Is Pastoral “Desire” a Qualification for Ministry?

Reposted, with permission, from DBTS Blog.

The question of a pastoral “call to ministry,” reminiscent of God’s call of biblical prophets and apostles, has long been a issue with which ordination councils have been concerned. Many operate on the assumption that no one aspiring to the ministry may proceed without such a “call.”

I concede, of course, that God’s Spirit is active in distributing gifts in his church “according to his own will” (Heb 2:4) and “as he determines” (1 Cor 12:11, cf. v. 18). It is for this reason that the Scriptures may state plainly that God has appointed the church’s teachers (1 Cor 12:28) and has sent its laborers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). Indeed, we have reason to believe that God’s providential preparation of his ministerial appointees is extensive and complex (see, in principle, Gal 1:5 and Jer 1:5). Please do not hear me saying anything less than this.

The question under consideration in this post is not whether God appoints men to the ministry (he does), but how we know it. The Personal Call Model, if I may call it this, vests primary weight in answering this question in the candidate’s own testimony. Does he have a personal desire for the ministry (so 1 Tim 3:1) and has he had one or more private experiences (even revelatory ones—otherwise, why use the word “call”?) whereby he has become existentially convinced that God wants him in the ministry? If so, then the council may proceed to examine his life and doctrine. If not, the council may not proceed.

I would suggest that the Personal Call Model is not only incorrect, but is positively contrary to the spirit of Paul’s discussion in 1 Timothy 3. Rather than agreeing with Paul that the choice of church officers is not a personal one, but an ecclesiastical one, the Personal Call Model front-loads the whole ordination process with questions about the personal experiences and desires of the candidate. Of course, it would be rather strange for someone to arrive at an ordination council without a desire to be an elder, but that’s not the issue. The council is not called to probe a candidate’s desires; it is called to examine his competencies.

By offering the church a list of qualifications for eldership, Paul is informing us that the decision to pursue eldership (or any other church function, for that matter) is emphatically not something that someone makes after he has become existentially convinced that it is his “calling” in life. You can make other decisions that way (i.e., you can personally conclude that becoming a doctor or a lawyer is your “life calling” after becoming existentially excited by the prospects of one of those careers), but you can’t choose to become a pastor on these grounds. And that’s because it’s not your decision to make. The church makes that choice (let’s call this the Ecclesiastical Call Model).

It is important to notice, I would contend, that the “desire” for the good work of the pastorate in 1 Timothy 3:1 is not one of the qualifications for ministry. The qualifications actually run from verses 2–7, and consist of an evaluation of whether the candidate’s life and doctrine validate his desire. As such, the first question of the candidate for ministry is not, “Do you desire the good work?” or “Do you feel this is your ‘calling’?” (we rather assume that this is the case—why else would he be here?), but rather, “Are you a man who is above reproach?”

The modern church is, I think, making good progress in escaping the error of revelatory calls to ministry. But the idea continues to haunt when we make the candidate’s “desire” for the good work the first (and greatest?) of the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

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T Howard's picture

Quote:
It is important to notice, I would contend, that the “desire” for the good work of the pastorate in 1 Timothy 3:1 is not one of the qualifications for ministry. The qualifications actually run from verses 2–7, and consist of an evaluation of whether the candidate’s life and doctrine validate his desire. As such, the first question of the candidate for ministry is not, “Do you desire the good work?” or “Do you feel this is your ‘calling’?” (we rather assume that this is the case—why else would he be here?), but rather, “Are you a man who is above reproach?”

I would say this a bit differently. If a person does not have the "desire," he's not called to the pastorate (cf. 1 Peter 5:2); however, if he does have the "desire," he may not be called to the pastorate.

I agree that one's desire, gifting, and character must be affirmed by the church before the person is truly called to pastoral ministry. I wouldn't assume, however, someone's personal call just because he expresses interest in pastoral ministry. His "desire" may be based on guilt, legalism, etc. and not a true desire for pastoral ministtry.

Ed Vasicek's picture

T. Howard said:

 

I would say this a bit differently. If a person does not have the "desire," he's not called to the pastorate (cf. 1 Peter 5:2); however, if he does have the "desire," he may not be called to the pastorate.

