Tag Archives: Church History

The Peaceful War Waged for the Peace of All Mankind

Eusebius_of_CaesareaWhile reading through Eusebius’ Church History, following the readthefathers.org plan, I read this from the introduction to Book 5, which tells of some of the martyrs in the Church in the mid-second century.

Other writers of history record the victories of war and trophies won from enemies, the skill of generals, and the manly bravery of soldiers, defiled with blood and with innumerable slaughters for the sake of children and country and other possessions. But our narrative of the government of God will record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and will tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, and for piety rather than dearest friends. It will hand down to imperishable remembrance the discipline and the much-tried fortitude of the athletes of religion, the trophies won from demons, the victories over invisible enemies, and the crowns placed upon all their heads.

Others before us, and Christians in other places today, are fighting this other war, this peaceful war for the “peace of the soul,” their own and the those of the world.

Here is the Christmas letter of one (via Internetmonk), Pastor Saeed Abidini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his faith:

Pastor AbidiniMerry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

The angels declared the birth of the Christ to the Shepherds:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests! (Luke 2:14)

The peace of Christmas comes at a price, the death of the Christ. And the many who have likewise suffered and even died in imitation of Jesus, have continued to wage the war of Christmas, for the Peace of Mankind. Let’s pray for those who suffer in this war, and let us be ever willing to join them.

We Really Do Need the Same Old Thing

Without knowing our own history as Christians, we are, not unlike when we stop reading the Bible, cut off from the past, doomed to reinvent it as we pursue the new.

While reformation is always possible and is the reason to change anything in the church (“reformed and always reforming”, is the Presbyterian slogan), often the new is 1) something that the Church used to do that we forgot about and were unaware of, or 2) something that Christians tried before and found wanting.

As Lisa Robinson says here, “it is really the old that we need–what God did through his Son, how the church has been established, what God has already spoken.” And, I would add, what Christians before us have already learned about this thing called ministry. Great cartoon too!

Lisa Robinson

I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. But it does seem to me as I observe the evangelical landscape today, that what is tried and trust and true gets overlooked for the ‘new’. So many in the church today are captivated by newness – new trends, new ideas, new innovations, new buildings, new predictions, new words from God, new movements, etc that the old seems irrelevant. But really its the old that we need – what God did through his Son, how the church has been established, what God has already spoken. This is how we are refreshed, by gathering according to what has already been established, by remembering what God has already said and what he has already done to gather a body of people to himself through the work of the Son. But somehow that gets too boring and we get antsy for something new. Why?

It…

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The Whole of Church History in Four Words (From Twenty-One Centuries.com)

I just started following a new blog, Twenty-One Centuries, by Chris Ross. One of the few specific Church History blogs I have found.

I thought I’d share an interesting post from his blog, Learn the History of the Church in Four Words. I know we are supposed to be wary of pressing history into convenient schemes, but I like what he suggests here. Simplistic? Absolutely. But helpful? Yes.

Chris says,
In teaching church history I have sometimes used the following four-word sequence to summarize the last 2,000 years:

DEFENSE – DEVELOPMENT – DECADENCE – DIVERSITY

Each word describes one of four 500-year divisions.

See his full post for what falls under each heading:
http://twenty-onecenturies.com/2014/08/15/learn-the-history-of-the-church-in-4-words/

Because My Wife Says I Should Share Some Personal Stuff…

I thought I’d share some random things today.

Every year my family and my sister’s family get together for a summer birthday bash. Instead of worrying about getting together 10 times through the year to celebrate birthdays we do it all at once. It’s kind of an All Saints Day type celebration, lumping us altogether at one time. Pretty genius I must say. This year we turned 290! We mangle the cake because everyone wants to eat their own name…except me. Mine was in the vanilla side this year. Boring!

On the Church history front, I’ve been diving into the tradition of Christian Saints for an upcoming series of posts, reading a great book on the subject: The Cult of the Saints, by Peter Brown. Good stuff. I learning some fascinating details about how death was seen by pagans and Christians in the first few centuries of the church. You will hear more on this.

