For Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness

June 13, 2019 by Joe Small

A generation ago, books such as The Wounded Healer and As One without Authority encouraged the view that pastors should not pretend to be exemplary Christians. Rather, they should present themselves as fellow pilgrims, joined with others on a journey toward faith and faithfulness. Pastors were encouraged to be partners, not authorities; vulnerable, not superhuman; questioners, not know-it-alls.

Early church clergy would see contemporary pastoral flights from pastoral authority as flights from pastoral responsibility. Gregory Nazianzan, fourth century bishop and theologian, has some interesting views on “the priestly office.” A few brief excerpts may provide today’s pastors with useful challenges to current patterns of pastoral vocation.

  • This, then, is the first point, which it is right for us to guard against, viz.: being found to be bad painters of the charms of virtue, and still more models for poor painters, poor models for the people (or barely escaping the proverb, that we undertake to heal others while we ourselves are full of sores).
  • In the second place, although a priest has kept himself pure from sin, even in a high degree, I do not believe this is sufficient for one who is to instruct others in virtue. For whoever has received this charge not only needs to be free from evil, but also to be eminent in good.
  • It is a fault not to attain to the highest possible excellence, and always making progress in goodness, if he is to draw his people to an ordinary degree, not by the force of authority, but by the influence of persuasion.
  • For the guidance of people seems to me to be the art of arts. The scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in the image of God: to take it by the hand if it is in danger; to restore it if ruined; to make Christ dwell in the heart by the Spirit; in short, to bestow heavenly bliss upon one who belongs to the heavenly host.
  • But we, upon whose efforts are staked the salvation of a soul, a being blessed and immortal—what a struggle ought ours to be  and what great skill do we require to treat, or get people treated properly, and to change their life, and give up the clay to the spirit.
  • In regard to the distribution of the word, to mention last the first of our duties, of that divine and exalted word, which everyone now is ready to discourse upon: To me indeed it seems no slight task, and one requiring no little spiritual power, to give in due season to each his portion of the word, and to regulate with judgment our personal opinions.
  • The word is concerned with our original constitution and final restoration, the types of the truth, the covenants, the first and second coming of Christ, His incarnation sufferings and death, with the resurrection, the last day, the judgment and recompense, and to crown all, of what we are to think of the original and blessed Trinity.

Gregory’s understanding of pastoral duties is in marked contrast to the contemporary expectations of both pastors and congregations. The difference is worth pondering.

Ezekiel was surrounded by the ‘likeness’ of the glory of the LORD, and he heard ‘someone’ speaking: “eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:1). Each week, pastors continue to eat what is offered to them, and continue to speak to the community of faith. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation will offer brief studies of Scripture that may be useful to pastors in teaching and preaching God’s word.

Featured Event – Big Tent

Big Tent serves as a “Big Presbyterian family reunion.” This year it will be hosted in Baltimore, Maryland on August 1-3. The theme, Called to a Movement Beyond Institution, will emphasize our hope of the Gospel and its power to challenge institutional conventions.

We will be hosting a breakfast at Big Tent on Friday, August 2 at 7:00 a.m. with speaker Robert P. Jones, author of “The End of White Christian America,” his groundbreaking book that delves into the shift in culture in America.

Featured Resources

Applications are being accepted until June 17, 2019 for Church Financial Leadership Grants. Applicants need to either be a pastor, commissioned ruling elder (CRE), or leader of a 1001 New Worshiping Community within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or a member of a stewardship team attending the conference with their pastor. The grant covers half of the cost of attending conferences or courses relating to stewardship, including Stewardship Kaleidoscope.