Two Quotes. Of Early Christian Missions.

A few lines from J. Gresham Machen’s 1933 radio address titled “A Christian View of Missions”:

If Christianity ever settles down to be the religion merely of one nation or of one group of nations, it will have become entirely untrue to the tradition which was established for it at the beginning.

One thing is perfectly clear—no missionary work that consists merely in presenting to the people in foreign lands a thing that has proved to be mildly valuable in the experience of the missionary himself, which he thinks may perhaps prove helpful in foreign lands in building up a better life upon this earth, can possibly be regarded as real Christian missions. At the very heart of the real Christian missionary message is the conviction that every individual hearer to whom the missionary goes is in deadly peril, and that unless the message is heeded he is without hope in this world and in the dreadful world that is to come.


A Quote. A Criticism. Of Teachers and the Like.

. . . [A] decent regard for truth and for honest self-criticism compels me to speak of failure as well as success—my failure, the failure of my generation, and of all who consider themselves teachers, mentors, and leaders in all walks of life. For the truth is that we have failed you. We have failed you because, being human, the better angels of our nature are often bested by the worse; and because, being consequently inconstant, we preach ideals that we fail to honor in deeds; and because, being consequently hypocritical, we are forced to hide painful truths from ourselves; and because, being consequently ignorant, we hand down to you truth and falsehood mixed indiscriminately in unknown proportions.

—William Pastille
Commencement Address, St. John’s College, Annapolis, 17 May 1998

A Stroll through an Analogy. Of First-Personal Discourse. Of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

The uses of first-personal discourse are many and powerful. But the intentional abstention from it has a remarkable effect. A speaker may choose to become less a person and more a relation between the content and the audience. The audience can be weaned from the distraction of the speaker’s charm, his existence, in order to look more single-mindedly at the content. Now, the audience will often be tempted to ask for credentials and to infer the speaker’s biographical details, but along with the speaker’s consistent refusal to involve himself will come the audience’s fuller understanding of the content and its worth.

Such a speaker who disappears, who ceases to exist as a person and thereby prevents a cult of personality, who becomes a relation between worthy content and the audience—is he not the greatest of human teachers? This teacher says, in his final iteration of the first-person, “I must decrease, so that this worthy content may increase.”

Yet if the speaker himself were the content—worthy content—and if the speaker should still avoid first-personal discourse to become a relation between this self-content and the audience, then this speaker would be more than a teacher. He being full would empty himself, would pour himself out to the audience, as if to offer his own flesh for food and blood for drink. And if he should afterwards choose to use the first-person, it would have a genuine authority. The audience, maybe now more properly called “disciples,” would then have an opportunity to apprehend the content, the speaker, in a direct and absolute relation that goes far beyond merely reporting what one has seen and what one has heard.

A Criticism. Of a Maxim Misattributed to Francis of Assisi.

Francis of Assisi never wrote the following maxim, attributed to him since the late twentieth century:

Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.

The maxim’s implication is contrary to Francis’s work as a writer. It also flies in the face of the whole ministry of Jesus, who—before, during, and after the great deed of the crucifixion—preached with words, which are “spirit and life.”