the weblog of Alan Knox

Chrysostom on learning and doing

Posted by on Aug 29, 2007 in church history, discipleship | 11 comments

John Chrysostom (349 – ca 407) as archbishop of Constantinople. He lived a very colorful life. After his death, he was given the surname of Chrysostom (“golden tongue”), most say because of his preaching.

He ended one of his homilies (sermons) on Genesis with this exhortation:

[W]hen you go home from here, lay out with your meal a spiritual meal as well. The father of the family might repeat something of what was said here; his wife could then hear it, the children too could learn something, even the domestics might be instructed. In short, the household might become a church…

Without discussing the various roles in the family, or the idea of a family becoming a church – both of which may be important ideas, but not my point – I think Chrysostom offers great advice. As we listen to teaching, we should continue meditating on what was said, discussing it with others, and comparing it to Scripture.

I think that one of the reasons that teaching in the context of the church has become less effective is that believers do not know what to do with the teaching once they’ve received it. It is assumed that the sitting and listening somehow imparts grace to the hearer. But, there are few – if any – benefits to being hearers only.

While I think that lecture style teaching should not constitute the majority of teaching within the church, if the kind of discussion takes place that Chrysostom suggests, lecture style teaching would be a little more effective.

However, Chrysostom does not stop with this exhortation, he continues:

So, to make us more enthusiastic, take good heed of what has been said already, and with right teachings give great attention to caring for your life. Scripture says, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven,” in order that your life may conform with your teachings, and your teachings reveal your life. After all, “faith without works is dead,’ and works without faith are dead. For even if we have sound teachings but fail in living, the teachings benefit us nothing; likewise, if we take pains with life but are careless about teaching, that will not be any good to us either. So it is necessary to shore up this spiritual edifice of ours in both directions as Scripture says, “Everyone listening to my words and acting on them will be likened to a wise man.” Notice how this person intends not merely to listen but to act, and to demonstrate his listening by his actions; this is the one called wise, the one giving evidence of deeds in the wake of words, whereas the one who stopped short at words was called a fool.

What is amazing to me about this passage is the context in which it was presented. This was not a sermon on obedience. It was a homily on Genesis 1.

But, shouldn’t this be the exhortation after any teaching or discipling or admonishing or exhortation? Should we not always exhort and expect people to hear and obey – not our words, but the words of God?

I think perhaps that we have been counting noses and putting the attendance numbers on our attendance boards for too long. It’s time to expect obedience to God not simply attendance and listening.


11 Comments

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  1. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  2. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  3. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  4. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  5. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  6. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  7. 8-29-2007

    We used to have a pastor who “stopped preaching and started meddling”. I guess today we’d call that application and challenge to action.]
    Kat

  8. 8-29-2007

    More power to the church fathers! There’s a whole wealth of wisdom they can impart to us.

  9. 8-29-2007

    Kat,

    I’m glad that I have a few brothers and sisters who “meddle” in my life. I need it.

    Jake,

    I agree… a wealth of wisdom.

    -Alan

  10. 8-30-2007

    I think that teaching can become a crutch to the hearers, if it is teaching which does all the work for the hearers. What I mean is that there seems to be a motivation to simplify sermons and lessons; to use fewer points, smaller words, less technical language, etc… By doing this we expect less of the congregation and we make them by and large dependent upon the “trained” ministers. I make it a point to use words and concepts with which I know people are not familiar, I explain them, but I also try to impart the ideas and methods people will then be able to use on their own to study and teach themselves. This is a slow process. Sometimes I ask questions while I’m speaking and most just look at me wondering if they are supposed to answer. Hopefully in the future we will have more interaction, some are starting to chime in. I think this is vital though, that people learn that they don’t need another to teach them, but they often get more value out of digging into the text themselves. Often we get online to listen to a sermon by our favorite preacher, which is not bad, but we first need to be running to the Scriptures ourselves.

  11. 8-30-2007

    Matthew,

    Interesting thoughts on this subject… it flies in the face of what is normally called teaching, but I like it. It seems that your goal is to teach someone how to learn for themselves instead of doing it for them.

    -Alan