Monday, March 14, 2011

Qualified for Ministry

Sincere men in any kind of Christian ministry (and the believer-priests, too) mourn often over their lack of spiritual qualifications -- a fact which is especially evident to themselves.  How can it be that God has called me to ministry, when I view my efforts as pretty much a failure, not only because my skin is too thin and my ministry profitless, but also because it's obvious that my character and gifts don't match the requirements for this job!

This is a serious question, and it is a question tied intimately to our doctrine of sanctification.

I think the following train of thought may help.

There are two ways to respond to our lack of qualification.  The first way is to make it an idol.  The second way is to accept it, as we pray and work out our callings.

First, we have to recognize that "personal qualifications" can definitely become an idol.  It is intrinsic to the flesh to want to be "great" in all the ways that the flesh wants to be great, especially in religious leadership.  To see the prevalence of these things, think of those whose mouths speak about the word and worship of God, but whose hearts are far from him.  They are absolutely certain of their piety (until moral disaster strikes), but their piety is an unholy desire to please men rather than God.  This syndrome can masquerade as piety even among those who know the Lord.  We always want to be "greater" in our own and all other men's eyes than the Lord meant us to be.  We hate our spiritual poverty, and may even rage against it, but are blind to the hidden, fleshly motives lying behind our raging.  Perhaps this is a characteristic threat latent within any vision of piety which focuses on "self-development" by spiritual disciplines and instruction.  Luther, who had been the most zealous and repentant monk, characterized all of them as a class, as he had been himself, as being infected with this "Pharisaic" zeal to be perfect in the eyes of God and man, instead of accepting the gift of salvation made to sinners, which is received by sinners by faith alone. 

It's foolish, of course, to deny that we must fight sin in our flesh.  It's absurd to say that spiritual disciplines of Scriptural character are not needed, and it's insane to say we don't need instruction.  But, piling up all these things which we indubitably need does not focus on the central issue -- self.  Denial of oneself, in obedience to Christ, can become a "personal achievement," too.  Jesus surely did not mean that we should make it a personal project to focus on ourselves in self-abnegation.  He meant that we should stop following our own projects and start following his, even if it means a cross.  We should just forget our projects, our glory, our "qualifications," our accomplishment of duties, and our wonderful, Christian character, and instead think only of Christ's glory and Christ's project.  We should accept our spiritual poverty as a fact. As Luther said on his deathbed, "We're all beggars."

The odd thing is that when we thus forget ourselves while being engaged in our calling, that is, when we accept our weakness and lack of qualification as a "given" -- a quiet fact, to which we quietly and obediently submit, as we continue in our callings, that it will dawn on us one day that we have silently and quietly, even without our own knowledge, become "qualified."  This will happen -- and then pride will strike, and seeking glory in our personal qualifications will become a temptation again.

May all the believers rest in the gift of salvation to spiritual beggars, of whom they are chief, and thus unconsciously and quietly be truly qualified to speak for Christ's project, not their own!

This is the work of God in us.

The way up, spiritually, is the way down to the Cross.  The way down, spiritually, is the way up to human glory.  Stay away from human glory.

And, those qualifications in I Timothy and Titus?  Those qualifications are for other people to see (in you) -- not for you to see (in yourself).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unveiled Faces

The living creatures around the throne of God veil their feet and faces before the glory of the Lord.  But, we who believe in Jesus Christ view his glory with unveiled faces.  The vision of the glory of his face changes us into his own image.