John Calvin’s Influence in the Church and the World

In selecting the Reformation period as the focus of my effort, I am attracted by such summaries as this overview of what John Calvin and his associates were able to accomplish in the city of Geneva during the mid 1550’s. Remember that this was the time during which the Roman Catholic Church was instituting a period of great repression.

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The following is taken from Robert Reymond’s “John Calvin: His Life and Influence” ©2004 Robert Reymond, Christian Focus Publications, Ross-Shire, England, pgs 74 ff.

Calvin’s “second Geneva period” (1541-1564) has been generally divided by his biographers and church historians into two distinct periods: his years of struggle (1541-1555), about which we will say something, in which he was often at odds with the Little Council and with his religious enemies, and his years of triumph (1555-1564). Here again, we witness the Genevan motto, Post Tenebras Lux, being exhibited. Much could be said about Calvin’s ministry during the last nine years of his life when he was finally able to see his concern for a free church in Geneva approved by the Little Council[i] and his energies directed to his writings and to the evangelization of France. But we may summarize his accomplishments during this “Second Geneva Period” by highlighting the following eight categories of activity that he accomplished with eh aid and cooperation of a close band of like-minded ministerial colleagues (“the Venerable Company”), all of whom like himself were exiles from France, and the Consistory a new institution made up of an equal number of ministers and magistrates sitting as elders, that met on a regular basis to supervise the morals and religious life of the community:
As a result of the struggles and labors of Calvin and the other Geneva ministers the city’s moral and social bearing gradually improved, which influenced many other cities in Europe and saw Geneva as attempting to live out the principles of religious reform. For these cities, Geneva, emerging as the major powerhouse of religious and cultural reform, became a beacon of hope in an unruly world, so much so that John Knox who studied under Calvin there would later characterize it as “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the Apostles.” Because of Geneva’s reforming efforts, “the moralizing of social life, the work ethic, the prohibition of begging, aid to the poor—these [became] some distinguishing traits of the Calvinistic city.

Calvin finally saw founded in Geneva, not a new state, but a new church[ii]—the Protestant church. I will explain what I mean here. Abraham Kuyper observes:
…when the question is put, Who had the clearest insight into the reformatory principle, worked it out most fully, and applied it most broadly, history points to the Thinker of Geneva and not to the Hero of Wittenberg. …in all Lutheran countries [following the principle of Luther and the Lutheran jurists: Cuius region eius religio (“Whose the region, his the religion”)] the Reformation originated from the princes rather than from the people, and thereby passed under the power of the magistrate, who took his stand in the Church officially as her highest Bishop, and therefore was unable to change either the social or the political life in accordance with its principles.

Calvin’s “ideal of a Church, not independent of the State, but autonomous and free to act in its own sphere, came into conflict at every instant with the strict dependency to which the German Churches were subjected by the political power.” Consequently, the churches following Calvin’s lead in Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Colonial America—fearing with Calvin the “annexation of the church by the state, a secularization of [its] theology for the benefit of political ideology, [and] the dilution, finally, of the ecclesiastical dignity within the civil hierarchy”—insisted upon freedom from the powers of the magistrate insisted upon freedom from the powers of the magistrate in order to govern themselves, thereby creating the Protestant Church. And these Calvinistic churches:
Have always struggled…for the liberty, that is to say, for the sovereignty of the Church, within her own sphere, in distinction from the Lutheran theologians. In Christ, they contended, the Church has her own King. Her position in the State is not assigned her by the permission of the Government, but jure divino. She has her own organization. She possesses her own office-bearers. And in a similar way she has her own gifts to distinguish truth from the lie. It is therefore her privilege, and not that of the State, to determine her own characteristics as the true Church, and to proclaim her own confession as the confession of the truth.
With all this Benjamin B. Warfield concurs. Accordingly, he concludes:
…every Church in Protestant Christendom which enjoys today any liberty whatever, in performing its functions as a Church of Jesus Christ, owes it all to John Calvin. It was he who first asserted this liberty in his early manhood…; it was he who taught his followers to value it above life itself, and to secure it to their successors with the outpouring of their blood. And thus Calvin’s great figure rises before us as not only in a true sense the creator of the Protestant Church, but the author of all the freedom it exercises in its spiritual sphere.

