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180px-John_Calvin_-_Young WikipediaThis series has been examining liturgy and Holy Communion from the Church’s earliest days through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Yesterday’s post looked at the German rite in Strasbourg which Martin Bucer revised further in the 1530s making it more Protestant and more austere.

By the time he invited John Calvin to Strasbourg in 1538, Bucer’s liturgy had changed considerably from that of the late 1520s.

Calvin and the Supper

It should be noted that, at the time he went to Strasbourg, Calvin was at odds with Geneva over the frequency of Communion.

Calvin had always advocated weekly Communion, but he had to acquiesce to the city council in this matter.

Even when he returned to Geneva in 1541, Calvin could not change local government’s mind. Their Zwinglian policy of quarterly Communion was practically set in stone.

Calvin came up with a plan whereby Communion Sundays could be staggered in Geneva’s churches, which would have allowed communicants to receive the Sacrament more often. However, the council turned down the suggestion (p. 117).

Calvin was diligent about advocating frequent Communion, not only in his Institutes but also in personal correspondence. In 1555, he wrote to the magistrates of Bern whose policy was for the Sacrament to be given only three times a year, versus Geneva’s four (p. 118):

Please, God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church; and that continued for a long time in the ancient Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles.

In 1561, he expressed his dissatisfaction with Geneva’s Communion policy:

I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it the more freely and easily.

Calvin’s time in Strasbourg

Bucer invited Calvin to minister to the French Protestants — Huguenots — seeking refuge in Strasbourg, which was German-speaking.

Calvin lived in the city from 1538 to 1541, at which time he returned to Geneva.

He approved of Bucer’s liturgy, which a friend had translated into French (p. 113). Calvin adopted most of it for the Huguenots.

His French Communion liturgy for Strasbourg (pp 114, 115):

– Introduced a Scripture verse at the beginning of the service: Psalm 124:8;

– Replaced the standard Kyrie and Gloria with sung Kyrie responsorials to a metrical version of the Ten Commandments;

– Retained the Gospel reading (Bucer’s only Bible reading);

– Added a paraphrased Lord’s Prayer whilst retaining the standard Lord’s Prayer (before and after the Consecration Prayer);

– Moved the sung Apostles’ Creed just before the Consecration Prayer;

– Added the Nunc Dimittis just before the final blessing;

– Retained the Aaronic Blessing at the dismissal.

The Peace had disappeared from Bucer’s liturgy. Calvin did not reinstate it either in Strasbourg or, later, in Geneva.

The Geneva liturgy

Upon his return to Geneva, the city council asked Calvin to simplify his liturgy further (p. 115).

In 1542, he made the following changes (pp. 114, 115):

– Removal of the Absolution after the Confession of Sins;

– Replacement of the Ten Commandments with a metrical Psalm;

– Omission of the Nunc Dimittis.

Communicants approached the Holy Table where they stood or knelt to receive the Supper (p. 119).

Calvin’s Genevan rite spread to other Reformed churches on the Continent. Even with minor local variations, the rite was recognisably his.

Tomorrow: Early Reformed rites in Scotland

Not so long ago, most Reformed (Calvinist, including Presbyterian) churches had Communion — Supper — services once a month.

Today, that tradition is changing, with more churches embracing a weekly Supper.

Those churches which have not yet done so say that the frequency of the Supper might diminish its significance to the congregation. Along with this is the rationale that, during the service, congregants will choose to reflect on either the preaching or the Supper but not both. Others say that their church’s tradition has always been for a quarterly or monthly Communion service. All of these are reasonable.

However, there is also a poor excuse, which is that the distribution of the Supper takes too much time! This lady, commenting on a Gospel Coalition post exploring the subject, supports frequent Communion. She rightly takes issue with the ‘not enough time’ excuse, pointing out:

this is the one thing the Lord commanded we do to remember Him and what He did. If you don’t have the time, please feel free to cut out the collection of money, the silly dramas [some Reformed churches feature short plays during their services], the endless singing about how great God makes you feel (not Glory to God in most contemporary Christian music), the light show, the “howdy” (greeting…where everyone walks around talking about anything but Jesus). You can’t spare 10 minutes out of the weekly hour to remember what Jesus did for you? SHAME!

However, there are deeply rooted historical reasons why Communion has been infrequent in Reformed churches.

Calvin, Zwingli and Knox

John Calvin believed in weekly Communion:

the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.

However, he was unable to persuade the Geneva City Council of this principle. At this time in history, large European cities often legislated on matters spiritual as well as temporal. The Council approved monthly Communion.

In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli took the view that the Sacrament was but a mere memorial of the Last Supper and offered no means of grace. Appalled, Martin Luther took strong exception to this and told Zwingli that ‘another spirit’ moved through him.

Nonetheless, Zwingli set a quarterly Communion observance for his followers: one Sunday in the autumn, followed by Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

John Knox promoted the Geneva pattern of Communion in his Order of Geneva (1556). Six years later, the First Book of Discipline adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1562) was issued. It called for a Zwinglian quarterly observance in Scottish cities and twice a year in countryside churches.

Communion Seasons

By the 18th century, Presbyterians in Scotland received the Sacrament rarely. Many only received it annually for the following reasons: suspicion of clergymen, lack of ordained ministers and a shortage of bread because of widespread poverty.

Scottish Presbyterian Communion tokenThese annual commemorations of the Supper turned into what were called Communion Seasons. The faithful began by fasting on a Thursday, attending a church service on Saturday where they received their Communion tokens, receiving the Sacrament the following day and a thanksgiving service on Monday.

If these remind us of revivals, that is indeed how they turned out. The same weekend format was adapted for American revivals, with a certain amount of religious enthusiasm.

Presbyterianism in Colonial America

By the end of the 18th century, Presbyterians in the American colonies held opposing views with regard to the frequency of Communion.

Whilst the 1787 Directory of Worship for American Presbyterianism stipulated the annual Communion Season, a Scottish-educated minister in New York City disagreed. In his 1797 book, Letters on Frequent Communion, John Mitchell Mason argued that the showmanship of the revivalist approach detracted from traditional Presbyterian piety. He advocated weekly Communion as a consistent means of grace.

Reformed Communion historically

There was one issue with frequent Communion, not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in the Reformed congregations.

Those wishing to receive the Sacrament were required to attend preparatory classes at their church in the days before each Communion Sunday. Ministers and elders gave tokens to those whom they had deemed worthy. The recipients were then required to present the token at the service.

These circumstances made frequent Communion services impractical.

Today’s experience

Although Communion tokens have long been history, Reformed clergy and congregations still struggle with the frequency of Communion services.

The Revd P Aasman of the Canadian Reformed Church in Grand Valley, Ontario, explains that his denomination’s Book of Praise contained a lengthy Communion liturgy and now has a shorter form. However, he writes, even then, congregations are reluctant to participate more often:

Both of these things (the length of the form and the manner of celebration) support infrequent communion and, therefore, need to be adjusted before positive change can be made.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is concerned that their congregations might have a Zwinglian view of the Sacrament as a memorial with little to no means of grace. OPC elders D. G. Hart and John Muether posit that increased frequency of Communion services are not guaranteed to alter those perceptions where they exist. Whilst they conclude that these services should ideally be weekly, they also warn:

weekly communion might tempt partakers toward a deadening familiarity with the sacrament …

Personally, as a former Catholic, now Anglican, I would agree that frequent reception of Communion, sadly, does become overly familiar and loses its significance. That is a terrible admission to make, however, it is true. I have also seen it in other Catholics during my time. When I first became an Episcopalian, my church had monthly Communion services. (That said, the 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were always for Holy Communion as were Wednesday evening services.) I felt better prepared spiritually for less frequent Communion. I could also concentrate more on the readings and sermons during Morning Prayer Sundays. My weakness, but no doubt others’, too.

I spent quite a bit of time seeing how often Presbyterian churches have a Communion service. Here are but three examples in the PCA: one has it quarterly (the Supper elements have been prepared by the same family line for 150 years!), another has it monthly and a third has one weekly.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings in this regard.

180px-John_Calvin_-_Young WikipediaJohn Calvin, who had university degrees in law and theology, was fascinated by astronomy.

He saw no contradiction between his spare time study of the stars and the Bible. In fact, studying the stars made him love God all the more.

I learned at (Catholic) school that the Bible is not a science book.

Calvin was more eloquent in his statement on the subject.

What he said needs repeating, especially in an era when a small yet vocal minority of Christians reject science. These are the same people who could not live without a car, electricity, refrigeration, central heating and prescription drugs.

Calvin’s quote recently appeared on the PuritanBoard forum, which inevitably has worthwhile threads with interesting discussions.

A recent one asked whether Christians could work in ‘Anti-Christian’ scientific fields.

A Presbyterian, ChristianHedonist (Christian Hedonism), responded as follows (emphases mine):

As a Christian beginning a PhD in Neuroscience in the fall, I am admittedly biased in my answer: Your question is a loaded question that assumes without demonstration that certain scientific fields are “anti-Christian” or contradict scripture. I would argue that (1) science does not contradict scripture and (2) it is morally permissible and logically consistent for Christians to work in all of the sciences. To go further, I would argue that not only is it permissible, but that we need Christians in these scientific fields.

He adds this quote from Calvin which I’d read before but forgot to bookmark. I’ve been looking for it ever since. So, here it is.

ChristianHedonist’s emphases are in green. Mine are in purple.

Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 1:16 reads in part:

I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words. First, he assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction. Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage. For since the Lord stretches forth, as it were, his hand to us in causing us to enjoy the brightness of the sun and moon, how great would be our ingratitude were we to close our eyes against our own experience? There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie open before our eyes. Let the astronomers possess their more exalted knowledge; but, in the meantime, they who perceive by the moon the splendor of night, are convicted by its use of perverse ingratitude unless they acknowledge the beneficence of God.

I was particularly struck by his ‘some frantic persons’ rejecting what they do not understand. True then — nearly 500 years ago — true now.

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas is John 1:1-18.

What follows is the first reading for this Sunday (Lectionary Year A).

The verses are Isaiah 61:10-11 through to Isaiah 62:3:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
   my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
   to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 62

Zion’s Coming Salvation

 1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
   and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
 until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
   and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
   and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
   that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The imagery here is rich with that of Christ the bridegroom and His coming Church, the bride. All nations will come to know Christ, His Church and her people.

Readers who have been following this blog during Advent will have read my O Antiphon series, taken from the earlier chapters of Isaiah.

The Anglican Diocese of Montreal describes the Book of Isaiah as one of an historical struggle which included a conflict of faith yet hope for deliverance in exile (emphases mine):

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah … Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.

Our Lord would not be born in the flesh for several hundred years afterward, yet, as John Calvin points out, ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ (verse 10) were intertwined then as well as now:

… the one cannot be separated from the other. “Garments” and “mantles” are well-known metaphors. It is as if he had said, that righteousness and salvation had been bestowed upon them. Since the Lord bestows these benefits, it follows that from him alone we should seek and expect them.

