Doctrine of the Call to the Ministry


(From Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], pp. 58-59.)

On this subject there is general agreement in our Lutheran Church. Some writers, however, have introduced confusion on it by first dividing the Church into two classes, the clergy and the laity, and by claiming that the rights of both these parties are to be recognized in extending a call. Others, and these are even more numerous, have obscured the clear teaching on this matter by dividing the Call into an internal and an external call.

The Call may be defined as the election and designation of a man for the work of the ministry. This call is not immediate, but mediate. It is grounded upon the spiritual priesthood of believers; but is not to be identified with it, since believers do not give up any of the functions of their spiritual priesthood. They simply call men to fill the divinely-instituted office of the ministry and to exercise the public functions of the spiritual priesthood of all believers.

This call may be the call of the congregation to the pastorate, or the call of the representative Church to the mission field or to professorships in a theological seminary, or executive offices in the Church, or to any other work in which the Church may be engaged, or which it may find it necessary to perform. The division of the Church into two classes, the clergy and the laity, implies two orders and is a first step toward a hierarchical view of the Church. The call extended by the congregation or by the representative Church, though a mediate call, is a divine call and is ascribed in the Scriptures to God, to the Holy Spirit, and to Christ. (Cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; 4:1; Acts 13:2; Acts 20:28).

The call above described is the only call to the ministry. The so-called inner call is due to Calvinistic or Reformed influence. With what consistency can we censure them for distinguishing between the external call to all men through the outward Word and the inner call to the elect, if we ourselves made a similar distinction in the call to the ministry? It is quite true that no young man should put himself in a course of training and so in a position to receive a call unless he is thoroughly convinced through the Scriptures that the Lord would have him enter upon this work. He should have this inner conviction that this is the life-work his Lord would have him do; but this call is not a call to the ministry.

This matter has been set forth very clearly by Dr. [Joseph] Stump in his dogmatic, The Christian Faith: “There is no inner call to the ministry, but only the external call of the Church. There is, however, an inner conviction of the individual that he ought to become a minister, which is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word and which is sometimes spoken of as an inner call. But this is a mistaken use of the word ‘call’ and is calculated to lead to confusion. An inner call in the true sense of the word would have to be an immediate one; and no immediate calls are any longer given. Men have sometimes imagined that they have had an ‘inner call’ when it was painfully evident to everyone else that they had neither the requisite natural gifts nor the proper training for the office.” This sane and sensible view of the matter is highly commended.

Carroll Herman Little (1872-1958) was the son of a Tennessee Synod minister and a native of Hickory, North Carolina. He graduated from the General Council’s Mount Airy (Philadelphia) Seminary in 1901, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Lenoire-Rhyne College in 1914, and in 1928 received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Chicago Lutheran Seminary. Little served pastorates in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and from 1917 to 1947 was professor of theology in the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada in Waterloo, Ontario, an institution of the United Lutheran Church in America.

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