The Keys to the Kingdom in Geneva

Reformers 1

Man, am I enjoying Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors. I have decided to describe it as a pastoral theology disguised as history. Here is Manetsch’s summary of the ways Calvin and his successors believed ministers exercise the power of the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).

First, the spiritual authority to “bind and loose” was exercised in a general way when ministers preached the gospel in their sermons, announcing God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked and God’s promise of salvation to those who turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Second, the power of the keys was employed more particularly when pastors and lay elders conducted annual household visitations to examine the character and doctrine of church members, or when they admonish sinners in private conferences. Finally, ministers and elders employed the power of the keys through the ministry of the Consistory as they confronted people who were guilty of moral failure and excommunicated from the Lord’s Table those who refused to repent of their error. At each stage of discipline, church leaders needed spiritual discernment to apply the appropriate measures of rigor and gentleness to bring about the repentance and restoration of the sinner. Wise pastors, Beza [Calvin’s successor] once observed need “not only to discern the illness, but also the best medicine to prescribe, preaching the Law to the hardened, and the gospel of grace to those despairing. In brief, let us always condemn the sin, but try to save the sinner.” This was Calvin’s view as well. The power of the keys needed to be exercised with wisdom and gentleness in hopes of rescuing the sinner.  Otherwise discipline might degenerate into “spiritual butchery.”

Just a couple of notes from this paragraph.

First, church discipline is often understood only as excommunication. This is a serious mistake and fails to recognize that a majority of discipline in a church occurs from the pulpit in a general fashion or one on one either through visitation or counseling.

Second, the lost art of visitation is one of the reasons why sin among the congregation is not more quickly recognized and dealt with. Visitation does two things: it creates a stronger relationship between the minister/elders and the members so when rebuke is necessary there should already be a bond of love. And it gives the minister a chance to be in the home and ask questions about how the member is doing. If the only time a minister/elder speaks with a member is before or after a regular meeting or when there is crisis then sin will not be adequately dealt with.

Third, discipline in all it forms, preaching, private meetings, and excommunication requires great wisdom on the part of ministers. It is easy to make mistakes, especially in our age where the congregation usually does not want anyone exercising authority in their lives, whether from the pulpit or in their living room, and the pastors have rarely seen spiritual authority exercised well, if at all.

It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

Continue reading

How is the World Reassembled?

Christopher Ash in his book The Priority of Preaching spends an entire chapter talking about how the preached word is God’s method for bringing people who very different from one another together in harmony. He talks about how human beings are scattered because of sin. In Christ they are brought back together. He uses the term “reassemble” to describe this process. Here is a summary of a portion of that chapter along with a quote at the end.

The broken world cannot be reassembled by:
  •  Technology: We are finding that technology does not reassemble people at all.  We still “connect” with those most like us. 
  • Force: A unity created by force is lost as soon as the source of that force is lost, such as a king or ruler.
  • Natural Human Affection: There is no natural human affection that will reassemble people who are not like each other. Naturally we divide. Naturally we get into our little circles and stay there. 
  • Religion: There can be religious assemblies that gather people together.  However, because they reject God and refuse to submit to his word they are assemblies of lies and deceit.  They are dangerous and they do not bring together diverse groups of people. Nor do they heal what is really broken.
The world can only be reassembled through grace.
“Only the preached word of Christ, the word of grace preached again and again and again, pressed home with passion and engagement, only that word will create God’s assembly to rebuild a broken world. It has been said that the church is crater formed by the impact of the word of God (Karl Barth); or that ‘the scriptures are God’s voice, the church is his echo’ (John Donne). Those are vivid pictures. But it is perhaps more scriptural to say that the church is the living organism conceived, shaped and grown by the seed of the word of God within (cf. James 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). The church’s DNA is the DNA of the preached word of God. And by that word Jesus gathers unlikely people.”

Snoring, Vomiting, and Flirting During Calvin’s Sermons

I am really enjoying Scott Manetsch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. It is history done right with the right amount of detail and the avoidance of simplistic viewpoints.  At my church the children are in worship. This creates a fair amount of distractions from crying to kids falling and hitting their heads to children arguing with each other. Therefore I found this description of what attending a sermon in Geneva often looked liked encouraging. My comments are in brackets.

The Genevan ideal of a simple, well-ordered service in which the faithful attentively listened to, understood, and responded to the Word of God was not always achieved in practice. [Good to know this is not just a 21st century problem.] A variety of discomforts and distractions made attendance at sermons a challenging experience for even the most devout at times. The city’s churches could be stifling hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. On several occasions the frigid winter weather prompted the ministers to move services from the cavernous temple of St. Pierre to the smaller (and warmer) church of St. Germain…There were also plenty of human distractions. Between 1541 and 1609, a long litany of nuisances great and small elicited the complaints of ministers as well as parishioners. Members of the congregation frequently arrived late to Sunday worship [That never happens today], missing the congregational singing and the introductory prayers. Others left early [Can’t miss the start of the game.], causing a commotion during the concluding baptismal service. At weekday sermons in the church at St. Gervais, parishioners sometimes found it difficult to hear the preacher because of the noise caused by the blacksmith shops nearby. In Geneva’s churches, babies often wailed, dogs barked, and schoolboys chatted happily through the morning sermon. Worshipers were also distracted when people succumbed to violent coughing fits, when drunkards vomited in full view of the assembly, or when weary souls fell asleep and snored along with the sermon. Some people chased controversy and invited complaints when they brought more than their Psalter hymnals with them to church. In 1560, for example, Francoise Frochet made a spectacle of herself when she came to the sermon at St. Pierre’s  carrying apples, pears, and chestnuts [What did they do with the cores, throw them at the pastor?], which she noisily shared with those sitting next to her. Pierre Toulieu also got into trouble when he sat through a worship service in a countryside church with his musket propped up on his shoulder [Wonder what that pastor thought? Is he going to shoot me?] and his hunting dog sleeping at his feet. It is clear, moreover, that many townspeople welcomed the preaching service as an opportunity to socialize with friends or flirt with members of the opposite sex rather than listen to the sermon. The case of Benjamin Maret and Antoine Grifferat is altogether typical. Maret and Grifferat were brought before the Consistory [Church leaders in Geneva] in 1563 for having talked and laughed throughout the Sunday morning sermon at the temple of St. Pierre. After extensive questioning, Maret admitted to flirting with a young woman in a red bonnet [I think I am predestined to be with you.] while Grifferat confessed to chatting with a friend for part of the service “but not during the entire sermon.” Due to such noise and distractions, some people found it difficult to concentrate on the preacher’s sermon.

