Addressing “The Pattern of the Law for Piety,” John Calvin states that the law profits believers in two ways: 1) it instructs us about God’s will and 2) it exhorts Christians to obey it. Given these two functions of the law, which are related to its “third use” (McKee, 266), we may wonder what role the law played in the daily life of Christians in Geneva. We may also wonder how important biblical law was for everyday Christians and how the law was enforced. At one point Calvin says,
Now this scriptural instruction of which we speak has two main aspects. The first is that the love of righteousness, to which we are otherwise not at all inclined by nature, may be instilled and established in our hearts; the second, that a rule be set forth for us that does not let us wander about in our zeal for righteousness. (McKee 271)
Here Calvin seems to indicate that the law has two ways of reforming behavior and inculcating a love for righteousness. First, it seems to establish a natural desire in the believer’s heart to obey the law, which prior to regeneration was not there. Second, the law acts as an external form of enforcement, as a rule that does not let believers wander. In this brief essay I argue that Calvin’s method of instilling of God’s law into God’s people manifests itself in two ways — one, in the organic and unforced social process; the second, externally imposed by legislation. Calvin seeks to navigate between two ways of imposing the law. On the one hand, to leave law-keeping simply up to organic growth may lead to a lack of true enforcement. On the other hand, legislating conformity may create mere external obedience rather than real heart change. As we shall see, both manners of enforcing the law play an important role in Calvin’s Geneva, but both bring potential dangers. We shall begin the discussion of Calvin’s reformation of the use of the law for Christians by highlighting a few examples of how Calvin sees the law play out in Christians’ lives, then turn our attention to each manner of enforcing the law.
The Pattern of the Law for Piety
Calvin argues that at the core of God’s law there are simply two principles. The first concerns what we owe God, and the second concerns what we own our neighbors. (McKee, 256) Thus all of the law can be considered to fall within the scope of these two concerns. Accordingly, it is the Christian’s duty to learn the law and internalize it. The Christian ought to be like a servant prepared to “search out and observe his master’s ways more and more in order to conform and accommodate himself to them.” (McKee, 266). This is the duty of all Christians, and it ought to be pursued on a daily basis.
An important aspect of coming to internalize the law involves learning to recognize that other persons are made in the image of God. Learning to see, respect, and honor the image of God in others is a way of owing God what God is due and owing our neighbors wat they are due as well. The recognition and reverence of the image of God imprinted upon each person will keep Christians from shedding the blood of others, stealing from them, and bearing false witness against the. Recognizing the image of God in others will help Christians see the stranger and give them honor and love. The image of God recognized in others will generate a desire to be generous, giving them what they deserve. (McKee, 276) If honoring God and neighbor through the recognition of a shared image of God is the goal of Christian law keeping, we may wonder, how do Christians grow in their desire to follow the law? As mentioned above there are at least two ways. We will jump into these next time…
One theme that emerges throughout Calvin’s works as well as some Calvin biographies is the importance he places upon ecclesiology. We see this in various ways, for instance in his fight for the unity of the protestant movement, in his emphasis on the proper understanding of the Eucharist, and his constant attempts at establishing church discipline in Geneva, just to name a few examples. In this brief essay I will explain a few themes in Calvin’s ecclesiology by using the four marks of the church as they are put forth in the Nicene Creed. Understanding that this is not necessarily the way Calvin organized his ecclesiology, I believe it is a useful tool for explaining what he thought about the church. Thus in this essay I will address what Calvin might understand what is meant when it is said that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
The Nicene creed begins the section about the church by saying “I believe in one…. church.” The oneness of the church is something that Calvin insists upon throughout his career. This might seem to contradict the very nature of the protestant reformation, however in Calvin’s mind it does not present a contradiction, namely because Calvin saw the oneness of the true church as vitally important. This is a theme that emerges in Gordon’s biography of Calvin. Gordon claims that “Calvin understood his destiny to extend far beyond Geneva’s walls: he was a man of the Church, and its unity was his deepest passion.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 35) One concrete example of how unity was at the forefront of Calvin’s mind can be seen in his attempted ecumenical work on the Eucharist. Calvin saw the dispute between Lutheran and Zwinglian understandings of the Eucharist as the major block towards church unity. Thus Calvin attempted to navigate a way between both positions, a way which could unite the church. He did this by signing the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as cultivating a relationship with Melanchthon. He even traveled extensively, journeying to Berne, Zurich, Basle, Frankfurt, and Strausbourg in order to cultivate unity. Sadly, the unity he desired was not achieved.
