How Should a Pastor Treat His Wife? (Miller)

Image result for letters on clerical manners "samuel miller" A pastor’s marriage is a very important part of his life and ministry.  A pastor should be an excellent Christian example of what it means for a husband to serve, cherish, nourish, and love his wife in a humble, Christ-like way.  Samuel Miller (d. 1850) gave some outstanding advice along these lines:

As a clergyman ought to be the most pious man in his parish, to go before all his people in the exemplification of every Christian grace and virtue, so he ought to make a point of being the best husband in his parish; of endeavoring to excel all others in affection, kindness, attention, and every conjugal and domestic virtue.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some clergymen, who preach well on the duties of husbands and wives, are, notwithstanding, austere, harsh, tyrannical, and unkind in their own families. Whenever this is the case, it can seldom fail to be known – and, when known, can never fail to diminish, in some degree, their official influence.

But, I need not say, that your daily and hourly happiness, still more than your reputation, will be involved in this matter. It would be unseasonable here to attempt even the most cursory detail of conjugal duties. Suffice it to say, that if you should not love your wife enough to make the most unceasing attentions and kindness to her delightful ; if you should not have an affection for her so strong as to prompt you to be continually contriving something for her happiness, even at the expense of self-denial and sacrifice on your part; if the feelings of your heart should not spontaneously dispose you to bear with her infirmities, to cover her faults, to comply with all her reasonable wishes, and to respect and honor her in the presence of your family, as well as of strangers – I say, if you should not have a love for your wife which will prompt you, without constraint, to do all this, it will be vain to give you counsels on the subject.

I appreciate how Miller said a pastor should show his wife much affection, attention, and kindness.  It’s also good advice for a pastor to continually seek to make his wife happy which means he must practice much self-denial and make sacrifices for her good.  And, of course, the pastor must forgive his wife and bear with her faults, knowing that he too has many faults.  If a pastor doesn’t love his wife this way, his preaching and teaching on marriage will be done in vain.

The above quote is found in Samuel Miller’s Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits (G&C Carvill: New York, 1827) 410-411.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Church Is Greater Than The Pastor

Our Worship (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies) Although he lived and ministered in Holland almost 100 years ago, Abraham Kuyper could already see the celebrity pastor syndrome growing in the United States.  There are quite a few layers of wisdom in the following quote.  I especially like Kuyper’s dig at democratic/populist religious gatherings, his emphasis on church history, and his note that pastors are temporary servants of the church.  This is why, in Reformed church history, ministers were not typically called “founding pastors.”  A historic Reformed/Presbyterian view of the church (ecclesiology) and her pastors prevented the celebrity pastor mindset that is widespread today.   Here’s the quote.

“…All liturgy is predicated on the foundational notion that the church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church.  [One who is simply] a speaker, an orator, a convener rents a room and directs his speech, his oration, or his meeting in whatever way he deems appropriate and expects his audience to acquiesce.  After all, whoever does not like it can stay away or leave.”

“But that is not the situation in the [historical] Reformed churches, nor, one might add, in most of the other assemblies of Christ’s church.”

“Only in America and in some of our own small independent churches is there such a free-reigning spirit.  It is quite common in America, especially in the larger cities, for a minister to start his own church, attract whoever will come, and maintain his church from the contributions that come in.  Such a church is thus literally an independent business run by the minister, without any confessional forms and without connections to other churches.  It is nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker….”

“But in a genuine church it is quite different, that is, in the gathering of believers originating in a historical past that goes all the way back to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.”

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 6-7.

shane lems

Wisdom, Ignorance, Knowledge, Seminary

Around six months ago I wrote a short review of this book: Excellence: The Character of God and the Puruit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger.  To summarize that review, I really liked the book and recommend it.  As I was paging through it again recently, I found this section that I had marked up.  It’s on knowledge, seminary, and wisdom.  After commenting on 1 Corinthians 8:1, Kostenberger says,

“…Knowledge is good and necessary, but it must be accompanied by love and humility, or it will lead to pride and arrogance.  When I was a freshly minted Christian considering seminary training in the United States, an American missionary recounted the story of an aspiring student who was told by a well-meaning counselor, ‘God doesn’t need your education.’  To which the young man replied, ‘God doesn’t need your ignorance either.'”

“…True, seminary sometimes removes students from the real world, and, as one of my former professors never tired of repeating, ‘must be gotten out of your system,’ before effective ministry can take place.  ‘Now you k now what the answers are,’ he kept saying.  ‘Go and find out the questions that people are actually asking.’  To be sure, there are those who are so other-worldly that they are little or no earthly good.  But at the same time, there is considerable value in formal training in virtually any profession, and, certainly, education in studying the Bible is no exception.”

As a side, that reminds me of someone who, when defending the need for pastors to go to seminary, quipped that no one would fly on a plane where the pilot wasn’t trained or go to a doctor who skipped medical school.  So he wouldn’t go to a church where the pastor wasn’t trained.  Kostenberger continues:

“There is a need to learn the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, in order to interpret the Bible more precisely and to preach it more accurately and authoritatively.  There is the benefit of formal instruction in preaching, theology, and church history.  If you have a well-educated pastor, or if you are a well-educated pastor, don’t hang your head – be grateful that God has given you the privilege of receiving proper formal training in studying and proclaiming his Word.  Whatever people may say, ignorance is not a virtue.  Neither is knowledge, however, unless it is applied and put to proper use.  This application of knowledge to real-life situations is called ‘wisdom'” (p. 177-178).

