Thursday 20 August 2009

Have We Forgotten Something About John Calvin?

As many people will be aware this year is the 500th anniversary since the birth of John Calvin and many conferences are devotong sessions to the impact of Calvin's life and teaching. In all the excellent seminars and conference talks I wonder if we have forgotten something about Calvin. What is it? Calvin's doctrine of the church.

Calvin's Institutes ranks among one of the most influential works in the history of the church and it is made up of four books. The fourth book is all about the doctrine of the Church and yet I have not seen a single article or paper commenting on this aspect of Calvin. I would say that if we do not understaand Calvin's doctrine of the church then we do not understand this Reformer at all. Reformation was all about re-forming the church back to its apostolic pattern. So, whata are some of the aspects of Calvin's doctrine of the church.

1. A fourfold government of pastor's, elders. deacons and doctors (this means teacher, and especially those given to the training of pastors). The deacons were responsible for practical mercy and did not form the spiritual government. The spiritual oversight was given to ruling elders and the minister. The minister was trained, examined and equipped to preach pure doctrine and administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

2. The Sacraments were very important. This involved a covenantal view which included the baptism of infants...not so popular among Reformed Baptists today. Could it be that the neglect or silence concerning Calvin's doctrine of the church, actually relates to the suppressing Calvin's view of the Sacraments? Could it be that we tend to 'pick n mix' from Calvin's theology? In reality Calvin's theology and doctrine of the church were an interconnected and integrated whole. If we do not understand Calvin's ecclesiology we probably do not understand Calvin because the whole purpose of the Reformation was to re-form the church back to the apostolic pattern.

Maybe we need to re-think ecclesiology in England because the best summary of the Christian faith in the English language are the Westminster Standards and these were made in England, yet almost unknown at this time in this country. The need for contemporary reformation is immense and at times overwhelming. Yet if we learn from Calvin he did not shrink from the task and copied the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ who said that 'new wine ' has to be put into 'new winsekins (Matthew 9:17)'. Calvin recovered the wineskin and gave the church a framework to build, nothing new, but a recovered apostolic pattern and doctrine (Acts 2:42).

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