Friday, November 12, 2010

Arraignment of the Later Papacy

Calvin claims that the Romanists must agree with this logical statement: "what is not a church cannot be the mother of churches; he who is not a bishop cannot be the prince of bishops." A church is recognized by these two marks - the preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments. Calvin details the tasks of the bishop: "The first task of the bishop's office is to teach people from God's Word. The second and next is to administer the sacraments. The third is to admonish and exhort, also to correct those who sin and to keep the people under holy discipline." The pontiffs no longer performed these tasks, therefore they were not fulfulling their duties for the office of bishop. If they were not acting like a bishop, the question becomes can someone who is not performing the duties of a bishop be the prince of bishops? And, can a church headed by a bishop who is not fulfilling his duties still be a church and the head of all churches?

A king is king whether or not he fulfills his responsibilities as king. The church is different than an earthly kingdom. Bishops are called by Christ to perform certain functions. When a bishop ceases performing his duties, then he should be rebuked and eventually deposed from his position. Calvin plainly states, "I deny that their pontiff is the chief of bishops, since he is no bishop." He states that the gospel of Christ is surpressed within the Roman church because if it were to become the focus of the church the pontiff and other high-ranking officials in the church would lose their power. As these greedy people gained power, the gospel was more and more neglected in the Roman church. "Of old, Rome was indeed the mother of all churches; but after it began to become the see of Antichrist, it ceased to be what it once was."

Calvin uses the term "Antichrist" to reference the pope a number of times. Some may be shocked by this accusation. Calvin takes some time to explain why he feels just in using this term. Much of his reasoning comes from II Thessalonians 2. It is there that we read that the Antichrist will sit in God's temple (v4). The Antichrist will "deprive God of his honor in order to take it upon himself." Calvin also uses imagery from Daniel and Revelation to show the pontiff for who he really was. He concludes, "Since, therefore, it is clear that the Roman pontiff has shamelessly transferred to himself what belonged to God alone and especially to Christ, we should have no doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of that impious and hateful kingdom."

He then attacks the idea that the primacy must be tied to a location. He looks back at church history through the records of Eusebius. The church that was in Jerusalem was moved to Pella by God. If this could happen once, it can surely happen again. Calvin does not hold back when he attacks the pope and the Roman see when he writes, "Therefore, so to bind the honor of primacy to a place, that he who is Christ's most hateful enemy, the supreme foe of the gospel, the greatest waster and scatterer of the church, the cruelest slaughterer and butcher of all the saints, should be considered nonetheless Christ's vicar, Peter's successor, the first bishop of the church, merely because he occupies the see which was once the first see of all - this, indeed, is utterly ridiculous and stupid." Calvin then makes a declaration that the papacy is "directly contrary to church order." It gives the illusion of order, but in effect it destroys the order within the church.

Popes and cardinals throughout the ages have often held heretical beliefs that are total opposite of what they state they believe. How Calvin knows of this, I do not know. The editor of this translation has a footnote which is a quote from a letter that Erasmus wrote. In it Erasmus confirms that he has directly heard some of these blasphamies in Rome. Erasmus was a 16th century theologian who debated against Martin Luther, especially over the topic of free will. Calvin writes about the faith of these popes and cardinals, "This is the first article of that secret theology which reigns among them: there is no God. The second: everything written and taught about Christ is falsehood and deceit. The third: the doctrines of a life to come and of a final resurrection are mere fables."

The Roman church teaches that the pope cannot err in his faith. Calvin points out an example of where a pope believed one thing, then under pressure took up an opposite stance. Pope John XXII believed that souls are mortal and that they die along with the body until the day of resurrection. The University of Paris leaned on the king of France to force John XXII to change. The king forbade his subjects to communicate with John XXII until he recanted. The pope then recanted. This claim by the Roman church is based on Luke 22:32 where Christ said to Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." Since this was said to Peter, the Romanists claim that it applies to all the popes. In his humorous way, Calvin contends, "For if they wish to apply to Peter's successors everything that was said to Peter, it will follow that they are all Satans, since the Lord also said this to Peter: 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me' [Matthew 16:23]."

To limit the church to a place is placing limits on God. Calvin writes, "To bind Christ, the Spirit, and the church to a place, so that whoever may rule there, even if he be a devil, is still considered the vicar of Christ and head of the church because it was once Peter's see - this, I say, is not only impious and insulting to Christ, but extremely absurd and alien to common sense! ...Therefore, they no more become vicars of Christ because of the see which they occupy than an idol, when it is set in God's temple, is to be taken for God." He then points out how morally corrupt the Roman church leaders have become, so much so that if the Roman church was once the head, it is now no longer worthy of being "among the smallest toes of the church's feet."

During Gregory's day, cardinals were nothing but bishops. In fact, at one time cardinals were less than bishops, however, over time they became more powerful than bishops. Deacons in the Roman church were once assistants to the bishops, but "now their lot is so changed that they have become the cousins of kings and emperors." Calvin's whole point in demonstrating these changes is that the Roman see as it was in his day is very different from the historical church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.8.1-4.8.9

Friday, November 5, 2010

Increasing Papal Power and Its Opponents

In 607 AD, Boniface III became the pope. He died that same year. He made several significant contributions to the Roman church during his brief time. He forbid any popes from discussing their successors and he decreed that discussion of the next pope could not start until three days after the burial of the previous. But his most significant contribution was because of his relationship with emperor Phocas, he was able to have the emperor decree that the Roman see was the head of the entire church. This power grew over the next 100 years. Pepin and Pope Zacharias worked together in order to give the pope headship over all bishops.

The power of the Roman see continued to strengthen, and according to Calvin this was "partly due to the bishops' ignorance, partly to their sloth." Calvin states that this decay continued until the time of Bernard of Clairvaux who lived in the 12th century. He preached that the church was pastures of devils rather than sheep, full of ambitious men. "Few pay attention to the mouth of the lawgiver; all, to his hands. And not without reason! For those hands do all the pope's business." Bernard goes on to declare that the pope does evil things to prove that he has power, not righteousness.

Calvin begins looking at the more recent popes to his own era and how corrupted they have generally become. They claim for themselves that they are the universal bishop of the whole world, the supreme head of the church. Calvin writes, "But the pontiffs themselves, when they speak of their authority, with great arrogance declare that the power to command is in their hands while with others rests the necessity to obey; that all their pronouncements are to be so received as if confirmed by Peter's divine voice; that provincial synods, because they do not have the pope present, have no force; that they themselves have power to ordain clergy for any church whatsoever; and to summon to their see those ordained elsewhere." The arrogance of the popes is demonstrated in two quotes that Calvin used from Gratian. He wrote, "God willed that other men's bases be settled by men, but he has without question reserved the boshop of this see to his own judgment." Gratian also wrote, "The subjects' deeds are judged by us but ours by God alone."

Apparently, multiple popes used forged documents from previous bishops to support their claims of the power of the office of pope. Gratian manufactured documents which he attributed to Athanasius, but he was not the only one. There was such corruption in the church and these popes were desperately trying anything to extend and keep their power. Calvin writes, "But it was fitting that these Antichrists be carried to the point of madness and blindness, so that to all persons of sound mind who will only open their eyes the wickedness of these men should be obvious." He sites more examples from Gregory IX and more. Calvin notes the proposterous claims by the Roman church, "that the pope cannot err; that the pope is above councils; that the pope is the universal bishop of all churches and the supreme head of the church on earth."

Gregory and Cyprian both condemned statement which the later popes claimed. Cyprian wrote, "None of us says he is the bishop of bishops, or by tyrannical terror compels his colleagues to obey him." Also, "Let none be called the prince of priests or the first bishop." Gregory wrote, "Peter was the chief member in the body: John, Andrew, and James were heads of particular groups of people. Yet all members of the church are under one Head." The Head of the church is Christ alone.

Calvin states, "For it (the Roman church) is a hundred times more corrupt than it was in the times of Gregory and Bernard, though even then it greatly displeased those holy men." Gregory often spoke out about the Roman see in his day. Thinking it could not get much worse, he wrote about the troubles of the Roman church, "I have come into the depths of the sea." Calvin wonders if the administration at the time of Gregory was a "sea," then what was it like during Calvin's own day.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.23-4.7.30

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Roman See's Desire for Power

In about 359 AD, Constantinople became the capital of the Roman empire. This caused disruption in the church because the sees of Rome and Constantinople both wanted to be the head of the church. Leo I (5th century) was very interested in claiming power for himself. Calvin writes about him, "For that man was as immoderately fond of glory and dominion as he was learned and eloquent." He declared that if any conflicts arise within the church, they should come to him for a ruling. By doing this, Leo basically stated that he is the supreme authority within the church.

