Should a Minister Be a “dumme dogge”?

by May 4, 2011ChurchLife, Piety, Preaching3 comments

When James I of Scotland acceded to the throne of England in 1603, the Puritans saw their chance to start anew. Ossified Queen Elizabeth was dead; perhaps James would complete the Reformation she did not allow to be finished. Perhaps Catholic accretions could finally be rooted out of the English church. Adam Nicolson tells what happened and makes an interesting observation:

image A sudden electric current ran through the English shires. The Puritans arranged public debates on the question of the wearing of the surplice, and on the use of the cross, on the bishop’s’ laying on of hands at confirmation, and on the all-important question of whether ministers should be learned or not. In a Catholic or sub-Catholic church, where the visual and the ceremonial dominated the verbal and the intellectual, it scarcely mattered if the priest was well qualified; he was simply the conduit for divine meaning. But in a proper, pure reformed church, the minister needed to be, more than anything else, an effective preacher of the word, not a mere “dumme dogge,” as the phrase went at the time—it came from Isaiah—who would go through the motions and convey nothing of the intellectual spirit of reformed Christianity.

Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (HarperCollins, 2003), 35.

English-speaking Baptists are heirs of those Puritans and, before that, of the Protestant Reformation. Anti-intellectualism sells our birthright.

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  1. Austin Barker

    I certainly don’t disagree with your point. Paradoxically, though, “…Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”

    I have observed a strong correlation between increased education and increased spiritual independence (and the inevitable consequences of that – first doubt and eventually atheism).

  2. David

    Even more paradoxically, the author of that quotation was very well educated. 🙂

  3. Mark L Ward Jr

    Good point, Dave. Paul was not opposed to education, he just didn’t trust it for the real power in his ministry. I imagine this is a verse that was debated back then, as it is now.

    Austin, you may want to check this ( out.


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