Q & A with Dr. Warren Vanhetloo

Compiled from Dr. Warren VanHetloo’s “Cogitations,” May, 2010.

Question

Dr. Van, Can you explain to me simply, what constitutes a call to the ministry?

Answer

No, I really can’t. I know of no single Bible verse that will help. I have never seen a formula or a list. In fact, when ministers gather to consider the ordination of a new pastor, their first question is, Why do you consider God has called you to His service? I suspect there are a great many ideas of the type of answer they expect. Through the years I have heard a variety of answers. If there is some agreement among a certain group, I’m not aware of it.

To eliminate some ideas: It’s not the touch of an ecclesiastical superior or anything such an authorized agent might say or do. It’s not the decision of any group of men. It’s not the prayers of a grandparent, although that may be one indication among many. It’s not a certain amount of schooling or a degree from any sort of school. It’s not being employed to perform certain religious tasks. It’s certainly not (as often indicated in the secular world) that I am not qualified to do anything else, so that’s a last resort.

Probably most Baptists look for a reason related to the Bible. For some, it may be a strong burden to reach the lost as a result of a sermon or reading the Bible. It may be a special love for knowing the Word and dedication to learning more about it. It may be the result of visiting a mission field and realizing God has burdened your soul to give your life to such work. It may be a result of giving out tracts and talking with the lost about their salvation and thus realizing that God has given you a special ability to see lives changed.

Let me also point out that God often gives such burdens or abilities to direct our lives into greater dedication to His work, but not necessarily to full time ministry. His burden to teach a Sunday School class or work with youth does not necessarily lead to full time service. Let me also emphasize that when God calls a man to preach, He calls him to prepare properly. Far too many are in the ministry simply because of some emotional feeling, but not as a result of sitting at the feet of the Savior.

Question

Hi Van, Why don’t we make more of the ascension of Christ? It’s a vital truth to be understood.

Answer

My view: I think this reader is right that we tend not to make enough of the ascension and that it is a vital truth. As for reasons, I can only offer guesses. I doubt if any one or two reasons predominate. The influence of calendar holidays is important. The world still greatly honors Christmas and Easter. The ascension and Pentecost are seldom noticed. The relative importance also has a bearing. Christ’s coming into the world, and His death and resurrection, are rightly treated as of supreme importance in Christianity. Those truths are basic to the faith and frequently emphasized in Scripture. Of lesser importance are accounts of the Transfiguration and the ascension.

Also, events of Christmas and Easter are easier to dramatize. Christ’s transfiguration and ascension have less action and effects are harder to reproduce. Maybe once a year or every other year, a preacher might preach on the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42). Mark has but one verse on the ascension (16:19). Luke has two (24:50-51). John reported that Jesus spoke of it (20:17). Acts contains the most detailed account (1:4-11). Ephesians quotes Psalm 68:18, that the One who came down from heaven, the same has now ascended up to resume His position as exalted deity (4:8-10). The ascension seems to fit more with predictions of end time events than as evidence of His manifesting His God-man function. Or, to state it differently, the ascension is but one of several astonishing manifestations of Christ’s deity, but is not judged so crucial in preaching the Gospel.

Question

Dr Van, I have a question regarding what seems to be a trend among fundamental Baptists, at least in the area where I live. Instead of addressing God with a clear understanding of the Trinity and the distinct yet collective functions of each member of the Godhead, I am hearing more and more people address God with the generic “God” moniker in the imprecatory sense. By that I mean, instead of Father, Lord, etc. it is “God” this and “God” that. This makes sense if one subscribes to a pluralistic or ecumenical hermeneutic and worldview, but not if one subscribes to an orthodox view. Any thoughts on this one?

Answer

I think God is so happy to have His creatures worship Him and pray to Him that He doesn’t really react if they address Him as Poppa, Daddy God, or whatever, so long as it is sincere and respectful. That those who know the distinct endeavors of Persons of the Trinity are careful to plead to the right One is commendable. That only such could be acceptable as worship or true prayer is a bit presumptuous. I question that anyone speaking of or to God in a common generic fashion gives any attention to (or even knows about) pluralistic or ecumenical distinctions. In due time, God will get all the respect and honor He deserves.

Question

Sunday as we sang “Come, Thou Fount,” on the second verse I suddenly wondered what I’m singing, “Here I raise my Eben-Ezer.” I have sung that since I was a child without giving any thought to what it means.

Answer

It is taken directly from one verse: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). While he was still a child, the Lord appeared unto Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1ff). He was the last of the prophets of the period of the judges, and involved in the choosing of a king (1 Sam. 8:6-10). After the Ark of the Covenant had been returned from the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:1-2), Samuel called the people unto Mizpeh and led them in confession of their sin (7:3-6). Philistine rulers brought forces to attack them there, and the people looked to Samuel (7:7-8). “Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him” (7:9-11), such that the Philistines came no more against the land of Israel during the days of Samuel (7:13-14).