Of this, men are not to doubt (verse 11):

By a beautiful comparison the Prophet confirms the former promises; for he reminds the Jews of the ordinary power of God, which shines brightly in the creatures themselves. The earth every year puts forth her bud, the gardens grow green after the sowing time, and, in short, herbs and plants, which appear to be dead during the winter, revive in the spring and resume their vigor. Now these are proofs and very clear illustrations of the divine power and kindness toward us; and since it is so, ought men to doubt of it? Will not he who gave this power and strength to the earth display it still more in delivering his people?

In Isaiah 62:1, the prophet vows to preach on to the people, reminding them of God’s faithful promises to them:

He too might have been dismayed by the unbelief of that people, and might have lost courage when he saw that matters were every day growing worse, and when he foresaw that terrible vengeance. But, notwithstanding so great difficulties, he will still persist in his duty, that all may know that neither the massacre of the people nor their unbelief can prevent God from executing his promises at the proper time.

In verse 2, the prophet foretells that the Lord will give His people a new name. Calvin does not see this in terms of Christianity but as a united and powerful Jewish people of the day. After their time in exile, the Lord will be able to bring them together so that, by the time Christ is born on earth, they will be one people:

Although a vast multitude of persons were led into captivity, yet, having been scattered among the Babylonians, they were driven about like the members of a body broken in pieces, and scarcely retained the name of a people; which had also been foretold to them. After having been brought back from captivity, they began again to be united in one body, and thus regained the “name” of which they had been deprived. Yet “new” denotes what is uncommon; as if the Prophet had said that the glory of the people shall be extraordinary and such as was never before heard of. We know that this took place in the progress of time; for that small band of people, while they dwelt by sufferance in their native country, could not by any extraordinary distinction arrive at so great renown; but at length, when the doctrine of the Gospel had been preached, the Jewish name became known and renowned

Others expound the passage in a more ingenious manner, namely, that instead of Israelites they shall be called Christians. But I think that the former meaning is more agreeable to the context and to the Prophet’s ordinary language; and we ought carefully to observe those forms of expression which are peculiar to the prophets, that we may become familiar with their style. In a word, the people shall be restored, though it appears to be exterminated, and shall obtain, not from men but from God, a new name.

Yet, what we can draw from Isaiah is that God’s promises to the Jewish people of his time apply to us today as well. God will not forsake us. Calvin explains the view in Isaiah’s time and in ours:

he intended to fix the hearts of believers on the kingdom of Christ, which it was the more necessary to adorn and magnify by these illustrious titles, because hitherto it was not only obscure but at a great distance. It was needful to provide against a twofold danger, that the Jews, when they saw that they were still at a very great distance from their former honor, might not, on the one hand, despise the grace of God, or, on the other hand, rest satisfied with the mere beginnings, and thus, by disregarding Christ, devote their whole attention to earthly advantages. The Prophet therefore reminds them, that the return to their native country was but the forerunner of that exalted rank which was to be expected at the manifestation of Christ ...

He calls the Church God’s crown, because God wishes that his glory should shine in us; and in this it is proper that we should behold and admire the inconceivable goodness of God, since, notwithstanding that we are by nature filthy and corrupted, and more abominable than the mire of the streets, yet he adorns us in such a manner that he wishes us to be “the diadem of his kingdom.” Let us therefore be aroused by this goodness of God to the desire of leading a holy life, that his image may more and more be formed anew in us.

God sent his only Son to redeem Israel so many centuries later.

Similarly, His guarantee of salvation applies to the Church — and to us — today through the same Jesus Christ — whose earthly birth we celebrate at Christmas — who went on to sacrifice Himself on the Cross for the sins of the whole world.

When God says He will deliver, He fulfils in more gracious ways than can be imagined.

It would be difficult to understand the Huguenots without a few notes about the spread of the Reformation.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject, however, certain points stand out, which are necessary to understand. I read on Protestant blogs where some clergy say the Reformation never should have happened. It seems that either these men have forgotten their Church history or did not learn it properly.

The Church (Catholic at that time), royalty and nobility were the elite. They worked together to further mutual interests. We saw this even where the small yet strategic island of Corsica was concerned.

On a more personal level, there was the corrupt sale of indulgences, as if one could buy God’s pardon. Geoffrey Chaucer covered this in The Canterbury Tales, which showed how vice- and disease-ridden some ‘holy’ pilgrims were, especially those allied with the Church, including those who sold indulgences.

The revival of Augustinianism

Over the centuries, as the Church gained temporal power, St Augustine of Hippo‘s teachings from the early centuries  gradually disappeared into the background. The Bloomington (Indiana) Reformed Presbyterian Church has a good history of the Reformation, which is well worth reading in full. On Augustine, they say (emphases mine):

Augustine was led to develop his doctrines of sin and grace partly through his own personal experience in being converted to Christianity from a worldly life, and partly through the necessity of refuting the teaching of Pelagius, who taught that man in his natural state had full ability to work out his own salvation, that Adam’s fall had but little effect on the race except that it set a bad example which is perpetuated, that Christ’s life is of value to men mainly by way of example, that in His death Christ was little more than the first Christian martyr, and that we are not under any special providence of God. Against these views Augustine developed the very opposite. He taught that the whole race fell in Adam, that all men by nature are depraved and spiritually dead, that the will is free to sin but not free to do good toward God, that Christ suffered vicariously for His people, that God elects whom He will irrespective of their merits, and that saving grace is efficaciously applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. He thus became the first true interpreter of Paul and was successful in securing the acceptance of his doctrine by the Church.

Predestination was generally put to one side and semi-Pelagianism came to the fore. (This remains true today, not only in the Catholic Church but also in a number of Protestant denominations.)

Earliest Reformers and mountain influence

Nonetheless, a few men began preaching Scripture in the early Middle Ages, gathering ardent followers around Europe. In France, Peter Waldo (b. 1140) began spreading the Gospel in his home city of Lyon. He commissioned a clergyman to translate the Bible into Arpitan, so that the people of southeastern France could understand it. (The Bible was read at Mass in Latin, which many could not understand, hence the proliferation of religious art in churches, which could communicate important biblical stories and theological concepts.)

Two centuries later, England’s John Wycliffe preached and wrote that the Bible was the ultimate religious authority. In 1380, he translated the New Testament into English. The University of Oxford removed him from their faculty the following year because he called for Church reform. He then switched to parish life in Oxfordshire and Leicestershire. He died in 1384, having finished his collaboration on a translation of the Old Testament into English. The Church condemned him as a heretic in 1415 and had his remains exhumed and cast into the River Swift in 1428.

Meanwhile, Jan (John) Hus(s) called for reform in Moldavia (part of today’s Czech Republic) and Bohemia. Peter Waldo and his Waldenses, ordered to leave France, ended up in Bohemia via Picardy (the northern French province where John Calvin was born). The Hussites were acquainted with Waldo’s teachings and were fiercely opposed to the power that the German emperor and the Church shared.

In fact, the Bogomil teachings which circulated between the 10th and the 15th centuries, covered nearly everywhere in Europe where the Reformation spread. Within these regions are a number of mountain regions with independent-minded inhabitants. During the Middle Ages, a number of these people quietly rebelled against the Church and adopted what they considered to be true Pauline teaching direct from the New Testament. Some of these influences came from the Waldenses, however, others — Bogomilism — had slightly earlier origins. Bogomilism is a heresy as it proposes that the Devil created the world.  Other mountain people in the south of France — the Albigenses and Cathars — were similarly influenced by Bogomilism. What all these mountain peoples had in common — heretics or no — was their personal integrity and an austere lifestyle. They disregarded the Church and their rulers which made them enemies of both.

Therefore, by the time Martin Luther came along, there was a diverse readiness for reform in many parts of Europe.

Enter Luther and widespread Augustianism

Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, knew St Augustine’s writing well. Thanks to his superior, John Staupitz, Luther began to move from intense introspection to reflection on the merits of Christ. Staupitz also encouraged his monks to

read the Scriptures eagerly, to hear them devotedly, and to learn them zealously.

It comes as no surprise then that Luther placed a great emphasis on the justification by grace through faith. Zwingli and Calvin also held this theological principle which runs throughout St Paul’s letters.

Luther’s collaborator, Philipp Melanchthon, the first systematic theologian of the Reformation, also held to this principle. However, over the centuries — some believe it started with Melanchthon’s later writings — the Lutheran Church, much to the disappointment of its more confessional members, has gravitated towards Universal Objective Justification (see Dr Gregory Jackson’s Ichabod for more). The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church’s history explains it this way:

Melanchthon in his earlier writings designated the principle of Predestination as the fundamental principle of Christianity. He later modified this position, however, and brought in a kind of “synergism” in which God and man were supposed to co-operate in the process of salvation. The position taken by the early Lutheran Church was gradually modified. Later Lutherans let go the doctrine altogether, denounced it in its Calvinistic [Augustinian??] form, and came to hold a doctrine of universal grace and universal atonement, which doctrine has since become the accepted doctrine of the Lutheran Church.

However, at the time of the Reformation, all Protestants held to basic Pauline tenets of original sin, predestination, efficacious grace and perseverance (i.e. God will not allow His own to fall away). As for the Lutherans specifically:

At the time of the Reformation the Lutheran Church did not make such a complete break with the Catholic Church as did the Reformed. In fact some Lutherans point out with pride that Lutheranism was a “moderate Reformation.” While all protestants appealed to the Bible as a final authority, the tendency in Lutheranism was to keep as much of the old system as did not have to be thrown out, while the tendency in the Reformed Church was to throw out all that did not have to be kept. And in regard to the relationship which existed between the Church and the State, the Lutherans were content to allow the local princes great influence in the Church or even to allow them to determine the religion within their bounds — a tendency leading toward the establishment of a State Church — while the Reformed soon came to demand complete separation between Church and State.

Calvin the codifier

What Luther began, John Calvin took much further:

To a great extent Calvin built upon the foundation which Luther laid. His clearer insight into the basic principles of the Reformation enabled him to work them out more fully and to apply them more broadly … Calvin stressed the principle of the sovereignty of God, and developed a principle which was more objective and theological.

One of the reasons I believe there is an attraction of Catholics to Calvinism and vice versa is the codification of beliefs. Each has a clear set of theological answers for every human circumstance. Personally, as an ex-Catholic, I am comfortable with the content from Calvinistic canons and catechisms.  They answer the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what abouts’ just as the Catholic catechism and Canon Law does for Roman Catholics. Calvin started a deep exploration of the Bible with regard to the Protestant faith, drawing heavily on Augustine’s writing.

By Calvin’s time, persecution by state and Church had begun against Protestants. Calvin had to flee France for Basel, prior to his arrival in Geneva. No doubt that influenced his zeal and focus on his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he published in 1536, just three years after he decided to become a Protestant.  His study of law no doubt had an additional effect on the precision he put into his apologetics for the faith.

