Lessons from Geneva: Pastoring is Hard Work

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At the conclusion of Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors he lists four lessons we can learn from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609.  Each of these four lessons is worthy of careful meditation by those seeking to enter the ministry or those already there. Here is the first lesson.

First, this study of the Company of Pastors has shown that the vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one. As we have seen, Geneva’s pastors faced heavy workloads and encountered many hardships in their pastoral careers, including financial deprivation, incessant public criticism, congregational apathy, and sometimes even physical danger. Far more than “agents of the state” Calvin and his colleagues served as biblical interpreters, spiritual counselors, social prophets, and moral watchdogs that regularly challenged popular beliefs and social conventions, and sometimes thundered against Geneva’s political authorities. The ministers occupied a crucial, yet awkward, position in early modern society as they sought to translate gospel truths into a vernacular that provided hope, meaning, and forgiveness to men and women who sometimes struggled to believe- and frequently struggled to behave themselves. Too often the ministers’ moral indignation and spiritual blind spots only increased the difficulties they encountered in applying Scripture to the needs of their parishioners. Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith. Pastoral virtues like these are still required of Christian workers today even if their congregational contexts are centuries removed from Calvin’s.

When I entered ministry this was not my perspective. As a young man I saw many free hours perusing my books with coffee. I saw sermons that soared to heights unknown.  I do read a lot and of course preach, but the ministry is difficult work, filled with anxious moments, mistakes, weariness of body and soul, disappointment, and hardships. Of course, there are joys as well. But I knew that. I expected the mountain tops. But I did not know how deep, dark, and cold the valleys could be. I should have of course.  It was prophesied of Christ that he would be ” rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Can I follow Christ and preach Christ and expect ease and comfort? Paul told Timothy:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 2 Timothy 2:3-6

Can I be a soldier and yet live in luxury? Can I be a hard working farmer without long nights and tired muscles? One of the most important lessons young pastors need to learn and seminary students need to be told is that the ministry when it is done right is bone-wearying work. It always has been and always will be.

Gender is a Cage

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This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.

George Gilder wrote the following paragraphs in 1986.

To the sexual liberal, gender is a cage. Behind cruel bars of custom and tradition, men and women for centuries have looked longingly across forbidden spaces at one another and yearned to be free of sexual roles. The men dream of nurturing and consoling; the women want to be tough and child free. Today it is widely believed that the dream of escape can come at last.

This belief leads to a program of mixing the sexes in every possible way, at every stage of life. In nurseries and schools, in athletics and home economics, in sex education and social life, the sexes are thrown together in the continuing effort to create a unisex society. But the results are rarely as expected, and the policies are mostly founded on confusion.

Some of the confusions arise in the schools, where the androgynous agenda has made the greatest apparent headway and its effects can best be studied. It turns out what seems elemental to many expert educationists is actually bizarre from the long perspective of history and anthropology.

Until recent years, for example, most American parochial schools have kept strict sexual segregation. The boys and girls joined chiefly on ceremonial occasions-assemblies and graduations. Even the playground was divided into male and female territories. The restrictions were lifted only during carefully supervised dances, when young couples made their way chastely around the floor of the gym under the watchful eyes of nuns. Any unseemly body contact brought a swift reprimand: “Leave six inches for the Holy Ghost.”

There is no room for the Holy Ghost any longer at most of our schools. The bodies and minds rub together from kindergarten to graduate study. The result is perfectly predictable. Sexual activity occurs at an increasingly younger age. In communities where the family cannot  impose discipline, illegitimate children are common. Classrooms become an intensely sexual arena, where girls and boys perform for the attention of the other sex and where unintellectual males quickly come to view schoolbooks as a menace to manhood.

He closes the chapter with these words: Continue reading

The Glory & Goodness of Clerical Marriage

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Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Timothy 4:1-3

A quote from Scott Manetsch on one of the most enduring legacies of the Protestant Reformation:

Few theological convictions of the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers had greater impact on the structure of early modern European society than that regarding the goodness of clerical marriage. The pastor’s household as an institution was birthed in the 1520s and 1530s, as evangelical church leaders in Germany and Switzerland began to defy canon law and Catholic tradition by renouncing vows of celibacy and taking wives. In their sermons and published writings, but also in their own marriages, reformers like Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and (somewhat later) John Calvin challenged the medieval church’s teaching that the celibate, contemplative life was superior to the active life of marriage and family. The magisterial reformers argued that the medieval church’s requirement of clerical celibacy was a human invention that tyrannized the consciences of priests and distorted the Bible’s teaching on the value and proper function of marriage. As Calvin saw it, marriage was a “good and holy ordinance” which God had created and offered to men and women from all walks of life for the purpose of procreating children, restraining fornication, and promoting love between husband and wife. Guillaume Farel concurred, crying out in his Summary and Brief Declaration (c. 1529): “O holy estate of marriage, you who are sullied and dishonored [by the priests]. O brutal world, devoid of all sense and understanding, do you not have eyes? Are you so blind that you grope about at noontime as if you were in utter darkness? Do you think that in our day this holy estate should be prohibited, that it is sin to fulfill the commandment of God?” The construction of clerical marriage brought with it a new identity and new responsibilities for the Protestant minister: his spiritual calling as a “shepherd of souls”  now extended beyond the parish church to his family and household, where he served as husband, father, son-in-law, and paterfamilias. It was expected that the pastor’s household, including his wife and children, should serve as an example to the surrounding community, a model of Christian piety and domestic tranquility for neighbors to emulate. Susan Karant-Nunn has rightly observed, “The home of the pastor and his wife became a symbol of active spirituality second only to the church itself.” Although the magisterial reformers did not mandate marriage for young ministerial candidates, they did anticipate that the majority of evangelical ministers would marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marriage is under attack again though from a different enemy. Fornication, adultery, abortion, sodomy, rampant divorce, purposely fruitless marriages, love of money, love of freedom, love of pleasure, pornography, feminism, and sexual molestation, have all taken a toll on the church’s witness about the goodness of marriage.  We like to blame the world, but in the end the church’s refusal to deal with sexual sin in the pews and the pulpit has been one the greatest factors in the disintegration of marriage in America and Europe. Who is to blame for the carnage? The church. Who leads the church? Her ministers. How can we once again recover the glory of marriage? Ministers should be men and marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community. Also ministers should teach, shepherd, counsel, and model sexual faithfulness and the goodness of marriage, as well as correct, rebuke, and if necessary excommunicate those who are sexually immoral. Just like in the 1500s if we want another reformation of marriage it will occur through the faithful teaching and lives of ministers.

Cold Feet in Calvin’s Geneva

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I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte’s book on marriage in Geneva. 
 

In a previous post I looked at what happens when people get too excited about marriage and up sleeping together before their wedding. As with all periods of history, this problem was common in Geneva. However, there was another issue that Geneva faced that is not a problem in 21st Century America; desertion before marriage. Today an engagement is not binding therefore this is not an issue. If a couple is engaged, it is assumed they will get married. But if they do not wish to get married all they have to do is break off the engagement.  Nothing more is needed.  Continue reading

Signs of Sexual Rot: Diminished Masculinity & Femininity

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If you are looking for a book that will help you counsel someone with sexual problems or work through your own sexual problems then I would recommend Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s Undefiled.   Dr. Schaumburg at the time of this book (2009) had counseled almost 1,500 couples and has been counseling over thirty years with eighteen years devoted exclusively to sexual issues.  In one of the early chapters of the book he discusses how prevalent sexual sin is in the church.  He says that some research puts the number of church members watching porn at 50%. One mission organization told him that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicated a problem with porn. One seminary professor said we no longer ask, are you using porn. But rather how bad is it? Dr. Schaumburg closes with this statement, “This rot in the church must be addressed or the devastation will be incalculable.” He then gives nine indicators of the problem. I will quote the first here and give the other eight in an subsequent post. Why quote the first one in full? It gets at one of the roots of our sexual malaise: rejection of created ordered and a failure to rejoice that men are men and women are women. Here are the two paragraphs under that indicator.  Continue reading

Emergency Baptisms in Geneva

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Here is a section from Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors about why emergency baptisms were banned in Geneva. An emergency baptism was when a newborn who was about to die was baptized.

