Why I Am A Little Bit Reformed: Conclusions
1. Calvin’s total commitment to a Biblical theology and philosophy
Calvin’s entire frame of thought was shaped by his submission to Scripture as the very word of God. At the very heart of this was, as we have seen, a preoccupation with the glory and honour of God Himself. Calvin believed in predestination and election because he saw those doctrines clearly in the Scriptures and because they exalted God in showing salvation from a theocentric rather than a man-centred perspective. But we should never view predestination and election as the be all and end all of Calvin’s theology.
2. Calvin’s model of Church-building
Calvin provided us (admittedly with quite a lot of help from Bucer) with a workable model for Church planting and building. We may choose to nit-pick on the detail, but the fourfold ministry of pastors, teachers, elders and deacons was a genuine attempt to submit ecclesiology to the authority of Scripture in a contemporary context.
3. Calvin’s Church planting
Calvin planted dozens of churches across France by training future pastors at the Genevan Academy. In turn, this inspired others to plant hundreds of churches across France and eventually to go to the ends of the earth to do likewise.
Calvin was not perfect by any means. Indeed, he was acutely aware of the sinfulness of the human race and therefore of his own sin in particular. He made mistakes. I would contend that his greatest mistake, that of an unnecessary and unhelpful entry into the political arena, has been largely overlooked. In the years immediately after his death, Calvin was (somewhat ironically for a Reformed Protestant) virtually canonized by his successor Theodore Beza. In his efforts to defend the doctrine of predestination Beza sought to dot every i and cross every t and, as a result, went beyond the explicitly Scriptural boundaries that Calvin laid down. Beza’s extrapolation of points of doctrine on the grounds of human logic is not ground on which Calvin would ever have felt comfortable. Calvin cannot be blamed for the mistakes of his successors.
However, for reasons of expediency, pressure and politics, towards the very end of his life Calvin caved in to his aristocratic supporters on the issue of active political resistance. Maybe his supporters would have taken up arms in any case in 1562, but they did so knowing they had his permission. In the final definitive 1559 edition of the Institutes Calvin wrote:
“But we must… be very careful not to despise or violate that authority of magistrates,,, which God has established by the weightiest decrees… I am speaking all the while of private individuals. For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the wilfulness of king…, I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings.”
For me, this is a valuable lesson for us to learn. Sometimes it is hard to stand against the prevailing tide of contemporary public opinion – especially if, as in Calvin’s case, that tide appears to be flowing in our direction. But stand we must if the tide of opinion is at variance with the word of God.
This post forms the final part of the series Why I am a little bit Reformed.