Keeping the Pastoral Promise: A Reflection on the Sufficiency of Scripture & the Ordination Vow

The last few weeks have been filled with farewells. Three assemblies have now sung ‘God be with you till we meet again.’ Overnight I went from being the Minister of Word and Sacrament of a specific local church to a pastor without the pastoral responsibility of a particular assembly. Now that my former assembly responsibilities are gone, that’s made me think about what my responsibility is now. You see, I come from a tradition where being a pastor (or an ordained teacher as well in my case) isn’t just a temporary function or job. When you’re ordained as a pastor, you then ‘are’ a pastor. So, I need to think about what my responsibilities are as a pastor without the responsibility of an assembly.

But how? Well, my solution was to get out my Ministers’ Manual (which is basically our liturgy book) and re-read and reflect on my ordination vows. A vow is a promise, and so it should be remembered and kept. We’d be amazed if anyone forgot their wedding vows! And an ordination vow is just as solemn a promise before God. So, if I’m to be a faithful pastor and teacher while I don’t have the responsibility of a local assembly, I need to remember and keep my ordination vows.

At the centre of the ordination vow taken by ministers in the Apostolic Church stands a promise always to trust in the Holy Scriptures as ‘our sufficient and final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice’ and so always to ‘develop your ministry in accordance’ with this sufficiency and supreme authority of Scripture. Before promising my fidelity to ‘the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith as contained in the Tenets of this Church’ or that I would maintain its ‘worship, discipline and government,’ I (and all other Apostolic ministers) promised that my ministry would always rely upon the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.

So, for the last few days I haven’t been the pastor of an assembly. Yet I have spoken to a number of people about the Christian faith, and sat with people answering many questions about the Bible and the Christian life. I haven’t done it as ‘their’ pastor, but a have done it as ‘a’ pastor and teacher (for that is what I am). And so, again and again, in response to all sorts of questions about ethics, prayer, doctrine, the Christian life, and church practice, I’ve taken people back to the Bible to see what it says – pointing people again and again to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I don’t do that merely out of duty because I’m a pastor; I do it because I trust in Scripture’s sufficiency and authority as the Word of God. But if I weren’t to do that, I wouldn’t be keeping the promise of my ordination vow.

So, how can I, as a pastor without an assembly be a faithful pastor? By keeping my promise, and so bringing people to the green pastures of God’s Word: pointing them not to me and my words or actions, but to the sufficient Word which God has spoken.