What should I do if the church ordains a certain person to be a pastor, elder or deacon, but I do not think that he is qualified for the office and may in fact be a wolf in sheepskin (see Acts 20:29; Matthew 7:15)?

You have asked an interesting question and highlighted a sobering situation, which I hope will remain hypothetical in this communion. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul did indeed warn the Ephesians that of “[their] own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30); and Jude warns of “certain men crept in unawares” (Jude 4). Thus, the possibility of “a wolf in sheepskin” entering the flock is very real; and therefore everyone considering to take up office, whether by desire or by compulsion, should carefully ask, “Is it I?” (Mk 14:19). I myself had to ask this question—having grown in the faith in another communion, becoming a leader of some sort, and then having to leave not on the most amicable terms. You can imagine how Acts 20:29–30, Jude 4 and even 1 John 2:18–19 must have come to the hearts and tongues of the members and leaders of the communion we left. I say this not by way of vindication, but to warn ourselves that we be not too quick to judge or to cast aspersion.

Yes, the problem of ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing is a real one, but we must not become so paranoid with the possibility that we find ourselves crippled in our ability to grow as a communion. We must take heed and we must be vigilant (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:8). We must do all we can to ensure that only such as are qualified for the particular office be ordained to the office. But we must realise that we can be so overly cautious that we refuse to grant office to one whom the Lord has gifted for the office. This is especially so if we have come out of a communion which had suffered precisely because political, rather than God-fearing, men were added to the leadership.

The process of ordaining an officer, especially an elder, is quite a rigorous one,—at least in this church (see “ Now, that’s a Good Question!” in PCC Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 12, dated 17 September 2000). In this church, four steps are involved in the case of elders: firstly, nomination based on a subjective evaluation vis-à-vis the qualifications laid down in the pastoral epistles; secondly, submission of evidence by the candidate to indicate a fairly thorough study of the Westminster Confession of Faith; thirdly, Session’s interview, with solicitation of members’ feedback; and finally, a congregational vote requiring the assent of at least 70% of members present. In the case of deacons, the only difference is the second step, which is, for now, omitted; and in the case of pastors (teaching elders), there will be the additional steps of licensing to preach and an ordination examination.

To tell you frankly, sometimes we fear that the rigour may put off some who might otherwise have served the Lord as elders and deacons most fruitfully to the glory of God and the benefit of the church. But we feel that this rigour is necessary especially in view of our unique circumstance.

But what if, despite all these precautions, someone who ought not to be in office enters the office? Well, in the ideal situation, the officer involved may realise his unfitness and request for deposition by the Session (or Presbytery), or the Session (or Presbytery) may after a fair trial depose him. But in reality, it is usually not so straight-forward because in such situations, there will always be a deadly mix of sin and human emotions involved.

We ought therefore to pray that the Lord will spare us from such trials, and will grant grace to do what is necessary for the glory of Christ without the fear or favour of men.

But what should ordinary members do under such a circumstance? And for that matter, what should a member of the church do if he had protested against a particular person, but his protest has gone unheeded and the person was ordained into office. Well, in such a case, I believe that as long as the officer remains in office, he must be accorded the due respect and honour due to the office. Remember that when a man is voted by the congregation, he must be regarded as having been called by Christ the head of the church. Now, we may have voted negatively, but if the majority of the church had voted positively, we must abide by its collective decision and take it as the will of God that the man be in office just as it was the will of God that Judas should serve as an Apostle until the fullness of time. To oppose an officer of the church or to fail to give him due honour would be to think of ourselves more highly than the congregation, and indeed to oppose Christ. Remember that this is so, regardless of what we may think of the process in which the man came into office,—even if we may have a naughty thought that the congregation voted for him because they trusted the Session’s nomination, or because the Session promoted the person.

Yes, of course, if the officer were to commit a scandalous sin while in office (what may not be scandalous for a member may be scandalous for an officer), and the Session refuses to admonish or discipline, despite the valid protestation of at least two to three members (1 Tim 5:19), then the church may be deemed as apostatising and members may do whatever is proper to maintain a good conscience before God and man. But as long as discipline is maintained, any officer in office must be regarded with due honour.

That said, I think there is also wisdom in Lawrence R. Eyres’ admonition to potential elders, which may prevent the difficulties that are bound to accompany the ministry of one whom a significant minority of the church believes is not called to the office. This admonition, I believe, would also apply to potential pastors and deacons:

Ordinarily a man would be wise not to accept election if a significant minority is opposed to him. Unless it is clear that he was opposed for improper motives, he should decline the office. Otherwise, he places upon the dissidents the difficult task of rendering submission in the Lord to a man they feel is unqualified to rule in the Lord’s name. This would jeopardize his ministry from the very onset (The Elders of the Church [P&R, 1975], 51).