Pactum Salutis, Historia Salutis, Ordo Salutis and the Ministry

I would like to place the ministry within a theological context. I am convinced that we must view all of life theologically, and must seek to bring all of our thoughts captive to Christ and his word. Our tasks as ministers of the New Covenant are very specific, and come to us in a very important context. We are not clinicians, and our efforts are not attempts to be therapeutic—we are the servants of God. We interpret theological truths for the benefit of people, so that they might understand “how to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

If we are to do this, we must have a correct understanding of the context of pastoral ministry. I openly repudiate any notion that our ministry resembles in any sense that of a social worker. I remember an ordination council that I once sat on. The first question addressed by the candidate was his call to the ministry. As he spoke, it was obvious that he had no idea of what a scriptural call to the ministry included. He said that he wanted to be a pastor because he wanted to help people. I asked him how that differed from the “call” of a social worker. He had no clue how to answer.

We must do far better than this. Without a proper sense of our task—its theological context—we will be no better than clinicians. We are to be the servants of God, and ministers to people, and we must have a self-conscious understanding of our task.

How shall we view the ministry? It seems to me that the whole context of the covenants of the Bible provide for us a wonderful context. If our theology is truly integrative—and it surely must be—then there must be a theological foundation for our task.

A Theological Framework for Viewing the Ministry

One way to consider this is to think of the entire picture in a three-fold schema:

Pactum Salutis
Historia Salutis
Ordo Salutis

These three terms are of immense importance, for they each describe an aspect of Christian theology. They are not the final answer for structuring our theological formulations, but they help us none the less. Consider them individually:

1. Pactum Salutis. Muller defines this as: “covenant of redemption; in Reformed federalism, the pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement of the father and the Son concerning the covenant of grace and its ratification in and through the work of the Son incarnate. The Son covenants with the father, in the unity of the Godhead, to be the temporal sponsor of the father’s testamentum in and through the work of the Mediator. In that work, the Son fulfills his sponsio or fideiussio, i.e., his guarantee of payment of the debt of sin in ratification of the father’s testamentum. The roots of this idea of an eternal intratrinitarian pactum are clearly present in late sixteenth-century Reformed thought, but the concept itself derives from Cocceius’s theology and stands as his single major contribution to reformed system. Although seemingly speculative, the idea of the pactum salutis is to emphasize the eternal, inviolable, and trinitarian foundation of the temporal foedus gratiae, much in the way that the eternal decree underlies and guarantees the ordo salutis.” (Dictionary, 217). The covenant of salvation is an important idea. Robert Reymond has called it a “theological convention” (New ST 337) and to be sure it is, but that does not undermine the truth of the matter taught in the concept. We believe that God is a covenanting God, and even in the relationships of the trinity, the notion of covenant is present. The inter-relationships between the members of the trinity may be explained economically in terms of covenantal relationships. Now the pactum salutis provides us with a solid basis for our theological inquiry. It is the context for all theological study.
2. Historia Salutis The historia salutis refers to the actual events, in space and time, by which God brings salvation to his people. Creation, the fall, the flood, the call of Abraham, the exodus, the captivity, the life and death of Christ, Pentecost, all of these are events of the historia salutis. On the one hand, they are true events of cosmic history. They actually happened in space and time. But in another sense, they bear theological significance, because they come in order to fulfill—accomplish—the eternal decrees of God. We do not simply speak of abstract decrees of God, but of genuine historical events bearing a great theological significance. We believe that the Scriptures record the actual historical events of redemption, occurring over several millennia, from creation to consummation. The events recorded in Scripture, while real events in human history, bring into human history the decrees of God. They give substance and historical reality to these decrees. They provide the basis, in space and time, of our exegetical studies. Since even the most seemingly mundane parts of Scripture-e.g the genealogies or some of the Proverbs come to us through inspired authors writing as representatives of the history of redemption, we give ourselves to exegetical study. But even these events are not the end. The third category concludes the act:
3. Ordo Salutis. The ordo salutis refers to the application of the great acts of God in the life history of the individual believer. Muller again: “a term applied to the temporal order of causes and effects through which the salvation of the sinner is accomplished . . . because of their emphasis upon the eternal decree and its execution in time, the Reformed developed the idea of an ordo salutis in detail in the sixteenth century.” (Dictionary, 215.)

Berkhof points us to the relationship between the pactum salutis and the ordo salutis: “Reformed Soteriology takes its starting point in the union established in the pactum salutis between Christ and those whom the father has given him, in virtue of which there is an eternal imputation of the righteousness of Christ to those who are his.” (ST 418). Now his definition of the pactum does not exactly coincide with above (as he seems to speak of it only in the terms of the covenant of grace), but you see the point. The ordo is rooted in the pactum. But we must also assert that the ordo is rooted in the historia salutis, for it is there that the mighty acts of God are accomplished in space and time. That which is planned in eternity is accomplished in space and time, and applied in the life of each believer. In this way, the counsels of God are brought down to the personal level.

Now what does all of this have to do with the ministry? Just this: the task of the minister is to bring what was planned in eternity and accomplished in history and apply it to the life of the church. He is an important part of the outworking of the whole. Surely, the treasure is placed into earthen vessels so that the glory of God may be manifest—but let us not forget the earthen vessels. They seek to take the truth of Scripture and bring it to bear in the lives of individuals. They take theology and redemptive-history, and apply them to the people of their generation. They interpret events of the past—theological, redemptive-historical events—for the benefit of humans. We do not abstract the ordo from the theological or exegetical, rather we ground it there. For this reason, we must view our ministries in the context of the theological and exegetical, rather than the psychological or clinical. We are the human instruments of bringing the eternal plan of God, accomplished par excellence in Christ, to the men and women around us. It is a glorious task.