The Oxford historian Froude, although no admirer of Calvinism, nevertheless had this to say:

“… For hard times hard men are needed, and intellects which can pierce to the roots where truth and lies part company. It fares ill with the soldiers of religion when ‘the accursed thing’ is in the camp. And this is to be said of Calvin, that so far as the state of knowledge permitted, no eye could have detected more keenly the unsound spots in the creed of the Church, nor was there a Reformer in Europe so resolute to exercise, tear out and destroy what was distinctly seen to be false — so resolute to establish what was true in its place, and make truth, to the last fibre of it, the rule of practical life.” 1

This is the testimony of the famous historian from Oxford University. Froude’s writings make it plain that he had no particular love for Calvinism; and in fact he is often called a critic of Calvinism. These words just quoted simply express the impartial conclusions of a great scholar who looks at the system and the man whose name it bears from the vantage ground of learned investigation.

In another connection Froude says: “The Calvinists have been called intolerant. Intolerance of an enemy who is trying to kill you seems to me a pardonable state of mind . . . The Catholics chose to add to their already incredible creed a fresh article, that they were entitled to hang and burn those who differed from them; and in this quarrel the Calvinists, Bible in hand, appealed to the God of battles. They grew harsher, fiercer, — if you please, more fanatical. It was extremely natural that they should. They dwelt, as pious men are apt to dwell in suffering and sorrow, on the all-disposing power of Providence. Their burden grew lighter as they considered that God had so determined that they must bear it. But they attracted to their ranks almost every man in Western Europe that ‘ hated a lie.'”

Calvin’s writing influenced the translators of the Geneva Bible, the compilation of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which support predestination (Article XVII) and John Knox who, rightly or wrongly, turned Scotland Calvinist. Calvinism also spread to the Low Countries as well as throughout France, although it is a minority denomination in that country today because of the Wars of Religion.

Calvinism in France — the Huguenots

Although the Reformation began in France with Lutheranism, later, John Calvin led the Huguenots.

As I mentioned upthread, the Huguenots adopted the attitudes and teachings of the earliest Reformers. They were honest, diligent, plain-living people:

Their moral purity and heroism, whether persecuted at home or exiled abroad, has been the wonder of both friend and foe.”12 “Their history,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “is a standing marvel, illustrating the abiding power of strong religious conviction. The account of their endurance is amongst the most remarkable and heroic records of religious history.” The Huguenots made up the industrious artisan class of France and to be “honest as a Huguenot” became a proverb, denoting the highest degree of integrity

And again, “In every respect they stood immeasurably superior to all the rest of their fellow-countrymen. The strict sobriety of their lives, the purity of their moral actions, their industrious habits, and their entire separation from the foul sensuality which corrupted the whole of the national life of France at this period, were always effectual means of betraying the principles which they held, and were so regarded by their enemies.” 14


gave the Huguenots their creed and form of government. Throughout the following period it was, according to the unanimous testimony of history, the system of faith which we call Calvinism that inspired the French Protestants in their struggle with the papacy and its royal supporters.

By 1561:

the Calvinists numbered one-fourth of the entire population. McFetridge places the number even higher. “In less than half a century,” says he, “this so-called harsh system of belief had penetrated every part of the land, and had gained to its standards almost one-half of the population and almost every great mind in the nation. So numerous and powerful had its adherents become that for a time it appeared as if the entire nation would be swept over to their views.” 15 Smiles, in his “Huguenots in France,” writes: “It is curious to speculate on the influence which the religion of Calvin, himself a Frenchman, might have exercised on the history of France, as well as on the individual character of the Frenchman, had the balance of forces carried the nation bodily over to Protestantism, as was very nearly the case, toward the end of the sixteenth century,” (p. 100). Certainly the history of the nation would have been very different from that which it has been.

Today, even a number of French Catholics and historians agree that driving out Protestants represented a great loss to the nation. Expert weavers, lacemakers and clockmakers took their skills elsewhere in the world by necessity. Today, although most cities have a Reformed church, Protestants number around half a million nationwide. There are many more Muslims in France; Islam is the second world faith in the nation after Catholicism.

Calvinists — defenders of the Reformation

More on the Huguenots tomorrow.

For now, let it be said that the Calvinists left a huge legacy, like it or not. The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church offers these insights:

If the spirit of Calvinism had not arisen in Western Europe following the outbreak of the Reformation, the spirit of half-heartedness would have gained the day in England, Scotland and Holland. Protestantism in these countries could not have maintained itself; and, through the compromising measures of a Romanized Protestantism, Germany would in all probability have been again brought under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church. Had Protestantism failed in any one of these countries it is probable that the result would have been fatal in the others also, so intimately were their fortunes bound together. In a very real sense the future destiny of nations was dependent on the outcome of that struggle in the Netherlands. Had Spain been victorious in the Netherlands, it is probable that the Catholic Church would have been so strengthened that it would have subdued Protestantism in England also. And, even as things were, it looked for a time as though England would be turned back to Romanism. In that case the development of America would automatically have been prevented and in all probability the whole American continent would have remained under the control of Spain.

Let us remember further that practically all of the martyrs in these various countries were Calvinists,- the Lutheran, s and Arminians being only a handful in comparison. As Professor Fruin justly remarks, “In Switzerland, in France, in the Netherlands, in Scotland and in England, and wherever Protestantism has had to establish itself at the point of the sword, it was Calvinism that gained the day“…

There is also one other service which Holland has rendered and which we must not overlook. The Pilgrims, after being driven out of England by religious persecutions and before their coming to America, went to Holland and there came into contact with a religious life which from the Calvinistic point of view was beneficial in the extreme. Their most important leaders were Clyfton, Robinson, and Brewster, three Cambridge University men, who form as noble and heroic trio as can be found in the history of any nation. They were staunch Calvinists holding all the fundamental views that the Reformer of Geneva had propounded. The American historian Bancroft is right when he simply calls the Pilgrim-fathers, “men of the same faith with Calvin.”

Today’s post continues with a study of the verses from St Mark’s Gospel which do not appear in the Lectionary for public worship.

As such, they comprise part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for an understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 10:13-16

Let the Children Come to Me

 13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.


These verses should give comfort to Christians, particularly grieving parents, as they indicate what happens to small children when they die.

Readers might be surprised that foremost Calvinist theologians interpret this passage as a sign of God’s infinite grace and mercy to young innocents taken from this life.

Before we get to their commentary, however, this episode in Jesus’s ministry is also related in the other two Synoptic Gospels — Matthew and Luke, as follows:

Matthew 19:13-15:

Let the Children Come to Me

 13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Luke 18:15-17:

Let the Children Come to Me

 15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Now back to Mark’s account. Verse 13 describes the scene: parents — ‘they’ –were presenting their children to Jesus for a blessing. Everyone in Galilee and surrounding regions was well aware by this point in the Gospels of Jesus’s holiness, wisdom and goodness. The tradition of godly patriarchs and prophets blessing youngsters runs throughout the Old Testament, so it was a normal reaction for these parents to present their offspring to Him for a blessing.

Why a blessing? So that the children would have lifelong abundant faith in and obedience to God. Matthew Henry notes that these children were mentally and physically healthy, therefore, the parents were concerned for their spiritual and moral well-being (emphases mine):

It doth not appear that they needed any bodily cure, nor were they capable of being taught: but it seems, 1. That they had the care of them were mostly concerned about their souls, their better part, which ought to be the principal care of all parents for their children; for that is the principal part, and it is well with them, it if be well with their souls.

However, the disciples were angry with these faithful parents. John MacArthur says the Greek word used in verse 13  for rebuke —  epitimao — refers to a stinging reprimand, a verbal punishment.

In the disciples’ minds, MacArthur says, only those who knew the difference between right and wrong were worthy of being presented to Jesus:

Their world view, their religious world view was such that children had no place in the system of religion, no place before God. Not until they arrived at the point where they could do the things they needed to do to gain God’s favor. So while they had come to salvation by grace, they had imbibed so much of their former system, salvation by works, that they didn’t think children fit in anywhere.

Jesus, until this point, had not specifically addressed children and redemption. Now the disciples were to learn a very important lesson. In verse 14, He became indignant with the disciples’ response and instructed them to allow the children to approach Him:

for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

Although these children were, like all of us, born with Original Sin, they were not old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. As such, Jesus gave the indication that they are under divine protection. Extending that further, should they die at such a young age, they would share in eternal life.

Henry, a 17th century Calvinist, says:

he asserted their visible church-membership … 

He owned them as members of his church, as they had been of the Jewish church. He came to set up the kingdom of God among men, and took this occasion to declare that that kingdom admitted little children to be the subjects of it, and gave them a title to the privileges of subjects.

MacArthur analyses this verse further:

“He was indignant”… again a very strong verb, to be angry, to be irate. This is not an insignificant issue, not a minor issue. Jesus doesn’t pass over this lightly. He is very angry that they would treat children this way …

He gives no indication of the spiritual condition of the parents. He gives no indication of the possibility of faith in the parents, or unbelief in the parents, or the child’s faith, because those are non-issues. A baby can have no faith. A baby is neither a conscious non-believer, or a conscious believer. A baby is neither a compliant child or a rebellious child by choice.

So here our Lord blesses little babies who were neither believers or non-believers, neither receivers or rejecters of divine salvation truth. And again I say, this is very significant because Jesus doesn’t pronounce blessing on people outside His Kingdom all of whom are cursed. His response is anger over this because this is a very important truth to understand.

Furthermore — and this helps to explain why Baptists and many Evangelicals do not believe in paedo-Baptism:

Why? End of verse 14, and here’s the key, “For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, there are no qualifiers there. Okay? There are no caveats there. There are no conditions there. This is so very important. He doesn’t say the Kingdom of God belongs to these, as if somehow these particular babies were in the Kingdom. He says the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, meaning the whole category, or the whole class of beings to which these babies belong. Literally, the Kingdom of God belongs to these kind, babies, infants, little children. Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven and says the same thing. It belongs to such as these. Not just to these, but to the whole category to which these belong. The Kingdom of God belongs to babies. They have a place in the Kingdom. They have a part in the Kingdom.

What is He talking about? The Kingdom? He’s talking about the sphere of salvation, the sphere of salvation. Same thing He was always talking about. The sphere in which God rules over those who belong to Him, the spiritual domain in which souls exist under His special care.

Now what’s important here is He just said that babies as a category have a part in the Kingdom. They belong to it, it belongs to them, same thing. Nothing is said about the parents’ faith, nothing is said about a covenant as if there was some family covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. Nothing is said about circumcision. Nothing is said about any rite, any ritual, any parental promise, parental covenant, or any national covenant. His words simply and completely engulf all babies. They belong to the Kingdom, the Kingdom belongs to them. And if our Lord was ever going to teach infant baptism, this would have been the perfect spot. All He would have to have said was, “These children will possess the Kingdom if you baptize them.” But He doesn’t say that. This was His golden opportunity, but He said nothing and neither does anybody else in the Bible say anything about infant Baptism.

Older denominations — including most Reformed churches, e.g. Presbyterians — teach infant baptism. The worry for parents is that their child dies before being baptised. Catholics teach that a parent or other layperson can perform an emergency baptism in the child’s dying moments. Many aggrieved parents worry about the fact that their child died before receiving this Sacrament. Other adults pile on the guilt by saying, ‘I told you that you waited too long. Now look what’s happened. The child is going to Hell. You failed that little soul.’

