Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Biblical Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry (Soteriology)

Pastoral ministry is a serious and sobering undertaking or at least it should be. Over and over pastoral ministry is reproduced for either the better or the worse. Many go into pastoral ministry having had good models for biblical pastoral ministry from their mentors. Many others go into pastoral ministry having had poor models of unbiblical pastoral ministry. For most, what has been modeled is what they imitate. Since discipleship is reproduction and the law that governs reproduction is “each reproduces after its kind,” then most pastors become very much like those who modeled pastoral ministry to them. So the nature of what has been modeled, either good or bad pastoral ministry practice, plays a significant part in the development of future pastors.

May God bless and increase the tribe of those men that are modeling biblical pastoral ministry. But what about those men who are in or going into pastoral ministry that did not receive a good model but yet desire to be good biblical pastors? How can these either go into pastoral ministry understanding their proper tasks or make a midstream corrective in their ministries? Logic dictates that all pastors or soon to be pastors, especially the improperly trained, should devise a biblical component model for pastoral ministry.

Since the goal is to devise a biblical component model for pastoral ministry then the components should be based upon biblical theology. Specifically, a component model for pastoral ministry should include three main theological categories that will provide guiding principles to the pastor. First, the theological category of soteriology should be foundational to the pastor’s component model. Second, the theological category of ecclesiology should be structural to the pastor’s component model. Third, the theological category of eschatology should be apical to the pastor’s component model.

These three theological categories will prove invaluable in constructing a biblical component model of pastoral ministry. They will provide biblical principles that will both guide and guard the pastoral ministry. The purpose is to illustrate how a component model for pastoral ministry based on the three theological categories of soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology provides biblical principles that will guide and guard the pastoral ministry. Each category will be posted separately forming a three-part series.

Soteriology, since it is the study of salvation, is foundational to proper pastoral ministry because ecclesiology, the study of the church, reveals that the church is the gathering of those who have been “called out” by the Gospel for salvation. Primarily then, the church is to be constituted by a regenerate membership. A regenerate church membership cannot be attained through any means that God has not ordained for the salvation of sinners. One’s view of the means by which salvation is obtained depends to a considerable extent on one’s understanding of the nature of salvation.

For example, if one understands salvation as the result of a man’s decision for Christ apart from the enabling unadulterated Word of God, then he will use unbiblical pragmatic means in his evangelistic and missionary efforts.[1] The power for salvation is not in the Gospel but in methodological ingenuity. This understanding describes those with either Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian tendencies. Pelagianism denies original sin and therefore the total depravity of humanity along with it.[2] Pelagianism views total depravity that resulted with Adam’s original sin as “unduly negative of human nature” and as “having an unfortunate effect upon human behavior.”[3] This view is captured in the teachings of Robert Schuller. Schuller said:
The core of original sin, then is LOT—Lack of Trust. Or it could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a “negative self-image,” but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness. If this were so, then truly, the human being is totally depraved. But positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability.[4]
Pelagianism attempts to remove the negative teachings about the nature of humanity by emphasizing the idea of free will. By free will, Pelagius meant that “humans are free of any determining influence of the fall.[5] Therefore there is no need for a special working of God’s grace within the heart of each individual. Instead, men by their free will can respond, “by their own efforts,” unaided, to the commands of God.[6]

Such an understanding of salvation (soteriology) leads inevitably to man-centered, pragmatic means in evangelism and missions. This is why Schuller advocated a man-centered approach in his ecclesiology. Schuller taught that the church, instead of being an equipping place for the saints, should be an evangelizing place for sinners. He maintained that a church is interested in theology while a mission is interested in human needs. The preferred methodology for structuring the church then is the utilization of means that attracts unbelievers in a palatable positive manner. The result is an upside down ecclesiology in violation of the Word of God. Schuller said:
For the church to address the unchurched with a theocentric attitude is to invite failure in mission . . . . It was appropriate for Calvin and Luther to think theocentrically. After all, “Everyone was in the church” and the issues were theological, not philosophical. For them, the central issue was, “What is the truth in theology?” The reformers didn’t have to impress the unchurched so there was no need for them to take the “human needs” approach. They were a church after all, not a mission . . . . Time and history have changed all that. Today the sincere Christian believer is a minority. So the church must be willing to die as a church and be born again as a mission. We cannot speak out with a “Thus saith the Lord” strategy when we are talking to people who couldn’t care less about the Lord! We cannot start with “What does the text say?” if we’re talking to persons who aren’t about to affirm respect for our unquestioning obeisance to “the text.”[7]
In contrast to both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, the evangelical understanding of the nature of salvation views the Word of God as an indispensable means to salvation.[8] Evangelical soteriology maintains that the Spirit of God must take the Word of God spoken by the witness about Christ and apply it to the hearer for his or her spiritual transformation.[9] The depraved nature of humanity calls for special grace by means of the unadulterated Word of God to enable a person’s salvation. This has several implications for pastoral ministry. 

First, since the Gospel of Jesus Christ applied by the Holy Spirit is the only means by which salvation is obtained by depraved humanity, neither unbiblical pragmatic means nor watered down inoffensive messages will be effectual in regeneration. The Gospel is the only means through which sinners can obtain salvation. Therefore, pastors should not include any means in their pastoral ministry that will in any form water down, pervert, or replace the Gospel.

Second, since the Gospel is the only means that sinners can obtain salvation implies that pastors are to have complete confidence in its power to bring salvation. Confidence in the Gospel will both guard and guide the pastor. Confidence in the Gospel will guard the pastor from incorporating pragmatic, man-centered means as a component of his pastoral ministry. Confidence in the Gospel will guide the pastor in incorporating methods in his ministry that compliment rather than compete with or compromise the Gospel.

Any means other than the Gospel will fail to produce genuine converts. A gathering of unregenerate people, no matter how large, will never constitute a church since a church is primarily constituted by a regenerate membership. Therefore, sound soteriology is essential as the foundation for a component model for pastoral ministry. The theological category of soteriology should be foundational to the pastor’s component model for his ministry.

[1] Romans 10:17; 2 Corinthians 2:17.
[2] Total depravity does not mean that a person is as bad as he or she can be but rather that the heart, mind, soul, and will of man has been affected by and enslaved by sin.
[3] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983), 649.
[4] Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982), 67.
[5] Erickson, Theology, 649.
[6] Erickson, Theology, 649-50.
[7] Schuller, Self-Esteem, 12-13, quotation marks in the original.
[8] Erickson, Theology, 1021.
[9] Erickson, Theology, 1022.

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