Many of you know that having passed through the fires of theological questioning last week by God’s grace, I am now looking forward to my ordination ceremony, which will be held this Sunday evening. In the meantime, I find myself thinking much about the pastor’s role of equipping the Saints for work of service. The question that keeps coming to mind is, “how to form and nurture genuine Christian faith in the Church?” John Venn (1759-1813), rector of the Clapham Church and Chaplain of the so-called Clapham Sect speaks to this issue. In this excerpt from one of John Venn’s sermons, real Christianity is distinguished from nominal Christianity in vivid terms:
“Religion is not merely an act of homage paid upon our bended knees to God; it is not confined to the closet and the church, nor is it restrained to the hours of the sabbath; it is a general principle extending to a man’s whole conduct in every transaction and in every place. I know no mistake which is more dangerous than that which lays down devotional feelings alone as the test of true religion . . . Let us be convinced that all prayer, all preaching, all knowledge, are but means to attain a superior end; and that end the sanctification of the heart and of all the principles on which we are daily acting. Till our Christianity appears in our conversation, in our business, in our pleasures, in the aims and objects of our life, we have not attained a conformity to the image of our Saviour, nor have we learned His Gospel aright.”2
1 The full title is A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of this Country Contrasted with Real Christianity.
2 John Venn, Sermons, vol. 2, 238-239, quoted in Michael Hennell, John Venn and the Clapham Sect (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 205.