By contrast, the 6th century pope Gregory I (or Gregory the Great) did not bestow upon himself these high honors. The Roman empire had been torn apart after the death of Constantine. His sons each received parts of the empire. This caused confusion within the church as well, so everyone within the church looked to the Roman church for leadership. Calvin writes about the power of the Roman see at the time, "But the Roman see was held in such reverence that it could by its authority subdue and repress the wicked and obstinate who could not be kept within their duty by their own colleagues." Gregory was not proud and did not take advantage of his position. In fact, he made a point in stating that all are equal. He expected other bishops to hold him accountable when he erred. When Gregory did act as judge, he did so only after being directed by the emperor and not under his own volition.

Calvin writes, "This, then, was the entire power of the Roman bishop, to take a stand against obstinate and unrestrained prelates where there was need of some extraordinary remedy - and that to help, not to hinder, the other bishops. He therefore assumes no more power over others than he elsewhere yields to all over himself, when he admits that he is ready to be corrected by all, to be amended by all." Gregory became unhappy with his position. He felt that he was weighed down too much by administrative obligations and did not get to feed his flock as well as he wished. I am sure that there are many pastors today who get lost in the administrative duties of their roles and are unable to fulfill their calling to pastor their congregations.

After the capital moved to Constantinople, the bishops of Rome feared more and more that the primacy of the Roman see would be lost. There were false documents drafted in an effort to keep the primacy in place. Pope Innocent was afraid during his day that the primacy would move, therefore "he promulgated a contrary law in which he states that it is unnecessary for ecclesiastical metropolitan sees to be changed whenever imperial metropolitan cities are changed."

Pope Leo was quite upset with the move of the Roman capital. He protested any idea of the primacy of the church moving. After two councils, Leo still protested the decision that the bishop of Constantinople would be second behind the bishop of Rome. Calvin contends what it should have been the bishop of Constantinople who protested being second to Leo than the other way around.

Calvin addresses the title of "universal patriarch" or "universal pope." He uses the bishop of Constantinople, John the Faster, who was bishop during the time of Gregory the Great. John claimed that he was "the universal patriarch" and wanted people to respect this title. Gregory opposed John taking this title for himself. But, he also denied the similar title "universal pope" for himself. Eulogious, bishop of Alexandria had referred to Gregory by this title. Gregory responded by saying, "See here by calling me 'universal pope' in the preface to the letter you have sent me, you have taken care to inscribe a word of proud address that I have forbidden. I beg your holiness not to do this henceforth, because when more is given to another than reason requires, it is withdrawn from you. I consider it no honor to see the honor of my brethren diminished. For my honor is the honor of the church universal, and the life and vigor of my brethren. But if your holiness calls me 'universal pope,' that is to deny to yourself what you attribute wholly to me." Gregory saw this title not as much a title elevating him to a higher position, but as lessening those around him. He truly seemed to be content with his position and did not have aspirations to gain power over his colleagues.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.17-4.7.30

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

False Claims of Authority by the Roman See

The Roman see did not initially have any authority over the other churches throughout the world. However, they were able to gain power through help from the emperors and deceit and other means until they held the highest place of authority within the church. Calvin insists that ever since the beginning of the church, the Roman see has sought to gain control over all other churches. Calvin points to an early example of Rome's quest for dominance in the story of Athanasius. He was the chief opponent against Arius and his herecies. Athanasius appealed to Rome because the eastern churches were divided. Rome was all too happy to accept this appeal because it gave them the final decision like our Supreme Court. It became the seat of final appeal throughout the church which gave Rome authority over other churches.

Calvin lists four categories of church power. There are (1) the ordination of bishops, (2) the calling of councils, (3) the hearing of appeals or juristiction, and (4) motions of chastisement or censures. In the early church, only when a church that was under the Roman patriarch was required to have a Roman bishop ordain any new bishops. Over time, Roman bishops began attending all ordinations throughout Italy. Eventually this practice became perceived as Rome giving its blessing to the ordination, demonstrating Rome's authority over these other churches which were outside Rome's jurisdiction.

Early in the church's history, bishops were able to admonish or censure each other equally. Calvin points out that Irenaus rebuked Victor because he was causing a great disturbance in the church over an unimportant issue. This equality among bishops was important so that no one bishop or see could commit heresies with no consequence. Once this equality no longer existed, then the Roman see was accountable to no one.

Bishops in the early church whad the authority to call provincial synods, but only the emperor could call a universal council. For instance, it was Constantine who called the Council of Nicaea and not the bishop of Rome. If it had been the bishop of Rome who had called this early council, only the bishops in his province would have come and other bishops would have been very upset with this assumption of authority by Rome. Calvin states, "We do not deny that the bishop of Rome was one of the chief bishops, but we refuse to accept what the Romanists now contend - that he had dominion over all."

In the Roman see's quest to be over the entire church, there were examples where forged documents and epistles were used to prove their power. For instance at the Second Council of Milevis, documents were introduced which were supposedly from the Council of Nicaea but were really changed documents from the Synod of Sardica. There are other examples used by Calvin where the Roman pontiff tried to pass off false documents which "proved" his dominion over all the church.

Again, Calvin looks at another case which showed that the Roman pontiff did not originally have control over all the church. In this particular case, the bishop of Carthage had been accused and found guilty of some heresy. He appealed to Emperor Constantine. Constantine then had the bishop of Rome plus other bishops from Italy, Gaul, and Spain to hear the case. The man was again found guilty then he appealed to Constantine again. Constantine judged the case himself and overturned what the bishops had decided. This shows that the Roman see did not have all power over the entire church, but really the emperor held even higher authority. Calvin writes, "It is Constantine, who, they boast, devoted not only all his effort, but almost all the resources of his entire empire to enhancing the prestige of the Roman see. We therefore see how far the Roman pontiff then was from that supreme dominion which he declares to have been given him by Christ over all churches, and which he falsely asserts that he held in all ages by the consent of the whole world."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.11-4.7.18

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rejection of the Primacy and Titles for the Pope

It was not until 325 AD during the Council of Nicaea that there was any primacy assigned to the Roman see. Julius, the bishop of the Roman see, was not present at this council, but his representatives were given a fourth place rank at the council. Calvin then asks the question, "if Julius had been recognized as the head of the church, why were his delegates relegated to fourth place?" Even 124 years later at the Second Council of Ephesus, the patriarch of Alexandria was over the council, not the patriarch of Rome. This indicates to us that the patriarch of Rome did not hold first place over all other bishops.

At the Council of Chalcedon, the emperor allowed the representatives of Rome to have the highest seat. Leo had requested this position. His reasoning was that the bishops from the East had caused unnecessary conflict at the Council of Ephesus. After this council, the Roman representatives did not hold the top chair at the following councils.

The early church did not recognize the primacy of the bishop of Rome or the Roman see. Cyprian, who was the 3rd century bishop of Carthage, called Cornelius, the bishop of Rome, "brother," "fellow bishop," and "colleague." He gave no indication in his letters that Cornelius held any higher position than any other bishop. At the Council of Carthage, it was decided that no one should ever be called "prince of priests" or "first bishop." The bishop of Rome could be referred to as "bishop of the prime see." Jerome, the 4th-5th century translator of the Bible into Latin, spoke out against the idea of the authority of one bishop over all others.

The late 6th century Gregory the Great was opposed to the title "universal bishop" or "ecumenical bishop." He thought that this was profane, sacrilegious, and the precursor of Antichrist. He said, "The whole church falls from its condition if anyone who is called 'universal' falls." Gregory was highly critical of anyone wishing to gain this or any similar title. He wrote, "No one ever wished to be called by such a name; no one seized upon this presumptuous title lest, by snatching to himself in the pontifical rank the glory of uniqueness, he should seem to deny it to all his brethren."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.5-4.7.10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peter in Rome

The Romanists have always defended their position that Peter was bishop of Rome for many years. Eusebius wrote in his history that Peter was over the Roman church for 25 years. Gregory on the other hand said seven years. Based on other facts, Calvin thinks it was a very short time that Peter was in Rome. We know that the time between Jesus' death and the end of Nero's reign was about 37 years. Peter was killed while Nero was still in power. We also know that Peter was in Jerusalem for 20 years after Jesus' death. We also know that he went to Antioch for a period of time. That leaves little time for him to be in Rome, certainly not 25 years. Calvin also notes that Paul is silent about Peter being in Rome even though he names other Christians who are there in his epistle to the Romans. Why would he ignore the bishop of Rome, especially if it were Peter?

