Yesterday I mentioned a book by George Grant, that radically changed how I think, minister, etc. It’s called The Micah Mandate. Once again, I highly recommend it! Today I want to share how God used an audio-taped message (also by George Grant) about an obscure man from the pages of history whom most folks have never heard of, to bless my life and ministry in ways I could not even have imagined as I put the tape into the tape-player of my car. Here’s what I wrote seven years ago…
Earlier this year God poured his grace upon me as he placed in my hands an audiotaped lecture entitled, “Gerard Groote and the Brethren of the Common Life.” Providentially, this also was by George Grant. I can’t express how moved I was by what I heard in this message. In this lecture Grant basically revealed what a biblical worldview should look like in the “everydayness” of a Christian’s life and ministry. He accomplished this by sharing God’s work and power through the life of a man named Gerard Groote. Groote lived in the 14th century, and, as Grant says at the beginning of his address,
“It would be difficult to find a single page of modern history written about him. But it would be even more difficult to find a single page of modern history not affected by him.”
Below are the notes I took from Grant’s message on Groote. I’m sure much won’t translate to this format. But I believe the ideas taught and lived out by Groote and expounded by Grant are more than worth passing on and meditating upon. Enjoy, Dale.
Notes on Gerard Groote: Brethren of the Common Life
Based on a lecture by George Grant
- Some men’s greatness may be seen in how largely they loom over the movements that they ultimately launched. But greater men are they whose movements loom large over them. Even to the point of obscuring them from view altogether. Gerard was just such a man.
- It would be difficult to find a single page of modern history written about him. But it would be even more difficult to find a single page of modern history not affected by him.
- Groote was born with a great deal of money and privilege. He was also very bright. But his was a dissipated life. He chased after pleasure. But he desired something more – something more substantive.
- So he began reading in the Augustinian tradition. But he didn’t take the church or the claims of the gospel seriously. (The church in his day was fraught with corruption, impiety, and schism.) In fact, the church was more worldly than the world.
- And yet, there was something about the gospel and its claims (especially the doctrines of sovereign grace that he discovered in Augustine) that would not let him go.
- And so, in 1374, Groote was converted to the faith. Almost immediately afterwards, he began to use his ability to articulate truth to tell everyone he knew of the mercies that were available in the gospel of grace. It was not a message often heard in those days. He was received well by many, however. One person who received him was John Wycliffe. Together, he and Wycliffe discussed their ideas of…
- Translating the Bible into the vernacular of the people
- Sending out lay-preachers into the community
- Teaching ordinary people to read so that they could better understand the doctrines of grace.
- Groote returned home and began his labors among common people. His desire to was to spread a vision for radical discipleship. He did. And his followers/disciples who gathered around him called themselves “the Brethren of the Common Life.”
- They described Groote’s vision as the Devotio Moderna (the modern way of serving God). . It was a vision of discipleship that had a number of distinctive elements. It was also unheard of in the 14th century.
The Devotio Moderna was to be a comprehensive lifestyle rooted in a biblical worldview. Let’s take a look at the distinctives of this “radical discipleship.”
1.) The Devotio Moderna , first of all, emphasized holiness for every Christian – not just for a few. Groote wanted common piety for common folk – this was the heart of his message.
- He said the difference between the City of God and the City of Man is demonstrable. Christ’s followers should be imitators of Christ (by grace, through faith – not of themselves). This was the great aim of discipleship according to Groote. He wanted to instill in a while new generation, an appetite for those things that mattered most.
- Groote was a very controversial person because of all this. His vision was the gospel of Jesus Christ, but this vision pitted him against very powerful forces in the culture. But the worse his (and the Brethren’s) reputation became, the greater their following became.
2.) Secondly, the Devotio Moderna emphasized the importance of self-examination, as a way of cultivating humility.
- Groote was famous for saying, “I am tired of just being right.” Instead, he wanted to communicate truth to the world and minister to the needs of others.
- It’s a spirit of humility that affords us the best opportunities to grow, mature, and achieve in the life of the mind. It’s knowing how much we do not know that allows us to fully embark on a lifetime of learning – to recover to any degree, the beauty and goodness and truth of Christendom.
- Groote took seriously the high call of Scripture to walk humbly before God and man.
3.) Groote’s Devotio Moderna emphasized the importance of covenantal communities, as the real-life context for discipleship.
- The idea was for people to live out particular graces with one another. He wanted his disciples to go to the least likely places and gather the least likely students – and invest in those students. He wanted them to plant themselves in those communities, and then allow the gospel to flower whatever the Spirit would bring. This was to be “home.” He believed that it was at “home” that the beauty of Christian civilization was best comprehended.
- For Groote, the best Christian education would bring about such virtues as hospitality, care for the poor, for the sick, strength in families, reaching out to neighbors. It would root people at home.
4.) Groote’s Devotio Moderna emphasized the importance of a Confessional Standard (standards rooted in the biblical antithesis).
