Sunday, May 31, 2009
At this time I can think of no better way of saying what I want to say than (with some editing) to quote Søren Kierkegaard from the compilation of his writings by Charles E. Moore entitled “Provocations”. Whilst no supporter of Kierkegaards existentialism, I have often found his view of reality very close to the truth, which is why I quote him here:
In a short comment entitled “Undercover Clergy” Kierkegaard tells the story of a conversation occurring from the visit of a pastor to member of the community in which he lives, whom we’ll name “Bill”.
Lest readers mistake my intent: THIS IS NOT ABOUT DRINKING ALCOHOL!
Bill is quite surprised by the pastors appearance, and exclaims, “Pastor! What in the world are you doing in our neighborhood?”
The pastor’s response is to require some refreshment, “How about a glass of schnapps to open the meal and the heart. (Drinks a schnapps.) Well, to be brief, I am here on behalf of the Temperance Society.
Bill is not a slow thinker, “I see why you had to have a glass of schnapps, for if you had not asked for one, I certainly would not have offered it”.
Of course the pastor needs to explain, “I have by no means joined the Temperance Society. Anything but! I will drink a second glass in honor of the Temperance Society. I always drink a second glass in honor of the Temperance Society. (They clink their glasses, both drink and say: Long live the Temperance Society!)
Now to the business at hand. You see, it is well known that I have an extraordinary speaking ability. The Temperance Society became aware of my talents and in the interest of the Society it decided not to let them go to waste. To put it briefly, I have been called and installed as “Pastor” to the Temperance Society. That I do not fully subscribe to the Temperance Society’s explicit aims is understood. Yet, the Temperance Society Board is of the opinion, 'What does it matter if the pastor drinks a schnapps or two? What does it matter as long as by using his gifts he is able to win scores of members for the Society?'”
Bill is very understanding, “Even the strictest teetotaller knows that every such glass of schnapps for the pastor is well utilized, presupposing that you do get members for the Society".
The pastor is quite pleased, “I, of course, am completely convinced it is right, and if I had not already done it I would drink another schnapps in honor of the Temperance Society. To go on with my story, I have made an agreement with the Society, whose activity involves diet, that I have my diet: four schnapps every day, two glasses of punch, and an extra glass for every one who signs up as a member. It all goes on the expense account. Just as I believe they are satisfied with me, so I am also satisfied with it. I really don’t want to make any alteration or to leave. I even grieve to think of leaving a congregation which I love and esteem and which loves and esteems me in return”.
The rejoinder from Bill comes quickly,“You have become a “pastor” and somebody of influence in this world. Maybe you can tell me one more thing. I have often imaged myself as a pastor. It must be easy to stand and preach the very opposite of what you are doing – after all, you certainly cannot feel what you are saying”.
The pastor asks, “Why do you say that? I can assure you – and every one of my many listeners is able to testify – that I sometimes am so moved that I can scarcely talk. In the first place, I think of the four schnapps, the two glasses of punch, an extra glass, and also the fact that I am successful in the world and have a good living – isn’t that moving! Next I think of my useful and beneficial activity. While I stand there speaking I look at the people I am talking to and can read their eyes: there sits one who as sure as my name is Pastor H. will go right out of this meeting and sign up as a member. I can get so emotional over this that I sometimes start to cry, and this has such a powerful effect that I can see on his neighbor’s face that he is going to do the same. Now,if that isn’t moving then I don’t know what is. If I were a saint do you think I would be able to produce such an effect? The people would quickly lose interest. Am I right?”
Bill is a little puzzled, “Perhaps. But isn’t it untrue to call yourself a pastor?”
The pastor is well able to defend himself, “Not at all. If a person can proclaim the teaching that we should not aspire after earthly honor, esteem, wealth – if a person can proclaim this in such a way that he convinces people to live their lives accordingly, does it make any difference if he himself does just the opposite? Or isn’t this the best proof of his extraordinary talent for speaking, of his being truly a great orator, the fact that although he doesn’t exactly do what he preaches he still has such an enormous influence?”
This answer doesn’t satisfy Bill, “But doesn’t it ever happen that people complain that you are not a member? Don’t you get reproached for it?”
The pastor’s confidence in himself elicits a quick response, “Yes, of course, but I dismiss it. I explain it as a conflict of personalities, of style. Anyway, it is my job to preach, and one should stick to the subject of what I am teaching. That slays them.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The quote from the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne in my last blog were prompted because his words reminded me to some degree of my own situation, and to why I began to blog. As I’ve explained previously, retirement was necessary because of ill health.
The truth is that, many times, I have felt much as he did as he expressed himself, "Today missed some fine opportunities of speaking a word for Christ.”
Half a lifetime ago I also realised the truth of what he says next, also applied to me, even though, prior to this time, I would have vigorously denied the fact, “The Lord saw I would have spoken as much for my own honour as His, and therefore shut my mouth.”
