Thursday, November 12, 2009

Celebrating an Anglican who resisted our "all-consuming interest in self-esteem...self-assertiveness...self-enhancement and self-realization"

No, he wasn't here on the Northern Plains. Charles Simeon, commemorated on the Episcopal Church and other Anglican calendars this week, ministered in the University town of Cambridge, England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

But a Baptist in Minneapolis (!?!?), John Piper, picked Simeon as his witness for a 1989 exhortation to a gathering of pastors. You can read or listen to this amazing message, "Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering," at Piper's Desiring God site.

Simeon stayed in place for decades in the face of sustained hostility and resistance. Piper points out that Simeon grappled with his own personal flaws while ministering to nominal, state-church Christians and University egos who mocked him publicly, locked him out of his own church building, and inflicted various social and academic sanctions on those who agreed with him.

In relating Simeon's life story and key quotes from his sermons and correspondence, Piper makes painfully convicting points for those of us in parish ministry today, through

...the life of a man who was a sinner like you and me, who was a pastor, and who, year after year, in his trials, "grew downward" in humility and upward in his adoration of Christ, and who did not yield to bitterness or to the temptation to leave his charge - for 54 years.

What I have found - and this is what I want to be true for you as well - is that in my pastoral disappointments and discouragements there is a great power for perseverance in keeping before me the life of a man who surmounted great obstacles in obedience to God's call by the power of God's grace. I need very much this inspiration from another age, because I know that I am, in great measure, a child of my times. And one of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. I feel it as though it hung in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition.

A typical emotional response to trouble in the church is to think, "If that's the way they feel about me, then they can find themselves another pastor." We see very few models today whose lives spell out in flesh and blood the rugged words, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials" (James 1:3). When historians list the character traits of the last third of twentieth century America, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve and perseverance will not be on the list. The list will begin with an all-consuming interest in self-esteem. It will be followed by the subheadings of self-assertiveness, and self-enhancement, and self-realization. And if you think that you are not at all a child of your times just test yourself to see how you respond in the ministry when people reject your ideas.

We need help here. When you are surrounded by a society of emotionally fragile quitters, and when you see a good bit of this ethos in yourself, you need to spend time with people - whether dead or alive - whose lives prove there is another way to live. Scripture says, "Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:12). So I want to hold up for you the faith and the patience of Charles Simeon for your inspiration and imitation.

I do "see a good bit of this self-seeking, fragile quitter ethos" in myself, and so Charles Simeon is an inspiration.


The Archer of the Forest said...

While I do enjoy listening to John Piper preach on occasion (he has great public speaking skills), I am a bit hesitant at the same time. He just has that (I hate to say it) Jim Jones kind of aura that could very easily become a cult like figure.

Robert S. Munday said...

I remember visiting Piper's church during General Convention 2003 in Minneapolis. A considerable number of TEC conservatives (especially youth) went to hear him preach. He preached on the Eucharist that morning and quoted a number of Anglican sources. (He obviously knew both his subject and his audience.)

We had a chance to talk and pray together after the service, and it was the beginning of what has become a very solid friendship.

Despite the widespread regard for his books and his preaching, he remains a gracious, godly, and humble man--a true servant with no thought of personal aggrandizement. In that regard, he is very much like Charles Simeon; and I predict that his impact will be just as lasting.