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In all, Reymond noted that there were eight accomplishments, and I have noted the first two of those here. It’s true that these were largely political accomplishments. But given the atmosphere at the time, and how both the papacy and secular kings sought each to dominate the other, and to meddle in the affairs of others, this “separation” by Calvin at Geneva was a remarkable concept in the history of the church.

This “separation” of the church from under the influence of the government, while enabling Christians to influence the governments of the time, also enabled the church truly to be the church in the world.

Other accomplishments included:

* The Geneva Bible in its (original) French translation
* Missionaries to France, and the growth of the French Protestant Churches to a membership of more than two million people
* The Geneva Academy, which became the first Protestant “university”
* More than 4,000 sermons
* Commentaries on most of the Bible, plus three catechisms, several confessions of faith, and many theological treatises
* The Institutes of the Christian Religion

All of these accomplishments helped to generate the “mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization” that Philip Schaff wrote about in his History of the Christian Church.

It is not my contention that “we need another Reformation”. It is my contention that by remembering the original Reformation, that Protestant Christians can:

* Find a point of unity in seeing a common heritage in the theological abuses that the original Reformers sought to reform
* Open a discussion about what the church truly can be in the world, and the great things that Christ has accomplished through a faithful church
* Gain a better understanding of their place in history today
* Give an impulse to the forward movements of our day

No doubt, some will point to the corruptions that have happened among the Protestant churches in light of things like the development of Arminianism, American revivalism, theological liberalism, and other ills. None of these developments, though, should take away the absolute courage and devotion to Christ and the overall success that Calvin and his associates exhibited, which mightily changed the course of history.


[i] “A brief word about Geneva’s government structure at this juncture may be helpful. At the head of the city’s government was the twenty-five-man Little Council, composed of four powerful magistrates or mayors known as the Syndics, the city treasurer, and twenty others. The Council of the Two Hundred, established in 1527, and elected by the Little Council, somewhat strangely elected in turn those sitting on the Little Council. Between these two Councils was the rather useless Council of the Sixty … whose function was mainly diplomatic … Any business went first to the Little Council, then to the Council of the Two Hundred. A fourth council—the General Council composed of all the heads of households in Geneva—played a more tenuous role; in Calvin’s time it met twice annually: in February to elect the four Syndics and in November to set corn and wine prices. This little arrangement appears to be somewhat cumbersome, but the Little Council members, sitting three times a week, actually wielded the greatest power and in fact ran the city government. So, in sum, that was the magisterial system with which Calvin worked throughout his years at Geneva.” Reymond, pgs 58-59.

[ii] “The central issue that brought this about, as we have suggested, was Calvin’s years-long concern to achieve for the church freedom from the state in ecclesiastical disciplinary matters.” Reymond, pg 75. Again, keep in mind that Rome’s Inquisition was still very much in effect at this time.


The Spirit of Catholicism

In 1543 a little book was published in Venice with the title Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo crocifisso i cristiani (A Most Useful Treatise on the Merits of Jesus Christ Crucified for Christians), written by an elusive Benedictine monk called Benedetto da Mantova (dates of birth and death unknown, but his surname seems to have been fontanino) with some help from the humanist and poet Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), a popular work of piety that was translated into several languages including Croat. At first sight this may appear to be a piece of native Italian Christocentrism, part of a Pauline and Augustinian renaissance known to have been nourished by a Spanish humanist and biblicist, Juan de Valdes (1500-1541), whose pious circle in Naples had included Flaminio. But the Beneficio can be read in more than one way. It proves to have been made up from a number of transalpine Protestant texts, and especially the 1539 edition of Calvin's Institutes. Whether or not Benedetto had come across Calvin in his monastery on the slopes of Mount Etna, which seems unlikely, the Institutes was known to Flaminio.

It is hard to distinguish between the theology of the Beneficio and Protestantism. "Man can never do good works unless he first know himself to be justified by faith." Other scholars insist, however, that the Beneficio is an expression of Evangelism, a movement that was not generated by Protestantism and should be distingueshed from it. What is certain is that the Beneficio was placed on the Index and so successfuly repressed by the Roman Inquisition that of the many thousands of copies of the Italian edition that were once in existence only one is known to survive, discovered in the library of a Cambridge college in the nineteenth century. That sort of successful repression was the Counter-Reformation. (The Reformation, a History, Patrick Collinson, (c)2003, pgs 105-106.)


