Below is an essay I wrote on John Chrysostom in 2014 when I was in school at California Baptist University. My main research is based off a book by Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition. As I read through my essay again, I found it to be of great inspiration and encouragement as I pursue full-time ministry work. My hope is that you will be inspired and encouraged by it too.
John Chrysostom had one of the highest reputations as a pastor for his time of the fourth century. He was born “into the political, theological, and ecclesiastical turbulence of Antioch” (Purves 35). It was likely that John’s family had a good amount of money and lived in the upper class of society. Unfortunately, John’s father died when he was just an infant and he was not a Christian either. This left his mother to be widowed at an early age and as a result she had a significant influence on John in his development. “His economic and social rank meant he would have been well schooled in the classical Greco-Roman curriculum of his day” (Purves 35). John was very intellectual as he studied rhetoric and philosophy and he was highly regarded by the professors that he studied under. At the age of twenty-three, John made the decision to get baptized. His baptism became a life changing moment for John as he made this declaration to dedicate his life to the service of Christ. At that point in his life John made the decision to live an ascetic life of study and prayer as he stayed home to be close to his mother. He turned his home into a monastery for simple living. Once his mother died, John made the decision to spend six years as a monk in the mountains just north of Antioch where he spent about two years just devoting himself to studying the Bible. Since his health was declining, he had to return to Antioch and there he was ordained as a Deacon. Five years after that he became a priest. After twelve years of service, he was promoted to Bishop of Constantinople, which was part of the Eastern Church. John became enemies with the empress and Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria. The empress “had erected a statue of herself for public adoration outside the Church of Hagia Sophia” (Purves 37) and John insulted her for doing this which was unforgivable in her sight. Therefore, he was banished to Cucusus in the mountains of Armenia and received visitors where he was able to engage in various conversations. John eventually died on September 14, 407.
John Chrysostom’s taught me a lesson in the art of presenting the scripture in a way that is relevant for today. “John was not a theologian in a formal sense, but was rather a pastor and preacher whose ministry was deeply rooted in the plain meaning of scripture” (Purves 38). He “[placed] himself into the contexts of the texts themselves by understanding the ordinary use of the language” (Purves 40). In presenting the scripture in this manner he was able to give excellent meaning and application. John was able to “move from historical exegesis to moral application is evident as he develops the spiritual significance…” (Purves 40) of the scripture. Understanding how to present the Scripture in this way can help me become a well-rounded preacher/teacher of the Bible. I think that if moral applications can be derived directly from the written Word without changing its original meaning, then that would be something to strive to accomplish in my own teaching.
John respected the office of the pastor so much that he made a point to note that it is not a position to be taken lightly by anyone. According Purves, John states that “ministers are representatives of Christ, going about an employment very close to the Lord’s heart [and] …only those who far exceed all others in spiritual excellence are fit for office” (Purves 43). The fact is that as a pastor, John knew that he was going to be held accountable at a much a higher standard than most others. This is a great lesson for me and anyone who is interested in the office of becoming a pastor. The fact is that this position is not to be taken lightly because pastors deal with individual lives that can affect them for eternity. I need to always remember that this position needs to be respected and held to the highest importance at all times. Chrysostom describes it this way, “The importance of the pastoral office for the salvation and spiritual well-being of persons is beneficial. God has ordained pastors, among others, to build up of the body of Christ” (Purves 46).
Another lesson that I found very inspiring that I took away from John Chrysostom are his teachings on piety. Specifically, his idea that the character of a pastor needs to be on guard at all times against the devil. Chrysostom “concerned as he is with both external temptations and with internal dispositions of character” (Purves 51). He realized that in everything he does he is being held accountable to God for it. It is clear that “[n]othing feeds the work of evil within us more successfully than our exposure to external temptations that we do not resist” (Purves 52). Chrysostom is clear that the world itself can fuel the work of evil if we give in to it. A major issue is the fact that many pastors are susceptible to the temptation of women. Too often pastors find themselves in problems with sexual harassment and sexual misbehavior. “Fundamentally, then, Chrysostom issues a call to purity in the midst of worldliness, and to a spirituality in which pastors pay highest attention to their own moral lives” (Purves 52). This is one of the most important lessons that I believe a lot of pastors forget. Their character should always be checked every day in order for them to be above reproach. The pastor needs to continually be armed against weakness of the flesh and concerned daily with his relationship to God.
In all these lessons, Chrysostom makes it clear that the office of a pastor is an important one and one that is not to be taken lightly. “He holds to the highest standards and will tolerate no lessening of these standards, for, he believes, without high standards pastors will be destroyed by the work of ministry and bring their congregations down with them” (Purves 54). Standards such as these should be continually upheld by pastors today. I plan to uphold them as I pursue the office of pastor in order to live a life worthy of the calling given to me. Chrysostom has some very good ideas about the office of a pastor and I believe that many currently in the field and those who are going into it can benefit from it greatly.
Purves, A. (2001). Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.