On Consideration

I watched a video of a conference in Colombia that took place a few weeks back. I had been joking with a friend about it, knew several of the lay people who attended, and heard from one who is a deacon a good report. He said his favorite was one on the history of the translation of Scripture that is most common in Spanish. He said he was able to understand better what was being said thanks to these Church History talks I get up to with another pastor down there.

Then I heard about it from the guy whom I instructed for a while in Greek. He was not so sanguine about this session and had some questions. It turns out that the Trinitarian Bible Societies, which have headquarters in England, are Reformed, and so they are eager to participate in Reformed efforts. They somehow got in at the last minute and sent a guy with a power point down to participate in the Reformed version of Big Eva in Colombia. People loved it; thought it was great. It is all the rage nowadays: follow the TGC.

Of course, Colombians will say good things about anything. What we need brother, they have been known to exclaim in confidence and sincerity, is exactly what you just did here. What you just came and gave us made all the other conferences seem like a devotional; you totally put them in the shade. Colombians are encouragers, they love to be loved, they want you to fall in love with them, to think them grateful and eager. If you pour money in, they’ll cheer. It is part of how they are, and part of what they do. It is part of the warmth, and not altogether bad. It also requires a corresponding absence of judgment which fortuitously is also there in quantities.

The video was characterized by made up history. There was a made up story about how the early churches kept their originals of the books of the New Testament and about how when a copy was made, travelers were sent to the location of the original to compare and always preserve an accurate copy. It was intimated that Christians have always been scrupulously careful about the NT text. The other made up story came by way of a tissue of insinuations. It was the notion that any manuscript not agreeing with the Textus Receptus is associated with Alexandria, where diligent heretics modified the text to fit their views. There were so many things wrong with this part it was almost ingenious: there was implied Biblicism, there was conflation, there were selective details, etc.

The doctrine was: God preserves his word, of course. Translations that contain less than the TR can therefore not be said to contain all of God’s word. (It is interesting that the next conference has as its theme Mark 16:15. Is there a pattern emerging here?)

Then came the proof: verses where doctrine is minimized. Apparently, the Trinitarian Bible Societies, which claim to value the 17th century protestant confessions, have a Biblicist view not only of how heretics derive doctrine from Scripture, but how orthodox doctrines are derived as well. Noting how this guy does history, it comes as no surprise. It was all organized to prey on ignorance, of course; at least, one is hard pressed not to believe it is done without intent. What sort of intent? I wonder. And, if ignorance and chance come together this coherently, do I need to start believing in evolution?

Everybody is eager to start seminaries in Colombia nowadays. People down there are, people with money here are, and people with varying skills volunteer. As long as you need a translator to give the class or have some notoriety even if you are crippled by Spanish fluency, and as long as you do not cost them anything, you are qualified to teach, it seems. And who are the gatekeepers on all this? The organizers. Those who do the work of brokering the arrangements between the supply side and the demand side, and who answer to the supply, not the demand.

Bernard of Clairvaux lived a life between action and contemplation. He called it consideration. Consideration is what is needed.



What is the first law of teaching, and the last? I think it is that you have to try to make them want what you’re trying to give them. There are many other things, specially when it come to actually giving what you give, but at the moment I think this is the one that draws the line between a good and a bad teacher. The teacher that made me want the thing, was good, the one that failed was not destined to succeed at teaching much. And I think that if you don’t realize this, you are bound to be bad as a teacher. A student who doesn’t need you to do that, who wants it already, will learn from you, and you can stick around in some disciplines and subjects. And bad teachers take it for granted that that’s the student’s responsibility, because who can reach into anothers heart? And they’re partly right, but no enought. I think you’re on the way to being far more successful of a teacher if you know you have to try to make them want what you’re trying to give them.

Of course there are the ethics of it, which makes me think of advertising–though perhaps that’s too much of a mix. Advertising is like evangelicalism, opportunistic about its means. It knows you have to want whatever you’re going to get, and it goes about it in the quickest way. But a teacher cannot be opportunistic. Opportunism is not wisdom, and at least teaching ought to be on the side of wisdom. Opportunism is a kind of insight about means, but without the corresponding insight of the ends. And there are ways of wanting, some of which get at the thing, some of which handle it a little while and then lose the grip of true lasting interest. Some ways of wanting are only about the subject that wants, and do not nourish in that subject a desire that corresponds to the object, but only a transitory and desultory wanting that is continually vitiated, and requires endless change or deeper perversion.

Where there is no real cultivation of proper desire, who stands to gain, really?

