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.  


27-The Authority of Church

We may need a little expectation management this week for Calvin’s work on the Authority of Church (especially if we want Calvin to speak as vivid as some of the previous subjects).  The bottom-line is that Calvin favors Church authority as long as Scripture supports the decisions that are being made.  Calvin has high regard for a few of the early church councils that were convened.  He also has low regard for a few of them that he names and proclaims that Jesus did not preside.  We can look at authority in a couple of different ways.  Local authorities may include building inspectors, law enforcement, and even fire fighters.  Lane asks the question:  What sort of Authority does the church have?

Chapter 28: Ecclesiastical Powers

According to Calvin there are three ecclesiastical powers – Doctrine (Institutes, 4.8.9), Legislation (Institutes, 4.10) and the third, Jurisdiction (Institutes, 4.11, 4.12).  Jurisdiction is the focus of this chapter and pertains to the discipline of morals, which is an order framed for the preservation of the spiritual polity which is not the same as civil polity. 
To Calvin “the preservation of spiritual polity courts of judgement were established in the Church from the beginning to deal with the censure of morals, to investigate vices, and to be charged with the office of the keys” (Institutes, 4.11.1). Calvin cites Paul’s letter to Timothy that there are two kinds of presbyters;  “those who labor the word, and those who do not carry out preaching of the word yet rule well” (1 Timothy 5: 17) - those whose power depends on the keys which according to Matthew 18: 15-18, Christ gave to the Church.

To Calvin, Matthew means that “those who are contemptuous of private warnings be severely warned in the name of the people; but if they persist in their stubbornness, they should be cut off from the believers fellowship. He adds that this has to take place only with due and fair process – which gives the Church some jurisdiction for the application of the keys which Christ gave to the church.  Calvin says that two passages, one from Matthew, where Christ promises to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter and that whatever he binds or loosen on earth shall be confirmed in Heaven, (Matt. 16:19) and gospel of John “if you forgive the sins of any, they will be forgiven, if you retain their sins of any, they will be retained in Heaven” (John 20:23). To Calvin this is solely in reference to the ministry of the Word, because Jesus equipped the apostles for his work. 

Forgiveness of sin and damnation which they preached are from God.  According to Calvin both text have the power of binding and loosing, it is the same command, and the same promise.  The difference is that the first is concerned with the preaching of the word, whereas the second applies to discipline and excommunication which is trusted to the church.  The church binds him who it excommunicates but not call him to despair.  But one is also loosened when one regrets and is accepted into communion.

The difference between civil and ecclesiastical powers are as follows; that for the civil punishment, the sinner is punished against his will, whereas for ecclesiastical, the sinner professes his repentance in a voluntary chastisement.  In doing this it is important that care is taken to understand the true use of ecclesiastic jurisdiction and the first aim of ecclesiastical jurisdiction is “that offenses be resisted, and any scandal that has arisen be wiped out”  (Institutes, 4.11.5).  In which case the spiritual power be separated from the magistrate’s authority over the use of sword.  And also, such jurisdiction be administered not by one person but by a lawful assembly as observed in scripture (1 Corinthians 5: 4 - 5).

Calvin outlines stages of church discipline as follows:
First - Private admonition – if anyone does not live honorably, or has committed any act disserving blame.
Second - if any man stubbornly rejects such admonition and persist in his own vices, he should be admonished second time in the presence of witness. Then he is admonished by public authority.  If he persist, then he be removed from the believers fellowship (Matt. 18:15, 17)

According to Calvin, there are private sins and public sins, for which he quotes, “Reprove him, between you and him” (Matt. 18:15) and “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20), respectively to show how correction is to be carried out.
Calvin also distinguishes between light and grave sins.  He says that “some are faults; others, crimes or shameful acts” (Institutes 4.12.4). For Calvin agrees with Paul on the use of severe remedy – to correct crimes or shameful acts.  To Calvin, the purpose of church discipline, include; first, that discipline, the order of the church may be preserved. Second, the good be not corrupted by the constant company of the wicked. Bad examples lead us away from Christian living. Third – Those overcome by shame for their baseness begin to repent.

Calvin enjoins church discipline to be gentle for the church is the body of Christ.  Accordingly, he advises individuals also to temper themselves to the wilderness and gentleness of church discipline. Unfortunately, heinous crimes – thievery, killings, and other occur in the church, how do we reconcile or civil powers and ecclesiastical powers over such crimes?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lane chapters 26-28

Wild Card

Dan Scherer



            On wild card week let’s discuss a wild subject for our church in today’s world “Church Discipline”.  

Calvin states the power of the church for such work coming directly from Christ and splits in two directions. One applies to the ministry of the word or preaching (Matt. 16:19) and one to discipline of excommunication (Matt.18:17-18) or as I interpret, discipline of the people. We know about the abuses of the Roman church in it’s over zealous expansion of indulgences, my interest lie in what do we have today in the church for discipline. Is there any? Is it good, bad? Not enough, too much?

            There is more to Calvinism then just the doctrine of Grace and salvation. Calvin himself was very much a life style kind of guy and had plenty of his own struggles with right living not just right preaching. Calvin’s first term as Pastor in Geneva ended quickly when he implemented discipline at the communion table and refused to administer communion to certain leading people who were living in open sin; He was forced to leave the city. After three and a half years when he was asked to return Calvin issued an ultimatum to the Genevan church. “If you desire to have me for your Pastor, correct the disorder of your lives. If you have with sincerity recalled me from exile, banish the crimes and debaucheries which prevail among you… I consider the principle enemies of the Gospel to be, not the pontiff of Rome, nor heretics, nor seducers, nor tyrants but bad Christians. . . Of what use is dead faith without good works? Of what importance is even Truth itself, where a wicked life belies it and actions make words blush?” (Pillar of Grace P.508)

            After such an important comment on the enemies of the Gospel I find it a little disingenuous that Calvin would say in the (Institutes P. 1229) the discussion “must be treated briefly, that we may thereafter pass to the remaining topics”. What could be more important than the principle enemy of the Gospel? After his experience in the Genevan church perhaps Calvin is a little less comfortable with discipline but forcibly states the importance of it. I do agree with his first of the three ends, in view for the purpose of discipline that they who lead a filthy and infamous life may not be called Christians. We are the body of Christ and cannot let such corruption be falling on our Head. Just think if some of Hollywood’s famous folks like Kim Kardashian were a member of your church. Although I have never met her and do not know what is in her heart the reputation that follows her is hardly Christian. This is where I want to split from Calvin. His strong words towards the Pastor who administers the Lord’s Supper indiscriminately. Although Calvin uses the term “rightfully turn away” (Calvin 4.12.5) I just feel the rightfully is no easy determination. We just discussed the “Adiaphora” where it was boiled down to “Matters indifferent and Matters that Matter”. It would seem to me that the Matters that matter do tend to change in a society, or do they? Look at (Matt: 7:2 on).” Judge not, that you be not judged”. The scariest passage for me is (Calvin 4.12.2). “Every man should endeavor to admonish his brother”.

            I agree with Calvin all the way with his doctrine of Grace. Grace in his doctrine of salvation I believe is logically and biblically correct. I am not as convinced that his view on common discipline are as biblically accurate. I think that a more, let God and the individual be the judge, in administering the Lord’s Supper. That is not to say that pastors do not have a responsibility of teaching the Lord’s Supper and it’s significates for they surly do. God’s forgiveness will cover our mistakes and His grace will be sufficient. “I’d rather attend church with a bunch of messed up people seeking after God, than religious people who think they’re His enforcers.” (Unknown source)

 Question: you find out that a couple who have been faithful to your church for several years are living together and have never been married. They have been taking communion on a regular bases in your church. How would you approach them?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Election Day

Jeff Davis

One of the distinct doctrines of Calvin that separates him from other theologians is the doctrine of eternal election.  As the America is restless with it’s own election many within the church become restless with the thought of God electing those who would be saved. Calvin calls this “God’s mere generosity.” (3:21:1 pg 921) Calvin lays the groundwork that eternal election is a display of God’s grace.  To say that there is something humanity does in the salvation process undermines the grace of God.  Calvin dives head first into the scripture when laying the foundation for the doctrine of Predestination is all about God’s grace and love.  “At the present time, he says, a remnant has been saved according to the election of grace but if it is by grace, it's no more of works; otherwise grace would be more be grace.  But if it is of works, it is no more of grace; otherwise work would not be work. “ Romans 11:5-6. God sought out Abraham and put eternal election into effect from the beginning.  Separating a certain people group to draw close to and the manifest of love and grace which was on display through the nation of Israel.   It was in the fullness of God’s plan that through Jesus the rest of humanity was able to partake into God’s grace and mercy.  All gentiles have been grafted into the vine of Israel.  When it comes to salvation no man would choose God first, God first draws near towards us.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life we are capable of understanding scripture, hearing and perceiving God’s voice in our life and coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Surely the grace of God deserves alone to be proclaimed in our election only if it is freely given. Now it will not be freely given by God, in choosing his own, considers what the works of each shall be. We therefore find Christ’s statement to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” (John 15:16) generally valid among all believers.” (3.21.3 pg 935)

Monday, April 4, 2016

24: Who’s in and Who’s out a discussion of predestination

Calvin in chapter 24 and 25 of Book 3 of his institutes turns to a quite thorny subject. How do we deal with election when it comes to salvation and what will this salvation and final resurrection look like? Who is part of this “elect?” In short who’s in and who’s out at the end of the final day?

Wild Card: The Three Omnis or the Labyrinth

Looking over the sections of the Institutes for this week, especially on election and predestination got me to thinking how much of Calvin's theology seems to be all about taking what I like to call "The Three Omnis" to their logical extremes.

The three omnis? Of course, I mean omni-presence, omniscience, and omnipotence. For example the doctrine of election logically follows from the fact that God knows all and that God is all powerful. The all seeing God knows ahead of time everything that is going to happen. Additionally, the Lord wills all that is going to happen. No power can compete with the power of God. With these facts in mind, all future events must be pre-ordained. Thus, God must know in advance all who will be saved, and must have willed it. At least this would seem to me to be the logic that would bring us to this conclusion.

Obviously, I did not heed Calvin's advice in the first section of 3.21 of the Institutes. "If anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit."

Calvin vehemently denies that the "foreknowledge" of God has anything to do with the doctrine of election. He does note that God does have foreknowledge (Institutes,  3.21.5). Yet, and perhaps rightly so, it is not the knowing of what is going to happen that is important according to Calvin, rather "We call predestination God's eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man." (Ibid. para 2) I would say that this exhibits the power of God. But does it really? Was it merely a choice made by God, and it is his power that executes this choice? Or is choice part of God's power?

Well, these were some of my thoughts going through this section. Indeed, reading 3.21.1 made me first chuckle and then go red in the face. Calvin writes, "Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous. No restraints can hold it back from wandering in forbidden bypaths and thrusting upward to the heights. If allowed, it will leave no secret to God..."

My question is: "Are there certain secrets God keeps, places, we as theological students, should not go?"

Sunday, April 3, 2016

25. True Church

Sharon Rees

Calvin starts off this section of the Institutes by answering the question - why do we need the church anyway? "God, therefore, in his wonderful providence accommodating himself to our capacity, has prescribed a way for us, though still far off, to draw near to him." (4.1.1) The church is the way we get closer to God, and care for the body of Christ entrusted to us. Furthermore, the church is a mother - nurturing (4.1.2), a teacher - preaching the Word of God (4.1.3), and a gardener - planting and watering for God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7). Toward the end of this section, Calvin admits that the church is never perfect, but why would we forsake a mixture of good and evil for total imperfection?

What is the distinction between the invisible and the visible church? The invisible church, according to Calvin, are those already elected into God's presence (4.1.7). Members of the invisible church are dead, living, and arguably, not yet among us. We worship with the visible church each Lord's Day. The catch is that God knows the difference and we don't. So instead of trying to separate the sheep from the wolves ourselves, we should take care of everyone in front of us so that we might not accidentally harm the sheep (4.1.8). (Calvin does allow later for some corporate sorting [4.1.15], but that shouldn't destroy the main principle.)

Why Do Good?

Calvin begins his discussion about justification and works by stratifying shades of faithfulness, ranging from complete ignorance to complete immersion.  He seems to create these distinctions largely to be able to discuss the latter category – those that acknowledge Christ, and seek to live faithful lives. 

Calvin, while recognizing that some people do, in fact, inhabit this fourth faithful category, still insists that there is no merit in their actions apart from God.  He gives a nod to Augustine when he agrees that outside of God’s participation, human efforts have no worth. 
Section 9 outlines the basic value of good works:  our good works are merely evidence of God at work in us.  Rather than a system of purchasing good standing with God, anything we do to contribute to our own justification begins with God.

Section 14 really begins what feels like the crux of Calvin’s argument:  we can never repay more than the debt of service we owe God.  Calvin insists that since we owe our Creator a debt of service for our existence, we can never over-perform our service to God.  And since God enables us all differently, whatever service we are able to do at best meets our obligations.  This to me sounds like a loan we can only hope to just barely satisfy.

This chapter demonstrates the reason I struggle with Calvin’s logical approach to Christian faith (if we can agree there is such a thing as logical faith).  For Calvin to claim predestination, he must be willing to give all credit (and blame) to a cosmic system of God’s creation and engineering.  As such, anything good, bad or indifferent is a natural extension of God.  But Calvin doesn’t quite say that.  Rather, he assumes human corruption within God’s creation.  Due to that inherent corruption, we can only hope to achieve justifying works as the fruits of seeds God planted.  Since God is the source of our own good intentions and actions, our good works become more like tithes than voluntary gestures.

So, the question I might ask is this:  within Calvin’s framework, why would we bother to do good works – especially if they mean any form of sacrifice?  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Missing Link (Wild Card)

Wil Reinowski

I am a bit surprised that Lane’s guide to the Institutes glazes over Book 3 Chapter 15, and while it may be true that this does not contain information central to Calvin’s theology this chapter is worth some discussion.
 In section 2, Calvin notes that the word “merit” is not Biblically-based. Here, we have another of Calvin’s contradictions. Calvin does find that the term was used in ancient church writings, that God assigns some value to our works, but we should never see our works  as a type of Divine currency.
Section 3 is a discussion of grace. Calvin asserts that nothing that we do is meritorious enough to receive the gift of grace that God gives, and yet God bestows grace on us. Calvin says in the first sentence of this section, “Scripture shows what all our works deserve when it states that they cannot bear God’s gaze because they are full of uncleanness.” Humans cannot perfectly follow the law, but God bestows his good works on us anyway and calls them “ours.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Chp. 22 - Prayer

First and foremost, my apologies to our group on the late post this week.

Secondly, let's talk about prayer. Calvin had quite a bit to say about prayer; who should do it, why we should do it, and how we should do it. All of chapter 20 in book 3 of the Institutes surrounds this topic of prayer. The two questions asked at the beginning of Lane's book ask: why out we to pray? and in what way ought we to pray?

I appreciate how Lane has split up the chapters in Calvin to give a clearer distinction as to what he is talking about. The first chapters 1-3 speak to the why and the following chapters 4-16 cover the how.