Founders Journal · Winter 2000 · pp. 10-16
The Reformed Pastor
It is easy to be misunderstood when writing about “the reformed pastor.” Some are immediately turned off by the term, “reformed,” identifying it with certain denominations. Others might think of it psychologically–as a “reformed alcoholic” is a former drunkard who no longer imbibes, so a “reformed pastor” must refer to a former preacher who has gotten over it.
But, in following good historical precedent, I am using the word “reformed” to mean biblical. Obviously, I believe that historical reformed theology is the purest form of biblical theology. This is not a claim for perfection in either thought or practice. Rather, it is a clear admission of theological conviction. No theological expression, and certainly no pastor, can claim to be beyond improvement.
Paul himself was aware of his own inadequacies. When considering the weight of preaching as a savor of life unto life for some, and death unto death for others, he cried out, “Who is sufficient, adequate, for these things?” Then he answered himself, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate as servants of the new covenant . But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be from God; and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 2:15; 3:5; 4:7). The hope of the reformed pastor is that he, with his inadequacies, is living proof that salvation is all of God, not man; a great comfort to honest men who know their own hearts and weaknesses.
The concept of the reformed pastor may be well explored in wonderful books such as The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, the exceedingly great biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Shepherding God’s Flock edited by Roger Beardsmore, and Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Such books should not merely be read, but mastered in detail in the study and prayed through on the knees. In this article I hope to summarize some of the insights from these materials.
As suggested above, the very idea of the reformed pastor is odious to some. Historical revisionism among Baptists is at an all time high, denying that we have a reformed theological heritage. However, despite clear differences with reformed paedobaptists, it is a historical fact that both General and Particular Baptists have considered the reformation theology of Luther, Calvin and Westminster to be their basic biblical theology as well. One only has to examine the confessions and writings of early Baptists (including Philadelphia, Charleston, Sandy Creek, Separate and Regular Baptists, all of which helped shape Southern Baptists) to make this conclusion.
Baptists have never followed the reformers blindly. We clearly disagree with our Presbyterian and Reformed brothers on baptism and other ecclesiological issues. But until the twentieth century, Baptists generally embraced the heart of reformed theology, represented in the consensus of the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions, as their own biblical and historical heritage. Thus, Baptists have believed in “the reformed pastor.”
Today, pastors have a harder row to hoe, in some ways, than did our forefathers. We have distractions and hindrances that were unknown to previous generations. Of course, our forefathers did have a few small things to concern them, such as the threat of life and imprisonment! But the modern era does present many outside hindrances which make pastoral work challenging.
Today, our people are exposed to subtle forms of liberal theology and humanism in education, the errors of the charismatic movement in books and on TV, the infiltration of the higher life movement in this century with its false perfectionism and hyper-mystical expectations, the introduction of drama, dance, puppets, clowns and the pop-culture entertainment model into supposedly biblically regulated worship. Twentieth-century America witnessed the wide-scale abandonment of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day. Furthermore, the pastoral office has been debased and the local church is rarely regarded anymore as Christ’s only authorized organism to extend His kingdom on earth
Among the younger generation of professing Christians (who were once untaught latchkey kids,) there is the increased dependence upon the pastor as surrogate parent for quick answers via the telephone, fax machine or email. Besides all this, those who preach simple expository messages instead of exciting meet-your-needs messages are often considered boring or negative. Even our most faithful members are unknowingly affected by these influences which hinder, undermine, and distract the reformed pastor’s work.
How can a pastor who wants to be biblical in his life and ministry pursue such a calling in the third millennium?
He Must Hold to Reformed Theology for Himself.
Paul told Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching (doctrine), persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
This means that the reformed pastor must believe the doctrines of grace for himself. A pastor must remember he was by nature totally depraved and without God in the world, condemned for his sins and rebellion against a good and holy God. He once deserved God’s unrestrained wrath eternally. But God in mercy unconditionally elected him before the foundation of the world to be His child, and sent His own dear Son to be the particular redemption for his sins with a bloody death, bearing the guilt of and punishment due to his sins. When Christ was preached to him, the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit into his heart and caused him to be born again, granting him repentance from sin and faith alone in Christ alone for his salvation. Further, the only reason he has persevered in the Christian faith to this day is because God brought him to Himself and has kept him from falling away, preserving his faith daily in Christ, and truly causing all things to work together for his good.
