Westminster & Ordination: A Fourfold State of the Call
I could take you to the exact spot where, while rolling down the road in our two-tone brown, 1984 Chevy Cavalier, I shyly said: “Dad, I think I’m being called into the ministry.” If you count both streams of my family, I’m a 5th generation minister. One might say: “It’s the family business!” or “It’s all I know.” But that didn’t diminish the need to be clear in what the Lord’s calling was on my life, reconciling that inner sense with outer activity. I’m thankful my Father didn’t feel the need to shove me one direction (toward the calling that he fulfilled for over half a century) or another (away from that same calling that had brought much suffering and sacrifice over those decades), but simply replied: “Keep putting yourself in opportunities to serve and see what becomes clear to you and those around you.” The simple fact he was laying before me is that there is an inner and outer aspect to the call of ministry. When both of those align clearly, the man is ordained. In other words, the outward laying on of hands, confirming one’s call, is simply acknowledging that the Holy Spirit was first to beckon the man to serve Christ and his Church through the ministry. Paul reminds Timothy of this in his letter to him, that ordination is an inner calling (1:14) with the outward element of the laying on of hands (1:6).
The Westminster Divines also knew this to be true. The Westminster Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government gives an extensive outline as to how a man should be examined (in Biblical Languages, Latin, Theology, Preaching, Philosophy, Logic, etc.) and for what purpose (for the sake of the charge to which he would be called)! Woven throughout is this matter of weighing what the man senses as his call and what the Presbytery and Congregation sense as his call. The inner call is acknowledged throughout the section “Touching the Doctrine of Ordination” as the work is set forth to determine if the man who senses a calling should indeed fill the role in Christ’s Church. The inner call is legitimized by the outer call. This gives us, then, Four States of Calling in the life of the believer.
1. No Internal Call & No External Call: This man is quite happy. He doesn’t have to lead the church, and he doesn’t believe he’s called to lead the church.
2. Internal Call & No External Call: A man in this condition tends to be heartbroken in his approach to life in the church. He may become overly sensitive to any perceived failing on the part of his church’s leadership, often playing “Monday morning quarterback” on decisions that differ from where HE would have taken the congregation. This man must be on guard, watching his heart carefully. Perhaps, in time, others will come to understand that he really is called to the work of minister or elder. However, if he grows bitter, they will not, exacerbating the man all the more.
3. No Internal Call & External Call: This man is dangerous. While he’s been “handed the wheel,” so to speak, he hasn’t earned truly acquired his driver’s license. Decisions he helps to make for the congregation will be expedient, fleshly, convenient, and, ultimately damaging. A constant friction will undergird even the most brilliant moments of his ministry or shepherding, a friction that comes from the basis of his work (worldly and vain philosophies) being at odds with the ends of his work (a spiritual house built up for God’s glory)! These men either root themselves out or must be dug out. Much pain and confusion comes when those with no internal call are ordained and installed to an office in Christ’s Church as if they did. This is why those gathered at Westminster were so intentional regarding examinations. They had seen, first hand, the damage done to so many parishes by those who had no business being elders or ministers. May we be patient and faithful if we must undo what those before us have done!
4. Internal Call & External Call: What a blessing to Christ’s Church! This man knows the call of Christ in his life and the call the Church on his ministry. He operates in his giftedness as it has been granted by the Holy Spirit and as those gifts have been built up by the Seminary, as he has prepared himself to be a minister of Christ Jesus, “stir[ring] up the gift of God, which is in you by the laying on of my hands (2 Timothy 1:6)”.
There is an internal calling of God, accompanied by gifts. There is an external calling of the church, accompanied by education, examination, and accountability. These intersect at Ordination. Let us pray for more men to be called internally and externally, gifted and trained, ordained to meet the need of godly elders and pastors in Christ’s Church! And may we pray for and generously give to those Seminaries that are faithfully training these faithful ministers.
Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.