How to Consider a Call

Confused man

If you haven’t heard, I have another call.  In addition to the existing call to the Providence CanRC in Hamilton, I have received a call to the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania.  One of my friends from the Philippines asked me to write about this mysterious process of considering calls.  I’ve only gone through this five times, so I’m not an expert.  Moreover, I’m quite positive that there is not just one way to go about it.  Other pastors probably have different approaches and I’m not judging them.  So here I’m just going to outline my basic approach.  It may give some ideas to other pastors in a similar situation and it may also give parishioners some idea of how (some) pastors reach a decision.

The first and most important element of considering a call is prayer.  Throughout the process you have to regularly bring this before the Lord and ask him for wisdom and insight.  The importance of this needs to be stressed.  While I have a process that I follow, it is not a mechanical process where I leave the Lord out of it.  No, if I’m going to honour him with this process, he needs to be involved from the beginning to the end.  We have to acknowledge him in all our ways and that means proceeding in prayerful dependence, even while we use the mind he gave us to discern the direction to go.

There are two major steps in my approach.  Sometimes it happens that after the first step everything is clear and the second step can be either skipped or abbreviated.  Both steps involve serious and prayerful reflection on yourself, the existing call, and the call presenting itself.

First, I have what I call the “Obvious Red Flag” step.  There can be signs in your existing call that you’ve passed the “best before date” and  it’s time to move on.  Perhaps your ministry isn’t as fruitful as it once was.  Perhaps there are factors endangering the fruitfulness of your ministry in the future.  You have to listen to what’s being said by the office bearers and congregation members.  Sometimes the writing seems to be on the wall.  But there can also be red flags in the new call.  To detect them, I believe it’s very important to travel to that church and ask some very well-designed questions of the consistory and congregation.  You need to spend time with the people, not only to become familiar with their needs, but also to discern whether there would be anything that would stand in the way of you working fruitfully there.  Sometimes you’ll visit and afterwards it will be crystal clear that you’re the wrong man for that particular church.  Then the decision could be clear.  But it could also happen that the existing call has all the red flags and the new call has no red flags.  Again, the decision could be clear, so long as other factors are not at play.

But what if there are no red flags in the existing call and no red flags in the new call?  What if it seems that you could work fruitfully in either context?  That’s where the second step comes in to play.

I’ll call the second step,  the “Factor Weighing” step.  You draw up a list of pros and cons associated with both the existing call and the new call.  Not only do you have to list all the factors, they also have to be weighed and given priority.  I assign a numerical value of 1-10 to each of the factors, 10 being of highest importance and 1 the lowest.  The sub-total of the cons get subtracted from the sub-total of the pros.  You’ll get a value for each call and that gives you some quantitative idea of what you’re facing.  It’s not that this necessarily decides it in a final way, but it can help to give you some clarity.  This second step of the process should be reviewed regularly during the time of consideration.  New factors might present themselves and need to be weighed.

Throughout both steps, I would be in constant conversation with my wife and kids.  They’re also a very important part of the picture and their needs and situation need to be considered.

Even though it’s sometimes hard to discern the direction, an answer will usually start to form.  Once you’ve gotten there, it’s good to sit on it for a week or two in order to be sure you’re at peace with it.  Of course, you pray about it and ask the Lord to give you peace of mind with it.  Then it’s time to inform the churches.  That’s can be hard too, because most likely you’re going to disappoint someone somewhere.  It’s a gut-wrenching process, to be sure.    But we need to trust that the Lord will guide our decision-making and have us where we need to be.

 

 


Now Available: Haggai: Prophet for God’s House

Bredenhof-Haggai

This book provides a basic explanation of Haggai’s prophecy, and shows how this Bible book speaks to us of Christ and the gospel. Haggai’s prophecy may be small, but his message is much needed for our day. He speaks of a believer’s priorities to a time in which priorities are often badly askew. He speaks of the covenant to a time in which the biblical reality of God’s covenant is often neglected. He speaks of God’s house to an age in which many Christians have only a limited understanding of what God’s house is and its significance. We need Haggai and his message for today.