A big reason I started this blog was to help me in a focused study of Church history. Just like teaching, there I nothing like committing to a blog to get you learning. And if someone else learns something too, more the better. I thought I’d share some of what I am reading these days. I read widely, reading several books at one time, a habit I learned from my father. It takes a while to get through a book, but I learn more about more things this way.

Readthefathers.org is a website that provides a 7-year reading plan through Schaff’s famous series, the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 37 volumes of early Christian Writings. It is in year two right now. I’ve been following it for a little over a month now. The plan is in the New Testament Apocrypha. By the way, the entire set of books is available as a $3 ebook on amazon. It’s great for reading through the series, as I am doing, but not so great as a reference collection. It is so big, at 84MB, that it takes forever to search. Is easier to read than ccel.org though. If you don’t know ccel.org, you need to. Incredible resource.

Every week I read from some other books on Church history too:

Historiography – I am really enjoying Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies. Short, to the point, written with precision and wit. I’ve had the opportunity to audit a class of his at Westminster Seminary. He is a great teacher.

General Church History Survey – Finally got started on Justo Gonzalez’ much loved Story of Christianity. I read Kenneth Latourette’s survey in seminary. This is a bit brisker and more a survey.

Classic Historian – Reading Herodotus’ History. It is much more engaging than I expected. Or I am more of a history nerd than I realized. Both may be true.

In my quest to read through biographies of all the US Presidents, I am up to James Garfield. I am reading The Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard, which is fantastic. I started reading a different biography, the Garfied volume of the American Presidents series, but found it to be pretty lousy and switched up. I have been blogging about what I have learned about ministry from these biographies. I am a bit behind. I am in the midst of the obscure presidents, though: Rutherford B. Hayes, Garfield, etc. I owe you one on Grant, though.

After reading The Whole Five Feet, by Christopher Beha, the author’s story of spending a year reading through the whole 51 volumes of the turn of the 20th century series, The Harvard Classics, I couldn’t resist, but had to do it myself. It will take me a long time however. I started in late June, and started volume 2 last week. So maybe 51 months, instead of weeks, for me.

Finally, I picked up The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman. Seems like a good year to read this history of the beginning of WW1. It is a detailed book, but I am enjoying what I have read so far.

Well, time for some leftover birthday cake. Have a great weekend, whatever you are doing. And you preachers out there, may you be blessed and be a blessing, by God’s grace.

3 Tough Questions (and Lessons) for Men’s Ministry

The purpose of my foray into Muscular Christianity has been to find some guidance on how to approach Men’s Ministry. In light of the challenge of getting men more involved in the church can we present the Gospel differently? Can we have programs and ministries focused on men? Can we do something outside of the church? Perhaps a more important question: should we do these things?

A Little Humility is In Order

First off. What good did the movement do? Here we are, a century later, still asking the same questions, struggling with the same issue that Muscular Christianity was supposed solve. So, it didn’t turn the tide.  This is a warning that it’s probably over ambitious to think we can reverse the long-standing lack of greater involvement of men in the church.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Our goal in the church is not really to shift history but to save the individual man and to build up the existing church, namely our own. So we try, so that someone may be saved.

The history of the Muscular Christianity movement reveals some dangers to be aware of when we try to develop ministries specifically for men. Let’s take a look at two big ones.

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

Behind the idea of Men’s Ministry is the assumption that there is something homogeneous about men, a certain ideal manliness that we can hold up as God’s call to the Christian man. What is it that we want to make men into? What behaviors do we want to see the men in our church stop and what to begin? The danger here is that we begin to press men into a certain mold that may or may not be God’s mold for them.

Muscular Christianity sought to engage men in the church again, to turn back what it saw as a tide of feminizing. But in doing so, it defined manliness in a way that seems limited and selective. It held up the ideal man as physically strong and in shape, athletic, and primitive (which had mainly to do with being able to survive in the woods; this was part of the impetus for the Boy Scouts, and the Christian Camp movement among others). Being “civilized” was not manly. While being well-rounded was desirable, it seems if you were talented academically in college, but not on the football team, you were not manly. And if you were a pastor, who wasn’t also a baseball player or boxer, or someone, like Billy Sunday, with a muscular physique, then you also were not manly. If you had to choose one or the other, being strong in mind or body, real men chose the body.

