The call to the ministry

Thu, 10/08/2006 - 22:44 -- James Oakley

The debate has often gone on: Should someone experience a personal call from God to pastoral ministry before they start out? Some say yes (DMLJ), others have said that there is no evidence for this in Scripture, and the wisdom of the church is what counts.

Does it help to consider the parallel debate about assurance (or, more properly, reflex faith). Can I know that I have faith or not? The Roman Catholic church teaches that this cannot be known. Scripture, by contrast, tells us to be motivated in certain ways by our reflex faith. This presupposes that it is possible to have this kind of assurance.

However, within the protestant, evangelical world that is not the end of the debate. The next question is this: Is such reflex faith, or assurance, mediate or immediate? Does the Holy Spirit tell me exclusively by use of means (such as good works, love of the saints, perseverance) that I am a Christian, or does he also tell me im-mediately? The main argument for immediate assurance is from Romans 8, but it seems to me that Romans 8 addresses the factmeans of assurance, such that this is an unwarranted conclusion.

Let’s consider the call to the ministry in the light of this debate. Perhaps we need to distinguish(!). Are we debating the necessity of a call from God to enter the ministry at all, or are we debating the necessity of an immediate call. We can say, I think, that Scripture teaches that someone must have a call to the ministry, but does not teach that someone must have an immediate call to the ministry.

Once we’ve introduced the mediate / immediate distinction into the debate, things get a lot clearer. For example, is it legitimate to appeal to Jeremiah 1 as the prototype call? I distinguish. Yes, insofar as everyone who would dare to speak on God’s behalf needs to know God intends them to do so. No, insofar as Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who experienced immediate revelation in a way that we do not.

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