Thursday, May 10, 2012

Article 23: Who Is Called?

Today's article, though sadly misused to punish and abuse dissenters and non-jurors in the history of England, has a good bit of wisdom to it:

XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord's vineyard.

This article likely makes Americans somewhat uneasy, given our penchant for wanting to shoot our mouths off whenever we feel like it. Freedom of Speech is a right, and a good one at that. However, the Church is different than civic society. When ministers speak, they speak both for God and the larger Body of Christ.

As such, there is a process in most denominations (usually referred to as the Ordination process) by which there is a discernment of the whole body as to the fitness and truth of someone's calling to be a minister. This can be an arduous and trying process, often needlessly bureaucratic, but a process is necessary for the formation of ministers. The point is, however, that Anglicanism does not simply take one person's experience of "being called" at face value and therefore self-justifying. It is a process that we believe God will reveal to the whole Body, not just to one individual.

Whether this is a Biblical approach is debatable. Certainly, some of the Apostles (particularly Paul) seemed to have come to the realization that they were called by their own experiences or by seeming random chance. Paul expressed this in terms of having had a "revelation of Jesus Christ." But, even in the Book of Acts' recounting of the Damascus Road experience, the Lord then calls Ananias to go to find Paul (then Saul) and there is some mutual discernment about Paul's future. Likewise, after Judas kills himself, the disciples cast lots to determine the next replacement for the 12 disciples. But, again, there is a mutual discerning and allowing the Spirit to lead the anointing of the next member of the 12.    

Some individualistic Western Christian traditions do it somewhat differently. I know in the Southern Baptist tradition if someone feels called, then that's pretty much it. There is not much discernment and the person is basically fast tracked into ministry. But even then the local congregation has to ordain the person for ministry. It is not just willy nilly any old Joe who gets the whim to go preaching can just get up and do so without some congregation approval.

If someone is called, then God will surely manifest that calling to others as well. Discernment is as much for the community as it is for the one called. This is simply a safeguard for everyone involved.

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