The Nicene creed continues by saying “I believe in one, holy… church.” Regarding the holiness of the church Bruce Gordon says “the power of Calvin and his fellow ministers lay not in their talent for excoriation, but in their ability to create a vision of a godly community.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3095) Though he may have done an excellent job of casting vision for what a godly community looked like, one cannot escape his “talent for excoriation.” One can take the incident with the excommunication of Philibert Berthelier as an example. Berthelier had been excommunicated by the Consistory but appealed to the Small Council in order that he may attend the Lord’s Supper. However, Calvin appeared before the council declaring that he would “rather die a hundred deaths than subject Christ to the disgrace of unworthy participation in the Lord’s supper.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc, 3069) However, at the end the city magistrates concluded that church discipline was in their hands and not in the hands of the consistory. This was a defeat for Calvin, who believed that “our Savior set up in his Church the correction and discipline of excommunication.” (Articles Concerning, 50). Nevertheless, Calvin instituted wide spread moral reform. Geneva was transformed from a city filled with immorality, even having a reputation for violence and sodomy, towards a slightly more moral society. Thus in Geneva we see Calvin’s belief that the church ought to be holy and pure.
The third Nicene mark of the church is that it is “catholic.” Interpretations of what is meant by “catholic” are manifold but at the very least we can say that it can refer to that which has universally been believed by the church. A prime example of how Calvin sees protestant churches as being truly catholic (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church) can be seen in how he argues with Sadoleto. In his reply he defends his catholicity by saying “You are mistaken in supposing that we desire to lead away the people from that method of worshiping God which the catholic church always observed.” (Sadoleto, 6) He then claims that the church has always been governed by the Holy Spirit, which God has annexed to the Word, he supports this claim with Scripture and by appealing to Chrysostom. He then argues for the claim that the protestant church represents what has always been believed by appealing to the writings of Basil, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine. Calvin then says “that it [the Church] is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord.” (Sadoleto, 7) Thus he emphasizes the catholicity of the church, even saying that protestants revere this church, the church which is truly Catholic, as its mother; but he rejects the Roman church as fulfilling this catholic definition of the church.
The final mark of the church is that it is “apostolic.” Here Calvin rejects apostolic succession in favor of succession of apostolic teaching. One see’s the importance Calvin puts upon apostolic teaching in the way he envisions his own vocation. In one sense we could say that Calvin saw himself as a defender of correct doctrine, this was part of his vocation. Calvin says regarding this self understanding that “the welfare of this church…lay so near to my heart that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life.” (McKee, 62) One way he ensured the continuing welfare of the church is through his doctrinal and biblical writings. Much like so many other important figures in the history of the church, Calvin devoted much attention to Romans. There he lays out the Apostolic teaching of the church, especially when it comes to justification. But perhaps even more than in his commentaries or preaching we see Calvin’s understanding of the importance of defending apostolic teaching in the way in which he responds to heretical teaching. Chief among the examples of Calvin’s polemic against those who don’t follow the apostolic teaching is his treatment of Servetus’s work. In Calvin’s mind those who spare heretics and blasphemers are themselves blasphemers (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3157). Though it seems as if Calvin did not want Servetus to die, the Servetus incident shows how seriously Calvin takes the apostolic teaching of the church.
It should be noted that Gordon’s biography sheds light on each of these four marks, but Gordon’s strength in the area of ecclesiology is his contribution to our understanding of the apostolic nature of the church and the unity of the church. In particular, his chapter on Servetus sheds light on Calvin’s motivations to maintain the apostolic teaching of the church, especially within the context of contemporary political and theological thought, in how he treats heretics. Gordon does much to dispel the myth of a bloodthirsty Calvin out to get Servetus. Secondly, his chapter, “European Reformer,” shows how much Calvin did (at times unintentionally) to bring unity to the Reformed churches ranging from churches in Britain to Poland to the Low Countries and even to the Palatinate. Reformed churches throughout these lands were heavily influenced by Calvin and his reforms in Geneva. Many leaders in these countries wrote to Calvin for advice and some, including John Knox, even came to Geneva to learn from Calvin. Thus even though he never achieved the unity in the church he desired, his contributions went a long way towards establishing some sort of unity based upon his Reformed understandings of the faith and church polity.
