Tuesday, May 10, 2016

32 Concern for Religion

According to Calvin, all discussions of the office of magistrates, the making of laws, and public welfare begins with religion and divine worship and therefore piety is the first concern that no government and its laws are worthy of its salt which neglects God’s right and provide only for men.
According to Calvin, among philosophers of all nations, religion takes first place. So in places where Christians and magistrates do not apply religion they are in error. In which case such duty is part of their duties assigned by God. So they have to ensure that it is protected.
In scriptures, kings who followed God and restored the worship of God when it was corrupted were greatly praised. For those who did not, most were cursed.
To Calvin, some kings behaved as if God appointed rulers in his name to decide earthly things but overlooked what was of far greater importance – that he himself should be purely worshiped according to the prescription of his laws.
Men develop passion to alter everything with impunity which drives turbulent men to the point of wanting all vindicators of violated piety removed from their midst. Prophets admonish kings to “do justice and righteousness” to deliver to him who has been oppressed by force from the hand of the oppressor.” According to the psalmist, they are also to give justice to the poor and needy, and deliver the poor and needy from the hand of the oppressor.
Mosses commanded his leaders to “hear cases between their brethren and judge…”
To Calvin, kings should not multiply horses for themselves, nor set their minds upon avarice; nor be lifted up above their brethren. Kings should be constant in meditating upon the law of the Lord all the days of their life.

According to Calvin, magistrates are ordained protectors and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, decency, and tranquility, and that their sole endeavor should be to provide for the common safety and peace of all. They cannot perform this unless they defend good men from wrongs and the wicked, and give aid and protection to the oppressed. They also have the power with which they severely coerce the open malefactors and criminals by whose wickedness the public peace is disturbed.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Duel Citizenship

Jeff Davis

We all live our lives under dual citizenship.  As Christians we are under the authority of Jesus as the Lord and Master of our lives, and we build and conduct our lives according to his teachings and purposes.  We also have a role to play as a citizen of the country we live in.  All Christians who live in America are blessed with the freedom to have dual citizenship without the worry of persecution for worshiping God the way we desire.  Many countries around the world Christians aren’t as fortunate, and the choice to live for God and to have an active role in Jesus’s kingdom could cause persecution from their government which they live.  Calvin addresses the conflict that would arise for many around the world. “These statements of his must also be taken in the same sense: In the Kingdom of God” Galatians 3:28, “‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, there is not Jew nor Greek, uncircumcised and circumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, freeman, but Christ is all in all.” Colossians 3:11 By these statements he means that it makes no difference what your condition among men may be or under what nation’s law you live, since the Kingdom of Christ does not at all consist in these things.” (Calvin 4.20.1 pg 1486) In God’s kingdom everyone has a level of equality that doesn’t separate humanity.   Our government tries to model equality and united but there are definitely separations of people’s rights and privileges.

32. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

By Laurie Haas

Calvin holds those in public office in high esteem. He even categorizes it as a “calling.” “Accordingly, no one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men.” (Institutes XX, 4, p. 1490) He uses Romans as a foundation saying that there are no powers except for those ordained by God. (Romans 13:1)

I can agree that power comes from God, just as all that we are comes from God. However, in our brokenness, I’m afraid we misuse and abuse power in many ways that God would not or could not condone. For an extreme example, consider Hitler. He was a charismatic, powerful leader. We do not worship a God who would create a monster like Hitler to teach us a lesson. I believe that Hitler acted on his own free will out of a dark sinful place when he systematically began to murder millions of Jewish people. I’m not sure how reformed that thought is…)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Chapter 32: One Nation under God?

One nation under God

            Calvin in the  very last chapter of his Institutes deals with government and how it reflects both God’s plan for humanity and the human need for organization.  He begins by describing the twofold government that rules humanity.   This is the spiritual kingdom and the civil government. The spiritual kingdom is embedded in God’s law as love and faith.     Those who follow God’s law therefore do not need  secular law.  This is “superfluous, if God’s Kingdom, such as it is now among us, wipes out the present life.” (4.20.2) Yet, humans, in their fallen nature need law in order to provide a platform for the practice of Christian freedom. (4.20.1) A system of laws and lawgivers needs to be in place for humans to provide them with a safe and just environment to live. 


         I guess it is not surprising that Calvin discusses war considering his view on humanity.  It was a little surprising to me that Calvin would lift up “the state” to a called office of God (Institutes, 4.20).  Calvin divides up the military (student paraphrased) into different areas.  The areas do line up to similar current military mission around the world.  Calvin describes the “garrison” as the troops stationed within its own borders for protection (Institutes, 4.20.12).  He describes “leagues” as troops who in foreign lands to aid in another’s defense (Institutes, 4.20.12).  He calls the “civil defenses” as troops used in wartime missions (Institutes, 4.20.12). 
         I will try to draw upon some of more popular or current military practices to compare and contrast.  Our “garrison” today sounds very similar to a homeland security mission.  The job of protecting borders and keeping America safe lies here.  Police, Drug Enforcement, and other civil authorities may also fit nicely into this category. 
         The term “Leagues” seems to fit the American Military category.  We have military forces stationed all over the world involved in peace-keeping missions.  Forces in Germany, South Korea, and Japan are just a few of examples of what Calvin may say in the present world condition.
         The “civil defenses” may be better described today as War Fighters.  The United States has been at war for over a decade.  Regardless of personal beliefs, Calvin addresses and even gives conditions for war.  Specifically, he addresses “to help those forcibly oppressed” and “to punish evil deeds” (Institutes, 4.20.11). 
         We have been at war continuously for many years.  Does America believe that we are still punishing evil deeds or helping those oppressed?  The government has the power to declare war, but do the Americans have the stomach to see it through?  Radical people exist all over and Calvin acknowledges the ability of “the state” to seek justice.  Is it important to our society today to seek out Christian leaders or just leaders?  If the chosen leaders are not Christian, how might that impact those who are led?  Where would non-Christians leaders seek wisdom (in the absence of Scripture or Christian Beliefs)?

