Two Years

Two years without formal ministry or mission. I yammer about this and related matters as follows:

Around two years ago, I stepped away from formal Christian ministry. Ours was a micro-church and our congregation focused on exegesis of Scripture, our theology Reformed. Since that time, we’ve regularly attended worship services with first one congregation and now another, closer to where we live. Regarding congregational commitment, I’m committed to worshiping with other believers who evidence a Reformed understanding of Scripture.

The fellow who preached at the first congregation had a Reformed theology and an approach to preaching that was similar to my own –

A passage of scripture is like a room and the preacher’s job is to talk about what’s in the room and if something’s left out of that description, the job’s not done. The congregation, guided by the Holy Spirit, figures out for itself what, if anything, to do with what’s in the room. It’s a good idea, if you have the ability, to go so far as to talk about where the fabric on the drapes was sourced and about the pattern on the rug – it’s derivation and meaning. Exhaustive is good. Superficial is bad.

There might not be an obvious or attenuated application that preacher can make clear in a sermon. What matters is that the passage of Scripture is an expression of the mind of God and listening to it, reading it, getting hung up on what it’s saying is transformative to the believer. Might also be transformative to the reprobate by turning such away from the things of God.

That made for some long sermons, and the guy at the first congregation usually started his off with a 10 minute re-cap of the previous week’s sermon. That was my only complaint about his sermons. The re-cap. He and his family returned to the mission field – we never became friends, but I liked them and have prayed for them since they left.

The congregation we’ve been worshiping with the past several months has a preacher who’s also Reformed and does exegetical, to a degree, preaching. His messages tend to be heavy on application. The second guy seems like a decent sort – a normal, non-self-aggrandizing individual. What I like about his work is that he uses Scripture to interpret Scripture. His sermons start on time and end on time – I like that, too, although it’s not super important to me. Regarding sermon time – it takes however long it takes to deliver the message.

Regarding my own life sans formal ministry or mission, I’m okay with it. I never was fully convinced that I met scriptural qualifications for elder. In the grossly problematic category, I find:

  1. Do I manage my own home well? Not as well as I ought to – I procrastinate too much.
  2. Is my child an unruly heathen? Yeah, sometimes I really wonder whether the kid’s numbered among the elect. I have explained the Gospel to him and taught him to search the Scripture, to pray without ceasing and call upon the name of the Lord.
  3. Am I the husband of one wife? Dunno. About a hundred years ago, in California, I lived with a young woman for a couple of years. We were never formally married, but we lived together and expected the same level of commitment each from the other in terms of fidelity that’s expected of spouses. But we never pretended to be married. We stayed friends for a long time afterward and there’s more to the story but not for the telling here.
  4. Am I pugnacious? Sometimes I flare up and express anger in a way that could lead to fisticuffs although I have no interest in forcing submission to my will or views.

I remember when I left government work – nothing important, but work that vested me with the authority of the state in some instances – I felt naked without identification in that employment. That cloak of authority.

Leaving formal ministry was a little like that only when I did, I knew I wasn’t walking away from the faith or the obligation of service to my eternal sovereign. That said, I think I’m unlikely to formally join another congregation or to engage in a formal “ministry” w/in any such conceptual structure.

In some respects, I think I’m unreachable by what passes for air-quote Christianity as so much of what that entails is irrelevant to me and my family. Sometimes I wish there was some relevance or that I had some sense of belonging in a congregational group, but I’m not willing shelve my discernment and freedom in Christ.

More than just a Cheeky Hat

John Calvin Cheeky Hat

Edit 3/16/19:  Having noticed some readers have clicked on this post, I thought I’d have a look to refresh my memory.  Noticed the image links weren’t working, so I’m uploading today images to replace them.

In a post a week or two ago (that I can’t find, now), I mentioned how surprised I was to discover from his own writings that John Calvin had something to say to me about human suffering. That is, I was surprised to find somebody I’d more or less written off as a tedious and, at least ecclesiologically mistaken, if somewhat necessary doctrinaire whip-cracker who lived during an age when humans barely had sense enough to utter two-syllable words, much less reflect.

Here’re some quotes taken from a slim volume edited by Emilie Griffin – John Calvin: Selections from His Writings, the 12th chapter:

“But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross.…(God) can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only the great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace, poverty, bereavement, death, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, insofar as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions….Believers warned, I say, by such proofs of heir diseases advance toward humility and so, sloughing off perverse confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to God’s grace. (p. 125)”

“For not all of us suffer in equal degree from the same diseases or, on that account, need the same harsh cure. From this it is to be seen that some are tried by one kind of cross, others by another. But since the heavenly physician treats some more gently but cleanses others by harsher remedies, while he wills to provide for the health of all, he yet leaves no one free and untouched, because he knows that all, to a person, are diseased.…(p. 127)”

“….He afflicts us not to ruin or destroy us, but rather to free us from the condemnation of the world…Scripture teaches that this is the difference between unbelievers and believers: The former, like slaves of inveterate and double-dyed wickedness, with the chastisement become only worse and more obstinate. But the latter, like freeborn sons, attain repentance. Now you must choose in which group you would prefer to be numbered….(p. 127)”

“Yet such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain. Otherwise, in the cross there would be no forbearance of the saints, unless they were tormented by pain and anguished by trouble. If there were not harshness in poverty, no torment in diseases, no sting in disgrace, no dread in death – what fortitude or moderation would there be in bearing them with indifference? But since each of these, with an inborn bitterness, by it’s very nature bites the hearts of us all, the fortitude of the believing person is brought to light if – tried by the feeling of such bitterness – however grievously he is troubled with it, yet valiantly resist, he surmounts it….You see that patiently to bear the cross is not to be utterly stupefied and to be deprived of all feeling of pain…(pp. 128-9)”

I could go on quoting from this chapter, but to do justice to the sense Calvin makes of much that befalls the believer especially, I’d have write out the chapter, verbatim. Better just to cadge a copy and read it for yourself. The editorial remark at the top of the chapter notes that the material following is taken from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Three: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ.

Calvin and Hobbes