Paul went to rome as a prisoner. Luke records in Acts that he was received by the believers in Rome, but again there is no mention of Peter. From Rome Paul wrote to other churches, and even though he sent greetings from the believers in Rome, no mention of Peter being one of them. The Romanists also argue that there is a direct succession from Peter, even though there is not agreement on who the next is. Some say it was Clement and others claim that it was Linus. Calvin writes, "I do not quarrel with the notion that he (Peter) died there, but I cannot be persuaded that he was a bishop, especially for a long time." Calvin does mention here that Paul's ministry is somewhat more significant to us since he was sent to the Gentiles while Peter was sent to the Jews. There is no real evidence in Scripture that Peter was ever the bishop of the Roman church.

The Romanists claim that there must be one head of the church in order to maintain unity. We believe that this head is Christ alone and not a mortal man. Calvin observes three reasons why particular honor was given to the church in Rome. The first is because some maintain that Peter started the church there. The second is because it was a very modern city of the time where many educated people lived. These early believers would have been skilled in doctrine an other disciplines more than anywhere else. Finally, other churches had dissension among themselves, but Rome remained clamer and whole. These other churches would then appeal to Rome with their disputes.

Scripture teaches that the church should be unified, however no supreme church or universal bishop is ever mentioned. Cyprian wrote on the subject of the universal church, "The episcopate is one, a 'whole' of which a part is held by each bishop. And the church is one, which is spread abroad dar and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strong trunk grounded in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although a goodly number seem outpoured from their bounty and superabundance, still at the source unity abides undivided... So also the church, bathed in the light of the Lord, extends its rays over the whole earth: yet there is one light diffused everywhere. Nor is the unity of the body severed; it spreads its branches through the whole earth; it pours forth its overflowing streams; yet there is one head and one source." This one source is Christ alone, not any bishop (even Peter).

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.1-4.7.6

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Arguements Against the Primacy of Peter and Rome

Peter was given special rank above the other disciples. Even though Calvin does not mention it, there is some thought that he may of been older and that is why he was given this position. Just because Peter was put in this position among the apostles it does not make this position universal and for all perpetuity according to Calvin. He was chief among the disciples, but there were only a few of them. And this position did not give him power over the other disciples. Calvin compares his position to that of a consul in a senate or the chairman of a committee (which all presbyterians can relate). He writes, "in any assembly, even though all are equal in power, one should be the moderator, as it were, to whom the others look." The papists claim that hierarchical examples stem from nature as an example for the church. They point to cranes and bees who have leaders. Calvin argues that this is nonsense and not applicable to the church. Anyway, bees and cranes to not elect the heads of their groups like the church does. The papists also point to examples from literature, such as works by Homer. Once again, it makes no sense to pattern the church after literature instead of God's Word!

Christ alone is the sole head of the church. There is no other head according to Scripture. Ephesians 4:15-16 reads, "but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." He is the head and the church is the body. The romanists consider this a non-issue because they claim that the pope is Christ's vicegerent on earth. Calvin responds to this by writing, "...since Scripture attests that Christ is Head and claims this honor for him alone, it ought not to be transferred to anyone else except whom Christ himself has appointed his own vicar." Supporting passages include Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18 and 2:10.

Scripture does not mention anywhere that after Christ there should be a human monarch over the church. Calvin writes, "By his ascension Christ took away from us his visible presence; yet he ascended to fill all things. Now, therefore, the church still has, and always will have, him present... The Lord (he [Paul] says) is in us all, according to the measure of grace which he has bestowed upon each member." We recently discussed Ephesians 4:11 where Paul writes that some are appointed as apostles, teachers, evangelists, etc. No where does Paul state that anyone is appointed by Christ to be supreme pontiff.

The idea of the supremacy of a location is counter to the teachings of Scripture. For Christ was in Jerusalem, and He did not claim power for that city. He writes, " this reasoning the Israelites of old ought to have established the primate's see in the desert, where Moses the supreme teacher and prince of prophets, had carried out his ministry and died." Tying the head of the church to a particular location is not Scriptural nor is it logical.

If the location does matter, then why isn't the head city Antioch instead of Rome? Peter was the leader of the church in Antioch before moving to Rome. Therefore, according to their own logic, the papists should have Antioch as their capital. Calvin brings up three legal arguments against transferring power to Rome from Antioch. First, if this power is personal, then it belongs to the person (Peter) and not to the place (Rome). Secondly, if it is real, then it cannot be removed by the departure of a person. If it is mixed, "then it will not be a simple consideration of place unless the person corresponds." It is apparent then that Rome cannot claim primacy for itself.

There is not logic in their ranking of other cities. Calvin claims that it would make the most logical sense if Rome is the capital city of the church, then Antioch should at least be in second place, but it does not. Peter may have held first place among the apostles, but James and John were up there with him. Since they were the leaders of the churches in Jerusalem and Ephesus, why are they not considered second and third? Calvin tells us that among the churches established by the patriarchs, Jerusalem holds last place. Alexandria, founded by Mark (who was a disciple and not an apostle), is second in the Roman church, and holds a higher rank than the other "apostolic" sees.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.6.14-4.6.17

Monday, October 18, 2010

Primancy of Rome

For centuries, the Roman church has made the claim that all Christians shall submit to Rome's authority. Calvin takes some time to examine and refute this claim. The Roman church was so currputed by the 16th century, that it was a church in name only. In reference to his earlier evidence of the corruption of the Roman church, Calvin writes, "This we have done that the godly reader might judge from comparison what sort of church the Romanists have, for the sake of which they make us guilty of schism, since we have separated from it." This claim of the primacy of Rome is not biblical, not commanded by Christ, nor was it in practice in the early church.

The Romanists point to the Old Covenant as proof of the hierarchy that they have established. Even though there was a type of hierarchy in Israel, Christ did not establish this type of government in the church. In the Old Covenant, the primacy of Jerusalem was established because the Jewish people were surrounded by pagan nations. This provided unity and structure. This was useful since it was one nation, not the entire world. As far as one person being at the top of this hierarchy, Calvin writes, "No one is ignorant of the fact that the high priest was a type of Christ; with the priesthood transferred, the right should be transferred... not to the pope (as he dare shamelessly boast) when he takes the title unto himself, but to Christ, who, as he alone keeps that office without vicar or successor, consequently resigns that honor to no one else." Christ himself reigns eternally, not humans in his place.

There are two sentences which Christ spoke that Rome uses as prooftexts for their claim of authority. Matthew 16:18 reads, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The other is John 21:15 where Christ asks Peter if he loves Him and then tells Peter to "Feed my sheep." Peter was not given any more authority by Christ in these verses than the other apostles. Christ did not place him in a leadership position in these texts. Even Peter tells the entire church to feed Christ's sheep in I Peter 5:2, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly."

In Matthew 16:19, Christ said to Peter, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In John 20:23, Christ explains that binding and loosing is about the forgiveness of sins. Calvin explains about these "keys" that Christ speaks of here by saying, "Since heaven is opened to us by the doctrine of the gospel, the word "keys" affords an appropriate metaphor. Now men are bound and loosed in no other way that when faith reconciles some to God, while their own unbelief constrains others the more." These keys are a common gift, given to all the apostles because the preaching of the gospel was assigned to all the apostles. Even though Christ is speaking to Peter, this gift was given to them all. Cyprian said, "In the person of one man the Lord gave the keys to all, to signify the unity of all." Augustine said, "If the mystery of the church had not been in Peter, the Lord would not have said to him, 'I shall give you the keys'; for if this was said to Peter alone, the church does not have them. But if the church has them, Peter, when he received the keys, was a symbol of the whole church.'"

Calvin concedes that it is not recorded that Christ ever told anyone else directly, "on this rock I will build my church." But at the same time Calvin states that Christ would not say anything more about Peter than Peter and Paul say about all Christians. Even though chronologically Peter may have been first in believing or the first to start building the church, he still does not hold power above any other Christians. There is only one foundation of the church. Paul says it best in I Corinthians 3:11, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Peter is equal to the rest of the apostles. He was their companion, not their master. Acts 15 is proof of this. Calvin writes, "He indeed refers to a council anything that is to be done, and advises what needs to be done. But at the same time he listens to others, and he not only lets them express their views, but leaves the decision to them; when they have decreed, he follows and obeys." By submitting to the authority of the council, Peter does not show dominance over anyone or claiming more power than anyone else. Instead, he humbles himself to being equal with them all. According to Calvin, Paul uses almost two chapters of Galatians to speak to the fact that he and Peter are equals and that neither holds authority over the other.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.6.8-4.6.17

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Abuses and Greed in the Church

We touched on this in the last reading, but Calvin gets deeper into the problem of absenteeism. So many bishops had flocks placed in their care, but they never stepped foot into that church. Even though they take no care of their people and turn their responsibilities over to others, they still wish to be known as pastors. Calvin compares this to a money lender who has never been outside of the city gate wanting to be known as a plowman or a soldier who has never been inside of a court of law wanting to be known as a lawyer. He writes, "Many throughout life devour the revenues of the churches without ever coming to the point of even taking a look at them." At that time, it was exceedingly rare for a bishop to actually be in the church assigned to him. Calvin says that natural sense "repudiates the notion that he how has never seen a sheep of his flock is the shepherd of it."

