- The Pastoral Care of God the Father
[This is the third post in a series of five.]
The suggestion is being made in this series of five posts that pastoral care can be guided by a pastoral theology based on Trinitarian theology, Biblically explained. I am here interested in what we might call the pastoral care of God the Father. The immediate purpose of this abbreviated and only suggestive study is to lay out some Biblically authoritative guidance for pastoral care.
The occasion for doing so is the Church of England’s present interest in a ‘pastoral accommodation’ for homosexuals. The first post suggested that this suggestion is actually disingenuous, although the need for guidance in pastoral care is important and worth exploring further. This is nothing new, of course: the Church has been at this throughout its existence for all sorts of conditions of sinful humanity. These posts are a very modest attempt to offer some thoughts at the present time that are Biblically based. The second post noted that this discussion is part of a larger concern: the pastoral care of sinners (as opposed to other sorts of pastoral care—such as of the bereaved). This leads us to a Biblical study of God’s pastoral care of sinners, beginning with the care of God the Father.
As we turn to the subject of the pastoral care of God the Father, we need to be cautioned that distinguishing the work of the persons of the Trinity too sharply can lead to theological error. Indeed, we come to a theology of Jesus’ divinity precisely by realizing that what we can say about Jesus is what we say about God. For example, in John 5 Jesus links the Father’s work with his own, and Colossians 1.15-20 speaks of Jesus as the image of God and states that all the fullness of deity dwells in him because of his authority over all things, his divine work in creating the world, his divine oversight over the creation, his being head of the Church, and his doing the divine work of reconciling all things to God. Also, the early Church regularly read ‘Lord’ in the Old Testament in reference to Jesus, thus affirming that Jesus is included in the identity of the One God.
Thus, we cannot simply identify an activity or virtue or characteristic uniquely with each Person of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One, and their unity is found in their partaking of divine identity even if there is also a distinction of Persons in the Trinity. There are, however, distinguishable roles in the relationships and story of the Persons of the Trinity in Scripture. And there is unity of purpose and work as well.
God the Creator: Order Out of Chaos
Thus we might say, without denying the role of Jesus and the Spirit, that God the Father’s work in the world involves creating order out of chaos (Genesis 1), establishing and maintaining covenant relationships with his people (a view especially maintained throughout the Old Testament), pointing out sin, bringing divine justice in a sinful world, and providing a means of forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. This divine work is, in broad outline, also the basis for pastoral care in the Church.
Creation is described in Genesis 1 as the separation of things: light from darkness, heavens from the earth, water from land. In the same way, God brings order to chaos. Distinctions have their purpose for the whole of creation, and this point comes to a focus in God’s creating male and female so that they can then come together as a unity with their distinctive contributions that make unity possible and that serve the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying on the earth. That is, two of exactly the same kind cannot produce a unity. Two of completely different kinds also cannot produce this unity. There is no fruitfulness without these ordered distinctions in creation being maintained: male and female of the same flesh.
God’s Law, in a similar way, is a revelation that ‘separates’ sinful acts from right acts. Thus the work of creation and the giving of the Law are parallel divine activities. The relationship between God’s work as Creator and His giving the Law to Israel is something that Psalm 19 celebrates together. Indeed, the Anglican Communion is facing total confusion in some quarters today precisely where it rejects both God’s distinctions in creation and His commandments in Scripture. God’s good intentions in creation included the distinction of male and female (Genesis 1.27). His Law insists that this distinction be kept: ‘You [males] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18.22). The doors of the Church have been opened to the diluvian chaos in Western culture. It has created division and flight, and it has necessitated the establishment of new denominations (e.g., ACNA) and/or alternative organizations (e.g., AMiE, Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, GAFCON) to cope with the crisis. A ‘pastoral accommodation’ does not respond to the chaos but enshrines it. But pastoral care is needed.
Pastoral care for sinners involves helping them to reorder the chaos in their own lives as they return to God’s purposes in creation and to His commandments. Paul’s presentation of the work of God for sinful humanity begins by noting the depravity of minds turned away from God’s purposes (Romans 1.24-28) and concludes by affirming that the mind transformed by God, no longer conformed to the futile thinking of a sinful world, is restored to knowing God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12.2). The chapters in between explain how it is that God works his plan of salvation to bring sinful humanity out of the chaos of the depraved and deluded mind to the ordered and obedient mind of one who does the will of God. Pastoral care explains and extends that saving work of God to the one who would leave the chaos of the sinful life and find peace with God.
God the Revealer of Righteousness and Judge of Unrighteousness
Pastoral care, too, is a sorting out of persons’ confused and sinful lives. We all need this. Paul tells Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation [obviously, an exhortation in the Word], and teaching [again, of the Bible] in order to save both himself and his hearers (1 Timothy 3.13, 16). The pastor is not offering his or her opinions but stands in the role of shedding God’s light on a sinfully confused situation through the ministry of Scripture.
The logical link between divine righteousness and divine judgement has become difficult in contemporary times. No reading of the Old Testament or New Testament could possibly lead to this confusion, but it is a conundrum in many churches today. The problem arises when ‘righteousness’ is understood as God’s efforts to establish covenantal relationships through his steadfast love and faithfulness without also seeing that divine righteousness reigns down judgement on the unrighteous (cf. Exodus 34.6-7—a passage that echoes throughout Scripture). ‘Righteousness’ often means—and can be translated—‘justice.’ Indeed, Paul progresses from saying that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith to saying that ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness’ (Romans 1.17-18). We cannot speak of God’s righteousness as covenant faithfulness without also speaking of it as God’s wrath against ‘ungodliness,’ which Paul continues in Romans 1 to explain in reference to idolatry (Romans 1.19-23), then in terms of the unrighteousness of lesbianism and male homosexuality (Romans 1.24-28), and then in terms of all sin and affirmation of those who sin (Romans 1.29-32).
Pastoral care, too, involves pointing out from the Scriptures what divine righteousness entails. The pastor, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, is able to help a person to understand God’s revelation: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6.8). Similarly, Paul says to Timothy in his role as pastor that ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3.16-17).
Moses plays this pastoral role in Israel. He says,
Now this is the commandment– the statutes and the ordinances– that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long’ (Deuteronomy 6.1-2).
Pastoral care, different from counselling, is not about wisdom shared from the social sciences but wisdom shared from the Word of God—even if there is much to learn from the social sciences about how to counsel and to overcome psychological and social obstacles in the way of walking in the ways of the Lord.
Judgement is a divine function extended to the church gathered in the name of Jesus (cf. Matthew 18.18-20; John 20.23; 1 Corinthians 5.3-5; 1 Corinthians 6.1-11). The church steps into this role for several reasons. First, it protects other believers from the influence of a sinner’s presence: sin must be dealt with as a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (1 Corinthians 5.6-7). Judgement, however, is also for the sinner’s good: how else will the sinner realize that he or she needs to repent if allowed to continue in sin (1 Corinthians 5.5)? Judgement opens up the possibility for forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. Where there is no judgement, none of this is possible. In the current situation facing Anglican churches, this is particularly important. An urgent matter of pastoral care for persons in any homosexual ‘relationship’ is for the church to insist that the relationship stops. It is one thing to work with persons struggling with sin; it is quite another to tolerate relationships that entail continuing in sin—which is the exact situation in 1 Corinthians 5. If that is what some mean by ‘pastoral accommodation,’ they have left Scripture far behind.
It is also important to emphasise that the path of righteousness extends beyond judgement—we see this in 2 Corinthians 2.5-11, where Paul urges the church to extend forgiveness and consolation to someone who has been disciplined. This leads us to the next point.
The Love of God
One of the key passages in the Old Testament that helps us to understand God as a God of love is Exodus 34:6-7. God reveals Himself to Moses in this way:
The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34.6-7).
This passage echoes throughout Scripture as a major revelation of God’s identity. Two things need to be said about the passage. First, it occurs in a significant place in the narrative—after the Israelites broke God’s Law while Moses received the Ten Commandments for the first time and before God gives the Commandments a second time. God’s self-revelation as one who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, faithful, and forgiving comes in the context of Israel’s own ‘revelation’ of her sinfulness. It comes as God’s decision not to wipe out sinful Israel is revealed to Moses. It is followed by God’s graciously giving Israel His Law a second time. All too often, people think that love is just a matter of forgiveness or even less—just acceptance or ‘toleration of differences,’ or even affirmation. But God’s forgiveness means not punishing the sinner so that he or she might be given a second or third or seventy-seventh chance (cf. Matthew 18.21-35) to live according to God’s Law once again.
The second thing to say about this passage is that it links God’s character of love with His character of not clearing the guilty. Love is not expressed by lowering God’s standards of righteousness but by making a path for sinners to continue with another chance. This point is an essential message of the Old Testament: God gives Israel a second chance—again and again. He does not write them off. After one of the most devastating criticism’s of Israel’s sinfulness, Isaiah says that God comes with both justice—a fearful thing for sinners—and redemption from transgression by God’s Redeemer—a salvation from sin (Isaiah 59). The Church, too, lives in this story of divine mercy and redemption.
This leads us to the New Testament, where the same character of God is found in Jesus. A key passage to make this point is John 3.16, which explains how God has shown his love for the world. In John’s Gospel, the ‘world’ is most often a negative term, standing for sinful humanity turned away from God. So, God’s love is shown to a people that is turned away from Him—sinners. God’s revelation of His love to people rejecting him comes before they turn to Him. As John says in his first epistle,
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4.10-11).