- It was for this reason that Groote believed that one of the first tasks of Christian education was to translate the great classics of Christendom into the vernacular language – to give students the tools of translation – to build up libraries, and to initiate literacy among the least and the last – not just the first and the foremost. (Thomas Chalmers, of the 19th century, relied on Groote for his own education reforms)
- Groote proclaimed that there is no neutrality in education. Facts are not neutral. History is not neutral. Math is not neutral. The world is sundered by a great antithesis – where the City of God and the City of Man never intermingle. We must teach truth – truth in terms of God’s Word – because the Bible is God’s own revelation of wisdom, knowledge, understanding and truth. It is not merely a marvelous collection of quaint sayings and inspiring stories. It’s God’s message to man – his instruction. It is God’s guideline, his plumb line, his bottom line.
5.) Therefore, Groote’s Devotio Moderna placed a high premium on teaching every man, woman, and child, the Bible.
- The Bible was not merely tacked on as one additional class to all the other classes. The Bible was not, for Groote, an appendage to all the other scholastic disciplines.
- Curriculum was not simply to be dipped in Bible passages in order to make it appear to be Christian. Education’s purpose was to facilitate the catechizing – the discipling process. The goal was not simply to make the students bright and successful students in society, but to make them sober, discerning, wise, and fruitful members of the Kingdom.
Together, these distinctives: Holiness, Humility, Covenantal Community, Antithesis, and Catechizing – comprised what Groote called “Classical Christianity” or what we might call, “Biblical Orthodoxy.”
- Groote believed that the key to reforming the church in his day was to begin at the grassroots level, and reform education – by finding places of fruitful ministry at home – and then investing in the people found there.
- Groote’s vision was a multi-generational plan – a strategy that would stretch across the covenantal generations. He looked at his world and said that there was nothing he could do about the Babylonian Captivity of the church; nothing he could do about the universities; nothing he could do about the civil wars…FOR NOW. But, if we lay foundations, enduring foundations – if our vision extends just beyond our own lifetimes – if our vision extends just to our children’s lifetimes – if we trust the gospel for the future – then real and substantive change is not only possible – it is promised!
- Groote had this great faith that the gospel is not only true for the here and now, but that the gospel could transform entire cultures and change civilizations. That foundations laid in righteousness would ultimately endure when all of the foolishness of the world collapses under the weight of its own absurdity.
- Groote never lived to see the day of how powerful and successful his vision was. He was forgotten because the movement he launched loomed so much larger than he did.
- And yet, because of his faithful labors; because of his vision of discipleship; because of the band of disciples that he gathered around him and invested in – within a single decade, the world was changed forever.
- I don’t just want to be right. I want something that endures for all the generations.
- Wouldn’t it be wonderful to look across all the covenantal generations and to know that one day, because of the penance we’ve invested, in these short hours, that in the future a Luther or a Calvin, or a Whitefield, or a Wesley, or a Wilberforce – or all of them combined – would come forth from faithful covenantal parents, and change the world.
- The great assurance of the gospel is that change is not just possible, it’s promised when God’s covenant people exercise covenant faithfulness.
- Is there a Groote in you? Are you willing to die in obscurity to lay foundations that will endure across the generations? Like Groote, we must yearn for that which will change, and change for all time.
- Groote taught that Satan would have us offer an alternative, any alternative to the truth, the one truth, the central truth of the gospel. He would have us affirm anything, anything at all, as long as it is not that Jesus is Lord – that he is the Lord over the totality of life, and that he has spoken authoritatively, definitively, and finally. Anything is acceptable to him, everything is acceptable to him – except the notion that the Lord has established his throne in the heavens and that his sovereignty rules over all. Anything is acceptable to Satan except the sufficiency of Scripture. Thus, even Satan underscores the inescapability of antithesis in his resistance to them.
- In our quest for the excellent; in our quest for the substantive; in our quest for the effective, let’s never lose sight of the fact that all of that is perfectly acceptable to the enemy. The one thing that sets us apart is our desire to move from mere knowledge to understanding, and from understanding to wisdom.
“Lay foundations that will endure in the hearts of your children. For there are only two things that are eternal in all of the created order: the children under your care, and the Word of God.”
Grant’s Prayer at the end of the message…
O Father; Almighty Father, I confess to you that I am often diverted by pleasant alternatives. I am often tantalized by that which will bring success, effectiveness, suasion in the here and now. I pray that you would give me eyes to look beyond the horizon of just this moment. Enable me to invest for all eternity. Enable us to have a distinctive vision of discipleship – like that of Gerard Groote before us. Enable us to quest for holiness, humility, covenantal community, antithesis, catechizing – classical Christianity – in the hearts of our children – first and foremost.
Lord God, I pray that we will produce not just successful businessmen, or men and women effective in their vocations. We yearn for REFORMATION. Change the world, O God! And use us in the process.
We pray this in Jesus name. Amen and amen.
Here’s a short little introduction I just found on Groote that’s worth reading.
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