And so continues my conversation with Jerome’s material copied in my post here. This will not be researched commentary, but will be a catalog of my thoughts as if I was eves dropping on his conversation with Nepotian.
“When teaching in church seek to call forth not plaudits but groans. Let the tears of your hearers be your glory. A presbyter’s words ought to be seasoned by his reading of scripture.”
One of the sad realities I have increasingly observed is the lack of condemning preaching in the church today. Sure, there’s plenty of damnation spoken against those outside our walls. But when was the last time a congregation was brought to tears for their own sins, which are legion. I have heard countless sermons that could be summarized, “Yep, what you believe is better than what they believe. Keep up the good believin’.” (Certainly there are times, and biblical precedent, for encouraging a congregation to stay the course in a time of adversity.)
“Be not a declaimer or a ranter, one who gabbles without rhyme or reason; but shew yourself skilled in the deep things and versed in the mysteries of God. To mouth your words and by your quickness of utterance astonish the unlettered crowd is a mark of ignorance. Assurance often explains that of which it knows nothing; and when it has convinced others imposes on itself.”
It is very possible to speak utter nonsense very well. Avoid the temptation to use your theological vocabulary in order to make an impression on those who lack such a vocabulary. You can say all the right words, even make technically true statements, only to lead people away from the truth. Don’t let your ability to convince others convince you that you are right.
“My teacher, Gregory of Nazianzus, when I once asked him to explain Luke’s phrase σάββατον δευτερόπρωτον , that is “the second-first Sabbath,” playfully evaded my request saying: “I will tell you about it in church, and there, when all the people applaud me, you will be forced against your will to know what you do not know at all. For, if you alone remain silent, every one will put you down for a fool.” There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation: such most admire what they fail to understand.”
Take the recent rantings of Pat Robertson as an extreme example (or this book). Even Gregory of Nazianzus recognized Christians can be easily persuaded. It’s not a pastor’s responsibility to turn every member of his or her congregation into a theologian or biblical scholar, but they are responsible for communicating truth and admitting what they do not understand.