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?

Lane Chapter 32

Dan Scherer

Religion and politics do mix!


            That’s what I read after all the dust settles from Calvin. “Christ spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct” (Institutes P.1486). Providence is under God’s authority and given to all people as common grace. The institutions of church and state may be distinct but the church’s authority on morality should apply to our leaders in civil authority.  Civil government is a means ordained by God for maintaining order in our country, state, and neighborhood. Society would self-destruct without the power of the sword to control the communities of the world. Anarchy would run wild without this institution. This is why God has instructed His people to obey and pray for their civil leaders. Yet these same children are responsible to see that government exercises its proper role. Proper role is the key. Protection, order and common services no problem but other issues can get very messy. Calvin and the scriptures make it clear we are to obey and support. However the kings in this earthly kingdom often forget their proper role or see their personal role of power as a power to self-interest. Self-interest and ungodly kings bring a cycle of abuse. I’m all for keeping the state out of the church but let’s not keep the church out of the state. Christians know this is God’s order so we do our part as good citizens, teachers, parents, and pastors to keep a Godly order in the home and local community. Once the church is removed from the government it becomes part of this fallen world where all kinds of evil can and does grow. When civil magistrates start to require things God forbids, and forbids things God requires Christians must become disobedient to the magistrates and remain loyal to God. Too many modern day citizens use this separation of state and church phrase never understanding it originated to protect the church from the state not the state from the church. Governments like people serve a higher law then themselves and when they do not do so Christians should resist. God has ordained the rulers of government to serve His purpose. If those who are rulers have no morals then the society will be left to drift into the wrath of God. As I look at the leaders that are up for election it is very possible this country may be on a path of losing many of its blessings of the past. The government should not force faith on to the public but those in leadership must have high morals and faith if the kingdom is to be blessed. Belief in God, our triune God and obedience to him could be the most important attribute of any leading official. If the leaders of a kingdom do not honor God we can see the hand writing on the wall just like Belshazzar saw when he dishonored God in (Daniel 5.) My prayer is that this election cycle in America would be one that would bring Godly men and women into our leadership positions that truly know and honor Christ as Lord. As Christians we have an obligation to our faith to work in the public arena for Godly leaders. Pray for and vote for Godly candidates. The problem we have in this country with all the money spent on packaging a candidate is to determine which candidate has Christian morals. I wonder how we can make a more open and revealing process to let us know the real person running for office.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Paying More than We should?

The cost of political campaigns keeps growing. As we see additional levels of poverty in our country and in our world, how do we react when political candidates and government officials spend large sums of money to further their own interests? How do we justify the amount of money that government officials receive for performing the duties of their office?

4.20.26 'God is Punishing You!'

The Wicked Ruler a Judgment of God  "Accordingly, (a very wicked man) should be held in the same reverence and esteem by his subjects, in so far as public obedience is concerned, in which they would hold the best of kings if he were given to them."

No matter who is elected President this fall, it is our duty to give them our complete respect, not only because we are representatives of the Christian faith and need to set an example of proper conduct, but also because Calvin is right!  We get the government we deserve.  Once I dismissed the idea that everything happens for a reason, but now Calvin has persuaded me with his theology of Providence. We should not carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and lay awake all night.  

Life would be easier if I could totally buy into Providence.  Sometimes the whole forest does have burn to the ground to bring about a rebirth of greater sustenance for the creatures that depend on it.

 Today as I was mowing my lawn, I walked into a branch and cut my scalp, because I didn't see it.  I am losing my sight and it used to be that I was afraid of my future, then I met our classmate Rick Watson, blind from birth.  Did I meet him by chance?

Also when I look back on my journey of faith and call to ministry, I think about the sensitivity I now have because of my struggles.  I know I am not unique.  How has God used your difficulties for a greater good?  Is Calvin right about providence, even as it applies to bad kings and presidents?

Calvin acknowledged the need for separation of church and state, but never considered the separation of state and God.  Because God is sovereign, He should rule both church and state.  However, each has its own God-ordained sphere of influence.  This is a reflection of Calvin's belief in God's providence.

