Monday, 20 December 2010

The Reformed Pastor (Role Model)

In On Being a Pastor Prime and Begg state that ‘God’s people require examples if they are to be effectively shepherded and taught.’ The theme of being a role model is found throughout Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. In the dedication he connects renewal in the pastor’s life with renewal in their congregation’s life asking, ‘how can we more effectively further a reformation, than by endeavouring to reform the leaders of the church?’

Baxter believed the foundation of pastoral ministry begins with the heart of the pastor.  He opens the first chapter with the need for the minister to take heed of themselves.  The starting point for this is to make certain ‘that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls.’ Not only is the pastor to be a recipient of grace they are to ensure that ‘your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise.’ ‘[W]atch therefore over your hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love and zeal: be much at home, and be much with God.’

He believed that the pastor was the recipient of special attention from the devil writing of the need to, ‘Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will ply you with his temptations more than other men.’ In this his attitude is similar to Spurgeon who warned his ministerial students that, ‘Upon the whole, no place is so assailed with temptation as the ministry.’

Again Baxter links the life of the pastor to the health of the congregation. The pastor is to realise the consequences of their actions. For example he warns, ‘One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.’

Whereas the pastor may be the recipient of special attention from the devil they are also under the gaze of a watching world. ‘Take heed of yourselves because there are many eyes upon you, and there will be many to observe your falls.’ As a result, ‘All that a minister doth, is a kind of preaching; and if you live a covetous or careless life, you preach these sins to your people by your practice.’ The minister ‘must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.’ Included in this living well is to ensure that they are not strangers ‘to the poor of your flock’, the importance of practicing self-denial, and the importance of humility—‘Our very business is to teach the great lesson of humility to our people; and how unfit, then, is it that we should be proud ourselves?’  He stresses that the minister is to have extra-ordinary charity and piety and that the ‘whole of our ministry must be carried out in tender love to our people.’ While Baxter saw an added responsibility being placed on the shoulders of the pastor, by virtue of the fact that all observed how they lived, he saw this as having the advantage of giving an extra motivation not to sin.

No assessment of Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor would be complete without a mention on the emphasis he placed on seeking unity amongst those in the church and especially with regards to those of other church backgrounds (althpough his understanding of such unity would be a lot narrower than those of the modern ecumenical movement).. As Packer points out, in the Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, Baxter was later to see himself as ‘a mere Christian, a mere catholic, a mere Nonconformist and a reconciler seeking church peace.’ It is appropriate to include this topic under the pastor as a role-model for, as Michael Quicke points out, seeking unity is very much related to the character of the minister.  The importance of this ministry is noted by William Still, who says ‘Next to the ministry of the Word, the most fruitful pastoral duty is to help all sorts of odd sheep to live together, and show themselves how to live in the world amongst goats without becoming goats.’

Baxter pleaded with ministers to seek unity and concord among the churches. In order to do this we ‘must learn to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, necessaries and unnecessaries, catholic verities and private opinions; and to lay the stress of the Church’s peace upon the former, not upon the later.’ He complained that ‘We are sadly guilty of undervaluing the unity and peace of the whole Church.’ He warned of the consequences of disunity between churches noting that, ‘the common ignorant people take notice of this, and do not only deride us, but are hardened by us against religion.’

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