From Priest To Pastor

John Calvin did not like using the word priest to refer to ministers.'" He preferred the term pastor.'" In Calvin's mind, pastor was the highest word one could use for ministry. He liked it because the Bible referred to Jesus Christ, "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20).152 Ironically, Calvin believed that he was restoring the New Testament bishop (episkopos) in the person of the pastor!'""

Luther also did not like using the word priest to define the new Protestant ministers. He wrote, "We neither can nor ought to give the name priest to those who are in charge of the Word and sacrament among the people. The reason they have been called priests is either because of the custom of the heathen people or as a vestige of the Jewish nation. The result is greatly injurious to the church."'" So he too adopted the terms preacher, minister, and pastor to refer to this office. Zwingli and Martin Bucer also favored the word pastor. They

John Owen, The True Nature of a Gospel Church and Its Government, ed. John Huxta ble (London: James Clarke, 1947), 41, 55, 68, 99; Ainslie, Doctrines of Ministerial Order, 37, 49, 56, 59, 61-69; Thomas Goodwin, Works, 11:309. ^ John Zens, "Building Op the Body: One Man or One Another," Baptist Reformation Review 10, no. 2 (1981): 21-22.

Hall, Faithful Shepherd, 28-29. :J: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960). bk. 4, ch. 8, no. 14. ^ Pastor is from the Latin, which was used to translate "shepherd." William Tyndale preferred the term pastor in his Bible translation. Tyndale debated Sir Thomas More over the issue of pastor vs. priest. Tyndale, a Protestant, took the position that "pastor" was exegetically correct (see The Parker Society Series on the English Reformers for this exchange). Hall, Faithful Shepherd. 16. Sykes, Old Priest and New Presbyter, 111. Luther, "Concerning the Ministry," Luther's Works, 35, 40.

wrote popular treatises on it.'" As a result, the term began to permeate the churches of the Reformation.'" However, given their obsession with preaching, the Reformers' favorite term for the minister waspreacher. And this was what the common people generally called him.'"

It was not until the eighteenth century that the term pastor came into common use, eclipsing preacher and minister."' This influence came from the Lutheran Pietists. Since then the term has become widespread in mainstream Christianity.'"

Even so, the Reformers considered the pastor to be the functioning head of the church. According to Calvin, "The pastoral office is necessary to preserve the church on earth in a greater way than the sun, food, and drink are necessary to nourish and sustain the present life."'"

The Reformers believed that the pastor possessed divine power and authority. He did not speak in his own name, but in the name of God. Calvin further reinforced the primacy of the pastor by treating acts of contempt or ridicule toward the minister as serious public offenses.'

This should come as no surprise when you realize what Calvin took as his model for ministry. He did not take the church of the

One of the most influential books during the Reformation was Bucer's Pastorale. In the same spirit, Zwingli published a tract entitled

The Pastor.

Calvin's church order of pastors with governing elders in Geneva became the most influential model during the Reformation. It became the pattern of the Protestant churches in France, Holland, Hungary, and Scotland, as well as among the English Puritans and their descendants (Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry/n Histor/cal Perspectives, 115-117, 131). Calvin also gave rise to the idea that the pastor and teacher were the only two "ordinary" officers in Ephesians 4:11-12 that continue perpetually in the church (Hall, Faithful Shepherd, 28). During the seventeenth century, the Puritans used the term pastor in some of their published works. Seventeenth-century Anglican and Puritan works on pastoral care referred to parish (local) clergy as "parsons" or "pastors." (George Herbert, The Country Parson and the Temple (Mahwah, N): Pavlist Press, 1981) and Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Lafayette, IN Sovereign Grace Trust Fund, 2000), respectively.

Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 116. "The German Reformers also adhered to the medieval usage and called the preacher Pfarrer, i.e., parson (derived from parochia—parish and parochus—parson)." While Lutheran preachers are called pastors in the United States, they are still called Pfarrer (head of the parish) in Germany. Given the gradual transition from Catholic priest to Protestant pastor, it was not uncommon for people to still call their new Protestant preachers by the old Catholic titles like priest.

