Friday, January 09, 2009

Reformation: John Calvin

More about John Calvin from the Washington State University website

The spirit of Zwinglianism reached its fullest development in the theology, political theories, and ecclesiastic thought of John Calvin (1509-1564). Perhaps even more so than Martin Luther, Calvin created the patterns and thought that would dominate Western culture throughout the modern period. American culture, in particular, is thoroughly Calvinist in some form or another; at the heart of the way Americans think and act, you'll find this fierce and imposing reformer...

Calvin was originally a lawyer, but like Zwingli, he was saturated with the ideas of Northern Renaissance humanism. He was dedicated to reform of the church and he got his chance to build a reformed church when the citizens of Geneva revolted against their rulers in the 1520's...

Since Calvin literally transformed the philosophical, political, religious, and social landscape of Europe, what was the substance of his radical reform?
The core of Calvinism is the Zwinglian insistence on the literal reading of Christian scriptures. Anything not contained explicitly and literally in these scriptures was to be rejected; on the other hand, anything that was contained explicitly and literally in these scriptures was to be followed unwaveringly. It is the latter point that Calvin developed beyond Zwingli's model; not only should all religious belief be founded on the literal reading of Scriptures, but church organization, political organization, and society itself should be founded on this literal reading. Following the history of the earliest church recounted in the New Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles , Calvin divided church organization into four levels:
  • Pastors: These were five men who exercised authority over religious matters in Geneva;
  • Teachers: This was a larger group whose job it was to teach doctrine to the population.
  • Elders: The Elders were twelve men (after the twelve Apostles) who were chosen by the municipal council; their job was to oversee everything that everybody did in the city.
  • Deacons: Modeled after the Seven in Acts 6-8, the deacons were appointed to care for the sick, the elderly, the widowed and the poor.

The most important theological position that Calvin took was his formulation of the doctrine of predestination. The early church had struggled with this issue. Since God knew the future, did that mean that salvation was predestined? That is, do human beings have any choice in the matter, or did God make the salvation decision for each of us at the beginning of time? The early church, and the moderate Protestant churches, had decided that God had not predestined salvation for individuals. Salvation was in part the product of human choice. Calvin, on the other hand, built his reformed church on the concept that salvation was not a choice, but was rather pre-decided by God from the beginning of time. This mean that individuals were "elected" for salvation by God; this "elect" would form the population of the Calvinist church.

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