Had we only this one case to which we could point to show the dangers of claims of extra-biblical revelation, it would be enough. Sadly, however, we have hundreds and probably thousands of cases to which we can easily point to show the dangers of claims of continuing revelation.
I am catching up Christianity Today‘s podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The August 30, 2021 episode, “Questioning the Origin Myth: A Rise and Fall Short Story,” centered around what, in Reformed theology, piety, and practice, we call the internal call to ministry. In our understanding of Scripture and its outworking in the life of the church there are two aspects to the call to ministry, the internal and the external. The former describes that God-given sense within a man that he ought to become a minister of God’s Word, that he ought to become a preacher. The latter refers to the confirmation which comes from the visible church. In Reformed theology, piety, and practice, the two go together. To illustrate this there is an old story that circulates in the Reformed churches about the farmer who, upon looking up in the sky while plowing, sees the letters PC in the sky. He gets off his tractor, goes to the preacher and tells him what he has seen and that he thinks it means, “Preach Christ.” So, as the story goes, the minister tells him to write a sermon and then gives him the pulpit next week. The farmer does as instructed. After his sermon he asked the minister, “Well, what do you think?” The minister replies, “I think PC means Plant Corn.”
I suppose lots of traditions tell this story or they should but for us it means that the confirmation of the visible church is essential. We do not leave a man to decide on his own whether he is called to ministry. Thus, it was interesting to hear Mike Cosper narrate the story around Mark Driscoll’s sense of internal call. Here is a clip.
According to Cosper and others whom he interviewed for this episode, this is the story that Driscoll told over and again. Indeed, Cosper illustrates how often and consistently Driscoll has told the story of his call by playing several clips in succession. The discrepancy between the way Driscoll accounts for his call and the way the Reformed think about the call is notable.
According to Driscoll’s repeated, public testimony he knew with certainty that certain things must happen: he must plant churches, study the Word, marry Grace, and train young men. He knew all this, however, as one of his friends at the time pointed out to him, before he was ever actually involved in a local congregation. This is remarkable. It is consistent with the nature and history of American revivalism going back, in some aspects, to the First Great Awakening in the early eighteenth century and entirely consistent with the theology, piety, and practice of the Second Great Awakening in the nineteenth century.
Often these movements frequently emerged outside the visible church. In this regard Driscoll is a classic American religious entrepreneur. He knew his market (or his marks), his message, and his method before he was ever accountable to a visible church. In Reformed practice, however, that should never be. In our understanding of the Scriptures and the life of the church, a young man usually grows up in a congregation or is at least a part of a congregation long enough for them to begin to see in him a giftedness for ministry. They take an opportunity to test those gifts in various ways. Only after they have had time to get to know him, after he has been catechized, after he has been evaluated do they ordinarily commend him to the church as a candidate for ministry. Then he made a candidate for ministry, i.e., put “under care” of one of the assemblies of the churches (e.g., consistory/session, classis or presbytery) and sent off to seminary to get the eduction a minister ought to have. He should learn the original Biblical languages so that he is not reliant upon English translations, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Biblical Theology, church history and historical theology, systematic theology, the confessions of the churches, and the practice of pastoral ministry. A serious and genuine ministerial education normally takes 3 or 4 years. As part of that process the candidate serves as an intern in a congregation under the supervision of an experienced minister. He is also ordinarily licensed by the churches to exhort in order to serve the churches (by providing pulpit supply) and to gain experience. Only then is he presented to the regional church (presbytery or classis) for examination prior to becoming available for a call.