Almost one thousand years before Calvin, this practice of absenteeism had already begun. Pope Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great, spoke out about this abuse. He said, "The world is full of priests, but in the harvest a worker is rarely found; for we indeed take upon us the priestly office but do not fulfill the work of that office." By the time of St. Bernard in the 11th-12th centuries, the practice of absenteeism had gotten even worse so he rebuked those who did not properly care for their flocks. Calvin suggests that the practice of absenteeism had grown even worse in his own day.

Calvin becomes even more critical of the Roman church government, saying that it is worse than a robber's den. "Surely everything there is so unlike, indeed, so alien to, Christ's greater injury can be done to Christ than when they put forward his name to defend such a disordered government." The Roman church's leaders claim to be "vicars of Christ" and that apostolic power has been passed down to them, but really they have nothing in common with the apostles. In his humorous way, Calvin lets his readers know what he really thinks about these bishops, "...bishops are for the most part rude asses who do not grasp even the first and commonplace rudiments of faith, or sometimes big boys fresh from their nursemaid..."

And not wanting the Roman priests to feel left out, he writes, "Today there is no order of men more notorious in excess, effeminacy, voluptuousness, in short, in all sorts of lusts; in no order are there masters more adept or skillful in every deceit, fraud, treason, and treachery; nowhere is there as great cunning or boldness to do harm. I say nothing about their arrogance, pride, greed, and cruelty. I say nothing about the dissolute license of their entire life." He declares that not even one in a hundred bishops would not be excommunicated from the church and not just deposed from their office if they were judged according to the standards and canons of the early church. "The order that they have, it is clear, is neither from Christ, nor from his apostles, nor from the fathers, nor from the ancient church."

Deacons were created by the very early church (as Luke records in Acts) to collect and distribute alms to the poor. By Calvin's time they were no longer doing this. They were charged with "ministering at the altar, reading or chanting the gospel, and goodness knows what other trifles." Being a deacon at this point was seen more as a stepping stone to the priesthood rather than an important office in the church. Deacons were the "stewards of the poor" and charged with distributing alms. "Today the poor get nothing more of those alms than if they were cast into the sea." He says that these deacons "mock the church with a false diaconate."

The clergy was growing rich off the collections from the congregation and the poor received nothing. The poor should have received at least one half according to the ancient canons. One quarter of the collections were to go directly to the poor and another quarter were to be given to the bishops to "distribute in hospitality and other offices of generosity." Instead, they were keeping it all for themselves and for the building of fancy churches.

The clergy claimed that "the dignity of the church is decently sustained by this magnificence." This was their excuse for spending so much on making the church downright ostentatious and for spending so much on themselves. Times had changed since the days of Ambrose who presided over the Synod of Aquileia. Out of this synod there came the statement, "Glorious is poverty in the priests of the Lord." No longer were the priests impoverished, but instead they were often quite wealthy.

Still on the subject of excesses by the church, Calvin writes, "Nothing at all pleases except what savors of excess and the corruption of the times. Meanwhile, so far are they from taking due care of living temples that they would rather let many thousands of the poor die of hunger than break the smallest cup or cruet to relieve their need." The offerings given to the church are dedicate to Christ. Since they are dedicated to Christ, they should be distributed according to His will, and not hoarded by the clergy and the church.

The last section is almost a summary of everything covered in this chapter. There is no real church order in the Roman church. The early church fathers lived simple lives and met in simple buildings (usually houses). By Calvin's day the clergy lived lives of excess and assembled the people in large, opulent churches. Jerome wrote, "the glory of the bishop is to provide for the poor; the disgrace of all priests, to seek after their own riches." Once again, Calvin declares that the diaconate has disappeared from the Roman church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.6.1-4.6.7

Monday, October 11, 2010

Corruption of Church Offices

The Roman church during the Reformation was totally corrupt. There were so many issues with the ordination of ministers. Few were qualified at all to serve. Calvin writes, "for a hundred years scarcely one man in a hundred has been elected [to a church office] who has comprehended anything of sacred learning... If their morals are appraised, we shall find few or almost none whom the ancient canons would not have judged unworthy." The most egregious cases according to Calvin involved children as young as ten years old being made bishops.

One reason for the lack of qualified people being made bishops was that the people's right to elect a bishop had been taken away by the church and given to a handful of people within the church. This had gone on for hundreds of years. Pope Leo I and Cyprian both were opposed to this practice, but it continued anyway. Those who were choosing bishops and priests declared that the times were so corrupted that the decisions should be made by just a few select persons. Calvin argues that these new traditions go against instruction found in Scripture. "The people once had an excellent canon, I say, to whom the Word of God prescribed that a bishop ought to be above reproach, a teacher, not contentious, etc. Why, then, has the responsibility of choosing been removed from the people to such fellows?"

Those who claim that the right to choose was taken away from the people as a remedy to the issues are lying according to Calvin. He reminds the reader that there were plenty of situations before where there was controversy over who was elected in cities, but no one dared to take away this right from the people. There have always been remedies prescribed in Scripture for dealing with unqualified bishops and none have included having a handful of people selecting bishops. Calvin notes that this practice came about in part because the people became lazy when electing bishops. They somewhat gave the responsibility to the presbyters and went along with their recommendation. The presbyters used this opportunity to gain too much control by issuing new canons so the people were excluded. Then, in many cities, princes were able to weasel their way into the process so they had a right to nominate who was selected. Calvin writes that this "caused no new loss to the church, because the election was taken away only from the canons, who had seized it without right or had actually stolen it."

At some point, bishops declared that is was their right alone to select presbyters and deacons for the church. This was just further corruption of the church. Plus, some of these presbyters served no function for they were free of any pastoral obligation. The Council of Chalcedon had already declared that this was wrong, because a church should not be burdened with the expense of having a presbyter who does nothing and it is wrong to thing of this election as being an honor rather than an office with solemn duties to preform.

Presbyters should not be elected just to "perform a sacrifice". They are charged with governing the church. Similarly, deacons are charged with gathering and distributing alms. Calvin claims that the examination process of presbyters is not relevant. The questions of the exam have nothing to do with spiritual maturity, but "whether they can read their masses, whether they can decline some common noun that occurs in the lesson, whether they can conjugate a verb, whether they know the meaning of one word; for it is not necessary that they even know how to render the meaning of a single verse."

There were several truly corrupt practices that went on at this time and Calvin was not the first to speak out about them. One of them was the practice of simony. Simony is basically a bribe given by someone to church officials in order to be made a bishop or other church position. This was common during this period of the church. Another abuse was pluralism which went along with absenteeism. Pluralism was managing to become the bishop for multiple cities or being the priest for multiple churches. Absenteeism was the practice of being over a church or city and never being there to actually govern. This was common for priests who had multiple churches (especially when those positions were bought to begin with). Calvin writes, "But I say these are both monstrous abuses, which are utterly contrary to God, nature, and church government - that one robber occupy several churches at once, and that a man be named pastor who, even though he wish to, is unable to be present with his flock."

Calvin then complained about monks being pastors. The Roman church had two classes of priests: monks and seculars. Through much of history, having a monk be a pastor was not allowed. "For he [Pope Gregory] wishes those who have been made abbots to leave clerical office, on the ground that no one can properly be both a monk and a cleric, since the one would be a hindrance to the other." Calvin uses more historical evidence to prove that these two offices are incompatible with each other, therefore no one should be both a monk and a priest at the same time.

Of the seculars, some of them receive their income from the church, but do absolutely nothing for their pay. They are known as "benefices". They hire out the duties that they are charged with to hired priests. These hired priests perform masses and the like for fees. Calvin writes about these priests, "I say briefly: if it be the presbyter's office (as God's Word prescribes and the ancient canons require) to feed the church, and administer the spiritual Kingdom of Christ, all such sacrificers who have work or wages only in the hawking of masses not only fail in their office, but have no lawful office to exercise. For no place is given them for teaching; they have no people to govern."

These benefices "have cast off as burdens too troublesome the preaching of the Word, the care of discipline, and the administering of the sacraments." They are performing no ministry for the church. By ignoring their called duties, they are going against Christ's commands and the commands from the church. They are refusing to conform to the examples set before them by the early church. They should have no place within the government of the church and their titles should be taken away.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.5.11-4.5.19

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ordination of Ministers

In ancient times, writers recorded that there were youth who, with the consent of their parents, were taken under the wing of bishops to train them in the ministry. They were given the general name "clerics," but Calvin wishes they had been given a more proper name. Because they were set apart at a young age to be brought up under special instruction of the church, it was assured that only well-prepared persons were ordained as ministers. There were a couple of sub-groups of these young clerics. There were "doorkeepers" who were entrusted with opening and closing the doors of the church. As they grew, they became "acolytes" who assisted the bishops in many day-to-day functions. They accompanied the bishops wherever they went. Acolytes were also given the privilege of reading Scripture from the pulpit in part so they became used to speaking in public. As they continued to grow, they would eventually become sub-deacons.

