It has been a while since I have blogged anything substantial, and to be honest, I just still don’t feel up for a theological treatise. I’ve still got all the same interests and passions, but right now I’m just in a different mood. I’ve been reading a good bit of “pastoral” literature (Peterson, Herbert, Lewis), and now I’m into Richard Baxter. It has been quite interesting to say the least.
First of all, The Reformed Pastor is intense. Baxter causes me to consider doubting my own salvation, and so I can only imagine how bad this book might be for those with less self-confidence or assurance. It isn’t for everyone. Of course, it is good to remember that this is a book for pastors and that in Baxter’s day, the Church was still largely an aristocratic organization. The old medieval practice was for the first-born to inherit the throne or the estate (whichever was appropriate) and the next in line to join the clergy (which often wasn’t terribly different than the first office). As such, it could easily be the case that a majority of pastors in Baxter’s community were in fact not believers.
Secondly, while I don’t share all of Baxter’s “puritanism”: introspection, strict views of discipline, dislike of pre-made forms; I have to admit that when I read the New Testament, I find Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest much more “strict” than I would normally be. I don’t think that this justifies going too far in that direction, but it really should make us stop and think. If we get similar chills reading the end of Ephesians (just on a slightly lesser scale) than we do reading Baxter, perhaps the problem really is with us.
Thirdly, towards the end of Chapter 2, section 1, Baxter actually suggests that ministers over large churches should give up some of their salary to hire an assistant. He says that if this causes one’s family to be poor, then so be it. Wow.
As I read that section I thought to myself how immediately correct that it was. I’m not in that position, of course, and so it must be very easy for me to agree. But what’s interesting is that Baxter was in that position. We know that Baxter was famous and that his church was relatively large. He includes himself in those ministers whose flocks are too big for a single pastor. Given all the rigor that Baxter was known for, it would have been very difficult for him to make public suggestions that ministers over large congregations give up some of their pay for assistants without actually then doing it. It is a pretty powerful suggestion.
Fourthly, even amidst his extreme piety and disciplinarianism, Baxter remains catholic. He insists that too many pastors waste time and energy and grieve the Spirit by fighting over non-essentials. Quoting Gregory of Nazianzus he writes: “Necessaries are common and obvious; it is superfluities that we waste our time for, and labour for, and complain that we attain them not.” The first step in being catholic is being able to distinguish essentials from non-essentials. If you feel that such a distinction is invalid then you are neither catholic, Reformed, nor prudent.