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October 29, 2020 12:01 am
When ministers are poorly educated in the Word of God, the entire church suffers as a result. Today, W. Robert Godfrey conveys how John Calvin responded to the problems surrounding ministers in his day to help us evaluate pastors rightly today.
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Pilots will tell you that if you want to get from point A to point B. You have to rely on a heading any deviation from that course can have serious consequences. This no different for the church. Stay with us Renewing Your Mind is next to the 16th century and see how the Roman Catholic Church had veered off course courageous men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Though recognizing your they understood that the church must be guided only and always by God's word this week. Dr. Robert Guthrie has been reminding us that the reformers work isn't done. The church is always in need of course correction always in need of reformation. So far Dr. Godfrey has discussed worship, salvation, and the sacraments and today will address how the church is one return now to our fourth topic in the following Calvin's thought in his treatise on the necessity of reforming the church and if we thought sacraments was a little bit strange link to worship and to salvation, we find the topic of church government, maybe even stranger sounding now in the history of the church. There's been a lot of fighting amongst Protestants about church government.
So maybe we shouldn't think it's quite so strange. We even name our denominations after church government. So you have Congregationalists who think the congregation governs the church you have Presbyterians who think elders govern the church you have Episcopalians Episcopal loss bishops who think bishops govern the church so I see there's been a lot of debate in the history of the church about church government and we might expect.
John Calvin to really enter into a discussion of the role of bishops in the life of the church and particularly the role of the Bishop of Rome in the life of the church. What an ideal opportunity to attack the claims of the Bishop of Rome to universal sovereignty over the whole church but he doesn't.
Calvin is often a surprise to us and when he's talking about church government. What he's really talking about in this section is the role of ministers, what should be the role of ministers. What is the function of clergy in the life of the church and when you think about that.
That's actually a very important question. It may be important to discuss on a somewhat theoretical level, whether we ought to have bishops whether there is a Pope in the life of the church. But even if you believe in a Pope and bishops there pretty much removed from where most Christians live most of their lives. Most Roman Catholics have never met the Pope and off-line. Roman Catholics are an awful long time without seeing the Bishop. The what's important is the clergy functioning in the local church and what Calvin is saying this, what is their function. What ought to be doing what is the rule for God assigned to them and what Calvin argues very vigorously in this section of the treatise is that the role of pastors.
The role of the clergy is to edify the people of God in the word of God, and in doing that he actually quotes any number of ancient Christian authors after the writing of the Bible who say the same thing. One of the things the Protestants regularly wanted to do was to say we are not really teaching brand-new things we are reforming the church not only according to the word of God not only according what the Bible says but we want you to realize what we're saying is what church leaders in the church for centuries, said after the apostles we are not Latter Day Saints. We're not saying the church died out when the apostles died out and were now reviving no were saying the church very slowly over centuries and centuries wandered away from the truth and were trying to bring it back to the truth that for centuries. The early church recognized and taught and insisted on and at the very center of that.
Calvin argues was the preaching of the word and when you go back to the ancient church.
And look at that history. One of the things you see is the centrality of preaching in Christian worship.
The centrality of preaching the word of God, of preaching through the word of God opening up the word of God in public services and you can quote various decrees of ancient bishops and councils.
That said ministers have to preach. In fact, in the Eastern church.
There was a decree of a counseled hundreds of years after Christ. That said, every bishop must preach at least once a week and preferably every day so the obligation of preaching the word was central in the life of the church, but as time went on and this the church entered the Middle Ages preaching increasingly began to die out in both the Eastern church and in the Western church and that came to be linked in part, particularly in the Western church to a declining education on the part of the clergy and what often happened in the Middle Ages, particularly in rural areas and remember 90 or more percent of the population was rural what happened in rural communities is your head very poorly educated priests, many of them couldn't read well you know it's pretty hard to study the Bible and prepare a sermon. If you can't read, and they couldn't memorize the Canon of the mass they could memorize the right of the mass so they could stand at the altar and say what needed to be said, but they couldn't really preach.
They didn't have the education to do that some apologists have said what what could the church to and the answer is they could teach reading. I mean if if there was really a commitment to the importance of preaching the word been more commitment to education to ensure that there be preachers of the preach, but as the church more and more became focused on sacraments and on ceremonies. The importance of the effort to prepare preachers declined in the mind of the church as a task they wanted to pursue and what Calvin is saying in this section of his treatise is, we've done the outrageous thing of restoring Bible reading and Bible preaching to the life of the church, particularly the worshiping life of the church now Bible reading had always been part of the worship of the church. There's always been Bible reading in the church but he came that it was the same passage of sort of read over and over again. It can very often read in languages, the people didn't understand. So it isn't really helpful if you don't speak Latin or you don't sprinkle church Slavonic to have the Bible read in those languages.
It is in the living word for the people of God.