Pastor candidates in the ancient church were subjected to rigorous scrutiny. They were selected with reverence and prayer. They were tested against the standard of Paul's life, however, Calvin claims that the church sometimes sinned in its scrutiny by requiring more of the candidates than Paul would have required - especially in regard to celibacy. No pastor in the ancient church was ordained without the consent of all the people. Cyprian broke this custom and wrote about it stating that the person he ordained would have passed because he had long been in training and had high moral standards. No one was made even a sub-deacon without first spending many years as a cleric. He had to prove himself as a sub-deacon before becoming a deacon, and from there he had to prove himself in order to become a presbyter. There were many canons in place to punish the shortcomings of any church officer, so if a deacon or presbyter fell short of their responsibilities the church "need not suffer...unless it neglected the remedies." Ordinations took place at particular times so that "no one might creep in secretly without the consent of believers."

It was at the Council of Antioch in 341 that it was decided that no one could be ordained into church office unless it was the will of the people. This was confirmed by Pope Leo I. Therefore, even if a bishop named his own successor, it was not valid unless the people approved it. An example of this was cited by Calvin when Augustine named Eraclius as his successor.

Calvin notes, "For it scarcely ever happens that so many heads can unanimously settle any matter." The Council of Laodicea in 369 sought to remedy this problem. They proposed that the clergy make a choice, then they can offer the choice to the "magistrates or senate and leading citizens." If they find the candidate acceptable, he is brought before the people. If not, they can propose their own candidate. The people could accept or reject this candidate, but they could not "raise a tumult" about it. The people could also nominate a candidate.

This system was preserved at least through the time of Gregory (540-604). He wrote about it and when the bishop of Milan was elected, he suggested seeking the approval of the Milanese who previously fled to Genoa due an invasion by the barbarians. The emperor's consent was sought in both Rome and Constantinople because these were imperial capitals. "But at Rom of old the emperor's authority so prevailed in the naming of the bishop that Gregory says he was established in the government of the church by the emperor's command, even though he had already in a solemn rite been called by the people."

There has always been a solemn rite in initiating ministers into their positions. The Latin word is translated as "ordination" or "consecration." The Greek term is "raising of hands" or "laying on of hands." The "raising of hands" actually more refers to the election of the minister. I find it interesting that we typically call it "ordination" and part of that rite is the laying on of hands. The Council of Nicaea declared that there should be an assemble of the metropolitan as well as all the bishops of the province to ordain a minister. If for some reason distance or health prevented some bishops from attending, at least three bishops must be present while the ones absent send their approval by letter.

Eventually, candidates sought election from the bishop of a city because of ambition and no good reason. Throughout Italy, people sought ordination from Rome, except in Milan. The procedure was still the laying on of hands. Bishops wore special "trappings" to distinguish themselves. Bishops also ordained their own presbyters, therefore they were called "his". Ancient writers stated that the only difference between these presbyters and the bishops was the lack of power for the presbyters to ordain.

Tomorrow's reading 4.5.1-4.5.10

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Ancient Church and Its Government

By studying the early church, we can understand more of what the church government was like before the papacy. The early church tried its best to conform to a pattern of government that observed the guidelines of Scripture. For instance, Scripture speaks of three different orders of ministers. The early church had three orders of ministers: (1) presbyters - preachers and teachers (2) presbyters - ruling elders and (3) deacons who took care of the poor and distributed alms. Readers and acolytes were not ministerial offices, but they were positions held by those who were in training to become ministers.

In the early church, there would be one minister in each city who would be named "bishop". The point of this position was not to exalt one minister nor was it so he could have power over the other ministers. It was a position developed in order to prevent dissensions which might have arisen due to the equality of the ministers. Jerome shows that this position was around even at the time of Mark the evangelist. The bishop was to be elected by the other ministers in the city, but Jerome points out that a bishop and presbyter "are one and the same."

Throughout the history of the early church, the duties of the bishop and presbyters varied from place to place and from time to time. The primary roles throughout history that bishops and presbyters serve are to preach the Word and administer the sacraments. An exception to this was in Alexandria during the time of Arius. At that time, presbyters were forbidden to preach. However, during the time of Pope Gregory, all bishops were required to preach.

Each city had a bishop, but eventually each province had an archbishop to be the "tie-breaker" for the bishops in the area. At the Council of Nicaea, it was declared that patriarchs "were ordained to be higher in rank and dignity than archbishops." If a dispute came about which could not be settled with the patriarch and the synod, then the dispute went to the general council. Calvin states that the term "hierarchy" was inappropriate for this type of government in the early church, even though that is eventually what it became.

Even though the office of presbyter evolved over time, the role of deacon remained basically unchanged since the time of the apostles. The deacons were responsible for collecting the daily offerings and the yearly income of the church. They distributed some to the minister and some to the poor. They were required to distribute the funds according to the wishes of the bishop, then they had to show an account of how they did on an annual basis. Calvin states that the deacons were "under the bishop" and "the stewards of the poor." There came about the position of "sub-deacon" which were persons who would assist the deacons in their responsibilities, but eventually the distinction between the two became confused and the separate title disappeared. For a time there were also "archdeacons" who kept closer watch over the funds of the church and were held accountable if anything was lost due to negligence or fraud. They were also given the task of reading the gospel, prayer, and even "extending the cup in the Sacred Supper."

Calvin then looks at church property. He writes, "You will frequently find in the decrees of synods and in ancient writers that all that the church possesses, either in lands or in money, is the patrimony of the poor." Bishops and deacons are encouraged "keep good faith" by not wasting the church's money. Ministers and other church workers should expect to be paid by the church. They should receive enough to meet their needs, but not so much that they lead lives of luxury and excess. Jerome stated that if a clergy member can be supported by his parents, then it is a sin for him to receive money from the church because that belongs to the poor.

The church's funds should be split four ways. One part to the clergy, one to the poor, one to the maintenance of the church building, and one more part for the poor (both foreign and indigenous). Some historical canons have designated the fourth part to bishops, but this is not for his personal use, instead it is for "the hospitality required of the rank." If a bishop is leading a luxurious life with these funds, he should be removed from his position.

When the early church first started out, it had little money for itself. Very little was spent on ornate things for the church. Even as the church gradually gained more money, moderation was still key. Calvin points out actions by different bishops throughout history who recognized that moderation was key for the church. For instance, Cyril sold vessels and vestments when a famine was upon Jerusalem in order to feed the poor. Acacius of Amida melted down sacred vessels in order to buy food and pay ransom for the poor. He is quoted as saying, "Our God need neither plates nor cups, for He neither eats nor drinks." Ambrose said, "He who sent out the apostles without gold also gathered churches without gold. The church has gold not to keep but to pay out and to relieve distress."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.4.9-4.4.15

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Calling, Authorization, and Ordination of Ministers

We are instructed by Paul, "Let all things be done decently and in order," (1 Corinthians 14:40, New King James Version). Calvin says that "there is nothing in which order should be more diligently observed than in establishing (church) government." In order to keep things "decently and in order", people who are to become ministers should be called by God. "And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was," (Hebrews 5:4, New King James Version). After they are called, they must respond to this calling.

Calvin makes four points about this calling which he uses the rest of the chapter to explain. They are "(1) what sort of ministers they should be, (2) how, and (3) by whom they should be appointed, and (4) by what rite or ceremony they should be installed." He writes about the inner and outer call of a minister, the inner being by God and the outer by the church. He does not detail the inner call because it is a secret call known only to each minister and not witnessed by the church. Calvin writes something very interesting to which several denominations should pay special attention here in the early 21st century. He writes, "Yet, though one comes to it with an evil conscience, he is nonetheless duly called in the presence of the church, provided his wickedness is not open." As a leader of the church, no matter what your sin is, you should not deny that it is a sin nor should you be unrepentant of your sin. Ministers should be competent before being ordained into the position through preparation and being equipped by God.

He paraphrases Titus 1:7-8 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by writing, "only those are to be chosen who are of sound doctrine and of holy life, not notorious in any fault which might both deprive them of authority and disgrace the ministry." Ministers must also be "instructed in those skills necessary for the discharge of their office." Calvin touches here on the "how" of this call. He states that the "how" refers to the religious awe that should be observed when choosing, the fasting and prayers involved, and the seeking of the counsel and discretion of the Spirit.

