Soft Candidates in Geneva…

The Company of Pastors in Geneva during Calvin’s time had three requirements for men entering the pastorate: a sound knowledge of God’s Word, an ability to communicate, and a life that was above reproach. A man could be dismissed from pursuing the pastorate if any of those areas was deficient. Scott Manetsch in his book Calvin’s Company of Pastors, describes some of those rejections:

Candidates were routinely dismissed because they were poor preachers or unable to answer basic theological questions. Men of timid bearing or weak voice could also be disqualified. Occasionally, men were rejected because of concerns about their moral character, as seen in one candidate who was sent away when it was discovered that he had been party to a usurious business deal. Sometimes the Company of Pastors approved a candidate but with stated reservations. Though Leonard Constant was judged very knowledgeable in theology, he was “still not trained or fashioned in preaching” and was thus “not yet ready to step into the pulpit”; the ministers decided to give him a trial period of one month in the parish of Satigny before assigning him permanently to the church.

I’ve witnessed candidates being challenged or delayed for their theological knowledge, their Gospel-less preaching, but less so their moral character…and never for their “timid bearing or weak voice.” We could chalk up the necessity of strong voice to a lack of amplification, but what about that “timid bearing”? A man called to the ministry, thought the pastors of Geneva, had to bear himself in a particular manner, to represent the office of pastor with a manly presence. They were to heed the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to Pastor Timothy:

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Tim. 1:3-7).

A spirit of timidity distinguishes a man and makes him unfit for the pastoral office. Though he may coast for a while with the women of the church loving him and his approachability, eventually he will be tested and his effeminate timidity will come to the surface. The timid, weak, effeminate man will then determine that he must tickle ears, look the other way, and preach only in season. Geneva’s pastors understood what was at stake. But today we live in an age of cultivated timidity and effeminate weakness and visual vanity. We prefer our candidates a bit effeminate so that they can make it through that first year of their pastorate—that time when they’ve been trained by their seminary professors not to make any changes, not to call out the obvious and even public sins of the flock, no matter how gentle they may do so.

Every man knows there are times when circumstances make the strongest man timid but that is not to have a timid or effeminate bearing, a cultivated softness. Such is what the people wanted from John the Baptist, but our Savior reminds His people that prophets aren’t like that. The soft ones are in the palaces…

When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet (Luke 7:24-26).

Pastors cannot be soft men either, as Geneva’s example reminds us. Not a single one of these five commands can be left off: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *