Yes, it’s true – pastors often lament the state of their congregations. Especially in regard to the visible aspects of a congregation’s life. In these days the concept of public worship twice on a Sunday is a rare thing, and where a church has two services, the evening service is often in danger of kicking the bucket. People may be willing to assemble to give God the glory once on a Sunday, but not twice. And coming to a midweek meeting to pray and study is either inconceivable or impossible.

It is tempting to think this is a modern phenomenon brought about spiritual decline or insane busy-ness, to which we need to react. However, this thought would be a mistake. Here is Selderhuis on Calvin (the text in quotes is Calvin):

Calvin was rather critical of his listeners. Or was listeners too generous a term? He actually doubted whether they listened at all. The gospel was indeed being preached in Geneva, “but of what use is that when no one does anything with it?” People went to church only out of custom, and it had become a mere ritual so that “they leave just as they came in.” … They are like animals that reflexively amble over to the feeding trough, “for as soon as they come to church for Lord’s Supper, baptism or marriage, they do not even remember what they are asking for.” The bells tolled every day, but the people ignored them. Every Sunday the bells were sounded four times to summon them, but they thought it enough to come once. “In short, by far the majority live according to the old saying: close to church, far from God.” They covered their lack of effort and diligence with all kinds of idle questions, “and then they want to know why God has elected some and reprobated others.” When the topic of God’s judgment came up, everyone had an escape and no one was guilty. In short, “they are eager to explore the rooms in Paradise, but do not do their best to arrive there.” Calvin considered it ridiculous that Muslims, Jews, heathens and papists were more diligent in their superstitions than we Christians in our service to the gospel. The use of we here is significant; Calvin included himself. As the preacher, he stood above the people, but as a human being he stood among them. Throughout all of the applications he drew, Calvin always stayed close to the text. This was probably the result of his humanism, according to which one could not stay close enough to the source text. A more personal reason, however, would have been his constant search for security. The Word was the only fixed point of certainty in a world in which Calvin saw all things as turbulent, in flux and in confusion. One seeking a firm handhold always did well to stay as close as possible to the text of that Word. (Selderhuis, John Calvin p. 132)

So it is not a new thing at all. Human beings are the same in every generation. There is much to ponder here for all Christians:

  • Is worship a mere ritual or custom? It can become a habit, a social event, an “insurance policy”. But our hearts should be engaged with the triune God.
  • Do we ever say “that’s enough of God’s word”? We don’t need to say it out loud. We always do what we want to do. When an opportunity arises to hear God’s word, what do you want to do at that moment?
  • Are we full of idle theological questions without that earnest heart desire for Christ? It is good (and fun!) to have theological debate. But it can be a smokescreen for a sickness of heart.
  • Do we presume our salvation but are careless about sanctification? It is impossible to claim salvation and be unconcerned about holiness. A regenerate heart cannot be like that.
  • Are we put to shame by lack of service for the gospel? Honestly. There are far to many consumers looking to be entertained and receive spiritual goods and services from “the church” than to be the church and to give our lives in the service of Christ and the gospel.

And pastors? It is easy for a pastor to lose heart when focusing on the visible. But “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Thus, as Calvin did, we must stick close to God’s word and trust his promises, the only sure things in a sea of turmoil.


A Sin That Ought Not to Be Found in a Pastor

In Herman Selderhuis’s “John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life”, the author notes that Calvin had a list of sins that ought not to be found in a pastor. Amongst the obvious ones, there is this intriguing one:

“using the Bible in an irritating manner”. (p. 126)

Does anyone have any idea what this might mean? My mind boggles!

A Sin That Ought Not to Be Found in a Pastor

Free Church Plenary Assembly

It looks like the last couple of days have been momentous for the Free Church of Scotland as its plenary assembly has met to discuss the singing of hymns and the use of musical instruments in public worship.

To cut to the chase, according to David Robertson, “Free Church congregations are now allowed to sing additional materials of praise and use musical instruments” (see link). It is an historic decision.

I wait with anticipation to see what this will mean for the cause of reformed, evangelical Christianity in Scotland.  The way is easier now for a realignment of like-minded churches, having removed one of the obstacles.

Who knows? It may even affect England, Wales and Ireland too.

UPDATE: A statement has been published on the Free Church website.

Free Church Plenary Assembly

Paul on Union with Christ

Sinclair FergusonIf you want to learn about Paul’s teaching on union with Christ, then you should watch or listen to this video of Sinclair Ferguson speaking at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. It is far from a dry doctrinal treatment, but takes us from Paul’s background as a young man who probably went to the same synagogue as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, yet found his life transformed by Christ to a man who carried “in the body the dying of Jesus” (a better translation of 2 Corinthians 4:10 according to Ferguson).

Rich, personal, deeply pastoral. A must.

Paul on Union with Christ