In those cases, and that's why one of the great commitments of the Reformation was to have services in the language of the people that did not mean they never had services in Latin. Probably the schoolboys in Geneva when they went to chapel had services in Latin, because everybody there spoke Latin, but the point was, if you have a lot of people there who don't speak Latin, then let's have the service and friendship. That's what the people speak and that was the insistence of work has to get through the work has to be comprehensible. We have to hear what God is saying to us, and that was at the very center of the very heart of the Reformation and as a result, the Protestant clergy in the 16th and 17th century was probably the best educated clergy in the whole history of the church. Education was really important was very highly stressed as central so that people would be able to preach the word of God, and that's why even Protestant education well into the 20th century, one of the things that was studied extensively in seminary was Greek and Hebrew. Why is that while so that I can read the word of God in the original languages and help the people of God than to understand.
I don't read it in Greek and Hebrew in church and I used to say to seminarians. Don't let the principal reaction to your sermon be wow I never knew that Hebrew word meant that there is no great need to call Greek and Hebrew and servant. But there is a need for a preacher to be able if at all possible to know the word of God in the original languages. It really is true that knowing that helps the preacher a great deal of some of you may not know Greek and Hebrew, but perhaps you know another language and if you do know another language besides English you know how when you read something in another language you suddenly see an angle on it that you hadn't observed in English and that's very much true, the Greek and the Hebrew, and I think it's not too much to say.
Since were trying to let Calvin speak to our day that the decline of education amongst the Protestant clergy is one of the real problems in the church today. If we don't think we need well educated ministers.
It's because we really don't think it's important they be able to read the word of God in the original languages we know you hear statements about how well we have such good translations. That's true. We have such good commentaries. That's true, some ministers you know study Greek and Hebrew, then don't keep it up. So why bother. That's true. But the essential point that we want to church as well connected with the word of God is possible is what central here in this whole discussion now. Sure there are parts of the world but can't send ministers off to study Greek and Hebrew, but that's not true of the United States, and the question is what are churches really looking for in ministers today and the sad reality is it's maybe not so very different from what Calvin was experiencing in his day. There a lot of people go to church for the show and it doesn't matter if the minister knows Greek and Hebrew. If he's a good entertainer if he could tell a good story if he can tell a good joke if he can fill up the time and our people clamoring for the word of God do very many people go out of church and say I didn't hear enough of the word of God. I want more of the word of God on dear pastor friend who after retired travel around the country attend various churches to see what was going on.
The birthplaces and and he attended a church where the pastor was fulminating against the removal of the 10 Commandments from the courthouse and nine, so is my friend walked out the door. He was gnarly Dutchman is a Frisian so is kind of plainspoken and he said to the minister. I really appreciated the point you made about 10 Commandments minister. Thank you brother and then my friend says so. No, there is one place you can still read the 10 Commandments in America and all really poor sap. He said in church and you didn't be careful if you call a Dutch minister in the butt, but that's it.
We can talk about the word of God. But do we read the word of God do we preach the word of God do we long for the word of God. That's what Calvin started about here. That's the kind of preachers that were necessary and and that's what really drove the Reformation that people suddenly heard the word of God and it's amazing if you sit and read through the word of God. How little of what informs the life of the Roman Catholic Church is to be found there and how much the word of God talks about other things.
It doesn't go on and on about sacraments.
It talks about the promises of Christ, the work of Christ are called to faith in Christ. The call to repentance, to live for Christ and this is what needs to be preached to us and there's always something new to be found is denied by find is a preacher. I'm so amazed when I go back to a text I preached before, to say how tonight is that there such depth to the word of God. There such profundity to the word of God we can hear different preachers preach the same text and they come up. Not with things that contradict each other, but complement each other so that they have found different depths in the text that are are helpful to the people of God but we need to be renewed in the word of God. That's the great point Calvin is making here and that's why we need preachers who know the word of God, who study the word of God and who preach out of the word of God.
So that's the first point he wants to make sure and I think the point that we really need in our day that we really need to ask what kind of preachers do we want to hear.
Do we want to hear someone who's really clever, or do we want to hear someone who maybe just a little dull, but opens the word of God, not not in favor of dullness as a matter of principle, it's just that our priorities have to be clear in our own minds. How are we ultimately going to evaluate a preacher on his entertainment value or on his opening up of the word value that's a that's a critical critical difference. Calvin then goes on to talk about the holiness of preachers and of the leaders of the church and he said three great sins have this set the clergy of his time, provide cruelty and boredom. So, sexual immorality sounds more tame than boredom and just cruelty against people and pride great pride in their position. There was been some discussion about what has promoted the sad scandals in the Roman Catholic Church about priests and their sexual immorality in our day and people talked about solutions to this and know some of talked about ending celibacy is a practice in the Roman church. The real problem in the Roman church is not celibacy.
