Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople and one of the most significant figures in Early Church History, wrote On the Priesthood which covers the pastoral theology proper in terms of articles and dialogues. A number of points covered in this work are still very relevant nowadays.

Book II was about the shepherd’s love of a minister towards the congregation that Christ entrusted to him, just as Christ ordered Apostle Peter to minister Christ’s followers after Christ asked him whether he love Christ. (John 21:15-17) A minister was given a congregation, as he loves Christ, however imperfect the love is. It is still true today that the love for Christ of ministers is essential for the church.

Book III stresses the solemnity of pastoral prayers, quoting an analogy from Elijah’s prayer for the fire from Heaven in front of the hundreds of Baal prophets. This is a prestigious authority that God gives, not to angels or archangels, but to men. Pastoral prayers are no casual things; they have to be taken seriously. Even nowadays, for the sake of Christ and His church, ministers ought to practice consistent and regular prayers, for it is solemn and necessary. A sign of lack of prayers can be easily seen.

In addition, Book III details some of the pastors’ emotional challenges in face of oppositions from within the church and the secular world. Ministers are often accused of vainglory and pride by people out of evil purposes or envy. Priests in the time of John Chrysostom had to deal with various secular affairs, such as discerning justice, adding to his emotional stress. This is not easy, because it is not finishing a project but caring for souls, as “souls are more precious than bodies.” Pastors and ministers nowadays have less civil responsibilities, but they still have to provide counselling to people in need. They, especially the famous ones, are still attacked by accusations of vanity and arrogance.

Book IV states the need for ministers to diligently study the Word of God, and attain a thorough understanding of theology, in order to be faced with unpredictable spiritual warfare. The Word was described by Apostle Paul as the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. (Eph. 6:16-17) The study of Scripture is not only beneficial for ministers themselves, but it prepares them to tackle the attack of wrong theologies, heresies, or worldly philosophies. Apostle Peter urged all Christians to be ready to answer questions for their reasons for the hope. (1 Pet. 3:15) Because of the variety of the types of warfare, John Chrysostom said ministers must “understand all forms of arts” of the devil, and be “well-guarded in all parts.” He pointed out the distinction between ordinary warfare and spiritual warfare, where the former has a point of victory or defeat, but the latter does not. Hence ministers have to be watchful. The Word has not changed for the past two thousand years, and it will not change. The study of Word is still essential nowadays in face of spiritual warfare in the postmodern world, which is more diverse and full of temptation.

Book V points out that preachers have to be eloquent in preaching, and indifferent to others’ praise. Lacking the former and having the latter means the preachers be despised by the congregations; having the former and lacking the latter feeds preachers’ pride, and makes him deliver messages pleasing to the congregations instead of God; lacking both renders the preaching useless as it does not yield to the pleasure of the congregations, and the sermons are not helpful to the audience. Even nowadays, good speakers help a lot of listeners grow in faith; ignoring others’ flattery prevents the preachers from speaking like those prosperity gospel preachers.

Book VI reiterates the responsibilities of pastors in Book II, the solemnity of ministerial tasks in Book III, and the necessity to be equipped to fight spiritual battles in Book IV. Despite these challenges and the emotional stresses the pastors are faced with, John Chrysostom said he found joy in serving. Today’s pastors should be joyful in serving the congregations Christ entrusted to them despite the hardships.

  • Selected Readings of John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood.
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