Andreas Kostenberger, Excellence (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

shane lems

The Success Syndrome and the Church

Early in his ministry, Kent Hughes was set on having a successful church and pastoral career.  “To me,” he wrote, “success in the ministry meant growth in attendance.  Ultimate success meant a big, growing church.” “Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would affect church growth.”  The crisis of faith came for him when he pastored a church that wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds.

After tears, prayer, discussions with his wife, and a study of scripture, he said this.

“I realized that I had been subtly seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything.  Instead of evaluating myself and the ministry from God’s point of view, I was using the world’s standard of qualitative analysis.”

What did he learn?  Quite a bit: “God’s call is to be faithful rather than successful.”  His wife Barbara agreed.

“In our study of the Scriptures, Kent and I had learned that we are not called to success, as the world fancies it, but to faithfulness.”

This is essential for all Christians no matter where and how we are called to serve in the church: our definition of success must come from the Bible not the world.  Instead of judging success by the number of sermon downloads, website hits, people in the pews, and cars in the parking lot, we need to judge it by biblical fidelity.  A biblically successful church is one that preaches the whole counsel of God in and out of season, administers the sacraments faithfully, and lovingly disciplines sinners unto repentance.

For a longer discussion of this important topic, you’ll need to get Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Jack Rabbits and Ping-Pong

 I’m surprised how many times I hear people speak negatively about a pastor’s seminary education – as if knowledge is deadly to the soul (or ignorance is bliss).  Of course, this sentiment is a common American one that goes way back to the early frontier days of circuit preachers.  Billy Sunday even said, “I don’t know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knows about ping-pong, but I’m on my way to glory” (he was right, by the way!).  If you read a lot of Christian books and hear sermons on Christian radio and TV, you’ll notice there are quite a few Billy Sundays out there today. 

Puritan William Gurnall discusses this topic briefly in The Christian in Complete Armor (I’ve edited it a bit to make it shorter and easier to read).  I appreciate what he has to say here; I firmly believe a pastor should have a solid and vigorous seminary education (Greek and Hebrew included!).

“Knowledge is so fundamental to the work and calling of a minister, that he cannot be one without it (cf. Hos. 4:6).  The lack of knowledge in a minister is such a defect that it cannot be supplanted by anything else.  Even if he were ever so meek, patient, excellent, and blameless, if he doesn’t have the skill to rightly divide the word, he is not fit to be a minister.  Even if a knife has a handle made of diamonds, if it does not cut it is a worthless knife.  If a bell does not ring, it is a worthless bell.  The great work of a minister is to teach others, his lips are to preserve knowledge, he should be as conversant in the things of God as others in their particular trades.”

“I know these stars [ministers of the gospel] in Christ’s hands are not all of the same magnitude.  There is a greater glory of gifts and graces shining in some than in others; yet so much light is necessary to every minister, as was in the star the wise men saw at Christ’s birth, to be able out of the word to direct sinners the safe and true way to Christ and salvation.”

Here’s a great analogy worth remembering (Gurnall ends the section with it): “He is a cruel man to the poor passengers, who will undertake to be captain, when he never so much as learned his compass.”  J. G. Machen would have agreed: “The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.” 

Dear pastors, missionaries, elders, and seminary students: study hard, train well, learn the doctrines of grace – for the glory of God and the good of his church!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Pastor and the Church: Abraham Kuyper

I just finished Our Worship (Onze Eredienst; 1911) [ed.  Harry Boonstra, trans. Boonstra, et. al (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)] by Abraham Kuyper.  The book is a series of published articles on public worship and liturgy which Kuyper penned around the turn of the 20th century in a Dutch Reformed  “magazine,” De Heraut.  The topics include liturgy, the assembly, the meeting, the prayers, song, preaching, elders, deacons, and so forth – 316 pages of such discussion.

I enjoyed the first chapters quite a bit.  Here’s a golden section from the first chapter, “Revival of Liturgical Awareness.”

“In a genuine church…the gathering of believers” originates in “a historical past that goes back all the way to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.  He was born in the church, he served in it, and therefore had to honor the traditions that developed within the church over the centuries.” (p. 7; emphasis mine).

That’s great: Kuyper is reacting to the “free-reining spirit” common in America (yes, even back in c. 1900) where a minister starts his own church, gets some followers and goes from there.  Kuyper said that such a conglomeration is “nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker” (Ibid.).  Kuyper’s response is classic: the minister is a very tiny part of a much greater thing.  He does not have the liberty to do what he wants with the church.  He’s an important servant in some sense, but he must remember that the church existed before him and will be there long after his tongue no longer speaks.  He’s a tool in the hands of Christ, used for a time to build something much more significant than himself: the body of Christ.   This is a great note for me as a pastor to remember: “The church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church” (Ibid., 6).

The minister serves Christ and his church – not the other way around.

shane lems

sunnyside wa