Why I am a little bit Reformed at least
One of the best things I get to do as a pastor is to administer the sacrament of infant baptism to the covenant children in my congregation. Before each baptism, I take a few minutes to explain why we practice infant baptism in our church. My explanation usually goes something like this:
It our great privilege this morning to administer that sacrament of baptism to one of our little infants. We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate (though he may be), nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant.
Sorry, Kevin, but respectfully I have to disagree and on this issue at least, I am with Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel and those weird and wonderful Anabaptists I’ve been blogging about in their contention that the weight of New Testament evidence is in favour of believer’s baptism.
Even so, I find myself attracted to many aspects of Reformed Protestantism, particularly in its sixteenth century form during the lifetime of Calvin himself. Calvin was born in 1509 his leadership of the evangelical churches can be dated from 1536 – the year of the publication of his great systematic theology, the Institutes, and the year of his arrival in Geneva and assumption of the leadership of the Church in what became his adopted city. Calvin was some 26 years younger than Martin Luther and began his leadership of the evangelical churches some 19 years after the great German reformer.
As a second generation leader, very different skills were required of Calvin as compared to Luther. Luther was, first and foremost, a prophet to the Church of his generation. Luther was seen by his contemporaries as a new Daniel or a new Elijah. He was a man sent by God as a “Last Days” prophet prior to the Last Judgment. Luther himself perpetuated this “prophetic” persona, calling himself an Isaiah or Jeremiah who, like the prophets of old, proclaimed the word of God. As God Himself had commissioned Jeremiah:
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10)
Luther, then, through a powerful prophetic teaching ministry tore down false doctrine and rebuilt with Biblical truth. Luther’s prophetic preaching is nowhere better seen than in the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520).
May God help us and give us one of those trumpets with which the walls of Jericho were overthrown to blast down these walls of straw and paper in the same way… and bring to light the craft and deceit of the devil… Let us begin by attacking the first wall. It is pure invention that pope, bishop, priests and monks are called the first estate while princes, lords, artisans and farmers are called the temporal estate. This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 ‘We are all of one body.’ And as St Peter says, ‘You are a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
If Luther was essentially prophetic in his gifting to the Church, then Calvin was surely apostolic. Calvin would never have seen himself in such terms. He was mildly cessationist in his views. In their efforts to recover Biblical truth, most of the Protestant Reformers tended, for obvious reasons, to be extremely nervous of the supernatural. They had seen the damage that false attribution of the miraculous to the saints could have in the hearts and minds of the Christian faithful. This led many to conclude that the charismatic gifts of 1 Corinthians 12-14 had ceased to exist. Calvin writes:
The gifts and healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, have vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the Gospel marvellous forever.
This logic was further extended to the Ephesians 4 giftings of apostle, prophet and evangelist. But, as I indicated above, we should use the word “cessationist” with care in regard to Calvin. He did not believe that the first three of the Ephesians 4 giftings were normally operative in the Church, but neither did he completely rule them out of the life of the contemporary Church.
Those who preside over the government of the Church, according to the institution of Christ, are named by Paul, first Apostles; secondly Prophets; thirdly, Evangelists fourthly Pastors, and, lastly, Teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Of these, only the last two have an ordinary office in the Church. The Lord raised up the other three at the beginning of His kingdom, and still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires… According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as churches were to be formed where none had previously existed, or at least, where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least Evangelists (Calvin uses this word not to describe our understanding of “evangelists” but lists Luke, Timothy & Titus [apostolic delegates] as evangelists), in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring the Church back from the revolt of Antichrist.
Thus we are led to conclude that “apostolic ministry” was not something that Calvin particularly emphasized or attributed to himself. Nevertheless, even Calvin left space in extraordinary circumstances for the emergence, albeit temporary of contemporary Apostolic gifting. In my opinion Calvin above anyone else in the Reformation period, can be called Apostolic – in the doctrinal foundations he laid in the Institutes and in his preaching, in the creation of a “model” Church in Geneva which became a blueprint for reform everywhere, and in providing the visionary leadership for Calvinism to become a European wide, and ultimately worldwide, Church-planting movement.
Over the next few weeks I thought I would examine the role of Calvin as an “Apostolic” leader to the sixteenth century Church. I shall focus on three areas of Calvin’s ministry in particular.
Theology and preaching
Calvin on the role of the pastor:
Boldly dare to do all for God’s Word, and force every power, fame, wisdom and highness to submit to the majesty of the Word and to be obedient to it: supported by the power of the Word, to command all, from the highest to the lowest; to build up the house of Christ, to overturn the rule of Satan; to pasture the flock, to tear apart the wolves; to educate and spur on the teachable; to punish, rebuke and subdue the rebellious and the obstinate; and finally, if necessary, to break out with word of thunder and hurl verbal lightning bolts. But everything through the Word of God.
A blueprint Church
“Geneva is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in this earth since the days of the Apostles.” John Knox in a letter to Anne Locke (1556)
Mission and Church-planting
Calvin’s prayer each time he finished preaching: “Let him work this miracle of grace not only here, and for us, but for all the peoples and nations of the earth.”
This post forms part 1 of the series Why I am a little bit Reformed.