The Right of Rebellion (32)

With this whole Divine Right of Kings, or magistrates, theme, what has always struck me is how this seems to exclude the right of the people to defend themselves from attacks from unjust governments. This is because Calvin sees all rights and responsibilities as extending directly from God and not as Political Philosophers of the enlightenment were beginning to hypothesize, by consent of the governed. For this reason, it would seem that a people must tolerate any atrocity perpetrated by its leadership.

Calvin seems to say this in the following quote. "We owe this attitude of reverence and therefore of piety toward all our rulers in the highest degree, whatever they may be like." (Institutes, 4.20.29) He advocates this for the people at large, and I think this makes sense in the context of Calvin's own system and with the whole idea that we live in two worlds, the Kingdom of God and this Earthly Realm. Claire addresses the idea of how much depravity within the government is beyond toleration.

And yet, two sections later, Calvin seems to make an about-face. When speaking of other members of a government, Calvin writes, "I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common-folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance." (4.20.31)

I think this is very much in line with the "Two World's" notion as well. Private citizens do not have a right of rebellion, but sub-magistrates have been appointed by God, in effect, at least partly, to restrain the arbitrariness of monarchical rule. It almost feels as though Calvin is cobbling together some kind of balance of power theory, that checks and balances within the government itself ought to carry out God's will should this be the overthrow of the monarch. Even so, I think this statement from Calvin could be used to justify almost any rebellion, if those in rebellion could at least get some filing clerk to support it.

My question is, "What would Clavin have thought of the American Revolution?" Yae or Nae?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Calvin's Institutes ~ Our Obedience to Civil Law & to God's Law

Calvin's Institutes 4.20: Our Obedience to Civil Law & to God's Law.

By Claire Brettell

            Throughout the twentieth chapter of the fourth book of the Institutes, Calvin stresses our need to be obedient to the civil principalities, powers and magistrates.  Calvin shares a number of Scriptural verses which urge us toward obedience to the ordinances made and reverence to those individuals placed in public office, those who are rulers and those who are kings [4.20.23].  

            Romans 13:1-3 is an example of what Scripture in general asks us to do and why, "Let every soul, be subject to the higher powers… For he who resists authority, resists what God has ordained" and Paul also writes that we are "subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready for every good work" (Titus 3:1).  Calvin deeply believes the greatest gift of benevolence and divine authority is given to those who hold civil positions, and that the providence of God lifts certain individuals into power for the purposes of Almighty God [4.20.4].  Calvin's words of what might have meant to be words of encouragement, "that even the most worthless kings have been appointed by the Lord" [4.20.27], to me may easily be misinterpreted. Especially when Calvin goes on to state that whoever they may be, upright and faithful or careless tyrants, their authority is through God and as such we should have an attitude of reverence, piety and obedience toward all our rulers [1512, 4:20.24]. What Calvin is saying is whether a ruler leads justly with protection for the people, or unjustly with punishment for the wicked, both cases are ordained by God [4.20.25].

            To me these tyrannical leaders, who at one time may have been offered God's greatest gift of benevolence, have turned away from God's plan of protection through them, toward evil. Leaders such as these favor self-ingratiating lavish lifestyles, robbery, plundering, rape and slaughter of the innocent, and in my opinion are not to be followed let alone revered. While they might see their actions as their right because of their position, power and authority, and Calvin may see these actions as God's way to seek judgment against the wicked.  I do not believe God plans, asks or gifts individuals with authority and power in the hope and with the plan that innocent lives are to be harmed.  Although I do believe God can and often does use our failures for the Glory of the Kingdom, for me, this turn-about from protection to prosecution is the work and the will of the enemy which many fall victim to, leaders and non-leaders alike.

            Calvin's all-inclusive sense of God's plan in all of civil leadership does fall away with the mention of God's goodness, power and providence being revealed by the way avengers are lifted as servants of God who arm themselves to punish wicked government and free the oppressed from unjust rulers [4.20.30]. Calvin also comments that those armed against notorious kings are "armed from heaven" and ordained by God [4.20.30].  And in the last section of his Institutes sub-titled "Obedience to humanity must not become disobedience to God"  Calvin shares that just as we, as subjects to civil government, are asked to yield to civil rules and proclamations the leaders of civil government are asked to yield to the decrees of the Lord [1520, 4.20.32]. It is here that we are told that commands which exceed the limits of God's decrees are to be disregarded, just as we read in Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men" and Paul's words from I Corinthians 7:23 remind us that, "We have been redeemed by Christ at so great a price as our redemption cost him, so that we should not enslave ourselves to the wicked desires of men-much less be subject to their impiety" [1521, 4.20.32].  
           What this reading shares for me is that we must always be reminded of the benevolence of God in the power and authority given to us in our daily lives, our ministry or leadership roles with close discernment.

            Although I am somewhat comforted by the fact that for Calvin there are avenues of protection from rulers and magistrates who are intolerable, I am not clear where the line in the sand is for Calvin with regard to when we are to be patient and implore the Lord's help and when God is asking that we take up arms against unjust practices [bottom of page 1516 and top of 1517, 4.20.29].

            At what time is it God's ordained commission that arms are taken up against authority or government? What are the clear markers for Calvin, and what are they for us?