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Concerning The True Care of Souls Hardcover – January 1, 2009
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Concerning the True Care of Souls
We want to demonstrate to all the pious children of God, who from their hearts pray for the future of the kingdom of Christ, our own duty in this so deplorable scattering of the church.
The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough for us to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.
This is why we have undertaken the writing of this little book concerning all these matters, inserting various quotations from the word of God and, insofar as the Lord has given us grace, explaining them. From these every Christian can thoroughly learn what sort of fellowship the church of Christ is, how Christ the Lord alone rules, what ministry he requires in that rule and how this ministry is to be ordered and performed, in relation to all those who are brought to the church of Christ and wish to be kept and built up in it.
Martin Bucer (1491–1551) was one of the most important sixteenth-century Reformers, who became leader of the Reformed Churches in Switzerland and South Germany after the death of Zwingli.
About the Author
Martin Bucer (1491 1551) was one of the most important sixteenth-century Reformers, who became leader of the Reformed Churches in Switzerland and South Germany after the death of Zwingli.
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In the past, this particular volume by Bucer was available in German or Latin, but it is now available in English, thanks to Peter Beale. For students of the Reformation, this is an important primary source document. But its value is far beyond that of mere historical research. This book is a how-to manual for pastors and elders. The great Reformation doctrines like Justification by Faith and the actions such as putting Bibles into the hands of the people were great, but inadequate. God established churches as means of ministering to and building up and protecting those who name Christ.
The German word Seelsorge is translated as Soul Care. Pastors and elders are in charge of soul care. Bucer said, “the faithful ministers of Christ must not lightly give up on anyone.” The book begins with the importance of churches having multiple elders. These men are to use their varied gifts to see to the spiritual needs of the congregation.
Bucer divides the tasks of ministry into 5 parts:
1. “To lead to Christ our Lord and into His communion those who are still estranged from him.” This translates as evangelism. Evangelism often involves apologetic work as well. Often we Calvinists like apologetics, that is, answering unbelieving worldviews, better than outright telling people about Jesus. Both are needed. Both are soul care.
2. “To restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into his church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.” Anyone living in the Bible-Belt American South knows this well. There are lots of people who grew up in church but who abandoned the faith. Soul care means calling upon, convicting, and exhorting those straying sheep.
3. “To assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously sinned and fallen.” I have often said in and out of the pulpit, and need to personally be reminded, that the church is not a fitness center. It is an emergency ward in the hospital. It is not for those who have qualified for the Olympics; rather, it is for those who are the spiritually unfit. From Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter to lots of very real examples, churches have not always been friendly to fallen people.
4. “To re-establish true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.” Wow! This hits close to home. This so describes where so many of us are, or have been, or will be. We may not be worshiping false gods or getting drunk, but our spiritual walk has become a crawl, at best.
5. “To protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay with the flock and in Christ’s sheep pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk.” This is a great reminder that even the strongest and best Christians still need to hear, be taught, be reminded, and shepherded.
The book takes each of these five areas and devotes attention to ministering to people whose lives fit each category. The longest chapter in the book (Chapter 9) is called “How the Hurt and Wounded Sheep are to be Bound Up and Healed.” It is an elaboration of the third point above; that is, it deals with people who have sinned and fallen.
Bucer uses the word “penance” quite often and freely in this section. At first, I thought he was still holding on to some Roman Catholic theology. As one reviewer noted, “penance” might not be the best word to have used. But Bucer’s discussion is worthwhile. Too often churches have one of two inadequate responses to sin. On the one hand, some simply forgive and forget. On the other hand, some excommunicate and forget. Bucer’s focus is on restoration. Sinners sometimes have to pay a price, even from those who have forgiven them. The person who steals money should not be forgiven and put in charge of the church treasury. Time, testing, and discipling are needed. I know from personal and pastoral experience that this is not easy or pleasant. But it is seelsorge or soul care.
