but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4NKJV
This morning we look at Question 159 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” It gives the answer, “They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.” Last time we looked at this question we considered the way in which God commands that His Word be preached. Today we examine the importance of divine calling.
The Catechism limits who their answer to this question applies to. It does not simply say “The preaching of God’s Word should be done as follows,” as if preaching were an activity in which all Christians can or should engage; but it speaks of those “called to labor in the ministry of the word…” The preaching of God’s Word is an activity that one can enter into only by way of calling. Furthermore, this calling to preach is not a summons merely to an activity or function but to a vocation of work. Preaching the Word is a life-calling as much as a carpenter, teacher, physician, or laborer. Thus, we notice the Catechism refers to those who are “They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word.” God calls some people in His church to the task of ministering His Word to the rest of the people in His church.
So how do we believe God calls a man to preach? The calling consists of two aspects: the internal and the external call. While we believe both calls are from God the Holy Spirit, the internal call is God putting in the heart of a Christian man the desire and conviction that he should be ministering the Word of God to the people of God. Along with this desire God will give and strengthen the necessary gifts to exercise the duties belonging to the ministry of the Word. These include wisdom and learning in God’s Word, understanding of right doctrine, and an ability to communicate the correct interpretation of the Word of God in a reverent and sincere manner. While all of these gifts are God-given, the man believing himself to be called to preach should diligently seek to develop and strengthen these gifts. Finally, God must also provide and the man must exercise the necessary personal and character qualifications that are part of the internal call.
If all of these are in place a man can still not become a minister of the Word unless or until he receives the external call of God. Here we refer to God the Holy Spirit causing the people of God to notice and affirm that such a man has the gifts and character qualifications of a minister, and through their God-given authority as a congregation, to ask that man to be their minister. The final part of the external call is the approval, by way of the trials of doctrinal & character examinations, of a legitimate and appropriate court of the church. For a minister this court cannot be a local church session but must be a regional presbytery or higher, for ministers are called to the life-work of Word and sacrament to be administered wherever God sends them.
I am convinced that if churches truly submitted to God’s standard for a preacher, as set forth in His Word, rather than accepting the world’s standards as measured by abilities and gifts, many would not struggle with the issue of women’s ordination. Can a woman speak and preach as well as a man with regard to presentation, organization, sound exposition and application of right doctrine? Of course she can. Does this mean that a woman who is godly, theologically astute, and a good speaker should preach the Word of God? No, because the ultimate issue is not ability or gifts, but calling. Many men and women are godly, knowledgeable, and good speakers, but Jesus only authorizes His ministers by calling them to preach internally, externally, and all in accordance with His Word, which explicitly states that a preacher must be a man, who if he is married, rules his own house well (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). May God grant that the church would submit to Christ and His Spirit when it seeks to call a minister, and may God raise up and send many faithful ministers throughout the world today!