Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. (1 Timothy 2:7)
No matter what our denominational background may be, we all have traditions. In my experience, there are a couple of things that stand out about religious traditions. One is that it is much easier to have issues with the traditions that others have. Another is that it is hard to see and change our own traditions.
Now, of course, if our traditions are based upon the Scriptures, that is great. We should not attempt to change them. But sometimes such practices are not based upon Scripture, even though we think they are. Such thinking can lead to problems.
If I may, I would like to give one from my own tradition. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. There is a strong tradition in those churches. I found that this tradition is alive and well in many other denominations as well. I discovered this when I became a chaplain in the military and was around other chaplains from other denominations.
The tradition that I am talking about is the “calling” of a person to be a preacher or pastor. I cannot tell you how many meetings and conversations I have been involved in where this has been discussed. It has also been a point in many sermons that I have heard.
The question is often asked, “When did you receive your calling to be a preacher?” The question is also asked, “How did call God you?” In sermons, I have often heard men describe such a calling.
A very common theme in such stories is that the “preacher” at first resists the calling of God. He doesn’t want to do it. His wife calls him an idiot for even entertaining the idea. He tells God He must be making a mistake. The preacher is just not worthy.
But fortunately for the sake of the church and people of God, the prospective preacher finally relents. God continues to call the man and he sees that even though he is unworthy he will do what God is “calling” Him to do and be.
Another thing that is common in these “calling” stories is that they are very subjective. The vast majority of them do not involve what can be called a clear cut calling. God does not speak verbally to them. Most Baptists don’t believe in that kind of thing. But it is interesting that even among denominations that do believe God speaks today, usually such communication is not involved in these types of callings.
Instead, the callings involve gut feelings or conviction. The man in question does not have rest in his soul until he gives in. He may have a burning in his heart to preach the word of God, even though he fights the urge. He can find no peace until he does so.
When I was younger I used to be amazed at such stories. At the same time, however, I felt sad. I felt that my own “calling” did not measure up to such wonderful stories.
As I grew older, I began to ask what the Bible has to say about such things. The closest I could come to biblical support of such practices are words of Paul. He was appointed (some would say “called”) to be a preacher and an Apostle. The verse cited above in 1 Timothy is an example of one of these verses.
But it became clear to me that Paul is not a good example to use. He is defending his apostleship to the Gentiles that he received from Jesus on the road to Damascus. This was a unique occurrence in the history of the Church. What happened on that road with Paul was on a completely different level to the stories I have heard from those who were called to be preachers.
Many, no doubt, would say that there is no harm done in such a tradition, even if it is subjective and lacks Scriptural support. But I would disagree. A by product of such teaching is that it can lead those in the church who have not experienced such a “calling” to see themselves as second class members of the church. In addition, when a person believes God has called them and even gone to great lengths to woo such a reluctant preacher, it can lead to spiritual pride. It is implied that such a person must be really important in God’s plan. There is an implication that other gifts are not quite as important. After all, how often do we hear stories about how God has called a person with the gift of administration to do what God wants him to do? A calling like that is not as exciting.
The bottom line is that need to be careful when it comes to our religious practices. We need to recognize that sometimes are traditions have no basis in the Bible. Sometimes they are harmless. Sometimes they are not.