Resisting a Diet of False Illusions
Why did John Calvin preach eight times a week in Geneva? Eight times a week! How did he make the time? Was he not writing commentaries on almost every book of the Bible? Was he not writing treatises on numerous theological and pastoral subjects? Was he not the Reformation’s premier letter writer, writing to hundreds of Christians, kings, queens and nobles as well as pastors and their families? Eight times a week!
Calvin did not think he was doing anything extraordinary in preaching eight (sometimes more) times a week. He was persuaded that if the church was to survive in a hostile world, bombarded on all sides by siren voices saying, ‘Don’t be so serious. Lighten up. Return to Mother Church (Rome)’, God’s people needed to be saturated in the Word of God.
With other Reformers, Calvin believed that only being exposed to God’s Word once or twice a week did little to resist the relentless diet of false illusions emanating from the world. He was persuaded that Christians needed all the time they could give to hearing God’s Word tear down the world’s false illusions.
I wonder if Calvin’s thinking resonates with you. We live in a culture full to overflowing with false illusions. Our TVs and the media as a whole are seeking to deceive us (there are always honourable exceptions). Relentlessly the message goes out, dressed up so seductively, ‘Without this, life is dull. Without this, you are missing out. With this, life will overflow with joy. Join this and you will never be the same man, woman, again.’ And so the litany goes on. ‘This is life’ the music and style icons relentlessly tell us, until we are drugged into thinking it might just be so.
In Romans 12:2, Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. He is telling us that if our minds are not being renewed, then we will be squeezed into the mould of this fallen, passing world. Perhaps more than any previous generation of Christians, this generation needs to be saturated in the wisdom, grace, goodness and health-giving clarity of God’s truth. We need our minds de-cluttered and then refreshed by the ‘wisdom from above’ (James 3:15).
We live in a world of deceptive illusions, powerful, seductive illusions that are out to ensnare us and kill us. Calvin was absolutely right: we need every given opportunity to hear God’s living, clarifying, deception-scattering Word.
So my question to you is this: Do you prize every given opportunity to hear God’s Word in your church? You could read this as a rebuke, and in measure you might be right. But see this rather as a loving exhortation to hunt out every opportunity to sit under the ministry of God’s Word. Not because I am worth hearing; but because God himself speaks to us by his Spirit through his Word.
I have a very good friend in the USA who was accused by some church members of being ‘legalistic’ because he encouraged them not to be satisfied with coming to worship once a week. My dear friends, his encouragement was not legalistic, it was the kind, thoughtful, caring encouragement of a pastor set apart to care for Christ’s sheep. May we all be like the Psalmist who wrote, ‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”’
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.www.cambridgepres.org.uk
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