I have been wanting to repost this and another piece for some time, and now seems as good a time as any. While I am aware that good people disagree with the view set out below, I am content to stand with many names from the past on this issue.
Giving attention to the Call
I would like to say something about what is called “the call to the ministry” or “the call to preach.” In my opinion this is a crucial subject which has very often been misunderstood or else ignored. Indeed, this matter ought to be constantly before us in these days of declension. I believe there is much important truth to the old saying, “As the pulpit goes so goes the church. As the church goes so goes the community…” In looking out upon the state of the evangelical churches in America today, it is my personal view that we really are suffering from the effects of a lack of attention to the call to the ministry.
Before going on I need to define what I am talking about. By the “call” I here mean “the particular effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of some men to equip and to bring about in them an undying desire to preach and teach the Word of God to those to whom God would send them.”
This definition is more theological than textual. That is, we might equally refer to it as a “sending” or a “longing”. But the point is, it is a “calling” to a particular function within the Body of Christ. This does not mean that there are not other “callings” – only that there is such a thing as a special call from God upon certain men whom He chooses to teach His Word.
In some quarters there has always been either a superficial view of this “call” into Christian ministry. In some others, the whole concept of this call has been considered unbiblical. There is no such thing as “the call to preach” so we are told. Some men just have the ability and, if they choose to begin preaching and the churches support their desires that is really all there is to it.
Test All Things
Dealing with both of these opinions together we can say that there is one thing which they both pay little or no heed to: that one thing is the nature or source of the “desire” to preach. Those holding a superficial view will not give much emphasis to the testing of the call or the maturity of the one professing to be under it. They will often view the call in isolation from the person’s aptitude and, sadly, his spirituality. The “desire” may well be seen as coming from God but it is still treated as if it could not arise from another, more carnal source. Thus, the “call” is taken at face value without regard to personal pride, ambition, self-deception, or other forces acting on the will. Often in such cases the native abilities of the person are seen as conclusive proof of a call. And this is a snare which, time and again, the Church has fallen into.
An example of this superficial view is the case of Charles Templeton, an evangelist of the 1940’s and 50’s who was often compared with Billy Graham. Templeton deserted the faith and became an ardent atheist. He had the ability to speak, but his “calling” was shown to be a false one, not of God at all. Similarly I can recall a well known preacher in Cambridge, England whom everyone thought was a great man of God. This individual could certainly expound Scripture from the pulpit. The present writer can testify to his ability. But in 1999 this man shamefully left his wife and kids to enter into a homosexual relationship. He continues to promote gay christianity via the Gay Christian Network today. His abilities are beyond all doubt. But was He ever really “called”?
It is easy to multiply such examples. One thinks of the now atheist former pastors John Loftus and Dan Barker for instance. What needs to be pondered by us is the credibility of their calling into Christian ministry in the first place. Did God call these men to teach His Word knowing that they would abandon the faith they once preached? Either we acknowledge such a situation or we conclude that grave mistakes were made in putting these men into pastorates. The fault lies either with God and man or with man alone. In the first case we bring a charge against God Himself! In the second the fault lies much closer to home. We, the Church, have thrust uncalled and unsent men into our pulpits.
This gives encouragement to those who deny any special call to the ministry, but it surely chastens those of us who believe such a call to exist! On the one hand, if there is, in fact, no calling upon certain men to preach and/or pastor churches, it is hard to see how the Church can prevent the wrong sorts from getting churches and poisoning them from the inside. On the other hand, if there is a true call to preach it must be both identifiable and verifiable. We might add that it will also be falsifiable if it is an imposture. In the case of the Cambridge preacher mentioned above, he has said himself that he confessed his homosexual tendencies before and while he was a missionary and before he became a pastor. (more…)