Bags of Bran


Preaching Was People Work in the 7th Century
August 26, 2017, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Biography, Pastor Stuff

Among the several worthy Gregories from church history is Gregory the Great, perhaps best known as Pope Gregory I, father of Gregorian chant. Now, before you tune out, be aware that John Calvin appreciated Gregory’s writings very much. Remember also that Roman Catholicism was a different beast in the 7th century compared with the 16th.

At any rate, Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule turned up in my weekly reading. In it, I unearthed this gem (Part III, chapter 1), in which Gregory addresses the various considerations that will influence the way he approaches his sermon preparation:

Whence every teacher also, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation…

Differently to be admonished are these that follow:—

Men and women.
The poor and the rich.
The joyful and the sad.
Prelates and subordinates.
Servants and masters.
The wise of this world and the dull.
The impudent and the bashful.
The forward and the fainthearted.
The impatient and the patient.
The kindly disposed and the envious.
The simple and the insincere.
The whole and the sick.
Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.
The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking.
The slothful and the hasty.
The meek and the passionate.
The humble and the haughty.
The obstinate and the fickle.
The gluttonous and the abstinent.
Those who mercifully give of their own, and those who would fain seize what belongs to others.
Those who neither seize the things of others nor are bountiful with their own; and those who both give away the things they have, and yet cease not to seize the things of others.
Those that are at variance, and those that are at peace.
Lovers of strifes and peacemakers.
Those that understand not aright the words of sacred law; and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them without humility.
Those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid through excessive humility; and those whom imperfection or age debars from preaching, and yet rashness impels to it.
Those who prosper in what they desire in temporal matters; and those who covet indeed the things that are of the world, and yet are wearied with the toils of adversity.
Those who are bound by wedlock, and those who are free from the ties of wedlock.
Those who have had experience of carnal intercourse, and those who are ignorant of it.
Those who deplore sins of deed, and those who deplore sins of thought.
Those who bewail misdeeds, yet forsake them not; and those who forsake them, yet bewail them not.
Those who even praise the unlawful things they do; and those who censure what is wrong, yet avoid it not.
Those who are overcome by sudden passion, and those who are bound in guilt of set purpose.
Those who, though their unlawful deeds are trivial, yet do them frequently; and those who keep themselves from small sins, but are occasionally whelmed in graver ones.
Those who do not even begin what is good, and those who fail entirely to complete the good begun.
Those who do evil secretly and good publicly; and those who conceal the good they do, and yet in some things done publicly allow evil to be thought of them.

He then goes on to develop each distinction in turn throughout Section III.

But of what profit is it for us to run through all these things collected together in a list, unless we also set forth, with all possible brevity, the modes of admonition for each?

That’s an incredibly thoughtful approach.

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Things Unchanged
April 27, 2017, 10:17 am
Filed under: Biography, Pastor Stuff

As I’ve been working through The Benedict Option in fits and starts, I have started to pay more attention to the background and life settings in which saints of other times lived. Recently someone made a remark to the effect that so-and-so was tap-dancing blindfolded in a yard full of rakes. That paints a mental picture, does it not?

rake

As I savored the mental picture, the word “rakes” evoked a memory from the dusty cellars of my college education.* It’s a quote from an Anglican preacher named John Berridge, who lived from 1716-1793, and was one of the preachers involved in the Evangelical Revival in England. Note this well: I am most certainly not advocating everything that came out of the Evangelical Revival, nor am I advocating everything that came out of John Berridge; but he is precisely right on this matter.

The context was this: England was a Christian country, but of the superstitious sort that placed a premium on human works for salvation. In fact, for much of his life, Berridge preached a message of works-righteousness. But he later became convinced that true righteousness before God was a matter of faith, and therefore good works were only good as they were expressions of love and gratitude for God’s grace.

But what kind of person could receive God’s grace? Only one who was aware of his own sinfulness: one could not simply look to his good standing in a Christian community; that was not the standard of comparison. Berridge writes:

And if this was the case in the purest age what else can be expected in succeeding ages? But you say we sojourn in a baptized country. True, the country swarmeth with baptized rakes, baptized worldlings, and baptized infidels. A watery profession without the Spirit’s baptism will never wash the heart from pride and subdue it to the gospel doctrines, and legal righteousness will set the heart still more against them. No one can truly bear the doctrines till he cannot bear himself. Jesus Christ inviteth them that are weary [of] themselves and laden with their guilt and sinful nature. Only such received him in Judea and only such receive him in Great Britain. These are prepared for his gospel [who] know what poverty of spirit means and feel that brokenness of heart which God delighteth in and where he only dwells.

America is only a “Christian” nation in the sense that Berridge’s England was a “baptized” country. We may be crawling with evangelicals, but their profession is wearing thinner and thinner in every generation as “more and more people are won to less and less Christianity.”

One of the things that Dreher gets right in The Benedict Option is that much that is called Christianity is utterly devoid of sacrifice. Ours is a country that “swarmeth with baptized rakes, baptized worldlings, and baptized infidels” too. Let the swarms swarm; let us make our institutional commitments with people who share our values and goals.

*If I could only bring people’s names to recall with such alacrity, I’d be set.




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