Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The duty and calling of ministers - part 3

3.  Qualifications for the Work.
       Forasmuch then as your office is both of so great excellency and of so great difficulty,
you see with what great care and study you ought to apply yourselves,
       as well that you may show yourselves dutiful and thankful to that Lord,
                 who has placed you in so high a dignity;
      and also to beware that you personally neither offend,
      nor be the cause of others offending.

"About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”—
yet for us there is one God, the Father.
All things are from Him,
and we exist for Him.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.
All things are through Him,
and we exist through Him.
However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall."  1 Corinthians 8.4-13

"Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen" Acts 1.24

Once again we are reminded that the office of priest is a high calling.  Indeed it is a 'great excellency' — the kind of phrase usually reserved for royalty, heads of government such as Presidents, and international judges.  As God's minister we should carry ourselves like, and in our life be as exacting as, those in the world who earn the title 'excellency.'  This will be difficult, and The Ordinal has no shame in speaking that plain and simple truth.  Ministry is greatly difficult and there is no way around that.  If you are not finding ministry difficult then it is likely because you are either not doing it properly or you fail to grasp what it is you are called to not only do but what you are called to be.

That we must apply ourselves with all care and study goes without saying but what this means practically will be covered later.   In any case The Ordinal clearly expects the way we study and apply ourselves to our ministry will be such that any onlooker would recognise immediately in us a person who is both most dutiful and professional in their work and yet also eminently thankful for all the blessings and challenges God graces them with.   This thankfulness flows from a simple fundamental truth which both haunts and buoys those in ministry — this calling was not their choice, it was God's calling and His choosing.  Whilst it may be true that the church on earth acknowledges and endorses a minister in their calling the church does not give it or maintain it - nor can it remove it.  As the first question in the Public Examination makes clear, a person is called above all else by God Himself and thus his spiritual authority flows from that simple truth.  The reason that none of the Reformers up till Laud, and even many afterwards, did not have an issue with inviting non-episcopally ordained clergy to minister in the Church of England without 're-ordination' is simply because it was God who gave authority and churches, whether episcopal or not, merely publicly recognise and legally licence it.  God has placed us in this ministry, let us not forget or sully it.

The final clause is the need for ministers to beware against offending any.  This clearly cannot mean offending by preaching the gospel which is inherently offensive to human nature.  Instead it refers to life and manners, how we act, speak, and relate others, what we do and what we don't do.  Again this is a careful balancing act, but the example given by Paul regarding not offending 'weaker brothers' who could be enticed to sin by acting against their conscience is of utmost importance.  Paul goes so far as to say that if we needlessly endanger, offend, or cause the stumbling of a fellow Christian we are guilty of sin against Jesus Christ Himself.  This should have ramifications on how ministers relate to alcohol, gambling, television, language, and even dress.   Many Christians wander through life oblivious to the effects of their words and actions.  As ministers we have a duty not to be oblivious.  We have a duty to be not only reactionary to causing such a person to stumble but proactively anticipatory of even the slim possibility of causing such stumbling.  Ultimately, as God's ambassadors, we must put the needs and holiness of others before our own freedoms and desires.     

Do you grasp what an excellency you have been given and does this daily encourage and bolster your efforts to live up to your calling?

Do you truly recognise the difficulty of your ministry?  How do you react to such difficulty?

What does it mean for you that God personally chose you for ministry in His church?   How does this truth change you?

Looking at what Paul says about sinning against Christ by leading others to stumble, what in our society today might ministers be doing which Paul would question?

Where might you be causing offence or unnecessary stumbling?

a) Prayer for the Holy Spirit.
However, you cannot have a mind and will to do this by yourselves;
         for that will and ability is given by God alone.
Therefore you ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for His Holy Spirit.