Yet, here, Jesus gives complete assurance. He also does not speak of little children as ‘elect’ or ‘non-elect’. Therefore, God shows mercy on these little ones, despite their Original Sin, because they do not yet have the wherewithal to understand right from wrong.

This provision extends to every little child, including the offspring of pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus — and atheists. MacArthur provides examples from the Old Testament:

Another way to look at it would be in Jeremiah 19:4 where infants being offered to Molech as burnt offerings, babies being burned on the fire in Gehennaa place called Topheth…Topheth is what it was called because that’s the Hebrew word for drum and they beat drums there all the time to drown out the screams of the burning babies. But they’re referred to by Jeremiah in 19:4 as the blood of the innocent…the blood of the innocent. They are not the children of covenant parents, they are not the children of faithful parents. They’re the children of people offering them to Molech. The faith, or lack of faith of their parents has no meaning. In God’s eyes, their parents are shedding the blood of the innocen[ts].

In Jonah chapter 4, when Jonah went to destroy Nineveh, instead to tell them we’re going to be destroyed, and then God instead brought a revival when they repented. The book of Jonah closes in chapter 4 in verse 11 when God says, “Why would I destroy this city when there are a hundred and twenty thousand who don’t know the right hand from the left?” Judgment is not appropriate in that sense on little ones. When does a child find out the difference between his right and his left? Three years old? It wouldn’t be appropriate. They don’t deserve that divine judgment.

In Ezekiel 16, Ezekiel is condemning the pagans who offered their children to Molech[,] again it’s the same thing. They to satisfy this horrendous demonic fabrication of a deity called Molech or Molach, sometimes, they burned their babies…they burned their babies. And in Ezekiel 16, God speaking of the babies of pagans said, “You’re slaughtering My children…My children.” This is very much like what we’re looking at in Mark 10. God has a special place for these innocents, a special place for those He deems to be My children. These are not children of baptized believers, or covenant believers. These are the children of pagans.

Supporting quotes from the following Calvinist greats can be found in MacArthur’s sermon. It’s important to cite them here to help to dispel the myth that Calvinists are merciless, cruel people when it comes to preaching redemption.

John Calvin:

Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire His blessing but when they are presented to Him, He gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ’s fold those whom He held in His arms and shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them.

Charles Hodge (Presbyterian, 19th century):

He [Jesus] tells us of such is the Kingdom of Heaven, as though heaven was in great measure composed of the souls of redeemed infants.

BB Warfield (Presbyterian, 19th-20th century):

Their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ to their souls through the immediate and irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit prior to and apart from any action of their own proper wills and if death in infancy does depend on God’s providence, it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation. This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestined to salvation from the foundation of the world.

Presbyterians practice infant Baptism, by the way. Calvin stated that it was important for children to become and be viewed by other congregants as young members of the Church for an upbringing in wisdom and faith.

As Henry says, Baptism is considered as important as Christ’s blessing to these little children in Mark, Matthew and Luke:

It is true, we do not read that he [Jesus] baptized these children, baptism was not fully settled as the door of admission into the church until after Christ’s resurrection; but he asserted their visible church-membership, and by another sign bestowed those blessings upon them, which are now appointed to be conveyed and conferred by baptism, the seal of the promise, which is to us and to our children.

Going back to today’s passage from Mark, in verse 15, Jesus addressed the adults present. He exhorted them to approach God with the mind of an innocent. What is a little child like? He innately trusts his parents to take care of him. He is free with his love towards his parents. He is totally dependent on them. Therefore, this is how we should approach God the Father and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. On them alone, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, can we rely.

It is sad to read of adults who do not fully accept Holy Scripture because they have self-acknowledged ‘problems with authority’. They pick and choose which parts of the Bible to read and to obey. They substitute their own belief system when it is convenient for them. Yet, this goes against what Jesus said. Jesus cited children in this regard and asked us — even today — to put all our faith and trust in Him. Not doing so, He said, would be to miss out on the Kingdom of God — eternal life.

Finally, Jesus tenderly took each child (verse 16), one by one, into his arms, blessing them fully with protection, mercy and grace. This was no half-hearted pat on the back but a fulsome embrace, expressing His deep and everlasting love for them as members of God’s Kingdom.

Next time: Mark 10:32-34

I have two words for you … John Calvin.

A name with which to conjure. What do we make of Calvin, whose 500th anniversary of his birth occurred in July 2009, just a few months after I started this blog?

At the time, I was still working my way through the Catholicism of my birth and formative years up through the Anglicanism of my adult years.

Until then, Calvin was to me anathema. However, the celebrations going on in Geneva and in other parts of the world encouraged me to read more about the man and his theology.

On June 25, 2009, I wrote a piece based on an article from Canada’s United Church Observer which exploded the myths about this much-contested theologian who sought refuge in one of the world’s most beautiful (and once tranquil) cities — Geneva, Switzerland.

Although you can read more at either link, these are a few of the highlights from my post:

– Myth — Calvin ruled Geneva as a theocracy: The only public office Calvin held in Geneva was that of chief pastor and then only for two years.  The city council might have dismissed him, but they invited him back in 1541. Upon his return, he became somewhat of a celebrity and those fleeing Catholic persecution wanted to hear him preach. His writing made him internationally famous.  Yet, ironically, those who were opposed to him actually governed the city during this time.  

– Myth — Calvin was an unforgiving disciplinarian: Minutes from the Genevan Consistory Panel reveal that Calvin and the panel’s members wanted to achieve ‘healing and understanding’ from the punishments they meted out.  (What the article doesn’t say is that similar ‘vice patrols’ were in operation in most European cities at the time.  Geneva was not an anomaly.)

– Myth — Calvin was a champion of self-denial: Calvin actually encouraged the rich to be more charitable, believing that the poor were ‘God’s proxies’ sent ‘as agents to gather in what is God’s’.

– Myth — Calvin was the spiritual father of capitalism: Although the Catholic Church criticised Calvin for encouraging the charging of interest, the kings of England and France were already lending out money at 12% or 14% interest.  Calvin, on the other hand, instructed his followers to charge no more than 5% (and, what the article doesn’t say, never to collect interest from the poor).

As I would find out, the one name connected with Calvin is Servetus, who died, sentenced as a heretic, in that great Swiss city. Arminians — Protestants who believe in ‘free will’ — often cite this episode in Church history to prove that Calvin was no good. Yet, Calvin was often subject to Geneva’s City Council in matters ecclesiastical.

Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and the newly-revived Heidelblog explained the Calvin versus Servetus story on September 15, 2012. Emphases in the excerpts below (except for the subheads) are mine:

Calvin was more refugee than tyrant. At any rate, church-state relations in Geneva were fluid and complex.

The Servetus Episode

By “heretics” [Molly] Worthen presumably refers [to] the capital punishment of Miguel (Michael) Servetus (1509/11–53) for heresy in Geneva. Sadly, one thing that every educated person thinks she knows about Calvin, to quote the novelist Anne Rice, is “Calvin was a “true Christian” when he burned Michael Servetus alive in Geneva.” Even those who should know better sometimes position Servetus as if he were issuing a “prophetic challenge” to Calvin’s “overbearing dominance” in Geneva (Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 21).

Of course, the actual history is much more complicated. Servetus was a well-educated Spanish humanist, physician, and amateur theologian. Servetus published an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity in 1530. He and Calvin corresponded and in 1546 Calvin wrote to [good friend and fellow theologian] William Farel that, should Servetus visit Geneva, he would do his best to see that the heretic did not leave alive and he warned Servetus that, should he come to Geneva, his life would be in danger. Servetus was arrested in Lyons in 1552 for having published heresy against the catholic faith. He was tried and sentenced to death but escaped the prison and strangely made his way to Geneva in July of 1552. Servetus was spotted in church, arrested, and examined twice regarding his teaching on the Trinity. Calvin served as theological prosecutor on behalf of the city council. Servetus was convicted by a unanimous vote of the city council and a majority of the council of 200. Servetus was burned at the stake in October, 1553.

As a matter of history it is inescapable that Calvin played a central role in the arrest and prosecution of Servetus but it is simply not true that Calvin killed Servetus. The city council is responsible for Servetus’ death. Had Calvin objected to the death penalty it is unlikely that the city council would have listened or could have listened. The [Roman Catholic] House of Savoy was poised to invade Geneva without much provocation. Servetus was a condemned heretic. Had a protestant city failed to death a notorious heretic it would have confirmed the suspicion of Roman critics that the Protestants were nothing but crypto-fanatics, hiding their true colors under a false profession of Trinitarian orthodoxy.

In fact, the killing of heretics at the stake was not uncommon under Christendom. Rome put her share of Protestants to death (including no fewer than 42,000 Reformed Christians in the period) and both Roman and Protestant magistrates killed about 3,000 Anabaptists …

The Reformed ministers in Heidelberg insisted on capital punishment of anti-Trinitarians in 1572 about which very little has been written in English. Arguably, that act was twice as heinous as the action of the Genevan civil authorities. Why then the focus on Servetus’ death? This episode is singled out because it is a convenient way to vilify Calvin and to reinforce the stereotype of Calvin the predestinarian monster of Geneva and, as Worthen’s article illustrates, the image of repressive Reformed churches.

Another episode occurred in 1546. Clark explains:

Pierre Ameaux, a member of the Petit Conseil, at dinner party one evening, anticipating the modern critique of Calvin, complained that Calvin taught false doctrine and exerted too much influence over the council.

On the surface this seems to be another example of Calvin’s alleged tyranny but there was more happening beneath the surface. Certainly Ameaux was humiliated because Calvin insisted, but technically it was the city council who effected the sentence and, more importantly, it was part of a metaphorically bloody political fight, dating to the mid-40s, over the direction of the city and the church. This was less about Calvin’s person than it was about the authority of the church to make ecclesiastical policy. Those interested in a balanced account will notice that Ameaux was made to apologize for criticizing the city’s pastors (an office), not for insulting Calvin’s person. T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, 99. says that what was at stake was the authority of the Word.

Calvin had only been back in Geneva since Easter, 1541 and Ameaux was a member of the powerful libertine party contesting the Consistory’s authority and especially Calvin’s. Further, this episode followed a legal and an ecclesiastical case (Register of the Company of Pastors, 1.309–10) concerning Ameaux’s wife, so there was some history. Further, Ameaux was not an ordinary layman. He was a successful businessman, who manufactured playing cards, and a member of the Petit Conseil and a leading member of the “Libertine” party seeking to discredit Calvin and the Reformation in Geneva. According to Bernard Cottret, Calvin, 187, “he was sentenced to make a circuit of the city, his head bare, a lighted torch in his hand.” This is a translation of CO 21.377, Registres du Conseil 41, fol. 68.

Surely it strikes us as severe today—It wasn’t for nothing that Calvin was called “The Accusative Case” by his fellow students—but remember the times and the context. Was it a confusion of the civil and ecclesiastical spheres for Calvin to demand civil penalties for being identified with the sufferings of Christ? Absolutely. From the perspective of a distinction between the ecclesiastical and common spheres, Calvin might have had a case before the Consistory but not before the Civil Authorities.

