Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Part 2)

In Part 1 I argued that when cessationists use the language of "God told/spoke to/led/called me, they accomplish three undesirable ends: 1) They contradict their cessationist theology; 2) they manipulate congregations unjustifiably; and 3) they introduce extra-biblical (and perhaps constraining) expectations to people who might enter vocational ministry.

Here in Part 2 I want to clarify #1 and push it just a bit further on the language of calling. Obviously, God "calls" people in the New Testament. Jesus called disciples and made them apostles, Paul was called to be an apostle, the elect are called to salvation, and the regenerate are called to spiritual growth. Though it's been a while since I've surveyed the NT usage, I don't recall any other application of "calling," least of all some internal "calling" to pastoral ministry. If you can offer a contrary example, I'd be glad to discuss it.

Please know: I'm not arguing that we should never use an extra-biblical term. "Trinity" is one such term. Rather, I'm arguing that loading an extra-biblical usage on a biblical term seems imprudent and very likely dangerous. This redefinition can shape our understanding of both the biblical usage of the term (salvation/sanctification/apostleship) and the concept to which we apply it (the desire for pastoral ministry).

In Part 3 I'll comment briefly on a few resources.


Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

Well, I for one don't believe in the spooky mysticism of many. I don't see much justification for the idea of a call to the ministry in the NT, other than for certain select individuals. I don't see their experiences as norms but unique exceptions.

One thing that I do see however, is the notion of "necessity" (1 Cor 9) where Paul speaks of an inner drive or compulsion. I think this drive leads a man to desire the office of a bishop and that he is installed in that office when the church collectively recognizes his gifts and affirms his ministry - through ordination and the calling to the pulpit by a local church.

That is it in brief.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Marriott said...

One usage comes to mind, but it comes after a very clear word from God. In Acts 16, after seeing the vision, the apostles were certain that God had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia.

Michael said...

I read that same passage this morning and was wondering about the same thing That seems pretty subjective to us I'm sure.

Ben said...

Don and David,

What you reference are both, in my opinion, under the umbrella of a calling to apostleship. These were men who were receiving biblical revelation, so a lesser sense of compulsion or specific ministry calling isn't meaningfully distinct, to me at least.

In any case, it falls short of any normative pattern for a call to pastoral ministry.

Anonymous said...

Acts 16, a call to apostleship? Are we reading the same passage?

I see it as a call to gospel ministry in a specific geographical local. Paul's apostleship was settled long before this.

Am I arguing this as a normative way to be "called?" Absolutely not. However, I'd hate to lose the principle that God calls folks A) to ministry and B) to specific places of ministry simply because you've seen it abused in the past.

I believe that God called me to where I am through providential circumstances, the Word, and the internal leading of the Spirit.

Are you called to Capitol Hill?

Ben said...


Paul, an apostle, receives a vision specifically compelling him to go to Macedonia. He and his traveling partners, including Luke, apparently concur that God is calling them to do this work. That's worlds different from any sort of pastoral call. And I do suspect it operates under the umbrella of Paul's status as an apostle.

I wouldn't deny that God has providentially led/directed your paths to where you are now. But I would never say, "God has called me to be in X place." People say that when they're in places they most certainly shouldn't be. People probably think I certainly shouldn't be where I am because its a hotbed of compromising Southern Baptist neoevangelicalism. If they're right, then I'm not called here.

In any case, I don't think we have the objective awareness of God's calling/leading activity to declare authoritatively how he is acting in those ways.

And that gets to my argument about reshaping biblical terminology to mean something different. We know Scripture speaks of a man's desire, his giftedness, his qualifications, and a church's recognition and affirmation of those things. I don't see any good reason to import different terms that reshape how we understand the biblical revelation.

Don Johnson said...

Ben, I'd like to be clear that I agree there is no clear teaching of a call to ministry as it is commonly taught.

My comments about necessity are more about a process by which worthy candidates come into the gospel ministry without a call from God. There should be some desire for it (as Paul speaks of in 1 Tim 3) and some confirmation by the church at large.

Speaking of Timothy, from my reading of the epistles to Timothy, he got his 'call' from Paul.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anonymous said...


Maybe I've misunderstood this whole thread.

Ben said...


I'd agree.