Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Call of the Wild

If you've been in the church for awhile now, you've heard many a preacher talk about his "calling" to ministry. It's usually accompanied by some existential experience that he or she had that convinced him or her that God was calling him or her into ministry. I say "him or her" because the call seems to override anything the Scripture says toward what actually qualifies someone to be in ministry. But that's just it. The idea of the "call" is often antithetical to what the Scripture says about ministerial qualification.

But does the Bible teach that ministers are called? First, I don't want to get caught up on language. Many times the minister just means that they felt like they should go into ministry (there's that American religious experience by which we judge all things again), but as long as they confirm or deny that feeling with the actual Scriptural qualifications that exist, then I have less of an issue with that. However, I do see a problem in using the lingo simply because it confuses people and leads to all sorts of people in ministry that absolutely do not belong there.

So let's look at the concept for a moment. There are only three groups of people who are ever "called" in Scripture. The calling, whether described by the Greek klhto/j or the Hebrew )rq, is applied to God's people in general, who are audibly called to serve Him by being lights to the world (this is the generic calling to serve as His people), prophets, who are audibly called to serve God as His means of revelation toward the community in the Old Testament (this is the specific call to ministry in the OT), and apostles, who are ΓΌber prophets, called to serve as His means of revelation in the New Testament (this is the specific call to ministry in the NT).

What this means is that the call is audible and is not, therefore, applicable toward any other ministry (unless you get an audible voice from God that has been tested by Scripture). You can hear the call, because God speaks with audible words to the individuals who receive it. It's not an inward voice or feeling. That's likely American religion calling, not God. God calls through the spoken word. Now, again, can God use a feeling and one's own thoughts to pull someone toward ministry? Sure, I'm not disputing that. What I am disputing is that one should not view such a situation as a possible time of deception, where he or she needs to discern the spirits, since not every spirit is from God. And how does one do this? By confirming or denying the spirit with the qualifications set out in Scripture.

What are these qualifications? Well, you might be surprised to know they have nothing to do with gifting. You may have a knack for something, you may in fact have a supernatural gift that gives you a knack for something, but that does not qualify you for ministry. We ought to cease and desist from the desire to plug people into ministry because we see that they have a gift and desire for a particular ministry. Notice, that the desire to be in ministry is a good thing (1 Tim 3:1), but that desire must be backed up with qualifications (which the desire is not itself).

I have seen too many souls sacrificed by their desire to be in a specific ministry, and the church's desire to plug people into ministry who then just become a part of the long buffet set out for the devil to devour. And why is this? Because the vast majority of people who enter ministry unqualified don't realize that the qualifications themselves are spiritual maturity. In other words, people who are spiritually immature are entering special ministries, are easily deceived into thinking that the ministry itself makes them a mature Christian, and never grow beyond that point. In fact, many end up rejecting the faith, as lack of growth usually means you're dead. 

What does Scripture say? "NOT a new convert [i.e., a neophyte, one who has not yet matured], so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil" (1 Tim 3:6). The neophyte is in direct contrast to the one who ought to enter ministry. Notice that he becomes "conceited." What this means is that he thinks of himself as mature when he isn't. He assumes that God has validated his parking when He hasn't. He assumes that his Christianity is genuine because he has served in ministry. After all, good Christians serve in all types of ministry, right? He, then, views himself as a solid Christian, even when pursuing a godless ministry or lifestyle. And who can convince him otherwise at that point? I challenge you to try to convince someone who has been placed in ministry that he not only lacks qualification for the ministry, but is an immature Christian (or perhaps that he is an unbeliever altogether). His (and here it comes again) experience has now told him otherwise. He will not listen to you, thus ensuring his place before God's throne of judgment. This is why it's also hard to criticize someone for false teaching who has been, or is, in ministry. He or she simply does not believe they are wrong, overall at least, because God has confirmed their ministry by allowing them to be in it in the first place.

Instead, the Scripture tells us that those qualified for special ministry must be spiritually mature. In other words, they need to have control of themselves when it comes to the passions (i.e., those desires that seek to move us away from God's will for our lives). If he is to become an elder, he must also be male (so that automatically shows us that any woman that has a call to the eldership has a false calling) due to the role the elder plays as a father of the congregation, and he must be "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2), "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). This doesn't mean he just needs to have the ability to put together a lesson plan, or be interesting to listen to. The description here is of a first century rabbi. In other words, he needs to know Scripture, know how to interpret it along the lines of orthodox theology, and be in the the practice of refuting those who contradict it. Motivational speakers and great storytellers do not qualify without this qualification. Sound like a lot of people are qualified now?

Due to the confusion of the call and how it pertains to one's qualifications for ministry, we now have a complete mess, both in doctrine and in practice, given to us by all those wonderfully "called" people. We have more false doctrine from the pulpit than ever before. We have more people thinking they are great Christians, who probably aren't Christians at all, than ever before. We have more immature, but dynamic and exciting, ministers leading us in all the wrong directions than before. And the situation is simply perpetuated by search committees that are often made up of immature believers themselves, who end up looking for someone who is "called," and all of the supposedly exciting signs and wonders that go along with that. Enthusiasm and experience, but not maturity and theology, is the key ingredient to being hired today.

What we need is to go back to a biblical view of ministry, and save our young believers from destruction by hindering them from ministry until they have matured by biblical standards. By doing so, we also save God's church from the chaos disobedience to those biblical standards brings.

For a good summary of the biblical qualifications for ministry, read 1 Timothy 2:11-3:13; Titus 1-2 (or just read all of the pastorals for some context).


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