This week our Worthington Presbyterian congregation is looking at the third of five “practices of fruitful congregations.” This third week we are talking about and thinking about and praying about “INTENTIONAL FAITH DEVELOPMENT.” This week's chapter in our congregational study relates the roots emphasizing intentional faith development for Methodists. I’d like to remind us a bit about our own Presbyterian roots for "growing on purpose."
But first I’d like to tell a story.
About 20 years ago I went on a Protestant Reformation study tour to Geneva, Switzerland. Before I left, a friend asked me to visit the place where John Calvin was buried and take a picture. I didn’t realize that my friend was sending me on an impossible mission. You see, no one knows where John Calvin was buried! Calvin’s dying wishes were that his burial place would be kept secret. He didn’t want it to become a shrine. He knew that he was SO popular, SO revered, that this was a real danger!
Why was Calvin so revered? For many reasons, surely, including his leadership and courage, his theological brilliance, and his extraordinary gifts of faithful preaching and teaching. When I went to the sanctuary in Geneva where Calvin taught, I was struck by how the chancel contained what looked like a scholar’s desk. Calvin had it there to remind us of our calling to love God with all of our MIND.
Calvin boldly asked the question: “Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church?” This was at the heart of the Reformation—that great 16th century renewal of the Church. Calvin felt we all are called to be scholars—students of the Bible, God’s Word. Calvin knew that when the people knew little about Scripture, and when the priests and religious leaders were supposed to be the sole interpreters—this was a recipe for disaster. The church leaders could and would abuse their power.
When each of us studies God’s Word, we can learn from each other. We can challenge, and correct, and affirm, and encourage one another. We can build one another up. Calvin declared, “It would be the height of absurdity to label ignorance tempered by humility ‘faith’!” God calls us to study, and learn, and grow in our faith. And this requires intentionality. Just like a good exercise regimen, it takes planning, and prioritizing, and discipline. And it works much better when we have others participating with us, encouraging us, and holding us accountable.
“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life,” Calvin taught. “It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” We have a tremendous heritage of loving God with all of our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. What are we doing as a congregation that is helping us to be lifelong learners in the faith? What can we do better?