What is a Pastor, according to George Herbert

I suppose it would’ve made sense to start my George Herbert posts here – what is a pastor, anyway?

A Pastor is the Deputy of Christ for the reducing of Man to the Obedience of God.  This definition is evident, and contains the direct steps of pastoral duty and authority:

  1. For first, man fell from God by disobedience.
  2. Secondly, Christ is the glorious instrument of God for the revoking of Man.
  3. Thirdly, Christ being not to continue on earth, but after he had fulfilled the work of Reconciliation, to be received up into heaven, he constituted Deputies in his place, and these are Priests.

And therefore St. Paul, in the beginning of his epistles, professes (and in Colossians 1:24 plainly avouches) that he “fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh, for his Body’s sake, which is the Church.”  Wherein is contained the complete definition of a Minister.

This is the first place I’ve seen this exact definition of a pastor, I’ll admit, but it’s not far off from the usual Protestant conception of the shepherd-leader of a flock or the Catholic theology of the ordained ministry either.  What I think is especially helpful in this definition is that pastoral ministry is not just about authority, but duty as well.  Someone has to do it – it’s a duty – and it also comes with a certain authority.  After all, we’re talking about people who are filling in for Christ in terms of earthly ministry!  (Not filling in for Christ in terms of heavenly ministry, such as our salvation, of course.)

And so Herbert continues:

Out of this charter of the Priesthood may be plainly gathered both the dignity thereof, and the duty:
The dignity, in that a priest in that a priest may do that which Christ did, and by his authority, and as his Viceregent.
The duty, in that a priest is to do that which Christ did, and after his manner, both for doctrine and life.

I anticipated some of this in my comments already.  Being a pastor is not just about authority, nor even primarily about authority.  It’s a dignity and a duty the simultaneous privilege and burden of doing what Christ did on earth.

I’m still fascinated by Herbert’s use of Colossians 1:24, so here it is in more modern language with part of verse 25.

…in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you…

Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone say anything positive about this verse.  I remember reading one person cautiously arguing that Paul did not need to add to Christ’s sufferings for the purpose of salvation, but no actual explanation of what these words might mean was offered!  And now George Herbert, from 361 years in the past, has offered some light on this verse.  St. Paul was indeed talking about his ministry in the passage from which the verse is lifted, so it makes sense to see that statement as applicable to formal Christian leadership as well.  With my Catholic Anglican theology of Holy Orders already in place, I can make the following observations from Colossians 1:24-25.

  • Pastors are real individual people (in the flesh), not just offices, roles, or spiritual gifts.
  • Pastors are filling Christ’s afflictions, meaning they’re carrying the same burden that Christ did on earth.
  • Pastors exist for the sake of the Body of Christ.
  • Pastors have a steward role over/amidst the flock of God.
  • The role of Pastor is given to people, not taken up by anyone.
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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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