A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: The universal call

As you probably know, Presbyterians talk a LOT about the idea of “call,” of vocation; of being gifted and commissioned by God to particular kinds of ministry, and even particular place and contexts to which one is called.

In two weeks, this congregation will convene at its Annual Meeting to elect, or call, new Elders and Deacons (which are ordained positions within the church), as well as Trustees (which is an office of great significance and service, but not ordained). Last Sunday this congregation called The Rev. Lindsey Clifton to serve as Associate Pastor here at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, for example.

In doing that, we were affirming that the congregation believes that Lindsey is gifted and sent by God to serve with us at this time; that Lindsey herself senses that call as well and accepts it; and soon the Lehigh Presbytery (presumably) will vote to concur with that and “validate” the call.

And too often we constrict our understandings of call to those offices that are so important in the life of the church. But one of the basic tenets of the Reformed theological tradition, from which Presbyterians come, is that all Christians are called to ministry through their baptisms. Ordination is not a higher calling than baptism; just a more specific one.

We are ordained to offices in the church that ensure that the most essential functions in the life of the church are carried out: ministries of compassion and justice by Deacons; the governance and guidance of the church by Elders; the preaching of God’s Word and administration of the Sacraments by Ministers. But in all of these, we are ordained to function, not status; baptism remains the universal calling and commissioning to ministry for all Christians.

This Sunday, we will baptize two infants in worship, which is perfect, since we are also observing the Christian holy day of The Baptism of the Lord, in which we remember and commemorate that even Jesus himself was baptized. So we will be celebrating those baptisms and considering what our own baptisms can tell us about living through the difficult times in which we find ourselves. I look forward to being with you in worship!

Grace and peace,