Calvin’s Advice on Wisdom for Church Planters

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Written by: Philip Moore

Philip Moore is Acts 29’s vice president for global regions and the Europe network director. He lives in Paris with his wife, Rachel, and they have five children.

This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked HERE.


Editor’s Note: John Calvin is best known for his Institutes. He worked on them consistently throughout his life, and they were the backbone of his literary output. They informed his practice as he trained pastors and sent them out to plant churches. It’s impossible to imagine those men were unaware of the Reformer’s magnum opus. So what would it be like to plant churches today with Calvin’s Institutes in mind? In this series of blogs, Philip Moore, Acts 29’s vice president for global regions, will be walking through the Institutes so we can plant churches with Calvin. Make sure to check out the first and second articles in the series. 

Calvin starts Book I of his Institutes with this famous declaration: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

I would like to develop this thought with particular attention to church planters.

Wisdom

First, wisdom. That skill in living with poise and being able to navigate life—its ups and downs, its challenges and joys—with equilibrium and insight. Wisdom might be the most underrated aptitude we look for when we assess church planters. 

Drive, zeal, vision, entrepreneurial aptitude, and preaching gifts are all important. But without wisdom, these valued competencies are liable to develop in uncontrolled and uncontrollable ways. The more responsibility we have in life, the more we need wisdom.

Knowledge

Second, knowledge. Calvin said wisdom consists of two parts—knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. And we can see straight away the logic of this affirmation. If we are to live well in the world that God created, we need to know the Creator, and we need to understand what it means to be a creature.

This could be worked out ad infinitum. Knowing God as all-powerful and ourselves as weak and dependent is key to living wisely. To escaping burnout and steering clear of pride and overreach. To avoiding Messiah complexes and workaholism. 

Knowing God as holy and ourselves as sinful is key to living wisely because it means we consciously avoid sin; we intentionally pursue holy living and love of others. Wise church planters do not fall or falter in the ways many have. 

Calvin’s opening declaration in his Institutes is useful for church planters in ways I’ve only begun to describe.Drive, zeal, vision, entrepreneurial aptitude, and preaching gifts are all important. But without wisdom, these valued competencies are liable to develop in uncontrolled and uncontrollable ways.CLICK TO TWEET

Useful Advice

His advice is equally useful for the ministry goals we set for our church plants. What are we trying to do when we plant churches? Ultimately, we want more people to know God. We want people to meet Jesus. We want them to understand the human condition and thus to understand themselves, their sins, addictions, problems, and sufferings. We want them, having understood who God is and how he wants to carry their burdens, to commit themselves to live life in this knowledge—that is to say, wisely.

What if, before we sat down to prepare our sermons and Bible studies, we meditated for a few minutes on the opening gambit of the Institutes? How will I preach and teach so people can know God? What aspects of our human condition emerge from this passage, so I can help people know themselves? How do these two strands intertwine so that people see their need for Jesus and understand how they can now start to live wisely in relationship with him?

We can see how this approach is, at the same time deeply pastoral, warmly apologetic, and incisively evangelistic. We can see how this approach would sharpen our applications and exhortations. People in this kind of church plant would be growing in every area—knowledge of God, knowledge of self, and skill in living wisely.

Sound Wisdom

And this is no surprise because this kind of wisdom—which Calvin later explains comes from the Scriptures—is true and sound. It is dependable and corresponds exactly with reality. It is healthy and health-giving, as Paul explains in Titus 2:1, especially when delivered by a wise planter, who is himself growing in the knowledge of God and of self and in the skill of living wisely. Then there is no danger of overbearing, manipulative, or abusive uses of the message or the platform.“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” –John CalvinCLICK TO TWEET

So let us decide to be church planters steeped in this kind of reflection. There is no shortcut to wisdom. If we have been guilty of lacking wisdom in the past, if our lives lack the poise and equilibrium we have been talking about, then repentance and resolve will be needed. But there is no reason not to pursue, from this point on, in our lives and in our ministries, true and sound wisdom, which consists of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.

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