Archives For John Calvin

Three Important Pastoral Lessons

Greg Strand – January 30, 2014 6 Comments

This past summer Scott Manetsch, professor of church history at TEDS, taught at our EFCA One Conference on the lessons we can learn from Calvin’s pastoral ministry in Geneva. His lectures came from his magnificent work, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, and were given under the title, “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office.” It was an excellent seminar.

In a recent article Manetsch addressed this important work again. Setting the context, he acknowledge that we must “not glamorize the past, assuming that ‘older is better’ and thus seek uncritically to transplant ancient ideas or practices into our modern contexts.” But neither should we have a mindset that “equates the ‘modern’ with the ‘good,’ and thus turns a blind eye to wisdom gleaned from the lives and lessons of people in the past.” Since the world is the “theater of God’s glory” (as spoken by Calvin), there are things to be learned from everything.

The past is not necessarily better. They had problems like we do. But the key that enables us to glean and gain from a study of the past is that it allows us to understand the present better. If we only focus on the present, we become blind to our own problems. This is why C. S. Lewis recommended reading an old book for every contemporary book you read. Though the old had problems, they were different problems from our own.

Manetsch focused on “three important pastoral lessons from Calvin’s Geneva” that are important and helpful for us as we consider pastoral ministry today. I include excepts only.

In Calvin’s Geneva, ministry was profoundly Word-centered. At the heart of Calvin’s sense of vocation was the conviction that Christians “needed to hear their God speaking and learn from his teaching.” . . . Calvin and his reformed colleagues believed that where God’s Word was faithfully proclaimed and gladly received, there the Holy Spirit was at work in power to effect moral transformation in the lives of men and women. The case of Calvin’s Geneva reminds us today that spiritual reformation and scriptural proclamation go hand in hand.

For Calvin, pastoral ministry involved intensive personal care. . . . Calvin once stated:  “the office of a true and faithful minister is not only to teach the people in public, which he is appointed to do as pastor, but also, as much as he is able, to admonish, exhort, warn, and console each person individually.” . . . In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.

Calvin was committed to accountability and collegiality in pastoral work. . . . though pastors’ roles might vary from parish to parish, the pastoral office was a single office, and all pastors were equally servants of Christ and ministers of the Word of God. Calvin formalized this commitment by creating a number of institutions that constituted the DNA of pastoral ministry in Geneva. All of the city’s ministers belonged to the Company of Pastors, a church council that met every Friday morning to address concerns of the church. . . . A second institution was the weekly Congregation, a body created by Calvin (patterned after Zurich’s Prophetzei) where the city’s pastors met to study Scripture together and evaluate one another’s exposition of biblical texts. Calvin insisted that the formation of ministers and the preservation of right doctrine depended on the pastors studying Scripture in community. . . . One additional church institution that reflected Calvin’s commitment to accountability and collegiality was the Quarterly Censure. Four times a year, before the quarterly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Geneva’s ministers met behind closed doors to air their differences, to address colleagues suspected of immorality or teaching wrong doctrine, and to promote mutual trust and common vision. . . . Though Calvin’s collegial model of ministry did not foster bold innovation, nor allow for strong dissent, it did create a pastoral culture in Geneva where ministers depended on one another, learned from one another, were accountable to one another, and sometimes forgave one another. One suspects that contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.

These are great lessons, models and exhortations for us. May we be profoundly Word-centered in all of our ministries, not just the pulpit ministry; may we be pastoral in the sense of applying the truths we preach in our own lives and the lives of others in the context of relationships; and may we commit to and accountable to doing and living theology in the context of community.

Last week we celebrated Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door. I am prolonging the remembrance and celebration by a few days, including one more post on another blessing to the church that occurred because of the Reformation.

Though Luther was the one who posted the 95 Theses, there were pre-Reformers (Wycliffe, Hus, etc.) and there were also other Reformers God used in great ways. (Note it was God that used these men in great ways, and part of the reason for these men’s greatness is because they knew that!) Another one of those was John Calvin.

Both Luther and Calvin were not only committed to the authority of the Bible, and because they were committed to God and His Word, they were also committed to the church and its reformation. Note this well: their understanding of and commitment to God, the Bible and the gospel, led them to reform the theology and the practices of the church. This expression captured their commitment that “the church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God” (ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda).

One of the major elements of the church and its practice, its liturgy, that was transformed was music and corporate singing. T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin (London, 1975), 87, notes the following about how its practice was grounded in the gospel and from this biblical/theological foundation it had a gospel-prompted response.

Nothing is more characteristic of Reformation theology, and few parts of Reformation Church activity have been so neglected, as the congregational singing. It was far from being a pleasant element introduced rather inconsistently into a service otherwise ruled by a sombre view of life. We have already seen that in 1537 one of the four foundations for the reform of the Church was congregational singing. . . . We have seen in effect that Calvin placed singing at the heart of his theology of the Church. The reason is not far to seek. To put it with the utmost simplicity: The Church is the place where the Gospel is preached; Gospel is good news; good news makes people happy; happy people sing. But then, too, unhappy people may sing to cheer themselves up.

A few questions to ponder:

  • Is the gospel of Jesus Christ foundational to your theology and practice?
  • Does the gospel form and reform your thoughts and practices?
  • Do you proclaim the gospel in word and live under its authority in life?
  • Do you sing?


One of the important resources provided at the EFCA One Conference is training tracks. Over the past decade plus, I have provided opportunities for those on the front-lines of ministry to be taught, trained and equipped by those who are on the front-lines of research and writing for the purpose of serving the church. For example, in the past we have addressed the Psalms, Revelation, The Johannine Epistles, The New Testament Use of the Old led by those who have written commentaries on these topics. We have also addressed systematic theology, church history and other important issues related to the church. These times of training allow us to be the beneficiaries in three 90 minutes sessions of what scholars have spent years researching and writing.  We are blessed indeed.