"When he was in distress, he sought the favour of Yahweh his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors."  2 Chronicles 33.12

"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land."  James 5.17

"Search for the Lord and for His strength; seek His face always." 1 Chronicles 16.11

"Wisdom and strength belong to God; counsel and understanding are His." Job 12.13

"He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 1.18

"For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life." 2 Corinthians 1.8

"I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit,"  Ephesians 3.16

"I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me."  Philippians 4.13

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy" Colossians 1.11

"I labour for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me." Colossians 1.29

"But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one." 2 Thessalonians 3.3

"If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4.11

"So when they arrest you and hand you over, don’t worry beforehand what you will say. On the contrary, whatever is given to you in that hour—say it. For it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit."  Mark 13.11

"But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you." John 14.26

"For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit," 1 Thessalonians 1.5

"Guard, through the Holy Spirit who lives in us, that good thing entrusted to you." 2 Timothy 1.14

"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." Ephesians 1.17

"Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving." Colossians 4.2

"At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison," Colossians 4.3

All that has so far been laid out and all that will follow is quite bluntly an impossible standard.  No human excepting Jesus could ever even come close to it.  That is not to say we should not strive to do and be all we can for the glory of our Lord, but we must also be humble.  We must never, ever, let pride infect our mind or seep its rancid sewerage into our veins.  The reality is that without God at work within us not only would be fall miserably short of achieving any of our calling but we would not even have the basic and fundamental desire or will to do so in the first place.  A holy discontent with ones holiness and ministry is a sure sign of the Lord at work. 

We must model in our lives and teaching a humility which makes plain that our strength is weak and we can only go on through God's strength; that our minds are feeble and stupid such that we can only teach through God's gift of wisdom; that our hearts are so weak and fearful, so slothful and selfish that the only way we can lead God's people is by His Holy Spirit giving us a new heart and a new mind.  Not only must we model this we must actually live it!  We need to be on our knees each day praying before all things for God to be at work within us.  We must be constantly casting down our weaknesses and failures and calling on God to redeem them through His blood and power.

The amazing thing is, our God is so loving and generous that when we come to Him with a broken and contrite heart, with humility and empty hands, He gives us more than we could ever imagine or hope for.

How does the fact that you can never do enough or be good enough, let alone fulfil the life laid out in this exhortation, make you feel?  How should you respond?

How do you kill pride and selfish self-serving attitudes?

How practically can you model an utter dependence on God?

Do you truly believe that God will give you  'the will and the way' in your ministry?

b) Study of the Scriptures.
And seeing that you cannot by any other means accomplish
                  the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man,
                                        but with doctrine and exhortation
                                                             taken out of the holy Scriptures,
                                           and with a life agreeable to the same;
                 consider how studious you ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures,
                 and in framing the manners both of yourselves,
                 and of them that specially pertain to you,
                 according to the rule of the same Scriptures:
                               and for this self-same cause,
                                 how you ought to forsake and set aside (as much as you may) all worldly
                                  cares and studies.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3.14-17

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2.15

"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.
Don’t add to His words,
or He will rebuke you, and you will be proved a liar" Proverb 30.5-6

"so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do.” Isaiah 55.11

"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119.11

"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." Joshua 1.8

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12.2

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word." Psalm 119.9

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4.12

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." Hosea 4.6

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."  Psalm 1.2

"This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy— one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap." 1 Timothy 3.1-7

When God gives us the will and ability to fulfil our calling the ways in which it is fulfilled are the next things to be considered.  How should a minister spend their time in order to serve their Lord to the best of their ability?  What methods should a minister use to train themselves in righteousness and virtue that they may be examples to their flocks?  Above all things, the resounding answer of our reformers is simple: hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures.  A minister of God is to be a person of the Bible.  When Saint Paul was in prison it was not food or clothes that were most important to him, the first place was given to his 'scrolls' - that is his Bible.
What the Church of England teaches about Scripture will be examined further when looking at the Public Examination but that it is the foundation and wellspring of all a minister should be is clear from the extensive treatment in this exhortation. 

The means of accomplishing the salvation of many and the life of ministry is primarily through doctrine and preaching.  In the view of the Reformers right doctrine leads to right living.  Good preaching leads to changed lives and transformed morals.  Every minister should be a theologian, every minister should care and be passionate about doctrine.  Every minister should hold preaching as their highest calling.  Importantly though, all this doctrine and teaching and preaching must come from one place above anywhere else — the Bible.  Anything which is not from the Bible or cannot be supported by it is not to be taught as necessary to salvation.  Likewise when looking on how a minister should order their lives the exhortation points us in the direction of Scripture to find the answer.  In a world which constantly devalues Scripture and relativises it, as only a post-modern mindset could, ministers should be ever appealing to Scripture for all things both great and small.

