“Here, then, is the sovereign power with which the pastors of the church, by whatever name they be called, ought to be endowed. That is that they may dare boldly to do all things by God’s Word; may compel all worldly power, glory, wisdom, and exaltation to yield to and obey his majesty; supported by his power, may command all from the heights even to the last; may build up Christ’s household and cast down Satan’s; may feed the sheep and drive away the wolves; may instruct and exhort the teachable; may accuse, rebuke and subdue the rebellious and stubborn; may bind and loose; finally, if need be, may launch thunderbolts and lightnings; but do all things in God’s Word.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.VIII.9).
No one would or should agree with Calvin on everything. But we would be hard-pressed to find more robust teaching outside of Scripture on the pastoral office. Along with his Reformation contemporaries, Calvin did not merely denounce the corrupt papacy (quite scathingly!) but defined what biblical church leadership should be. There is no role in the universe like the pastoral office because there is no institution in the universe like the Church. The above quote is a worthy representation of Calvin’s pastoral passion and worth teasing out.
1. Pastors exercise a derivative authority. No pastor is authoritative because of his last name or amount of letters after it, his church “growth” trends, square footage or dramatic experiences. Pastors have “endowed” power. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19.11), so pastors have no inherent authority. They neither earn nor merit their office. They serve by sheer pleasure of the Sovereign.
2. Pastors exercise a bold ministry of God’s Word. They are not corporate executives, business managers or marketing gurus. They have one purpose: “to do all things by God’s Word” (cf. 1 Tim 4.16). And do that boldly.
3. Pastors exercise a ministry of majesty. They compel every living person to bend their knee, will and affections to “his majesty.” Pastors hold out the glory of the King and urge everyone’s attention on him. Whether in joy or pain, prosperity or crisis, clarity or confusion, pastors compel everyone to subject themselves to the greatness of the King.
4. Pastors exercise an indiscriminate ministry. Pastors do not cater to deep-pocketed deacons or penniless paupers. Their message is the same to “the highest even to the last.” Pastors are equal opportunity offenders and defenders.
5. Pastors exercise a militant ministry that strengthens the church and destroys Satan. They feeds the sheep and drives away the wolves. Imitating Jesus, pastors stand between the sheep and Satan’s wolves (Jn 10.11-13). He is glad to suffer the scars if it means the sheep keep their attention on the Great Shepherd (Col 1.24). Pastors know their sheep by name and make sure the voice of Jesus is clear to them.
However, pastors should beware of driving away the sheep and feeding the wolves. Dumbing down truth, watering down the gospel, weakening church membership in the name of fame or fortune only empowers the wolves (cf. Acts 20.28-30). The sheep are left with a poor diet and the wolves will eat anything. Soon the wolves begin looking like sheep. Pastors militate against this. They provide a sheep-specific diet that poisons wolves. Though not always the case, it may be that people leaving a church are wolves who have lost their appetites!
6. Pastors exercise a prophetic ministry. Now that Christ has come, there are no (capital “P”) Prophets. Jesus is the Prophet, Priest and King. But just as those in Christ enjoy a royal and priestly ministry (small “r” and “p”), they also enjoy something of a prophetic ministry. Pastors call ’em like they see ’em, encouraged the repentant and confront the rebellious.
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone (1 Thess 5.14).
Pastors instruct and exhort the teachable. That is, pastors are gentle with the humble. Where there is gospel grace growing in a person’s life, the pastor is there with cupped hands blowing the embers into a flame.
On the other hand, pastors accuse, rebuke and subdue the stubborn and rebellious. Risking a Zeus complex, Calvin suggested the use of “thunderbolts and lightnings” if need be. Remember, though, such are dangerous weapons. They can easily harm the one using them if not used properly.
Pastors should be careful of getting these reversed. How often we get iron-fisted with the weak and kid-gloved with the stubborn. Pastors beware of snapping weak reeds or snuffing out dim wicks (Is 42.3). Also beware of cowardice with the stubborn and rebellious.
In an age where the “pastoral ministry” section at bookstores appeals more to entrepreneurs than shepherds, Calvin provides a helpful alternative. You may have to special order the material, though.