Biblical theology of ‘calling’ to a ministry
This statement does not ring true as, in my opinion, the Bible carries a lot of examples of how someone is called to a particular ministry (mostly as evangelists) and to be a missionary (or church minister) in some particular place. Now let me start with a biblical theology of the word ‘calling’, before I look at examples of a) individual calling; b) group calling; c) my own calling as a worship pianist; and d) how a person is called to evangelise in a particular place:
A Biblical theology of ‘calling’
According to Messenger1, the calling to follow Christ lies at the root of every calling: it implies that someone would be called first into Christianity, and then into a particular ministry. ‘Calling’, according to Strong2 Number 7121 in Hebrew ‘qara’, means ‘(Pual) to be called, be named, be called out, or be chosen’. It also has a Latinate term of ‘vocation’3: The biblical concept being that ‘each one should retain the place in life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.’ (1 Co 7:17) Goldsworthy used another word ‘election’4, which has the same meaning as ‘calling’. He said ‘Election means that God chooses some and not others as objects of his grace.’ For example, ‘Abraham is chosen as the father of the Covenant people, but not Lot.’5He said that ‘He chooses because He loves, and He loves because He loves’ (Dt 7:6-11)6.
What people in the Bible are called to what kinds of ministry?
In the Bible, we can find two kinds of calling into ministry: a) Individual calling and b) Group calling, as follows. I would also cite as an example of c) my own calling as a worship pianist:
a) For individual calling: Although Messenger says ‘very few people in the Bible received an individual call from God (signifying that a direct calling from God is very rare today’7), it is found that the following people have been individually selected: In the Old Testament, Aaron and his sons are called to bepriests (Ex 28:1), whereas in the New Testament, Barnabas and Saul are called by the Holy Spirit to do the work which the Lord has called them (probably as missionaries) (Acts 13:2); The calling of Jesus’ twelve disciples is also individually made; Schreiner is of the opinion that Paul is also called dually as both pioneer church planter and pastor of newly formed congregations,8 after being converted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. b) For Group calling: Sometimes, in the Bible, the word ‘asked’, ‘sent’ ‘choose’ or ‘appointed’ takes the place of ‘called’: In the Old Testament (Ex 24:1), God asked Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (to be worshippers) at a distance. In the New Testament (Mark 6:2), Jesus ‘sent out the twelve disciples two by two (probably as evangelists) and gave them authority over evil spirits’. They are mostly chosen according to the needs of the world around them.9
c) My personal calling as a worship pianist: God gives gifts to people, after calling them into Christianity, for example in Roman 12:6-8, for accomplishing the work He wants them to do, such as: in the ministries of prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, governing and showing mercy. In my case, God had planted the love of playing the piano in my heart since I was 8. All through the years, He has put me through various training: first in classical music and later in praise & worship. He polished my skills even further when I became the church pianist. He did not call me when I was able, but He groomed me into a useful utensil when the appropriate time arrived. This view confirms what Messenger has said that ‘God gives his gifts only after you take the job in which you will need them. Gifts and skills provide an element of guidance for discerning God’s guidance.’10
What does the New Testament say about the way people are appointed to the various ministries in the church?
Unlike ordinary and stationary office work, church work consists that of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers and servers (Eph 4-13); both inside and outside of the church premises. The New Testament does not say explicitly about the way people are appointed to various posts, except mentioning specifically about the appointment of Barnabas and Saul to be priests in Acts 13:2. However, in Luke 10:1-9, the word ‘appointed’ is used: ‘(When) Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two’ (as evangelists) … ‘into the Lord’s harvest field, to heal the sick … and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you.’
While reading through the New Testament, especially in the Pauline epistles, hints of various church ministers are everywhere: ‘Timothy, my fellow worker’ (Romans 16:21); ‘If Timothy comes … he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am’ (1 Co 16:10); ‘Tychicus … is a … faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord’ (Col 3:7); ‘Epaphras … a servant of Christ Jesus…’ (Col 4:12); ‘Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’ (Col 4:17); and ‘…so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.’ (Philemon 1:24). On the other hand, the word ‘work’ here may mean either spreading the gospel, or working in a church ministry; As Veith points out that ‘Protestant clergy are generally not called priests. Instead, they are ministers, which means ‘servant’; or pastors, which means ‘shepherds’; or popularly, preachers, which focuses on the work of the office.’11
How a person is called to evangelise in a particular place?
In Acts 16:6-l0, it mentions about how the Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions from entering Bithynia, and during the night, God sent a vision to Paul to call him and his companions to evangelise to the Macedonians: ‘Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, they got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel to them.
The New Testament’s doctrine of election to eternal life emphasizes God’s grace: He has full discretion in choosing one and not another. No one can move God to choose him or her against the unconditional choice of God. And the choice also does not depend upon the virtues of faith or good works of the concerned individuals.12 The same principle also applies to the calling to be ministers in the church.
1 Messenger, W. ‘Calling in the Theology of Work’ (Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol.14, No.1, Spring 2011).
2 e-Sword Bible, http://www.e-sword.net
3 Veith, G.E. ‘Vocation: The Theology of the Christian Life’ (Journal of Markets & Morality, Spring 2011).
4 Goldsworthy, G. ‘According to Plan’ (Inter-Varsity/Lancer Press, 1991), p.157.
5 Goldsworthy, ‘According to Plan’, 1991, p.162
6 ibid p.198
7 Messenger, ‘Calling in the Theology of Work’, 2011
8 Howell, D.H., Jr. ‘Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology’ (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol.45, No.4, December 2002).
9 Messenger, ‘Calling in the Theology of Work’, 2011
10 Messenger, ‘Calling in the Theology of Work’, 2011
11 Veith, ‘Vocation: The Theology of the Christian Life’, 2011