Ignatius of Antioch

Take a personal interest in those you talk to, just as God does. – Ignatius to Polycarp

I had a lot of trouble understanding Ignatius and thought there wasn’t much there until I understood how to read his letters. His letters haven’t been preserved because of his deep thought, but rather for what they reveal of the man himself. I should have realized this. I’ve read Tolkien’s letters and in them is revealed no great idea, but it is a revelation about the kind of person it took to write the Lord of the Rings. Leaf by Niggle helps, but when you read how he had to go back and calculate at one point the phase of the moon his characters were under because he was afraid he’d gotten it wrong, you have a clearer idea of the man. That’s, I think, chiefly the value of Ignatius’ correspondence. He’s an extraordinary man dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

Think about it: he was on his way to be eaten alive by wild beasts. He is eager for it, but he also manifests a deep ambivalence. At some level of his being he is decidedly anxious about the ordeal. He is also something else: he’s deeply moved by the kindness and solicitude of the Christians in Asia Minor. I think that’s why he spontaneously writes ahead to the Romans. If they start thinking of ways to overwhelm him with kindness in his trial (chained and with ten uncongenial guards, far from home and family and friends, traveling toward the hostility of a roaring coliseum, wondering what the best position to take before lions streaking toward one over the hot sand, or will it be elephants–what does one think of in regard to that?), if the Roman Christians hear of him, as the Smyrnean and Ephesian and others have, what kindness will they not accomplish? Polycarp kissed his chains! And if there are influential persons among the Romans, could they not possibly in their good will secure his release?

If that accounts for what is going through Ignatius’ mind, then the question is, why does he want to reach the goal? He writes not only to the Romans but also in several other letters asking that nobody hinder him. Why does he view the possibility of his release as a hindrance rather than deliverance? Because ambivalent as he may be, he feels deep down that this will be the true test. He’s not entirely sure of the outcome, but he hopes that the work begun in him will be genuine and the test will prove it. And this becomes the attraction of his letters: what kind of man must this be? Why does he think he must go through with this? What is this strange attitude toward suffering?

These letters are full of the affections Ignatius feels. As well, because when all things are about to be taken away the important things suddenly become clear, we can be pretty sure that what he talks about is what is important to him. There is a sense in which Ignatius believed he was not only dying for Christ, but for the Lord’s people. His view of the bishop as being in some sense the church leads me to think that he believes he himself is being offered up for all his brethren. He believes has been chosen not only to satisfy the wrath of the Emperor and the world against which they exist, a precious and close community, but also to vindicate that community by showing how vital and strong it’s faith is. He is confident not that he has strength, but that he has been chosen and will be given through the ministrations of the community, their prayers, and the help of God, whatever is required.

The church in which Origen grew up defined itself not only by its commitment to the rule of faith, but by radical demands for Christian commitment. . . . A leitmotiv of second-century Christian literature is the veneration of martyrdom as the ultimate expression of Christian commitment.
-Joseph Trigg

What Ignatius did was shape the attitude of a church that had to face two more centuries of being unofficial, of local, spontaneous, and sometimes widespread and dire persecution. And what he did was to shape the attitude of that church toward martyrdom, so that martyrdom became representative and also a vocation. His warmth, his sometimes bumbling but always characteristic expression, his care for others when he was in dire straits, his identification with believers, his attention to the needs of their pastors and their congregations, how obviously he was touched by their kindness, his impatience with Judaizers and Docetists, all these things spoke to the situation the early church faced. We may not know that much about Ignatius now, not read him very much. But in the early church they gathered those precious letters and read and re-read them.

The Pittsburgh

I went to Pittsburgh to visit an IKEA, see the many steel bridges, the city and the Frick. The Frick is small, like Dayton, but rewarding. At the car museum I asked the friendly chap how one got into the art museum. “Through the front door, sir,” he deadpanned. I think the most modern work of art there is the building, which is unusual, and refreshing. The grounds of the park are very nice, and the weather being what it is . . .

I took along Scruton’s Our Church. He’s so good for traveling with. Insightful, engaging, thought-provoking, challenging. This book is a companion to England: An Elegy. It is another elegy. His point again, as in the first elegy, is that like Athens of old, England was a gift of God to all humanity. And he is helping us to store up memories, before the thing is lost and must be retrieved through archaeology.

We had a remote-controlled gas fireplace in our rooms and the weather cool and rainy the night we were there. That was a first time, and I’m not sure anymore that a fake fire with gas is such a bad idea. It warms things to a jolly state while you read, and you’re not always working at making the thing blaze and adding wood.

