“Let this, then, teach us not to have confidence in any outward thing whatsoever without Christ. You are baptized; it is well: so was Simon Magus (Acts 8:13). It is ‘not the putting away of the filth of the body’ that saves the Lord’s Table; it is well, so no doubt, did Judas. He who eats and drinks worthily is made one with Christ, and Christ with him. But ‘he that eats and drinks unworthily, eat and drinks his own damnation’ (1 Cor. 11:29). You are born of holy and godly parents; it is well: so were Ishmael and Esau. ‘They which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed’ (Rom. 9:8). You are of a holy profession; it is well, so was Demas. Holiness of profession does not commend to God, but a heart purified by faith which works through love. You distribute to the poor and do many good things; it is well, so did the Pharisees, and the young man in the Gospel (Mt. 19:20). ‘Though I feed the poor with all my goods, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:3). In a word, there is nothing under heaven without Christ that does profit us, so that we should rejoice or have confidence in it.” —Henry Airay, Lectures on Philippians
In an ideal church, there would be vibrant life and community in the “parish.” By this we mean that fellow church members would see each other during the week as they fulfill their vocations in life. Of course, the extent of this connectedness is somewhat tied to the size of your city, the distance members travel to the church building, and so on. But even in larger cities, strategies can be used to establish true parish life, such as intentional community or “parish” groups, shared Christian education, and so on.
Much of what goes on in the parish is not led or organized by church leadership. The pastor and elders are not to be making business decisions for the mechanic in their church or telling people where to shop. The church does have an indirect influence on parish life though, through Word and sacrament, teaching and discipleship. But parish life itself is an organic outworking of the church community, a community that is indeed tied together by Lord’s Day worship. As Pastor Douglas Wilson has written, “The church is not the parish, and the parish is not the church. At the same time, the church thrives at the center of the parish, informing and discipling those who live their lives in the parish…”
This exhortation was given at King’s Cross Church (Moscow, ID) on June 19, A.D. 2022.
J. I. Packer once wrote that if you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. For Packer, the fatherhood of God and adoption in Christ are the sum of New Testament religion. Christians are people who have God as their Father.
The keys of the kingdom have been entrusted by Christ to the elders of His church (Mt. 16:19). With these keys, the officers of the church have the power to retain or remit sins, to shut out the door to the kingdom or to open it up that any would enter (WCF 30.2). The first way of exercising this responsibility is through the preaching of the Word, which we have already considered. The second way is by practicing church discipline.
In Matthew 18, Christ lays out the ways in which the church should respond to obstinate sinners in its midst. If the man or woman does not respond to private admonition or confrontation with witnesses (18:15–16), then the matter is to be taken to the church (18:17a). And if the person refuses to listen to the church, they are to be treated as Gentiles and tax collectors—excommunicated from God’s people (18:17b). For “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (18:18, see also Jn. 20:21–23). This entire process outlined here would apply to private sins—“if your brother sins against you” (18:15). Regarding public sins, St Paul instructs Timothy to rebuke the person in the presence of all, so that observers would fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
This practice of excommunication is sadly neglected in today’s church. And when spoken of, those unfamiliar with the practice tend to view it as “unloving” or cult-like. Therefore, it would do well to touch on this important role of discipline in pastoral ministry and why it is an important and actually loving practice.
An important aspect of pastoral ministry is the task of catechesis. The English word “catechesis” is derived from the Greek word used in the New Testament for instruction or teaching, katecheo. We see this in Luke 1:4, where St Luke says he is writing to Theophilus so that he “may know the certainty of those things in which [he was] instructed (catechized).” Catechesis can also refer to a specific kind of instruction, which consists of question and answer, which we will discuss below.
Pastoral ministry does not only consist of standing in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. If that is all a pastor did, he would be more akin to a performer on stage who does not know his audience and never really will. But pastors are called to shepherd, and the sheep have needs that cannot simply be met with sermons. As our Lord both preached in front of thousands and conversed privately with individuals concerning the kingdom of God and their souls, so too pastors are called to make themselves available for counsel to their congregation. This practice has often been referred to as the care of souls. Like a physician cares for the physical needs of his patients, a pastor is to care for the spiritual needs of his parishioner. And this cannot be done without knowing and meeting with those under care. In 1 Peter 5, St Peter commands elders to “shepherd the flock“—a command he himself received from Christ (Jn. 21:15–17). Peter specifically says to shepherd the flock “that is among you,” meaning that it is a flock that the shepherd knows, it is an identifiable flock with ’sheep’ that have names.
When a man or woman comes to Christ, they find their sins forgiven and they receive eternal life. But they are not transported to heaven to live out their days in bliss. They continue their lives in this broken world, falling into new sins that need to be repented of, experiencing loss and grief, and various trials. And the role of a shepherd is to care for the sheep, whether they need nourishment, direction, or to be pulled out of a ditch. St Peter tells suffering Christians to“entrust their souls” to God, and in turn, God ordains His ministers to be a means by which these souls are kept safe unto eternal life (Heb. 13:17). And in every situation, the need is to be pointed and brought to Christ, the true Shepherd of our souls, again and again (1 Pet. 2:25).
While on his third missionary journey, St Paul found himself “constrained by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem, despite knowing that “imprisonments and afflictions” awaited him there (Acts 20:22–23). However, before reaching Jerusalem he desired to meet with the elders of the church in Ephesus one final time. These elders were not strangers to Paul, who had spent three years with them and their church, never ceasing day or night “to admonish everyone with tears” (20:31). Understanding this context, we can assume that Paul communicated that which he thought most important for the Ephesian elders, knowing that this was his final chance to exhort them in the work of the ministry. Therefore, when considering pastoral care and the duties of elders, it behooves us to give attention to Paul’s words here.
This communion meditation was given at King’s Cross Church (Moscow, ID) on March 13 A.D. 2022.
When Christ established this meal with His disciples, He also did something else that evening in the Upper Room.
He rose from the table, laid aside his outer clothing, and tied a towel around His waist. He then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet, wiping them dry with the towel wrapped around him.