I love this paragraph because it is a reminder of two things.

First, churches, people, and worship don’t change. There are always distractions in worship. There always have been. That picture you have in your head of everyone sitting quietly listening to the sermon is a lie. Sometimes I get irritated at the noise in worship. But why? Worship does not take place in some pristine world without noise and distractions.

Second, God works in worship services despite the distractions.  The preached Word week after week changed the men and women of Geneva despite vomit, cold, heat, snoring, and babies. And that Word changes us as well, despite bathroom breaks, microphones that don’t work, crying babies, a two year old hitting her older brother, and flirting teenagers.

Word is Necessary, Sacraments are Not

bible-2

Pierre Marcel in his excellent book Infant Baptism, takes several pages to discuss the similarities and differences between the Word and the sacraments. He clearly explains how the Word and the sacraments are the same and how they are different. Here are some good paragraphs explaining the priority of the Word over the sacraments. All italics are Marcel’s.

The Word is indispensable to salvation, but the sacraments are not. The sacraments, in fact, are subordinated to the Word; they are signs of the content of the Word and are joined to it. The Word, therefore, is definitely something apart from the sacraments, but the sacraments apart from the Word are nothing: apart from it they have neither value nor power. The sacraments are nothing less than, but nothing more than, a visible Word. All the benefits of redemption come to us from the Word and only through faith, but there is not a single benefit which can be received through the sacraments alone, apart from the Word and without faith.

It is for this reason that the preaching of the Word should precede the administration of the sacraments in order to teach us and bring to our knowledge the significance of the visible sign. The words which are call “sacramental” are nothing other than a summary preaching of the promise of the Gospel, which ought to be proclaimed by the minister with force and clarity so that believers may be brought to the end for which the sign was prescribed.

The Word is thus indispensable for salvation, whereas the sacraments are not.

Naturally the next question is: If that is the case then why should we administer the sacraments? Do they become unnecessary if they are not absolutely necessary to our salvation? I will post Marcel’s answer to that question tomorrow.

The Pastor As Father

stott_preaching-sepia_0

John Stott Preaching

John Stott’s little book The Preacher’s Portrait is an excellent overview of pastoral ministry, in particular the attitude pastors should have towards preaching and the congregation. Stott uses five Biblical words to describe our work: Steward, herald, witness, father, and servant. In the chapter on the pastor as father Stott carefully describes what it means for a pastor to be a father to his congregation. It was the chapter that cut me the deepest. He says love is the chief idea behind Paul describing himself as father in I Thessalonians 2:13

Love, then, is the chief quality  of a father to which the Apostle refers when he uses the metaphor to illustrate his ministry; not a soft, sickly sentimentality, but a strong, unselfish love which cares and which is not incompatible with discipline.

Stott then goes on to give some fruit that comes when a pastor loves his congregation. Continue reading

Why a Conservative Interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 is Not Enough

1Timothy

Attacks on Scripture must be defended by exegesis of specific passages. For example, hammering out the meaning of I Timothy 2:11-12 and the surrounding verses is an essential exercise in dealing with men who want to subvert God’s teaching concerning women pastors and elders. But correct interpretation of key passages is not sufficient. Exegesis of specific passages must be placed in the overarching paradigm of Scripture and the created world. Is I Timothy 2:11-12 an extension of the way God made the world, the creation order applied to leadership and teaching in the church, or is it the exception to God’s created order? How we answer this question will probably have more impact on our view of ordaining women than the specific exegesis of the passage.

If we believe that men and women are interchangeable then a conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 does not make sense. Why would God restrict women in the pulpit, but no where else? If men and women are interchangeable in the created world as a whole, in places such as homes, businesses, politics, parenting, seminaries, etc. then why would they not be interchangeable in the church? A man can hold to the conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12, but if his position is egalitarian everywhere else then he is putting a square peg in a round hole. He is saying that God randomly decided women shouldn’t preach while everywhere else men and women are the same. Eventually something has to give. Usually the first generation holds the line despite the incongruity. But the following generation will often smooth out the square peg, which usually means denying the plain teaching of a passage.

But if God made men and women for complementary, but distinct roles in creation then I Timothy 2:11-12 fits with the way God created the world. If men and women are not interchangeable then the conservative interpretation of this passage (and many others such as I Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5:22-33) is not odd or strange, but naturally flow with the teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and with nature and created order. It is round peg in a round hole. What Paul says in this passage is what we would expect him to say given the rest of Scripture and the world we see around us.

My point is simple and applies to other areas of interpretation as well, such what is love or marriage in the sodomy debates. We should exegete specific passages, but we must do so using all of Scripture as well as nature, not just the specific passage in question. We should not assume that the correct interpretation of a passage is enough. Even if we get I Timothy 2:11-12 correct, if our paradigm is off then feminism will win. A conservative interpretation of this passage that is not rooted in creation order cannot hold the line.

This is a repost with some slight revisions from May of 2015.