Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Thirty-Nine Articles: A Faith for Today: Articles 23, 24, 26 & 32: The Christian Ministry

Who can minister?
Christians have often disagreed as to what human authorisation, if any, is needed to be a preacher of God’s word. Some say an inner conviction of God’s call is the sole requirement; others insist on selection, training and ordination by the church before any public ministry. The Thirty-nine Articles come much closer to the second position, allying the Church of England on this issue more closely with Rome than with extreme Protestantism. This is for two reasons. Firstly, a strong doctrine of the church teaches that although ministers preach God’s word in God’s name, they are called by the church. Secondly, a suspicion of the excessive individualism which tends to say ‘I feel called to ...’ or ‘God has gifted me to ...’ leads to the insistence that calling must at the very least by ratified by the church.

Called and sent
In fact Article 23 does not only say that a call to ministry must be ratified by the church. It argues that the call will normally come from the church. The preacher is to be ‘called and sent’ by those with authority in the church to call and send. Where does God come into this? What about the inner call? Obviously God is not denied and the inner call not repudiated. But two important lessons must be learned. Firstly, no-one can be sure of God’s call unless it comes through his ministers. Secondly, the church itself has the right and the duty to call and send ministers ‘into the Lord’s vineyard’.

Calling and sending
This privilege, of calling and sending for God and in his name, is closely linked with the preaching ministry. It is by preaching that God calls us into his kingdom and commissions us all as active worker-Christians. So it is by his ministers that God calls new ministers and sends them to preach. The Article wisely insists that only the more senior ministers be given the role of calling and sending others. Historically this duty has usually been reserved to bishops, but (again wisely)the Article does not insist on this as a theological necessity but leaves some freedom and flexibility. So it is wholly right for the leaders of a congregation to call and appoint ministers to work within that congregation, or missionaries to go out from it. How do you react to the idea of church leaders calling and sending out new ministers and missionaries, rather than waiting until people hear the call for themselves? If we think this through it will drastically alter (for the better) our ideas about the church and ministry. To read more, click here.

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