The true moral of this story, however, is of the danger of the Constantinian church-state alliance wherein civil authorities have the power to punish heresy. Nowhere in the New Testament or in the moral law is theological heresy a ground for civil punishment. The only sphere authorized by God to correct theological error is the visible church (see Matthew 18) and their means are purely spiritual: Word, sacrament, and discipline (e.g., rebuke, censure, excommunication).

Calvin had far more influence over civil life than we are accustomed to seeing but he was no tyrant in Geneva. He was not even a citizen until late in his life. He was a sixteenth-century man and a Constantinian—but so was most everyone else in the period. The real argument here cannot reasonably be over Calvin’s influence in civil affairs or else the entire magisterial Reformation must be convicted. Where’s the moral outrage over Bucer, Melanchthon, Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger et al? ? So, we may fairly wonder whether something else is bothering so many moderns and late moderns.

Two points about the last paragraph. One involves Zwingli and the drowning of Felix Mann, falsely attributed to Calvin. The second concerns Roman Catholics in the Low Countries (Benelux) at the time. This from D G Hart, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) elder in Pennsylvania, and co-founder of the Old Life Theological Society and, yes, the Nicotine Theological Journal. He reminds us:

In the sixteenth century when Roman Catholics wanted to rid the Low Countries of Protestantism they depended on Phillip II and the Duke of Alba (Margaret of Parma wasn’t too shabby either) to implement the church’s ban on heretics. In fact, Rome’s mechanisms of inquisition generally relied up civil authorities to enforce the temporal penalties for heresy.

But, then, we also have the notion that Calvin was a socialist before his time. For this, we return to Dr Clark:

This is amusing but wrong for two reasons:

1) It’s an anachronism. It’s true that Calvin lived on the cusp of what we know as capitalism but contrary to the typical schoolbook presentation (derived from Max Weber) the connections between capitalism and Calvin are best characterized as indirect. There were a number of changes afoot in the 16th century that helped set the preconditions for modern capitalism and Reformed theology was one of them.

Calvin was not exactly a free-market capitalist but neither was he any sort of socio-economic anarchist or statist or whatever social-economic views the Occupy movements represent. In some respects Calvin was socially “progressive” insofar as he was willing to reconsider the existing order …

2) It simply misrepresents Calvin’s concerns. If there was a single potential effect of the Protestant Reformation (and other social changes that coincided with the Reformation) that he feared it was the social chaos that might be unleashed as result of the changes. He was deeply worried about social mayhem. In that respect he was quite conservative of the established order. Even though his theory of two kingdoms  (Institutes, 3.19.15) has become strangely controversial in recent years he formed that theory within a web of Constantinian assumptions about the nature of civil power and the righteousness of the civil enforcement of religious orthodoxy. Calvin opposed the Anabaptist movements not only on theological grounds but also on socio-political grounds. He, like the rest of the magisterial Reformers, saw in Münster Rebellion (1534–35) a realization of what might happen were the radicals to gain influence or power.

And that is why Anabaptists, pietists and Arminians call Calvin ‘Satan’, ‘spawn of the Devil’ and so on. He opposed their so-called interests in a biblical way.

Calvin was a complex man. Outsiders saw him as cold and unfeeling. Others, like his wife who predeceased him, loved him dearly.

Calvin had a brilliant mind. He first studied law, then read theology. He attempted to codify, as far as possible, scriptural norms. He was a product of his time. John Knox took the theology further — badly, as it happened — as did Cromwell. However, it is doubtful whether we can blame Calvin for others’ departures from his own theology.

Yesterday’s post introduced Dr J V Fesko’s objections to N T ‘Tom’ Wright‘s work on the New Perspectives on Paul (NPP).

As Dr Wright could be a candidate to succeed Dr Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems apposite that we consider his theology, even if we Anglicans do not have a say in the matter.

In any event, NPP and Dr Wright are quite the rage right now, with many readers worldwide in Reformed and Evangelical congregations. I haven’t yet seen a mention of him in our parish newsletter but from some of the works-based semi-Pelagian calls to ‘do something’, ‘participate’ and ‘take action’, I shouldn’t wonder if they have been reading him and just aren’t saying anything. This is not unusual for the Church of England, by the way.

Dr J V Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, wrote an article on the NPP for Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk.  It is called ‘The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N T Wright’ and is an informative essay on NPP. N T Wright has gathered an ardent fan club over the years; if you think this that NPP is a worthwhile pursuit, I would strongly suggest that you read Fesko’s article first before buying one of Wright’s or another NPP proponent’s books.

Today’s set of excerpts is from the second half of Fesko’s well-researched and thorough essay on NPP.  These begin halfway through the section called ‘Specific exegetical observations’.

As previously noted, Wright and advocates of the new perspective argue that the phrase ‘the works of the Law’ has nothing to do with legalism.  Rather, this phrase refers to the Jewish cultural badges or boundary markers, such as circumcisionWe must ask whether Calvin has misunderstood this key phrase.  The answer to this question is, No.  How can we determine that Calvin has not misinterpreted this phrase?  The answer comes on two fronts.

First, ‘works of the law’ (e;rgwn no,mou, ergon nomou) is not the only phrase juxtaposed with the idea of salvation by grace.  For example, in Calvin’s analysis of Romans 9.11 he argues that God does not consider the merit of works because neither Jacob nor Esau had performed any works that God could weigh in the scales.  He argues that Paul “sets in opposition to works the purpose of God, which is contained in His own good pleasure alone.”  He adds that Jacob was chosen over Esau “before the brothers were born and had done either good or evil.”[53]  Now it is important that we note that Calvin does not import the Augustine-Pelagius debate here; rather, he simply echoes Paul who defines works as either ‘good or evil.’  This understanding is not the highly nuanced definition that is set forth by Wright.  Romans 9.11 is not the only place that Paul sets up the antithesis between works in general and the grace of God.

Commenting on Ephesians 2.8-9 Calvin writes that Paul “embraces the substance of his long argument in the Epistle to the Romans and to the Galatians, that righteousness comes to us from the mercy of God alone, is offered to us in Christ and by the Gospel, and is received by faith alone, without the merit of works.”  He goes on to write, in a telling analysis that virtually parallels the new perspective understanding of the term works,  that the Roman Catholic understanding of the term is defective …

The new perspective on Paul is not quite so new; advocates such as Wright are not the first exegetes who have tried to narrow the meaning of the phrase ‘the works of the law,’ or in this case the term ‘works,’ to something less than general actions of merit.[55]  Calvin rules out that the term works refers only to ceremonies, which would include circumcision.  Moreover, it is important that we see that Calvin is using the analogia Scripturae to arrive at his conclusionsHe argues that Ephesians 2.8-9 is a distillation of what Paul argues throughout Romans and Galatians.  Calvin has not, as is commonly charged by Wright, eisegeted the Augustine-Pelagius debate into Paul.  What is of interesting note, however, is that advocates of the new perspective, including Wright, would not agree with Calvin’s exegesis of this key passage.

Advocates of the new perspective would most likely disagree with Calvin’s conclusions, not because he has misinterpreted the passage, but because they reject the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.  Though Wright does not explicitly deny Pauline authorship of Ephesians, he makes no reference to Ephesians 2.8-9Dunn, for example, does not believe in the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.[56] 

For the sake of argument, let us assume that Paul did not write Ephesians.  Even so, a thorough examination and exposition of the doctrine of justification should exegete this passage.  To ignore this passage and Calvin’s exegesis of it, and then accuse the Reformed tradition of eisegesis is once again defective scholarship, to say the least. 

Now that we have surveyed these critical issues between Calvin and Wright, we may now summarize our results and draw some important conclusions.

Summary and Conclusions

In our comparison and contrast of the analyses of N. T. Wright and Calvin on justification we see great divergence between the two theologians.  The new perspective argues that Paul largely deals with matters of ecclesiology and sociology, how Jews and Gentiles can co-exist in the first-century church.  Justification is a declaration that God, who is faithful to His covenant promises, which is a display of His righteousness, makes at the consummation of the age to vindicate His people.  The Reformation, on the other hand, argues that Paul largely deals with matters of soteriology, which are intermeshed with ecclesiology and eschatology.  Consequently, justification is when God declares a person as righteous based upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.  If anything, this essay has demonstrated that justification rotates on entirely different axes for Wright and Calvin

When we actually peer into the telescope of the new perspective we have found that it is not aimed at cosmos but instead a planetarium of their own making.  The case for the new perspective sounds quite ominous until we see that it lacks any reference to Reformation primary sources despite their repeated mantra of distortion, and that it is built upon an incomplete canon. 

So, far from a revolution, the new perspective is simply a small band of peaceful protestors burning effigies of Luther and Calvin.  This does not mean, however, that the new perspective on Paul is a harmless theological movement.  On the contrary, the new perspective is quite lethal to the church.  What makes this school of thought lethal? Is this not overstated rhetoric?  Quite simply stated, no, it is not an exaggeration.

What makes the new perspective lethal is that it is presented as a variant of evangelical theology.  Yet, the proponents of the new perspective reject the very evangelical understanding of justification that goes as far back as Augustine.  Not only do new perspective advocates reject the historic understanding of justification but they also reject the historic evangelical understanding of canon.[58]  Yet, Dunn’s commentary on Romans, for example, is included in the Word Biblical Commentary series that is supposedly “firmly committed to the authority of Scripture as divine revelation.” 

Rather than a firm commitment to divine revelation, the exegesis of the new perspective reflects the interpretation of mediocrity on many points.  Søren Kierkegaard once observed that the “biblical interpretation of mediocrity goes on interpreting and interpreting Christ’s words until it gets out of them its own spiritless meaning—and then, after having removed all difficulties, it is tranquilized, and appeals confidently to Christ’s word!”[59]  The same may be said of appeals to Paul.  Wright confidently appeals to Romans and Galatians to make his case, but he conveniently ignores Ephesians.  This, however, is not the most menacing threat.

What makes the new perspective most harmful to the church is its use of terminology.  Advocates of the new perspective use terms such as Scripture, sin, justification, works, faith, and gospel, but have given them entirely different meanings … 

It is this use of orthodox nomenclature that makes the new perspective seemingly harmless and has some within Reformed circles thinking that Wright is no foe of the Reformation.  For example, in a recent review of Wright’s book What Saint Paul Really Said, George Grant states that Wright “weighs the evidence and finds that only historic biblical orthodoxy has sufficiently answered the thorny questions of the apostle’s contribution to the faith…. Mr. Wright pores over the New Testament data with forensic precision to add new weight to a conservative theological interpretation.”[61]

Similarly, Douglas Wilson [leader of the ultra-conservative Federal Vision] writes that “while Wright’s emphasis on corporate justification is important and necessary, the way he stresses it is a cause for concern.  But in a taped lecture of his, I heard him explicitly say that he was not denying the Protestant doctrine of individual justification.  Given his overall approach, this is consistent.”[62]  Yet, one must ask, Does Wright mean justification in the sense of imputed righteousness or as eschatological definition?  If it is the former, then he is inconsistent; if it is the latter, then this is precisely the danger of which Machen speaks—orthodox nomenclature that veils liberalism.

