Thursday, January 5, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.23-27)

In this section Calvin brings two more issues to the attention of the King, custom and the nature of the church. Calvin responds to the Roman Catholic appeal to custom (against this “new teaching” by the reformers) by stating “they accomplish nothing.” Even today there will be those that state “this is the way that we have always done it.” Whatever “it” may be, “it” needs to be able to stand against the test of Scripture, not the test of “tradition.” Conversely, those that find worship boring, always think we need to try something new, or those that think they have some “new word” from God, must hold this up against the teaching of God in His revealed Word. If we do not hold up everything to the test of Scripture, (paraphrasing Calvin) the private vices of the few, or a general agreement to vices by the many, will turn these vices into law (or custom) for the masses. Which will eventually force the few who depend wholly upon God to reformation.

This test of Scripture comes into play in the RCC’s case for the nature of the church. Calvin states for the King the two hinges upon which this controversy turns – that the RCC contends “that the form of the church is always apparent and observable.” Second, the RCC believes that this apparent and observable form must be “in the see of the Roman Church and its hierarchy.” Calvin retorts with the assertion that the mark of a true church is “the pure preaching of God’s Word and the lawful administration of the sacraments.”

Calvin gives examples of his arguments that are helpful and I won’t reiterate. One of the points to take away is that we need to remember that God preserves His Church throughout the ages. Sometimes more visible, sometimes less. And the Church’s appearance is not “contained” in “pomp and circumstance” but in Her simple, humble adherence to the Word of God in pure preaching and properly administering the sacraments (and church discipline, maybe more on that later). God knows His children, Christ knows His Bride, not in an outward show that has some worldly appeal, but in the inward (and normally expressed outward) beauty of humility and obedience to His Word no matter how the world may react.

And if the “church” loses her way and loses her “soul,” begins to believe that she is to be judged by her outward appearance and not her obedience to the Word, and then in turn teaches this to her congregants, she becomes “a deadly butchery of souls, a firebrand, a ruin, and a destruction of the church.”

I wonder if I could find any church today that disregards obedience to the Word in the faith and life of the church so that they might appeal to the world? And while they would never state it explicitly, as a rule they promote this show and appeal as more important than obedience to the Word?

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