WHEN THE preacher-to-be is confronted by God's call to the ministry he must decide whether or not he is willing to accept that office on God's terms. He must be aware of the fact that, from that point on, his entire life does not belong to him, but to God.
In the experience of some, the call to be Christian and the call to the ministry are one and the same. For others this is not so. Their call to sacred office comes later. In either case, the minister's conception of the nature of his calling will determine whether or not his ministry takes on the characteristics of the peddler or of the prophet.
If he conceives of his office as being only a functional one, then he can legitimately consider giving it up when the going gets rough. However, if he views the office in ontological terms he has no other alternative but to become and remain a minister for life. This conception implies the unity that is to exist between a man's proclamation and his way of life. He is not called to do something. He is called to be something. The doing is a compulsive consequence of the being. But it is the being that is crucial if the doing is to have authority, authenticity, and credibility.
The ministry should not be considered a job we try out for a while, and, if things don't work out quite right, abandon for some other profession. The call to the ministry must be clear and certain in a man's heart and mind before he ever becomes a minister.
One does not have to read very far in the Pauline epistles to discover a vital relationship between the apostle's personal life and his apostolic office and calling. He states, "For to me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21), and clarifies this statement by recording, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, R.S.V.).
Concerning the origin of the message he preached, Paul explained to the Galatians, "The gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (chap. 1:11, 12, R.S.V.).
Thus his life and his message had their origin in and were bound up with Jesus Christ. This is reflected in his admonition to the Corinthians, "Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him" (1 Cor. 7:17, R.S.V.).
To be sure, Paul speaks of the various offices and gifts God has given to His church (see 1 Cor. 12:28-30; Eph. 4:11,12), but not simply in terms of function. He speaks of them ontologically. He says: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers." Being and function are intimately related and inseparable.
Paul's ontological consciousness of his calling and office is dramatically illustrated in his salutations to the Romans and in the first letter to the Corinthians. In these passages he refers to himself as having been "called . . . to be an apostle," set apart by the will of God to live a life in harmony with the gospel he has been given to preach.
The ministry was not a job that could be abandoned at any time, or confined to certain working hours, or changed at will when boredom set in. Neither while making tents nor while in prison did the apostolic mantle ever drop from his shoulders. It would be well for ministers today to remember this when tempted to "let our hair down" and become "one of the boys."
There was never a time when Paul was not an apostle. There is never a time when a minister of the gospel is not a minister of the gospel. This is an integral part of the surrender we make to the divine call to be ministers. It is a call to be.
However, to be set apart for the gospel does not mean that we are set apart from our people. We do not minister to them from above them. We minister to them, with them, and among them. In this association and mutual ministry the life of the called and set-apart minister is to reflect the content and character of the message he preaches. His life must also demonstrate that Christ is author and subject of his message, as well as Lord of his own life.
The proof of Paul's ontological conception of his office is to be found in what he was willing to suffer in fulfilling that office. His life was at the mercy of his message!
Though his physical body was often attacked and he suffered the misery of torturous imprisonment, Paul did not lose heart. Of his imprisonment he said, "I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (Phil. 1:12, R.S.V.).
Not only was his manner of life worthy of the gospel but his appeal was that all join in imitating his devotion to Christ and to His calling. He bids us imitate his total commitment to the will of God, knowing that if we are called to suffer, it will serve to advance the gospel. He rejoiced in sufferings. He fought the good fight of faith.
As he viewed his life and ministry, Paul's hope was centered in the soon-returning Lord, who would award him a crown of righteousness. He testifies, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18, R.S.V.). The apostle's personality became absorbed by his office. In his case, and in the case of every minister of the gospel, it is not the man who makes the office, but the office that makes the man. Because the ministerial office is a gift of God to His church, having its origin in no human institution or will, it has a total claim on the life of a man.
One who decides to accept the office of the ministry on God's terms must, from that point on, view every aspect of life and all possible attachments and interests in the light of that calling to be a minister. Here's where Satan will hit us hardest if he can, tempting us to separate being from function. If he is successful we will lose the wonder of our calling. When that happens "we shall become like common traders in a common market, babbling about common wares." *
What a thrill it is as Seventh-day Adventist ministers to realize that the message we are to proclaim comes straight from the throne room in heaven! The same Lord who commissioned us to preach gives us our message. Moment by moment He exercises watchful, loving care over us, preparing us for the fullness of His salvation to be revealed in the last days.
For those who are called to be, Jesus gives courage to be. Courage to be prophets of His word, not just peddlers of the gospel.
* John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912), p. 21.