It appears that it is the latter because Wilson calls Wright “an outstanding exegete,” who “does not shy away from showing how the text conflicts with ‘standard’ interpretations.”[63]  The trained theologian or New Testament scholar will readily identify this shift in nomenclature, but the person in the pew who reads Grant’s review or Wilson ’s general approbation may not.

Likewise, Peter Enns, [now former] professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary ( Philadelphia ) recently positively reviewed two volumes of sermons by Wright.  Enns writes, “I recommend these volumes without reservation to all who wish to know better the biblical Christ and bring the challenge of this Christ to those around them.”[64]  Yet, if Wright’s views on gospel, sin, justification, and faith stand behind his preaching, then we must wonder if Wright’s Jesus truly is “the biblical Christ.”

The advocates of the new perspective on Paul give us no reason to abandon the old perspective.  Their case lacks evidence from primary sources and has fundamental presuppositions that conflict with Scripture itself.  Those who drink at the fountain of the new perspective must drink with great discernment because hiding behind orthodox nomenclature lies liberalism, and the heart of liberalism is unbelief.  In the end, it looks like Qohelet [Ecclesiastes] was right after all—there is nothing new under the sun.

Tomorrow: Sinclair Ferguson on the errors of NPP

I only found out about New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP) a couple of years ago when I read about the controversy in some American Presbyterian denominations concerning an ultra-conservative splinter movement called Federal Vision.

I thought Federal Vision was strange. Now that I have been reading about NPP, it is equally unorthodox. It isn’t quite Catholic, it isn’t quite Arminian, it certainly isn’t Lutheran or Calvinist, but some odd theological confection which turns Paul’s epistles on their head and then spins them around. Reading about NPP is like going down a rabbit hole; you never know what you’ll find next. I am still  unsure how Federal Vision embraced NPP; maybe it is the call to political action (works!) which appeals to both conservatives and left-wing churchgoers.

The disturbing thing is that N T ‘Tom’ Wright could well be a candidate for the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Even more disturbing is that he is the leading champion of NPP, which has been around since the 1960s but has gained traction over the past decade or so.  By now, an increasing number of  Reformed and Evangelical pastors and laypeople have been reading and recommending N T Wright’s books on the subject.

Today’s refutation of NPP is by Dr J V Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He wrote a lengthy essay entitled ‘The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N T Wright’. It’s an excellent study of how unorthodox NPP is. I would recommend that anyone thinking of reading NPP books read Fesko’s piece first.

What follows are excerpts and the principal ideas, which Fesko fully explores in his article, which he wrote for Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk.  Emphases mine throughout.

Despite the fact that Qohelet [Ecclesiastes] tells us that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1.9), in recent years a school of Pauline interpreters have raised their banner declaring they have a new perspective on Paul.  What exactly is the nature of this new perspective?  One of the earliest proponents of the new perspective, E. P. Sanders, argues that the historic Protestant interpretation of Paul is incorrect.  Paul did not face opposition from pharisaical legalism; rather, the Judaism of Paul’s day was a religion of grace, not works ..

It is this description of first century Judaism that Sanders has called covenantal nomismIt is this pattern of salvation by grace, argues Sanders, that dominates the Judaism of Paul’s day—not rank legalism as is commonly argued.  A simple description of Sanders’ case is that Jews in Paul’s day entered the covenant by God’s grace but they maintained their position in covenant by their obedience.[2]  Sanders’ initial work in this area of Pauline scholarship, however, was only an opening volley.

Subsequent to the publication of Sanders’ work James D. G. Dunn carried the case for the new perspective several steps further.  While Sanders’ work focused upon the literature of Second Temple Judaism, Dunn’s own work focused on the writings of Paul himself—most notably his epistles to the Romans and Galatians.[3] …

The problem, then, in the churches of Rome and Galatia, is not one of soteriology but rather of ecclesiology and sociology.  The ‘works of the law,’ argues Dunn, have to do with maintaining Jewish identity and not legalism.  Paul’s mission in both epistles is to break down the cultural elitism and help the Jews understand that Gentiles are equal partners in God’s covenant.[5]  Though this is a brief thumb-nail sketch of the new perspective, this nonetheless gives us a rough framework out of which we can introduce the writings of one of the most prolific new perspective writers.

In recent years N. T. Wright, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, has written numerous works from the new perspectiveHis works have echoed the same charge as Sanders and Dunn, namely the Protestant reading of Paul has been influenced by alien theological issues … 

Now, this is not to say that Wright agrees with Sanders and Dunn on every point; the overall agreement on the major premises, however, is evident.

we will first survey N. T. Wright’s views on Paul’s doctrine of justification.  Second, we will then compare and contrast them with the views of John Calvin, one of the chief second-generation reformers.  By this comparison, we will be able to evaluate whether the claims of the new perspective, at least as they come from the pen of N. T. Wright, are valid.  Lastly, we will conclude with some general observations about the new perspective on Paul and its growing influence in the Reformed community.

N T Wright on Justification

The Righteousness of God

When we come to the new perspective from the pen of N. T. Wright, one does not find himself on familiar terrain.  This is due to the fact that Wright does not take anything for granted in his formulation of justification.  He writes that the “popular view of ‘justification by faith,’ though not entirely misleading, does not do justice to the richness and precision of Paul’s doctrine, and indeed distorts  it at various points.”[8]  We can begin the survey of Wright’s understanding of justification by an examination of his concept of the righteousness of God.  When one reads the phrase the ‘righteousness of God’ (dikaiosu,nh qeou/, dikaiosune theou) Wright argues that it must be read as a subjective or possessive genitive.[9]  In other words, the righteousness of God is not something that He imputes to the Christian believer but rather it is a quality that belongs to God …


… justification is not, according to Wright, about imputing the righteousness of God, or more specifically Jesus Christ, to the individual believer.  In fact, with allusions to the Reformed tradition, Wright essentially rejects the concept of imputed righteousness … 

Rather than imputation, justification is about the righteousness of God, or His covenant faithfulness, to vindicate and mark those people who belong to Him ...

Wright contends that “‘justification,’ as seen in [Romans] 3.24-26, means that those who believe in Jesus Christ are declared to be members of the true covenant family; which of course means that their sins are forgiven, since that was the purpose of the covenant.”  He goes on to conclude that “the gospel—not ‘justification by faith,’ but the message about Jesus—thus reveals the righteousness, that is, the covenant faithfulness, of God.”[16]  This, as one can see, is very different from the traditional Reformation reading of Paul on the subject of justification.  Wright is clear to point out his disapprobation for the traditional reading at various points, especially as justification relates to the works of the law and the debate between Roman Catholicism and the reformers.

The works of the law

Though not in every detail, Wright follows Dunn in his analysis regarding the meaning of the phrase, ‘the works of the law.’  Wright does not believe that Paul refers to crass legalism but instead to the cultural markers of the Jews—circumcision and Sabbath observance

Wright’s contention parallels Dunn’s belief that the works of the law were not the attempt of the Jewish people with whom Paul dealt to earn their salvation.  Once again, Wright’s analysis is replete with the allegation that Protestant exegetes have imported the Augustine-Pelagius debate into Paul’s writings.  Moreover, by contaminating Paul with these alien issues, argues Wright, both Protestants and Catholics have used the doctrine of justification as a weapon of polemics rather than ecumenism

Calvin on Justification

The righteousness of God

To see a good comparison between N. T. Wright and Calvin let us proceed to examine Calvin’s doctrine of justification along the same issues that we examined Wright’s understanding.[19]  This examination will facilitate the task of comparison and contrast between the two theologians … 

Now, it is important that we note not only what Calvin says about this important phrase but also the contrast with Wright’s own analysis.  Unlike Wright, who reads the ‘righteousness of God’ as a subjective or possessive genitive, i.e., a quality that belongs to God, Calvin reads it as either an objective or genitive of originIn other words, the righteousness of God is something that is given to man.  Calvin notes that the righteousness of God brings the remission of sins and the grace of regeneration.  This, just as with Wright, has important implications for Calvin’s understanding of justification.

When Calvin defines justification he writes that it is “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.  And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”[21]  We see in Calvin’s definition of justification the repeated theme of the remission of sins.  We also see that when Calvin explained that the righteousness of God brings the grace of regeneration that he specifies the means of obtaining that grace—namely, imputation.  The idea of imputation is a concept that Wright rejects … 

For Wright, God does make a forensic declaration in justification—namely, God eschatologically [concerning the end of the world, the Final Judgment] defines who belongs to His covenant people.  Wright says that this includes the forgiveness of sins, but he does not specify the way in which this is accomplished.  By contrast, Calvin argues that justification is a forensic declaration where God declares a sinner pure and righteous.  He bases his argument on 2 Corinthians 5.19-21 and the parallel that exists between the declaration of a guilty or innocent verdict in a court room.  The contrast between Calvin and Wright is evident.  This leaves one other issue to be explored.  Namely, what understanding does Calvin give to the phrase ‘the works of the law?’

The works of the law

In Calvin’s treatment of Romans 3.27-28 he excludes the possibility that man can in anyway earn or merit salvation.  In contrast to Wright, yes, Calvin does invoke a debate that was current in his day—the debate over condign and congruent merit.  This is, of course, a distinction that Calvin rejects.  He only briefly mentions this issue and then moves forward in his analysis … 

Now, the contrast between Wright and Calvin on this point is again evident.  Wright believes that the works of the law refer to those cultural boundary markers such as circumcision and Sabbath observance whereas Calvin believes that it is a general reference to human effort.  Now that we have set forth both Calvin and Wright on these points, while noting the contrasts between the two positions, we can analyze the differences and determine whether there is any weight to Wright’s claims regarding the Reformation reading of Paul.

Analysis of Wright’s Claims

Even to the untrained eye, one can notice that there is a great degree of divergence between Wright and Calvin on the doctrine of justification.  Moreover, the fact that Calvin does mention the debate with Catholicism over condign and congruent merit appears to lend some credence to Wright’s claim that the reformers, at least Calvin, imported foreign ideas into their exegesis of Paul.  Rather than exegete Paul with the first-century context in mind they had their own sixteenth-century issues by way of the Augustine-Pelagius debate informing their exegesis.  A careful analysis of Wright’s claims as well as delving more deeply into Calvin’s treatment of Paul, however, will reveal that Wright’s critique is incorrect.  Moreover, it will reveal the shortcomings of Wright’s own interpretation of Paul on justification.  We will begin the analysis of Wright’s claims with some general observations and then delve into the specifics of Calvin’s exegesis of Paul.

Deficiencies in Wright’s methodology

When we survey Wright’s critical statements of the Reformation interpretation of Paul there is a striking absence of any reference to primary sources.  For example, in his What Saint Paul Really Said, we find Wright approvingly cite Alister McGrath in his survey of the doctrine of justification …

Whether McGrath is correct is beside the point; he has based his statement upon primary source evidence, whereas Wright has not.  Wright does not cite any primary source material to demonstrate where the traditional exegesis of Paul is wrong or where the reformers have eisegeted the Augustine-Pelagius debate into the text.[25]  This is not uncommon among advocates of the new perspective.

