There are mixed feelings about “leaving” one department of the Standard Bearer and moving into another. It is, I suppose, something like moving. Although I have moved in my lifetime more times than I care to count, each move was accompanied by these same mixed feelings. One dislikes leaving a house one has come to know well. He knows the creaks and sighs, the sounds during the night as well as he knows the speech of a close friend. In it he can find his way without difficulty—even in the dark. He is acquainted with the purpose of each room, what can be expected to be found there, for what purpose each room has been set aside; he is familiar with the dusty comers where no one comes and the places where the cracked plaster does not yet quite show. The laughter and noise, the sounds of fellowship and camaraderie belong in that house and blend in with the walls and ceilings. He recognizes the turns in the road which have to be made to get there, and he rejoices to arrive: for it is home, and there is no place like home.
“All Around Us” has been my “home” for fifteen years. I had learned to feel as comfortable there as it is possible to feel in any writing venture. I was as acquainted as one can be with its nooks and crannies, with its strengths and weaknesses, and the loose boards which could make one stumble were not unknown to me who had walked its corridors so often. To leave it behind pulls a bit at the heart.
But moving can also be high adventure. It was that already when I was still a child and the farmer’s trucks used to pull up at the front door to carry our earthly belongings to our new dwelling. When we came, with the third or fourth truckload, it was not home by any means. No rugs were laid or curtains hung. The rooms were bare mostly, and everything looked strange and out of place. We did not know the house and could not feel comfortable there. It was difficult to sleep the first night. There were strange sounds which could not be identified and an atmosphere which was foreign and insecure. But there were new rooms to explore, new discoveries to make and new surroundings to investigate. In, the end, the strangeness was worth it. The sense of adventure outweighed the strangeness.
Going into a new rubric is like that. Its “rooms” are new, its strangeness is unsettling. There is a lot of getting-use-to-it which needs to be done. But there is the potential for adventure, for there are new areas to explore. The excitement, I think, outweighs the difficulties.
Why a new rubric?
The idea was born at last summer’s staff meeting. The editor, prior to the staff meeting, sent out a notice of the meeting to all the contributors to our paper, and he asked, along with the notice, for suggestions which anyone might have for change which would make our paper more interesting and valuable. One of our ministers suggested that a rubric in “pastoral theology” would be a valuable addition to the Standard Bearer. He wrote, in part: “Perhaps one or more . . . men might write a department directed to the good orderly operation of the church, e.g., the place of preaching, family visitation, catechism, Christian discipline, etc. Perhaps this could be on the order of pastoral advice for all to hear. . . .”
The staff thought the idea a good one, and a new rubric was born.
The field of pastoral theology is a broad one. In the Seminary there is a whole department of pastoral theology which includes the following subjects: Homiletics, which deals with the whole science of sermon making; Catechetics, which treats the principles of method of catechetical instruction; Liturgies, which discusses the principles of worship and the contents of the liturgical forms; Poimenics, which limits itself to the area of pastoral care; Church Polity, which studies the principles of Church government and the Church Order which is used in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Because the field is so broad, there are different ways in which one could treat this subject. Perhaps the way which suggests itself first of all is to take each of the individual areas of study enumerated above and develop them much in the same way one would develop the subjects while treating them in the classroom of the Seminary. There are objections to doing it this way, however. One runs the risk of writing in this area in such a way that what he writes is of interest only to ministers. And it would be of little value to them because most of the material would be what they have already received in the years of their Seminary training, and there is also the obvious fact that such material can easily be gained from other sources. We have, e.g., syllabi in the Seminary in almost all these subjects, and anyone interested in what the Seminary has to say can send for one of these syllabi.
It would be better if the articles were more practical. But, even then, they ought to be practical in such a way that they are of value to ministers and officebearers not only, but also to all our readers as they live their life in the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way, therefore, we hope to develop our articles in this field.
One more comment.
It seems to me that a rubric of this nature could benefit greatly by reader participation. I do not know how much of this there can be. But if our readers would write in connection with this subject, the value of the rubric could be greatly enhanced. You can write to ask questions which are of concern and interest to you. You can write to make comments, remarks, criticisms and register objections. You can write enclosing articles or notices which appear elsewhere which you think are worthwhile enough to be considered in this rubric. In fact, you can write the column yourself if you believe you would like to get your ideas into print. But if we can arouse reader participation, so much the better.
The title of this rubric is taken from John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Yet, the figure is very common in the Scriptures. The relationship of God to His people in Jesus Christ is often described as a relation between a shepherd and his sheep. In that most beloved of all Psalms, Psalm 23:1, the Psalmist writes: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Already in the Old Testament, Christ was spoken of as the Shepherd of His sheep. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 40:11: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” But it is in the New Testament that this idea comes to the foreground. In Luke 15:3-7, the well-known parable of the lost sheep, Jesus compares Himself to a Shepherd Who goes in search of the sheep which is lost. Mark, in Mark 6:34 writes of the people of Israel in their relation to Christ: “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.” The epistles speak of this also. Peter writes, in I Peter 2:25: “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” And again in I Peter 5:4: “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” In Hebrews 13:20 we read: “Now the God of peace, that brought from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work.”
Especially in the Old Testament, the officebearers in the Church were called shepherds. It is striking that this is especially in connection with the unfaithfulness of those who were responsible for caring for the spiritual needs of God’s people. A couple of passages will suffice. In Jeremiah 25:34-36 we read: “Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel. And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the Lord hath spoiled their pasture.” Ezekiel 34 deals almost exclusively with this subject. One cannot read this powerful passage without a shiver of fear, for it is a dreadful thing to be an unfaithful shepherd. “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. . . . Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.” Ezekiel 34:1-10.
Hence, God’s people are repeatedly referred to sheep in the Scriptures. This is implied in the passages which we quoted above. But there are many other, specific passages which refer to this. In Isaiah 53:6 all God’s people confess: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The same thing is true in Psalm 119:176: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” In John 10 Jesus repeatedly refers to His people as His sheep Who hear His voice and follow Him. In Matthew 25 Jesus describes the judgment in terms of separating the sheep from the goats. vss. 31-46. And this figure is repeatedly referred to in the prophets.
But with this we must close for the time being.