Reformation Soul Care

By Daron Roberts | 12.20.16 | The Expositors Blog

    Many of us love to read about the great men of the Reformation. Whose heart does not burn with courage while reading of John Calvin’s showdown with the libertines? Whose convictions are not bolstered while reading of John Knox’s brash and bold conversations with Mary, Queen of Scots? How does one not have his heart set aflame when he hears of the Non-Conformists standing firm against the Church of England?

    But too often, it seems that in our love for Reformation courage, we miss the “soul care,” the shepherdology—might we dare to say “the ecclesiology”—of the Reformers. Calvin, Luther, Knox, The Puritans and the Non-Conformist in England were not only men who fought for justification, but more importantly, they were shepherds. And it was their burden as shepherds that drove their courage to stand for the glorious truths of the Reformation, as well as to truly care for souls.

    Although nowadays people seem to imagine that a “reformation” will happen by big movements and coalitions, these great men knew better. They knew that true reformations only come about when shepherds in local churches are publically and privately tending their lambs. Calvin raised up a generation of shepherds who died for the sake of sheep. Knox was driven by a passion to see Scotland transformed through the means of filling up churches with true shepherds. The English Reformation was an ecclesiological showdown, a soul-care battle!

    Reformation men are typically remembered for their defense of justification, but what is too often forgotten, is their soul care. These men were not the men we love because they wanted to win a battle; what drove them was winning and caring for souls! Reformation men were God’s men not merely because they had courage, but because their courage flowed from a heart that deeply loved the flock.

    One man who had a great influence on the soul care of Calvin, Knox, the English Reformers—and in fact the whole Reformation across Europe—was a man named Martin Bucer. Bucer was born on November 11, 1491. We don’t know a lot about his childhood, but we do know that in 1507 he finished his early days of schooling and joined the Dominican Order. The short version is that from then on Bucer was on the rise in the ranks as a Dominican monk. This resulted in a more disciplined study of theology at Heidelberg University in 1517. It was in Heidelberg in April 1518 that Johann von Staupitz, the vicar-general of the Augustinians (another strain of the Monk Order), invited the dangerous reformer, Martin Luther, to defend his theology at “The Heidelberg Disputation.” What many don’t know is that Luther was defending his 97 Theses at this event. (That is not a typo!) In addition to some issues addressed in his famous 95 Theses, his 97 Theses also included other key elements regarding man’s moral corruption, human inability, pervasive depravity, and need for a foreign righteousness in order to be acceptable to God. That night, as the thundering reformer was defending his disputation, Bucer wandered into the audience to hear Martin Luther’s defense. Amazingly, God used Luther’s preaching to bring new life from heaven to Bucer’s heart. Bucer was now reborn! Immediately following his conversion, in classic Reformer fashion, he exited his monkish false religion and became a disciple of Martin Luther.

    After Bucer was excommunicated from Wissembourg for his gospel courage, he fled to Strasbourg, Germany in 1523. In Strasbourg he had influence as a shepherd of his own church, and here God would allow him to impact both the English and Swiss portions of the Reformation. It was not ultimately his defense of justification that impacted so many, however, but rather his commitment to the church and to true soul care. In fact, when 29-year-old John Calvin was kicked out of Geneva in 1538, it was in 47-year-old Martin Bucer that he found a welcoming mentor and friend. One might say it was Bucer’s shepherdology and his convictions on soul care that catapulted young John Calvin back to Geneva with a deeper desire to see France and Geneva transformed by shepherds in local churches. As further evidence of Bucer’s soul care legacy, it was John Calvin’s shepherdology that influenced John Knox and his sheperdology during the Scottish Reformation.

    Knowing the influence of Bucer on the shepherdology of the Reformation makes his philosophy on the main tasks of the care of souls so compelling. Below is an excerpt from Bucer’s own words in Banner of Truth’s published work “Concerning the True Care of Souls” (pp. 69-73):


    Those who are ordained to the care of souls and pastoral ministry in the church are to serve our Lord Jesus, the chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, in his lambs, that is, all those elected to life, in such a way that through their ministry everything is shown and provided that our Lord has promised in his office of Shepherd. This involves being concerned and through the word of God providing that Christ’s lambs, who are still straying from his flock and sheep-pen, should be gathered in; seeing that those who have been brought in should remain with the flock and in the sheep-pen, and when they do go astray again, leading them back again, and protecting those that stay with the flock against all temptations and afflictions, and helping them again if they fall prey to them; in other words, seeing that they are deprived of nothing which contributes to their continual growth and increase in godliness….
    The number and identity of the tasks involved in the true care of souls….
    1. The identity of the lost sheep.