I agree with you.  Although God may have called prophets who did not desire to be prophets (think Jeremiah or even Moses), when it comes to elders/pastors, a desire to serve in this capacity is a must, a qualification (a clear prerequisite to the observable qualifications then listed)..  It is not, however, the ONLY qualification.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

I believe the lack of perspective on the call to the ministry is the main reason the church is in the mess it's in (I do not think God calls many into the ministry).  I gave my reasons for the importance of the call and about testing the call here and here.  This article fails to address my concerns.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Dan Miller's picture

Mark, I don't know if you'll be interacting here, but this is a great observation. And it has a lot of great corollaries. 

It is important to notice, I would contend, that the “desire” for the good work of the pastorate in 1 Timothy 3:1 is not one of the qualifications for ministry. The qualifications actually run from verses 2–7, and consist of an evaluation of whether the candidate’s life and doctrine validate his desire. As such, the first question of the candidate for ministry is not, “Do you desire the good work?” or “Do you feel this is your ‘calling’?” (we rather assume that this is the case—why else would he be here?), but rather, “Are you a man who is above reproach?”

I would even suggest (I think in harmony with your thesis) that the question is rather, "Is he a man who is above reproach?" Because even the qualifiers are to be answered by the church body. When a man is pondering his own qualifications, I believe it is best to ask, What would my church say? rather than What do I think about this qualification?

When "DESIRE" is treated as a qualifier within the Personal Call Model, the role of elder (=Pastor) gets seen by the young lay as Sold-Out-Service. So an Pre-Med student is failing Organic Chemistry and having an existential crisis, and then a chapel speaker calls the student body to Sell Out for God. The response is to feel called to ministry. We used to joke that Organic Chemistry called a lot of guys into the ministry.

Mark, I hope you post some more thoughts on this. "Deacon" is a truly great alternative for men (and women) who want to SERVE but aren't qualified for elder. "Deacon" is often thought about as a lesser alternative, which is too bad.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dan, aren't the qualifications for deacon almost identical to those for elder? I haven't looked at that in detail lately, but I'm inclined to think it would be hard to qualify for one and not qualify for the other.

Perhaps one difference is "apt to teach"?

Dan Miller's picture

I think that's a good observation, Aaron. The main difference is "apt to teach." I believe that is better thought of as "able in doctrine," rather than, "able in public speaking." But also the Deacon must "hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience." So there is some level of doctrinal understanding required for them.

One distinguishing feature that we inappropriately use is that a Deacon doesn't get paid and an Elder does. I think that we should pay much less often than we do for the elder and more often than we do for the deacon. (another thread...)

Mark Snoeberger's picture

Thanks to all for interacting. I wonder if I might push back against Ed's comment that desire is a "a must, a qualification (a clear prerequisite)" for the ministry. This is the tension I'm attempting to address, and I wonder if we might dialogue. The argument for seeing desire as a "clear prerequisite" to pastoral ministry in 1 Timothy 3 seems to rest on a syntactical fallacy that the protasis of a condition must logically be folded into its own extended apodosis.

Consider the following conditional: 

"If you desire to lose weight, you desire something difficult; therefore, you must be committed to the difficult disciplines of diet and exercise." 

In this statement, the extended apodosis lists two "qualifications" for the difficult task of losing weight: (1) diet and (2) exercise. It is logically incorrect to conclude from this construction that the “desire” to lose weight is "a must, a qualification (a clear prerequisite)" for losing weight (using Ed's words). Desire to lose weight might help me lose weight, of course, but syntactically, "desire" is neither a qualification of nor a prerequisite to actually losing weight. And it would most certainly be incorrect to rank the desire to lose weight above diet and exercise among the necessary requirements for weight loss.