This daily remembrance of God’s sovereign grace alone given in Christ alone and received by faith alone gives the pastor comfort, hope, and strength to live a holy life. It enables him to love Christ and keep His commandments, and to persevere in ministering the Word of God to poor sinners and imperfect saints like himself. This sovereign grace in his life gives him hope that any other heart can be conquered in evangelism, that any other struggling saint can overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, by the power of the Word of God as applied by the Spirit of God. This alone keeps his life and ministry centered on living and preaching Christ and Him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again. This alone keeps him praying to his risen Lord for the conversion of lost souls and the building of Christ’s church, and for true revival. 2 Corinthians 4:1 reminds the pastor that “having received mercy, we faint not.” This alone keeps a servant’s spirit in the reformed pastor’s heart.
This daily remembrance of God’s sovereign grace to the reformed pastor keeps him from becoming an elitist intellectual, puffed up with knowledge. It keeps him from cultivating a haughty spirit and critical attitude toward officers, members, and other pastors who do not believe as he does with regard to the grace of God in the gospel. It keeps him from taking rejection personally, or becoming enraged with sinful anger, and makes him willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake as His Lord was for him. After all, it is Christ’s church, not his. Remembering God’s grace keeps his ministry centered on the gospel and the most important things, instead of emphasizing secondary, unclear, and disputed matters, and every new thing that comes along. It causes him to give thanks for any work of God’s Spirit in the human heart and to have patience and kindness toward that which is deficient and lacking, waiting upon God. It enables him to deal with temptations to sin in the ministry and with an angry spirit toward those who oppose him. As Paul said to Timothy:
Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:22-26).
The first thing the reformed pastor must do is to believe reformed theology for himself, that he might insure his own salvation and the salvation of those who hear him. As Paul said, “having received mercy, we do not lose heart.”
He must Form his Life and Ministry According to Reformed Theology
In the Reformation, the question of what constitutes a true church came to the forefront. In reaction to the medieval confusion spawned by Roman Catholicism’s view of Scripture plus tradition as God’s Word, sacramentalism, sacerdotalism and absence of true discipline in the church, the reformers called for a reassessment of biblical ecclesiology. They taught that the true church is known by (1) the proclamation of God’s entire Word, (2) the right administration of the two sacraments, and (3) properly practiced church discipline. These three marks of a true church will shape the ministry of the reformed pastor as he leads a congregation to be always reforming according to the Word of God.
The formal principal of the Reformation is sola Scriptura–by Scripture alone. The reformers appealed to the exclusive authority of Scripture over all human opinion and church tradition. The rediscovery of and recommitment to the Scripture led to everything else. The costly work of Wycliffe, Luther, and others, brought the Scripture out of the dark prison of the Roman church and gave the light of God’s Word to the common man in his own language. The restoration of the Scripture to the church forms the life and work of the reformed pastor.
As the Apostles did, the reformed pastor gives himself to the Word of God and prayer. He studies that Word to be a workman not ashamed, handling accurately the Word of truth. He remembers what Jesus said: “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. And if any one hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the Word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:46-48). Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth” (17:17). And Paul said: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, THOSE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4).
The reformed pastor sees himself as a herald of the King’s words to men, as a steward of the King’s message. He really believes that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. He believes that every day of the week (including Mondays and Saturdays). He is a man on a mission. God has spoken, and he must tell others what He has said.
He not only has an unchangeable message of revelation but an unchangeable method of proclamation. He really believes Paul is right about the cross-cultural method of bringing God’s Words to men:
For since in the wisdom of God the world [every culture included] through its wisdom did not come to know God; God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we PREACH Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks [cross-cultural], Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [Why do it this way, Paul?] Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).
Do you know of a better way for God to glorify His almighty power to reverse sinful human nature than to commission an earthen vessel to proclaim God’s Words to dead men who cannot see, hear, or understand? To commission us to a hopeless task, humanly speaking, so that He may receive all the glory in the salvation of every human soul? To force us to our knees as men of prayer because we have tried everything we know to do?
Then why do some want to alter the message or the method? Why do some argue that drama, movies, puppets and music are the same as preaching Christ and Him crucified? Committed to sola Scriptura, we study God’s Word more than we study the reformers’ words. That’s the way they would want it. However, we master sound literature in general in order that we may be instructed by those whom the Lord has given to the church to be teachers. We study God’s Word for ourselves first before we apply it to other men. We become obsessed with it. We believe sola gratia insures the effectual application of God’s Word to every heart God chooses to bless. And we believe that the Word of God is the divine seed which springs up into sola fide in the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not fill our proclamations with manipulative, tear-jerking stories, or become pulpit comedians in order to keep attention. No, we are reformed pastors who obey Paul: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:13-16).