A different take on Reformation Day

This is from "The Heidelblog," which is written by Dr. R. Scott Clark, Assoicate Pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad California, and Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in California.

Reformation Day, as we know it, is misleading. It creates the impression that the Reformation was about "cleaning up" the church. It wasn't. There were moral reform movements about in the late middle ages and early 16th century but the Reformation wasn't one of them. The Reformation was a theological event that was intended to have moral consequences, but it wasn't first of all about moral self-improvement and tidying the ecclesiastical house. Beware all the various "Reform" movements in our churches today that want to turn the Reformation into moral renewal (and that's most of them). Beware when folk invoke a "new" Reformation who don't understand the old one. Beware when folk call for a Reformation that requires a repudiation of the first Reformation. Those movements abound.

Reformation Day, as we know it, perpetuates the pietist myth that the Reformation happened suddenly and in one-fell-swoop of religious experience (the so-called Turmerlebnis). It wasn't and it didn't. The Reformation doctrines developed gradually between 1513-21. In succession, and with fits and starts, Luther gradually realized the great Reformation solas. There are some Reformation solas with which we're not all familiar. Luther's first breakthrough happened during his lectures on the Psalms when he realized that Scripture teaches that we're not just a little sinful but that we're completely sinful, i.e., that the effects of sin are radical and affect every faculty. We're not able to "do our part" or to "do what lies within us" toward justification because, as a consequence of the fall, all that lies "within us" is sin and death. Therefore the first Reformation sola was "solely unable." This is the essential assumption behind sola gratia, the claim that justification is by grace alone. Grace, is no longer to be reckoned a sort of medicinal stuff with which we are injected, with which we cooperate toward eventual justification. Luther came to understand that grace is God's attitude of favor toward sinners. Grace isn't something with which we are infused. Rather, God is gracious toward us. He shows us favor. He gives to us what we do not deserve: righteousness and life.

Only then did Luther realize, as he next lectured through Romans that it was only by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ that we are justified. The entire medieval system was about interior moral renewal. The Reformation is that the gospel is outside of us. The Gospel is that Christ has done it all for us. Justification is solely on the ground of imputed righteousness.

During his next two sets of lectures in Galatians and Hebrews Luther gradually realized that the medieval definition of faith as "formed by love" (fides formata caritate) is false and a misreading of Gal 5. Faith doesn't justify because it produces sanctity (holiness) in internal moral renewal. Faith justifies because it apprehends Christ and his obedience and death for us (pro nobis). This is solus Christus. Faith is an open, empty hand. Faith is a beggar. Faith looks outside of itself and one's self to Christ. Faith has no power except Christ its object. Faith is receiving and resting on Christ and his finished work for sinners. Faith is a certain knowledge and a hearty trust in Christ and his gospel. That's sola fide.

With these breakthrough conclusions came others. During this period Luther came to a new hermeneutic. Where much of the patristic and all of the medieval church had read the Bible to contain two kinds of law, old and new, Luther came to see that the Bible had throughout two kinds of words: law (do) and gospel (done). The gospel is not: here is more grace so you can keep the law. The gospel is not: Christ will approve of you if you do your part. The gospel is: Christ has done it. This turn to the law/gospel hermeneutic was a foundation stone of the entire Reformation and it was adopted by all the Protestant churches and confessions Reformed and Lutheran. One of the great tragedies is that today there are congregations that will celebrate Reformation Day or who celebrate a nearby Reformation Sunday who will look you straight in the eye and tell you that the Reformed don't use a law/gospel hermeneutic.

