The Reformed Parsonage

The parsonage, an institution which has come to occupy a rather important place in the Christian Church and is part of our Reformed heritage, has its origins (as have many other practices in the church) in the earth-taking rejection by Martin Luther of the doctrine and the forms and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Because of the ordinance established in Paradise that a man take a wife and that she be a helpmeet for him and because of his insistence on a return to the Bible, Martin Luther decided to marry despite the undoubted stigma toward a married clergy and the instability of the times.  Luther was thoroughly convinced that he could serve God more acceptably as head of a home than in convent and cowl.

When on June 13, 1525, Martin Luther, the reformer and former monk, became the proud husband of attractive and vivacious Katharine (Katie) van Bora he created an institution, the parsonage, which was to become one of the important parts of the Protestant Church.

Under the caption, “The Protestant Parsonage Today” in Christianity Today, September 12, 1960. Gene Lund, Professor of Religion at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, writes concerning the parsonage (manse) which came to occupy what he calls a rather “special niche” in the history of the Western World.  Recently there has been some discussion concerning the virtue of a celibate clergy in the Protestant Churches.  The Roman Catholics claim reasons for rejoicing in the fact that they could boast a celibate clergy, but John Calvin deplored the conditions that prevailed in the convents of the Roman Catholic Church.  He deplored the fact that the Church of his day had promoted celibacy or the single life as the highest type of holiness.  This was unbiblical.  Concerning the convent Calvin said:  “It is scarcely possible to find one convent in ten which is not rather a brothel than a sanctuary of chastity.”

Dr. Lund commences the body of his article in Christianity Today by discussing the products of the parsonage.  He notes that particular attention has been called through the years to the human products of the parsonage, the sons and daughters of the clergy.  He observes that regardless of all other considerations there seems to be something peculiarly beneficent about maturing in the atmosphere of the parsonage because Protestant clergymen have through the years sired more sons for Who’s Who then have the representatives of any other profession.

Dr. Lund also notes that in America the rigid Victorian atmosphere of the past has been somewhat eradicated or at least relaxed so that parsonage children are as a result no longer expected to set the standards for the children of the entire community.

The writer also observes that the air of poverty is vanishing.  Even though the clergyman is still the poorest paid of all educated classes in our society a modicum of respect and economic security has been introduced into the average American parsonage.

Dr. Lund does not write the entire story on the debit side of the ledger.  He points up two serious problems which have invaded the Protestant parsonage.  In the first place Dr. Lund feels that the modern pastor is caught up “in a web of busy work virtually unknown to previous generations of clerics.”  Dr. Lund notes that the uniqueness of the parsonage was due to the fact that the father could be at home with his family and could spend a majority of his time in the study.  Because of the busy whirl of activities this is no longer the case.

The writer also points out the problem of creeping worldliness in the parsonage.  He quite correctly notes that it of all homes ought to be “in the world but not of the world.”  Even though the parsonage should not be thought of as a “coeducational cloister” it should nevertheless not be dominated by an indiscriminating television set nor should the coffee table be littered with the gaudy picture magazines of our day.

If the parsonage is not distinguishable from the average home on the block it should be because the average home has been elevated to the level of proper parsonage living and not because “the quality of the parsonage has deteriorated” because of external and internal influence.

There is no doubt to my mind that the parsonage is one of the bulwarks of the truth.  God has always raised up men to occupy the parsonages of the true church to defend and preserve the truth.  As the parsonage goes so goes the church in many instances.

I do not want it to be understood that I believe the parsonage is part of the church institute (for this is certainly not true) but the manse is certainly one of the hubs of activity of the Reformed Churches.  Because of huge expansion programs the study has left the parsonage in many instances and has been moved to the offices and the church home.  The activities of the Minster of the Gospel must be coordinated today with the activities of the Minister of Music, the Minister of Recreation, and Educational Minister in the church.  Because of all this specialization and because of the increasing size of churches, the parsonage has lost to large extent its distinctive place in the Christian Church.

We in the Protestant Reformed Churches still know of parsonages like Luther’s and Calvin’s.  The parsonage where the Word of God is studied and lived, is and ought to be a place where studies begun in college and seminary are perpetuated.  Parsonages ought to continue to have rooms called “studies” and the office should not take precedence over the study in claiming the pastor’s time.

Certainly the life of the Church is directly related to the perpetuation of the Reformed Parsonage.