In determining who should be the one to choose ministers, the election of the apostles provides little help. This is because the apostleship was an extraordinary ministry and the apostles were called by Christ himself. Paul wrote about himself, "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)," (Galatians 1:1, New King James Version). He had his secret call in common with all godly ministers, but since he was so uniquely appointed by God, he still has a "badge of apostleship." Men do appoint bishops, which is a lawful thing to do according to Scripture. Acts 13:1-3 testifies to the fact that the church, led by the Holy Spirit, calls people to become ministers.

Calvin writes, "Someone now asks whether the minister ought to be chosen by the whole church, or only by his colleagues and the elders charges with the censure of morals, or whether he ought to be appointed by the authority of a single person." Those who argue for a single person refer to Paul's instructions to Titus and Timothy to appoint presbyters. Calvin states that they were not given the power to rule by their own decisions. They were to seek the advice of others within those churches to determine who best would serve as the leaders. Paul (who gave those instructions to Titus and Timothy) and Barnabus relied on a vote of the people by show of hands, which was a Greek practice, in every church. Paul would not have given more authority to Titus and Timothy than he claimed for himself. Cyprian also thinks that the church should appoint its leaders as well, using the examples of the Levitical priests, the election of Matthias, and the choosing of the deacons. Cyprian writes, "These examples show that the ordination of a priest must take place only in the presence and with the knowledge of the people, in order that the ordination, which has been examined by the witness of all, may be just and lawful."

When the apostles ordained any man into the ministry, they used the Hebrew custom of the laying on of hands. This tradition showed that these people were being presented to God and they wished them to be blessed and consecrated. "The apostles, accordingly, signified by the laying on of hands that they were offering to God him whom they were receiving into the ministry." They did this with all pastors, teachers, and deacons. Since there is no law in place by Christ to follow, we should observe this same practice of the apostles. He makes a note that only the pastors did the laying on of hands, not the whole multitude. In the Presbyterian church, we have all ordained elders and pastors lay hands on those being ordained into service. This follows this same custom that is outlined by the practice of the apostles and defined by Calvin.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.4.1-4.8

Monday, September 27, 2010

Offices of the Church: Apostles, Pastors, Elders and Deacons

In the Great Commission, the apostles were sent out by Christ and given the commands to preach the Good News and to baptize believers (Matthew 28:19). Earlier Christ had commanded that they distribute the Lord's Supper by His example (Luke 22:19). Pastors, like the apostles, are to perform these two particular functions: "to proclaim the gospel and to administer the sacraments." Calvin tells us that pastors are not called to have a figurehead position only, but that they are to work at their assigned tasks, "to instruct the people to true godliness, to administer the sacred mysteries, and to keep and exercise upright discipline." There is an interesting differentiation Calvin makes between apostles and pastors; apostles were to perform for the whole world and pastors are to perform for the flock to which they are assigned.

Just because a pastor is charged for the care of one congregation, it does not prohibit him from assisting another church if he is called upon such as if there is a disturbance within a church or his advice is sought about some obscure matter. But in order to keep peace within the congregations, a pastor should not regularly interfere with a church to which he is not assigned. Calvin's rule about this matter is this, "each person, content with his own limits, should not break over into another man's province." Calvin then highlights Scriptural examples of church leaders assigned by Paul, Barnabas and Titus in the early church.

Scripture interchanges the words "bishops," "presbyters," "pastors," and "ministers." Some functions that some ministers performed as a part of the early church were temporary. These include the ministries of powers, healing, and interpretation. The permanent ministries were government and the care of the poor (which has been given to the deacons). Calvin writes about the government, "Governors were, I believe, elders chosen from the people, who were charged with the censure of morals and the exercise of discipline along with the bishops... Each church, therefore, had from its beginning a senate, chosen from the godly, grave, and holy men, which had jurisdiction over the correcting of faults."

Calvin differentiates between two types of deacons - those who distribute the alms and those who care for the poor themselves. He gets this in part from Romans 12:8, "if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; ...if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Romans 12:8 NIV). The first phrase indicates a role for someone to give/distribute to the poor. The second phrase is showing mercy to the poor and the sick.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.3.10-4.3.16

Friday, September 24, 2010

Offices of the Church: Pastors and Teachers

Today we start a chapter looking at the various positions within the church. God alone is the Head of the church. "He alone should rule and reign in the church as well as have authority or pre-eminence in it, and this authority should be exercised and administered by his Word alone." If He alone should rule, then why do we have church officers and leaders? It is because God does not dell among us in physical form. He uses men as His tools to work His will in the church. God "declares his regard for us when from among men he takes some to serve as his ambassadors in the world, to be interpreters of his secret will and, in short, to represent his person." He does care for us and calls some people to declare His love for us. If He were to speak directly to us from heaven, we would tremble in fear. But, when we hear a person rightly preaching God's Word to us and we respond, that demonstrates our piety and our obedience to God. There is a bond between a pastor and his flock: "one is appointed to teach the rest, and those bidden to be pupils receive the common teaching from one mouth."

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about there being "one body" meaning the church. It is the ministry of the church that Calvin calls the "chief sinew" that holds the body together as one. He writes, "through the ministers to whom he has entrusted this office and has conferred the grace to carry it out, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the church... Thus the renewal of the saints is accomplished; thus the body of Christ is built up; thus 'we grow up in every way into him who is the Head' and grow together among ourselves; thus are we all brought into the unity of Christ."

In Scripture, there is a certain honor given to those in the preaching office in the church. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7, New King James Version). Jesus called His apostles "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth," (Matthew 5:13-14, New King James Version). Christ showed His loyalty to His apostles when He said, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me," (Luke 10:16, New King James Version). About II Corinthians 4:6 and 3:9, Calvin writes, "He (Paul) therefore contends that there is nothing more notable or glorious in the church than the ministry of the gospel, since it is the administration of the Spirit and of righteousness and of eternal life."

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul writes about five different offices within the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Apostles were sent out directly by Jesus - namely the 12 disciples plus Paul. They were the first builders of the church. Paul uses the term "prophets" to "those who excelled in particular revelation." Calvin goes on to say that this group either no longer exists today or very rare. Evangelists are slightly lower in rank than apostles, such as Luke, Timothy, Titus, and possibly the seventy disciples that Christ appointed in Luke 10:1. These three positions (apostles, prophets, and evangelists) were not set up as permanent positions in the church, but as positions early in the church to help establish it. Calvin does say that God can occasionally still raise someone up to one of these positions when necessary. Pastors and teachers on the other hand are setup as permanent positions in the church. Pastors are "put in charge of discipline, administering the sacraments, warnings, and exhortations." Teachers are in charge of "Scriptural interpretation - to keep doctrine whole and pure among believers."

Even though apostles and prophets are not permanent positions, Calvin does compare the office of teacher to prophet and pastor to apostle. These permanent offices serve much of the same functions as the temporary offices. The office of teacher serves the same role as prophet. Calvin notes that pastors could even be rightly called apostles, but feels it necessary to distinguish the twelve with a special title.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.3.6-4.3.9

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Roman Church Compared to Ancient Israel

Calvin compares the Roman church to ancient Israel under wicked kings. When the Jewish people kept the laws of God, the true church existed with them. After they fell into idolatry and superstition, they partially lost the right to be the true church. Much of this was the fault of the kings of Israel and the priests of the temple. Calvin lists several kings of Israel and speaks to the degree of corruption and idolatry in the church at the different times with the worst being Jeroboam. Even though there were varying degrees of corruption, a remnant of the true church remained in Israel through the preaching of God's prophets.

Calvin turns to the Roman church by stating, "Come now, let the papists deny if they can...that the condition of religion among them is as corrupt and debased as it was in the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam." The Romans of Calvin's day made two demands of all Christians. The first is that all Christians must participate in the prayers, sacraments, and ceremonies of the Roman church. The second is that all Christians must "grant to their church every honor, power, and jurisdiction that Christ gives to his church." Calvin admits that during the reign of wicked kings in Israel, the prophets did not perform private sacrifices nor did they hold separate assemblies from the rest of the church because God had commanded all His people to worship in Solomon's Temple. However, they were not compelled by the church to participate in anything (such as superstitious worship) that was not instituted by God. Calvin concludes, "that among the godly the communion of the church ought not to extend so far that, if it degenerates into profane and corrupted rites, they have to follow it headlong."

The prophets declared that these assemblies were profane and that it was just as unlawful to participate in them as it was to deny God. "The prophets, then, had to depart from agreement with those assemblies, which were nothing but a wicked conspiracy against God." It was not necessarily the Reformers who left the church, "But on the contrary, they (the Roman church) disown from their communion all that genuinely profess themselves servants of Christ."

