Dr. Maynard Koerner’s doctoral dissertation is a must read for Ministers and Elders that are new to the Reformed Church in the United States. His book is entitled Pastoral Ministry from a Covenantal Perspective. Future interns for our ministry should be required by their mentors to read this tome. It is also a good read for the rest of the ordained officers in the RCUS as a refresher course in our basic ideology of covenantal ministry. Believers in the pew will also benefit greatly when they read this work.
It is a little book of 145 pages. (My idea is that just as you can’t get a bowl of ice cream big enough, you can’t have a book long enough to suit me – even Philip Schaff’s 1600 pages is not enough church history.) This small book contains a mass of sound information gathered from years of study and experience.
Koerner has a vision of how the covenant has application to ministry. His main point is that “Jesus as the Good Shepherd has provided for the ongoing care, feeding, and growth of the sheep. The instrument to accomplish this is the ministry of the gospel. They are the fellow shepherds by which the sheep receive the ministry of the Good Shepherd.” (p. 128) His understanding of pastoral ministry is emphasized in the two areas of worship and of the covenantal relationship which God has established with His people (p. 128). On page 24 he states, “The purpose for this study is to demonstrate the need to understand the pastoral nature of ministry.” He also wants us to know how the covenant relates to ministry (page 13). Koerner has accomplished those purposes.
The dissertation contains a variety of subjects. A few subjects that catch your eye and make you feel that you want to read them right away are these: “Definition of Pastoral Ministry,” “An Overview of Covenant Theology,” “Catechetical Instruction,” “Pastoral Oversight by the Elders,” and “Ministry Through the Courts of the Church.” However, I recommend you start at the beginning with Koerner’s theological understanding which will be a guide for his study. He holds to a classical Reformed view on covenant and ministry.
The book is valuable because it shows the forward direction of the concept of ministry in the RCUS and where the RCUS is headed as it applies to all areas of life an approach that is reformational, covenantal, and confessional. This work also exposes, in detail, the path of our church polity as it ministers to God’s covenant people.
Throughout the book there is good insight and exegesis of the Bible. For example, on pages 49-60, Koerner presents four basis principles and pictures of worship which establish proper worship: God meets His people in worship, there is direct access to God that is provided by Christ, worship takes place in the City of God, and worship is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
Koerner uses a multitude of sources from Reformed writers, many whom I have known personally and have always trusted. There is always wisdom in the use of many counselors.
I appreciated Koerner’s definitions and expositions of the terms, “shepherd,” “pastoral,” and “ministry,” found in chapters 1 and 2. I also appreciated his profuse use of the Heidelberg Catechism.
One criticism I have with this very good work is that there is not a full definition of the Covenant – at least I could not find one. To my mind the covenant is an oath agreement between God and man that is cut by the blood of Christ with a declaration of God’s Lordship as He consecrates a people unto Himself in a dictated order of life and is entered into by faith. There is a partial definition on page 98 that states, “A covenant is a contractual relationship established by authoritative words.” This may be true of a secular covenant but not a fuller Biblical one. To be fair, Koerner does spend chapter 3 explaining the covenant but does not give us a clear birds-eye view of what a covenant is by definition. Further, there does seem to be some problems with the terminology in the section on profession of faith and what all that means for children and adults, especially in pages 99-103.
The above are not to detract from the solid work in the Dissertation. I read the book three times for this review and I learned something each time.
I recommend this book very highly for church members, clergy, office bearers, and those new or seeking the RCUS as a church home. I hope the good Doctor will not be sorry he asked me to review his excellent book.
Rev. Dr. Howard E. Hart