Something that happened in Holston Presbytery collided with what I have been reading. They, rightly, refused to admit Dr. Don Steele into the Presbytery as a pastor. They used proper biblical discipline. (1 Cor. 5) He is a gay man working in John Shuck’s church in Elizabethton Tennessee. John Shuck is the teaching elder (pastor) who does not believe in God. So how did this collide with the book I am reading?
Let me start at the beginning. My husband and I were replacing a phone and in order do that we had to move a large amount of my books. That led to finding a lot of dust and dirt behind my books and that led to removing even more books, cleaning and reorganizing. And then behind one set of books I found some others, one I had forgotten about. The Huguenots in France: After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (With a Visit to the Country of the Vaudois) by Samuel Smiles was published in 1877. I found the book in a used book store in Oxford but had not paid much attention to it until now. I began reading from the middle of the book, a bad habit of mine—but I was amazed at some of the information.
After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, thousands of Huguenots fled France. This was because the elimination of the Edict of Nantes left French Protestants with no freedom at all. Their churches were destroyed, their leaders hanged, and those lay persons who persisted in protestant worship and were caught were severely punished. The men were sent to be galley slaves in the French navy. The women were sent to such dreadful prisons that many died within six months. There were few Huguenots left in France. But Smiles explains how the church began to reorganize again—and part of that story has to do with church discipline.
The part of the book I am reading centers on a Huguenot pastor Antoine Court. He became a preacher and leader within the secret meetings of the Huguenots. He began dreaming of renewing the Church and gathered a few men around him to do so. Smiles writes:
He urged … that religious assemblies must be continued, and that discipline must be established by the appointment of elders, presbyteries, and synods, and by the training up of a body of young pastors to preach amongst the people and discipline them according to the rules of the Protestant Church.
Smiles points out that because of the persecution most organization had disappeared. He writes that “the training of pastors had become almost forgotten.” The first synod meeting was small. I smiled when I read it, only nine members met. But from that group pastors began to be trained. Young men who seemed gifted were chosen to work with someone who was already a pastor. They traveled together and studied under trees in safe places. Smiles writes:
“I have often pitched my professor’s chair,” said Court, “in a torrent underneath a rock. The sky was our roof, and the leafy branches thrown out from the crevices in the rock overhead, were our canopy. There I and my students would remain for almost eight days; it was our hall, our lecture-room, and our study. To make the most of our time, and to practice the students properly, I gave them a text of Scripture to discuss before me—say the first eleven verses of the fifth chapter of Luke. I would afterwards propose to them some point of doctrine, some passage of Scripture, some moral precept, or sometimes I gave them some difficult passages to reconcile.”
There is much more. The training of preachers and pastors as well as the appointing of elders was a part of the beginning of revitalizing the church. Biblical training was the second great task. As Smiles records:
When a Testament was obtained, it was lent about, and for the most part learnt off. The labour was divided in this way. One person, sometimes a boy or girl, of good memory, would undertake to learn one or more chapters in the Gospels, another a certain number in the Epistles, until at last a large portion of the book was committed to memory, and could be recited at the meetings of the assemblies. And thus also it happened, that the conversation of the people, as well as the sermons of their preachers, gradually assumed a strongly biblical form.
A very important part of the recovery of the Huguenot Church was the discipline of those who lived in disobedience. And that is where I circle back to Holston Presbytery and their actions. They were faithful in their actions, faithful to their people, faithful to Christ and faithful even to Steele as one in need of discipline. But many presbyteries and members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), after reading Smiles words, must stand in shame when faced with the faithfulness of the members of the persecuted Huguenots:
We have said that part of the duty of the elders was to censure scandal amongst the members. If their conduct was not considered becoming the Christian life, they were not visited by the pastors and were not allowed to attend the assemblies, until they had declared their determination to lead a better life. What a punishment for infraction of discipline! To be debarred attending an assembly, for being present at which, the pastor if detected, might be hanged, and the penitent member sent to the galleys for life!