Pastoral Ministry in Union with Christ

Union with Christ by taking up the cross of suffering

These are my reflections on an essay by Philip Graham Ryken in The Practical Calvinist entitled “Pastoral Ministry in Union with Christ.”

I read Ryken’s essay at work on my lunch break and it gave me indigestion. Seminary students can get used to reading powerful theology in their textbooks and Bibles, so much so that the grandeur of it all tends to fade. It’s been a long time since I read something that punched me in the gut, woke me from the doldrums of what I suspect being a pastor might sometimes feel like, and energized me to live a life of self-denial, defeat, suffering, and hope in the power of the resurrection. The feeling is hard to explain. The impact of Ryken’s main point, which is that a Reformed pastor should be the most practical of Calvinists by actually living the experience of following in the footsteps of Christ, energized me to suffer for the Savior.

This essay is so important because it tears down the idols of glory, success, and fame to which Christian ministers so often succumb, and replaces them with the call to true biblical piety: experiencing union with Christ. It is tempting to put pastors and preachers that have achieved a measure of worldly success on a pedestal to emulate and even idolize. Ryken reminds me that we are not to imitate the false apostles of success, but the true apostles of Christ as they reflect union with Christ. And what does it mean to be united to Christ? Not just fame, success and glory. Not just suffering, defeat, and self-denial. Christ tasted them all, but only in their proper order: suffering, then glory. Ryken speaks like a modern day prophet amidst a sea of false prophets. He promises only what Christ promises those who follow him. But to become like Christ by sharing in his sufferings and death, and to thereby share in the power of his resurrection (now and to come), is the clear message of the NT and the life calling for every believer, especially the pastor who seeks to model the life of Christ for his congregation. Anyone who takes up the Bible and reads it for himself will find this powerful, paradoxical, and life-giving promise to be true. Tole lege! Tole lege!

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