We listened to Perelandra on our way through Ohio, sad and decaying Wheeling, and the rather baffling overpasses, tunnels and bridges of Pittsburgh. I thought I’d read all there was to read in Perelandra, but I was wrong. His books are so immensely learned, so staggeringly so. I was struck this time by how dense the thinking seems to be, how much reasoning in conversations takes place, how much description of the strange new landscape, and how little action for half the book. One of the definite disadvantages of listening to a recording is one doesn’t pause to think about things. I have been doing that a lot in my reading on the early Church.

I took a bit of a break from that, but now I have a much-anticipated good one before me: Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition.

Of Congregationalism

Matthew 18:15-17

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

That is the general procedure of church discipline in the case of an unrepentant member. If at any point in the process he repents, then do not proceed to the next step.

Of course, cases can become complicated by various factors, and Baptists throughout history have developed procedures to guide a person through the process when the basic path does not appear straightforward. But the point I want to make is that the basic procedure is there.

If there is a problem, talk to the person privately. If the person won’t listen, involve some witnesses, but keep the involvement at a minimum. If that doesn’t work, however, and the person has to be removed from the membership, take it to the congregation. Time is not specified: take the time necessary, be generous, don’t on the other hand be negligent.

Congregational polity is sometimes caricatured as democracy. Some people seem to think that Congregationalism is when the congregation takes all the decisions. Perhaps that’s how they’ve seen it practiced.

But that is not Congregationalism. Congregationalism is when Christ who is the head of all the church and delegates all authority in the church, gives to pastors the authority of teaching and spiritual oversight, to the deacons of administering material needs, and to the congregation a part in appointing officers and in the matter of excommunication.

To me, even if you don’t agree with the voting for officers, I find it very hard for you to dodge the congregational implications of Matthew 18:17. If you still need them, look at the situation in Corinth that required discipline and deal with the word pleroma in 2 Cor 2:6. It seems to me very hard to evade congregational participation.

Here is what happens though when I bring up the idea of Congregationalism with people who don’t accept it. The question always is: what if the congregation is not mature enough to vote correctly? Well, one answer would be that if they vote incorrectly, it is on their head. If Christ gave them the responsibility they can blow it, but they’ll have to answer, just like a pastor will for blowing it with his responsibilities.

There is another consideration that those who do not understand Congregationalism perhaps should consider. It is this: it may be that the congregation blew it (felt sorry for the person, whatever); on the other hand it may be that that congregational vote is really a failure of pastoral leadership.

How can one blame the pastors? One can blame them if they did not do everything possible before the vote to make sure all the teaching necessary, instruction, dealing with questions, explaining and everything was properly done. In other words, if they scheduled the vote without having a pretty good idea of the outcome there is a good chance there was more of a failure of leadership to blame than congregational immaturity. Did they go from house to house if necessary teaching and instructing to be sure everybody understood the principles from Scripture, what the mind of the Lord was, etc.?

Whenever congregational immaturity as an objection comes up, I wonder out loud how mature the Corinthian congregation that originally received these instructions was. I usually get the response: not very. Because a lot of the responsibility rests on those who must be mature to occupy their position in first place: the pastors. They should be so involved in teaching, leading, instructing, that people have a clear idea of the mind of the Lord in a matter of church discipline.

It is not a free-for-all democracy where the pastors show up wondering which way things will go with these people. It is a carefully led process that results in a genuine obedience to the process and expectation of the Lord.

What then is the point of even voting? A good question. You don’t have to vote to be congregational, at least I don’t think so. You do have to involve the congregation in those decisions. How else if you don’t vote? And there is a real and overlooked advantage for the pastors. This is a really effective form of accountability. Congregationalism makes sure the pastors are involved the way they should be in the lives of each member, and the time of reckoning is that congregational meeting where every member, regardless of how mature or immature, exercises the authority Jesus Christ himself has delegated to him.

I think it requires stronger leadership.

Long Meeting

I was at a good meeting this morning with the pastors of our persuasion. They have breakfast together every three months or so and talk about things. This time they were talking about a youth retreat that kind of blew up in their face.

It was probably partly my fault. I tell the youth at our church that if they want to do stuff to go ahead and plan and do stuff, what do they need me for? My job as the only person functioning as pastor is not to put on special programs for the youth and I told them from the beginning I wasn’t interested in programs of any sort. Not even Sunday school. We do what is required of us in Scripture and that is more than enough to keep two pastors busy, let alone one who isn’t even a pastor. That probably sent ripples out that had something to do with what transpired.

The youth got themselves organized. They came out with this thing about the church neglecting them and planned a full-scale youth retreat over a weekend–only they got people from other churches, invited a questionable guy to speak, fortunately got him replaced but not before making problems for the other pastors, and finally carried it off.

They meant, by the thing about being neglected, that they grew up expecting youth groups, youth camps and youth retreats and were being given none because the pastors are focusing on other things–such as what God requires of them. As if they are without this valuable means of grace: the youth-retreat.

At one point one of the pastors did say: “It’s almost like it’s a means of grace.” I pounced on that one. They believe these things are necessary for their spiritual growth, that they won’t develop properly as Christians without them. At least, that’t how they talk about it to get what they really want. Which was excellent for making the point these pastors were all starting to see: Scripture is sufficient. If we are doing what Scripture says we are giving them what they need, the Word and sacraments.

I told them the real problem was they’d created expectations of other things and were reaping the consequences. They teach the kids from Sunday School on to come to church to receive age-appropriate entertainment; they come to expect it at every stage, get sulky if they don’t. Not a key to success if you plan to hew to the regulative principle.

You know, it was received very positively, which surprised me very much. I think our own church is one of the least reformed in that aspect of all the churches here. I’m not out to change things because I’m not here to stay and I try not to stray into things that will cause problems I’m not going to be here to clean up. But there is the confession at work: they know about the sufficiency of Scripture, they know about the regulative principle–these pastors. They don’t have all the implications clear, but they have an idea what some of them are and appear to be able to recognize one when it is demonstrated. Most of the churches have no real youth thing because if they do something for the youth it is to bring them in and teach them doctrine, not activities and games. It is another church service on an undesignated day. In the church I’m at and two others closely associated, however, they have the expectation because they had a missionary trained in that kind of thing that put on camps, retreats, youth-groups, VBSs and all that. Now he’s gone. Our youth had come to expect it, but since I don’t do that and it wasn’t getting done: they missed the means of gratification.

No big deal for the churches who don’t really do anything but whose youth were invited because they have friends in other places. The solution they came up with? If the youth want to plan social things, fine, get together and do stuff but in the future don’t mix in worship. If they want to worship or have more teaching, see the pastors and do it with the local church.

It did give me an opportunity to mention Sunday school, and also this unexamined practice of having retreats with other allures. Well received too.

Talking with a young chap later today, one who escaped to us from fundamentalism and didn’t go to the retreat–he thinks youth camps are bogus–he wondered how reformed people could get that way. The truth is we’re still evangelicals of a sort of reformed persuasion, but with a lot of unexamined baggage. Ecclesia semper reformanda est, right? They have that motto too. The positive response gives me hope I dared not entertain before. The use of the confession as a guide and ordering principle seems a great, great strength. One lesson from today is make sure they get the point of having a confession. It gives expression to things you wouldn’t have thought about in a way you wouldn’t have said.

It may be because my expectations are set so low that I’m pleased. To have people actually listen and agree (or think they agree), you must admit, is unusual.

For those of you who haven’t seen this gem, here’s, in my opinion, the ultimate commentary on the whole mixture of worship and entertainment in the most compelling form ever:

What Is the Problem to Which This Is the Solution?

I was watching Victor Davis Hanson lecturing and thinking about what he did. He did not gesture too much, sometimes just had his arms folded. His voice was more or less steady though not monotonous. No fireworks, no power points, no visual aids, no walking around, not even–from what I could tell–notes. And yet what he said was very interesting: it was organized, it was intelligent, it was serious. And I wondered.

I heard, a while back, some chap at work arguing for the introduction of more technology into the classroom. The points of persuasion were that it added interestingness and was easy to do. The assumption, if one were to probe what he was saying with Neil Postman’s question, would be that the subject in and of itself is boring. At least I believe that had I probed with that question I would eventually have arrived at the admission that the material itself is what is boring. Yes, old-fangled ways of presenting it don’t always help, not being old-fangled enough, but what, really, is the problem to which the technology is a solution? I am convinced that those who mean that electronic gadgets are the only real solution mean that the content is itself the real problem.

I don’t think that’s the real problem though. One part of the problem is a teacher for whom the information is not interesting in and of itself–I wonder if that isn’t a great deal of the problem in our EFL classroom–a problem of epistemology for another essay. The other part is the part of organization. I have noticed that I’m good at mining information out of the text that I’m studying for Sunday school, but the really difficult part for me is still the organization. I can get all kinds of interesting information, but its interestingness is hard to communicate without coherent organization. And I’m not talking, by organization, about anything less than an organic unity to the whole; not some desultory outline with logical subordination and mechanical parallelism, but something mysterious and magical, something organic through which life runs.

That’s what Hanson impressed on me more than anything: how his organization presented the content in all of its interest and led me through an hour of calm lecturing. Organization and the interest of the serious thing he treated was all. Spiritual qualities, you see.