Another global change that occurred at the same time is the turn to Scripture as the magisterial and unique authority for faith and life (sola scriptura. There's no one point at which this view developed, but it's certainly symbolized by Luther's stand for the sole and unique magisterial authority of Scripture at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Again, the tragedy of this day is that there are Reformed folk who sincerely believe that an Anabaptist hermeneutic or corruption of sola scriptura (biblicism) is the "Reformed" hermeneutic. They believe sincerely and wrongly that it means I and my Bible deciding what is and isn't true. That isn't how Luther understood sola scriptura and it isn't how the magisterial Reformers understood it and it isn't how the Reformed churches confess it. Scripture norms all norms. Amen. But we read Scripture with the church. My interpretation of Scripture does not norm all norms! Scripture interpreting Scripture norms all norms. Scripture interprets me. It interprets reality. We recognize that fact, we submit to it, we do not create it. Therefore the church has only ministerial not magisterial authority. If we're going to celebrate any day as Reformation Day it ought to be April 18 when Luther gave his great speech.


The Reformation + 490

If anybody is paying attention, the title of this Blog, "Reformation 500", is intended to focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which will occur October 31, 2017. My thought is that it would be nice to be in Wittenberg on that date, along with a bunch of other people, remembering that great challenge to the entrenched powers of that day.

Of course, it is not 500 years, but 490 years from the date that Martin Luther first left his 95 theses on the door at Wittenberg. So today is sort of the beginning of a kind of count-down.

My hope and prayer is that Christians, especially Reformed Christians, will use these next 10 years to focus their hearts and minds on the Triune God who is the prime mover in every movement in church history.


Reformation and the Early Church Fathers

In the comments to this post, an anonymous Catholic claimed that the early church fathers "are by and large Catholic," and that may be true in terms of some visible, external practices (i.e., "making the sign of the cross"), but in truth, the current Roman Catholic religion (doctrinally) is, in the words of one of the other posters there, "nowhere to be found."

This is not a novel claim. In fact, John Calvin made the exact claim in 1536, in his "Prefatory Remarks to King Francis," delivered with the very first edition of Institutes in 1536:

Misleading Claim that the Church Fathers Oppose the Reformation Teaching
Moreover, they [our Catholic adversaries] unjustly set the ancient fathers against us (I mean the ancient writers of a better age of the church) as if in them they had supporters of their own impiety. If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory – to put it very modestly – would turn to our side. Now, these fathers have written many wise and excellent things. Still, what commonly happens to men has befallen them too, in some instances. For these so-called pious children of theirs, with all their sharpness of wit and judgment and spirit, worship only the faults and errors of the fathers. The good things that these fathers have written they either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. Then with a frightful to-do, they overwhelm us as despisers and adversaries of the fathers! But we do not despise them; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval. Yet we are so versed in their writings as to remember always that all things are ours [1 Cor. 3:21-22], to serve us, not to lord it over us [Luke 22:24-25], and that we all belong to the one Christ [1 Cor. 3:23], whom we must obey in all things without exception [cf. Col. 3:20].


The importance of theology

Referring to Psalm 8, Michael Horton says:
It is theology that gives meaning to every activity of human existence.

Because we rarely relate theology to life these days (which is to relate the vertical to the horizontal), we rarely are confronted with the psalmist's reflections. We are rarely captivated with a sense of smallness that turns into a sense of significance based on the calling that God has given to us as His special creatures...

When Protestantism was driven by theology (the knowledge, study, contemplation, love, and worship of God in Christ), it provided a genuinely relevant sense of purpose and direction for worldly activity. In other words, once the vertical dimension was clearly corrected and emphasized, the horizontal dimension took its proper shape. ("Where in the World is the Church?" pgs 140, 141)


The Reformation and the Rise of Public Education

I am reading (off and on) Michael Horton’s “Where in the World is the Church”? (© 1995, 2002, Michael Horton, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), subtitled, “How to Be a Worldly Christian.” A basic theme for the book might be, “As Luther declared, “The devil is God’s devil,” so too Calvin argued that all satanic and demonic influences of evil are under the sovereign command of God and are held in check by the true Ruler of the Universe.” (Pg 17). Later he says, “The sovereignty of God is not only an essential tenet of the Christian faith in particular …, but it is also immensely practical for our confidence that God fights our battles for us.

