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There are no conservative hermits

The following is excerpted and adapted from an address that I had the privilege of offering at a recent gathering of conservative friends, on the nature of pastoral love.

As many of you have found (and despite accusations to the contrary), conservatism is a much broader set of commitments than a particular music preference. Among the most significant conservative ideas, for me, is that a conservative is a person with a people and place. That is to say, conservatism depends on loyalty not only to a certain set of ideals, but also to the people for whom and among whom we want to see these ideals conserved. In fact, commitment to certain aspects of conservatism is actually grounded in a prior commitment to a people and a place. For instance, a conservative position on environmental issues assumes that I belong to a specific place, and wish to see it healthy for those who come after me.

Those who have gathered for this meeting have done so as professed conservatives. In teaching through the recently published Conservative Christian Declaration at my own church, I repeated stressed that we are not conservatives primarily because we oppose change. Rather, we are conservatives because we aim to conserve something. Conservative is more verb than noun. In our case, as conservative Christians, we believe that apostolic Christianity is a trust that has been placed in our care, to be handed down from generation to generation. So any conservatism worth anything must have both 1) a content which it aims to conserve and 2) a people for whom it aims to conserve that content.

Therefore, there are no genuinely conservative hermits. Also: there are no genuinely conservative guns-for-hire. The former conserves something for nobody. The latter attempts to conserve something for nobody in particular.

And therefore, I believe that the importance of having a people and having a place should incline us to long pastorates. And I believe that this is an important way of communicating pastoral love.

Our church was founded in early 50s, making it just over sixty years old. I am the thirteenth pastor of this assembly. The first pastor served for roughly fifteen years. One other pastor served for eight years. No one else has been at the church for more than five years consecutively. And I have been told that there are wagers in our town about how long I will last. My intention is to outlast the lifespan of most of the bettors.

Why? Because I believe that it is a loving thing to be absorbed into the life of a particular church at a particular time. And it communicates love for them in a way that few other things can. While the people of Calvary Baptist Church are not an end in themselves (else they would be a god), they are not, in the standard usage, a means to some other ministry end. They are not a tool in ambition’s box.

I do try to avoid grandiose presumption. I do not make promises that I will never leave. Such commitments are beyond what I can make in good conscience, for Providence sometimes directs us in obvious ways that we never expected. But I do honestly tell our folks, again and again, that I have no intentions of leaving Wakefield. I tell them that if in forty years I am buried in Wakefield, I will count that as a successful ministry.

To see apostolic Christianity embraced in this generation of our church, and then in the generations that arise at our church: this is both conservative and loving.

About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.