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

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Holy Catholic Church, Our Mother

Book IV of the Institutes is all about the church.  Even though we are saved through a faith in Christ, we still require external aids in keeping us from being sluggish in our faith.  The church provides some of these aids for us.  God has provided us with "'pastors and teachers' through whose lips he might teach his own; he furnished them with authority; finally, he omitted nothing that might make for holy agreement of faith and for right order."  Not only did God provide pastors and teachers, He also instituted the sacraments, "which we who have experienced them feel to be highly useful aids to foster and strengthen faith."  From now through the end of the year, we will be in Book IV and studying the church.  Calvin promises that we will be looking at "the church, its government, orders, and power; then the sacraments; and lastly, the civil order."

When we recite the Apostles' Creed, we say, "I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church..."  Calvin states that when we "profess to 'believe the church'", it "refers not only to the visible church (our present topic) but also to all God's elect" including the dead.  He makes an interesting note about the preposition "in".  He claims that the Apostles' Creed is to be understood as we "believe the church" not we "believe in the church".  We only believe in God.  We don't believe in the forgiveness of sins or in the resurrection of the body.

Just because someone is a member of the visible church does not mean that he is part of the invisible true church.  Calvin writes, "But because a small and contemptible number are hidden in a huge multitude and a few grains of wheat are covered by a pile of chaff, we must leave to God alone the knowledge of his church, whose foundation is his secret election."  It is not our place to judge whether or not someone in the church is among the elect, that is God's place alone.  We must do our best to remain united with all believers in the church.  Also, we must remember that all Christians are a part of the church.  There is only one church.  "The church is called 'catholic' or 'universal' because there could not be two or three churches unless Christ be torn asunder - which cannot happen!"  So let us remember when we see differences in beliefs with other Christians, that we are all part of the same body of Christ, therefore we should treat them accordingly.

The next article in the Creed is "the communion of saints."  This applies to both the visible and invisible church.  Calvin says about this, "If truly convinced that God is the common Father of all and Christ the common Head, being united in brotherly love, they cannot but share their benefits with one another."  We should be fully convinced that we are members of the church.  Our true faith and communion with other believers will keep us from falling even if the world gets turned upside-down.  "First, [the church] stands by God's election, and cannot waver or fail ant more than his eternal providence can.  Secondly, it has in a way been joined to the steadfastness of Christ, who will no more allow his believers to be estranged from him than that his members be rent and torn asunder."  Later he writes, "So powerful is participation in the church that it keeps us in the society of God."  Calvin touches on the subject of the elect and the reprobate within the visible church.  It is not our place to distinguish between the two, "but to establish with certainty in our hearts that all those who, by the kindness of God the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit, have entered into fellowship with Christ, are set apart as God's property and personal possession; and that when we are of their number we share that great grace."

God is our Father.  The visible church is our mother.  "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels."  We must be "pupils" in her school all our lives.  Finally, through the words of Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel, a psalmist, and Solomon, Calvin demonstrates that it is "always disastrous to leave the church."  We should always be a part of the church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.5-4.1.6

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Final Resurrection, Part III

Book 3 of the Institutes draws to a close today with this reading. Only one more book to go.

The joy we will experience as the elect is unable to be expressed in words. Calvin calls this joy, "a happiness of whose excellence the minutest part would scarce be told if all were said that the tongues of all men could say." God is love, so when we are no longer in this broken world but in His presence, we can experience this love fully and there is no greater happiness that could be imagined. Nothing beyond God's presence should be sought after, because there is no greater good and happiness. Calvin briefly warns against vain speculation about the afterlife. Suffice it to say, the joy we will experience is beyond our current comprehension. Calvin then addresses the gifts that we will receive from God. We will not all receive the same rewards in heaven. Calvin writes, "just as God, variously distributing his gifts to the saints in this world, beams upon them unequally, so there will not be an equal measure of glory in heaven, where God shall crown his own gifts." For instance, in Matthew 19:28 Christ promises the apostles that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a special reward reserved just for them.

We should not concern ourselves with silly questions about the afterlife. Examples he gives are that we should not worry about the gifts reserved for prophets versus the gifts reserved for the apostles. Nor should we worry about whether or not virgins and married women receive equal gifts. Referencing 1 Corinthians 13:12, Calvin writes that we should, "be satisfied with the 'mirror' and its 'dimness' until we see him face to face." He concludes, "For few out of a huge multitude care how they are to go to heaven, but all long to know beforehand what takes place there. Almost all are lazy and loath to do battle, while already picturing to themselves imaginary victories."

