Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors

Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors
Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors

ABSTRACT: This study examined Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors.  The biblical pattern for pastoral ministry derives from both testaments of the Bible. Deviations from that pattern crept into the church during the second century A.D., and continued, becoming increasingly severe into the medieval period of the church. Nevertheless, isolated groups continued their efforts to follow the biblical pattern. These included Chrysostom and Augustine in the early church and the Paulicans, Cathari, Albigenses, and Waldenses during the medieval period. The Reformation period witnessed a broader return to the biblical pattern through the magisterial reformation of Luther, Calvin, and others and through the Anabaptist reformation. During the Modern period, Puritan leaders such as Baxter, Perkins, and Edwards have led a return to biblical principles in pastoral ministry.

Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors

Bridges, Morgan, and Allen were nineteenth century examples of biblical ministers. The late twentieth century has produced others, including Lloyd-Jones, Adams, and MacArthur. The study concluded that pastoral ministry in the early church laid the foundation for the modern pastors in the discharge of their duties as missionaries.



1.1       Background of the Study

In God’s gracious sovereignty, He chose to reconcile believers to Himself through Christ. In His marvelous plan He has committed to them the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), based upon His Word of reconciliation (5:19). The office and function of the pastor has a key role in this ministry as he proclaims the mystery of godliness. His functions have a close association with the church, the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15-16).

The duty and privilege of pastoral ministry has resulted in the development of the discipline of Pastoral Theology within the broader framework of Practical Theology. It has also produced a long procession of individuals who have filled the pages of church history in responding to God’s call to be faithful pastors and ministers of the truth. Sadly, traditions not measuring up to the standards of biblical scrutiny have skewed and embellished much of what has been called ministry. Thomas C. Oden notes, “Pastoral theology is a special form of practical theology because it focuses on the practice of ministry, with particular attention to the systematic definition of the pastoral office and its function” In early church history Christians understood “tradition” as “revelation made by God and delivered by Him to His faithful people through the mouth of His prophets and apostles.”

It was something handed over, not something handed down, and was thus in accord with divine revelation. In the period since the early church, “tradition means the continuous stream of explanation and elucidation of the primitive faith, illustrating the way in which Christianity has been presented and understood in past ages. It is, that is, the accumulated wisdom of the past”. The latter approach to tradition has allowed much deflection from simple, primitive, biblical ministry.

The author delineates at least six basic principles or marks of the “Believer’s Church” which represent common themes in various churches. They include (1) the Believers’ Church, although outwardly constituted by volunteers, is Christ’s church and not theirs; (2) membership in the Believers’ Church is voluntary and witting (done deliberately); (3) the principle of separation from “the world” is basic, although it has often been misinterpreted; (4) mission and witness are key concepts for the Believer’s Church, and all members are involved; (5) internal integrity and church discipline are stressed; and (6) the proper concept of the secular in relationship to the sacred.

The primary example of an application of this last theme is to a state church in which a plethora of mind-sets and often conflicting traditions emerge in a study of pastoral ministry in history, though all traditions claim a lineage going back to the apostolic age. In every generation some have sought to return to the basic fundamentals of primitive biblical ministry. This pursuit of the “true church” or primitivism has led Littell and others to speak of the concept of the “Believers’ Church.


1.2       Statement of the Problem

Church included people of various ages and regions who followed the same principles of commitment to apostolic truth. These are believers who “gathered and disciplined a true church’ upon the apostolic pattern as they understood it.” The truth for these people was an ongoing pursuit, not a closed book in a “sectarian” sense. It was one, which “wanted fellowship with all who bore the Name and lived the covenant of a good conscience with God.”

Other committed believers like these within the wider framework of church history have sought above all else the true, pure, primitive church. They have sought a church and a ministry patterned after the theology and practice of the book of Acts and the NT Epistles. Such individuals and churches have appeared in various forms and have come from various settings, but all display a desire to return to a vibrant, biblical church and ministry. Some have journeyed further in their plans than in their practice. Some have advanced further than others in their quest for biblical ministry.

Pastoral Ministry in the Early Church Legacy for the Modern Pastors

This work focuses upon a history of those who have sought to teach and practice biblical pastoral ministry. Examinations of efforts to follow biblical ministry patterns rather than accepted tradition and recurring ministry practices can serve as a helpful guide to a future generation with the same goals. Such historical study provides valuable insights through enabling Christians and churches to learn from the past. Though history is not the unfolding of an unalterable tradition or a hermeneutical principle for interpreting ministry, “the flow of time bears divine sovereignty and providence on its wings and constitutes a general, not special, revelation of God himself.” Only the Bible can teach the true theology of pastoral ministry, but the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of church leaders through the centuries.

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