I would contend that in 1 Timothy 3, similarly, it is incorrect to view the protasis of Paul's condition ("if a man desires to be an elder") as part of its own extended apodosis (“he desires something noble; therefore, he must be noble"…according to the standards listed in vv. 2–7). It is syntactically incorrect to state that Paul lists desire as a qualification for pastoral ministry or even as a prerequisite to his list of qualifications for pastoral ministry. Again, my point is not to say that aspiring elders should not desire the appointment (that would not only be weird but potentially a violation of 1 Pet 5:2), but rather that (1) an examination of the "desire" (a.k.a., "the call"?) is not logically under consideration in 1 Timothy 3, and most especially that (2) there is no reason to deduce from this pericope that God communicates his secret will to churches by planting a "desire" for ministry into the minds of prospective pastoral candidates.

MAS

Paul Henebury's picture

I know that Mark is responding to Ed and not to me, but I would like to say one or two things:

Mark is clearly right to point out that the "desire" (two verbs employed) is not one of the qualifications the Apostle has in mind in the context.  However, I contend that it is prerequisite to the qualifications themselves.  Of course, it would be silly to address qualifications to someone who had no desire to be an overseer (as Mark again points out), but we must still ask whence the strong desire?  Is it based on a sustained sense of unavoidable 'nagging' in the consciousness (e.g. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones)?  Is it a romantic inclination or a prodding of pride in the guise of serving God?  Is it the result of man worship?  It's worth asking!

Here I bring in the "sending" of Romans 10:14-15.  I believe the context demands the Sender to be God. 

On a non-exegetical level I would just add that there are so many men in the ministry to day who have no business being there.  They get their degree and they sell their books and they prosecute a ministry based on pragmatism and technique.  Where is God?  Were they "called"?  Was the call tested?  But perhaps there is no such thing?

   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Dan Miller's picture

If I might extend it a bit... I know people who simply LOVE to run. They are skinny. But for them, running isn't an undesirable activity that they tolerate because they desire to be thin. Similarly I know people who want to and enjoy eating healthy and they watch their diets really closely. 

I don't think it's healthy to ask in youth, "Do you desire to be a pastor?" and then start training and try to become qualified. Better to find yourself qualified because you've pursued the qualifications in service for years.

Mark Snoeberger's picture

I guess my short answer, Paul, is that I have trouble finding in Scripture a "strong desire" that is unique to the gift/office of elder. Yes, God in his providence places people into the ministry (Rom 10 and several passages I listed originally), so in the very broadest sense my desire to pursue the gospel ministry was orchestrated by a sovereign God who works all things out after the counsel of his own will. What I am questioning is whether there is a "call" or "desire" unique to elders that exceeds the normal providence by which God orchestrates everything else in his universe. And despite the rich history of the concept, I'm not coming up with a lot.

 

MAS

Don Johnson's picture

It is possible to desire the office while holding none of the qualifications, so...

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ed Vasicek's picture

Do you want a pastor who does not strongly desire to be a pastor?  I would default to Philippians 2:3:

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

There are many people who are not qualified to be a pastor, and a desire is far from enough.  But to go to Bible college and seminary on the basis of perhaps one day becoming a pastor or not seems to me a poor stewardship of life.  You don't need that kind of training to serve the Lord faithfully in lay ministry.

Indiana has its full of pastors who have no formal training because they were called later in life.  They are often very popular but not very deep.  I knew one man who was a pastor for 10 years and was reading the Book of Job for the first time.

What am I not understanding?

"The Midrash Detective"

Dan Miller's picture

Imagine someone who says, “I really want a snickers bar - but I’ve never had one.” And you say oh, you like candy? “No-not much of a sweet tooth.” peanuts? “No, I’m allergic!” Well, what makes you think you want a snickers!? 

Or, “I don’t think I could ever eat a snickers.” Oh, you don’t like candy? “I love it.” Chocolate? “That I’ve never tried.” Caramel? “Yes!” Well, you might like a snickers. 

Paul Henebury's picture

Mark,

your answer doesn't get at what I'm saying.  Paul speaks of a strong desire to be an overseer and I am asking where this desire comes from?  Is it a spiritual desire or doesn't that matter?  General providence seems very unsatisfactory to me as it actually avoids the question.  The answer to every question cannot be "the sovereignty of God." 

Don Johnson says "It is possible to desire the office while holding none of the qualifications, so..."

