Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "Call" to Being a Reformed Pastor

Here's a fun little theological brain teaser for those of you Reformed folks who think you may have a call to the ministry.
The first set of snippets comes from Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor (Chicago: Moody Publishers,2004):

[Quoting John Stott] "Whatever you may think of it, I have had a definite and irresistible call from God to serve Him in the church." [And then, Prime and Begg comment:] "To make such claims about God's call we must define our terms. By call we mean the unmistakable conviction an individual possesses that God wants him to do a specific task" (p. 18).

"...God always gives a clear call to those whom He has chosen for the ministry, so that when that call comes they can do nothing other than respond to it. It follows that if someone thinks he may be called to the ministry but is not absolutely certain, then he should wait until he is sure. God does not give uncertain calls" (p.19)

Then follows examples from the Old Testament (p. 20) and New testament (p.21-22) of those called by God to a specific task. The church isn't left out, but tests the call (p,25) and helps make that call an actuality.

The next example comes from Curtis Thomas, Practical Wisdom For Pastors (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

"The biblical concept of a 'call to ministry' does not include a vision, special revelation, or mystical experience... It is true that in the Old Testament and in the first century of Christianity, God did intervene directly and call men to ministry. But today His revelation has been completed by the New Testament, and it is our reliable guide. Therefore, a local church should be able to take God's word and help the candidate assess whether or not he has been called to the gospel ministry" (pp. 20-21).

Now these small snippets run the risk of caricaturing the content of each book.  There's actually much overlap in the explanations. If one were to read these snippets in context, you'd see each author is concerned with the gravity of ministry, whether or not the person called has the gifts needed, and both emphasize the involvement and approval of the church.

But I think the approaches do differ.

In explaining the seriousness of entering the ministry, Begg and Prime want you to know that you will have some sort of strong feeling that you can't do anything but go into ministry. They liken it to those in the Scripture being called supernaturally for a specific task. They don't describe it as a mystical experience or extra-biblical revelation, but it certainly falls somewhere in that ballpark, perhaps nowhere near home plate, but rather deep somewhere in the Reformed outfield. It's far out there enough where Reformed people can speculate as to how God communicates outside of the Scriptures without reverting to some sort of Assemblies of God theology.

Now I don't know anything about Curtis Thomas (other than his book on the five points of Calvinism), but I would venture to speculate he strives to be a consistent cessationalist here. That is, God has revealed His will in the Scriptures. If you think you're having some sort of extra-biblical message from God telling you to go into the ministry, be careful. God stopped calling people supernaturally to specific tasks. The Bible is complete. You should not trust such intuitions, but rather subject yourself to your church. They will assess your situation and help you make the right decision.

I haven't worked through which of these approaches  (or perhaps neither) is the correct path. I'm not particularly keen on Prime and Begg's designation of  there being an "irresistible" call to the ministry. It seems to me this is using the terms of regeneration and applying them to a post-conversion experience. While their book isn't an in-depth treatment of this topic, my first question was in regard to those called supernaturally in the Bible that resisted the call to their special task, someone like Jonah for instance. Where does he fit in the Prime/Begg paradigm? Is is possible to resist the call for a season? What about those who are called "irresistibly" like Saul and fall away from their special calling?  Is it possible to begin ministry and then lose the calling? There probably are a number of ministers who read the Prime / Begg book before entering the ministry. They may have even felt some sort of strong inward call, and now, for whatever reason, they are no longer in the ministry. While the chapter from Prime and Begg makes good and helpful points, they left me with more questions than answers.

I found the approach briefly laid about Thomas a bit more convincing. I think it's not always wise to think every strong feeling one has is some sort of movement of the Holy Spirit. One needs to submit themselves to the local church they belong to, for better or for worse. The one problem though is that the paradigm used by Thomas smelled faintly of Romanism. A local church is not infallible. One thing is certain from the Scriptures, God sometimes takes the people we would least choose for important tasks. The tendency in conservative Reformed circles is to pick the people that are most conservative, or perhaps pick the people that most fit in to the subculture of a particular denomination.  I can see this sort of thing in conservative Dutch churches. Some of them probably would never consider hiring a non-Dutchman.

I don't claim to have any sort of answer to this brain teaser. I also posted this topic on the Puritan Board. This helps me keep track of things.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...


Look at the comment section of this post: Asking and answering the wrong question.

Rhology said...

I went to a missionary conference one time where they were selecting candidates to go out.
One of the first sentences out of the mouth of the first speaker was "There will be some days on the field when your calling will be the only thing keeping you there."

I've struggled mightily with that notion for a long time, but boy is it entrenched!

Tradition has power.

James Swan said...

I looked at the post, and scrolled through the comments, ever so quickly. This may sound odd, but I rarely visit that blog. Then again, I rarely visit any good blogs, I more often than not read Romanist stuff.

I like the post, I don't think I've ever read any of Dan's posts before. I did notice the question of pastoral calling came up. I didn't glean any insight from any of the comments... if I missed something, please let me know.

One unrelated comment though was classic:

I cannot help to think that this post is an reaction to the e-mail I send you.Thanks for answering my mail and hitting me with a bat wrapped in a pillow.

LOL, great use of imagery.