Just as the joy we will experience in heaven is beyond our current comprehension, so is the suffering of the reprobate beyond our imagination. The prophets and apostles try to warn their readers of the pain by using imagery of fire and gnashing of teeth. In reality, this suffering goes beyond these images. "As by such detail we should be enabled in some degree to conceive the lot of the wicked, so we ought especially to fix our thoughts upon this: how wretched it is to be cut off from all fellowship with God." There is no worse suffering than to be totally out of the presence of God.

  Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
  Before the mountains were brought forth,
         Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
         Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
  You turn man to destruction,
         And say, “Return, O children of men.”
  For a thousand years in Your sight
         Are like yesterday when it is past,
         And like a watch in the night.
  You carry them away like a flood;
         They are like a sleep.
         In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
  In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
         In the evening it is cut down and withers.
  For we have been consumed by Your anger,
         And by Your wrath we are terrified.
  You have set our iniquities before You,
         Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
  For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
         We finish our years like a sigh.
  The days of our lives are seventy years;
         And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
         Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
         For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
  Who knows the power of Your anger?
         For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
  So teach us to number our days,
         That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
  Return, O LORD!
         How long?
         And have compassion on Your servants.
  Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
         That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
  Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
         The years in which we have seen evil.
  Let Your work appear to Your servants,
         And Your glory to their children.
  And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
         And establish the work of our hands for us;
         Yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90, New King James Version)

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.1-4.1.4

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Final Resurrection, Part II

Coffee With Calvin has been on vacation for the past few days. I took my copy of the Institutes with me, but it seemed as if every time I had internet service, we were really busy. At times when no service was available, I had some time when I could have worked on this. Well, I am back in town and getting back into my regular routine.

Calvin spent these sections refuting different errors related to the final resurrection of the flesh. First, he looks at the Sadducees and others who deny a resurrection of the flesh at all. The Sadducees even believed that our souls were mortal, not just our bodies. Calvin contends that the very act of burying the dead signifies a hope for the resurrection. He asks, "Why the sacred and inviolable custom of burial but as an earnest of new life?" Hank Hanegraaff makes a cogent argument for burial as opposed to cremation. Ancient Greeks performed cremation to rid the soul of the body, so that it could be released. Burial shows that we are hopeful that these same bodies will rise again as Scripture has promised. It is not that God is unable to raise a cremated body, it is an expression of our hope of resurrection that one chooses to be buried.

The chiliasts promote an idea of Christ having a thousand-year reign upon earth. Christ's reign is not limited to a fixed period of time, because His reign is eternal. Calvin contends that the chiliasts misunderstand Revelation 20:4 and that the number "'one thousand' does not apply to the eternal blessedness of the church but only to the various disturbances that awaited the church, while still toiling on the earth." Instead of limiting Christ's reign, Calvin continues, "all Scripture proclaims that there will be no end to the blessedness of the elect or the punishment of the wicked." One example from Scripture reads, "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life," (Matthew 25:46, New King James Version).  God is not limited to a particular time period.  Calvin writes, "God's majesty, and also his justice...are eternal."

He takes on a couple of errors which had come up by some in the church.  Some believed that both the body and soul die, but then both the body and soul would eventually be resurrected.  Others believed that only the body dies, but the soul is clothed in a new body.  Calvin quickly refuted both of these ideas.  The soul is immortal because it is in the image of God.  Therefore, it does not die when the body dies.  Calvin then instructs the readers to not be too curious about the intermediate state of the soul after the body dies.  He was always telling his readers not to be too curious about things that we do not have a clear answer to from Scripture. Rather than being curious, he writes, "Meanwhile, since Scripture everywhere bids us wait in expectation for Christ's coming, and defers until then the crown of glory, let us be content with the limits divinely set for us: namely, that the souls of the pious, having ended the toil of their warfare, enter into blessed rest, where in glad expectation they await the enjoyment of promised glory, and so all things are held in suspense until Christ the Redeemer appear."

The second error of receiving new bodies he deals with next.  We do admit that everything that exists in us right not is not worthy of heaven, but it does not prevent the resurrection of our bodies.  We are members of Christ's body, therefore we have been sanctified to Him.  Since we are sanctified by Christ, God will not condemn to eternal damnation what has been declared sacred.  Calvin moves into numerous passages which show that our bodies will be resurrected.  For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:53 reads, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Calvin asks about this passage, "If God made new bodies, where would this change of quality appear?" Later he quotes Daniel 12:2, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt." On this passage he points out, "...He does not call forth new matter from the four elements to fashion men, but dead from their graves." Calvin points out many more passages, too many to list here.

We should always remain confident of the resurrection of our bodies. Calvin writs, "in Scripture, the Spirit of God is continually urging us to hope for the resurrection of our flesh." In Colossians 2:12 Paul tells us that we are buried with Christ in our baptism, then raised with Him through faith. Calvin paraphrases Philippians 3:20-21, "We await a Redeemer from heaven, who will conform our lowly body to his glorious body." Calvin addresses certain burial rites, claiming that they did not come out of superstition, but they show hope in the resurrection of the flesh. Interestingly, Calvin notes even the word "cemetery" is hopeful. It comes from a word meaning "sleeping place" which indicates that the inhabitants will rise again.

Our bodies will rise, but they will be different. "Although we shall retain the substance of our bodies, there will be a change, that its condition may be far more excellent. Therefore, that we may be raised, the corruptible body will not perish or vanish, but, having laid aside corruption, will put on incorruption." Even those who are still alive at the second coming of Christ will be changed. Paul writes, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Corinthians 15:51).

It is not just the righteous that will be raised from the dead, but also the wicked. When Christ comes, we are told that he will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). The resurrection of the wicked shows again God's kindness to all, which makes them even more inexcusable. God's heavenly glory is reserved for His people alone, not the wicked.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Final Resurrection, Part I

One time I was hanging out with a minister-friend and the topic of the resurrection came up. I affirmed that I believed in the resurrection of all our bodies, not just Christ's body. He chuckled and told me "nobody believes that anymore." Yes, he does believe it too, but he meant that very few people in the church really understand what they are affirming each week in the Apostle's Creed when they say, "I the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." This is talking about you and me, not just Christ! Our bodies will be resurrected from the dead.

Our hope is to be raised from the dead to eternal life with Christ. He is the Head and we are His body. Calvin writes, "When, therefore, with our eyes fast fixed on Christ we wait upon heaven, and nothing on earth hinders them from bearing us to the promised blessedness, the statement is truly fulfilled 'that where our treasure is, our heart is' [Matt. 6:21]." When we are focused on Christ, doubt fades away. We know when we are His. "Accordingly, he alone has fully profited in the gospel who has accustomed himself to continual meditation upon the blessed resurrection."

Philosophers for many years have questioned what is the supreme good. "Yet none but Plato recognized man's highest good as union with God, and he could not even dimly sense its nature." We cannot be truly happy in this life until we know that we must cling to Him. We will be content with nothing else on this earth. "I said that they alone receive the fruit of Christ's benefits who raise their minds to the resurrection." This should be our focus because that is when we will be in constant communion with God. Paul referred to the final coming of Christ as "our redemption" or "the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). Calvin writes about this, "Whatever hardships distress us, let this 'redemption' sustain us until its completion." The author of Hebrews writes, "so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation," (Hebrews 9:28, New King James Version). It is at this final coming of Christ that He will complete our salvation.

How important is it that we believe that we shall rise from the dead? Paul writes, "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty," (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, New King James Version). Sounds pretty important to me. Calvin does admit that it seems incredible to think that we will all rise from the dead. "It is difficult to believe that bodies, when consumed with rottenness, will at length be raised up in their season. Therefore, although many of the philosophers declared souls immortal, few approved of the resurrection of the flesh." Calvin then tells us that there are two foundations for our hope in the resurrection: "one in the parallel of Christ's resurrection; the other in the omnipotence of God." Paul makes it clear, "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen," (1 Corinthians 15:16, New King James Version). Using the head/body metaphor, Calvin writes, "there was begun in the Head what must be completed in all the members, according to the rank and station of each."