"God had once for all made his covenant with the Jews, but it was not they who preserved the covenant; rather, leaning upon its own strength, it is kept alive by struggling against their impiety." God continued to call his children by His special blessing even though they were born to wicked people. Calvin compares these children to people in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England. He writes, "When those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, the Lord used two means to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant...Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die."

Calvin denies the Roman church's claim that they are the one and only church. He does admit that there are congregations within the Roman church that remain part of the true church: "we by no means deny that the churches under his tyranny remain churches." But later he explains, "I call them churches to the extent that the Lord wonderfully preserves in them a remnant of his people, however woefully dispersed and scattered, and to the extent that some marks of the church remain." Finally, the Roman church as a whole lacks the lawful form of the church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.3.1-4.3.5

Monday, September 20, 2010

Comparing the True and the False Church

The Reformers were accused by the Roman church of being a false church. They were accused of being schismatics who were breaking up the church. We know that they were not trying to break up the church, but return the church to being focused on the Word instead of man and tradition. Calvin defines a true church as being one that (1) preaches the Word and administers the sacraments and (2) that "it is not so weakened by trivial errors as not to be esteemed lawful." He goes on to say, "as soon as falsehood breaks into the citadel of religion and the sum of necessary doctrine is overturned and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, surely the death of the church follows."

Calvin turns his attention to the Roman church. He writes, "The foulest sacrilege has been introduced in place of the Lord's Supper. The worship of God has been deformed by a diverse and unbearable mass of superstitions. Doctrine (apart from which Christianity cannot stand) has been entirely buried and driven out. Public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and ungodliness." By separating from this false church is not breaking from the unity of Christ. The Roman claim is that theirs is the true church because of an unbroken succession of bishops. Calvin asks the question if the churches in Asia, Africa, and Egypt are not part of the universal church since they cannot establish an unbroken succession of bishops. Then he asks why the Greek church is not considered by the Romans part of the true church since they also can prove an unbroken chain. Calvin's point is that this claim by the Roman church is not proof of it being the true church, but only the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments prove whether or not a church is true.

The ancient Jews were reprimanded by Ezekiel and Jeremiah for boasting of their temple, ceremonies, and priestly functions. They were not praising God, but their own false show of religiousness. The Romanists were guilty of the same sin. They built glorious cathedrals, engaged in fancy mass ceremonies, and honored what the priests performed, but forgot about true religion in the meantime. Calvin writes, "For the Lord nowhere recognizes any temple as his save where his Word is heard and scrupulously observed." He gets back to the Roman claim of succession by stating, "But especially in the organization of the church nothing is more absurd than to lodge the succession in persons alone to the exclusion of teaching." Augustine and other church fathers were concerned with the succession of right teaching, not the succession of bishops.

The true church only exists where God's Word is found. Calvin says this about the Roman church: "Therefore, although they put forward Temple, priesthood, and the rest of outward shows, this empty glitter which blinds the eyes of the simple ought not to move us a whit to grant that the church exists where God's Word is not found." We all acknowledge that the church is Christ's Kingdom. Christ reigns by His Holy Word. Calvin calls it a lie to imagine Christ ruling His kingdom apart from His scepter, His most Holy Word.

The Romans claim that we are heretics and schismatics. Augustine defined both of these terms in this way: "heretics corrupt the sincerity of the faith with false dogmas; but schismatics, while sometimes even of the same faith, break the bond of fellowship." Calvin explains that church unity requires both that our minds agree in Christ, but also that our wills should be "joined with mutual benevolence in Christ." Paul encourages this unity when he writes, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism;" (Ephesians 4:5, New King James Version). However, even though unity is called for by Paul and others, Calvin writes, "apart from the Lord's Word there is not an agreement of believers but a faction of wicked men."

Cyprian also wrote much about the unity of the church. He compares the church to a tree or a stream. If you break off a tree limb, that limb cannot live. If you cut off the source of a stream, it dries up. But he also "declares that heresies and schisms arise because men return not to the Source of truth, seek not the Head, keep not the teaching of the Heavenly Master." Calvin then says that the reformers have been cast out from the Roman church, not that they left the church. He writes, "I forbear to mention that they have expelled us with anathemas and curses - more than sufficient reason to absolve us, unless they wish to condemn the apostles also as schismatics, whose case was like our own. Christ, I say, forewarned his apostles that they would be cast out of the synagogues for his name's sake."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.2.7-4.2.12

Friday, September 17, 2010

Forgiveness of Sins

One of the most amazing things about our relationship with God is that not only does He forgive us when we sin, He continues to forgive us again and again. He preserves and protects us in His company, the church, forever. It is not a one-shot deal where we get forgiven once, but we better never mess up again. It is continual, since we sin often. Calvin writes, "sins have been and are daily pardoned to us who have been received and engrafted into the body of the church."

Jesus granted the "power of the keys" to the apostles, which has been passed to the church (Matthew 16:19). Calvin writes, "When Christ gave the command to the apostles and conferred upon them the power to forgive sins, he did not so much desire that the apostles absolve from sins those who might be converted from ungodliness to the faith of Christ, as that they should perpetually discharge this office among believers."  Calvin makes three significant points about this doctrine.  First, without the forgiveness of sins, we cannot stand before God in our mortal bodies no matter how "good" we are since we all have sinned.  Secondly, apart from the church, we cannot experience this benefit.  And what I think is the most important piece in understanding this doctrine, "Thirdly, it is dispensed to us through the ministers and pastors of the church, either by the preaching of the gospel or by the administration of the sacraments; and herein chiefly stands out the power of the keys, which the Lord has conferred upon the society of believers."

I worked with a guy once who thinking he was a faithful Christian used to preach to all who would listen to him in the breakroom at our office.  Typically I ignored him, but one day as I was passing through I heard him tell everyone that it had been several years since he had sinned.  I knew I did not hear him correctly, so I lingered to hear what he said next.  He explained to everyone that once you became a "real" Christian, you stopped sinning.  I pointed out 1 John 1:8-10 to him, and he had no response.  Later, this same married supervisor got fired in part because he had on more than one occasion had affairs with temporary employees.  His error is not new to the church.  The Novationists and the Anabaptists (no relation to the Baptist church) taught the same thing.  They taught that once you have been reborn and baptized, if you sin again you only will receive God's judgment.  This is not what Christ taught.  In the "Lord's Prayer," we ask for forgiveness on a regular (if not daily) basis.  We are told to forgive our brother "seventy times seven" times, which is how God graciously forgives us. 

There are numerous Old Testament examples of believers who committed sins and were forgiven.  Think of Joseph's brothers who conspired to commit murder, but then only kidnapped Joseph, sold him into slavery, then lied to their father about it.  "Yet far from being banished from the chosen people, these men were raised up as heads!"  David, committed adultery and murder, but was still forgiven by God.  The Israelites as a whole sinned by worshiping false gods, but God always forgave them, too.  "So often does the Lord prove that he shows himself willing to forgive the offenses of his people!"

So often the prophets of the Old Testament called the Israelites to turn from their rebellion and sin.  They preached that God would forgive them once they repented of their sin.  God was faithful and did just that time and time again.  It is clear in Solomon's prayer of dedication for the temple that it was to be used as a place where forgiveness of sins was to be prayed for and answered (1 Kings 8:22-53). 

God's mercy did not stop with the coming of Christ, but instead it is given even more.   "The Heavenly Father's clemency flows forth to us much more abundantly, rather than that it is cut off or curtailed."  Calvin gives several examples of this.  First, he mentions Peter who denied Christ but was received back into communion with Christ.  Paul chastised the church in Thessolonica, not to banish them but to invite them to repent.  Another example was Simon the Magician (Acts 8:22) and Peter tells him to pray.

The churches in Galatia and Corinth both were in great sin when Paul wrote to them.  Neither church was prevented from receiving God's mercy.  Calvin writes, "Finally, by the very order of the Creed we are taught that continual grace for sins remains in Christ's church.  For once the church has, so to speak, been established, forgiveness of sins is added to it."

Another error of the Anabaptists was the idea that only unconscious sins were forgivable.  If we know that something is a sin and still commit it, they believed that we would not be forgiven.  In Leviticus 6:1-7, the law commanded that a sacrifice be given to God for the forgiveness of the voluntary sins of believers.  There was a separate sacrifice for sins of ignorance.  There are other examples as well.  David punished adulterers and murderers, but he committed both of those sins.  Joseph's brothers knew that plotting murder and kidnapping was a sin, but they did it anyway.  Peter was warned that denying Christ was a sin, yet he denied Christ three times.  All of these were forgiven of their sins and received back into fellowship with God.

