Church and Life: Special Calling and Ordination
In a church, traditionally there is what is called the "clergy" and what is called the "laity." The "clergy" are those who do full-time ministry in the context of a church, especially in preaching and the administration of the sacraments. The "laity" refers to all other members of the church. In congregationalism, and especially in the modern democritization movement within the churches, attempts have been made to erase the line between the two. Thus, there arose the concept of "every-member ministry" (in that all believers are called to ministry in some form), and the concept of "lay leadership" in the churches.
Such concepts are however foreign to the Reformed tradition. In the Reformed church in its most consistent polity, the office bearers are set apart from the rest of the congregation in order to serve as office bearers. They are not different in being from other believers, but rather the distinguishing factor is the call of God to their respective office.
The call of God comes from God. Therefore it is objective and independent of the church. It comes from outside us (extra nos) just like regeneration and justification. Thus, the role of the church is to recognize those who are called, not to create the call. How the church recognizes those who are called varies, but since God is the God of history as well as the Lord of the Church, those whom the Church has properly called and are serving as her office bearers are those whom God has called to that office, at least for that time.
As the call goes forth, is heeded, and is recognized, the church installs and ordains and appoints her office bearers. Ordination is nothing more than the formal recognition by the church of a pastor called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. There is nothing magical at ordination, as if the being of the pastor is changed and elevated to a higher level of being. But there is also everything special about ordination, in that it marks the church's recognition of God's call of the minister. Ordination is therefore necessary for serving as a pastor in a Reformed church. The practice of some churches of making an "evangelist" wait a few years, even 5 years or more, before he can qualify to be ordained is a practice that has no basis in Scripture and in fact goes against what ordination is supposed to stand for.
In many Reformed churches, there is a process of steps whereby those seeking the ministry ought to go through. Such a process is a matter of wisdom for the church to properly take care of the men under her seeking the ministry. In many Reformed churches, there is a process called licensure distinct from ordination. Since ordination is for men who are starting to serve in the churches, it is only given to those who already have a call to a particular church. Licensure in these Reformed churches therefore function to test and validate a man's capability for the ministry without him necessarily having a specific call to a particular church.
Church and Life: General Calling of believers
While there is a special calling for certain men to the ministry, God does not therefore neglects other believers. Rather, those who are not specially called have the general call of the priesthood of all believers. All believers are called to be Christians, to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and to glorify God in all things (1 Cor. 10:31). While office bearers serve the church, believers are all called to serve and witness to the world in general.
This does not mean that non-office bearers cannot serve in the church. Rather, for them it is not compulsory to serve in the church, and they should not feel pressured to serve as if all "spiritual" Christians serve in the church, as if service is an indication of godliness. Furthermore, since they are not called to the special office, they are not to serve in any capacity reserved for office bearers. Thus, they are prohibited from serving in authoritative teaching, ruling, preaching, administration of the sacraments, and allocation of alms. As long as they are not called to those offices, to serve there without being called is a sin.
God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does. Believers therefore have a very important role in their outreach and good works outside the church. Sadly, it is much easier for believers to look inwards and keep to their church cliches, rather than look outward in outreach. Such an attitude probably promotes a desire to do ministry within the church in forms such as "lay ministry." But being busy in the name of serving God in a church is not necessarily a virtue when one is not called to serve there. More programs do not necessarily translate to anything except lots of activities, which may mask sickness in the church and project an illusion of health. Instead of having lots of activities and service and "ministries," why not look outside and do good works to our neighbors apart from the church, so that God may be glorified and the Gospel we proclaim clothed with the good works of the saints?
The doctrine of vocation is this doctrine that Christians are called to serve God in their work and in the world they are in. Secular work is of this age, but it does not have to be godless. Rather, "whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31), and unbelievers will glorify God because of your good deeds (1 Peter 2:12).