A Joint Statement on Pastoral Theology
To our beloved Morningview family: Anytime a congregation faces a transition with vocational preaching pastors, questions naturally arise about how the vision for preaching and pastoral care of the church as a whole might be affected. Tom and I deeply love this congregation, and we want to do as much as we can to communicate stability and consistency in a time when we are potentially facing a significant change. Thus, we have drafted this statement to communicate what we are jointly committed to in terms of our own shared pastoral theology. We confess that neither of us are perfect at any of these points, but we believe them and are committed to growing in them.
1. Christ-centered Preaching and Counseling/Discipleship. We are both committed to proclaiming the excellencies of Christ in our public and private ministries. Specifically, we believe in preaching Christ and His gospel from every passage of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The end goal of a sermon is that God’s people would worship Jesus because of His loveliness and love. The ultimate end of preaching and counseling/discipleship is not merely that people would change, but that people would know the love of Christ and that they would worship Him personally.
2. Law and Gospel. We are both committed to distinguishing the law (commands) and the gospel (redemptive promises). We understand that if we fail to distinguish the law from the gospel, then we will collapse the two and lose both (which means the loss of the way of salvation). Failure to distinguish law and gospel leads to preaching the gospel as law (you had better believe these wonderful promises, or else) and the law as gospel (love God, love men), thus losing both law and gospel. But in carefully distinguishing the two, we retain the law as law and the gospel as gospel. The law says, “do,” while the gospel says, “done for you.” Therefore in our preaching and counseling, we are determined not to lead people to obey from the law, but from the sweet invitations and encouragements of the gospel. This law/gospel dynamic should be present in every sermon preached by pastors from the pulpit and in every counseling session at Morningview.
3. The Persuasive Power of Distinctively Christian Preaching. When we preach, we do not merely declare the truths of the Bible, or issue the commands of the Bible because that provides no power for change. Rather, we believe that the souls of men are persuaded to believe and obey the Bible, when they are set upon Jesus Christ, His promises, His great love, His wonders and graces, and all of His glorious bounties. This Christ-centered vision of the persuasive power of preaching is based upon a clear understanding of the law/gospel dynamic mentioned above.
4. Sincere Pastoral Ministry. We both believe that we need to have real pastoral relationships with the people. Very importantly, this means opening our own lives and particularly our families to others. It means making ourselves vulnerable as Christ was vulnerable, listening to others tell us what they think without trying to fix them or set them straight. It requires us to have compassion upon those who are slower, weaker, or suffering in any way among us and seeking to serve them in love. Sincere pastoral ministry involves having sincere (not hurried) conversations with people after church, visiting the hospitals, making ourselves available for and attending weddings and funerals, having members into our homes and being willing to visit in their homes as well. It means answering emails, returning phone calls, and text messages with grace and in a way that seeks to address concerns and point others to the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The Real Power of Pastoral Ministry. We are both convinced that we have no authority in ourselves; therefore, we both believe that we should never speak or act as though we ourselves are the authorities. Rather, the Word of God is the sole authority of every aspect of our pastoral ministry, which means the tone of our voices should not be authoritarian, but should reflect humility, in subjection to the Word, not the projection of personal power. A humble tone and spirit in preaching elevates the authority of Scripture over the authority of the man. Any difference in tone between our normal voice in conversations and our public persona in preaching should be such that each hearer sees the same man in the pulpit and outside. This increases our approachability outside the pulpit and our personal appeal in the pulpit. Furthermore, the powers of the eldership are limited to the Bible and the confessions of faith adopted by the congregation as the summary expression of the Bible for our church. Elders must uphold and defend the Bible, as well as the church’s confession and by-laws and not seek to act out of accord with them due to expedient practical needs.
6. Theology Gives Shape to Practice. We both believe that our theology of the Bible, and particularly of pastoral ministry, which is outlined above, shapes and informs all of our pastoral practice. We denounce pragmatism (theology-void practice), just as we also denounce speculation (theology not rooted in Scripture). We affirm that our theology is our “knowledge of God” and governs the life and ministry of all the church.
7. Application. We both believe that the Bible’s content should be wisely applied throughout the sermon. While not every part of the sermon will be a direct application, every part of the sermon should be taking the listener into account (considering both the book of the Word as well as the book of the human soul). The preacher should aim to speak of doctrine, practice, and Jesus in a way that leads the listener to want to hear and accept what is being preached because it is good for his own soul. The truth is lovely, and it should be presented in a way that highlights its loveliness, benefit, protection and good. Preachers should seek to apply God’s Word to all sorts of hearers (believers, unbelievers, doubters, depressed, oppressed, obstinate), all sorts of life-stations (husband, wife, children, home, church, communities, cultures, government), and all sorts of life-conditions (times of joy, times of sorrow, times of bounty and loss).
8. The Eldership. We both believe that the eldership does its pastoral work together by love, not by “requiring” others to love us or treat us the way we want to be treated, but by genuinely and sincerely loving others, looking for opportunities to welcome other elders and their families into our homes. We don’t believe we are called to control others on the eldership or control the church, but to die for one another in love, making ourselves vulnerable, humbly teaching one another and always being open to correction. We believe clear, open, and frequent communication between elders is an essential expression of our love for one another and critical for healthy leadership. When a concern arises, we should be quick to seek one another out in love and then seek the counsel of the body of elders as a whole in order to protect the unity of our body and guard against presumption. If there is a case of persistent sin or doctrinal error, it must, very sadly be handled with grievous, though gentle, discipline and direct authority. However, love covers a multitude of sins.
9. Member Ministry. We both agree that lay people should be freed and strengthened to practice any ministry calling that conforms to our church’s confessions of faith, bylaws, and fits with the theological vision of ministry set forth in the Bible and in this document (which we believe summarizes much of what we find in the Bible). We believe the leaders should grow in identifying and utilizing the gifts of lay-people, and that they should be encouraged and empowered to educate, lead, and serve amongst us as lay people in their areas of calling.
10. Vision. We believe that God’s Word must be the source of our vision for Morningview, not programs or inventions of man. While each local congregation is unique in the gifts and talents entrusted to them by God, and certain ministry emphases will vary because of that uniqueness, love for Christ, proclamation of His gospel, and making disciples are to be at the heart of everything we hope to accomplish. While we must consider practical aspects of specific goals and how to accomplish those goals, we believe the theology of Scripture, as expressed in our confessions, firmly sets our course and is not to be departed from.