Given ministers must teach biblical doctrine and live Biblical lives it is no wonder we are told ministers should 'studiously' read and learn the Scriptures.  Ministers are to be perpetual and eternal students sitting beneath God's word and absorbing its wisdom, truth, and power through careful exegesis, prayerful seeking, and humble submission.  This is a challenging task for any Christian, especially the last part, but it is vital to a healthy and wholesome ministry.  There is simply no way around the fact that the Anglican view of ministry involves much time spent in the study delving into the wondrous and glories depths of the mysteries of God revealed through the pages of the Bible.

This study should lead to practical and externally recognisable changes in life and manners.  Our lives, saturated in Scripture, should not make sense to the world around us.  Our lives should be models of Biblical holiness and truth to those seeking it.  But for ministers the buck doesn't stop at our own door — we must likewise fashion the lives of our families and even those committed to our charge.  Paul tells us that marriage is an image to the world of the love of Christ for the Church.  If you can't run a household decently, Paul tells Timothy, you shouldn't be running a church.  In the Bible every man is the pastor of his family, only the best family pastors should take on the role of pastoring the wider body of Christ.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the exhortation is that the study of Scripture should so consume our lives that we lay aside and count as worthless the cares of the world and the studies it would call us to pursue.  Thankfully the exhortation graciously recognises that we can only do this as far as we are able (or God allows?) and thus we are not to decry having a hobby or despise all secular pleasure.  But. nonetheless, such things must most definitely be second place in our lives.  At best we should use them to recharge our batteries and inform our ministry as much as may be needed and no more. 

You may be wondering what this practically means.  Well, thankfully, the Reformation canons of the Church were more than clear in explaining such things:

"No ecclesiastical person shall at any time, other than for their honest necessities, resort to any taverns or alehouses, neither shall they board or lodge in any such places.  Furthermore, they shall not give themselves to any base or servile labour, or to drinking or riot, spending their time idly by day or by night, playing at dice, cards, or tables, or any other unlawful games: but at all times convenient they shall hear or read somewhat of the Holy Scriptures, or shall occupy themselves with some other honest study or exercise, always doing the things which appertain to honesty, and endeavouring to profit the church of God; having always in mind that they ought to excel all others in purity of life, and should be examples to the people to live well and christianily, under pain of ecclesiastical censures, to be inflicted with severity according to the qualities of their offences."  The Canons of 1603 75.

"The sober, grave and exemplary conversation of all those that are employed in the administration of holy things being of great avail for the furtherance of piety, it hath been the religious care of the Church of England strictly to enjoin on all and every one of her clergy, a pious, regular and inoffensive demeanour, and to prohibit all loose and scandalous carriage by severe censures to be inflicted upon such delinquents as appears by the 74th and 75th canons of 1603 provided to this purpose.
For the more effectual success of which pious and necessary care this present synod straitly charges all clergymen in this church that setting before their eyes the glory of God, the holiness of their calling and the edification of the people committed to them, they carefully avoid all excess and disorder, and that by their Christian and religious conversation they shine forth as lights unto others in all godliness and honesty." Canons of 1640 10.1-2

Whilst these canons are no longer in force and have been relaxed beyond all recognition, they are the kind of things this exhortation is talking about - and all ministers should be greatly challenged by such canon laws.

How important do I think right and biblical doctrine is?  How do I ensure my teaching is thoroughly biblical?

Is my life recognisable as one lived by and to biblical standards?  How often do I evaluate my life by the bible and do I have any systems in place to ensure I do?

How much time do I spend studying Scripture?  Is this enough or not? 

How high is studying Scripture on my list of ministry priorities daily, weekly, monthly, annually?

When I don't like what Scripture says am I willing to humbly submit to it?

How am I actively fashioning the life of my family by biblical teaching and standards?

What cares and studies of the world do I occupy my time with?  Is  this more than I should, where is the healthy balance?

Are there any 'worldy things' I do or take part in which fall short of the exemplary life I am called to lead (which should have an eye to making sure no-one should stumble by my example)

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