On Pastoral Sensitivity and Property
“The first thing I’d do is remonstrate with the man freely,” the candidate replies. “Then I’d ask what in the world caused him to do such a sinful thing and I’d rebuke him and tell him to beg God for forgiveness. Then I’d lead him in a prayer of confession and tell him to buck up and show that he had really repented. Finally, I’d leave him to medical care.”
Would such practice commend the candidate for pastoral ministry? Should such a candidate be ordained into ministry in a Reformed church?
Be careful in how you reply, because you could bar John Calvin from the ministry. Such a response was Calvin’s way of dealing with an attempted suicide.
Calvin said it
I am visiting Geneva to attend a meeting of the World Council of Churches Central Committee, and on a free afternoon, I decided to visit the International Museum of the Reformation. There, one of the exhibits provided an English translation of Calvin’s testimony in what must have been the equivalent of a police investigation, or perhaps a coroner’s inquest. Let me reproduce it in full:
I, the undersigned, hereby declare before Lord Pierre d’Orsiere, appointed by the Lieutenant of Geneva, that this is my true statement, made today, January 23rd, 1545. Yesterday between eight and nine, Pierre Vachat came to me in tears and told me of a deplorable event that had occurred at his home, namely, that his brother had asked his maidservant for a knife and plunged it into his stomach. He asked me to go to him. I immediately set off, and on the way met our colleague Monsieur Mattieu de Gestons. When I reached the high chamber where Jean Vachat was lying, I remonstrated with him freely. I then asked him what had driven him to thus wound himself. He told me that he was in great suffering. I showed him in several ways how the Devil had seduced him and led him astray. After rebuking him, I asked him whether he repented for offending God and succumbing to such a temptation. He answered in the affirmative. He repeated this twice. I asked him whether he begged God for forgiveness and whether he had faith, and believed that He would be merciful. He answered in the affirmative. Then we prayed as the situation required, recognizing and confessing the error of his action. I exhorted him again with my words to be patient and seek consolation in the grace of God. Just then, Master Claude, the barber, arrived. I asked Vachat to allow himself to be treated, and thereby show that he repented of his act and entrusted himself to God. By his attitude and words, I saw that he was calm and lucid. When this was done, I left with our brother Monsieur de Genestons. I swear that all this is true. John CalvinBefore Reformed pastors became psychologists and group-hug enablers, we were first concerned about the state of one’s soul. That was certainly clear in Calvin’s practice.
One good deed deserves another
I thought of one other thing while I was in the museum (fascinating, by the way), located where the cathedral cloisters had once stood. It was in those cloisters in 1536 that the Reformation was voted. When that Roman Catholic (the only “denomination” at the time) cathedral’s pastors and congregation voted to became Protestant, they left their previous denomination with property.
That property, a historic cathedral on prime real estate, has been part of this new denomination for nearly 500 years. This afternoon, in an ecumenical service commemorating the 60th anniversary of the World Council of Churches, at least three Roman Catholic bishops (or perhaps they were archbishops or even cardinals) were in attendance in that cathedral to demonstrate their ecumenical support.
Quite noticeably, they were smiling and didn’t ask for the property back. Perhaps they had never heard of the Louisville Papers.