Further Thoughts on The Call to the Ministry

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

Again, what is the “Desire”?

We are looking into the subject of the Call to the Ministry.  Last time we considered the “desire” of 1 Timothy 3:1, and we saw that whichever way you cut it, this desire must be qualified in order to exclude carnal and fleshly impulses, overly romanticized fleeting impressions, the cocksure preenings of proud self-assuredness, or the recognition of persons in breach of biblical morality.  Thus, a true “desire” to preach and pastor boils down to something that is produced in a man by the influence of God Himself.

We are saying that the desire to be an overseer/elder/pastor (it’s the same office. Cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-3), must be placed there by the One who calls and sends.  If that assertion is right, then this kind of call to the ministry must be subject to testing over a sustained period of time to see if it is the right thing or not, and to mature the one involved. That is what John Newton and C. H. Spurgeon and many others held to be almost axiomatic in order for the wheat, as it were, to be separated from the chaff. And that is why Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that whenever anyone told him he thought he was called to preach, he (MLJ) would see it as his duty to try to talk him out of it!

This understanding of the ministerial call was very decided in Lloyd-Jones.  In his lectures at Westminster Seminary in the late 1960’s he spoke thus:

“A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach …he does not even decide to take up preaching as a calling… preaching is never something one decides to do.  What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a ‘call.’ There must …be a sense of constraint.  This is surely the most crucial test….I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 103-105.

C. H. Spurgeon, of course, said something very similar.

Romans 10:14-15: Preachers Are Sent

Another important text which must be studied in this connection is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 10.  In verse 14 and 15a of this chapter, the Apostle wrote:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

There are a number of matters to be settled in relation to this text.  First, what does it mean to “be sent” and who does the sending?  Second, what rubric, if any, is Paul drawing on?  Finally, what alternatives are there to the common interpretation?

In answer to the first question, Douglas Moo observes,

“By repeating the verb from the end of one question at the beginning of the next, Paul creates a connected chain of steps that must be followed if a person is to be saved.”The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, 663.

Further, the quotation of Isaiah 52:7 after the fourth and final question in v.15 fortifies the importance of God Himself sending out His heralds.  There is then something of an official air to this section.  It is worth reproducing a longish passage from F.F. Bruce in support of this:

“Men and women are urged to call on the name of the Lord and be saved; but they will not call on his name unless they have been moved to believe in him, they cannot believe in him unless they hear about him, they cannot hear about him unless someone brings them the news, and no-one can bring them the news unless he is commissioned to do so.  The preacher is an ‘apostle’ in the primary sense of the word: he is a herald or ambassador conveying from someone who has commissioned him to deliver it.”Romans, TNTC, 193-194.

The second question is also answered by the Apostle’s inclusion of the Isaiah passage.  The original context is clearly kingdom-oriented and eschatological.  Paul takes advantage of this context in his larger argument in chapters 9 through 11; which is that Israel still has a future in God’s plans.  Thus, the heralds are appointed by God to proclaim the good news to Israel too, in line with their future expectation.

The third question is whether any good counter explanations of the passage have been put forward.  This is certainly one text which those wishing to make the call to preach less specific and ‘official’ would need to address.  So far as I know, the only real response to the “commissioning” language of the passage is that Paul is simply using the Isaiah text to support the notion of the need for preaching per se (e.g. J. D. G. Dunn).  Unlikely as this seems it leaves the idea of God-sent-men intact, and therefore this passage remains a significant argument for a call of God upon certain men to act as His heralds.  This dovetails well with our previous arguments for a God-placed “desire” in our interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:1.

One of the great men of the 17th Century Church said this to preachers of the day:

“Since that time, He [Christ] hath continued to send men…men subject to like infirmities, sin not excepted…the loss in this change [i.e. Jesus’ ascension] were intolerable, did He not allay it somewhat, by sending His Spirit upon those men whom he sends to men…He is gone indeed, as was necessary, but, being ascended, he caused gifts to descend upon men.  Some he gave grace to be apostles, some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” – Robert Leighton, “A Sermon to the Clergy,” The Works of Robert Leighton, Vol. 3, 467-468.

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