I am aware of the intense dislike by many Christians in our day for the Public School system. Today it is largely in the hands of those influenced by the pervasive philosophies of today. But Christians need not be afraid of this.
Martin Luther persuaded the government to mandate compulsory universal education for the first time in Western history, for both girls and boys. With associates he created a system of public education for Germany. Christianity was a religion of the word, and those who were dependent on religious images and hearsay were, first of all, spiritually impoverished, but they were also culturally impoverished, and that was an important point as well. To that end, Luther’s sidekick Melanchthon declared, “The ultimate end which confronts us is not private virtue alone but the interest of the public weal,” and he exhorted teachers “to take up a school vocation in the same spirit that you would take up the service of God in the church.” Imagine the freedom that this gave to the average public school teacher! Calvin argued in his 1541 Ordinances, “Since it is necessary to prepare for the coming generations in order not to leave the church a desert for our children, it is imperative that we establish a college to instruct the children to prepare them for both the ministry and civil government.” The Academy, which later became the University of Geneva, became a model for the great universities of Europe and the New World. Many of the names associated with the rebuilding or foundation of great universities were at one time students of this Academy. In 1536, the citizens of Geneva signed a pact to send their children to the recently opened public schools.

John Comenius was a Polish reformer who sought to integrate his Reformation worldview with the vision of universal public education. He is regarded by many as the father of modern education. Advanced for the time, his education philosophy revolutionized entire sections of Europe.

Similarly, The First Book of Discipline, drawn up by John Knox in 1560, called for a national public education system for Scotland. Former monasteries were turned into libraries and schools. As Lewis Spitz states, “It was no accident that universal literacy was first achieved in Scotland and in several German Protestant states.” Far from being anti-intellectual or fearful of secular learning, the Reformers believed that Christianity could only thrive among a literate and educated populace. Their humanistic training had amply prepared them for their task; out of the Reformed tradition alone were born the universities of Zurich, Strasbourg and Geneva, Edinburgh, Leiden, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, and Rutgers. The Puritans restored Oxford and Cambridge, and the German Lutheran and Reformed churches rebuilt the decaying University of Heidelberg…

The Reformers did not merely curse the darkness; they were determined to work positively for the good of their neighbor and the glory of God. They took up the standard and raised the standards for an entire age, beyond simply lamenting conditions and proposing legislation. It was far from perfect, but it was a remarkable experiment in what can be done when God’s people are liberated by the Gospel for their neighbor’s good and their Redeemer’s glory. (Pgs. 29-31)


A really good rejection of the papacy

From James White:
Now, allow me to be perfectly clear. I reject everything the Pope says here as being true. I accept his authority to define these things for those who follow him. I simply reject that he is an authority for Christians, anywhere (including Rome). He is not the Holy Father (a term used by Jesus of God, the Father, alone), he is not the Vicar of Christ (a term describing the Holy Spirit), and he is not the successor of Peter. I reject the Papacy in its entirety and its particulars; I reject Rome's pretensions to define Christ's body, and her wicked usurpation of the ultimate authority of God's Word in matters of faith and morals. I knowingly, purposefully, and with all my heart, reject his teachings and his heresies.


The Reformation Wall, Geneva

The International Monument to the Reformation (French: Monument international de la Réformation, German: Internationale Reformationsdenkmal), usually known as the Reformation Wall,[1] is a monument in Geneva, Switzerland. It honours many of the main individuals, events, and documents of the Protestant Reformation by depicting them in statues and bas-reliefs.

The Wall is in the grounds of the University of Geneva, which was founded by John Calvin, and was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin's birth and the 350th anniversary of the university's establishment. It is built into the old city walls of Geneva, and the monument's location there is designed to represent the fortifications', and therefore the city of Geneva's, integral importance to the Reformation."

Photo credit: Reformationsdenkmal mit Farel, Calvin, Bèze und Knox (60 KB - 591x400)
© Foto: Roland Zumbühl, Arlesheim, 17.04.03

The Sovereignty of God

From Michael Horton, "Where in the World is the Church?"
The sovereignty of God is not only an essential tenet of the Christian faith in particular (and theism in general), but it is also immensely practical for our confidence that God fights our battles for us; evil can never have the last word. At the Cross, we are told, our debt was not only canceled, but 'having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross' (Colossians 2:15). Is it not the height of arrogance, bordering on blasphemy, to suggest that it is the believer's victory over demonic forces rather than Christ's once-and-for-all triumph that secures liberation from bondage? It is by proclaiming the Gospel, Paul declares in his famous passage on spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6), not by taking it upon ourselves to eradicate spiritual darkness, that God's kingsom is extended and Satan's diminished.