God is omnipotent. He has the power to do anything He wills. He created man out of dust and breathed life into him, so it should not be difficult for us to believe that He will bring us back from the dead. Calvin writes, "But let us remember that no one is truly persuaded of the coming resurrection unless he is seized with wonder, and ascribes to the power of God its due glory." Believing in the resurrection helps us to overcome adversity in the present world. In the words of Paul Harvey, "And now you know the rest of the story." Knowing the rest of the story, that we will rise again, does give us the confidence to face the trials of this world confident that they are temporary and better things are yet to come.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.25.5-3.25.9

Saturday, September 4, 2010

God's Handling of the Reprobate

We have studied a lot recently about how God shows mercy to the elect. It is by His grace alone that we are brought into His Kingdom. There is another side to this equation, which is the judgment God shows the reprobate. The reprobate may be the reprobate for one of two reasons (besides that God has willed it). The first is that the Word may have been hidden from them. The example Calvin uses is with the Gentiles for the 4,000 years preceding Christ. The other reason is that they may have heard the Word, but God may have hardened their hearts to refuse it. Calvin writes, "he leaves in blindness those whom he has once condemned and deprived of participation in his light... If the same sermon is preached, say, to a hundred people, twenty receive it with the ready obedience of faith, while the rest hold it valueless, or laugh, or hiss, or loathe it." It is God who allows us to not only hear His Word, but to have the heart to receive it.

Calvin asks why God may show mercy to some and judgment to others. He answers his own question by quoting Augustine, "God could turn the will of evil men to good because he is almighty. Obviously he could. Why, then, does he not? Because he wills otherwise. Why he wills otherwise rests with him." Calvin says that this is far more adequate than what Chrysostom taught. Chrysostom taught that "him who is willing and stretches out his hand God draws to himself." Calvin immediately responds, "Otherwise, the distinction would seem to lie not in God's judgment but solely in men's decision." It is God's judgment and not the decision of man. My question is why do people who claim that God is sovereign insist that we have the power to overrule His will by choosing or denying Him? God sometimes sends His Word to those whom He wishes to increase their blindness. For instance, He sent Moses to Pharaoh knowing that He would also harden his heart to make him not receptive to His Word. God illumines the hearts of those He wishes to make His own. He obscures His Word from those He wills to reject. But, "For however much obscurity there may be in the Word, there is still always enough light to convict the conscience of the wicked."

God chooses to harden the hearts of some. We are told that plainly in Scripture. We might ask why He does this. "The fact that the reprobate do not obey God's Word when it is made known to them will be justly charged against the malice and depravity of their hearts, provided it be added at the same time that they have been given over to this depravity because they have been raised up by the just but inscrutable judgment of God to show forth his glory in their condemnation." Calvin notes that certain impious individuals may accuse God of being abusive to His creatures purely for His own amusement by judging them when He hardened their hearts. Simply put, "the wicked suffer nothing out of accord with God's most righteous judgment." God is righteous in everything He does, therefore, when He convicts the wicked, it is with perfect reason.

There are some Scripture passages which seem to contradict that God chooses some for His judgment. The first one that Calvin highlights is Ezekiel 33:11, "Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’" Ezekiel is telling the Israelites not that God gets pleasure from condemning the wicked, but it is part of God's design to assure believers that God will pardon them as soon as they repent of their sins. Also, it is so that the wicked will understand that their sins are doubled because they did not respond to God's goodness.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 states, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." One must look at the previous two verses to better understand what it means for God to desire that "all men" be saved. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," (1 Timothy 2:1-4, New King James Version). Calvin writes, "By this (vs 3-4), Paul surely means only that God has not closed the way unto salvation to any order of men (such as the kings and all who are in authority in verse 2); rather, he has so poured out his mercy that he would have none without it."

In the final section, Calvin tells us that "When we receive the promises in faith, we know that then and only then do they become effective in us." He then discusses the fact that illumination of God's Word is also part of His election. "Therefore, since God's mercy is offered to both sorts of men through the gospel, it is faith - the illumination of God - that distinguishes between pious and impious, so that the former feel the working of the gospel, while the latter derive no profit from it."

