college travels

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Calvin's wisdom for preachers and those who listen to them

Leading the service at church this morning I included various elements from John Calvin's liturgy and theology of church in honour of his 500th anniversary last Friday.

I used this quote from the Institutes - some wisdom for preachers and those who listen to them: "when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God's name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward His minister, although he excels us in nothing" (Institutes 4.3.1)

For preachers: we are puny men (and women)! This seems especially significant for youth ministers who, standing in front of a group of junior teens who don't know any better, can easily pretend to be the coolest of the cool (those who can't cut it with their peers can always become youth leaders!). But Calvin reminds us of our puniness, risen from the dust, excelling others in nothing.

So, get over yourself and concentrate on doing your job - and what a job we have! Nothing less than speaking in God's name! Which is a privilege that should both give us a heavy sense of responsibility to speak God's truth from God's word, as well as giving us a boldness and courage to speak since it's not you but God himself who is speaking, God who uses us as his servant. Which must help for those times when our puniness is all too apparent (like when teaching year 9 Scripture).

And for hearers of preachers - let's pay careful attention; not just attention to a human preacher, but attention to whatever God has to communicate to us through His servant. Which also seems useful for those with a theological education (or part of one)who can very easily approach a sermon as a critic rather than a hearer.

So, Happy Birthday John. And thanks for reminding us of God's glory at work in human weakness.


  • Thanks Deano that was really helpful in looking at how as sinners we can put ourselves on a pedastool when we are put in charge of things... such a good view of the human condition and even when we are not up the front the mindset is still there. Thanks for that gem from Calvin really helpful.

    By Blogger Thuauxy, at 12:31 pm  

  • Hey Deano,great look at the easy trap it is to fall into as a sinful person. Jodie Mcneill posed an interesting idea on a way to improve the preaching in churches:
    Interesting take on a pop culture contest that could actually have real benefits in our churches.
    I feel though Deano that there needs to place to be critical of sermons as to not be drawn into just any teaching that happens and I am sure that you are not saying that we should blindly follow any person and there preaching but what is your thoughts on approaching sermons critically? and how can we do it in a loving and Godly way?
    Cheers mate

    By Blogger Thuauxy, at 8:35 am  

  • I have to admit Thaux that I'm a bit with Philip Griffin on this one - we're in dangerous territory when preaching has become a spectator sport rather than paying attention to God speaking through his appointed servant.. but of course, I'm an idealist!

    How to approach preaching 'critically' without becoming a critic instead of a listener?

    I think the key is to ask what we're being 'critical' of - I think our focus is often too much on style rather than content. Examining the scriptures (like the Bereans) seems to focus more on content than style.

    Which doesn't mean that preachers should ignore style - Calvin's preaching is a case in point, he used lots of colloquial language and familiar metaphors to bring the message alive to his hearers.

    I wonder whether some advice from another reformer may be somehow relevant... Luther had advice on how to respond to injustice. He said the first response was to suffer injustice silently, which he said was thoroughly Christlike. The second response was to fight for your own rights, which he said was not-Christlike and therefore wasn't an option for Christians. The third option was to fight for the rights of others, which was Christlike and permissible.

    The insight of his advice though was to recognise that we often say we're doing the third (fighting for the rights of others) when we're really just selfishly defending our own rights (the second option). The way to ensure that you're doing number 3 instead of number 2 is to have spent plenty of time in number 1 - that is, enduring silently.

    So, apply this to listening to preaching: have we really worked hard at listening to a sermon, no matter what the quality of the 'style' is; worked hard at being thankful to God for the preacher He has given me to listen to this morning (in all his glorious punyness); worked hard at being gracious and thankful rather than judgemental and picky?

    If we've done the hard yards, I imagine that when we come to share some thoughts with our preachers about how they might be a bit more engaging in their style, perhaps our hearts will be more on the generous and thankful side than on the bitter and angry side?

    (unless of course the weeks spent enduring what you find to be tedious has left you increasingly bitter and cranky... though if this is the case I suggest there are more pressing issues in your life to deal with than unentertaining preaching!)

    By Blogger Graham Stanton, at 7:14 pm  

  • Thanks mate very helpful.

    By Blogger Thuauxy, at 8:08 am  

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