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.
‘My mother went to church twice a day; she went in the morning and evening without ever allowing anything to keep her away, and she went not to hear idle tales and the gossip of old women, but that she might hear Thee, O Lord, in Thy sermons, and that Thou might hear her in her prayers.’ Augustine: Confessions