At about the same time as gatherings with preachers in the denominational scene became more frequent, I began to see that many have contracted that same sickness, and had, through educating their congregations, literally become gurus. Travelling to the USA, and perusing the internet, raised the same awareness.
M’Cheynes words became more relevant,” I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake – until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!”
When one comes to this part of life’s journey, especially when the health issues create a place of few options for further activity, retirement leaves plenty of time for quiet introspection, revue, and some regret.
As I thought, and prayed, and talked with my wife, I began to see that the “for a season” part of M’Cheynes words also applied to me, hence the blog name Caesura (a pause prior to an emphasis). I’m not too sure about the length of the pause, and maybe, at my age, when the emphasis comes it will be the fanfare accompanying the returning Lord. He knows!
The latter ten years of full time ministry was a new church plant, which began with one man asking for Bible study, which we had in our home, and it grew to be too large for our home. That’s when we made a big mistake (that’s another story).
When it became necessary to retire I became interested to see more of what was happening around the world, and found that, like myself, there were some who had serious thoughts about the shape of what we have traditionally understood as “church”. I began to comment on a couple of sites where my itch was truly scratched.
Much as Alan commented, my first inclination was that maybe I could learn. As I have previously mentioned, age had brought home the reality that even after a lifetime in the church scene, as a novice pastor, and even later, after passing, so-called, middle age and on into the last straight to three score years and ten, the knowledge I had accumulated was infinitesimal in God’s scheme of things. That is true in every Christian life, whatever station in life we occupy.
Joel’s comment also touched on something relevant to my blogging that has come about through reading the blog sites of Christians, and is encompassed in M’Cheynes words, something which brings much grief to my heart and mind; the insistence on legalism, rules/performance oriented forms of Christianity being displayed by some blogs, sermons, and comments. So many Christians, preachers included, are inflicted with “prisoner syndrome”; they don’t know how to live free of bondage.
It’s that very issue which tweaked my interest to delve more into the thoughts of Paul, who commented on my previous article. He, also, obviously understood what grace means. Interestingly, his thoughts concur with my own .
Preaching and teaching from the age of seventeen amongst younger people, then as an elder, then full time pastor, was not something I chose. That course of life came about because of intense inner compulsion to which I had no real choice but to succumb. Only then did I have true peace of mind.
I am still thrilled to have, so long ago, entered this journey in life in the way I would have chosen, if I could have done so. After fifteen years, or so, in the local Body of Christ, it was they who recognised the gifting of God, the pastor affirmed their judgment, and my wife and I both had a strong sense of call.
I believed then, and do so now, that the gifts of God are given to every member of His Family, for the benefit of the whole not the individual. No leader can claim to be any more important than any other member of His people.
Because of my health, I find it difficult to attack the keyboard some times, and, as a result am not a consistent blogger, but maybe I am still able to be used. After all, He hasn’t sacked me.
How should I write? What ought I say? They are questions I have tried to answer. At this time I will continue to just respond to the promptings I have, without any particular agenda other than to be used, I trust, for the glory of my Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I meet up with him, I hope M’Cheyne will not be too cross with me for tampering with his words in the context of this blog, “I see a man cannot be a faithful blogger, until he blogs for Christ’s sake – until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and his opinions, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!”
Friday, May 8, 2009
I've asked myself these questions many times, and almost ceased the small amount of blogging I do achieve.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, on the 8th July,1836, wrote in his diary, "Since Tuesday have been laid up with illness. Set by once more for a season to feel my unprofitableness and cure my pride. When shall this self-choosing temper be healed? ‘Lord, I will preach, run, visit, wrestle,’ said I.
‘No, thou shalt lie in thy bed and suffer,’ said the Lord.
"Today missed some fine opportunities of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw I would have spoken as much for my own honor as His, and therefore shut my mouth. I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake – until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!”
Why am I blogging? Why are you? Are my opinions and yours so important or profound?
Monday, May 4, 2009
As I read the discussions on many of the blog sites of Christians (??) I have to wonder what they will say to Abraham when they meet up with him.
On the basis of the evidence I read, I would think they will say something like this:
“Abraham, I cannot accept you as a brother in God’s Family, as I can clearly see a reason to refuse to fellowship with you.
You have not come into membership of our branch of Christianism. You haven’t added your signature to our Confession. You haven’t made it clear which Five Points you agree with, nor your end time beliefs. What about communion? Do you use one cup or thimbles, wafers or bread? Is it only for the congregation you belong to, or for all believers, or just for the brand you belong to? Most importantly, in regard to this matter, who administers communion?
And, Abraham, we don’t know your position on tongues and other gifts, the authority of one who baptizes and so on.
Somehow, I think Abraham would join Paul in the questions he asked of the Galatians, “…did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
I wonder, if addressing the situation today, whether the Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to use a different word for that which we translate as “foolish”(Gal.3:1) Maybe the word moros (from which we get our word moron, indicating a heart and character deficiency) instead of anoetos ( a senseless, lack of understanding), could be more appropriate.
Well? Can you blame me for wondering?