Precisely!  We better get a handle on what the desire is and where it originated!    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Mark....

Great article. Couldn't agree more. Sure a man must have a certain kind of internal desire but that has to be ratified by Christ's Church just as you have laid out. 

Straight Ahead! 

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Paul Henebury's picture

My concern here is not with Mark's basic thesis that the "desire" is not in the list of qualifications in Paul's list.  It has to do with the verbs orego and epithymeo and where these desires originate in context.  I am happy to refer to the articles I linked to above and leave things there.

Thanks for a thoughtful article

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Mark Snoeberger's picture

Paul, Ed: The question here comes down, it seems, to is how God communicates his expectations to believers individually and corporately. I would argue that the whole of God’s revealed will is contained in the Christian Scriptures, and that in the present era he makes no normative transmissions beyond this. While God at all points acts indirectly via providence (employing, by definition, secondary causation) to effect his sovereign ends, he does not act directly, immediately, supernaturally, or miraculously to transmit normative expectations to his people, whether that be the “call,” the “desire,” a “burden,” or anything on DeYoung’s rather humorous list of “dreams, visions, fleeces, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver-shivers, writing in the sky, etc.” 

I freely grant, Ed, that God is at work to effect in us his good pleasure (Phil 2:13), and prepares men to the Gospel ministry (Luke 10:2; 1 Cor 12:28, etc.). What I am challenging generally is the idea that this work exceeds the general providence that Paul finds “dissatisfying.” What I am challenging specifically the idea that God immediately implants “desires” in prospective elders, or that God’s preparation of elders is different in kind from any other preparation that believers receive to serve Christ.

Ed, I am deeply sympathetic with your concern that there are a great many unqualified and uncommitted elders in churches today. Please don’t hear me as dismissing this. I’m just convinced that there are a great many better things we can do to correct this problem than scrutinizing the “call” experiences that young men have.

Hope this helps. 

MAS

Paul Henebury's picture

Mark,

Your response infers strongly that whatever the strong desire is it is not of God.  The point at issue is whether the "desire" in 1 Tim. 3:1 is effected by the Holy Spirit or not?  I am understanding you to be answering "No."  This is because God only communicates through the Scriptures and not secondarily through what Calvin calls a "godly desire."  But how can it be godly if it is not effected by God?  While I understand that Robert Leighton, Andrew Fuller, John Newton, Charles Bridges, C. H. Spurgeon and D. M. Lloyd-Jones are far from infallible, they stand against your view.  

As you may know, providence includes concurrence wherein God does act directly with the agent.  John Frame (The Doctrine of God) is wary of putting all God's activities into the box of secondary causation, and I think he is right.  Your comment also implies you deny special providence.

We'll just have to disagree here.  Thanks for your article.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Mark Snoeberger's picture

Your question, Paul, contains a classic false dilemma that I'm unwilling to accept, viz., "Is the strong desire to be a pastor 'of God' or is it not?" to which is appended an explanation that if God does not directly effect such a desire, then it cannot be "godly." I'll answer your question, but not, if you will forgive me, on your terms.

If you were to ask me whether or not God directly implants pastoral desire on the human psyche as a mystical form of normative guidance (i.e., a form that involves "direct and intuitive acquisition" of spiritual knowledge—Webster), then no, I do not believe that God does this. I see no exegetical reason to come to this conclusion; further, I resist it on the grounds that it brings into question one's cessationist credentials (a can of worms that I am unwilling to open here). That historical figures have thought otherwise does not materially change my argument, as I am not making a historical argument.

If you were to ask me whether or not God directs the whole of a person's experience so that that person cultivates desires in areas for which God, in his providence, has equipped that person, then, yes, God does that. Routinely...for all believers, and not just for elders. To suggest, however, that such desires are "not godly" because they are the product of mere providence instead of immediate divine causation, however, seems rather to subvert the richness of divine providence and to narrow the meaning of godliness

It appears that this conversation has run its course. I'll let you have the last word if that is your pleasure.

