination in theology shall also be held before the presbytery; and if one-fourth of the presbyters are dissatisfied with the examination in theology the candidate shall be required to undergo an examination in the subject again at a future meeting of the presbytery. If one-fourth of the presbyters are still dissatisfied they may demand that a written record of the examination be filed with the presbytery.
And in order to make trial of his talents to explain and vindicate, and practically to enforce the doctrines of the Gospel, the presbytery shall further require that the candidate prepare (1) a sermon, which the presbytery may ask to be delivered in its presence, (2) an essay on a theological theme, and (3) an exegesis of the original Hebrew or Greek text of a passage of Scripture.
That the most effectual measures may be taken to guard against the admission of unqualified men into the sacred office, no exception shall be made to any of the educational or other requirements outlined above unless the presbytery shall judge, by a three-fourths vote of the members present, that the such exception is warranted by the exceptional qualifications of the candidate in question.
If the presbytery be satisfied with the trials of a candidate for licensure, it shall then proceed to license him in the following manner, the moderator shall propose to him the following questions, viz.:
Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?
Do you promise to study the purity, peace, and unity of the Church?
Do you promise to submit yourself, in the Lord, to the government of this presbytery, or of any other presbytery in the bounds of which you may be called?
The candidate having answered these questions in the affirmative, and the moderator having offered up a prayer suitable to the occasion, he shall address himself to the candidate in the following purpose: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by that authority which He hath given to the Church for its edification we do license you to preach the Gospel, wherever God in His providence may call you; and for this purpose, may the blessing of God rest upon you, and the Spirit of Christ fill your heart. Amen.”; and record shall be made of the licensure in the following or like form, viz.:
At __________ the __________ day of __________ the presbytery of __________ having received testimonials in favor of of his having gone through a regular course of literature; of his good moral character; and of his being in the communion of the Church; proceeded to take the usual parts of trial for his licensure; and he having given satisfaction as to his accomplishments in literature; as to his experimental acquaintance with religion; and as to his proficiency in divinity and other studies, the presbytery did, and hereby does express its approbation of all these parts of trial; and he having adopted the Confession of Faith of this Church, and satisfactorily answered the questions appointed to be put to candidates to be licensed; the presbytery did, and hereby does, license him, the said __________ to preach the Gospel of Christ as a probationer for the holy ministry, within the bounds of this presbytery, or wherever else he shall be orderly called.
When any candidate for licensure shall have occasion, while his trials are going on, to remove from the bounds of his own presbytery into those of another, it shall be considered as regular for the latter presbytery, on his producing proper testimonials from the former, to take up his trials at the point at which they were left, and conduct them to a conclusion, in the same manner as if they had been commenced by themselves.
In like manner, when any candidate, after licensure, shall, by the permission of his presbytery, remove without its limits, an extract of the record of his licensure, accompanied with a presbyterial recommendation, signed by the clerk, shall be his testimonials to the presbytery under whose care he shall come.
When a licentiate shall have been preaching for a considerable time and his services do not appear to be edifying to the churches, the presbytery may, if it think proper, recall his license.