Compiled from Dr. Warren VanHetloo’s “Cogitations,” May, 2010.
Dr. Van, Can you explain to me simply, what constitutes a call to the ministry?
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.
Hi Van, Why don’t we make more of the ascension of Christ? It’s a vital truth to be understood.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.