13 October 2009

On the Call

I was chatting with a friend who takes issue with the way we speak of "call" inside of the Lutheran Church, particularly in the Synod. He pointed out that the usual word in the NT is "sent" not "called." But I think much is clarified if we consider that the word "call" in this instance should be understood out from Matthew 10:1 and Mark 3:13,14.

Our Lord CALLS the twelve to Him (Mark adds the all important "that they might be with Him") so that He can send them out to preach. The calling of Christ precedes the sending. He calls a man to first of all BE WITH HIM; to spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, and these are the ones He sends.

When speaking of a congregation's relationship to one of these called and sent servants, I think it's best expressed this way:

Pastors are called BY Christ THROUGH some agency of men (in our case, the congregation*) to do the tasks Christ sends them to do in that arena as servants of the people of God in that place and they are to be readied for this task by continually "being with" Him.

* Note also Didache 15: "Therefore, appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, 1 Timothy 3:4 and truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers."


TheRevEv said...

Outstanding image of being called into Christ to be sent out with Christ.

Chris Jones said...

Not directly to your point, but something about "the call" that I am curious about:

If, as you say, pastors are called by Christ through ... the congregation, then why is it that a man who has received a call deliberates about it and "decides" whether to accept it? If the call is truly from the Lord, how could a faithful man refuse it?

Similarly, once a call has been issued and accepted, why is it permissible for a pastor to "resign his call"? Surely it is not his call, but the Lord's call, and to "resign" it is as disobedient as it would be to refuse the call in the first place.

I am not, of course, suggesting that a pastor should have absolutely no say in where he shall serve, and for how long. I am too much of a crypto-Orthodox synergist to say that. What I am saying is that we are too quick to say that a Voters' Assembly decision and a call from God are one and the same thing.

William Weedon said...

Dear Chris,

The call from the other parish should always be understood as a provisional: we believe that Christ is asking you to come and serve here among us. We ask you to pray and discern if you agree with us on this.

For a pastor it can be both a heart-wrenching and traumatic experience; and of course can be that to the congregation as well.

And it is by no means a done deal when he accepts one call that the other is over, for the original congregation can disagree with his assessment and refuse to grant him a release from his original call and thus communicate: it is our discernment that your work is not done and that Christ's will is for you to remain here. It happens rarely, but it has happened.

Both both pastor and both calling parishes are to be seeking the will of Christ in the whole and when pastor and parishes finally agree together: the one to release from the call, the pastor to accept the new call, the calling congregation to welcome the new pastor - then all together acknowledge that our Lord has been the one who granted the parish a new pastor and that He will faithfully supply what He took away to the parish that is now in pastoral vacancy as they pray to the Lord of the harvest.

William Weedon said...

And of course, there are times it goes the other way, where the pastor discerns and the parish with him that he is to stay and not to go. And then the congregation that issued the call may disagree and reissue it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Weedon,

I must respectfully disagree with you in treating the call of the congregation as provisional. It is a Divine call. Period.

What does this mean? Suppose tomorrow St. John in the Cornfield extends a call to me. I am called to be the Pastor there. That is divine. I am called to be the pastor here in Lahoma. That is divine. Both are Divine calls - for me to be at either would be good and God pleasing -- and I am free to take either. Whether I stay or go, I stay or go to the glory of the Lord.

Why do we become. . . flighty when it comes to the call? God works through means - look, here are two provided calls - discuss, pray, and go act within the bounds of right action that God has established for you.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Brown,

I am sorry to be difficult, but where does it say that in the Bible? That is, when did a congregational vote become a divinely covenanted means of grace?

It is clear to me that baptism, the eucharist, absolution, and the preaching of the Gospel are divinely-appointed means of grace. But a congregational vote -- a method of choosing pastors with a pedigree of about 1 1/2 centuries -- doesn't measure up as a covenanted mystery.

At best it is a practical way to place clergy so that both pastors and congregations will be reasonably content with one another most of the time. I don't see any basis to grant it quasi-sacramental status.

Jim Huffman said...

"But I think much is clarified if we consider that the word "call" in this instance should be understood out from Matthew 10:1 and Mark 3:13,14."

Has anyone else explicated these passages in defense of this teaching? Or is it a teaching in search of scriptural defense?

William Weedon said...


Those passages are the foundational passages for the establishment of the apostolic ministry, are they not?

Think of the use of "call" there and compare it with Hebrews 5:4: No one takes the honor on himself but only when CALLED BY GOD, just as Aaron was (speaking of the high priesthood).

God's calling if not immediate as in the case of the 12, ends up being through means - as we have in Acts 20:28 where it is the Holy Spirit who made these men episcopoi of the Church, though Paul had appointed (ordained) them most likely Acts 14:23. If you consider the Didache passage I cited and you'll see that the congregation was the appointing agency; and this was likely a manual used in Antioch a generation or two after Paul served there.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Brown,

Provisional in this sense: it is a request which a congregation is authorized to make in Christ's name for a man to fill the office of the ministry in its midst. The call is divine because the congregation has not only the right but the obligation and duty to fill the pastoral office in her midst. They are like Paul's vision of the Macedonian call: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" from which he concludes that "God has CALLED us to preach the Gospel to them."

Jim Huffman said...

Again: has anyone else explicated these passages in defense of this teaching? Given the importance attached to the idea of a congregational call, I'm assuming there's an extensive base of research on this matter.

