Saturday, January 7, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.27-31)

In our final entry on Calvin’s prefatory letter to King James we have Calvin refuting alleged insurrection on the part of protestants and beseeching the King to rule justly in these matters.

There was a faction of radical reformers, the catabaptists (Anabaptists to us), that would divorce themselves from earthly rule and were proving troublesome to the King. Calvin discusses how groups such as this were stirred up by Satan, who could sense true reformation coming and would use men associated or within the church to bring about trouble for the “true seed.” For the true seed should not be found causing trouble for the governments of the world, but giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, found to be law-abiding citizen, and praying for their leaders – familial, ecclesial, and civil.

And in the irony of this worldly system, unregenerate men are often raised up within the church to bring trouble upon the true seed, and other unregenerate men then bring trouble upon the unregenerate men that are bringing trouble within the church (along with the true seed). The blind attacking the blind, with those that can see getting caught in the fray - while we walk amongst them commanding them to see. Sometimes it is easier to do what we are commanded if we remember the occasional thump we receive is because we are dealing with the blind. And once we were them.

But lest we get too sympathetic (or is it empathetic? I never quite remember) there are fools out there too. There are those that will say “I’m not under the law, I’m under grace, so cut me some slack on this sin stuff,” or “I see a lot of sin out there, but it’s ok because it just shows more of God’s grace.” Men “creep” into the church and teach all sorts of foolishness because the natural man will love it, and it will keep the foolish, false teacher with a fat head or a fat belly.

In this case in France, it was the perfect time for rebellious men to find some rebellious leaders that would tell them that Christianity was all about taking down the “evil” government. But this isn’t the goal of the true seed. Calvin’s Institutes will the apology for the true seed’s doctrine.

And so Calvin asks the King to check these accusations against the protestants against the truth of the doctrine which will be presented. Also, check to make sure that the right party is being accused when accusations are made. Calvin notes that King Francis opinion is turned against them at this time but believes that his favor can be regained if he will read this confession in a “quiet, composed mood.” I trust that everyone who reads the Institutes in such a manner will be moved, by God’s grace, to find the truth presented herein.

So, we have come to the conclusion of the Prefatory Address to the King of France. End of Week 1. I can tell you now that I had not really prepared myself for the preface. I thought I would just dig in to the Books and hadn’t anticipated blogging on this material. I hope it has been a bit helpful in making connections. I’m still working through whether this is going to be like Cliff’s Notes or my own ramblings. :) Until next week.

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?

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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.9-14)

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?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Institutes, To the Reader (1.3-8)

And so it begins. For Calvin it begins with a few notes to the reader (1559 edition). Due to the success of the first edition of the Institutes (1536), Calvin was encouraged to improve upon his work throughout later publications. We learn that Calvin was never fully satisfied with the Institutes until the arrangement of the order in this edition.

Throughout his personal trials of sickness and attack from enemies we find Calvin relating his hopes for this work – to bear “some richer fruit for the Church of God than heretofore,” “to spread his Kingdom and to further the public good,” “to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness,” and “to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.”

With the Institutes Calvin believes that he has “so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and in such an order” that if we can learn and digest this work we will be enabled to study Scripture more profitably. To this end, Calvin suggests that IF he ever publishes any “interpretations of Scripture” they will be condensed, because the reader will be able to use his interpretations with his Institutes as their complement. (Click here if you don’t know if Calvin published any “interpretations.”)

From the French Edition of 1560, we also have a few pages on the subject matter of the Institutes, or what benefit Calvin believes we might receive from our study of this work. This benefit is to direct us in what we should look for in Scripture. Those who have not spent much time in the study of Scripture, or who do not have a general idea of the main “themes” of Scripture can profit from those who have studied to direct us in these matters. This is done by providing the reader with “the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.” Therefore, Calvin will deal with these “chief and weightiest matters” so we might profit more from our study of Scripture.

Calvin completes this section with his exhortation, that if we want a sum of the Christian doctrine and a way to better benefit from the reading the entirety of Scripture, we should put this work to memory. If we become discouraged because we do not understand all that is there, we should continue in hope that a further passage will explain the former. And to utilize Scripture to examine all that Calvin sets forth.