This may be a bit interpretive, but in rejecting “Manichaeism” and asceticism because those ideas devalued the body, Muscular Christianity swung too far to the other side, exalting the body and devaluing the mind and the spirit. It also incorporated a very black and white view of the world. If you weren’t manly, then you were part of the feminizing of the church.

Then there was the unsettling racial side to it. American Muscular Christian leaders warned that because of its physical decline, the Anglo-Saxon race was becoming weaker, while the immigrants from European countries were more physically vigorous. The assumption seemed to be that the physically strongest would rule ( a social Darwinism perhaps?) so Anglo-Saxons better toughen up. (see note below)

manly-man

One kind of manliness…

So, Lesson #1 is: Before we develop ministries for men, we best take a close look at our assumptions about manliness. What does it mean to be a man, not in our society, but according to God? If we do not define that, we will aim at whatever our culture says, or we will react against it. And we may wind up advocating something against God’s will.

The Idol of Power

One consistent part of “manliness” as many define it, including me, seems to be a focus on the right use of a man’s strength. Men are generally physically stronger than women, and of course, through much of history, have held greater authority and power. A good part of men’s ministry focuses on the right use of that power. But by its very nature power is a difficult thing to channel and control. Power can quickly be used to justify anything and can be easily redefined.

Early on in Muscular Christianity much was made of the power and strength of men as a means to evangelize the world. It was the great century of western missions, and if the Christian Church was to send missionaries to remote countries, it needed strong, vigorous men to do it. That was why you needed to get in shape, for the cause of spreading the Gospel.

But it is interesting how that noble purpose morphed in time to the need to be stronger than other races, to dominate others. It is also interesting to see how the emphasis on sports as a means to become stronger so that you may fulfill Gods purposes didn’t take long to change into an exaltation of sport for sport’s sake. Far from holding up the missionary as the model of a man, the ideal of manhood became the professional athlete, someone who participates in sport for no other reason than to play, be paid, and entertain others. Sound familiar? The nobility of manhood soon declined as power’s sights were lowered. Man himself became the idol that worked for himself and no longer for his god.

So here is Lesson #2: Strength and power are ultimately self-serving, and, far from being something that builds up the community, left to their own devices, they become a way to exalt the self against all others. Men’s Ministry needs to change the way men view strength and power.  This is not to deny that men possess strength and power, but how can we succeed where Muscular Christianity failed? An emphasis on being a good father or husband, to take charge at home, can easily be used to dominate those who are weaker, like a man’s wife and children. It can also be very easily co opted into the superhero/Lone Ranger mentality of men. “I am strong and powerful. I need no one else. And God has called me to save the world,” is a script we men are prone to.

...and a greater kind

…and a greater kind

We need to somehow not deny the strength and power of a man, but instead to redefine it according to the Scriptural call to love, which means to do good, to serve others, all others, especially those most in need.

But to take this a little further, in Lesson #3, it is perhaps wiser, and more in accord with the Gospel, to not speak of strength and power at all, to not focus on them, but rather speak only of the call to serve and to love as Jesus served and loved us. If men do this with their whole heart, they will naturally use their strength and power to accomplish them. But to dwell on one’s strength and power leads inevitably to an over-focusing on those, which inevitably leads to misuse. Strength and power are a man’s means to achieve God’s purposes, not the ends.

 The Use of History

A knowledge of history here allows us to get a sense of the pitfalls and possibilities of a ministry. We can see the whole run of Muscular Christianity, and can see how it changed over time and how it connected with the events of the time. It allows us to chart our path with greater awareness of how easily such movements can be hijacked by other goals and fears, and derailed by events around us.

There are no doubt other “men’s movements” in history that would be instructive. We could investigate monasticism, some of the different approaches to ministry found in Roman Catholic orders as different as the gentle, loving Franciscans and the militant Jesuits, and more. But this is a blog, not a book. And I suspect these observations would hold after reflecting on these other examples.

To summarize: The story of the Muscular Christianity Movement raises some very important questions for the church that wants to start a Men’s Ministry:

1)  What is it that we want men to become? Or what does it mean to be manly?

2)  How will we call men to acts of love and service employing their strength and power without becoming too focused on that strength and power?

