• What difference did the Reformation make in how God's people are shepherded by ministers and elders?

    And what lessons does the Reformation continue to hold forth for us today?

    - - -

    Rev. Samuel Perez

    may 16, 2023

    Originally written For reformation day 2022

    Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. [...] Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
    -Hebrews 17:7, 17

    The Protestant Reformation was a return to the apostolic pattern of pastoral care: shepherds giving pastoral attention to God’s people and God’s people submitting to their leaders. Both aspects are crucial in order for pastoral care to have its intended, Biblical effect of maturing God’s people in Christ. Paul’s command in Philippians 3:17 is not uncommon in the New Testament: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul later repeats himself: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Phil 4:9a).  Unlike in the Roman Catholic Church or many evangelical churches, Reformed pastors are not removed and aloof from the congregations they serve. They are close by, living with their congregants in the trenches of their lives. The Registers of the Consistory of Geneva at the Time of Calvin gives colorful testimony to the variety of pastoral issues dealt with in Geneva, and how John Calvin and his company of pastors sought to bring God’s Word to bear upon the lives of God’s people. 

    Biblical pastoral care places an onus on pastors and elders, whose faith in Christ and conduct before others are to be observed and emulated by the congregation (Heb 13:7; 1 Cor 11:1). Congregants are to imitate their church leaders’ devotion to God’s Word, fight against sin, self-control and fruit of the Spirit, marriage and household, conduct during suffering, and self-sacrificial love for the local church and outsiders. Church members get to submit to their leaders’ shepherding of the stubborn, the proud, the doubtful, as they admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and warn the divisive (2 Thes 5:14; Titus 3:10). 


    Reformed pastoral care also places an onus on members of the local church. God calls you to submit to your local shepherds. You may not be a “cyber-disciple.” Cyber-disciples are not committed to the local church nor submit to local leaders, but are rather molded by internet videos, sermons, and podcasts. Quite honestly, cyber-disciples are often simply following their own whims. They would rather be shaped by someone “out there” in internet-land, than be formed and trained by the local shepherds God has placed in their lives. If you would rather Google your theology question than ask your pastor, if you would rather receive pastoral counsel from an internet personality than from your elders, you are neither Biblical nor Reformed in your view of pastoral care. 


    This must not be. God has given you examples to imitate at hand. They are not impersonal internet gurus who say true things. They are flesh and blood shepherds whom you can see and hear, who pray for you, who inquire about your spiritual life, who are concerned for you. This may astound you but no one on the internet actually personally knows you or cares about you. John MacArthur won’t ever visit you when you’re in the hospital. Doug Wilson won’t ever meet with you for pastoral counseling. James White won’t ever take you out for coffee to catch up with how you’re doing. But do you know who will do all these things? Your pastors and elders. Internet personalities cannot be completely disregarded, but they are of far less importance than your local shepherds. 


    Your shepherds, not internet Reformed celebrities, will give an account to God of your life and doctrine. We are not hirelings (John 10:12-13) or super-apostles who butter you up with flattering words but abandon you in times of trouble. We are men of sincerity, commissioned by God, who hold forth God’s truth to you in the sight of God. We speak with you. We correct you. We eat with you. We know you. We love you. And we are interested and invested in your spiritual growth in Christ.