After the Lord’s miraculous deliverance (7:10), Samuel set up a stone between Mizpeh and Shen to remind future generations of the children of Israel of that divine deliverance. Similar memorial stones had been set up before (Gen 28:18; 31:45; 35:14; Josh 4:9; 24:26). Such memorial stones were to be unhewn, the shape not changed, and no inscription inscribed. The stone was probably set on a rock outcropping or a special base; it was not “raised” in the sense of being higher than the people. Samuel named it, ‘The stone of help’ and it became a well known landmark (1 Sam. 4:1; 5:1).

The song writer used the incident of the ancient witness rock beautifully. “Here I raise mine Eben-ezer, hither by Thy help I’m come.” We proclaim, “God has been my miracle Helper in the past; I need an unchanging reminder of His protective hand. He will continue to guide and undertake for me through this life and safely welcome me home.”


Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. Since the death of his wife a year ago, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it.

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There are 13 Comments

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Warren Vanhetloo wrote:

Hi Van, Why don't we make more of the ascension of Christ? It's a vital truth to be understood.

What an interesting question!! Growing up in the Lutheran church, we had a special Ascension Day service each year on Thursday night, 40 days after Easter. There are several Lutheran hymns written for Ascension Day.
The ascension is extremely important from a dispensational standpoint -- yet I do not think I have heard a sermon devoted solely to that topic since I left the Lutheran church.
(Wonder what the average Baptist church would say if the pastor announced an "Ascension Day" service?! Probably something like, "That sounds Catholic." Bleah )

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Jim's picture

The average Baptist church has

  • Respect for human life day (corresponds with anniversary of Roe v Wade decision (Decided January 22, 1973))
  • Bible college touring groups Sunday (or Tuesday if your church is a little church and they have a free day)
  • Awana Sunday
  • Mother's Day Sunday
  • Father's Day Sunday

Did I miss anything?

What the average Baptist church skips

  • Trinity Sunday
  • Ascension day
Paul J. Scharf's picture

Jim,

Are you saying that Baptist churches are doing more important things, or less important things, than Ascension Day or Trinity Sunday -- or just that the calendar is already too full??

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Jim's picture

Paul J. Scharf wrote:
Are you saying that Baptist churches are doing more important things, or less important things, than Ascension Day or Trinity Sunday ?

I'm saying less important things

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Thanks Jim -- I needed a smiley-face there to get the punchline!

Chris, My Baptist churches have never missed Reformation Sunday -- I believe I have preached on it every year I have had the opportunity. Smile

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Another considers every day alike" ... let each be fully persuaded in his own mind.

But the 'liturgical calendar' was invented ages ago as a teaching tool (among other things). And maybe it's time to use more of it that way even in Baptist churches. But we kind of had our "ascension day" last time I preached from Acts 1 (and again when preaching from a few other texts where it is mentioned).

Greg Linscott's picture

Jim Peet wrote:
The average Baptist church has

  • Respect for human life day (corresponds with anniversary of Roe v Wade decision (Decided January 22, 1973))
  • Bible college touring groups Sunday (or Tuesday if your church is a little church and they have a free day)
  • Awana Sunday
  • Mother's Day Sunday
  • Father's Day Sunday

Did I miss anything?


Patriotic Sunday, Jim.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

JohnMatzko's picture

With due respect, I wonder why the person who didn't know the meaning of "Eben-ezer" didn't try a concordance--or even Google.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's more fun to ask Dr V Smile And also I suspect that many who send him questions are long time readers and have developed a certain trust of his POV.
(I also know more than a few believers who find the whole idea of cracking that 20lb copy of Strong's a bit intimidating)

Our hymnal has "Ebenezer" asterisked and a footnote briefly explains it, but not as well as here.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I understand asking questions about difficult subjects or in order to gain someone else's perspective, but I don't answer any question for my kids that they could find the answer to themselves. IMO it may be more fun to ask, but it's lazy. I also think some questions reveal that not so many Christians are reading their Bibles cover to cover or attempting any study on their own.

I liked Dr. Van's answer about the 'call' to ministry. The qualifications of a minister are clear, but how someone receives and understands their appointed path is not.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, I'll give you that some folks are lazy... too many. But who's got time to look up every question? I mean, really, every answer can be found somewhere if you dig long enough and deep enough. But what's an expert for if not to save you some research time? By asking, we're really just looking it up another way. But it's not always the best way to look it up and I'm all for the occasional, "Here's the book [or Book ], your answer is in there."

Alot of it has to do with how you want to use your time as the "answer person." The other day, got a PM in forum somewhere about getting some audio settings to work right in Linux Mint 8. I didn't want to become this fellow's regular go-to guy for tech. questions so I suggested some keywords to google. Told me later he got is answer. I'd have told him if he hadn't found it, but best if he learns to do that. It'll actually save him time in the long run (and me too)

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