One of the most powerful and passionate voices in Christian history about the topic of Christian freedom is John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed Tradition, from which Presbyterianism comes. Calvin has a bad reputation in some circles because of perceptions that he was very rigid and prescriptive in his theology, but I’ve found that’s far more true of his followers than of Calvin himself. Calvin actually thought “freedom in Christ” was one of the most important aspects of Protestant Christian theology, and wrote extensively about it.
Calvin argued that there are some things that are essential to the practice of Christian faith, and some things that have to be avoided, but there are many things that are adiaphora, which is a Greek word that essentially means “things of indifference.” In other words, there is nothing inherently good and necessary about them, nor is there anything bad or prohibited about them. The only real question is how you use them.
In the worship life of the church, the reading of Scripture and the preaching of sermons based on it, for example, would be considered essential; so would the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. But whether the preacher wears a robe while preaching is adiaphora, as is whether there are candles lit around the communion table. So in deciding whether to use things that are adiaphora, Calvin felt that there was one standard that rose to the top: love of our neighbors. “Nothing is plainer than this rule,” Calvin said: “that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, we should forego it” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.19.12).
This coming Sunday at 3 PM, we are holding a Service of Blessing of the Animals here at First Presbyterian. Such services are deeply Christian but not specifically Presbyterian. However, they are also not against anything about being Presbyterian; they are adiaphora. We are trying this because we felt that it might be something that did “result in the edification of our neighbor,” as Calvin put it.
People who would never simply show up for one of our services on Sunday morning in the Sanctuary might very well bring a beloved pet to the church lawn to be blessed. In the process, they will have a chance to learn something about why we as a community of Christians feel called to bless our neighbors and to bless the fullness of God’s creation and our most meaningful and responsible relationships to it.
So please bring your pets and invite and encourage your neighbors to come along to join in this Blessing of the Animals on Sunday, and see how powerful “things of indifference” can be in sharing Christ’s good news!
Grace and Peace,