The vision of Theological Friendship
In an introduction to John Calvin and his theology, author Willem van’t Spijker describes for us the regular meetings of church leaders which took place in Calvin’s Geneva (Willem van’t Spijker, Calvin, A Brief Guide to His Life and Thought, translated by Lyle Bierma; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009):
Every Friday morning at seven o’clock the Genevan Congrégation (Bible study) met together in the Auditoire. Portions of Scripture were discussed in systematic order –introduced by one of the preachers, expounded by one of those present, and nearly always including a contribution by Calvin that sounded very much like a full lecture. After these public meetings of the preachers and their assistants, a session was held of just the Compagnie des Pasteurs [Company of Pastors], devoted to a discussion of current [theological and ecclesial] issues. The Compagnie was also meant to be an instrument for censura morum (mutual censure), which was held once a quarter. Any office-bearer could take this opportunity to speak in a brotherly way about the doctrine or conduct of another. This mutual supervision, too, served the cause of unity in doctrine and life.
Imagine, for a moment, knowing the lives of our sisters and brothers in our presbyteries well enough to be able to speak that kind of word into their lives. Imagine, even more, a situation in which we felt authorized to speak such a word into one another’s lives. I must confess to you that while I was serving as a pastor there were few ministers I knew well enough, or who knew me well enough, to be able to speak a word even remotely resembling that into one another’s lives. All too often I was glad. Those who don’t know me cannot challenge me. Those who do not really know you cannot challenge you. Disconnection can and does serve our desires for autonomy.
Theological friendship is friendship in which the triune God is both the object of and an expected participant in our conversation and relationship. Theological friendship with one another is a way of naming what we are called to in Jesus Christ. Theological friendship: ministers and elders and deacons and teachers together engaged in conversation about and with the living God, is one element of the best wisdom and lifeblood of our Reformed, Presbyterian tradition. Theological friendship, which is to say, incorporation into friendship with Jesus Christ, is what we are empowered to offer to a world rife with disconnection’s long and deadly reach (even in our world that prides itself on being connected!).