Saturday, May 15, 2010

Knowledge of Faith

There is a lot of discussion in today's reading about schools and learning.  Interestingly, I have several high school graduations to attend in the next few days (including one in about an hour).  Because of this, the ideas that Calvin had in regards to schools and learning really leapt off the page as I was reading this morning.

He starts off with a three-point summation of our need for faith.  (1) God tells us in the Law what is expected of us.  (2) We are unable to fulfill the Law completely.  (3) Christ the Redeemer is our only hope for salvation.  Already in the 16th century (and quite possibly before) there were issues with the way religion was taught in schools.  Calvin writes, "In fact, when faith is discussed in the schools, they call God simply the object of faith, and by fleeting speculations, as we have elsewhere stated, lead miserable souls astray rather than direct them to a definite goal."  Sounds to me like the schools were not giving God is due praise, but reducing him to just an idea that some people have.  Calvin later argues that Christ is who came to us in the flesh, therefore He is the object of our worship and faith.  He calls Christ as God the "destination to which we move" and Christ as man the "path by which we should go."

We should never blindly rely on the church to feed us what to believe.  We should always be studying the Scriptures for ourselves.  Blind faith (or Calvin refers to it as "implicit faith") destroys true faith.  He declares "Faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge."  I love this quote.  The 11th century theologian Anselm wrote extensively about "faith seeking understanding."  This was the way he communicated the belief that if true faith exists, the desire is there to know God more completely and truly.  We instinctively will be drawn into wanting a closer relationship to God which comes by learning more about Him.  Faith, according to Calvin, does not come through blind obedience to the church, but rather "when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of reconciliation effected through Christ, and that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, sanctification, and life."  He continues in the next section by stating that "ignorance tempered by humility" is not faith.  In contrast, "For faith consists in the knowledge of God and Christ, not in reverence for the church."

Calvin slightly switches gears by saying that there is a place for "implicit" faith in this world.  So long as we are not perfect, but dwell in ignorance and error, implicit faith is still needed so that we may continue in our faith.  For instance, there are obscure passages "in our daily reading of Scripture" that we may not understand.  Through implicit faith we may believe in them and be ready to learn, even if we do not comprehend them in our ignorance.  Even the apostles were subject to implicit faith until they received the full enlightenment after the resurrection.  Calvin even calls implicit faith the beginnings of true faith.  It is the "teachableness" that is in our hearts and minds which causes us to delve further into the faith in the beginning of our faith journey.  It is not the "sheer ignorance" that the papists claim to be faith.  Faith must be on an active journey, not sitting idly.   

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.6-3.2.8

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