3)  How will we connect men to a community of faith and to the wider fellowship beyond fellow men, a fellowship that includes those who men may be tempted to view as “weaker”?

Note: There was, in the U.S., a Muscular Christian movement among the African-American Church and the Roman Catholic Church, which was largely immigrant, and among Jewish Americans. I limited my consideration to the much larger and socially dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant movement, although it seems that Muscular Christianity went in different directions among the other ethnic and religious groups. 

Earl, Teddy, and Billy: Manly Men for Jesus

A while ago, I asked how the church can get men more involved. This is not the first generation in the church to find that women are more likely to be involved in the church than men. In fact, the dilemma is as old as the Church itself. To gain some insight into how to address this challenge, I find the Muscular Christianity movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries very helpful. In this post I will try to summarize what the movement was about, why it became a big thing, and what happened to it. Then, in a future post, what do we learn from it about getting men involved.

 

He came to be known as “Earl”. That was the name the students of Princeton University gave him in the 1920’s. His real name was “The Christian Student”. He was a statue erected in 1913, “a bronze embodiment of manly character, athletic prowess, intellectual force and fine spiritual fellowship.”(Putney, 195)  Earl, or The Christian Student, commemorated Princeton’s involvement with the Student Volunteer Movement, the YMCA movement, and the World Student Christian Federation. He was a tribute to the “Muscular Christianity”, promulgated widely through those organizations and others, that became prominent among White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in England and America in the previous 4-5 decades.

“Muscular Christianity” was the term by which a reviewer of the 1857 novel of British author Charles Kingsley described this new Christianity. It taught thought the Christian Church had become too feminine, and men too soft. It was opposed to asceticism and to a “Manichaeism” that exalted the spirit of a man over the body. It used sports, exercise, and outdoor activities to “primitavize” men and boys.

Victorian England was at that time obsessed with health. Coupled with this new view of Christianity, this led to an incredible growth of sports, invented, imported, and practiced with great gusto.

But it was “in America that muscular Christianity and its institutionalized cult of youth…found the widest acceptance.” (Putney, 19).

Teddy

One great American model man and populizer of Muscular Christianity was Teddy Roosevelt. He told his own story of “redemption” in “The Strenuous Life” written in 1901. He was “an asthmatic, spectacled child descended from a patrician New York family” who, after “a searing adolescent experience during which he was beaten up by two boys” remade himself through gymnastics, boxing and shooting into a real man. (Putney, 33-34) And after his manly leadership on San Juan Hill, he became the great man who would become the youngest (and most macho?) President to ever lead the nation.

The growth and popularity of Muscular Christianity was a reaction to over-civilization in the Industrial Age, as men left farms and worked in factories, and as sedentary middle management and executive jobs became more prominent in the gilded age. Leading to a decline in men’s fitness and physique, this was seen as a big problem in light of the growth of immigrant populations who were more physically vigorous. To summarize the fear, in uncomfortable terms, white Anglo-Saxons were committing race suicide through their sissifying.

It was also a reaction to the perceived feminizing of the church as men left leadership in the church, opting for business in the mid 1800’s meaning women became more prominent in leadership and life in the church.

Billy

Another model man of Muscular Christianity, and one that has special interest for me as a Presbyterian, was Billy Sunday. The popular, yet largley forgotten, evangelist of the 1920’s was ordained by the Presbytery of Chicago despite having no ministerial education. He was a professional baseball player, though, and he was ordained on the basis of his “muscular physique” and effectiveness in evangelism. The Presbytery had drunk the Koolaid (not the first or the last time IMHO).

Muscular Christianity was quite prominent in mainline Protestantism for several decades, but largley disappeared after World War 1. It went the way of many other idealisms in the face of that terrible dream-dashing war. Grand plans and ideas rang hollow after such inhumanity, and Muscular Christianity was one of these. As the founders died and the mainline denominations began their decline, as hopes turned away from religion as a way to make a better world, and to psychology and therapeutic healing as ways to cope, Muscular Christianity seemed something from the old order that had failed.