One final note: we are not able to understand God's justice. A common objection to the doctrine of election is that "that's not fair." In the words of my mother when any of her children complained about anything not being fair, "Life's not fair and if it were we would all be burning in the bad place!" Augustine said it a little differently, "they who measure divine justice by the standard of human justice are acting perversely."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.25.1-3.25.4

Perseverance of the Saints, Part II

I finally have some quiet time to finish these last two sections that I started on Wednesday. These two sections deal with what some people refer to as a "seed of election" among those who are among the elect who have not yet converted. Calvin clearly refutes this idea of this seed. He writes, "they do not differ at all from others except that they are protected by God's especial mercy from rushing headlong into the final ruin of death." God protects His own, even before they realize that they are His. Those who do not belong to God do not receive this same protection from committing all sorts of evil. Calvin continues, "For those who imagine that some sort of seed of election was sown in them from birth itself, and that by its power they have always been inclined to piety and the fear of God, are not supported by Scriptural authority and are refuted by experience itself."

Calvin points out several examples in Scripture of people who committed all kinds of evil before they came to know Christ. Paul for instance persecuted Christians before being confronted by Christ himself. Rahab was a harlot before she did God's work. As the beginning of Isaiah 53:6 reads, "All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way..." We have all gone astray and done what is right in our own eyes. Fortunately for the elect, God awakens them to His way. "Those whom the Lord has once determined to snatch from this gulf of destruction he defers until his own time; he only preserves them from falling into unpardonable sin."

Later today's reading: 3.24.12-3.24.17

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Perseverance of the Saints, Part I

The past couple of days have been quite an adventure. For the first time in my life I had to spend the night as a patient in the hospital. I am fine and at home, although the doctors still don't know exactly what is wrong. My wife and my mother both brought me copies of Calvin's Institutes to read while in the hospital, but that was more difficult than I imagined it would be. While I was attempting to read, I was constantly being interrupted by nurses, medical technicians, and doctors. I gave up and decided to read Calvin when I got home. I did meet a great guy who works in the hospital that also is a youth pastor at a Baptist church. In the short time that I spoke with Bryan, I learned that he acknowledges that God is who elects us. I love it when I meet people like him who have honestly studied the Scriptures and may not necessarily agree with what a denomination teaches. Maybe it is because I am someone who does not blindly accept other people's interpretations of Scripture, but I must study it for myself to determine God's truth in my life.

We are moving slightly out of the doctrine of predestination today and into the perseverance of the saints. This is closely tied to predestination since it really contributes to the overall doctrine of election. Calvin writes, "For those whom Christ has illumined with the knowledge of his name and has introduced into the bosom of his church, he is said to receive into his care and keeping. All whom he receives, the Father is said to have entrusted and committed to him to keep unto eternal life." In other words, those who have been given to Christ by the Father will never fall away. There is something here that at initial glance appears to be a conflict in Scripture, but Calvin resolves it by showing that there is no conflict a couple of sections later. Two verses are shown back-to-back that seem to not go well together. The first is from Romans, "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified," (Romans 8:30, New King James Version). In studying this passage, it can be inferred that all who have been predestined are called. All who are called are justified. All who are justified are glorified. But Matthew records in his gospel words of Christ which do not seem to agree. "For many are called, but few are chosen," (Matthew 22:14, New King James Version). How can this be? Keep reading...

It sometimes seems that there are those who were among the elect who fall away. Some people try to complicate this issue, but simply put we can never know where another man's heart is. Sure, with some people you can easily see that their heart belongs to the world, but there are those who hearts belong to the world but they act as if they belong to God. Calvin writes that it is "plain that such persons never cleaved to Christ with the heartfelt trust in which certainty of election has, I say, been established for us." He quotes John, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us..." (1 John 2:19a, New King James Version). These people were never truly among the elect even though for a time they appeared as if they were.

Going back to that conflict presented earlier, there is a difference between what I refer to as an external call and an internal call. Calvin uses the terms general call and special call, but he means exactly the same thing. "There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word - even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts." We are instructed by Christ to give the external or general call to all nations. Only the Spirit can change someones heart through the internal or specific call to make them receptive to His Word. Matthew 22:14 was referring to a general call while Romans 8:30 was referring to a specific call. Therefore there is no conflict between those passages.

Some opponents claim that the case of Judas can be used as counterevidence to this doctrine. Christ called Judas to the apostolic position, but not unto salvation. Gregory the Great unfortunately taught that we are aware of our call, but cannot be sure of our election. If we are called, we can be sure of our election because all those who receive a specific call are among the elect. Calvin writes, "predestination, rightly understood, brings no shaking of faith but rather its best confirmation."

I will try to finish the last two sections later today, but I am really late for work. Check back later to see if this post has been amended to include sections 10-11.
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