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?