It’s effects are still with us, though. Groups like the YMCA, although leaving their religious heritage behind, grew strong because of this movement. Professional sports as we know them today came into existence in connection with it. Christian organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Youth for Christ, and Promisekeepers have carried the torch in some ways. The place of Christian Camps, physical education in schools, and even the sport of basketball all came into being through Muscular Christianity.

Earl, in Hiding

As the fortunes of Muscular Christianity went, so did Earl’s, the Christian Student. During the 1920’s the students began to repeatedly vandalize the statue and gave him his name in mockery of the ideals for which he stood. Finally, the school removed him in 1931 and put him in storage. There he sits, a forgotten relic of a forgotten age.

—-

Sources:

Putney, Clifford. Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America 1880-1920, Harvard, Cambridge, 2001.

Watson, Nick J., Stuart Weir, and Stephen Friend. “The development of muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and beyond.” Journal of Religion and Society 7.1 (2005): 1-25.

Baptist History. That’s a rap!

This is a fun post.  Ashley Unzicker put together a rap on Baptist History last year after finishing a course on the subject at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.  Apparently she has written many raps but this one was a first. She was inspired by the professor and the subject.

At first she was not so thrilled about taking a class about long ago facts and lots of dates, but her tune soon changed:

“Wow, that’s why I believe what I believe,” said Unzicker, who recalled the moment Baptist history became more than a collection of dates and words in a textbook. 

She was also inspired by the many individuals mentioned in the rap, Baptists who made a difference through their faithfulness to Christ.

That’s what this history thing is all about. Discovering why you believe what you believe, and being encouraged in your own faithfulness by seeing the faithfulness of that great crowd of witnesses around us.

Every tradition needs a rap. If the Baptists can do that, why not the rest of us!  Who’s next?

 

Here is a link to the full story. And enjoy the video!

 

 

 

The Great Divide: Faith and Medicine, continued

In one of my first posts in this blog I took an historical look at faith-healing, wondering whether the stark divide that we see some Christians make between scientific or rational medicine and trusting God to grant healing miraculously had any basis in the way Christians have seen the matter in the past.  This question was raised for me by the prosecution of a couple in Philadelphia for failing to take their child for medical treatment, choosing instead to rely on prayer. The child died of a simple infection. The couple and their church’s rejection of medical technology and know-how is based on their belief that this was the practice of the first century church. I set out to look into the matter.

My conclusion was that in the first century, and before and after as well, there was no such divide between rational medicine and religious healing. While many Christian teachers and preachers called believers to not forget to seek God’s healing in prayer, and to realize that some sicknesses may be more spiritual in nature, it simply was not the case that they saw a radical difference between rational medicine and faith healing.

I came across further support of this idea while browsing through the library of Westminster Theological Seminary, not far from my home. The 2012/2013 issue of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Univeristy Library of Manchester (volume 89 Supplement) is dedicated to “ancient medical and healing systems and their connections to modern western medicine.”

I thought I’d share some of what that issue said.

In the Introduction, Rosalie David makes the point that a divide rational medicine and religious healing was not recognized. There were indeed two distinct influences to treatment, the more physical treatments we consider rational, and “magico-religious” treatments that dealt with spiritual powers, but it was never one or the other all the time.  Different situations called for different treatments.

A Shrine to Asclepius in Athens turned into a Christian Chapel

A Shrine to Asclepius in Athens turned into a Christian Chapel

“The assumption that, in antiquity, healing achieved through rational means was in direct opposition to magico-religious treatment has now been largley superseded, with modern scholarship accepting that no definitive distinction can be drawn between so-called rational and irrational methods (a categorization which the ancient healer themselves would not have recognized)” p. 8

Another article, “The Cult of Asclepius: It’s Origins and Early Development”, by Trevor Curnow, confirms the wide-ranging popularity and reach of the Asclepius cult throughout the Roman Empire up to the time of Constantine, when it was replaced by the church. There were some 700 cult centers throughout the empire. These houses of healing were places to receive both rational and religious treatment.