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Reaching the Unchurched

New Horizons August-September 2014

The latest issue of the OPC’s New Horizons has an article entitled “Every Church a Mission Field.”  You can find it included in the August-September issue online here.  The article describes a conference held before the last OPC General Assembly back in June.  The entire article is worth reading, but there was one part that is especially worth sharing:

Dale Van Dyke, the pastor of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan, presented an engaging summary of the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them.  The author, Thom Rainer, interviewed 353 people who had recently become active in a church after years or even a lifetime outside the church.  Rainer also visited churches that he described as effectively evangelistic.  Here are some of the conclusions from his study:

  • Hiding the denominational name or identity, watering down difficult teachings, and lowering membership requirements do not appeal to new converts.
  • The biggest factors that attract new converts are the pastor and his preaching (90%) and sound, clear doctrine (88%).
  • Other lesser, though important, factors include friendliness, having been witnessed to, and personal relationships.
  • Worship style ranked dead last as a factor (11%).
  • The unchurched appreaciate high expectations for membership.  (Even a seemingly small thing like arriving early for worship communicates value.)
  • Church members should be able to list the core purposes of the church:  worship, teaching, prayer, evangelism, and service (consider Acts 2:42-47).
  • Pastors of effective evangelistic churches have a functioning theology of ‘lostness’ and communicate that through passionate preaching, pleading with the lost, and commitment to personal evangelism.

Pastor Van Dyke finished his presentation with a challenge that could be summarized like this:  Major on the majors (concerning what the Bible teaches).  Be biblical, have conviction, and be joyful.  Give priority and passion to outreach.  Develop effective small-group ministry and Sunday school that encourages teaching, growth, and fellowship.  Pursue unchurched family members and colleagues.  Uphold high expectations for members.  Never forget the power of God!

Rainer’s book certainly sounds worthwhile.  His conclusions go against the grain of what many people apparently think should be the shape of an outward-looking church.  To me this confirms that Reformed churches do not have to hide their identity or adapt their worship in order to be missional.

 


David Craig: Reformed Churches are Catholic

Life and Thought of David Craig

David Craig (1937-2001) was an instrumental figure in the early days of L’église réformée du Québec (Reformed Church of Quebec).  While I had some contact with him as a seminary student, I regrettably never had the opportunity to meet him in person.  Over my summer vacation, I read the recent biography by Jason Zuidema and came to appreciate the measure of the man and what the Lord did through him in Quebec and elsewhere.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Let me share one paragraph in particular that resonated with me:

David was particularly concerned about imparting to his young church members the idea that the ‘Reformed’ Church was not an aberration, but a faithful continuation of God’s Church.  It was a faithful form of a real catholic church in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church predominant in Quebec.  David did not want his church to be simply called the Église Réformée,  but the “Église Catholique Réformée” to emphasize this continuity with the good tradition of Catholicism before the Reformation.  In a certain sense, one could argue that David thought the Roman Catholic Church appropriated and perverted the word ‘Catholic’ to refer only to itself.  Many of David’s colleagues appreciated this concern, but found the word ‘Catholic’ too loaded to use in official signs and documents.  In any case, David’s concern was to highlight that a Reformed church was not simply a foreign imposition, but in the good tradition of Quebec.  He always wanted the French speakers to make the Reformed church their own.  (84).

I entirely share those sentiments and have often expressed them.  It reminds me of a Canadian Reformed minister who, when his church built a new building, proposed that they adopt a new name, “The Catholic Church of Town X.”  He didn’t find too many supporters.  On a more serious note, this is also a good reminder to abandon the practice of referring to the Catholic Church or Catholics, when what we mean is “the Roman Catholic Church” or “Roman Catholics.”  They have no right to the name and we should stop ceding it to them.