Calvin’s model suggests that church and state are distinct entities that serve distinct but complementary aims.  The church tends to the spiritual or inner condition of the person; the state handles political or outward things.  Each power needs the other.  The state needs the church because without the feeding of the soul that the church attends to, there is no basis for public peace.  The church needs the state because without the peace, order, and justice civil government imposes, religion cannot thrive. 

When You've Gotta Go...

Wil Reinowski

Americans nationwide have found ourselves in the midst of a huge debate in the aftermath of North Carolina’s HB2. The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act became law just last month by a majority vote, and it sets a precedent for similar laws to appear in other states. Reformed Christians directly and indirectly affected by it have a duty to understand the ways in which we may respond. Let us suspend for a moment the absurdity with which outside nations must view American politics and delve instead into a Reformed understanding of the conversation that has been dubbed "Bathroom Wars."

On the one hand, Calvin says that the duties of elected officials are “to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquillity.” The institution of government — not to be confused with the people of government — is thus a Divine-Ordained office, the primary purpose of which is to protect Godly things and our interactions with our neighbor (4.20.2). The line in the sand between church and state is drawn when one attempts to establish legislation solely according to his own understanding of God (4.20.3). Hence, the institution of government in the Reformed understanding is the highest, Godly calling of them all. (4.20.4) Our elected officials should in turn respect their duties as these duties are ordained by God. (4.20.6). Elected officials are bound to God and their elected office to uphold the image of God while carrying out their duties (4.20.6). Calvin qualifies his position further by noting that God instructs humanity to mind everything we do so as not to make baseness of our actions (4.20.6). 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Calvin on Church & State – Render unto Caesar…?

Of the various topics we’ve covered this semester, this is the one where I have the hardest time following Calvin’s arguments.  Lane focuses his questions on the roles of rulers, and our corresponding obligations to be led (p. 170).  This seems like a helpful approach to the question of separating church and state.  Calvin, however, seems less willing to draw distinctions along Lane’s lines of civil obedience.  Rather, I see Calvin taking two different approaches. 

First, in 4.20.1-2, Calvin draws distinctions between earthly and heavenly kingdoms.  This is his separation move; he essentially limits humankind’s purview to civil leadership, exclusive of God’s Kingdom activity.  Lane quotes Calvin’s powerful phrase, “Jewish vanity” (p. 171) to describe the tradition of blending civil and religious rule. 

Next, Calvin cites scripture to justify our obligation to be led by our civic authorities.  His specific use of Nebuchadnezzar as an example of ordained civic leadership in 4.27 is his illustration of how God can ordain civic leadership to create particular outcomes.  This approach works in the context of Calvin’s strict predestination beliefs.  It is less effective if we believe that God really allows human agency.  I think about Israel’s demand for a king to be like the other nations in 1 Samuel.  Did God really not want a king for Israel, or was Samuel participating in God’s larger plan?  Maybe, ultimately, both?

I wonder if Calvin’s reasons for addressing this topic the ways he does have more to do with his political climate and personal concerns than solid scriptural basis.  Like much of this work, Calvin seems to be theologizing while preoccupied with the undue influence of the Catholic Church and the Anabaptists that bother him so.  By first drawing a distinction between church and state, then using scripture to prop up our obligation to civil obedience, Calvin is addressing both of his nemeses. 

My question for the class, then, is this:  If this approach is intentional – if Calvin reads what he needs to read into scripture to support his existing beliefs – then what caution do we need to take when basing a tradition largely on his interpretations?  Is Calvin’s work any less reliable with this suspicion in mind?

Pledge of Allegiance

Sharon Rees

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Does the Pledge join church and state?

In the 1559 Institutes, Calvin seems to lean both right and left concerning church and state. On the one hand, he proclaims civil and spiritual government to be joined (4.20.1), he calls magistrates "vicars of God" (4.20.6), and says, "it is fitting that they [magistrates] should labor to protect and assert the honor of him [God] whose representatives they are, and by whose grace they govern (4.20.9).

On the other hand, Calvin writes that civil government is to protect religion, but not establish it (4.20.3), and freedom is quite high on the list of becoming attributes (4.20.8).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wild Card

 Presbyterian churches recognize two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin believed sacraments are God’s gracious gifts given by Jesus Christ to the church to establish and nurture faith.  A sacrament must have been instituted by Jesus and open and available to all.  God uses sacraments to convey the grace of God to us.  In the sacraments we see the gospel of Jesus Christ right before our eyes. 

The elements of the sacraments are signs of God’s love, grace and desire to bring us into a deeper relationship with Him.  When we participate in the sacraments, we are saying to all:  We belong to Christ.  As we participate in the sacraments, we receive through these actions the power and authority of God in our lives.  When we believe in the gospel, the benefits of the gospel are sealed within our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our faith is nourished and strengthened by receiving the benefits of Christ.
Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize and extend baptism to others.  The sign of this sacrament is water.  Believers are brought into and incorporated into the church as the community of faith.  Jesus commanded his followers to eat and drink together in a commemorative meal for his sacrificial death.  The sign of this sacrament is the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  The community celebrates the Lord’s Supper, through which faith is nourished and sustained. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Calvin on Infant baptism – SPOILER ALERT: he’s for it!

Calvin makes a compelling leap as he compares infant baptism to circumcision in 4.16.3.  For Calvin, baptism is analogous to receiving God’s covenantal relationship once associated with circumcision in the Jewish faith.  So, as he explains in 4.16.2, Calvin lifts up infant baptism as an outward sign of that promise.  Initially, this move let’s Calvin replace Abrahamic circumcision with baptism as our covenantal ceremony before God and community.

Calvin’s next move is to argue for baptism as a tool of inclusiveness.  In 4.16.3, Calvin quotes Ephesians to demonstrate how baptism allows covenantal relationship – even to the uncircumcised.  He then reaches back to Deuteronomy for support; he quotes Moses and being “circumcised of heart”.  In this way, Calvin downplays the importance of physical circumcision in favor of the representative value the act carries. I cannot find any evidence of Calvin extending this covenantal relationship to women, or others who could not be physically circumcised in the traditional, Jewish sense.  For whatever reason, it was not important to argue that case at the time.

Calvin spends some time dealing with the ability of infants to participate in baptism through faith and understanding of scripture.  In 4.19-20, he emphasizes the agency of God in relationships with children.  Lane summarizes, “Infants cannot hear the Word, repent, or believe, but this does not prevent God from working in them,” (Lane, 162).  Again, Calvin raises the notion that baptism, being analogous to circumcision, is appropriate going back to the Abrahamic traditions. 

Question to ponder:  we hear what Calvin is saying about infant baptism.  What might be some reasons to consider adult (or at least decision-making-age) baptism?  Is one approach more meaningful than the other?  What does that response say about agency in the sacraments?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lane Chapter 29 The Sacraments in General

“Offered to All” – “Received only by Grace”

By far this is my favorite reading from Calvin. Below I have highlighted the early section of this chapter which I believe answers Lane’s (Go Fetch!) questions to us students.

What is a Sacrament?  What does God do through a Sacrament?

(4.14.1) Definition:  We have in the sacraments another aid to our faith related to the preaching of the gospel…  First, we must consider what a sacrament is.  It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that it is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promise of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and his angels and before men.”

(4.14.3) Word and Sign “Now, from the definition that I have set forth we understand that a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing itself, and of making it more evident to us and in a sense ratifying it.” 

(4.14.4) The Word must explain the Sign “The word must explain the sign…  not as one whispered without meaning and without faith, a mere noise, like a magic incarnation, which has the force to consecrate the element. Rather, it should, when preached, make us understand what the visible sing means…  The sacrament requires preaching to beget faith…  Accordingly, when we hear the sacrament word mentioned, let us understand the promise, proclaimed in a clear voice by the minister, to lead the people by the hand wherever the sign tends and directs us.”

(4.14.5) The Sacraments as Seals “Indeed, the believer, when he sees the sacraments with his own eyes, does not halt at the physical sight of them…  Rises up in devout contemplation to those lofty mysteries which lie hidden in the sacraments”

(4.14.6)  The Sacraments as Signs of a Covenant  “The sacraments, therefore, are exercises which make us more certain of the trustworthiness of God’s Word…  Or we may call them mirrors in which we may contemplate the riches of God’s grace, which he lavishes upon us…  They confirm faith, not of themselves, but as agencies of the Holy Spirit and in association with the Word; and they are distinguishing marks of our profession of faith before men.”

(4.14.7) The Reception of the Sacraments by the Wicked in no evidence against their importance.  “It is therefore certain that the Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments with sure faith, just as Christ is offered and held forth by the Father to all unto Salvation, yet not all acknowledge and receive him...  We have determined, therefore, that sacraments are truly named the testimonies of God’s grace and are like seals of the good will that he feels towards us, by attesting that good will to us, sustain, nourish, confirm and increase our faith.”

(4.14.8) To What extent can we speak of a confirmation of faith through the sacraments?  “For first, the Lord teaches and instructs us by his Word.  Secondly, he confirms it by the sacraments.  Finally, he illumines our minds by the light of his Holy Spirit and opens our hearts for the Word and sacraments to enter in, which would otherwise only strike our ears and appear before our eyes, but not at all affect us within.”

(4.14.9) The Holy Spirit in the Sacraments  “As to the confirmation and increase of faith..  I should therefore like my readers to be reminded that I assign this particular ministry to the sacraments.  Not that I suppose there is some secret force or other perpetually seated in them by which they are able to promote or confirm faith by themselves.  Rather, I consider that they have instituted by the Lord to the end that they may serve to establish and increase faith…  The sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher, come to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in.  If the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds that the splendor of the sun shining on blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears.”

What most stirred my intellect is how deeply spiritual Calvin is about the Sacraments
and that they are meant to be contemplated upon. 

I am also struck by his language about the ‘Words of Institution’ for Holy Communion and ‘The Great Commission” for Baptism, that they are to be preached and that in the Sacraments the ‘Holy Spirit is ‘Powerfully Active’ especially for those who have come to them with little faith or understanding. 

My questions to you my fellow Reformers:
Are we administering the Sacraments in our churches 
with enough time for ‘contemplation’?  

Do we ‘preach’ their institutions?  

Do we hold them in ‘awe’ as a testament of our faith 
that the ‘Holy Spirit is truly in our presence’?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

15. Baptism (Lane, Ch 30)

By Laurie Haas

The sacrament of baptism is the outward sign of God’s inward grace. Calvin defines baptism as “the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.” (Institutes, XV 1, p. 1303.) The emphasis on being received into the church family is demonstrated by baptisms taking place within a worship service. The congregation has a question to answer and a promise to make to the child who is being baptized and to his or her family. In the Book of Order, the minister asks the congregation, “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture N. and N. by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?” (p. 406) Baptism is a visible sign that cleanses us from all sin: past, present and future. This is why a person only needs to baptized one time. The waters of baptism must also be accompanied by the Word proclaimed. The water is merely a symbol of Christ’s blood that is sprinkled for an internal cleansing, not a bathing or “removal of filth from the flesh.” (Institutes, XV 2, p. 1305) In baptism we are sealed by the promise and we acknowledge the gift of salvation offered in Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

4.17 Calvin's Institutes (Lane Chapter 31): The Lord's Table
by Claire Brettell

         For Calvin the Lord's Supper is seen as a Spiritual banquet in which the Lord, Christ "attests himself as life-giving bread". God receives humanity once and for all, not only as servants but as heirs to whom nourishment is provided throughout life by the Sacrament of the Table [pages 1359 & 1360, 4.17.1]. From Calvin's general comments with regard to Sacraments he shares his belief that the chief function of the Sacraments is to seal the promises made [4.17.4]. In baptism the promise of invisible grace and goodwill seals our consciences, while at the table the promise of eternal life by Christ's flesh and blood through the elements of bread and wine is sealed and confirmed [4.14.1 & 4.17.4].

           Unity of 'godly souls' is fed to us with the knowledge of the 'high mystery' held in the treasure that is the flesh and blood of Christ, and is found in the signs of bread and wine [pages 1360 & 1361, 4.17.1 4.17.2]. Just as bread and wine sustain us physically, the Sacrament of bread and wine regenerates, sustains and 'continues the covenant' of engrafting and adoption. By the words from Scripture, "Take, this is my body which is given for you" and "the covenant in his blood", we are made partakers in the power of Christ's life-giving death and resurrection [page 1361, 4.17.1]. Calvin shares beautifully how the exchange of our weakness, poverty and
mortality for God's strength, wealth and immortality is manifested by Christ's willingness to take the weight of our iniquity upon himself as he clothes us with righteousness [page 1362, 4.17.2].

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

26 "The Roman Church and the Christian Ministry"

Lane Chapter 26:  The Roman Church and the Christian Ministry
             In sections (4.2.1)-(4.3.9) Calvin denounced the Roman Church, provided a blueprint for leadership in the True Church and described the manner in which the Roman Church fell into apostasy and abuse.  In a broad sense, this section might be called the “Reformation” chapter as the vision of Calvin, his Reformed contemporaries and his reforming predecessors such as Martin Luther, Johannes Bugenhagen, Johannes Spangenberg, and Ulrich Zwingli, sought to restore the “True Church” of God or reform it according to scripture.  Therefore, Calvin began his chapter by virulently attacking the Roman Catholic Church where he compared the Roman practices as not only “corrupt and debased” but also as having a “grosser idolatry” than the lapsed Jews under King Jerobaum. (4.2.9) Specifically he called the Roman Mass an “unbearable mass of superstitions” and labeled the pope,  the “Antichrist.” (4.2.2, 4.3.12) After discrediting Roman Catholic practices, Calvin presented a scripturally based outline on how God ordained and ordered the True Church.  The Institutes, in this section, included church organization, leadership, and expectations with a special emphasis on church offices. Scripture, he noted, named the one-time or rarely prescribed offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist as well as permanent offices of pastor and teacher. Because of the importance of the pastor, Calvin included an expanded description of the office’s call and duties for “he entrusted to men the teaching of salvation and everlasting life in order that through their hands it might be communicated to the rest “(4.3.1).  Finally, Calvin provided a history of the early church, its organization, and the means in which the papacy debased the True Church.
            In response to this section, Lang posed a couple of questions.  First,” How does Calvin view the Roman Catholic Church?”  Calvin considered the Roman Catholic Church to be corrupted by evil and that the leaders were “perverse,” the doctrine “buried” and the Worship of God, “deformed.” (4.2.2) Because the word of God was so corrupted, Calvin believed that continued association with the Roman Church actually endangered Christians who worshipped.   However, Calvin was careful not to undermine the sovereignty of God and noted that even within a church that where the light of God is “choked” (4.2.2), the promise of God remained, and baptism, even if performed by illegitimate priests, was still valid. (4.2.5) Such a position is central in mainline churches today that recognize one baptism across denominational lines. 
            Lang’s second question is  “What are the offices of the ministry in the postapostolic church and their functions?”  In asking this question, Lang is asking how closely Calvin’s definition of leadership parallels the early church as prescribed in the Bible.  Perhaps the most important statement about the ministry is that human beings hold God’s church together.  In this way, God’s Will is carried out through God’s creation.  In doing this, God acknowledges that humans have different gifts that are carried out in different ministerial roles.  In the post-apostolic church, the specific roes of the church are the pastors who preach the Word and administer sacraments (4.3.4).  There are also “governors” or elders in charge of church discipline a “senate, chosen from godly, grave and holy men, and deacons who care for the poor. (4.3.8)

Question:  The 500th anniversary of the Reformation will take place on October 31, 2017 (500 years after Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral).  How should the PCUSA (or other Protestant denominations) treat the anniversary?  How would you treat it?  Should we emphasize the points made by Calvin, drawing attention to his understanding of the Roman Catholic perversion of the church?  Or should we work towards shared values and reconciliation? 

One of many reformation era woodcuts depicting the Pope as Antichrist  Lucas Cranach the Elder c. 1521.  Depicting the pope as "Antichrist" was part of the Protestant propaganda throughout the Reformation.  This was therefore not unique to Calvin but would have been well-known by 16th century Genevans.