This year we will focus on the topic of church history.

“Reformation of the Pastoral Office: Practices of the Reformers, Lessons for Today”
Dr. Scott Manetsch
Professor of Church History, TEDS
EFCA One schedule

In this teaching/training track, I will consider ways in which the Protestant reformers departed from medieval Catholic understandings of priesthood, and fashioned a vision of ministry focused on preaching, pastoral care/discipline, and visitation/education.

We are excited to have Scott Manetsch with us. Scott serves as Professor of Church History at TEDS, and has been teaching at our EFCA seminary since 2000. Scott will be focusing on the fruit of his most recent work, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (New York: Oxford, 2013).

In a brief review, Carl Trueman, “In the company of pastors: why you should buy Scott Manetsch’s new book”, gives Scott’s book an exemplary review. Trueman states that this is a book that is both scholarly and pastoral: “a scholarly book which really ought to be read by pastors.” This really breaks the mold of most works: either they are scholarly, or they are popular. There are not many books written today that cross that divide. Scott has done it!

Why will it be useful to pastors?

The Reformation fundamentally changed the nature, tasks and power of the pastoral office, primarily by placing the Word at the centre, theologically and thereby  practically, of church life. Further, this dramatic change itself brought challenges which themselves required furthered changes and refinements in the understanding and practice of pastoral ministry.

In the chapter on the ministry of the Word, the emphasis Calvin placed on clarity of the preached Word is always important to remember:

The pulpit is not the place to shoe off learning; it is the place to use that learning as the hidden foundation for preaching sermons which make the Bible’s message clearer, not more opaque and inaccessible. Oratorical skills are useful but only in so far as necessary for giving the message clarity and power, not for drawing attention to the preacher.

Finally, concludes Trueman,

This is a quite superb book.  It is not only outstanding as a well-written piece of original historical research.  It is also most informative concerning the reasons why Reformed and Presbyterian churches came to think about the ministry in the ways they do.  Buy it — though, if you are a pastor, probably best not to tell your wife how much it cost.

Good news! You will be able to heed Trueman’s advice and buy this book. In conjunction with our Conference and this specific training track with Scott, Oxford is offering a deeply discounted price for this book. Purchase this excellent book, but wait to do so until we can offer it at this discounted price. (Thanks to Scott for asking; thanks to Oxford for granting.)

It would be great if you were able to join us for the excellent training track with Scott Manetsch!

New City Catechism

Greg Strand – October 22, 2012 2 Comments

Here are a number of links for New City Catechism, a new catechism written by Tim Keller for Redeemer Presbyterian, but made available to a wider Evangelical audience.

New City Catechism

This Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers and is done in a format for both adults and children. Keller based it primarily on the Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter (107 questions) and Larger  Catechisms, and primarily the Heidelberg Catechism (52 Sundays, with 129 questions).  

The same Catechism is used for both children and adults, with the adults learning an additional sentence or two. The benefit is that it is all the same. In addition to the question and answer, you will also find a supporting Scripture passage, a commentary and prayer from the saints across the history of the church, and a brief video on which someone explains/comments on the question and answer.  It is also divided into three sections: Part 1 – God, creation and fall, law (20 questions); Part 2 – Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions); Part 3 – Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions). 

Here is how Keller explains the Catechism:

We decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

Attached to each question and answer there is a short written commentary from a historical preacher (e.g., Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video commentary from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition (e.g., Don Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, etc.) and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So the idea is to read a commentary from a historical preacher and then watch a commentary from a modern one.

Here is a sample:

Question 1:  What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:  That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Scripture:  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8


If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us…. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

John Calvin (1509–1564). A theologian, administrator, and pastor, Calvin was born in France into a strict Roman Catholic family. It was in Geneva however where Calvin worked most of his life and organized the Reformed church. He wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion (from which this quote is taken), the Geneva Catechism, as well as numerous commentaries on Scripture.

From Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.VII.I., 690.

Further Reading

“Salvation” in Concise Theology, by J. I. Packer.


Lord, here am I; do with me what thou pleasest, write upon me as thou pleasest: I give up myself to be at thy dispose…. The ambitious man giveth himself up to his honours, but I give up myself unto thee;…man gives himself up to his pleasures, but I give up myself to thee;…man gives himself up…to his idols, but I give myself to thee…. Lord! lay what burden thou wilt upon me, only let thy everlasting arms be under me…. I am lain down in thy will, I have learned to say amen to thy amen; thou hast a greater interest in me than I have in myself, and therefore I give up myself unto thee, and am willing to be at thy dispose, and am ready to receive what impression thou shalt stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! hast thou not again and again said unto me…‘I am thine, O soul! to save thee; my mercy is thine to pardon thee; my blood is thine to cleanse thee; my merits are thine to justify thee; my righteousness is thine to clothe thee; my Spirit is thine to lead thee; my grace is thine to enrich thee; and my glory is thine to reward thee’; and therefore…I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto thee. Lord! here I am, do with me as seemeth good in thine own eyes. I know the best way…is to resign up myself to thy will, and to say amen to thy amen.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680). An English Puritan preacher, Brooks studied at Cambridge University before becoming rector of a church in London. He was ejected from his post, but continued to work in London even during the Great Plague. He wrote over a dozen books, most of which are devotional in character, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (from which this prayer is taken) being the best known.

From “The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, edited by Rev. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 305–306.