Advice of Dr. J. Van Bruggen to Synod Ede 2014 on Women in Office

Jakob Van Bruggen

I have written recently about the decisions made by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands at Synod Ede 2014, specifically decisions relating to women in office.  As part of the decision-making process, the synod asked a number of experts for advice.  One of those experts was the retired professor of New Testament, Dr. J. Van Bruggen.  Jaap and Arjen Vreugdenhil have translated this letter and, thanks to their efforts, I can share it with you here.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Dr. Van Bruggen is certainly not alone in his protest against these developments in our Dutch sister churches.

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To the General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, Ede 2014.

Dear brothers in Christ,

Your assembly asked me to comment on the report, Men And Women In The Service Of The Gospel.  It should be short, I was told. It can only be short if we focus on the essentials.

It is certainly tempting for your assembly at this time to go along with the committee and to adopt their proposal: “The view that beside men, women also may serve in the offices of the church, as described in this report, fits within the spectrum of what may be characterized as biblical and Reformed”. By taking this decision, you would meet the sentiments of many and remove difficulties in the relations with the NGK, and in approving of some missionary projects. (The report also repeatedly stresses these benefits.)

But before these ‘benefits’ move you to consent to this report, you should consider what price you will have to pay.

After all, it cannot be denied that our Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, requires of us, in the organization of congregational life, to take into account the different creation of man and woman (1 Timothy 2:13; compare the reference to the Law [in this case Genesis 1-2] in 1 Corinthians 14:34b, and 1 Corinthians 11:8-9:12), as well as the reality of the history of sin in paradise (1 Timothy 2:14).

It is our responsibility to account for this in later times with very different organization of congregations in various times and countries. Worldwide and through all earlier centuries, this brought the churches to distinguish between offices that man ought to fulfill, and other tasks that belong specifically to the woman, or to man and woman together.

Traditionally, the Reformed Churches also aligned to this custom and practice of all congregations (for such alignment, compare 1 Corinthians 11:16, 14:33, 36). The Reformed Churches (liberated) reaffirmed that alignment in 1993, when at the introduction of women’s right to vote they stated in the grounds that this does not concern an act of government.

The committee does not justify their departure from this argument in this fairly recent decision of a synod of their own federation. That is odd, but not incomprehensible. Underlying the decision of the Synod of Ommen 1993 was a consideration of how the Bible speaks to us today concerning the offices in the Church. It was summarized as “governing”. The committees no longer enter into a discussion of this kind, because they deem the Apostle’s instruction on this matter not directly relevant for us today.

Paul, an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, was convinced that “every Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable to teach, to refute errors and mistakes and to educate a virtuous life” (2 Tim. 3:16). On the basis of this conviction he also wrote, using Genesis 1-3, about the organization of church life. He reasoned from the Holy Scriptures to the congregations that they should be trained in piety and virtue (see Acts 20:28-32).

The committee report presents a very different picture. Paul allegedly used the Scriptures as a source for arguments when describing what impression the congregations make on their surroundings. If this were true, we modern Christians, through a similar reasoning, might arrive at very different conclusion, to adjust to what our culture perceives as normal.

Page 24 of the report shows how detrimental this concept of ‘context’ may be for the unity of God’s redemptive history and for the authority of the apostolic word. There we read the following:

In 1 Timothy 2 [Paul] does not appeal to a specific given from Scripture (“Scripture says…”), but he reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve as a historic event: creation, fall, redemption. Such a reminder of a historic event, even at the beginning of history, is not a normative appeal to the precepts of God. In a similar way, Peter confronts his female readers with the example of Sarah, who addressed her husband as ‘my master’ (1 Peter 3:5-6; see Genesis 18:12). In 1 Timothy 2:13 (“For Adam was formed first, then Eve”), Paul uses the situation in Paradise to point Timothy and his church in their situation in the right direction. In doing so, he interprets the order of creation events as an order of rank. While the notion of a created order of rank, in which each person was assigned his or her proper position, fit well with the existing social patterns of the day, in our situation such an idea feels foreign. Thus the use of this argument, too, is coloured by its context.