Both John 3.16 and 1 John 4.10-11 speak of how God loved sinners first, while they were still sinners (cf. Romans 5.8): by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a sacrifice for sins that helps sinners return to Him. 1 John 4.11 extends the point for Christians: and this is how we ought to love one another. The church is not to lower God’s standards of justice through forgiveness but to use forgiveness to help sinners return to God. It is not to accept or affirm the sin—in which case it could not forgive at all: you cannot forgive something that is not wrong in the first place. Forgiveness and mercy accept the standard. Christians are to uphold God’s standards of righteousness, and one way they do this is by practicing God’s forgiveness toward sinners.
Pastoral care of sinners involves the church extending to sinners a second chance, showing them God’s mercy and forgiveness. But it also involves declaring God’s standards of righteousness without compromise. Anything else demeans Christ’s death on the cross to atone for our sins (1 John 2.1-6).
The Mission of God: to Reveal His Glory
God’s ‘mission’ is, as Chris Wright has written (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative), to reveal himself—his ‘depth,’ his glory—in the world. His glory is not found in a permissiveness toward sin but in an upholding of his holiness, righteousness, and truth. Justification by faith, peace with God, and access into God’s grace lead to a sharing in God’s glory (Romans 5.1-2). To be crucified with Christ to the body of sin, buried with him in his death to sin, and resurrected with him to walk in a newness of life is the climax of God’s own mission of self-revelation (He reveals His glory in accomplishing all this!) (Romans 6.4-10). It equally lays out a pastoral care of sinners for ministers and the church, guiding them to confess sin, die to sin, and live the new life in Christ. Paul follows his description of God’s pastoral care of sinners with his own pastoral words:
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6.11-14).
Thus, the mission of God is the self-revelation of His glory in His (pastorally) redemptive work extended to sinners. That work of grace brings forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation to the sinner. Pastoral care involves guiding the sinner into and through God’s redemption. With St. Augustine’s language in mind, it has to do with helping the restless soul find its rest in God. Or, with Paul’s language in mind, it involves helping the sinner come to peace with God through justification by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5.1).
A Disordered Understanding of Pastoral Care
In light of the present crisis brought on by revisionist theologians and ministers in mainline denominations—and now some confused ministers in supposedly ‘Evangelical’ churches, a contrast needs to be made. The alternative perspective strangling the Church’s pastoral mission involves:
(1) denying that certain behaviours are sin at all;
(2) returning to a world of ‘chaos’ regarding the distinction between male and female in creation;
(3) denying God’s commandments that distinguish sin from righteousness (and denying Biblical authority in matters of faith and practice);
(4) affirming sinful behaviours as acceptable, even (blasphemously) as desirable;
(5) denying a need for God’s grace, His redemption, and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins; and, therefore,
(6) seeing pastoral care as a matter of helping people affirm their own inclinations by celebrating inclusiveness and diversity so that unity, love, and community can be achieved;
(7) ignoring the clear teaching of the Church through the centuries.
As a result, under the guise of affirming diversity, humanity—applauded by false teachers in the Church (Romans 1.32)—returns to primeval chaos that cannot distinguish male from female. As a result, under the guise of inclusiveness and diversity, the Fall and sin are denied. As a result, under the guise of unity, ‘separation unto God’—holiness—is turned into a ‘no fault’ embrace of sinners’ sins by God. As a result, under the guise of love, the narrative of redemption through Christ’s blood shed on the cross becomes irrelevant, if not embarrassing (‘would a loving God send His Son to the cross?,’ such people ask). As a result, under the guise of community, Christ-centred fellowship is considered exclusionary. As a result, peace with God is seen as embracing every diversity rather than as justification of the sinner by faith in God.
Thus, the Church is well-instructed in its pastoral care of sinners by God the Father’s mission in and to a sinful world. We all know this care—those of us who live under the cross of Jesus Christ—just as Israel knew this care. The crisis facing the Church of England and many Anglicans in the West is a pastoral accommodation of sin rather than a pastoral care of sinners.
 See Ruth Gledhill, ‘Leading Evangelical Bishops Call for Church to Change on Gays,’ (16 June, 2016); online at: http://anglicanmainstream.org/leading-evangelical-bishops-call-for-church-to-change-on-gays/ (accessed 27 June 2016). Actually, two bishops are calling to let the sin of homosexuality be given a pass: Bishop Paul Bayes of Liverpool and Bishop Colin Fletcher of Dorchester. Is it a fulfillment of a bishop’s ordination to proclaim, ‘We need to change the Church,” as Bishop Bayes has done? Joined by others (David Ison, David Runcorn, Cindy Kent, and James Jones), this revisionist proposal is articulated in a work ironically titled, ‘Journeys in Grace and Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality,’ ed. Jayne Ozanne (Via Media Publications, 2016). One must ask, ‘Is it possible to be Evangelical but not orthodox?’, meaning faithful to the Scriptures and in line with historic Christianity. George McDermott’s reply is well stated. See ‘Pro-gay Evangelicals?’ (25 June, 2016); available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/northamptonseminar/2016/06/25/pro-gay-evangelicals/ (accessed 26 June, 2016).
[to be continued]