Thursday, July 13, 2006

Historic Roots of Systematic Pastoral Visitation

When describing the need for careful oversight of a congregation people often think of the example of Richard Baxter. Baxter is of course a good example, and I have fairly frequently referred to Baxter in posts on this blog. However, we must not think Baxter originated the idea of regular, systematic visitation of one’s congregation.

Theodore Beza, in his Life of Calvin, describes some developments in the pastoral ministry in Geneva in 1550:

“It was determined that the ministers should at a certain season of the year, attended by an elder and a deacon, go round all the wards of the city, to instruct the people, and examine every individual briefly as to his faith. This they were to do, not only in sermons … but also in each house and family. It is scarcely credible how great benefit ensued” (trans. Henry Beveridge)

3 comments:

j razz said...

Ray,
What did that look like back then? When it says ward, is that the same as precinct?
Does that include all the townsfolk or just those that where a part of their church?
I wonder if they held to account even those outside the church- it sounds like it from th brief quote. As you can tell, I don't have that book.
Good day Ray.
j razz

Aspinwall said...

jrazz - there was no separation of church and state, everyone in Geneva was a part of the church from their infancy (paedobaptism).

Ray, I think an important point here is that true pastoral care must be seen in concert with the ministry of the Word. When this occurred to me some years ago, I was stunned. My visitation should not simply be one of 'gland-handing' and chatting, but my visit is an interpersonal ministry of the Word to the soul of the flock's sheep.
Thus, my visitation of all the families of church shifted to inquiries of their salvation testimony and offering of spiritual and biblical counsel. All of a sudden, pastoral care "clicked"!

Ray Van Neste said...

Exactly Klay!
First, right answer to Jrazz. This is one area (non-regenrate church membership) wher we would differ from the Geneva practice here. My point though is the broader picture.
Second, I agree exactly, Klay, about understanding that this personal visitation is an extension of the ministry of the Word. Paul mentions to the Ephesian elders that he has taught them publicly and from house to house. So when we think of the ministry of the WOrd and prayer from Acts 6 I always then emphasize both the public and private aspects of the ministry of the Word.