 

MAS

TylerR's picture

Editor

Where does the desire come from? I came from a revivalistic, right-wing fundamentalist background where the "call to ministry" was often couched in mystical terms ("God spoke to me ..."). I don't think this is correct, but how should we accurately describe a "desire" to serve God in any capacity, whether in a volunteer capacity or as an elder? Does Scripture suggest a direct revelation, or a specific providence? I suspect some of the disagreement here is about definitions. I opt for the latter option, and this is how I define it (for what it's worth):

  • Direct revelation: What it says; a direct message from God to an individual about His desire for him to do something. I don't think this describes the desire for pastoral ministry.
  • Specific providence: God steers an individual where He wants Him to be, through a bewildering array of life experiences and circumstances. It may appear random to us, but it isn't to Him.

I think a person's ecclesiastical sub-culture will sometimes determine the kind of language he uses to describe from whence this pastoral desire cometh. Perhaps someone describes his own experience as a direct revelation, but I suspect what he may be referring to is a specific providence

So, how does this impact the question "is 'desire' a qualification for pastoral ministry?" At my ordination, I was asked to describe my "call" to ministry, and I knew I was expected to describe a mystical experience of sorts. As I remember, I tried to use the requisite, sacramental language of IFB mysticism, while pivoting to providence as much as I could. But, it seems to me that "desire" should always be taken with a grain of salt, because the proof will be in the pudding. It doesn't matter what a guy wants; it matters if God has gifted him to be an elder. In that sense, a question about "desire" is often a pro forma introductory question that can safely be ignored in favor of other matters. 

It might be better to re-phrase the question this way:

  • Bad way: Please describe your call to ministry
  • Good way: Tell us how you decided you wanted to be involved in pastoral ministry

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Mark, I think the crux of things is here:

 I would argue that the whole of God’s revealed will is contained in the Christian Scriptures, and that in the present era he makes no normative transmissions beyond this. 

This is a viewpoint with which I disagree, particularly the concept of the "whole" of God's will.  I strongly believe in Sola Scriptura as typically defined, the Bible is the final authority and the infallible authority.  I do not believe there is any further revelation that can be canonical or authoritative in the sense that we all are expected to be held accountable to it.

But, in contrast to your view, I am convinced that the Scriptures teach that God leads, directs, and guides us into the will of God, and this may involve more than just exegesis.  This includes creating desires or longings within us.. Our perception, however, of that leading/guidance is not always accurate for a variety of theological reasons, and so this subjective leading is not binding upon others. I am sure that this same difference comes into play when trying to discern how one is gifted spiritually.

The Scriptures themselves exemplify leadings and revelations apart from the Scripture, Paul, for example, received revelations and guidance beyond what is recorded.  There were many prophets in Israel whose words were not recorded, but were directed toward individuals and specific situations. Not to mention the many acts and  words of Jesus which were not recorded (John 20:30-31). If God lead people in Biblical times (both OT and NT) apart from previously written or future Scripture, it follows that He still leads people today.  But, apart from Scripture telling us a revelation really is from God, we can never be absolutely sure that it is. The best we can do is make sure sure a leading/desire is not contrary to Scripture.

I have personally had only a limited amount of leadings, where God has deeply impressed something on my heart. When this has happened, I know it.  I do not expect other people to yield to my leading as though it were of God, but I have known what I had to do.

So when you read of a desire to serve as an elder, you are forced to argue, by virtue of your stated proposition above, that such a desire cannot come from God.  I think that is an unnatural reading.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

Not every either/or creates a false dilemma of course.  Besides, I did not leave you with one.  Earlier, e.g., I wrote:

"Is it based on a sustained sense of unavoidable 'nagging' in the consciousness (e.g. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones)?  Is it a romantic inclination or a prodding of pride in the guise of serving God?  Is it the result of man worship?  It's worth asking!"

You dent any direct impulses from the Holy Spirit to the saint.  That is quite something to say!  Not all direct communication between God and His children is revelation per Scripture.  Indeed, as Van Til said, "every man is revelatory to himself."  And this includes his own thoughts and inclinations.  But in this instance we are concerned with an impression (dependent upon the rule of Scripture yet to be tested) communicated by the Spirit.  You deny any such thing.  I wonder if you deny present-day miracles for the same reason?  This, as I say, puts you into conflict with many luminaries.  See John Frame, The Doctrine of God, chs. 13-14.