There were some ancient writers who wrote about "slight errors" versus "public crimes".  Forgiveness was easily obtained for the slight errors that someone might commit on a regular basis.  Public crimes were a more serious matter, which forgiveness was not quite so easy to obtain.  "They did this, not because they considered pardon for their sins hard to obtain before the Lord; rather, with this severity they intended to deter others from rashly plunging into iniquities that would merit their being cut off from the communion of the church."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.2.1-4.2.6

Thursday, September 16, 2010


What are we to do when the church is plagued with vices? Paul addresses this with the Corinthians. He does not encourage separation, but instead calls them "the church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2) indicating that they are still in the communion of the saints. Even though the Corinthians are full of sin, "Yet the church abides among them because the ministry of Word and sacraments remains unrepudiated there." The same can be said about modern churches, where sins are no longer considered sins but celebrated as diversity - as long as the Word is truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, they are still churches of Christ and no cause for schism exists.

Paul preaches against allowing fellowship with the wicked (1 Corinthians 5), but Calvin response, "But because pastors are not always zealously on the watch, and are also sometimes more lenient than they should be, or are hindered from being able to exercise the severity they would like, the result is that even the openly wicked are not always removed from the company of saints." Admittedly, it would be a shock if I were to find out that one of my pastors had barred someone from fellowship. It would cause a major stir within the church. Personally, I think today pastors are hindered more from being able to exercise discipline than a lack of attention. On the flip side from barring wicked individuals from fellowship is the question whether or not someone should break from fellowship if there are wicked people there. Paul does not teach this, but instead writes "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body," (1 Corinthians 11:29, New King James Version). In other words, those who wrongly partake in the Lord's Supper heap more judgment on themselves, not those around them.

Sometimes in our churches, there are people who think more of themselves than they should and create dissension within the body. Calvin writes, "this overscrupulousness is born rather of pride and arrogance and false opinion of holiness than of true holiness and true zeal for it." Augustine also addresses this by writing, "The godly manner and measure of church discipline ought at all times to be concerned with 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Ephesians 4:3)." We are called to bring unity, not schism, when conflicts arise. Augustine does give advice to "godly and peaceable men" by stating, "Mercifully to correct what they can; patiently to bear and lovingly to bewail and mourn what they cannot; until God either amends or corrects or in the harvest uproots the tares and winnows the chaff."

The church's holiness is not complete, yet. Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish," (Ephesians 5:25-27, New King James Version). Calvin responds by writing, "Yet it is also no less true that the Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots...The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect." Ever since Adam, man has been in sin. But our joy is in the fact that God has never been without His people that He loves in spite of their sin.

Even the prophets of the Old Testament recognized the sinfulness of the church. Isaiah even likens Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10). But they did not break apart the church and create new altars and temples. "Nothing, consequently, kept them from creating a schism save their zeal to maintain unity." We should be like-minded and strive for unity in the church.

Christ and His apostles worshiped in the same temple as the Pharisees and all others of the Jewish faith. Calvin writes, "If anyone is not convinced by prophets and apostles, let him at least yield to Christ's authority." The theologian Cyprian wrote, "Even though there seem to be tares or unclean vessels in the church, there is no reason why we ourselves should withdraw from the church." He goes on to say that we should work with Christ to perfect the church, "But the breaking of earthen vessels belongs solely to the Lord." Calvin concludes with two points: "First, he who voluntarily deserts the outward communion of the church (where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered) is without excuse. Secondly, neither the vices of the few nor the vices of the many in any way prevent us from duly professing our faith there in ceremonies ordained by God."

There are still those who "do not recognize the church unless it be free of even the slightest blemish." They condemn teachers for encouraging their flock to strive for improvement instead of insisting perfection from the outset. Calvin responds that we should urge perfection, but it is arrogance to be certain about one's own perfection. God has been forgiving our sins ever since the Garden of Eden. It is "for us the first entry into the church and Kingdom of God. Without it, there is for us no covenant or bond with God." We need God's forgiveness to bridge the gap that sin causes in our relationship with Him. "Accordingly, we are initiated into the society of the church by the sign of baptism, which teaches us that entrance into God's family is not open to us unless we first are cleansed of our filth by his goodness."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.21-4.1.29

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recognizing the True Church

Throughout Scripture, the word "church" means two different but related things. One way it is used is to indicate all persons who are received into God's presence, those who are God's children and true members of Christ's body. The other way it is used is to indicate all men who profess to worship God and Christ throughout the world. "In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance." There have always been those in this church who are not a part of the body of Christ. Calvin then writes, "the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called 'church' in respect to men."

Only God knows who is truly part of His church. He did give us some outward signs that we might recognize better the members of the church. These recognize "by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments" those who profess in the same God and Christ.

In a recent class, we were focusing on ecclesiology, the study of the church. This next section was very important to our professor as he referenced it a number of times. Calvin writes, "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." These are the marks of the true church - the Word of God is preached and heard also that the sacraments are administered. Calvin further defines the church, "the church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion. Under it are thus included individual churches, disposed in towns and villages according to human need, so that each rightly has the name and authority of the church. Individual men who, by their profession of religion, are reckoned within such churches, even though they may actually be strangers to the church, still in a sense belong to it until they have been rejected by public judgment." Once again, Calvin defines the church by stating, "If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church."

If the gospel is heard and the sacraments are not neglected then "no one is permitted to spurn its authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements - much less to desert it and break its unity." We are to build up the body of Christ, not break it apart. Paul calls the church, "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15). Calvin writes that Paul meant "the church is the faithful keeper of God's truth in order that it may not perish in the world."

Satan is at work trying to destroy the church. "Sometimes he tries by effacing and destroying these marks to remove the true and genuine distinction of the church. Sometimes he tries by heaping contempt upon them to drag us away from the church in open rebellion." There is nothing that Satan would like to see more than the destruction of the church. We should be vigilant in making sure that these marks exist in our congregations.

Occasionally, we may see that a fault in a non-essential doctrine may arise in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the sacraments. This should not cause us to leave the church or try to split apart the congregation. Essential doctrine consists of "God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God's mercy; and the like." Non-essential matters should never be a reason for schism among Christians, although unity of belief is preferred. We should try to correct what is displeasing in the church if the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered rather than splitting from the church. But this correction must happen in a way not to disturb the peace and discipline of the church. Calvin writes, "we are neither to renounce the communion of the church nor, remaining in it, to disturb its peace and duly ordered discipline."

There have always been perfectionists within the church. Some who think of themselves as "airy spirits" are convinced of their own perfect sanctity. "There are others who sin more out of ill-advised zeal for righteousness than out of that insane pride." These people try to find the "perfect" church. Eventually they often leave the church out of hatred of the lawful church. Calvin suggests that they examine Christ's parables related to the church and the final judgment, such as the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-58) or the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:24-30).

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.14-4.1.20

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ministers of the Church

We are called as Christians to be a part of the church. Part of this calling is to learn from our pastors and teachers. These pastors and teachers were appointed by Christ for this task (Ephesians 4:11). Learning from them is part of God's plan for our sanctification. Calvin notes, "We see how God, who could in a moment perfect his own, nevertheless desires them to grow up into manhood solely under the education of the church." The education comes from the preaching which has been assigned to the called pastors. The priests of the Old Testament were assigned the same task. God willed for us to gather as a congregation to hear the Word of the Lord read and proclaimed that it "might foster agreement in the faith." This is part of the reason why we are to be part of a church. If we are on our own, it is much easier for us to get off track with are Biblical studies. If we are being taught as a group, we can all learn from each other in order to keep on the right course. God did not send angels to teach us, but he uses human means to teach us. If God spoke to us directly, in our weakness we would probably be driven away by His power. We need human pastors and teachers that we may learn. Calvin writes, "believers have no greater help than public worship, for by it God raises his own folk upward step by step."

Calvin calls people who claim that the Word is dragged down when pastors preach it ungrateful. God has ordained that certain people proclaim His Word, therefore it is not being dragged down. Even more detestable are those "who have a passion for splitting churches, in effect driving the sheep from their fold and casting them into the jaws of wolves." When people try to break apart the church, they are trying to break apart the body of Christ. He desires us to be united in our worship, not constantly breaking off into schisms.

There are people who give too much credit to the position of pastor and some too little. "Some exaggerate its dignity beyond measure. Others contend that what belongs to the Holy Spirit is wrongly transferred to mortal men." To correct both issues, Calvin notes "the passages in which God as the author of preaching, joining his Spirit with it, promises benefits from it; the passages in which God, separating himself from outward helps, claims for himself alone both the beginnings of faith and its entire course." We should think not too much nor too little of pastors. God ordains pastors to preach the Word to His people, but pastors themselves cannot soften the heart of an unbeliever in order to convert them. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of that.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.7-4.1.13
Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf