For around 75 years (1536-1609) Geneva had a sort of Bible study group called the Congregation. It was something like an in-depth public Bible study where pastors, professors, and students would take turns explaining, interpreting, and applying Scripture and also answering questions. (The Reformers understood well that Scripture needs to be interpreted and explained in a corporate setting “to avoid the rash conclusions of private imaginations,” as Manetsch wrote. But that’s the topic of a different blog post.)
Before they read and explained Scripture, the men would pray the following prayer:
“We pray to you, our good God and Father, asking that you might forgive all our faults and offenses, and illuminate us by your Holy Spirit to have the true understanding of your holy Word. Give us the grace that we need to handle it purely and faithfully to the glory of your holy name, for the edification of the Church, and for our salvation. We ask these things in the name of the only and blessed Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
This is an excellent example of the kind of prayers we should pray as we approach Scripture. We pray for forgiveness, illumination, and for grace to understand and interpret it rightly – for God’s glory, the good of the church, and the salvation of his people.
The above quotes are found in Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p. 134-5.
I’m very much looking forward to reading this book after finishing the introduction. Here’s an edited snippet from the intro:
The reader will encounter three important themes wending their way through the chapters of this book:
First, the ministers of Geneva cannot be understood rightly unless one appreciates the religious natures of their sense of vocation. The pastors in this book emerge as men committed to the reformation of the church and devoted to the spiritual instruction and care of God’s people.
Second, it is inaccurate to portray Calvin and his pastoral colleagues as ivory-tower theologians, disengaged from the everyday concerns of their parishioners. On the contrary, as evident in their ministries of preaching and pastoral care, the pastors of Geneva devoted much of their time and energy to addressing practical matters of Christian discipleship, enjoining townspeople and peasants alike to conduct lives characterized by faith, hope, and repentance. …’Theology for them was indeed always practical.’
Third, it will be demonstrated that while Beza, Goulart, and their pastoral colleagues jealously guarded the legacy of Calvin, they made subtle changes to the expression of pastoral ministry in Geneva in response to the practical challenges they faced. This does not mean, however, that Geneva’s ministers after Calvin should be judged as bold innovators who betrayed Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical program. Their innovations were far too modest for such an assessment. It is my primary concern not to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion when judging Geneva’s ministers, but to exercise both charity and critical subtlety in evaluating the pastoral behavior of Calvin and his colleagues in light of their unique historical and religious contexts.
Stay tuned! I’m sure I’ll come back here with more quotes from this book as I read through it: Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.