The word pastor has always appeared in theological literature dating as far back as the Patristic Period. The word choice was dependent on the function you wished to highlight: A pastor guided in moral and spiritual ways. A priest officiated the sacraments. Even so, the term pastor was not on the lips of the common believer until after the Reformation.

Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 116. The word priest belongs to the Catholic/Anglican tradition, the word minister belongs to the Reformed tradition, and the word pastor belongs to the Lutheran and evangelical tradition (p. viii). The Reformers did speak of their minister as pastor, but they mostly called him preacher. The word pastor later evolved to become the predominant term in Christianity for this office. This was due to the mainstreaming of these groups which sought distance from "high church" vocabulary. The term minister was introduced gradually into the English-speaking world by the Nonconformists and Dissenters. They wished to distinguish the Protestant "ministry" from the Anglican clergy. m Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV: 3:2. p. 1055. Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 138.

apostolic age. Instead, he took as his pattern the one-bishop rule of the second century.'" This was true for the other Reformers as well.1 63

The irony here is that John Calvin bemoaned the Roman Catholic Church because it built its practices on "human inventions" rather than on the Bible.'" But Calvin did the same thing. In this regard, Protestants are just as guilty as are Catholics. Both denominations base their practices on human tradition.

Calvin taught that the preaching of the Word of God and the proper administration of the sacraments are the marks of a true church.'" To his mind, preaching, baptism, and the Eucharist were to be carried out by the pastor, not the congregation.'" For all the Reformers, the primary function of a minister was preaching. The preeminent place of preaching is best reflected in Luther's German Mass, which included three services on Sunday. At 5 or 6 a.m., a sermon was given on the Epistle of the day. At the main service at 8 or 9 a.m., the minister preached on the Gospel of the day. The sermon at the Vesper service in the afternoon was based on the Old Testament.'"

Like Calvin, Luther also made the pastor a separate and exalted office. While he argued that the keys of the Kingdom belonged to all believers, Luther confined their use to those who held offices in the church.'" "We are all priests," said Luther, "insofar as we are Chris-

"For his [Calvin's] model of the ministry goes back to the church of the early second century rather than to that of the strictly apostolic age. In the apostolic age the local Christian community was under the charge not of a single pastor, but of a number of functionaries known interchangeably, as he notes, as presbyters (elders) and bishops. (t was only in the second century that the single bishop or pastor of the Christian community came into existence, as in the Epistles of Ignatius (t was this stage of the development of the ministerial office in the early second-century church that Calvin took as his model" (Mackinnon, Calvin and the Reformation, 81-82).

James H. Nichols writes, "The Reformers also generally accepted the second-century system of an institutionalized ministry of pastors or bishops to lead the laity in worship They did not attempt to return to the age of the apostles." (Corporate Worship, 21).

: Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 111. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV: 1:9, p. 1023. John H. Yoder, "The Fullness of Christ," Concern 17 (1969): 71.

]n Niebuhr and Williams, M/nistry in Historical Perspectives, 131, 133, 135; "Powerful Preaching: A Sample of How Luther Could Bring Bible Characters to Lite," Christian History 12, no. 3 (1993): 27. Luther was abrasive, powerful, and dramatic. He communicated his own person in his sermons without superimposing himself on the message. He was a voracious preacher, delivering an estimated 4,000 sermons. His messages were awe-inspiring, poetic, and creative. Zwingli preached directly and naturally, yet he was regarded as too intellectual. Calvin was consistent in his exhaustive expounding of passages, but he was always impersonal. Bucer was long-winded and had a penchant for rambling. Even so, early Protestant preaching was very doctrinaire, being obsessed with "correct and pure doctrine." For this reason, Reformation preachers were primarily Bible teachers. Hall, Faithful Shepherd, 8.

tians, but those whom we call priests are ministers selected from our midst to act in our name, and their priesthood is our ministry."'"