Often, our political causes, like our evangelistic cursades, tend to ignore this fundamental truth, so that we sometimes sound as if this latest, greatest movement (the Christian Right in politics, or Promise Keepers [or other movements] ...) of our own frenetic activity and ambitious, entrepreneurial projects will achieve the work credited in Scripture to the Cross of Christ. Or, on the other end, if the wrong person occupies the White House, we give the impression that the universe is out of control, as if God depended on us and our machinery for the realization of His kingdom. Very often, the most well-meaning believers engage in these ambitious causes with the best of motives, but the temptation is great to forget, when we lose, that Christ is still King, and when we win, that we are not.

Of course, this is not to say that Christ's triumph at the Cross eliminates our responsibility to evangelize the nations or to teach them righteousness, but it is to say that the only way we bring this victory to the nations is by proclaiming what Christ has already accomplished, not by our feats of grandeur and glory. For, unlike the "super-apostles," as Paul referred to the Gonostics, "We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).

The sovereignty of God comforts us in crisis and curbs our pride in triumph, reminding us that it is not we who determine the outcome of spiritual battles, but Christ the King who fights for us and has already secured the final victory.


Vaclav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless"

Here is a brief excerpt from "The Power of the Powerless", written in 1978, during the time when the grip of the Soviet Union seemed unbreakable:
By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety. . . .

The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the "dissident" attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest "dissent" could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.
The name for this blog, "Reformation 500," was intended to highlight both the Reformation as it occurred then, and the Reformation as I believe it must occur now.

Havel's writing is significant in that it aligns with some of the political reading that I've been doing (which I hope to publish here as time moves along). "The sovereignty of God is not only an essential tenet of the Christian faith in particular (and theism in general), but it is also immensely practical for our confidence that God fights our battles for us; evil can never have the last word. At the Cross, we are told, our debt was not only canceled, but 'having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross' (Colossians 2:15). (Pg 18, "Where in the World is the Church?" (c) 1995, 2002 Michael S. Horton, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.)

I'll have much more of this later, Lord willing.


My wife

 This is one of the best photos I've ever taken of my wife. It was March 2003, just before she went off to Iraq. This is one that I kept close by the whole time she was gone. She has returned, of course, she is out of the army now, and she is sleeping peacefully in the bed behind me as I write. In September she will begin the first year of her nursing program. Getting into that program represented the accomplishment of a goal that she had had for a long time.

This is one of the first images I've posted since trying out the new Picasa2, a photo editing and publishing tool from Google.
Posted by Picasa


Steve Hays responds to Philip Blosser

Steve Hays as posted a whopper of a response to Philip Blosser's long post on Sola Scriptura. (Blosser, currently Professor of Philosophy at Lenoir-Rhyne College, made an appearance in the comments box of this very blog, here.

I was gratified to see that Hays cited extensively from Peter Lampe's book on the history of the church in ancient Rome, which I've also cited extensively. Lampe's work is a groundbreaking work that does not simply rehash what others have said. Rather, it is a thorough and detailed history of the church as it existed in that city, as he has reconstructed it, beginning with Romans 15, but taking into account virtually all of the history and literature of the period, along with public records, archeological investigations, and tons, tons more stuff.

I would like to see this work get more exposure. It is definitely not favorable to the Catholic "history" of the papacy, and I believe the tremendous treasure of information it provides may have been instrumental in prompting Pope John Paul II to make his unprecedented offer to allow theologians from all denominations to make suggestions about "a new situation" for the papacy, in his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint.


Calvin on the papacy

...our plan of instruction now requires us to discuss the church, its government, orders, and power; then the sacraments; and lastly, the civil order. At the same time we are to call back godly readers from those corruptions which Satan, in the papacy, has polluted everything God had appointed for our salvation.
John Calvin, "Institutes", 4.1.1.


Ten theses for Evangelical/Catholic dialogue

1. We affirm that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics commonly confess the faith of the ecumenical creeds. We deny that this catholic consensus is sufficient for recognizing the Roman church as a true visible expression of Christ’s body.