The reformed pastor forms his life’s work and ministry on the study and proclamation of God’s Words to men, both the unconverted and the converted. He really believes that the message and method is of God. He studies church history and theology to avoid the mistakes of the past. And he teaches and preaches “the whole counsel of God” in biblical exposition.
Another element of the reformed pastor’s work is the right administration of the ordinances, or sacraments. The reduction of Rome’s seven sacraments to two by Luther and Calvin was a great service to the future generations of evangelicals, especially to Baptists. The issue of the sacraments brought to the forefront the question of what is proper worship.
The Lutherans followed the normative principle that whatever God commanded for Christian worship was to be done and whatever was not prohibited was permitted. This is why Lutheran worship continued to permit the accoutrements of the Roman liturgy. Calvinists followed the regulative principle of worship, that only that which God has commanded should be an element of worship. Thus preaching, reading, congregational singing, prayers, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, thanksgivings. and vows, these things alone, were permitted to be elements of Christian worship.
Commitment to biblically-regulated worship will lead the reformed pastor to order corporate worship by what the Word prescribes. Practices involving clowns, puppets, drama, dance, weightlifting displays, musical pop-culture bashes, high-wire acts, mud wrestling (all of which have done during “worship” services) or any other such thing will not be allowed. Nor will he substitute a twenty-minute inspirational talk for the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The reformed pastor will try to lead God’s people into the glorious experience of simple worship, which must be performed by faith in the unseen risen Christ to be edifying. He will eschew vicarious performances by professional worshippers who keep things interesting and moving for the spiritually-bored.
Baptists believe that the true reformed pastor will apply the regulative principle not only to determine the number and meaning of the ordinances, but also to conclude that the only subjects of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are “disciples.” This fits the 1689 Second London Confession’s statement that,
the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (chapter 22, paragraph 1. See also the Westminster Confession’s nearly identical statement in chapter 21, section 1. But notice how section 5 specifically includes “the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ” as part of “the ordinary religious worship of God.”)
The third work of the reformed pastor is biblical church discipline. This includes more than dealing with major upheavals and sins in the church (corrective discipline). It also includes formative discipline which results from the pastor’s public and private ministry. The public ministry of the Word forms the minds and thinking of the whole people of God together, but the private ministry of the reformed pastor forms his bond and ministry to individual saints. Paul taught from house to house (Acts 20:20). Philip Doddridge said:
I have many cares and troubles: may God forgive me, that I am so apt to forget those of the Pastoral office! I now resolve, 1. To take a more particular account of the souls committed to my care. 2. To visit, as soon as possible, the whole congregation, to learn more particularly the circumstances of them, their children, and servants. 3. Will make as exact a list as I can of those that I have reason to believe are unconverted, awakened, converted, fit for communion, or already in it. 4. When I hear any thing particular, relating to the religious state of my people, I will visit them, and talk with them. 5. I will especially be careful to visit the sick. I will begin immediately with inspection over those under my own roof, that I may with greater freedom urge other families to the like care. O my soul! Thy account is great: it is high time that it be got into better order. Lord, I hope thou knowest, I am desirous of approving myself a faithful servant of Thee and of souls. O watch over me, that I may watch over them; and then all will be well (Bridges, The Christian Ministry, p. 349).
But the work of the pastor does include corrective discipline as well. As our Lord commanded: “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private. If he repents, you have won your brother. If he does not repent, go to him with one or two others that every fact may be confirmed by two or more witnesses. If he does not repent, bring it to the church. If he does not listen to the church, let him become to you as a Gentile and a taxgatherer” (Matthew 18:15-17). The pastor must lead the way. He must first disciple his officers, teaching them the doctrine of the church, calling them to holiness in life, and then teaching them church discipline. He must be patient and do what he can while he waits upon God to move in the church so that he can do what he should. He must not take things into his own hands or rush the work of the Holy Spirit, yet he must deal with gross sin in a loving and determined way.
No wonder Paul said “who is sufficient for these things?” No one is sufficient, yet God has chosen earthen vessels and made them sufficient to proclaim and to apply God’s Word to His church. The cost will be great and require great patience and wisdom (see Reforming a Local Church by Ernest Reisinger). But it is worth it when we remember that we are serving our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His church, not ours.
Paul gave the model for the reformed pastor in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 which must ever stand before us as we seek to restore Christ’s church to its biblical model:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.