In addressing the King of France, King Francis I, we are once again given a reason for the writing of the Institutes – “to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.” Especially for his French countrymen, longing to learn of Christ, but who had barely been taught anything of Him. Appropriate as we begin a study of the Institutes, as we might think much the same of what passes for Christianity in America today, where the list of professing Christians may be long but the true teaching of the doctrines of Scripture is shallow.
Even further, those who professed a doctrine similar to Calvin found themselves under intense persecution at this time. Calvin appeals to King Francis to inquire into this persecution, to understand that as King he is a minister of God to restrain evil, and to examine the Institutes by the analogy of faith – or against Scripture, not against the words of their oppressors. Calvin himself had been forced to flee France after an address by Nicolas Cop, influenced by if not written by Calvin, calling for reform of the Roman Catholic Church and defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Calvin reveals at the end of this section the error of the priests that are behind the persecution of the Protestants. All other errors of the Roman Catholic Church listed are not as destructive as the primary one – that the priests are not concerned with what men believe regarding God and Christ, as long as they submit to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If the leadership of a church or denomination can be moved by the truth of Scripture to reform their doctrine than there is hope. When blind allegiance to the church is required of the laity, then a persecuted minority is likely to be the result.
Thankfully, we do not have this sort of structured and violent persecution today (at least in America). But is it the case that there is a broad evangelical “church” that has determined that to fight over the particulars of belief concerning God and Christ are unnecessary? And persecution comes when we don’t submit to the most important thing to the postmodern mind - to submit to no authority at all?