If I may I will insert something from my article on this subject:

 

"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."

I also wonder how one can "yield to the Spirit" and "pray in the Spirit" (not tongues!) without being led by the Spirit?  You have opened a can of worms.  Is the Spirit dormant within us; only playing a part in our reactions to outward circumstances?  And if He is not passive, then can He not give those whom He sends a subjective inner call, to be tested against Scripture and the opinion of the Church?  That is what I am getting at.      

Still, we are not going to solve that here.

P.S. kudos to Ed!  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Kevin Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

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.

Does this passage from Bruce mean that only pastors are commissioned to spread the gospel, but ordinary believers do not get this call? I always thought the passage in Romans meant that every believer is called to give out the gospel or people won't hear it. Is it actually referring just to the pastor's call?

Paul Henebury's picture

In this context, which has commissioning and kerugmatic language, it refers to those "sent" to preach, not to all the saints.

God bless,

 

PH 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry's picture

Moderator

When this has happened, I know it.  I do not expect other people to yield to my leading as though it were of God, but I have known what I had to do.

Herein is the crux of the problem as I see it between Mark and Paul. And I think Ed digs his own grave here, so to speak.

Let's assume Paul is right, that there is some sort of extra-biblical leading from God. How would that be distinguished from some extra-biblical desire? How can one discern the difference between what is of God and what is not? Is not our flesh able to feel exactly the same about a "not from God" desire as it is about a "from God" desire? I know of no way to infallibly discern whether a desire is from God or not from God.

This, in a nutshell, is why I tend to think the conversation between Paul and Mark (with great respect for both) has no real usefulness. The usefulness is the biblical pattern of qualifications (with or without desire in it) and obedience to the biblical command to test a man who claims the desire. 

The grave of Ed is found in this testing: Once you claim something is from God, how does anyone argue against it? It is unassailable, no matter how wrong it might be.

Many women these days are claiming that God has called them to preach. On what basis shall we disagree, given Ed's sentiment (though I don't think Ed would support a woman preacher). But how can he not since the woman claims, "I know it ... I know what I have to do."

If your answr is go back to the Scripture, then you have buried the idea that a claim of a call from God is infallible. You have submitted that claim to Scripture.

The answer to Ed's claim is to say, "God has deeply impressed on me that he didn't deeply impress that on you." If Ed says, "God has called me to preach," I say, "God told me he didn't call you to preach." How shall this be adjudicated? I remember ordination councils where the question was asked, "What will you do if this body does not recommend ordination?" I think some expected the answer, "God called me so I will go preach anyway,." I think that would be a very unbilblical answer. In cases such as this, I think we must yield our personal sense of leading to the discernment of others. It is time to step back, seek counsel, and reconsider.

I am thinking of a man right now (among others) who, had he followed the advice of others, would have saved his families several years of deputation, a move across the country to plant a church, an utter failure at church planting, and a return ... all because he wouldn't listen when someone said, "You are not cut out for this." 

Anyway, all that rambling to say a call might exist, but there is no infallible way to know it, it can be mistaken, there is no evidence that it is some extrabiblical supernatural work from God, and any such callee must be tested by the scriptural qualifications.

Paul Henebury's picture

I understand your concerns.  Have you read Lecture Two of Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students?  If so, do you think you have correctly represented him (or even me)?  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I don't even have one foot in the grave (that I know of), Larry.  

Regarding your comment, I don't see things as polarized as you do:

Let's assume Paul is right, that there is some sort of extra-biblical leading from God. How would that be distinguished from some extra-biblical desire? How can one discern the difference between what is of God and what is not? Is not our flesh able to feel exactly the same about a "not from God" desire as it is about a "from God" desire? I know of no way to infallibly discern whether a desire is from God or not from God.

I don't think you are hearing me.There is no way to be sure that a leading is infallible. You are adding that idea, not me.

