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Thomas Nichols said, “We believe that the gospel ministry is the noblest and most exalted office to which man can aspire. But not everyone is qualified to preach.” This is another way of saying that one is un­able to put himself into the office of the ministry of the Word. There is only one entrance into that position and that is thru the lawful calling of which both the third and fourth articles of our church order speak. It is of course also evident that in this field there always have been and there still are many ‘imposters’ who, through subtlety or deception, have gained entrance but only he who is lawfully called is “Verbi Dei Min­ister” in truth!

Reformed people have always laid stress upon the necessity of the calling. Scripture teaches with un­mistakable clarity that the ministry is not of men but of God. In II Corinthians 5:18 the apostle says that “God hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation”. To Timothy the apostle expresses his gratitude to Christ Jesus who “hath enabled him, for that He counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry”. (I Tim. 1:12). Now it is not true, as some allege, that this was so only for the apostles and is no more in vogue today. The same God that gave the ministry to men and put them into it then does the same today although it may be said that what was then done aud­ibly and visibly is now done through the Holy Spirit. Our Confession in Art. 31 warns that “everyone must take heed, not to intrude himself by indecent means, but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him; that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured that it is of the Lord”. And when men are ordained to the ministry of the Word the first question that is asked them according to our Reformed form of ordination is: “whether he feels in his heart that he is lawfully called of God’s Church and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry”? To this he is expected to reply: “Yes, truly with all my heart.” This, certainly, is according to Scripture so that the fundamental requirement to the office of the ministry is the calling of God.

Of what then does this calling consist?

In discussing this matter we may distinguish be­tween the internal and the external aspects of the cal­ling provided we do not confuse and separate them.

There is essentially but one calling that comes from God through the medium of the Church to the minis­ter of the Word.

To the internal aspect of the calling there is more than a mystical feeling in the heart. The mere de­sire to be a minister is not necessarily a calling of God. When one supposedly sees the letters “P.C.” in a heavenly vision, they might mean “Plant Corn” as well as “Preach Christ”. The calling of God to the ministry is rooted far deeper than the stirring of one’s emotions. It is a conviction of heart that one can do nothing else than proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul expresses it in I Corinthians 9:16, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel”. There is no uncertainty about it. It is a divine ‘must’. The minister so called does not then place the ministry in juxtaposition with other vocations which also might have an appeal to him should he become discouraged. If he is called the work of the ministry becomes his one and only pur­suit in life. He has no other choice than to do the bidding of the Lord. It is laid upon him of necessity!

Implied also in the internal phase of the calling of the minister is the consciousness that he is to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ. More is to be written about this in a later connection when we discuss the office itself but here we are to note that the minister called of God must be aware of the fact that he is not called to go forth to tell others about Jesus and to give his opinion of the Savior but rather he is called to speak only that Word that Christ Himself shall put in his mouth whether that Word appeals to his hear­ers or not. Only then is he a “sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved and in them that perish; to the one the savor of death unto death, and to the other the savor of life unto life”. (II Cor. 2:16, 17) Moved by this conviction of his calling the minister will not be reluctant to declare “thus saith the Lord” and, thereupon, proclaim the whole counsel of God as revealed to him in the holy Scrip­tures. In that confidence alone will he be able to leave the fruits of his ministry in the hands of his sender who through His own Word accomplishes the good pleasure of His will.

Finally, the qualifications for the work of the min­istry may also be included in the internal phase of the calling. These are both physical and spiritual. One who aspires to the ministry of the Word must certainly have the love of God in his heart and must have above all other things an abiding desire in his heart to serve the Lord in all his labors. He himself must know that he is a child of God and a partaker of that exalted life in Christ, the way unto which he proclaims to others. It is true that God is able to build and edify His Church for a time through even the labors of a reprobate but it is also true that a rep­robate can never be a true preacher of the Word of God. The minister must also have natural gifts. He must be sound in body; he must possess the ability to speak; he must have the power of intellect to study and various other necessary talents. To be sure one does not have to possess extraordinary gifts or bril­liant talents to be assured that God calls him to the ministry. There are ten talents, five talents and also one talent, which may be sufficient for this calling. Nevertheless, a measure of talents must certainly be there. It was once said, for example, that if a man has hands like coal shovels and no brains, he may very well make up his mind that the Lord does not call him to the ministry of the Word. The point is that where the Lord calls He also provides the necessary gifts and powers to realize that calling.

To the calling of the minister of the Word there is also an external aspect. We would mention especial­ly two things in this connection. The first is that where there is a calling the way must also be opened to realize that calling. We believe that the only pro­per ministry is the “trained ministry” which is also in accord with the injunction which Paul gave to Tim­othy “to commit the things which he had learned to other faithful men that they might be able to teach others also.” (II Tim. 2:2) This means years of preparation and a means of livelihood during the time of preparation and certain limited aids to study, etc. These are not accessible to all and, therefore, where the way to obtain the necessary training is closed it is evident that the Lord does not call.

Then, in the second place, the call by the church be­longs to the external calling of the minister of the gospel. This is above all important. No matter how sincere one’s desire may be to serve the Lord in the ministry, and no matter how many gifts and talents one may have, and though the way is wide open for him, as long as he is not called by a congregation he cannot consider himself called to the ministry at all. The call by the church seals as it were the internal calling. The actuality of the inward calling is brought to manifestation through the call by the church. This phase, therefore, is very important and may not in any way be solicited. There may never be any simony. As our Confession puts it, “one must wait till it shall please God to call him”, which means that he must wait until it becomes evident that God has called him through His church. Another lawful way into the ministry of the Word of God there is not.

In this connection we may well consider what is written in Acts 13. We showed earlier that the apostle Paul was conscious of his having received his minis­try from the Lord. Yet, the apostle could not and did not go forth into that ministry until he was called by the church. In Acts 13:2-4 we read: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them they sent them away. So, they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia.” Several things we would note here briefly in connection with this passage. First, the Lord definitely calls these two men to a special work through His Church. He does not do this directly though that was not impossible but He uses the medium of the church. Secondly, the church called these men through fasting and prayer. Only after fasting and praying did the church send them forth unto their labor. Thirdly, we read that the church sent them away and they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost. And being sent thus their labors were also abundantly blessed as the subsequent history shows.

Now this order is no longer held in regard by many in our day. Preachers today apparently no longer need to be sent. And, certainly the church is no long­er regarded as the proper body to send forth the min­ister in the name of Christ. Today, everybody with a whim and a wish attempts to preach. Men, women and even children occupy the pulpits. And others who should preach no longer do so but devote them­selves to lecturing on sundry topics. Today there is gross ignorance with respect to the fundamental ques­tions concerning the calling to preach the gospel. And the result is that a generation has been produced which is superficially religious but which no longer recognizes or understands the WORD OF CHRIST but clamors more and more for religious entertain­ment by the modern comedian who calls himself a ‘revivalist’. With fluent oratory and wild gesticulations they stir the passions of the populace and through their bringing in the name of Jesus they deceive many. However, as Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27) And again: “And a stranger will they not fol­low but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5)

In conclusion, therefore, we may say that Christ, through His Spirit, calls His ministers. This call the same Christ seals through the calling by His Church. Through the servant thus called Christ speaks to His sheep calling them by name and giv­ing to them eternal life.

G. Vanden Berg