When is a Call to Ministry the Same as a Prophecy?

When is a Call to Ministry the Same as a Prophecy? February 20, 2008

You may be surprised to see that another reformed charismatic, C. J. Mahaney, has responded to Mark Dever and, like me, stresses his agreement with Mark’s post, and also lists some helpful resources to review.


A few days back, Al Mohler wrote about the need for a subjective sense of God propelling one into ministry. He described this as only one part of the decision-making process for potential ministers, and a fallible one at that. But it was clear to him that this was important:

First, there is an inward call. Through His Spirit, God speaks to those persons He has called to serve as pastors and ministers of His Church. The great Reformer, Martin Luther, described this inward call as “God’s voice heard by faith.” Those whom God has called know this call by a sense of leading, purpose, and growing commitment.

Charles Spurgeon identified the first sign of God’s call to the ministry as “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” Those called by God sense a growing compulsion to preach and teach the Word, and to minister to the people of God.

This sense of compulsion should prompt the believer to consider whether God may be calling him to the ministry. Has God gifted you with the fervent desire to preach? Has He equipped you with the gifts necessary for ministry? Do you love God’s Word and feel called to teach? Spurgeon warned those who sought his counsel not to preach if they could help it. “But,” Spurgeon continued, “if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man.” That sense of urgent commission is one of the central marks of an authentic call.

Second, there is the external call. Baptists believe that God uses the congregation to “call out the called” to ministry. The congregation must evaluate and affirm the calling and gifts of the believer who feels called to the ministry. As a family of faith, the congregation should recognize and celebrate the gifts of ministry given to its members, and take responsibility to encourage those whom God has called to respond to that call with joy and submission.

Mark Dever meanwhile got in on the act, too, with a post about the need to put guidance in its right place, saying:

I do believe that God’s Spirit will sometimes lead us subjectively. So, for instance, I am choosing to spend my life here on Capitol Hill because my wife and I sensed in 1993 that that is what God wanted us to do. However, I realized then (and now) that I could be wrong about that supposition. Scripture is NEVER wrong. I was free in 1993 to stay in England, or teach at a seminary, either of which would have been delightful opportunities. I understand that I was free to make those choices. But I chose, consulting Scripture, friends, wisdom, and my own subjective sense of the Lord’s will, to come to D.C. And even if I were wrong about that, I had (and have) that freedom in Christ to act in a way that is not sin. And I understand my pastoring here not to be sin. So I am free. Regardless of the sense of leading I had.

Most decisions I’ve made in my Christian life, I’ve made with no such sense of subjective leading. Maybe some would say that this is a mark of my spiritual immaturity. I understand this to be the way a redeemed child of God normally lives in this fallen world before the fullness of the Kingdom comes, Christ returns, and immediate, constant, unbroken fellowship with God is re-established . . .

What really interested me about these posts is the fact that what they both so clearly describe as important, but needing careful handling and testing, seems to me to be indistinguishable from what us charismatics call a prophecy. So tell me, is it really just a matter of semantics? It is surely the case that if we define prophecy to mean the same as Scripture, every true believer would agree that it has ceased. If, on the other hand, we claim there is a range of prophetic experience which includes the subjective sense of God’s Spirit communicating to us that Mohler and Dever describe, are there really that many Christians who genuinely believe that such subjective callings from God have stopped?

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