Dear Church Family and Friends,
I’m on study leave this week, but I want to share with you what I’ve done this week and some of the things that I’ve learned. Amy and I will be away this weekend, but we are looking forward to seeing you when we return
I attended a series of seminars put on by St. John’s College called “Freedom of Conscience and the American Experiment.” This turned out to be unlike any class, conference, or program that I’ve ever participated in. Each participant was given approximately 500 pages of primary source material to read and study before the seminars. The readings ranged from Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian to some of the American founding documents to contemporary Supreme Court opinions.
Fourteen participants met on Zoom for a two-hour morning seminar and a two-hour afternoon seminar with two tutors (that’s what they call professors at St. John’s). We were gathered together as a “small republic” to discuss the texts of the readings. Each participant brought an opening question for the group to discuss. We were asked not to make speeches, tell personal anecdotes, or bring in outside information. The object of each meeting was to have a conversation rooted in the text of the material that we read.
St. John’s is third oldest college in America, being founded in 1696. Their curriculum has been practically unchanged since 1937. As a “Great Books College,” St. John’s has one major, virtually no electives. Everyone takes the same classes, which are based on original sources rather than textbooks. For example, your math class may be Euclid’s Geometry, or Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
St. John’s is a secular institution, so the people who participated came from a wide variety of perspectives. Each person brought great humility of mind to the readings, and was willing to follow the text wherever it led. The seminar was a model of guided conversation, a willingness of all participants to listen to each other, and civil discourse.
Unlike the conferences that I’ve attended or classes that I’ve taken, I didn’t come home with a notebook full of notes. We thoroughly studied the and discussed the material. However, this was different than going to lectures and taking notes. So, what did I come away with?
1. A reminder that all people are created in the image of God. Because of this, in spite of any differences we may have, what we have in common is greater than our differences. We have a basis for communication and conversation with everyone.
2. An experience of and appreciation for excellent models for leading discussions and guided conversations.
3. A renewed appreciation for principled and respectful disagreement. Disagreement is a fact of life. Even though as a church, we recognize the supreme authority of the Scripture and committed to the Westminster Standards as our subordinate standard, we will still have disagreements. The disagreements I experienced in the seminars were different kind of disagreements than we have in the church, but we were able to disagree respectfully and agreeably, even on matters of principle.
4. A reminder to focus on the text in the study and preaching of the Scripture. This may sound obvious. But too often, pastors can lose focus, and preach their preconceptions of the text rather than the text itself. When sermons are grounded in the text of the Scripture, the authority of Scripture is magnified rather than the authority of the preacher. The congregation has greater confidence in the authority of Scripture and in their ability to read and understand the Bible.
5. A reminder of the unique relationship between the founding of America and the Christian faith. America’s founding documents are deeply shaped by the Christian faith. The Founding Fathers were united in their belief that for religion to flourish, it must be kept free from both government aid and government restrictions.
Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here. If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream. This should eliminate those difficulties. If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.
ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL
Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom. Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.
Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful. And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for. We are happy to serve you in this way!
Love in Christ,