This was sacerdotalism, pure and simple. Luther broke from the Catholic camp in that he rejected a sacrificing priesthood. But in its place, he believed that the sharing of God's Word belonged to a special order.'

The following are characteristic statements made by Luther in his exaltation of the pastor: "God speaks through the preacher. . . . A Christian preacher is a minister of God who is set apart, yea, he is an angel of God, a very bishop sent by God, a savior of many people, a king and prince in the Kingdom of Christ. . . . There is nothing more precious or nobler in the earth and in this life than a true, faithful parson or preacher.""1

Said Luther, "We should not permit our pastor to speak Christ's words by himself as though he were speaking them for his own person; rather, he is the mouth of all of us and we all speak them with him in our hearts. . . . It is a wonderful thing that the mouth of every pastor is the mouth of Christ, therefore you ought to listen to the pastor not as a man, but as God."'" You can hear the echoes of Ignatius ringing through these words.

Such ideas reveal a flawed view of the church. Luther felt the church was primarily a preaching station. "The Christian congregation," said Luther, "never should assemble unless God's Word is preached and prayer is made, no matter for how brief a time this may be."173 Luther believed that the church is simply a gathering of people who listen to preaching. For this reason, he called the church building a Mundhaus, which means a mouth-house.174 He also made this alarming statement: "The ears are the only organs of a Christian."'' These are the roots of Protestantism.

^ Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 112. The Reformers substituted the word minister for priest. Jones,

Historical Approach to Evangelical Worship, 141. ™ B. A. Gerrish, "Priesthood and Ministry in the Theology of Luther," Church History 34 (1965), 404-422. Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 114-115. Altha us, Theology of Martin Luther, 326.

"Concerning the Ordering of Divine Worship in the Congregation," Works of Martin Luther, C. M. Jacobs, ed. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932), VI, 60.

Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 114. Luther's Works, 29,224.


Calvin, Luther, and Bucer believed that the two key functions of the pastor were the proclamation of the Word (preaching) and the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion). But Calvin and Bucer added a third element. They emphasized that the pastor had a duty to provide care and healing to the congregation.'" This is known as the "cure of souls." Bucer wrote the preeminent book on this subject, entitled True Cure of the Souls, in 1538.

The origin of "cure of souls" goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries.'" We find it in the teaching of Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory called the bishop a "pastor"—a physician of souls who diagnoses his patient's maladies and prescribes either medicine or the knife.'""

Luther's early followers also practiced the care of souls.'" But in Calvin's Geneva, it was raised to an art form. Each pastor and one elder were required to visit the homes of their congregants. Regular visits to the sick and those in prison were also observed.'" For Calvin and Bucer, the pastor was not merely a preacher and a dispenser of the sacraments. He was the "cure of souls" or the "curate." His task was to bring healing, cure, and compassion to God's hurting people."'

This idea lives on in the Protestant world today. It is readily seen in the contemporary concepts of pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and Christian psychology. In the present-day church, the burden of such care typically falls on the shoulders of one man—the pastor. (In the first century, it fell on the shoulders of the entire church and upon a group of seasoned men called "elders.")'"

John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls New York: Harper and Row, 1951).

Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Gregory the Great wrote a good deal on the "cure of souls" (McNeill, History of the Cure of Souls, 100). (n AD 591, Gregory the Great wrote a treatise for pastors called The Book of Pastoral Rule. This work is still used in seminaries today, and it owes a great deal to Gregory of Nazianzus (p. 109). Gregory the Great was more of a pastor to the Western church than any of the other popes.

McNeill, History of the Cure of Souls, 108. Gregory of Nazianzus articulated these things in his Second Oration, penned in AD 362. (bid., 177.

Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 136. In 1550, an order was issued that ministers should visit each home at least once a year.

This book came out in German and Latin versions (McNeill, History of the Cure of Souls, 177).

See Viola, Reimagining Church. Human healing comes through connectedness in Christian community. See Larry Crabb's Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships (Nashville: W Publishing, 2004).

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