It is my purpose, beginning with the present issue, to devote some attention to this subject and to attempt to furnish some guidelines for arriving at an answer to this question which forms the title of this editorial.
My reasons for writing on this subject are several. In the first place, of course, I have in mind the needs of our seminary and of our churches, the pressing need for more ministers,—a need that is close to the hearts of all of us. In the second place,—and it is especially with this in view that I have formulated the subject in the form of the question above this article,—I have in mind the needs of our Protestant Reformed young men. Our young men of high school and college age soon come to face the question in general: what should I prepare for here in school, and with a view to what particular line of work should I choose my course and my subjects? And certainly, one question which our young men should face is: should I prepare for the ministry of the gospel? Mark well, I do not at all mean to say that the answer to this question should always be in the affirmative. But even to give a proper negative answer to the question, our young men should know how to arrive at a responsible and definite answer. Besides, occasionally I,—and I know our ministers do also,—come into contact with young men who are actually facing this question; and I suppose that there are more young men who face the question whom I do not meet. Especially, therefore, for our young men I offer these suggestions. In the third place, parents, teachers, and pastors may be called upon to counsel young men who face this question, or who ought to face it. And for them also I wish to suggest some guidelines. And finally, it is beneficial for all of us to understand this matter, also in order that we may understand our young men who are preparing or who decide to prepare for the ministry of the Word in our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Meanwhile, I do not at all intend these articles as a criticism of the series of articles recently carried inBeacon Lights and written by several of our ministers on “Why I Entered the Ministry.” The intent of these articles was undoubtedly to encourage interest on the part of our young men in entering the ministry; and this intent was commendable, as were the articles in so far as they stimulated such interest. My comments are intended to be more objective and thus to serve as complementary to the particles above mentioned.
Having thus given account of my purpose and my reasons, I turn to the subject proper.
I have intentionally formulated the question, “Should I Prepare For The Ministry?” because not infrequently the question is misformulated in a way that not only may lead to all kinds of misconceptions, but in a way in which it is impossible to answer and which causes many difficulties for any serious-minded young man who seeks an answer to it. Sometimes the question is phrased: “Am I called to the ministry?” Perhaps this is done with good intentions, and perhaps a somewhat sound explanation is given of this, question. But rightly understood, the question whether one is called to the ministry could either leave a young man very dejected and discouraged, so that he gives a negative answer to the question whether he should prepare for the ministry; or that question as to being called could leave a young man of high school or college age, who is still several years away from seminary graduation and candidacy, altogether confused and in a quandary because he is not in a position to answer this question yet.
Let me explain.
The calling to the ministry of the Word and sacraments, according to our Church Order and our Liturgy, is something very definite and objective. Moreover, it is one, not two. Just as in the work of salvation we must not speak of an external calling and an internal calling, as though there were two callings, so also in regard to the calling to the ministry we must not think in terms of a certain internal calling plus an external calling. We must rather speak of an external and an internal side of the one calling. Thus our Church Order speaks of the lawful calling in Article 4: “The lawful calling of those who have not been previously in office, consists:
“First, in the ELECTION by the consistory and the deacons, after preceding prayers, with due observance of the regulations established by the consistory for this purpose, and of the ecclesiastical ordinance, that only those can for the first time be called to the ministry of the Word who have been declared eligible by the churches, according to the rule in this matter, and furthermore with the advice of classis or of the counselor appointed for this purpose by the classis;
“Secondly, in the EXAMINATION both of doctrine and life which shall be conducted by the classis . . . . .
“Thirdly, in the APPROBATION by the members of the calling church . . .
“Finally, in the public ORDINATION in the presence of the congregation . . . . . . agreeably to the form for that purpose.”
Here already it is obvious that according to the Reformed view there is no call to the ministry except in the above sense. The above is the description of the “lawful calling.” Anyone not called in that sense is not lawfully called, and is therefore not truly called at all. It is a mistake, therefore,—though it may be due to misunderstanding,—for a young man to say that he is called to the ministry before he ever receives the lawful calling.
Nor must we follow the mistaken conception of a so-called internal calling which comes long before this “lawful calling,” in fact, even before a young man enters the seminary, and which is supposed to be confirmed by an external calling when the call letter comes from a congregation. This is a complete misconception, fraught with many dangers.
Our Form of Ordination of Ministers takes the same position as our Church Order, as is evident from the first question addressed to the minister: “First. I ask thee, whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s Church, and therefore of God himself, to this holy ministry?”
Hence, the call in its internal aspect, according to which God Himself binds the call upon the heart by His Holy Spirit, comes through and in connection with the call in its external aspect, namely, the call by a certain congregation. And where the latter is not, there the former cannot possibly exist.
(to be continued)