1. The beginning of this quotation immediately raises questions. Why would an appeal to God’s history in creation and redemption not be a ‘given from Scripture’? Why would a reminder of a ‘historical event’ have no normative value? God’s history with his people “took place as an example, for us”, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:6.  Paul and Peter point to the examples of Adam and Eve and Sarah because they provided men and women with models for their own behavior. The work of the Creator and the attitude of Sarah are instructive for us, Christians—according to the apostles of Jesus Christ!

2. Precisely because Paul writes as “commissioned by God” (1 Timothy 1:1), it is strange that the quotation speaks about his words to Timothy and Ephesus in such a humanistic and limited way. They write that Paul “uses the situation in paradise to point Timothy in the right direction”. Paul would be ‘interpreting’ the creation sequence as an order of rank. That is, in 1 Timothy 2:13 we are dealing with an example from creation, but with an interpretation by Paul that is not in the Bible (Genesis), but which he adds to adjust to what “fits well with the existing social pattern”. In other words, we owe the example of ‘rank’ not to Genesis 2, but to society in the first century A.D., and Paul employs Genesis 2 to suggest that this ‘ranking’ was actually created! This means that the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, in fact, would have abused Scripture in his reference to Genesis 2.

3. Despite all the good words in the report on the authority of Scripture, the quotation above implies that 1 Timothy 2:13 has no authority for us, because it is Paul who ‘interpreted’ the creation order ‘as a ranking’, and because this interpretation was well-suited to his own time but no longer to ours. Just as the prevalence of a certain view inspired Paul to make a specific use of a past situation (Paradise), so the ‘foreignness’ of this idea in our own time might move us to dismiss the word of Paul, as something that has only been valuable in the past.

When we leave these words of our apostle behind us, in the context of his own time, and focus on the context in which we live ourselves, we arrive at a dead end. For which culture becomes our norm? That of D-66 [politically bland, AVr] Netherlands, or certain subcultures of Amsterdam or Utrecht? The Kampen ethics professor recently wrote that churches in Muslim countries might have to deal very differently with women in office, in order to obtain the same effect of giving no offense.  But what impression does the church give to the 16.9% Muslims in the Netherlands?

Thankfully the Lord through the Scriptures puts us on the continuing road of his own history, and his goal is to express this in his church. In the eyes of the world she will share in their attitude to the gospel: foolishness to Greeks! How good it is that we, Christians, precisely on the basis of the special characteristics of the church, can tell about the reality of Adam and Eve, of creation and fall of man, of love and mercy.

As I write this, I but wonder with some dismay whether I this write for a synod of Reformed Churches. Who would carry coals to Newcastle? Am I off-track in this letter because I fail to discuss in-depth the hermeneutics developed in the report? After all, is not this hermeneutics the justification for no longer applying the Pauline statements about Adam and Eve, creation and fall of man?

It was indeed first my intention to write a note about that hermeneutics, but it gradually dawned on me that this would really get my advice off-track.

1. The elaborations presented in the report, complete with charts, do not belong in an ecclesiastical and pastoral document. This would also apply to an analytical discussion of them.

2. One may fill many or few pages with arguments, but in the end we believers read what Paul writes, without theoretical considerations and diagrams. And then we cannot escape the fact that he urges the churches to account for Genesis 1-3 in the organization of congregational life. He never says that he uses the texts of Genesis merely as an occasional argument to remain in line with the social position of women and men in his time. How could he do so? So many centuries later, the narrative of Genesis is still decisive for the churches of the New Testament, because it is God’s work and our history! Therefore, the apostle appeals to it, even though the new Christians in Ephesus were not familiar with the stories from Genesis, which sounded foreign in their culture. That is why Paul also commands the preacher Timothy to “communicate this in his teaching” at Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:11). We should therefore take his arguments seriously and allow ourselves to be taught by it (whether we find this is difficult or easy). If we fail to do so, we will not only push Paul aside, but Genesis as well! And we miss the fact that Paul is not concerned with the removal of potential offenses to unbelievers, but rather with the teaching of what is proper for women who claim to worship God (1 Timothy 2:10). Are we not descendants of our ancestors Adam and Eve in the same way as our brothers and sisters in Ephesus?

