COVER STORY – THE DIVINE CALL
Carrying out the Lord’s kingdom work under a divine call is a truly awesome privilege. It is, at the same time, both enormously gratifying and profoundly sobering to recognize that God Himself has elected you to the office you hold. The Holy Spirit through Paul communicated the weight and origin of the divine call with these words: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 ESV) He taught the gravity of the divine call by reminding us that the work is all about caring for souls that “he obtained with his own blood”—human beings for whom our Savior suffered and died. He also assured us that the origin of the divine call is God Himself .
The context of these words is also informative. They were spoken to the elders of the church at Ephesus. From Miletus, on the return leg of his third missionary journey, Paul had asked the elders from Ephesus to come to him. We therefore conclude from these words (“in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”) that every divine call has the same source or origin—God the Holy Spirit—and that every single individual laboring under a divine call is charged by God Himself with the care of His own beloved children. Every Christian called to provide any aspect of soul-care to others is included. Divine calls are not limited therefore to the obvious (pastors, teachers, and missionaries), but include also every Sunday school teacher, every church council member, every elder and deacon, every layman that the congregation calls to conduct a Sunday service in the Pastor’s absence or to assist with the distribution of the elements in Holy Communion.
As with every Christian doctrine, we err if we say more or less than what God Himself has revealed to us in His Word. While every called worker should have no doubt that the origin of his call is God Himself, it is also true that God today communicates with us mediately, not immediately. That means that God does not whisper in our ear; He speaks through His Word. A calling body prays for God’s guidance, but then issues calls as fallible human beings—praying that God would guide the recipient to accept or return the call as God alone wills. Those who receive a divine call go through a similar process, asking God for His guidance. Though the process is not an exact science, we nevertheless have God’s assurance that whenever a call is extended and accepted, that call is from God Himself.
While regular reminders of the origin and importance of the divine call should fill every called worker with a renewed sense of sobriety and awe, the divine call itself provides no internal change. That means that unless God Himself has imposed other restrictions in His Word, every Christian has the same authority, power, and commission. The call changes only the scope of the work. Every Christian can baptize, forgive or retain sins, recall the erring, witness to others, and comfort the sick and dying. The divine call simply empowers or authorizes the called servant to act publicly on behalf of those who have called him. While any Christian can baptize, for example, the divine call dictates that the individual who has been called will ordinarily carry out that work in the name of the calling body.
Continue to support those who carry out this invaluable work in your name, at every level. “Esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (Thessalonians 5:13 ESV) Satan knows that the best way to scatter the sheep is to cripple the shepherds. Our Savior also reminded us that even those not serving under a divine call have a vital role to play: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2 ESV)
Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.