Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I’m very much looking forward to reading this book after finishing the introduction.  Here’s an edited snippet from the intro:

The reader will encounter three important themes wending their way through the chapters of this book:

First, the ministers of Geneva cannot be understood rightly unless one appreciates the religious natures of their sense of vocation. The pastors in this book emerge as men committed to the reformation of the church and devoted to the spiritual instruction and care of God’s people.

Second, it is inaccurate to portray Calvin and his pastoral colleagues as ivory-tower theologians, disengaged from the everyday concerns of their parishioners.  On the contrary, as evident in their ministries of preaching and pastoral care, the pastors of Geneva devoted much of their time and energy to addressing practical matters of Christian discipleship, enjoining townspeople and peasants alike to conduct lives characterized by faith, hope, and repentance. …’Theology for them was indeed always practical.’

Third, it will be demonstrated that while Beza, Goulart, and their pastoral colleagues jealously guarded the legacy of Calvin, they made subtle changes to the expression of pastoral ministry in Geneva in response to the practical challenges they faced.  This does not mean, however, that Geneva’s ministers after Calvin should be judged as bold innovators who betrayed Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical program.  Their innovations were far too modest for such an assessment.  It is my primary concern not to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion when judging Geneva’s ministers, but to exercise both charity and critical subtlety in evaluating the pastoral behavior of Calvin and his colleagues in light of their unique historical and religious contexts.

Stay tuned!  I’m sure I’ll come back here with more quotes from this book as I read through it: Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

 

Devoted to Christ; Serving Him (Calvin)

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles Translation) (2 Volumes) The wonderful truth of the gospel is that those whom Christ died for are not their own, but belong to him, body and soul, in life and in death (see 1 Cor. 6:19-20 and Q/A one of the Heidelberg Catechism).  This is comforting and also motivating.  Comforting because it means my body and soul are in good hands forever.  Motivating because now I want to use my life to serve him out of thanksgiving and love.  It’s right and proper for the Christian to be committed, devoted, and dedicated to serving Jesus.  John Calvin has an excellent commentary on the Bible truth that Christians belong to Christ.  It’s found in Book 3, chapter 7, paragraph 1 of his Institutes:

If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life.

We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds.
We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh.
We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him.
We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions.
We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19].

O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

Let this therefore be the first step, that a man depart from himself in order that he may apply the whole force of his ability in the service of the Lord.

I call “service” not only what lies in obedience to God’s Word but what turns the mind of man, empty of its own carnal sense, wholly to the bidding of God’s Spirit. While it is the first entrance to life, all philosophers were ignorant of this transformation, which Paul calls “renewal of the mind” [Eph. 4:23]. For they set up reason alone as the ruling principle in man, and think that it alone should be listened to; to it alone, in short, they entrust the conduct of life. But the Christian philosophy bids reason give way to, submit and subject itself to, the Holy Spirit so that the man himself may no longer live but hear Christ living and reigning within him [Gal. 2:20].

Beautifully stated; worth reading again!

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2nd ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 690.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Is He A Christian? I’ll Be The Judge!?!

Sometimes, humanly speaking, we know when a person is not a Christian.  If they say they are not a Christian, or if they don’t know a thing about Jesus, or if their life (words and deeds) has absolutely no fruit, most likely the person is not a Christian.  However, we should not go around making statements on who is and who is not a true Christian.  It’s not biblical, healthy, or productive to constantly make declarations on who is and who is not a believer.  (As a side, it might be a mark of hyper-calvinism to frequently make declarations on a the spiritual state of people.)

In Reformed theology – following Scripture – there’s a great term: “judgment of charity” (or “charitable judgment”).  This means that if a person professes the Christian faith, shows some fruit in his or her life, and is involved in a Christian church, we treat the person like a Christian and refuse to constantly doubt his faith.  It’s a covenantal concept.  Calvin talked about this in Institutes IV.i.8; Owen, Ridgley, Boston, Bavinck, Berkhof and other Reformed theologians also used these terms.  In Scripture, Paul called the straying Galatians brothers and the impure Corinthian church saints (for just two examples).

J. C. Ryle notes how the judgment of charity is a Christ-like attitude which is comforting, and which we should emulate:

Let us take comfort in the thought that the Lord Jesus does not throw off his believing people because of failures and imperfections. He knows what they are. He takes them, as the husband takes the wife, with all their blemishes and defects, and, once joined to him by faith, will never put them away. He is a merciful and compassionate High Priest. It is his glory to pass over the transgressions of his people and to cover their many sins. He knew what they were before conversion—wicked, guilty and defiled; yet he loved them. He knows what they will be after conversion—weak, erring and frail; yet he loves them. He has undertaken to save them, notwithstanding all their shortcomings, and what he has undertaken he will perform.

Let us learn to pass a charitable judgment on the conduct of those who claim to believe. Let us not set them down in a low place and say they have no grace, because we see in them much weakness and corruption. Let us remember that our Master in heaven bears with their infirmities, and let us try to bear with them too. The church of Christ is little better than a great hospital. We ourselves are all, more or less, weak, and all daily need the skillful treatment of the heavenly Physician. There will be no complete cures till the resurrection day.

J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 230. (emphasis mine)

shane lems
hammond, wi

Calvin on the (Im)Purity of the Church

I appreciate the following comments John Calvin made when discussing Galatians 1:2b.  They go hand in hand with WCF 25.4: “Particular churches… are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.”  Here’s Calvin:

We do not always find in churches such a measure of purity as might be desired. The purest have their blemishes; and some are marked, not by a few spots, but by general deformity. Though the doctrines and practices of any society may not, in all respects, meet our wishes, we must not instantly pronounce its defects to be a sufficient reason for withholding from it the appellation of a Church. Paul manifests here a gentleness of disposition utterly at variance with such a course. Yet our acknowledgment of societies to be churches of Christ must be accompanied by an explicit condemnation of everything in them that is improper or defective; for we must not imagine, that, wherever there is some kind of church, everything in it that ought to be desired in a church is perfect.

John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians – 1:2.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Calvin on the Antinomians: Bid Farewell to the Law?

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Beveridge Translation Yesterday I noted Calvin’s discussion of the third use of the law – the biblical teaching that the law is useful for us in the Christian life as a guide unto righteousness.  Right after Calvin mentioned this, he spoke against those who think we do not need the law (the Libertines and Antinomians):

Some unskillful persons, from not attending to this [the third use of the law – spl], boldly discard the whole law of Moses, and do away with both its Tables, imagining it unchristian to adhere to a doctrine which contains the ministration of death. Far from our thoughts be this profane notion!

Moses has admirably shown that the Law, which can produce nothing but death in sinners, ought to have a better and more excellent effect upon the righteous. When about to die, he thus addressed the people, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life,” (Deut. 32:46, 47.)

If it cannot be denied that it contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it. There are not various rules of life, but one perpetual and inflexible rule; and, therefore, when David describes the righteous as spending their whole lives in meditating on the Law, (Psalm 1:2,) we must not confine to a single age, an employment which is most appropriate to all ages, even to the end of the world.

Nor are we to be deterred or to shun its instructions, because the holiness which it prescribes is stricter than we are able to render, so long as we bear about the prison of the body. It does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish.

This quote can be found in John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 419–420.

shane lems

Calvin on the Great Usefulness of the Law

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Beveridge Translation In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin talks about three parts, or uses, of the law (I.II.VII.6-12).  First, he said, the law “warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. …The law is like a mirror.  In it, we contemplate our weakness….”  Second, Calvin said the law restrains people by the fear of punishment: “The law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”  What did he say about the third use of the law?

“The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law.”

The “two ways” Christians can profit from the law are:

 1) It teaches us the will of the Lord.  “It is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.  …Let none of us deem ourselves exempt from this necessity, for none have as yet attained to such a degree of wisdom, as that they may not, by the daily instruction of the Law, advance to a purer knowledge of the Divine will.”

2) It exhorts us to and encourages us in obedience: “The servant of God will derive this further advantage from the Law: by frequently meditating upon it, he will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin.  On this theme, Calvin says that in Psalm 119 the prophet “proclaims the great usefulness of the law: the Lord instructs by their reading of it those whom he inwardly instills with a readiness to obey.  He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter.”

I appreciate how Calvin said the third use of the law is the principle part, or use.  This is one reason why the Reformed/Presbyterian catechisms have a large section on the 10 commandments as they apply to the Christian life.

Tomorrow I’ll note what Calvin said about those who want to do away with the law in the Christian life – the antinomians.  Stay tuned…

shane lems
hammond, wi

Christian Liberty, Beer, and Blogs

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles Translation) (2 Volumes) [This is a slightly edited repost from August, 2009.  Note: I’m not 100% sure the opening paragraph is still accurate, since I no longer read blogs.  But I believe the point still stands.]

The Christian blogosphere and web community is filled with trends and fads – blogs have the clout and power to set Christian trends.  Though this may rub a few of our readers the wrong way, one trend or fad I can’t help but notice is to include all things smoke and drink into the blog, Tweet, or Facebook update, possibly under the banner of Christian liberty.  In the blog world of Calvinism, for example, it is trendy and fashionable to compare weak Christians to light beer and strong (manly?) Christians to stout ale.  Christians post pictures of the beer they drink for all to see.  It is trendy in the blog world to trumpet fat cigars and craft beer while even mocking Christians who do not do these things or do them in “weakened” form.

A few things have to be said to this.  First, Christian liberty is different than the liberty we enjoy in Western culture.  Civil liberty means you may listen to music “x” as long as it isn’t over a certain decibel level.  However, Christian liberty is quite different because 1) it puts our neighbor first and 2) because it is tempered with self-denial.  Calvin explains it this way (while reflecting on Rom 14.1, 13, & 1 Cor 8.9, among other texts in his Institutes, III.10-12):

“We who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves; but let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.”

“We have due control over freedom if it makes no difference to us to restrict it when it is fruitful [i.e. benefiting our neighbor] to do so.”

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it.”

“Our freedom is not given against our feeble neighbors, for love makes us their servants in all things….”

In other words, Christian liberty (as with all true liberty!) has boundaries.  Christian liberty is tempered with love for neighbor (think of him/her before our liberty) and self-denial (we don’t need to indulge in this liberty).  If Christian liberty is not tempered with love for neighbor and self-denial, it is more like an immature high school fad (i.e. the shoes or brand of jeans you wear) than a Christian ethic.

Matthew Henry, in his comments on 1 Cor 8.7-13, says it this way:

“We must deny ourselves rather than occasion their [the weak] stumbling…if Christ had such compassion as to die for them, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes.”

“We must not rigorously claim our own rights, to the hurt and ruin of a brother’s soul.”

I don’t have time to comment on it, but one other thing should be considered: it is probably not a sign of “weakness” if a Christian does not drink beer or smoke cigars – it doesn’t make him the weaker brother.

shane lems