Bucer’s book is not one that will delight you with its wit, style, or illustrations. Often, it is Scripture verses followed by plain application. The content is unadorned and plain spoken. That is what was needed in Bucer’s day. Likewise, it is what is needed in our day.
To make his case, he speaks of the fact that while the local church belongs to Jesus Christ, and He sets ministers and elders over them so that they might be governed in His name. The task of the minister, then, is to seek God's flock by evangelizing and preaching the gospel faithfully. Once those sheep are brought into the fold, they must be tended to--and how this is done comprises the heart of this book.
Bucer discusses distinctions between the sheep, and how each ought to be ministered to: some are straying (enticed by the world), some are wounded (i.e., in sin), some are weak (in the faith, and so need to be strengthened), and some are strong (are living in holiness to some degree, and are faithfully attending and participating in the life of the church).
In each of these instances, Bucer begins with the relevant Scripture passages, and from them he deduces the proper principles for how sheep in their particular instances are to be ministered to.
While this is a classic work, it is certainly not dated. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels that God might be calling them to the ministry.
In this "little book," as Bucer described it, Bucer expounds the nature and function of pastoral ministry. In doing so he discusses the nature of the church, church government, and church discipline. But all of this comes under the basic topic of what are pastors supposed to be and do.
The first portion of this book deals with the duties and qualifications for pastoral ministry and is pure gold! I was amazed at how relevant and timely so much of this section was. Bucer argues strongly for a plurality of pastors from a wide range of backgrounds so that the people can be cared for adequately. He also discusses at some length the variety of gifting's we ought to expect among pastors serving together in the same church. All must be able to teach, but they may express that gifting in a variety of ways from more one-on-one settings to public proclamation.
Because caring for, protecting and restoring the flock is a central aspect of pastoral ministry Bucer discusses discipline and penance. The surprise to me was the amount of space given to (and the conclusions on) penance. Bucer acknowledges abuses of penance and how it degenerated into mere external works to "pay off" sins. However, he argues that proper use of penance must be maintained. That is he argues that for serious sins, truly repentant people must not be immediately restored (particularly restored to the Lord's Supper) but must be excluded for a time and even given some ways of humbling themselves in order to help them take more seriously their sins. This was the most challenging portion of the book for me because elsewhere he was supporting my convictions and here he was contradicting them. It seems Bucer expected resistance or possible misunderstanding here because he devoted almost one fourth of the book to the one chapter dealing with this topic.
Bucer makes a careful exegetical case for this penance and we ought to consider carefully such a leading voice from the past. However, in the end I was not convinced. His exegetical arguments were not convincing (a key piece in his argument is identifying the sinning brother in 1 Cor 5 with the one to be restored in 2 Cor 1:5-7). I agree that pastors must wisely work with believers in their struggle with sin and understand that the effects of sin and lingering temptation do not disappear with repentance. However, imposing punishments and withholding the Supper until later seems to encourage what I need so much to fight against- "now, if I will do good for the next few days, then I will know that I have been forgiven." Bucer works hard to avoid this, but I was not convinced.
The last portion of the book continues with the authority of pastors and their task of caring for the souls of their people.
This is a brilliant book stressing the pastors' role in caring for souls. Interestingly, the book is strong in calling for evangelism. Though many today still equate Reformed theology with lack of evangelistic and missionary zeal, in this book you find the mentor of John Calvin giving strong rebuke to pastors who fail to evangelize. In fact he rebukes the Western church for failing to engage the Jews and Turks with effective missionary endeavors! Those would have been challenging mission fields at that time. There is much in this book that is very helpful as we consider how the plurality of pastors work and how church discipline works. Since these two practices have had to be recovered in many churches today, this book provides helpful, practical insight for putting these biblical truths back into practice.
I heartily commend this book to you. Beale has produced a very readable translation making it a joy to read.
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General Subject Matter: Pastoral Theology
Theme: how the true minister or shepherd of God is to carry out his duty...Read more