2. We affirm that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone is “the article by which the church stands or falls,” and distinguishes a true from a false church. While clearly affirming the indissolvable bond between justification and sanctification, this doctrine insists that the righteousness that God requires for justification is neither attained by humans nor infused or worked internally by God into the human soul, but that it is a forensic declaration based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The Council of Trent declared apostate those who embrace this doctrine. All subsequent magisterial dedlarations, including those of the Second Vatican Council, continue to bind Roman Catholics to the conviction that the Gospel of free justification by faith alone, apart from works, is not consonant with Roman Catholic teaching. We deny that there can be any fellowship with those who openly oppose that Gospel.

3. We affirm that there is sufficient agreement on other matters to warrant cooperation where there is genuine consensus. Therefore, where fundamental catholic issues are at stake, we should indeed make common cause, and where there are fundamental moral and cultural issues involved, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have every reason to join minds, hearts, and hands. We deny that such cooperation is sufficient to declare that both communions are engaged in a common mission, part of a common church, and witness to a common gospel.

4. We affirm that the great cultural and moral crises of our age must be confronted with intellectual depth and prayerful resolve, particularly by those who have been redeemed and are being conformed to the image of Christ. Nevertheless, we deny that this is the mission of the church, for it exists for the unique purpose of Word and sacrament, fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ. Therefore, we also deny the priority of cultural, moral, political, and social concerns in determining, the relationship of ecclesial communions and the setting of their respective agenda.

5. We affirm that Christ’s prayer for unity requires vigilance, patience, and diligence as we seek a greater visible unity. We deny that this prayer has reference merely to the spiritual or invisible church.

6. We affirm that the unity we seek is determined by the Word of God, comprising the Law and the Gospel. To this Word, the church must submit and correct its understandings. We deny that unity can be achieved in the absence of a common confession of the Gospel in its essential features.

7. We affirm that individual Roman Catholics, who for various reasons do not self-consciously give their assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Magisterium regarding justification, the sole mediation of Christ, the monergistic character of the new birth, and similar evangelical issues, are our brothers and sisters despite Rome’s official position. We deny that this allows for joint communion or similar expressions of visible ecclesial union.

8. We affirm that the Commission of our Lord requires every Christian to be engaged in witness to the person and work of Christ and that this is not merely concerned with conversion, but with the catechesis and discipline of converts. Therefore, we deny that it is advisable for a convert to the evangel to remain in any communion or local expression of a communion in which the Word is not rightly preached and the sacraments are not rightly administered.

9. We affirm that the Roman Catholic Church contains many true believers, but we deny that in its present confession it is a true visible congregation, much less that it is the mother of all the faithful to whom all believers must be related.

10. We affirm that the issues which divide us are of abiding and deep significance. We deny that they are issues secondary to a common cultural engagement. The Gospel remains the jewel of the Church and secularism is, at the root, a spiritual and theological crisis that finally can only be confronted by the Word and Spirit.

From "Modern Reformation," Sept/Oct 2005


A Positive Vision

The photo that I show here is taken from my wedding day, June 1, 1987. My wife of nearly 20 years, who sees what I read, who knows what I brood about better than any human being alive, has asked me two pointed sets of questions.

1. On the occasion of the election and installation of Pope Benedict XVI, who was universally acclaimed as a brilliant theologian, she asked, "What do you know that he doesn't know?" Meaning, "why is he, as brilliant as he is, still a Catholic, whereas you have left Catholicism?"

2. Given all the dangers in our world today (especially the "wars and rumors of wars" surrounding the countries of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, but also given all the other ills in the world), she asks, "why do you insist on focusing your efforts on pointing out what's wrong with the Catholic Church?" At a discussion board where Reformed theology is discussed, the comment was made that I "risk falling into error" by focusing as I do on Catholicism. In a world where things like Islam are a great threat, and aberrations such as Mormonism and even some branches of Pentecostalism, why do you focus on Catholicism?

