Friday, December 09, 2011

On calling and ministry among Christians: limited or universal?

I deeply appreciate Al Mohler, reading his blog whenever he posts anything, listening to both of his podcasts on a regular basis, etc. (Now you know that whenever someone says that, they next thing they say is going to be a disagreement! That is true here.) Dr. Mohler posted the text of his talk to be delivered at the 208th commencement of Southern Seminary. Most of the talk is a fairly typical application of Paul’s letters to Timothy as directly and uniquely applicable to professional ministers but one thing he wrote late in the talk jumped out at me.
In every believer, the perfect patience of Christ is demonstrated, but in the life and calling of the minister, it is demonstrated all over again.
Did you catch that? God’s patience with us is demonstrated in each person who believes, presumably the patience of withholding His wrath against the unrighteousness of sinners. But a guy who goes to seminary and gets a certificate of ordination? That is a second demonstration of God’s patience that is apparently unique to clergy.

It is gravely disturbing that the commencement address heard by seminary graduates this morning tells them that they are unique in the church by virtue of the sheepskin they will receive in return for gobs of money and the ability to pass graduate level coursework. What does that tell the Christian who cannot afford seminary for whatever reason or lacks the academic prowess to pass Greek or Hebrew classes? Good enough to sit in the pew and contribute, not qualified for "real" ministry?

What is it about professionally trained clergy that demonstrates God’s patience a second time? This notion that there is some sort of divine, supernatural calling that is unique to those Christians who feel compelled to pursue a seminary degree is so foreign to Scripture that to proclaim it requires an enormous assumption based solely in our traditions and church culture. Yet we hear it over and over again even from those who ostensibly hold to a doctrine of the priesthood of all believers that in practice means the priesthood of all some believers more than others.

Again and again we see on the one hand bemoaning of the general apathy of the Body of Christ and on the other  hand embracing church traditions that provide fertile soil for the exact sort of apathy we decry. When we describe those who have elected to attend seminary and pursue vocational clerical ministry as being called in the same manner as Paul: “In the same way, they, like Paul, know that the ministry they have received is just as much a demonstration of God’s grace and unmerited favor.”, we should expect to get the results we see all around us.

I have no intrinsic problem with seminary. If someone wants to spend a bunch of money and three years of their life to get an advanced degree, that is their business. I do have a problem with those who do so being treated as somehow above the rest of the church. Even if we dress it up with the language of service, the reality is that we still see certain men as uniquely called and apart from the rest of the church and that dichotomy is unhealthy and unbiblical. Church leaders, elders and deacons, are servants who lead by example, not rule by virtue of an amorphous “calling” or educational achievement or ecclesiastical paperwork.

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