 I answered that under Sola Scriptura, Scripture as the final authority and the only infallible one.  But most theologians acknowledge the reality of authorities (e.g., a church board) that  seek to do God's will but is fallible and sometimes mistaken.  But if the board runs clearly contrary to written Scripture, the Scripture trumps the board.  Same thing with leadings.  They are fallible.  But just as God may use a board in a church or mission organization, so God may use a leading of His Spirit. Both are fallible, sometimes frequently.

Fallible authorities are held accountable to the infallible authority.  And just as a board cannot assert that it is definitely God's will to initiate a new ministry (for example), so we cannot definitely assert that a leading is the will of God.  The best we can do is say that we THINK that God is leading us in a certain direction.  

Fallibility describes most of the Christian life.  Jesus did not come to make us infallible. Were you infallibly certain that your wife was the right kind of person for you when you married her?  You usually don't find that out until you are married a while.  You made a fallible choice (assuming you are married).  You may have used some Biblical wisdom to preclude some foolish choices, but people using that same wisdom could have ended up with a miserable marriage.

Because so many people abuse the idea of "feeling led" to justify breaking up a relationship, leaving a church, or quitting a job as an evasion of personal responsibility should not move us to react in an opposite and equal direction.  People who refuse to own up to their choices will always find a way to cop out, and people who are responsible won't hide behind "God's will" through a leading.  

Discerning the leading of the Spirit is not an exact science, and its inexactitude is what is troubling you. Many Scriptures have no "neat" explanations and leave room for abuse. One principle I use is that leadings do not exalt me, but the Lord.  They are usually uncomfortable for me.  I will tend to do the things I want to do, so leadings generally are about things I would not normally do, or not do at the time.  I have had a few very rare instances, for example, where I knew I needed to call someone -- or God led me to pray for someone I don't normally pray for.  And when the conviction develops within you that God wants you to do something responsible and in harmony with the Word, that is what I call the leading of the Spirit.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

The Holy Spirit is infallible.  But we are fallible in discerning His leadings, therefore what use are they?

The Bible is infallible. But we are fallible in interpreting it (have you every changed your mind on the meaning of a verse?). Therefore, what use is it?

The obvious answer (in both cases) is that we do understand partly  and will understand more as we labor in the Word or in our walk with the Lord.

There are differences, however.  The Bible is black and white (or black red and white), and we can all see its text and debate it.  In addition, we all make judgment calls between when a text is so obvious that someone is refusing to conform to its obvious meaning and a clear cut (to us) passage.

I believe in the clarity of Scripture, so I think the fault lies with us.  I think the same is true with the Spirit's leading.

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry's picture

Moderator

Have you read Lecture Two of Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students?  If so, do you think you have correctly represented him (or even me)?  

Yes I have read it, but it has been a while. I may have been unclear and my apologies if so. My point wasn't really to represent either of you per se, but to suggest (however awkwardly I did so), that in the end, perhaps it doesn't matter. 

Even if there is some sort of "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," I don't see how that gets us anywhere because there is no real test of it except for meeting the biblical qualifications, which is Mark's point I think. And that lack of a test of a call is what I think Mark, at least in part, is rejecting because of the idea that there is some extra-biblical revelation of one sort or another, however we characterize it.

My sympathies in the debate lie with you. I do tend to think there is some sort of work of the Holy Spirit that burdens a man to pastor (the work of an overseer; not just preach) in a sense that probably does not exist for bankers, builders, and circus masters. But I can't really define that, and any such call must be tested by in terms of character qualifications and skillsets given in Scripture.

So my point is that even if you and I are correct it doesn't really get us far. It isn't particularly useful other than as a starting point. If a young man doesn't desire it, there is no reason to proceed onto the (other?) qualifications. If he does desire the office, he must meet the other qualifications. If he does not meet them, it matters not how strong his desire is or how much he claims it to be from God. And his failure to meet other qualifications may indicate that the call he claims is not from God, or, at least is not ready to be acted on.

I also don't think the call is necessary permanent, per se. I think a pastor could be a fruitful and God-called pastor for a while and then leave that calling to teach, or do something else. So perhaps I would not say it is undying. 

Hopefully that clarifies somewhat. 

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