The most thorough article is “Roman Medicine: Science or Religion?” by Audrey Cruse. Did the Romans see a divide between rational and religious healing? No. She quotes a Hippocratic treatise, a Greek writing (the Greeks have usually been seen as the ones beginning the rational practice of medicine), “On the Sacred Disease”, where the writer seemingly mocks superstitious, magical practices, only to replace them with other practices we would regard as superstitious.  Secondly, the Asclepius cult combined the two with no contradiction noticed. And third, surgeons’ tools often had religious symbols on them, and doctors often took Asclepaides as a common name in order to identify with the God, giving their treatments credibility. Cruse draws a lesson for modern medicine from all this:

“Just as there was considerable diversity of knowledge and practice in medicine during the Roman era, so diversity remains a feature of the medical scene today. Indeed, we now have a much larger world which encompasses numerous religions and belief systems. In many of these faiths the traditions of religious and orthodox medicine survive side by side! As can be seen at the sanctuary at Lourdes, for example…Religion in medicine can be present in any our all cultures, today just as it was in antiquity.” p. 252

The notion that either we go to the doctor or we pray to God for divine healing winds up being a modern idea. And those who advocate only divine healing, far from being in tune with the early centuries of the church, show themselves to be thoroughly modern in their failure to see that the two, rational and divine healing, go hand in hand.

While the Journal is not available on line without subscribing, for those interested in exploring these ideas further, Audrey Cruse did write a book published in 2004 called Roman Medicine, published by Tempus.

Respect Your Elders

My next two posts may be kind of in-house posts as they reflect on the way the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination, is governed, but I share them because there can be no more practical idea in the church than who is in charge in any given church. And our ideas in this matter are very much shaped by our church’s and the Church’s history.  

I learned the importance of church government when I worked as Youth Director in a Congregational church back in my first year of seminary. I learned to appreciate the more connectional nature of my own denomination when I got involved with the congregational church’s way of doing things beyond the local congregation.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  

So, if you are not Presbyterian, think about how your church is governed and what that says about your church’s values and about its beliefs about people and the business of church.

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion at our Prebytery meeting that focused on the heart of what makes Presbyterians Presbyterian—the role of elders in the leadership of the church. This was brought about by a recent change in the names of the ordained offices in our denomination. We have three such offices. They used to be called Minister of Word and Sacrament, Elder, and Deacon. We have renamed the first two Teaching Elder and Ruling Elder respectively. The change provided an opportunity to talk about why the names matter and what they say about how we do church today.

The big thing is that the leadership of the church belongs to more than the clergy, and especially to more than any one pastor or priest. And this makes a world of difference when you talk about discerning God’s will and giving stability to the church.

An elder-led church goes back to the Reformation, when the stranglehold of the clergy on the neck of the church was challenged and broken. While this led to a divided church, it also led to a more faithful church, even within Roman Catholicism. 

It was the so-called Reformed branch of the Reformation, embodied most fully in John Calvin and the church of Geneva, that a new idea of leadership took greatest hold. The church was to be led by a group of Christian men (and it was just men at that time, and for centuries, of course). Calvin named four offices of leadership: pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. Pastors preached and gave pastoral care. Teachers taught the Bible in the Genevan schools. Elders, with the Pastors, oversaw the spiritual growth of the members of the church and encouraged them to live faithful lives, and Deacons were charged with caring for the poor and the sick. 

The idea of a shared leadership, involving both clergy and non-clergy was a very controversial idea. Calvin got this radical idea from the Bible, turning to such passages as 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 which emphasize that the Spirit has spread out gifts for leadership in the church. These passages, and several others in the New Testament, reveal that in the early church, local churches were led by a group of leaders called elders, not by a sole priest as was practiced by the time of the Reformation. This practice no doubt arose out of the Jewish synagogue which was led by men of the community (elders) and not by priests or even rabbis.  Since the first Christians were Jewish, they continued the practice they knew. Like most of the other Reformers, Calvin did not regard himself as a teacher of innovations but rather as one calling the church to return to earlier, more faithful practice.

To shorten a long story, the path from Calvin into Presbyterianism as we know it today went through Scotland via John Knox who visited Geneva for a time and famously called it “the most perfect school of Christ.”  I suppose the more spread-out power of an elder- and pastor-led church appealed to the Scottish mindset.

That’s a bit on the origin of the Presbyterian-style elder-led church. Next time, the “so what” in all this…