The Importance of God’s Call
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Romans 10:14-15aNKJV
This morning we look at Question 158 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “By whom is the word of God to be preached?” It gives the answer, “The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.” Have you ever wondered why Reformed churches still make such a big deal about who is allowed to preach the Word of God? If we learned anything in the twentieth century surely it is that anyone, with a little training and instruction, is able to preach a decent sermon faithful to the Scriptures and useful to the people of God. So why do Reformed churches insist on so much education, training, and testing? And then why, once a person has been adequately educated and prepared do they still require a vote from a congregation and ordination by a presbytery? The answer to those questions rests upon a deep understanding of the nature of man and of God’s way of saving him, as affirmed in various passages of Scripture. It has to do with calling, and calling is fundamentally an issue of authority and not one of ability.
The passage quoted above from Romans 10 asks several questions relevant to our topic. All four of them are meant to be rhetorical, linguistic devices used for emphasis. That is, Paul is not looking for his audience to figure out the right answer to his questions. He assumes they already know the answers for they should be obvious to all who understand the gospel. The first two are common sense: no one can call upon someone in whom they have not believed, and no one can believe in someone of whom they have never heard. Nothing could be more obvious. Yet consider the next two questions. They are supposed to be just as obvious and just as common sense as the first two, yet I fear they are anything but for the majority of Christians today. That is, we are supposed to immediately affirm that obviously no one can hear without a preacher and none can preach unless they are sent. Yet our experience tells us the exact opposite: anyone can hear the gospel without a preacher. Why he could watch The Jesus Film, or read a gospel tract, or have a neighbor witness to him, or a host of other ways. And likewise, anyone is able to go and proclaim the truth about Jesus without an official “sending.” People do it all the time and some of them are quite good at it. So what does the Scripture mean when it teaches that no one can hear without a preacher and no one can be a true preacher without being officially and properly sent?
It means that no one can rightly, legitimately, in obedience to Christ do these things. In the gospels, Jesus personally appointed the Twelve and He sent them out to preach (Luke 24:46-49). They understood that Jesus Christ had formally appointed them and them alone as His official witnesses and proclaimers of His gospel (Acts 1:8-9, 20-22). As was true for the high priest, so also for an apostle of Jesus Christ: “And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was,” (Heb. 5:4). The question for us therefore is: Is Jesus Christ still active in His Church? Is He still exercising His authority, present with us by His Spirit, personally calling and sending out His chosen proclaimers of His gospel, or did we lose that benefit when the apostolic age ended and now we have to figure out things more or less on our own?
The Reformed Tradition has only ever answered that question one way: Jesus Christ still personally calls and sends out men whom He has chosen to preach His gospel. He no longer does so directly and audibly as He did with the Twelve, or supernaturally as He did with Paul. But the call to preach comes from Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, through three means: 1) A man’s inner desire and conviction; 2) A congregation’s vote and choice; 3) A presbytery (church court)’s authoritative admission to the office. A man must have the gifts and ability, and he must be educated and trained, but those things are incomparably less than the requirement that Jesus Christ Himself must call the man to preach. And all three means must be present for us to know and affirm that Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, has indeed called this man. What is at stake is the authority, and therefore the believability of the message. Only when I know that God Himself has authorized and sent this particular preacher can I then know that the message is true, that it is from God to me deliberately and personally, so that if I believe it God will most certainly do for me what He has promised in it. Praise God that He still personally sends preachers to proclaim His message to His people!