Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Road to the Call #2

As mentioned last time, the initial call has two parts – the individual and the church.  Since that is the case, the church puts in place certain safeguards and requirements for its clergy.  These requirements vary greatly from one denomination to the next – some being very loose and others much more stringent.  The Christian Reformed Church, by most Protestant standards, leans more toward the stringent side of things.  That is, it has some fairly exacting requirements for its clergy. 

The reason for this is that the CRC has a high view of the preaching of the Word.  The denomination wants its congregations to be assured that the people who mount their pulpits Sunday after Sunday have a received adequate and proper instruction and have received the tools necessary to do proper, reformed, faithful, biblical exegesis.  In addition, they should have a good working knowledge of the creeds and confessions that the CRC is founded and be able to use and apply in service to the church.

To that end the CRC owns and maintains a seminary dedicated to the training of its clergy.  Although the denomination has made other avenues to becoming ordained in the CRC more feasible and practical over the past ten years or so, all future clergy are required to spend at least sometime at Calvin Theological Seminary and meet certain academic requirements in terms of coursework, original language acquisition, and sermon writing and construction.  But academics or only part of the equation and I’ll take more about all of that in greater detail in a later post.

The denomination also asks that their clergy be sufficient in a variety of other ways as well. The desire to have people in their pulpits that are ‘suitable for ministry’.   One of the first things I had to do upon enrolling in the M.Div. program at Calvin Seminary was submit to a psychological evaluation.  This consisted of several steps including a 3 hour exam where  I had to answer about 750 T/F questions about my behavior and have two appointments with a psychiatrist who would review my past and present, interview me and my wife, evaluate the results from my test and make a determination about my mental state. 

Based on the results of all of that the denomination could determine that additional counseling and/or other additional training could be required before being allowed to enter full-time ministry in the CRC.    In my case, I was given a clean bill of (mental) health and was deemed fit for ministry – at least on that score.  So the journey to the call continues…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Road to a Call #1

One of my courses this semester is CRC Polity, which discusses the articles and intricacies of Christian Reformed Church Order.  Today we talked about Offices and Ordination and I was reminded again about how the call process begins.

Church Order talks of both the internal and the external call to ministry for a future minister.  As an individual, I have a sense that God has called me to serve the church in full-time pastoral ministry.  It is something that I feel strongly about, am passionate about, am willing to learn about, and am gifted to do.  This is an internal call that I have that the Spirit of God has given me.  But that alone isn’t enough.

The Reformers have always talked about the external call as well.  That is, a confirmation of that internal call from others – namely, the church.  John Calvin talks about the importance of this external call saying that is the confirmation of the internal call. 

Thus it is the case in the CRC today.  When I first started sensing God’s call on me that did not come without confirmation of others.  Indeed, it was often the comments of others in the church, “Have you ever thought about the ministry?”; “Do you still have plans to go to seminary?” and the like were all part of that internal call for me. 

But even that isn’t enough, nor should it be.  In order to even be accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Calvin Theological Seminary they must receive a letter of recommendation from my church council.  It is not enough for me to want to go to seminary my church had to give its confirmation of that call as well.  Only then can I pursue a path to ordination.

This, I think, is reassuring.  I do not pursue this call as an individual, by myself.  I’m not some sort of spiritual entrepreneur that is driven to achieve some sort of goal, going his own way, doing his own thing and hoping other people catch my vision.  Instead, I am being called by the church to work with them to follow Christ’s vision and His call to become mature in Him.  It’s not my goal, it’s God’s.  It’s not my church, it's God’s.  My vision is not mine, it’s God’s.  So too, my call – it is mine, but it is not mine alone.  It’s the churches call as well.  But, even more than that, it’s God call coming to me from Him and from his church…partners in the bringing of the Gospel.  I am humbled by and grateful for that opportunity.