    The lost sheep are all those whom God has elected to his kingdom but do not yet recognize Christ our Lord and are entire strangers to his church, whether they were baptized into the church as children or not.  This alienation from the flock of Christ and going astray in the case of many comes from their getting so deeply involved in the affairs of the flesh that they have no respect for God and his kingdom; and when they are invited to the marriage-feast [Matt. 22:1-14] and the great supper of Christ [Luke 14:16-24], they say that they have other things to do: one has bought a field, another is trying out a new yoke of oxen, a third has taken a wife.  In the case of many others they are hindered by false worship, as with the Jews, Turks, and the whole business of all the sects.
    2. The identity of the stray sheep.
    The stray and outcast sheep are those who have been with the flock of Christ and involved in the Christian life, but have gone away from it; but not yet to the extent that they have completely fallen away from Christ and been lost.  Because those who do fall away eventually also come to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is, against the grace and power of God which they have recognized and tasted, having been offered and declared to them for their salvation.  It is impossible to bring these back, as the sixth chapter [4-6] of Hebrews testifies.  Indeed, they never belonged to us, the sheep of Christ, although they went out from us, I John 2[:19].
    But there are some who are led away, straying and outcasts from the flock of Christ, who nonetheless are truly Christ’s and retain Christ in their hearts, although they may for a while entirely turn away and be estranged from the congregation of Christ and go completely astray, sometimes through involvement in carnal and worldly affairs, sometimes through false doctrine and false worship.
    3. The identity of the injured and broken sheep.
    The injured and broken sheep are all those who while remaining in the fellowship of Christ as hurt and injured in their inner being; it is as if they have destroyed and shattered a spiritual limb, i.e. the virtuous and godly ability to do those things which are excellent and right.  For just as St. Paul describes vices as our members upon earth, i.e. of the old Adam, Col. 3[:5], so the skills, qualities and strengths which enable us to lead good and Christian loves are our members in heaven and belonging to the new Adam.  These parts and limbs of the inner heavenly being are injured, shattered, destroyed and broken through serious and gross failings and sins.
    This includes all falling away or distancing oneself from the truth of Christ, as Peter fell away, and also the Galatians, in whom their faith, i.e. the head of the inner man, was injured.  In the same way it includes all gross injury done to one’s neighbor, whereby damage is done to love, i.e. the heart and breast of the inner man thus the Corinthians were damaged when they submitted one another to injustice and violence, went to law against one another before the heathen, and caused separation and schism among themselves.  It also includes all gross immorality, whereby holiness and respectability, i.e. the blood and countenance of the heavenly Adam, become impure, ravaged and repulsive.  This is also something which St. Paul accuses many of the Corinthians of in 2 Cor. 12[:21] and 13[:2].
    And just as all the virtues are like limbs and parts of the inner being, so when Christians transgress in thought, word or deed or fail in the matter of good thoughts, words or deeds, this always leads to these spiritual limbs being hurt or injured or broken.  And although someone has perhaps been injured in only one limb, he still needs to be helped without delay, or it will lead to the corruption of the whole body.
    4. The identity of the weak sheep.

    The weak and feeble sheep are those who, although they remain in the church and do not fall into any of the grosser vices, and do not commit any notorious sin, are weak in faith and love and all the strengths of the Christian life.  This includes those who are fainthearted in the face of bodily attacks; those who are slow and lethargic when it comes to helping their neighbors; those who are careless of discipline; those who err in right understanding.  It also includes those who are afflicted by fevers, i.e. the disorderly stirrings of evil desires and lusts, their temperature ranging erratically between hot and cold due to anger, envy, jealousy, and addiction to fleshly lusts, with the result that they become diseased and weak in their Christian lives…
    [5. Implied: The Identify of the strong sheep]
    The sleek and strong sheep are the real Christians, who are growing well and are stable in Christian life.
    Now, the pastoral ministry in the church has to be so extensive, in order that all the lost sheep should be sought out and brought into Christ’s sheep-pen, and that those who have once come to Christ and into his sheep-pen, but have become strays and outcasts again, should be restored; similarly, that the injured should be healed, the diseased and weak strengthened, and the sleek and strong well protected and rightly shepherded….


    As a young man, I pray I can be part of another generation of men who are committed to Reformation soul care.

    Daron Roberts is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and currently serves as the pastor of College & Career at Grace Immanuel Bible Church.

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