3. When I asked your clerk what exactly was involved in this request for an advice from me as an exegete, because the report takes a decisive position on hermeneutics for the reading of Scripture, he kindly wrote back that I’ve taught Hermeneutics in Kampen. Indeed, in the line of Van Andel and Greijdanus I have taught the rules for the interpretation of the Bible (classical hermeneutics) for 35 years, and over and again I have refuted the new hermeneutic: it considers the Bible as a document from the past, which must continually be infused with new meaning in new contexts. I have also written about it in Het Kompas van het Christendom and other publications.  This is not so much about knowledge or information, but rather about choices and decisions.

The committee suggests that the line of their report is in line with the Reformed tradition (p. 20). For proof of this they mention my name. Unrightfully so: in the article cited by the committee, I was dealing with the relationship between the meaning of words and the cultural and social context. The view of the deputies has to do with a different issue, namely: the meaning of text and cultural and social context.

4. Do I accuse the committee of bad faith? No, but rather of rashness. Perhaps some people imagine that we can say goodbye to some Pauline texts merely on the matter of men and women, and nothing else. But that is quite naïve. There are at least two major shipwrecks on the beach that should be beacons to us. When the Gereformeerde Kerken (synodaal) opened up all offices for women, with an argumentation very similar to that of your committee, they really had no intention to introduce higher criticism or make the Bible inoperative. The outcry was great when Prof. Dr. H.M. Kuitert immediately declared that his synod had now legalized higher criticism. Yet he was proven right: this rash decision was later regretted by many. The same process was repeated with the Christian Reformed Churches. I am unwilling to believe that any of the committee members or synodical delegates wants this. But I do say: look at those beacons and think again! Surely you don’t want this?

At the end of the day, it should not be difficult for your assembly to decide about the report.

a. You may declare that this report has not shown convincingly that in the organization of our church life we need no longer take into account the decisions of our apostle Paul about the difference between Adam and Eve and the significance of the fall.

b. Furthermore, your synod may state that the report rightly devoted many good words to the service of men and women for the sake of the gospel, but that it wrongly ignored what Scripture says about what we call “the office of government” (recently confirmed by the synod of Ommen, 1993).

c. If you want to complete the discussion about this entire issue, as was the intention of the previous Synod, you may decide that no compelling reasons have been found to deviate from the practice of many centuries and of most of the churches, based on 1 Timothy 2, to assign the offices of teaching and oversight to the responsibility of the man.

Much more difficult than taking a decision, is a return to instructing the congregations about the importance of the history of creation and salvation in general, and about these scriptural data in particular. We have become desensitized to these realities and become more sensitive to the world around us. However, it is very important to regain this sensitivity. Only through education and example will reappear the love towards the story of Adam and Eve and the respect for what the Lord attaches to it. I’m not sure if synods can decide anything about that. In any case, they cannot execute or accomplish it. The responsibility lies with those who as shepherds must lead the flock to be citizens of a kingdom this is above, and with all Christians who would persevere in their desire for a heavenly kingdom, that is not of this world.

The decision-making about the report takes place in an ecclesiastical reality that is adrift. I pray therefore for all of you, that you may have wisdom and courage. You will not be able to take a decision to change reality. But you can make a decision that is responsible. And the Lord can make that decision in his time and manner into a blessing for the church and the gospel, for men and women.

With regards and brotherly greetings,

J. van Bruggen

Apeldoorn,

May 2, 2014.

 

 


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