During the first decades after Geneva’s Reformation, the Consistory [pastors who oversaw Geneva’s spiritual care] investigated a handful of baptismal cases in outlying villages where godparents or midwives performed emergency baptisms out of concern for the salvation of a sickly newborn infant. While Lutheran churches in Germany permitted this traditional practice, Geneva’s ministers viewed emergency baptisms as pernicious because the sacraments should only be performed by ministers in the assembly of the faithful in conjunction with the preaching of the Word, and they were predicated on the false Catholic teaching that baptism was necessary for salvation. It was with these theological concerns in mind that the Consistory sharply rebuked a woman named Claude Mestral in 1548 for allowing a midwife to baptize her sick infant out of the mistaken belief that “if the children of believers do not have the external sign [of baptism] they will perish.” Though emergency baptisms became extremely rare in reformed Geneva after 1550, nevertheless, the parental instinct to assure the spiritual well-being of sickly children through baptism was very difficult to root out entirely. This is seen in the fact that, in the rural parish of Russin in 1599, parents continued to bring sick newborns to their pastor in the middle of the night to request baptism. The Venerable Company instructed the pastor of Russin and other countryside ministers to remind their congregations that “the doctrine which claims baptism is necessary for salvation is false” and that all baptisms should be celebrated in the presence of the Christian assembly and in conjunction with Christian preaching.

There are several interesting ideas in this paragraph.

First, it is clear that in Geneva, baptism was not considered necessary to salvation. Therefore, I think it follows, given the general teaching on the covenant, that baptism was administered because the child was in covenant, not in order to bring the child into the covenant.

Second, the pastors in Geneva kept a close eye on liturgical practices that would undermine Biblical truth. Allowing mid-wives to baptize sick newborns taught a particular view of baptism: that without it a child was not saved. They saw this as dangerous and therefore eliminated the practice. We should carefully watch our liturgical practices, both in worship and outside, to make sure our actions are not undermining the truth.

Let me give two examples. First, what does it say if we allow unordained fathers to baptize their children? Second, what does it say if we allow women to teach men in small groups, Sunday school, church conferences, etc. but refuse them the pulpit? Too many Christians assume that liturgical practices have little impact. That is deadly and allows false teaching to creep in unnoticed.

Third, again showing pastoral wisdom, Geneva’s ministers looked at why a person was doing a particular action. Wanting to have a child baptized was a good thing. But the why mattered. If you wanted your child baptized because you thought baptism was necessary for salvation there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Doing the right thing does not always mean the right thing is being done for the right reason.

Finally, baptism was a church event, not a family event. It was to take place in worship where God’s people were gathered and where God’s Word was preached.  There are numerous reasons for this including the necessity of the Word. But one key reason is that raising children takes the effort and prayers of the whole church body. The child is becoming part of God’s people. When we baptize babies we have vows for the parents, but we also have vows for the congregation. This is one of our liturgical practices that we believe reinforces a Biblical truth: the whole congregation in various ways and at various levels is responsible for leading a child to Christ and teaching them the ways of Christ. Here are the congregational vows we include in our baptismal service.

Covenant Vows for the Congregation
Minister: Do you promise as a covenant community to assist [Parent’s Name] by word, prayer, and Christian fellowship to raise [Child’s Name] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
People: By God’s grace we do!

Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive [Child’s Name] with love into Christ’s Church, pray for him, help instruct him in the faith, encourage, and sustain him in the fellowship of believers to the end that he may faithfully walk with Christ all his days and come at last to his eternal kingdom?
People: By God’s grace we do!

In Geneva, baptism was important but did not save, was communal, not individual, and was to attached to the Word, not separated from it.

Get to the Meat, Read Theology

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One of the great weaknesses in Christianity today, particularly among her pastors and leaders, is the lack of theological foundation. I have seen this weakness in my own life in my ten years of ministry. I went to Bible school and graduated from a conservative, reformed, seminary. Yet despite this I was not prepared theologically for pastoral ministry. I spent too much time in practical books that dealt with contemporary subjects and too little that dealt with the great truths of God’s Word. As I moved through pastoral ministry I became more and more aware that I did not have a solid theological foundation.  I did not know the catechisms, confessions, creeds, nor basic theological categories. I found this often led me astray. A cool, neat, sounding, novel idea would gain my ear. I would later find out it was either poorly worded, unnecessary because there are better answers, or just plain wrong. This could have been prevented by a thorough study of classic works. Here are some suggestions directed primarily at those who are in ministry or are going into ministry. Continue reading