In Dunn’s critique of Martin Luther, for example, he does not cite primary sources to substantiate the claim that Luther eisegeted his own conversion anxieties into his interpretation of Romans 7.  To substantiate this charge, Dunn cites Roland Bainton’s biography of Luther, not Luther’s writings directly.[26]  This, to say the least, is defective methodology.  To disagree with a position is certainly within the realm of responsible scholarship, but to critique apart from evidence is unacceptable.  Because Wright does not examine primary sources and their historical setting, his claims of distortion lack cogency; they are suspended in mid-air apart from any factual foundation.  Let us turn to the historical context of Calvin’s exegetical work on Romans, for example, so that we may see that he was not simply eisegeting Scripture.

When we survey the sixteenth-century milieu in which Calvin wrote his commentary on Romans, there are many factors to consider that mitigate Wright’s claims.  David Steinmetz notes that in the sixteenth century there were over seventy Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic, and Radical theologians who published commentaries on Romans.  In addition to this, there were partial or complete commentaries by Patristic authors from Origen to Ambrosiaster as well as a handful of medieval works.  While Calvin did not consult all of the available commentaries on Romans, his work certainly reflects interaction with this body of literature.[27] …

The advocates of the new perspective do not take into consideration that the reformers were familiar with the writings of the apocrypha—the writings of inter-testamental Judaism.  For example, Calvin interacted with the apocrypha in response to its use in support of various Roman Catholic doctrines

Specific exegetical observations

In our previous exposition of the views of Wright and Calvin, we were able to detect some differences between the two theologians.  We brought out three major areas of comparison to give us a framework in which to work: (1) the interpretation of the phrase ‘the righteousness of God;’ (2) the nature of justification; and (3) and the meaning of the phrase ‘the works of the law.’  Now, while we do not want to enter a full-fledged dissection and refutation of each issue, as others have done this elsewhere, we can make some observations about Calvin’s exegetical method in contrast to that of Wright.[34]

Regarding the issue of the phrase ‘the righteousness of God,’ we must ask whether Paul means to convey a moral quality that God possesses, i.e., Wright’s covenant faithfulness of God, or whether it is something that God imparts to His people, i.e. Calvin’s forensic righteousness.  This phrase, of course, is found in Romans 1.17 and is one of the most debated phrases in New Testament exegesis.[35]  While we can not enter into a detailed exegesis of this phrase we should note that Calvin echoes Paul where Wright is silentWright conveys that the ‘righteousness of God’ is exclusively a category that belongs to God.  Calvin, on the other hand, notes that it is not only a category that belongs to God but that it is also something that God communicates to the believer

… This brings us, however, to the second issue between Calvin and Wright, namely the nature of justification.

It is important that we note that Wright would agree that Romans 3.26 does state that God is both the just and the justifier.  Where Calvin and Wright, however, would disagree is on the nature of the justification in relation to the believer.  We have already seen that Wright believes that justification is God’s declaration that a person is part of His covenant people and that this is primarily tied in with the ultimate eschatological vindication of the people of God at the consummation of the age.  Calvin, on the other hand believes that justification is the actual imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer through faith. 

In the cursory exposition of the views of both theologians several factors emerge that demand our attention—namely the greater doctrinal issues that are connected with justification.  It was B. B. Warfield who observed that the doctrines of the Bible are part of an organic whole; yes, they can be discussed individually but ultimately they can not be divorced from one another.[37]  This is something that is a marked contrast between the positions of Wright and Calvin.

For example, let us compare their respective definitions of justification; first, Wright defines justification in the following manner: “‘Justification’ in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God.  It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people.”[38]  Calvin, on the other hand, defines it as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.  And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”[39]

The divergence between the two men is evident.  Wright’s definition speaks of identity—who belongs to the covenant—or in other words, Wright speaks from ecclesiology [pertaining to the Church].  Calvin, on the other hand, speaks about sin, the need for righteousness—or in other words, Calvin speaks from soteriology [salvation].  What makes the critical difference between the two is that Wright virtually by-passes all discussions that pertain to soteriology effectively divorcing it from other doctrinal considerationsCalvin, on the other hand, makes the connection between soteriology and ecclesiology knowing that the two are interconnected.  We can see this point by several examples from each writer.

For example, when it comes to the ministry of Christ, argues Wright, Jesus did not come to deal primarily with issues of soteriology.  Rather, Christ presents ecclesiological and eschatological issues—namely, how to bring about the final vindication of God’s covenant people.  Wright contends that Christ’s “first aim, therefore, was to summon Israel to ‘repent’—not so much of petty individual sins, but of the great national rebellion, against the creator, the covenant God.”[40]  According to Wright, first century Judaism offered three main options for bringing about the ultimate justification, or vindication and victory, of the people of God: (1) the separatism of the Qumran community, (2) political compromise like Herod’s with Roman, and (3) the militaristic approach of the zealots.[41]  These options were all specious interpretations of bringing about the promised kingdom of God’s covenant ..

Wright by-passes discussion of sin and soteriology and makes reference only to ecclesiology and eschatology.  Repentance simply constitutes abandonment of misinterpretation of the tradition as it relates to covenant and eschatology.  Absent are the concepts of personal morality, sin, and soteriology, which are inextricably linked with justification, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

When we turn to Calvin, on the other hand, we see a full-orbed and organic treatment of justification in contrast to Wright’s analysis.  For example, Calvin argues that justification is intermIt is important that we notice that Calvin’s treatment of justification rotates on an entirely different axis than that of Wright.  Notice how Calvin connects matters of soteriology, regeneration, faith, guilt, repentance, and sanctification, to justification.  Moreover, Calvin emphasizes the individual believer whereas Wright does not.  Does Calvin, however, over-emphasize the individual at the expense of the corporate body?eshed with a host of other doctrines.  He writes that “Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify.  These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies.”[44]

It is important that we notice that Calvin’s treatment of justification rotates on an entirely different axis than that of Wright.  Notice how Calvin connects matters of soteriology, regeneration, faith, guilt, repentance, and sanctification, to justification.  Moreover, Calvin emphasizes the individual believer whereas Wright does notDoes Calvin, however, over-emphasize the individual at the expense of the corporate body?

First, Calvin does not emphasize the individual at the expense of the corporate body in his doctrine of justification.  As previously stated, Calvin recognizes that doctrine as a whole is organic.  All one must do is see the connections Calvin makes, for example, with his definition of the invisible church as “all God’s elect,” which are those  who receive justification.[46] 

This idea can be further illustrated when we recall that far from the radically individualistic age in which we now live, Calvin lived in a time that was marked by corporate solidarity.  Corporate solidarity was maintained by creeds, confessions, and catechisms.  Calvin, for example, established the practice of requiring all the inhabitants of Geneva to subscribe to a common confession.  This was done to maintain the corporate unity of the city.[47] …

Second, is Calvin in error for emphasizing the concept of individual salvation?  Wright argues, for example, that Paul’s epistle to the Romans is not “a detached statement of how people get saved, how they enter a relationship with God as individuals, but as an exposition of the covenant purposes of the creator God.”[49]  Yet, Calvin simply echoes one of the major themes in Scripture—how a person has peace with God

We have to wonder at this point if Wright, and the advocates of the new perspective, are attributing a (post)modernist reading of Paul to the Reformation, which is highly anachronistic.[51]

With these issues addressed, this leads us to examine the third and final issue, namely the meaning of the phrase ‘the works of the Law.’

Tomorrow: J V Fesko concludes on NPP and presents its doctrinal dangers

This post is for adults only.

It is also not recommended for those of a sensitive nature.

What follows is the beginning of a historical study into the treatment of children and women from ancient times until the 20th century.

Lloyd deMause (pronouced ‘de-Moss’) is an American social thinker who specialises in psychohistory — uncovering the whys and wherefores of our behaviour over millenia.

De Mause leaves no society or civilisation unturned in his book, The Origins of War in Child Abuse. Although it focusses on children, you will also read men’s thoughts on women.

Be prepared for a shock.

I shall go into deMause’s ‘psychohistory’ — as he calls it — in another post. For now, here is a set of historical quotes and citations from the beginning of recorded history on men’s relationship with women and children.

I shall be censoring as appropriate for my audience and excluding the worst descriptions.  Emphases are mine. Chapter sources are given at the end.

Ancient Egypt

“The family in Egypt was matriarchal. The most important person in the family was not the father, but the mother. The Egyptian wife was called the ‘Ruler of the House.’” (Evelyn Reed, Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family. New York: Pathfinder, 1974, p. 438)

When babies cried a lot because they were starving, they were given beer, wine, liquor or even opium to quiet them; as one Egyptian papyrus tells parents about opium for infants: “It acts at once!”111

In many areas of the world, beginning in early Egypt and continuing to modern European nations, the head was painfully molded to reshape it by putting another board on the forehead so as to squash the head into the angle formed by the boards.115 ( E. J. Dingwall, Artificial Cranial Deformation. London: J. Bale & Sons, 1931; Armando R. Favazza, Bodies Under Siege. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 62.)

The Ancient Western World

Xenophon reports that the women and children were “separated from the men’s quarters by a bolted door” 3 where the men “dined and entertained male guests,” especially the young boys they used in sexual intercourse in preference to their wives.

Herodotus could admit that “a boy is not seen by his father before he is five years old, but lives with the women.”4

Herodotus tells how during wars soldiers “no sooner got possession of a town than they chose out all the best favored boys and made them eunuchs,” this simply repeated the regular castration and then anal raping of little boys in their own societies.150

Often first-born babies were routinely sacrificed to the avenging goddess. Hippocrates said that Greeks often experienced “convulsions, fears, terrors and delusions” and physicians were expected to treat the possessions and hallucinations of their dissociated personalities.14

Often women would become so possessed by their Killer Mother alters that, as Euripides describes them during Dionysian rituals, “Breasts swollen with milk, new mothers clawed calves to pieces with bare hands, snatched children from their homes” and killed them.18

Hilarion to his wife: “If it is a boy let it live; if it is a girl, cast it out.”19

Poseidippos stated, “Even a rich man always exposes a daughter.”

Children playing in dung heaps, rivers and cess trenches would find hundreds of dead babies, “a prey for birds, food for wild beasts to rend” (Euripides).24

Quintilian said, “To put one’s own children to death is at times the noblest of deeds.”30

Martialis: “How pitiful, to be the owner of thirty girls and thirty boys and have only one [male member].”46

Petronius depicts men raping a seven-year-old girl, with women happily clapping in a long line around the bed.48

“It was not uncommon, since Greek girls married very early, for them to play with their dolls up to the time of their marriage.”56 (Philip E. Slater, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 24.)

Plutarch said boys should be taught about being raped to “put up with it; not as a pleasure, but as a duty.”62

Plutarch and others wrote essays on what was the best kind of person a father should give his son over for raping.

Plutarch wrote: “Genuine love has no connections whatsoever with the women’s quarters.”85

Plutarch reports that “if a woman left the house in daylight she had to be chaperoned” to avoid rape.103

Homer’s word for “wife” damar, means “broken into submission.”

Ovid wrote in his Art of Love: “Love is a kind of war”

Ovid describes how children were often terrorized by saying they would at night be eaten by witches, strigae.122

Hipponax put it, “There are only two happy days in man’s life with a woman: The day he marries her and the day he buries her.”97

Men say they split their relationship with women into three parts: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, slave concubines for the daily care of our bodies, and wives for the bearing of legitimate children.”100 (Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece, p. 268)

Solon passed a law decreeing that “a man should consort with his wife not less than three times a month—not for pleasure surely, but as cities renew their agreements from time to time.102

Women rarely learned to read, since “He who teaches letters to his wife is giving poison to a snake.”106 (Jack Holland, Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2006, p. 21)

Juvenal’s plays portray the fears of all men in early states, concluding that “A wife is a tyrant…Cruelty is natural to women: they torment their husbands, whip the housekeeper, and enjoy having slaves flogged almost to death…their sexual lusts are disgusting.”107

Tacitus said, “At birth our children are handed over to some silly little Greek serving girl—but more often they were sent out and not seen for years.”108

Philo wrote: “It is right that parents should rebuke their children, beat them, disgrace them and imprison them…If they still rebel, the law permits that they even be punished with death.”117

Seneca described the public floggings of children in Sparta, where it was considered patriotic to beat children to death in public squares.

In Athens, over 800 portrayals have survived of Greek heroes stabbing and clubbing Amazons to death.”134

If a young woman should simply speak to someone who was not approved by her father, that was enough of a sin for Constantine, the first Christian emperor, to decree a penalty of “death by having molten lead poured down her throat.”15

Ancient India

[T]he Mahabharata says, “Let the man of thirty years wed a ten-year-old wife, or let the man of twenty-one get one seven years old.”57

All kinds of rationalizations were given early marriage, as when Indian mothers married off their daughters at age seven because otherwise “the men of the family” might rape her “if she was left home alone for an hour.”59 (Lloyd deMause, “The Universality of Incest,” p. 136, 142-5.)

one Indian proverb has it, “For a girl to be a virgin at ten years old, she must have neither brothers nor cousins nor father.”60

Early Doctors of the Church

Tertullian told Romans, “Although you are forbidden by the laws to slay new-born infants, it so happens that no laws are evaded with more impunity.”26

Women, said Tertullian, were “irrational, more prone to lust than men, and at every turn waiting to seduce men,” so husbands had to beat them all the time to keep them from sinning.5

Everyone agreed girls should be fed less than boys; as Jerome put it, ‘Let her meals always leave her hungry.’”3

John Chrysostom maintained, “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable.”8

John Chrysostom tells believers to “constantly think on death, speak of it all the time, visit tombs and attend to dying people, because nothing is so edifying as watching impious people die.”185

Augustine put it, “If the infant is left to do what he wants, there is no crime it will not plunge into.”11

The Aztecs

“The trinity of war, sacrifice and cannibalism made up a combined religious service…the Aztec state existed solely to produce sacrificial victims.”148 (Burr Cartwright Brundage, The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979, p. 195)

Aztec armies would even fight “Flower Wars” where they would split into smaller groups and kill their own fellow soldiers in order to feed the goddess.154

Christians during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Teaching girls in schools was not allowed, Aelred said (1170), because the teacher might be tempted to show them affection.

Peter Damian said in the 11th century that sex with boys in monasteries usually “rages like a bloodthirsty beast,” yet only the boys and not the priests were punished.158

When their children returned from the wet-nurse, mothers in the Renaissance followed the prescriptions of friars like Dominici [St Dominic] to avoid “hugging and kissing them” so they won’t be “sensual,” and instead “scare them with a dozen bogies [bogeymen],” to make them more fearful.26

Giraldus Cambrensis relates that the English sold great numbers of their children to the Irish as slaves as late as the 12th century.80

[Bernard] of Siena said fathers regularly “pimped” their own sons for money, and mothers colluded in the sexual use of their boys, giving them a separate bedroom on the ground floor so rapists could more easily use him sexually.137

[Bernard] of Siena could still complain about fathers who “make pimps” of their own sons, saying boys were so likely to be raped in the streets that “a boy can’t even pass nearby without having a sodomite on his tail” and urging mothers to “send your girls out instead…This is less evil.”153

As Henry Suso [Heinrich Seuse] put it: “Suffering quells my anger [and] makes me no part of the world.”175

Medieval clerics themselves said most Christians suffered from acedia, “a disgust of the heart, an enormous loathing of yourself, your soul is torn to pieces, sad and embittered.”166 Doctors during the medieval period said that most of their emotionally ill patients were either “melancholic” or “manic.”167

Even by the 16th century, a priest admitted that “the latrines resound with the cries of children who have been plunged into them.”50

Jean Bodin spoke of “the husband’s power over the wife as the source and origin of every human society.”67

The Reformers

Luther may have been one of the first fathers to spend time with and to teach his children, but because his mother had thrashed him “until his blood flowed” he also beat his own children, and his teaching goal was mainly to show them from the Bible how sinful their every act was.47

Luther claimed his wife Kate only existed as a housewife and mother, saying, “Take women from their housewifery and they are good for nothing.”48

John Calvin decreed: “Those children who violate parental authority are monsters. Therefore the Lord commands all those who are disobedient to their parents to be put to death.”14

Colonial America

If the parents’ regular beating of their children still did not result in obedience, the child should be “put to death [if they] curse or smite their father or mother,” according for instance to a 1646 Massachusetts law.93

Thinkers of the Enlightenment and Romanticists

One [mother] is praised by Locke because she was “forced to whip her little daughter at first coming home from Nurse, eight times successively…before she could master her Stubbornness.“66

Rousseau, who became famous for saying that mothers should nurse their children, sent all five of his own children to foundling homes. He also declared that “woman is made specially to please man and to be subjugated.”19

Talleyrand wasn’t that unusual in stating that he “had never slept under the same roof with his father and mother.”22

Most parents agreed with the French musician and mathematician Vandermonde in 1756 who admitted, “One blushes to think of loving one’s children.”29

As Kant declared, wars are needed because “prolonged peace favors effeminacy.”40

[Giacomo] Leopardi said his mother “experienced a deep happiness when she saw the death of one of her infants approaching.”3

Patriarchal fathers considered their children from their earliest years as theirs to beat, as with this British father:

“A gentleman was playing with his child of a year old, who began to cry. He ordered silence; the child did not obey; the father then began to whip it, but this terrified the child and increased its cries. The father thought the child would be ruined unless it was made to yield, and renewed his chastisement with increased severity. On undressing it, a pin was discovered sticking into its back.”36

(Albertine Adrienne Necker, Progressive Education, Commencing with the Infant. Boston: W. D. Ticknor, 1835, p. 180)

Doctors well into the nineteenth century thought having sexual intercourse with three-year-old girls was a good idea because it was “instructive to familiarize them with carnal matters…”91

The belief that “one could cure venereal disease” by means of sexual intercourse with children”96 was of course one of the main underlying motivations for the frequency of paternal abuse, in addition to the need of fathers to prove their masculinity.

Non-conformist Christians

[A]s John Wesley put it, “Never, on any account, give a child anything that it cries for…If you give a child what he cries for, you pay him for crying.”91

20th century parents

When in 1908 incest was finally made a criminal offense in England, it was considered a minor felony, rarely prosecuted.83

Even when a British study in 1991 found 45 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys admitting to remembering having been sexually abused as children (the actual rates being much higher due to underreporting and repression), British doctors surveyed at that time said they thought the sexual abuse rate was probably “less than one percent.”78

Sexual abuse of little children is still routine in the rest of the world, starting with Asian maternal masturbation of little children from India to Japan.80

[Prior to the Great War] Germans feared women would “take over men” and “oversexed wives would threaten her husband’s life with her insatiable erotic demands.’52 Females were depicted in art and cinema as vampires devouring helpless men.53 “On the eve of the 20th century, the image of the New Woman was widespread…university-educated and sexually independent, she engendered intense hostility and fear as she seemed to challenge male supremacy and turn the world upside down.”54

The origin of [John F] Kennedy’s need to prove his masculinity was his early child abuse. His mother had battered him as a child with coat hangers and belts, his father smashed his childrens’ heads against walls, so that his resulting fears of impotence made him fill the White House during evenings with sexual partners to demonstrate how hyper-masculine he was.101

Lyndon Johnson had an alcoholic father who whipped him with a razor strap and an abandoning, overcontrolling, disrespectful mother who sometimes “walked around the house pretending I was dead.”110 His mother was described as “tough, stern, unyielding, obstinate, domineering.”111 He kept running away from home because he felt “smothered … oscillating between grandiosity and gloom and always questioning his worth.”112 Like Kennedy, he had to have many sexual affairs to prove his masculinity.113

John McCain described his parents as beating him so hard that he often passed out as he held his breath during the beatings. He reports they punished him for holding his breath and passing out by filling the bathtub with ice cold water and throwing him in while unconscious, fully clothed.129  He says “this went on for some time until I was finally ‘cured.’ Whenever I worked myself into a tiny rage, my mother shouted to my father, ‘Get the water!’ Moments later I would find myself thrashing, wide-eyed and gasping for breath, in a tub of icy-cold water.”130

The advance in the Soviet Union from abandonment of children in street gangs and “round-the-clock boarding schools” to actual family care of children began to take place in the 1970s,128 resulting in a switch in parenting from traditional “hardening” childrearing like that experienced by Joseph Stalin—who was “kicked and tried to be killed”—to that of Gorbachev—who was treated with respect and was remembered as being “very joyful” as a child.129

Tony Blair recently admitted on television that he hit his one-year-old baby “to discipline him,” explaining that “I had to hit him, because he could not talk.”37

A recent survey of 652 Palestinian undergraduates asking if they recalled sexual abuse showed 18.6 percent said they had been used sexually by a family member, 36. 2 percent by a relative and 45.6 percent by a stranger.147 … In many Islamic areas 90 percent of the women surveyed say they have genitally mutilated all of their daughters.151

For further reading:

Chapter 8: Infanticide, Child Rape and War in Early States (quotes and footnotes for Ancient Egypt, Ancient Western World, first Tertullian quote in Early Doctors of the Church and The Aztecs)

Chapter 9: Bipolar Christianity: How Torturing “Sinful” Children Produced Holy Wars (quotes and footnotes for Constantine in Ancient Western World, Early Doctors of the Church, Christians during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, The Reformers, Colonial America, Thinkers of the Enlightenment and Romanticists for the Locke quote, Non-conformist Christians)

Chapter 10: Patriarchal Families and National Wars (quotes and footnotes for The Reformers’ Luther quotes, Christians during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for the Jean Bodin quote, Thinkers of the Enlightenment and Romanticists for citations other than Locke’s, 20th Century Parents)

Chapter 11: Global Wars to Restore US Masculinity (quotes for 20th Century Parents — footnote sources are brief, as they are included in de Mause’s books listed at the end)

Tomorrow: More on the global history of the abuse of children and women

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