The real problem in the Roman church is a priesthood is the very fact that these people think they are set apart and by being set apart. They are holy. That's what contributes to Foley and all sorts of other sins because you are convinced that by your ordination you are rendered holy and separate and set apart. It's the very notion that there is this separate task of priests that is foundational to the whole problem. Now that's not to say there are no problems in the Protestant clergy. We certainly know there are and so we we have to be very careful about any sort of smugness, but I think Protestant churches have done somewhat better in reacting quickly to evidences of immorality in the clergy and and exercising discipline, but holiness is something we need to expect of the clergy. They have to be examples of holy living. Now that doesn't mean that we can all go dancing but the clergy can't dance told you we take care of that in the Dutch reformed churches. We have bread all rhythm out of people so that they are incapable of dancing and not so we are protected on that on that level.
But no, we don't want to have a level of morality of the clergy have to keep it, people don't have to keep but we do want to say that the clergy should set a good example of a disciplined personal life of those things that are truly laid down in the word of God and so we have to promote the holiness and comments is one of the ways in which we must promote holiness is to restore to the life of the church. The practice of excommunication for people who are leaving grossly immoral lives that are unrepentant or grossly heretical teaching and are unrepentant will how our church is doing with practicing excommunication does excommunication sort of exists now.
It's hard to practice discipline today because so many people say what you try to discipline in this Congregational just go to church down the street and and it is sometimes almost impossible to do anything about it, but as a matter of principle do we think we ought to be disciplined communities.
Do we think that gross and obvious unrepentant sin should have the judgment of the church spoken against it. How do you have a disciplined community without any discipline. I've seen children like that.
It's not a good thing. We need we need to think again about holiness and about discipline in the life of the church in Calvin talks about the election of clergy and he quotes a lot of ancient councils talk about how the people elect their leaders and in some ways where we are better off about that and some have been, but we have an awful lot of clergyman that seems sort of self-appointed self established if they can raise money and raise a congregation. Their minister and who supervises them who who validates them.
Who looks over their work and know this is a problem today.
I think we have to think about.
You don't just stand up and say I'm going to be a minister. There has to be a process by which the church as the people of God evaluate one's gifts and call one entertaining one and Calvin was very concerned about this. He was also concerned about the tendency of the church to be tyrannical. He saw that in his day and need to find that tyranny as the right of the church to make laws that everybody has to keep under threat of eternal loss that have no warrant in the word of God. So in Zwingli's day generation before Calvin the focal issue became if the church says we can't eat meat during Lent. Does the church have a right to say that does the church have a right to adopt a rule on which the salvation of my soul rests that I have to keep but has no basis in the word of God. Now if you want to undertake a voluntary fast at some time of the year and give up eating meat, that's fine, always criticizing that the question is that the church have rights to make rules that are not found in the word of God to bind us in the service of God, and Calvin said absolutely not that security that's accrual tyranny or the soles of God's people. It's laying down rules that God has not asked his people to keep and and here we see not only a very strong appeal for the word of God in the life of God's people, but we also see how Protestantism in a significant way is a call for freedom. A call for freedom from men's ideas and men's practices and the inventions of human minds so that we can be freed to follow God, according to his word, and so we're seeing here what at first glance may have seen the kind of peripheral thing church government.
How can that be a critical issue for the people of God. But what's really happening here is the question of authority in the life of the church. What is the authority that a minister house, a minister has no authority to make up things on the run to make up rules that seem wise to him, a minister ideally should stand in the pulpit and never say anything except what God sets out minister can have opinions about other things I may have opinions about how much meat we ought eat or how much you dessert. We ought to have. Obviously I'm rather loose on those issues. We couldn't. We can debate dancing. We can debate alcohol. There are all sorts of things to debate. But if God has not said with absolute clarity in his word yes or no about something.
I have no right is administered to lay that on your conscience as part of the word of God because my function is not to be a creative spokesman for God. My function is to be a submissive spokesman opening and ministering the word of God and that's critical that's critical for us.
It's critical for our freedom but is also critical for our spiritual health because it's the word of God that will direct us in the way we really ought to live and that's what we need preachers who will teach and preach an open and encourage us in the word of God and in Calvin's day, people had some say in the choice of their ministers, but a limited say in our day.
People get what they want and so we have to be willing to take that responsibility to say what I want, whom I looking for who my supporting who my encouraging in the opening of the word of God and to be faithful to the faithful preacher so that concludes our look at these four topics that Calvin has addressed worship salvation sacraments, the government of the church and next I'm going to take a look at how the necessity of reforming the church at time requires action without those four topics really do make up the foundation of Nunnally hello church functions but also wanted church must teach our teacher on Renewing Your Mind. This week is Dr. W. Robert Godfrey. He is a church historian and he has witnessed the major shifts taking place in our society and in the church's series is designed to provide us with anchor points as everything around us seems to be moving. I committed the series to you for further study. It's Dr. Godfrey's latest and that this is the first time were making it available here on Renewing Your Mind. Simply request the necessity of reforming the church when you give a donation of any amount to look in her ministries.
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How do we go about reforming the church today. We hope you'll join us again Friday or Renewing Your Mind