There are many ways to approach Calvin’s ecclesiology. We could define it in terms of the two marks he mentions (right distribution of the sacraments and the word properly preached), he views on the current state of the church vs. God’s intention for the church, or even his perceived role in building up the church, however we have chosen to examine his ecclesiology in terms of these loci classicus. Hopefully this heuristic has helped to shed light upon Calvin’s understanding of the church within a historical context.
 At least given our readings, and my prior knowledge of Calvin’s work I am not familiar with him organizing his ecclesiology in light of these four marks.
In some circles being “reformed” is a badge of honor, elsewhere bearing that name is enough to get you blacklisted.
So what does it mean to be “Reformed?” R.C. Sproul unpacks this in this 2016 edition of a theological best seller. In this book he contrasts “God-Centered Theology” and “Man-Centered” theology, claiming essential that Reformed theology is the most “God-Centered” theology there is, it is a theology driven by a particular understanding of the character of God.
What is this sort of theology committed to? First, it is committed to being centered on God. Second, it is based on God’s Word alone (in a non-reductionistic sense). Third, it is committed to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (though faith does not stand alone). Fourth, it is Christocentric. Finally it is structured by three covenants: 1)Works, 2)Grace, 3)Redemption. He does a fairly decent job of not just explaining Reformed doctrine but moreso giving a feel of the reformed mindset, which in my humble opinion is the best way into getting into what “Reformed” actually means. After he covers these 5 Reformed distinctive he moves on to TULIP. You know… THE DEFINITION of REFORMED THEOLOGY:
T: Total Depravity
U: Unconditional Election
L: Limited Atonement
I: Irresistible Grace
P: Perseverance of the Saints
What bothers me the most about this, isn’t that he believes in TULIP, it’s the fact that he makes TULIP the standard of Reformed theology. Not everyone who signs on to Reformed theology follows the cannons of Dort. At the very least there is certainly dispute over the L of limited atonement. Second, I believe that by defining Reformed Theology in light of TULIP, Sproul rather reinforces certain stereotypes and a certain reductionist form of Reformed theology which boils it down to one doctrine, namely predestination. Reformed theology is certainly much more than this! I believe that if Sproul had ended the book after the first 5 chapters we would have gotten a pretty good understanding of what the Reformed Tradition as a whole is, but given that he chooses to use the stereotypical definition to define this tradition he ends up, at least in my opinion, reducing “Reformed” Theology to one particular brand of it.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
I recently came across a quote by Richard Muller (“Grace, Election and Contingent Choice” in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will) in which he disagrees with a commonly held misconception about Reformed views on Freedom. There he says:
It was never the Reformed view that the moral acts of human beings are predetermined, any more than it was ever the Reformed view that the fall of Adam was willed by God to the exclusion of Adam’s free choice of sin. The divine ordination of all things is not only consistent with human freedom; it makes human freedom possible. (270)
I’m looking forward to reading more on this in his upcoming book on the Divine Will and Human Choice, which should be out early in 2017.
A few days ago I finished a book that was sent to me by Reformation Heritage Press titled Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. I reviewed it yesterday (you can read the review here), but I wanted to share some thoughts – some lessons – I gleaned from the book about revival.
Remembering Revival is Important: Many of the stories about revival told in this book start with churches looking back at earlier times of revival and longing for the Lord to pour out his Spirit once again. Also, another feature of revival, (it seems) is that people really kept track of what the Lord was doing. That way they could look back and remember the Lord’s work.
Revival Cuts Across Denominations and Traditions: One of the most encouraging thing that I saw throughout this book was how different churches and denominations were willing to set aside their differences and agendas in order to advance God’s kingdom. Whether it’s the Dutch Reformed working together with Presbyterians in New York or Scottish Presbyterians like Erskine working together with the Congregationalist Edwards and Baptists like Ryland and Fuller drawing inspiration from them, or even Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. So many groups were willing to work together for the sake of God’s glory. Hear the words of Andrew Fuller: “O, brethren, let us pray much for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon our ministers and churches, and not upon only those of our own connection and denomination, but upon ‘al that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” But revival doesn’t just bring unity…
Revivals Draw Extreme Opposition: New lights vs. Old Lights, Coetus vs. Coferentie are just two examples of how revivals brought about and further entrenched division. Revial often draws opposition not only from those outside of the church, but also from those we tend to think are closest to us.
