Earlier this year, the world watched as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio—now Francis I—was elected as the leader of his church and its 1.2 billion adherents. Many wondered about the election process, and have asked themselves the question, “How does God show His will about who should lead His people?”
If God has called you to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God and Savior of the world—you no doubt have the same question. How can we identify those whom God has set apart as His servants in His ministry today?
Notice that Jesus Christ appointed the Twelve Apostles (Mark 3:14). In turn, the apostles appointed elders to minister to the brethren (Acts 14:23). Even for specific tasks, appointment rather than election is the biblical pattern; notice that Christ appointed 70 disciples for a special ministerial task (Luke 10:1).
But also notice, sadly, that there are false teachers who misguide their followers to their mutual peril (Acts 20:29; 1 Timothy 1:5–7; 2 Peter 2:1–2)! So we must be careful to follow those whom God has truly appointed, and to follow—imitate—them as they follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Born to Israelite slaves, Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and reared in the Egyptian court. God called Moses at the burning bush, and commissioned him to free Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 2–4). Scripture says there was none more humble than Moses (Numbers 12:3)—so, how did he become Israel’s leader? He did not politick for the job, nor was he balloted into the position. God appointed him in a powerful and unmistakable way.
Young David, who would become King of Israel, was considered so unimportant as the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons that he was not even brought to see Samuel at first. Yet God plainly told Samuel to anoint David to serve as king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:12–13). David was not voted into office, and it is significant that he did not seek to hurry his appointment by attempting to usurp Saul or stage a coup. Instead, he waited until God removed Saul by death in battle.
The example of Jehu, an army officer during the reigns of Ahab and Jeroboam, is equally instructive. Jehu was anointed to become king (1 Kings 19:16–17). Scripture shows that God commissioned Elijah and then Elisha to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king. Was this appointment the result of politicking? Or was it haphazard—something the prophets did not know they were doing? Of course not!
Note also that this anointing was for a specific purpose; it was not, for example, a general anointing for healing (see James 5:13–15) that Jehu chose to construe as a divine appointment to office. Rather, God gave His prophet a clear instruction, which was carried out under authority, and was even confirmed by specific and momentous prophecies intended to validate the anointing—that Ahab’s house would perish and dogs would eat Jezebel on the ground of Jezreel (2 Kings 9:1–10). When God appoints a servant, His decision is clear!
God repeats this pattern throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, we read of Jesus specifically and publicly selecting Peter (just as He did the other apostles). There was no self-willed campaigning for ordination, no rebellion against a previous leader, no balloting and no politicking for the job. His authority flowed from proper ordination to a specific office, not from assuming a coveted title. Similarly, the risen Jesus Christ specifically selected and appointed Saul, whom He struck down while on the road to Damascus, then trained for three years to serve as one of His apostles (Galatians 1:15–18).
Scripture tells us that people can only come to Christ if the Father calls them (John 6:44). Those whom God calls, He requires to spiritually come out of this world, which has been deceived by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). Every Christian is being called to enter a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), to become a literal son of God—a Spirit Being and member of the God Family—at Christ’s return.
Some whom God calls, He also appoints to distinct offices of service—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Interestingly, since the first generation of Christians, God has not called any prophets to serve in any administrative capacity in His Church. Prophets are always found under the direction of some higher human authority even as they deliver God’s message (1 Corinthians 12).
As we have seen, God makes His calling to office clear, both by the process of appointment and by the fruits of that appointment. Those whom God has not appointed but who desire an appointment should keep in mind this warning by the Apostle James: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). How will God’s appointed ministers be judged? By their love for God, their love for His people and their love for His law—their example of teaching the entire way of life that Christ taught (Matthew 28:20).
Those God has appointed speak according to the entire Bible—not according to their opinion or comfortable tradition. The Bible explains that those who do not teach according to all the law and all the testimony—the entire word of God from Genesis to Revelation—do not have the “light” of Christ in them (Isaiah 8:20; John 1:1–8). These false teachers will even be accursed for attempting to add to, or take away from, God’s sacred word (Revelation 22:18–19).
Faithful ministers of God are committed to the “Great Commission”—to proclaim to the world the “good news” of the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:11–14). They strive to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), teaching the way of life that He taught—based on God’s law, founded on love for God and for each other (Matthew 22:36–40).
Has God called you to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and Savior of the world? If so, repent, rejoice and thank God for your calling. And thank God for those whom He has appointed to teach and guide His Church, to bring the spiritual body into the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13).