The Question (continued)
Thus far we have made the point, first of all, that the call to the ministry is not two, but one calling, and that this one calling has two aspects, namely, an external and an internal aspect. Secondly, we have pointed out that the lawful calling to the office of minister of the Word and sacraments is described, according to our Church Order and our Liturgy, as being inseparably connected with the call by the church, the local congregation (including the elements of election, examination, approbation, and ordination), so that through that call of the congregation (the external aspect) the Lord Himself, binding that call upon a man’s heart, calls to the office (the internal aspect).
Until the call in this sense comes to a man, therefore, he certainly cannot answer the question definitively, “Am I called to the ministry?” He may believe for various reasons that the Lord is leading him in that direction. Or he may hope and pray that the Lord will ultimately call him. He may desire the office with a strong and holy desire. But one thing is certain: in the ultimate sense of the word no one is called to the office of minister, and therefore no one may enter upon the ministry of the Word, without the lawful calling. If he is not called by and through the church, God does not call him.
All this does not mean, however, that the call somehow comes as a bolt out of the blue, altogether unrelated to the rest of our life, and unrelated to the rest of God’s planning and direction of our life, an especially, unrelated to the matter of our preparation and training for the ministry. If that were the case, a young man would have no way of knowing whether he should prepare for the ministry or not. He would certainly be able to do nothing else, so to speak, than “take a chance on it,” that when he was finished with his training, God would also call him. In that case, of course, our seminary and our churches would suffer even more than they do now from a lack of proponents for the ministry.
Rather must we have what I would call the “organic view” of this calling to the ministry. The calling involves an entire process, a process that stands intimately connected with the whole of our life. This process has its climax, its focal point, in the moment of the calling as it actually comes to a man through the church.
From this point of view we must proceed from the idea of God’s counsel, as Reformed people always should. In fact, I would put it this way: we must live from God’s counsel! We always must do this, even in respect to any vocation in life; but I am applying this at present to the calling to the ministry.
Objectively speaking, when a man is called to the ministry, that man has been called to the ministry from his mother’s womb, and because from before the foundation of the world that calling was God’s purpose with him. Moreover, in accord with that divine plan, all the details of his life,—his parents, his character and personality, his talents and gifts, both natural and spiritual, his training and upbringing, his means, his circumstances,—all these belong to and stand intimately related to the particular calling and station which God has ordained for that man in the office of the ministry in His church. We may not be able to discern all these details and their relation to that divine purpose. Sometimes we can clearly discern the way God planned only after we have long been through that way and look back on it. But the fact is, whether we can clearly discern all the details of that way and how they fit, or not, the way and its details and the goal to which the way leads are foreknown and foreordained by God. Still more: the Lord also executes His own plan in our lives. He leads a child of His along the way that He has planned and to that goal of the ministry of the Word and sacraments which He has ordained for him.
Subjectively speaking, therefore, it is our calling, task, to follow consciously and willingly in the way in which He leads; it is our part to be led. This, after all, is in the broadest sense true of any child of God who conscientiously and before the face of God seeks to know his “niche” in life. These things are not a matter of accident; nor is our life’s calling a matter of our choice. The question is rather: what is the Lord’s will and way with respect to my life? This, and not all kinds of purely material and personal and carnal considerations, should be the controlling factor for any child of God. But we are speaking now in particular of the ministry. And from this point of view, the basic approach to this whole matter ought to be that of an earnest-minded striving to discern God’s will and way for our lives. It ought to be that of the question whether the ministry of the Word is one of those good works which God has before ordained and prepared for me, that I should walk in it. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2:10.
Hence, the question is not immediately, “Am I called to the ministry?” That question you cannot finally answer until you have graduated from the seminary, are a candidate, and receive a call. But the question which must seriously be faced is: “Is God busy calling me to the ministry? Is He leading me in the direction of an ultimate call to the ministry? Does He apparently point me to the fact that this is His will for my life?” And therefore, concretely put, the question is: “Should I prepare for the ministry?” And that word should must be understood in the sense of: Is it the Lord’s will that I prepare for the ministry?
And even as the preparation itself begins long before seminary, so the question as to that preparation must actively and consciously be faced, as a rule, long before that time. It may very well be faced clearly already in a young man’s formative years, his high school years. To that preparation belongs also a young man’s college education. And under normal circumstances, to be sure, we may expect that the answer to this question becomes more clearly discernible as time goes on.
(to be continued)