Jonathan Edwards Might Be the Most Important Person in Early Modern Revivals: That is probably not something he would like to hear but its true, but you can’t talk about revival without talking about Jonathan Edwards and his writings. His work not only influenced his own Congregationalist churches, but it affected the Dutch Reformed churches of new York, Baptist churches in England, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and of course Presbyterian churches here in the US. One chapter even goes as far as to argue that Edwards was really a Presbyterian and that the American Presbyterian denominations cannot be understood apart from him.
Only God Saves but we are Still Called to do Work: Only God can do the work of bringing people to saving faith, yet among the revival stories in this book there is a deep sense of the church’s responsibility to prayer and more importantly to preach. This might seem quite obvious, but as we see in Andrew Fuller’s reforming work, this was not always a given.
Those are just a few lessons. I’m sure there is much more to be said. But if you want to read about and be encouraged about revival for yourself I recommend you pick up Pentecostal Outpourings.
Pentecostal Outpourings! That definitely doesn’t sound like the title of a book which has a major emphasis on the puritans in the reformed tradition. Nevertheless, it’s a term that’s quite appropriate for describing a number of revivals in the Reformed Tradition during the 18th and 19th centuries. After all, what exactly happened at Pentecost? Well what happened was that God the Father poured out his Holy Spirit onto the church. That’s not something that only Pentecostals, charismatics, or continuationists believe. And its not something that’s exclusive for people of those theological persuasions to seek out. Whether it’s the reformed churches of the “old world”, i.e. Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, Irish Baptists, Calvinistic English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians or the reformed churches of the “new world”, i.e. Baptists, Presbyterians or Dutch Reformed – there is a long history of seeking out revival and more importantly seeking out a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people. This book – Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition – traces the history of precisely those things….
The book, edited by Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary is divided into two parts: 1)Revival in the British Isles and 2)Revival in America. The first part covers revivals among Welsh Calvinists, Irish Dissenters, Calvinistic Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians. Most people familiar with this sort of literature will be familiar with revival among the latter two groups, but as evidenced in these chapters there is much to be learned about revival in the first two groups. Also, and sadly, the former groups haven’t really carried that revival tradition into modern day ministry. The second part covers revival in America. Much of this consists of recounting what happened during the 1st great awakening among various groups including: Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and the Dutch Reformed. Again, many will be familiar with the happenings of revival among the first three groups, but revival among the Dutch Reformed will be new territory for many readers.
Out of these chapters, (as I hinted at in my twitter feed – @Cwoznicki ) the chapter on revival among the Dutch Reformed was my favorite. Apart from the readability and depth of research of this chapter, I stepped away from it very encouraged and hopeful. The Dutch Reformed revival shows us that there isn’t a split between sound doctrine and revival, that revival can flourish in established churches, and that revival can open up fellowship among peoples of different theological traditions as well as ethnic backgrounds. The Dutch reformed churches not only received African-Americans into their membership, but they even permitted Native Americans to preach from their pulpits. That was truly surprising to me! But above all, what I drew from this chapter was a better picture of the Dutch Reformed ethos. Reading the words of these pastors, I felt as though they were speaking my heart. Let me list a few things that they stressed (231-233):
1)Orthodox Biblical Doctrine + Vital Piety
2)Experience that overflows from the heart in practical obedience.
3)Word and Spirit
4)An emphasis on Evangelism and Discipleship
5)Holiness in the ministry
Reading about our forefathers in the faith has encouraged me to pray for and seek revival along these lines. Revival, contrary to common opinion, is in fact possible among the Reformed churches. In fact, “Reformed ministers have exercised a central role in the major revivals since the Reformation.” (254) I hope that this book will encourage those like me who find themselves within the tradition to lead the efforts in seeking and promoting revival throughout the entire world, not just in our own churches but in all the churches who call upon Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior.