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?
Calvin explains the answer in several ways. He explains that authority can be found in individual bishops and in councils (provincial or general) of the church. Calvin further breaks it down into doctrine, jurisdiction, and making laws. He concedes that spiritual power is proper to the church. Readers are alerted to a few warnings and then he makes a wonderful statement (what could be a relevant today as when it was written): The power of the church is therefore to be not grudgingly manifested but yet to be kept within definite limits, that it may not be drawn hither and thither according to men’s whim (Institutes, 4.8.1). If the churches look to the teaching as Jesus (the head teacher), the teachings will be sound. If we look to the early church authority of Moses, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, even they were limited to speak the words that God gave them. If we look to the apostles, we will see the same restriction. Section five begins by telling us the principles of the past(this is really timeless), that servants should only teach what is learned through God. God is revealed through Jesus Christ and the mysteries, signs, and teaching are to be learned through him The Word indeed became flesh to reveal even more. Calvin then points to the example of the Apostles. They taught only what was revealed to them and held Jesus as their teacher. Calvin gives sound words to the church universal, he uses the words of Paul: Faith comes from what is heard, but what is heard comes from God’s Word (Rom. 10:17p.) (Institutes, 4.8.9).
Calvin is relatively calm when he discussed the councils (although he does have some colorful explanations of pastors). There are early councils that Calvin embraces and reverence as holy such as Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus 1, and Chalcedon (Institutes, 4, 9.8). There are others that he does not support. Calvin tells us that not all pastors are teaching the word of God. The biggest weakness of any council is the people who don’t seek the Word of God. Calvin’s realizes it was a council of the church that decided to hand over Jesus.
Does Calvin inspire you to be a part of a council of the church? I think that Calvin seems almost reserved when he writes (compared to things like sin and human condition). I think his reverence for councils is inspiring.