In answer to the first question, I'm not sure that I know anything he doesn't know. Benedict (the former Cardinal Ratzinger) must certainly be aware of the work of Peter Lampe and the other Catholic historical scholarship which I've cited below. And in fact, he must be far more familiar than I am with the scholarship into the history and meaning of the papacy. (This is not to say that such scholarship exists as would undermine what Lampe and Schatz and Duffy and the others have said, as I've quoted them before. Rather, I would be certain that further Catholic scholarship that we don't know about merely upholds what I've cited. But I will certainly look at what others want to say about this.)

I pray for the man. I pray that he exercise his office in the true Spirit of Jesus, who said, "I am ... the Truth" and who prefaced his teaching with the words "Verily verily," "Truly truly," "Amen amen." I pray that he is truthful with it.

In answer to the second group of questions, I focus on Catholicism because of Jesus's prayer of unity for his disciples. Christians have got to get their act together before they begin to face the world. Especially a world as dangerous as this one. I am not advocating the kind of mushy visible unity that says we need to acquiese to Rome, or at least to Catholicism, to let bygones be bygones, and to show some form of visible unity as we resist the forces of evil in the culture wars. Father J.R. Neuhaus, as vocal an apologist for Rome as exists today, said in his book "Catholic Matters," that
The inclination entailed in the vow of obedience is to put the best possible interpretation on the teaching in question [and he is talking about those teaching which he believes come "close" to "offending against the deposit of faith], to put the best possible interpretation on the teaching in question, to give the benefit of the doubt, to accent as best one can, within the bounds of reason and honesty, the continuities rather than the discontinuities.

I insist this is faux. Jesus himself was not unclear in his teaching. He prefaced large amounts of his teaching with, "Verily verily I say unto you..." Other translators say "Amen Amen," or "Truly Truly." Jesus says, "I am speaking the Truth to you." That is why his teaching was said by his hearers to be full of authority. If a thing is true, it speaks for itself. If a thing is not true, no amount of wishful thinking (or theological explication) will make it true. I am speaking about the true history of the papacy, as I've described it here and below. If what the Church taught about the papacy for centuries was not even true, how could it be infallible? The same kind of thing can be said of a number of "infallible" Catholic doctrines.

Yet Catholicism not only portrays itself as Christian, it clearly states that the Catholic Church of today, and its authority structure, are where the totality "subsists" of the church that Christ founded, and that Protestant churches, including, and probably especially Reformed and evangelical churches, are "ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church,” “a deficiency that calls for healing.”

This is said in spite of the fact that Reformed and Evangelical churches possess probably the greatest understanding of the true Gospel. This is an extraordinarily objectionable understanding on the part of the Catholic Church. If Catholicism is in any way a part of the church that Christ founded, it is at the fringes, and certainly not the weight at the center. Neuhaus correctly repeats the Catholic understanding when he says that "the Catholic Church is the most fully and rightly ordered" reflection of Christianity over time. The case can and should be made, strongly, that quite the opposite is true.

No less of a Reformed theologian than Charles Hodge considered the Catholic Church to still be part of the one true church. The gospel was still preached there, even though it was obscured by superstition and sacerdotalism (I intend to provide this exact quote some time in the near future). And even among those who believe the Roman Catholic Church to be completely apostate, it is still conceded that there are many true Christians within that body, who are members of Christ in spite of Catholic teaching (certainly not because of it).

The bottom line is that God is a God of healing:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

(from Isaiah 35 and 40)

The "one true church" is badly disfigured in this world. It continue to require quite an effort to "strengthen the weak joints" so that the world will see true Christianity in the church of Christ.


By Scripture Alone

Steve Hays has posted a very long response to a selection from the Robert Sungenis book "Not By Scripture Alone." I've posted a response to this, based on some of the things I've already posted here, regarding the backpedalling nature of the papacy. There is a much more detailed response to NBSA available in the Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith series by Rev. David King and William Webster.

With the combination of the reverses by what I will call "official Catholicism" (i.e., seeking a "new situation" for the papacy) and the advances in our historical understanding of the New Testament and early church times, make this a prime moment for evangelicals, especially evangelical scholars and those near to evangelical scholarship, to sort through issues relating to Catholicism and really to press for and create more public awareness. I think that "official Catholicism" needs to reflect hard on its own history and meaning, before committing to any "new situation."