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

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