Saturday, December 26, 2015

Seminary PC3: Ministerial Calling in Scripture

A few weeks ago, I started a possibly multi-year series on Saturdays called, "Seminary in a Nutshell." The first of eight "books" in this series is on the pastor as a person and the contexts of ministry. Here are the posts so far.


The Pastor and Context
The Domains of Ministry
The Calling of a Minister

I'm also featuring possible resources as I move through the series. Today I want to feature a book by Will Willimon that Wesley Seminary has used, called, The Pastor. The idea was that students would read some general chapters in the first course (I'm suggesting chapters 1, 2, and 13). Then students would read the relevant chapter in each of the six domains of ministry when they had the courses in preaching, worship, leadership, etc.

I might add that there was some debate at the beginning among the Seminary faculty about whether this book is too "Methodist." Most Wesleyan churches tend to be baptistified and thus more "low church." But since seminary is supposed to stretch you...

Today's post is on "Ministerial Calling in Scripture."
1. There are a number of roles that individuals play in Scripture that seem to overlap with the role of a minister today. In the Old Testament, there were prophets and priests. In the New Testament, there were apostles and prophets, evangelists and teachers, elders/overseers and deacons. We will look at some of these roles again in the section on leadership.

For now, we are interested in the callings of these individuals. How did these individuals come to take on the roles that they did in relation to God's people?

The calling of Old Testament priests was straightforward. The role was handed down by family. Of course the initial calling of Moses and his brother Aaron came by God's calling, "out of the blue." We might use the word charismatic in relation to this kind of calling, as opposed to the word institutional. A "charismatic" calling is one that comes outside some inherited organizational appointment, as what might seem to us as a random act of the Holy Spirit. An "institutional" calling, then, is when someone invested with authority within an organization appoints someone.

Of course, once the line of Aaronic priests was established, priesthood was passed down by birth. As Hebrews 5:4: "one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was." No other ministerial role in the Bible was of this sort. [1]

2. The prophetic role involved a calling like the calling of Moses, and indeed Deuteronomy considers Moses to be a prophet (18:15; 34:10). The prophetic calling was of a "charismatic" rather than "institutional" sort. You were not elected a prophet, nor was it passed down in families. Rather, God called prophets according to his will, to present his word to various people.

The earliest prophets were known for ecstatic experiences, as we see when Saul temporarily joined a company of prophets (1 Sam. 10:11-12). David also danced before the LORD when the ark was brought to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14). Some of the visions of Ezekiel are quite extraordinary.

Some individuals were called to be prophets for a brief time, as in the case of Amos, who was both a shepherd and a "dresser of sycamore trees" (Amos 7:14). He was only a prophet for a year, it would seem. There were also professional prophets, such as those that the king of Israel calls for King Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22. Most of the prophets in the Old and New Testaments were known as prophets for most of their lives.

So prophets were individuals to whom God especially presented a revelation for a particular context. They could arise from anywhere. God could give a word to them anytime. There was no installation service. The word came and you spoke.

There were of course mechanisms to verify whether someone was truly called of God as a prophet or not. One way, of course, was to see if your prophecy came true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 straightforwardly suggests that the outcome of a prophecy verifies it as true or false.

But we often need to know whether to take action on a prophecy before we know it is true or false. 1 John 4:1-3 encourages the church to "test the spirits" of prophecy to see if they are truly from God. Certainly whether the prophecy has a correct view of Christ is one measure. 1 Corinthians 14:32 suggests that other prophets are the main way by which the prophecies of others can be verified.

3. The callings of other roles in the New Testament also seem like the prophetic calling. So the twelve apostles were called directly by Jesus without any family lineage or clear resume. Similarly, the broader collection of apostles to whom the risen Jesus appeared were not distinguished by any common background. You were an apostle if the risen Jesus appeared to you and called to go and witness to his resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1).

4. The role of teacher may sometimes have been "charismatic" in origin at times. The New Testament does not give us a clear picture of how such teachers came into existence or how exactly they functioned, other than the fact that they obviously taught. They are mentioned both in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 as regular functions in the church.

It is clear enough from books like 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude that false teaching became a serious issue in the early church, perhaps especially after the apostles had died. 3 John may allude to a situation where John the elder has sent a teacher named Demetrius to the church of Gaius, only to find that he is resisted by some in the church. [2]

Intriguing is the possibility that Timothy is viewed as a deacon and teacher in 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy 4:6 refers to Timothy as a "diakonos," which is usually translated "servant" (NRSV) or "minister" (NIV). Yet since Timothy's youth is mentioned (4:12), we might fruitfully view him here as a model of a deacon/teacher in the early church. The teaching function is one of the primary ones mentioned in 1 Timothy 4, especially the teaching of Scripture (4:13).

If so, we can see that some teachers were not necessarily limited to one location. Paul himself brought Timothy to Ephesus, just as he left Titus in Crete (Tit. 1:5). 1 Timothy 4:14 also shows the origins of Timothy's function in the early church. God revealed to various individuals that Timothy was to have such a ministry. They laid hands on him and his service began.

In Timothy we may see that these roles were not always clearly demarcated in the early church. There are apostolic aspects to Timothy's ministry, it seems. He seems much more than a teacher. But teaching was clearly one of his primary functions.

5. In Acts we are introduced to Philip "the evangelist" (Acts 21:8). Timothy is also said to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Timothy 4:5, another indication that these roles sometimes overlapped. Interestingly, although Acts 6 is often taken as the key passage describing the work of a deacon, the chapter never actually uses the word. Nevertheless, we can see the origins of Philip's ministry when the apostles in Jerusalem feel led to set Philip apart for service and they lay hands on him to commission him (Acts 6:5-6).

An evangelist is simply someone who proclaims the good news. The good news is that Jesus is Lord, that he is the risen king and that he died for sins. The role of proclaiming this good news is similar to the role of an apostle, except that the apostles were specifically tasked by the risen Jesus himself. Taking Philip as an example, his evangelistic work led him to move from location to location (Acts 8).

6. There is a clear "charismatic" dimension to the calling of those in the roles we have looked at thus far. The role of elder and deacon, it would seem, leaned slightly more institutional, although we find charismatic elements even here. Similarly, Paul's recommendation of Phoebe as a deacon (Rom. 16:1) suggests that their service may not always have been limited to one location.

The elders or overseers of local congregations were probably 1) literally older and 2) at one point chosen locally. We do initially hear in Acts of local elders being appointed by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23). But we can imagine that the role became someone self-perpetuated in the late first century, with the current elders appointing new elders as the occasion arose. Then by the second century there were "bishops" of cities to do such things.

The role of deacon would normally seem to be a subsidiary role. For example, it is the second role treated in 1 Timothy 3, after that of overseer (elder). We can speculate that, much of the time, deacons in a local church were appointed by the elders of that church to do service for the local assembly. However, the discussion above suggests that such roles were not always clearly delineated or confined.

6. The sketch above suggests that calling to ministry in the Bible, at the very beginnings of the church, were heavily "charismatic" in nature. That is to say, it was Holy Spirit driven rather than institutionally directed. Apostles and prophets seem to emerge unpredictably within the church. Evangelists and teachers seemed to be recognized by these higher leaders and commissioned by the laying on of hands.

Elders also seemed appointed by apostles at first, but then perhaps quickly become self-perpetuating. Deacons then perhaps were appointed by elders. The functions of these roles were distinct but probably overlapping. Apostles might teach, prophets might evangelize. [3]

One crucial observation is that while these roles were often charismatic in origin, the calling was usually recognized by the church. The messages of prophets needed to be verified. Evangelists and others might have hands laid on them in commissioning. The local assembly presumably recognized the calling of local elders and deacons.

We are not limited in any way but the titles or structures of the early church. They were not entirely uniform themselves and, in any case, developed to suit a first century context. However, we should not throw them away either, just because they developed in a different time and place. At the end of this chapter, we will strategize the application of these models to today.

Next week: Ministerial Calling in History

[1] Kingship was of course hereditary as well. But we are not considering it a ministerial role here.

[2] So Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (London: SCM, 1989).

[3] Philip, "the evangelist," had four daughters who were "prophetesses" (Acts 21:9).

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