Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.14-23)

In this section Calvin responds to four particular charges against Reformation doctrine (which is expressed in the Institutes). As the headings indicate these charges are that this doctrine is new, uncertain, lacking miracles as signs, and is opposed to the teachings of the early church fathers.

Of course, we know that the doctrine is not new, but that Reformed doctrine is Christianity “ad fontes” – a return to the sources (yes, Wikipedia is the best I could do). Calvin charges the accusers with doing great wrong to the Word of God, as that is the foundation of what is taught, and it is only new to those who have lived under extra-Biblical teaching conveyed through impious lives. This ignorance of the truth of God’s Word is what leads men to wonder of Its certainty. As men still confront the Doctrines of Grace today we can see the same effects of ignorance and impiety combining to hide the truth of Scripture from the hearts and minds of men.

The accusation of a lack of miracles only brings the rebuke of Calvin. A proper understanding of Scripture shows that true miracles are an attestation to the truth of the gospel message. Most miracles, or signs and wonders, were in times past when a great increase of truth was being revealed (with the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel). Calvin argues rightly that they need no miracles for they are simply presenting the truth of Scripture as already revealed. So it is a delusion of Satan when men present their own purported or false miracles to attest to some new truth or a truth that cannot be confirmed by Scripture, but only by the “power” that is evident by the one who presents it (charismatic chaos anyone?).

Finally the accusers would attempt to twist the teaching of the early Christian fathers if one will not “buy into” the then present teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. This appeal to authority probably sounded good to the laity at the time because they would have had no access to the documents or ability to refute the claims. But when the educated reformers came to the fore, they could easily dismantle these claims from the “priestcraft” (one of my favorite words).
In the end, all of these charges expect that one would blindly accept the authority of the church regardless of Scripture. Calvin and the other Reformers would have one turn to God Himself and His revelation in Scripture to determine the truth. This demonstrates another reason why the coming of the printing press, the translations of Scripture into the common tongue, and the writing of a work such as the Institutes – into Latin for the scholar and French for the masses, was such an important and blessed time in history.

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