With regard to the Macedonian call, are we really going to bring in St. Paul's vision in defense of this idea?

William Weedon said...


I know that I was TAUGHT these passages in which our Lord establishes the Apostolate are the foundation on which a doctrine of call into the Office of the Ministry rests. Don't ask me now which teacher. Been too many years. I suspect Nagel, but I'm not entirely sure. In any case, when you first mentioned it, my mind went right to them as the foundation of the apostolic ministry - Löhe deals with them in his little *Aphorisms on the New Testament Offices and their Relationship to the Congregation* especially for the way CHRIST finds the apostles and orders them into His ministry.

Pr. David Gallas said...

I know this is a bit off topic from the original post, but reading what Pr. Brown wrote above, reminds me of Pr. David Petersen's pastoral nugget, "What to do when you receive a call."


How do you figure out whether God wishes you to stay or go? It can be tortuous!

Here I have found Petersen's nugget very helpful in answering that.

Jim Huffman said...

Given the importance attached to this concept in MS circles, I'm surprised it's not more widely explored.

I'd argue that Acts 6 is a better paradigm for such a question. The Jerusalem church is directed by the apostles to choose men out from among them, and the men in turn are confirmed by the apostles.

Is the essentially congregational polity in the MS part of the problem here? District administrators may (or may not) offer counsel, but the congregation is free to choose whomever she wishes.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

Allow me to echo Jim Huffman's question. Mt 10 and Mk 3 speak only to the Dominical establishment of the Apostolic ministry -- a fact which none of the parties to this conversation disputes. But the question is, how do we get from the fact that our Lord established the Apostolic ministry to the particular manner (in our time and place) in which men are chosen to exercise that Apostolic ministry. When we speak of a congregation's choice of pastor as a "divine call," it suggests that this choice was included in our Lord's original institution of the ministry. I just don't see that that is the case.

At first glance, Jim's citation of Acts 6 seems to be relevant, because the choice of the seven is given to the community as a whole. But I would suggest that Acts 1 is more to the point, because in Acts 6 the ministry given to the seven is an administrative one, explicitly distinguished from the Apostolic ministry of the Word (Ac 6.2). In Acts 1, on the other hand, the Apostles are specifically choosing someone to share the Apostolic ministry with them (Ac 1.25); and in this case the choice is made by the Apostles (that is, those to whom the Apostolic ministry had already been committed), not by the community as a whole.

The historical fact, of course, is that a wide variety of methods have been used to choose men for ordination and assignment to specific ministries: election by the faithful, appointment by a regional synod of bishops, appointment by the Pope, appointment by a monarch or other civil ruler, etc. None of these methods has explicit Scriptural authority. Given that, I see no basis for congregational election to be privileged over any other method of choosing pastors, or honored with the name "divine call."

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

Please do not misunderstand me. The particular polity of the congregation issuing the call ought not be privileged over any other; it just happens to be the one we have inherited and under which we currently live (for the most part; there is still for the first call an "episcopal sending" by the District Presidents - at least for many candidates). It is neither the only way, nor a way mandated in Scripture, nor (in my opinion) the better way - that would be a return to the canonical polity which our Symbols express the desire to maintain.

You note truly that the office has been filled in a variety of ways across the history of the Church. The "how" of the filling is not of divine mandate, but the "that" of the filling is.
And even though the "how" is not mandated certain parameters are suggested in Scripture.

It ought to include an examination of the to be placed into the office;

it should have the consent of the people who are to be served (axios!);

it should be done in the context of prayer (and fasting!) and seeking the Lord of the Harvest to grant to His Church what He promises and above all prayer that the man being placed into that office be endowed with the charisms of Holy Spirit for the administration of that holy stewardship.

William Weedon said...

I left off in the last, that the prayer should be visibly expressed with the laying on hands of the presbytery.

William Weedon said...

Might be of interest:

The Freyberg codex of the Wittenberg Ordinal contains this admonition to the ordinands after the Scripture readings:

First, you hear that the Holy Ghost called and ordained you bishops in His flock or church. Therefore, you must believe for certain that you are called by God, because the church sent you here and secular authority has called and desired you. For what the church and secular authorities do in these matters, God does through them, so that you may not be considered intruders.

Prior to the Scripture readings, the 1535 Hamburg Codex, has this exhortation:

...You are not only good creatures, sanctified by the Word and the sacrament of Baptism, but in a second sanctification you have also been called to the holy and divine ministry, so that many others may be sanctified and reconciled to the Lord through your word and work...

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Adding on (after returning from fall conference),

In your first response to me, Chris, you say, "I am sorry to be difficult, but where does it say that in the Bible? That is, when did a congregational vote become a divinely covenanted means of grace?"

First, there is the idea that God works through means -- push or pull, I would contend the force of movement is still God.

Second, the "Call" is not a means of Grace - there is no forgiveness conferred to the pastor. The comparison to Baptism and the Supper. . . it's not the same idea. As such, I do not grant it a "Sacramental Status" - quasi or otherwise.

Rather this - the call is a legitimate way of knowing that one is taking up the Office of the Holy Ministry not of one's own volition. Whether one is placed, sent, called, or roped in by force (a la Augustine) - the impetus comes from someone other than yourself.

That generally has been the concern, I would say - that one does not take upon one's own self the mantle of "Pastor" but that one is. . . asked or commanded to do that by another.

It's not a sacrament (in the classic Lutheran definition), but an understanding of God calling through means.