Pastoral Care: The Art of Arts

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

It is hard to shepherd souls, to combat intricate moral evil, to help people walk through pain and anguish. Gregory the Great called it the “art of arts” in his great treatise on pastoral care. He thought the task of guiding souls far more difficult than the tasks performed by a mere medical doctor. Think about that. The body is relatively accessible. It is often explicable by cause-and-effect reasoning, and treatable by medication or surgery. But the “more delicate art deals with what is unseen,” the irrational madness in our hearts (Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9). When you consider the challenge, how is it that most churchly counseling seems slapdash, pat answer, and quick fix? A good medical doctor spends a lifetime in acquiring case-wise acumen. A mature psychotherapist pursues continuing education. Can a pastor be content with one-size-fits-all boilerplate? Kyrie eleison. People are not served when the Christian life is portrayed as if some easy answer will do—a pet doctrine, religious strategy, involvement in a program, spiritual experience—and presto!—case solved. Again, hear Gregory’s words:

One and the same exhortation is not suited to all, because they are not compassed by the same quality of character… In exhorting individuals great exertion is required to be of service to each individual’s particular needs.

A pastor’s work is the art of arts.

Worship in Calvin’s Geneva

This paper was written during Westminster Term A.D. 2019 for the graduate Reformed Systematics course at New St Andrews College.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to explore Reformed liturgy by way of the work of John Calvin and the practices of the Protestant church in Geneva during his tenure. Topics considered will include the role and significance of liturgy, the Sabbath, the regulative principle of worship, and Calvin’s Order of Service found in The Form of Church Prayers and Hymns with the Manner of Administering the Sacraments and Consecrating Marriages According to the Custom of the Ancient Church.

Continue reading

Child Communion

Much more controversial than the doctrine of paedobaptism today is the doctrine of paedocommunion, or child communion. While welcoming children to partake of the Lord’s Supper is a practice found in the ancient Church, today very few Presbyterian or Reformed churches allow it. However, there are good biblical reasons for allowing covenant children to join the rest of God’s people at His table. But because this practice was not re-established by the Reformers, is rejected in many Reformed denominations today, and would be out of line for someone who subscribes without exception to the Westminster Standards; we ought to be humble in our support of this practice and not schismatic. We must recognize that advocation for paedocommunion would be part of a commitment to semper reformanda, always reforming our life and doctrine. As Reformed Christians we do indeed believe that the work of the Reformation and the subsequent confessional doctrines are part of God’s work in maturing and refining His church. However, we do not believe that the Reformers had the opportunities or the need to address every doctrinal issue, nor were they infallible. Scripture alone must be our highest authority. So now let’s turn to four arguments for welcoming covenant children to partake of the Lord’s Supper.[1]

Continue reading

Learn Love

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

What true pastor believes that the love of Christ and the will of God are value free? You will never say to anyone (except ironically), “You are free to discover your own values, whatever works for you, whatever way of living with yourself and others brings you a sense of persona satisfaction.” God has chosen to impose his values on the entire universe. First Timothy 1:5 bluntly asserts nonnegotiable goals: “love… from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” God insists on the supreme worth and glory of who he is and what he has done. God insists that self-centered people learn love—not coping skills, not self-actualization, not meeting felt needs, not techniques of managing emotions or thought life, not fulfilling personal goals. God’s morally charged categories heighten human responsibility. His willing mercy and sheer grace give the only real basis for true compassion and patience. He insists that we learn love by being loved, by learning Jesus: “In this is love… that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). On the last day, every knee bows to God’s “values.”

Exhort One Another Daily

This exhortation was given at Christ Church Downtown on July 4, 2020.

Every Lord’s Day at this point in our worship service an exhortation is given. In these exhortations, you are reminded of God’s commands and are both admonished and encouraged to obey these commands. Naturally, this comes before our time of confession, because we are all reminded of the many ways in which we fall short of God’s standard and have sinned.

What I want to point out to you this morning is that what I am doing right now is really nothing more than what Scripture says you ought to be doing every day for one another.

Continue reading

Lord’s Supper

Having considered the sacrament of baptism, now let’s turn to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we have already noted, there are two parts of a sacrament: the outward and visible sign, and the inward and spiritual grace thereby signified (WLC 163). In the Lord’s Supper, the outward visible signs are bread and wine—consecrated, broken, poured, distributed, and received.[1] The inward spiritual grace signified is Christ crucified for us and all of His benefits for us—including union with Him, the indwelling of the Spirit, adoption by the Father, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and future glorification.[2]

Continue reading

A Good Counselor

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

If you are a good counselor, then you’re learning how to sustain with a word the one who is weary (Isa. 50:4). This is wonderful, nothing less than your Redeemer’s skillful love expressed in and through you. You’ve learned to speak truth in love, conversing in honest, nutritious, constructive, timely, grace-giving ways (Eph. 4:15, 25, 29). You deal gently with the ignorant and wayward because you know you are more like them than different (Heb. 5:2–3). You don’t only do what comes naturally but have gained the flexibility to be patient with all, to help the weak, to comfort the fainthearted, to admonish the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14). You bring back those who wander (James 5:19–20), just as God brings you back time and again. You’re engaged in meeting the most fundamental human need, both giving and receiving encouragement every day (Heb. 3:13). In becoming a better counselor, you are growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Baptism

Introduction

The first sacrament to consider is baptism, for through baptism men, women, and children enter into the church. Baptism is not only what admits an individual into the church, but is also “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life” (WCF 28.1). In baptism, individuals are washed with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as was commanded and instituted by Christ in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19).

Continue reading

Pastor, You Are a Counselor

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

“Pastor you are a counselor.

Perhaps you don’t think of yourself that way. Perhaps you don’t want to be a counselor. But you are one.

Perhaps preaching, leadership, and administration keep you preoccupied, an you do not do much hands-on pastoral work. You don’t take time for serious talking with people. In effect, you are counseling your people to think that most of us don’t need the give-and-take of candid, constructive conversation. Apparently, the care and cure of wayward, distractible, battered, immature souls—people like us—can be handle by public ministry and private devotion. The explicit wisdom of both Scripture and church history argues to the contrary.

Continue reading