John Calvin on the Holiness of the Church of Jesus Christ

Never I fan of Calvin, I am reading Stroup’s Calvin (Abingdon Press, Pillars of Theology Series) and noticed a comment referring to the ‘c’hurch of Jesus Christ in Calvin’s writings. For me, I can think of no other name under heaven (for salvation) for in heaven (the royal family) which I rather be under than that of the Lord’s. Further, why not have the Body named after the Head? Or the Espoused carry the name of her Husband? So, it interested me this small reference.

Moving on – as I went to read more of Calvin’s works, I came across this quote, which I thought that I might share:

However, those of whom we are speaking here also fail on their part since  they go beyond proper measure. For where our Lord ask that they practice mercy, they leave it behind and give themselves wholly to rigor and strictness. For in believing that there is no church except where they see a perfect purity and holiness of life, under pretext of hating vices they depart from God’s church, thinking they are leaving the company of the wicked. They allege that the church of Jesus Christ is holy. But they must hear what He Himself says about it: that it is a mix of good and bad. For the parable where He compares the church to a net which draws in all kinds of fish, which are not divided until they come to the bank is true. Let them hear what He says about that in another parable: that the church is like a field which, after being sown with good wheat, is also ravaged with weeds which cannot be separated from the good harvest until it is brought to the bard. Because our Lord declares that His church will be subject to the unhappiness until the judgment day, and be always burdened with bad people, it is futile for them to seek a church completely pure and clean.

I am no interpreter of Calvin, but it seems to me that Calvin is fighting against that that desire a perfect church, and finding none, leave, hopping to the next one. Maybe I am reading too much into Calvin’s words, but he seems to be speaking about Tertullian’s absolute rigor and strictness, and very little mercy – although Tertullian would have allowed the tares to remain in the congregation.

While I believe that the Church is pure and holy, the scaffolding is not – and we are that scaffolding.

The above quote was taken from Elsie Ann McKee’s translation of the 1541 French Edition. A sample can be found here.

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7 Replies to “John Calvin on the Holiness of the Church of Jesus Christ”

  1. For any theologian or theolog to leave out Calvin, would be a real loss in my opinion! As I have said, every theolog has to cross sometime the “Rubicon” of Calvin’s so-called main issue: the sovereignty of God, and God’s decrees! Even John Wesley, in this concept recognized his kinship with Calvinism and on one occasion went so far to say that he thought the same way on justification as John Calvin did (see his Journal, Tues., May 14, 1765)

    “I believe justification by faith alone, as much as I believe there is a God. I declared this in a sermon, preached before the University of Oxford, eight-and-twenty years ago. I declared it to all the world eighteen years agao, in a sermon written expressly on this subject. I have never varied from it, no not a hair’s breadth, from 1738 to this day.” (Works, X, 349.)
    And again on March 26, 1790 one year prior to his death, Wesley wrote: About fifty years ago I had a clearer view than before of justification by faith; and in this, from that very hour, I have never varied, no, “not a hair’s breadth . . . I am now on the borders of the grave; but by the grace of God, I still witness the same confession.” (Sermon CXX, sec.18)

    Wesley is a one with Calvinism in regard to his conception of the act of justification, the means whereby man is accepted of God and forgiven sins. He agrees also with the Calvinistic conception of the foundation on which justification rests or, as he himself calls it the source from which the justifying act proceeds. God’s grace is the source of justification in the thought and minds of both Calvin and Wesley. But, the nature and operation of that grace are NOT the same! For Calvin it may be universal in one sense, but justification is restricted, limited, and particular to the elect alone. But for Wesley grace is free for all, as well as free in all. Wesley is willing to go all the way with Calvin in ascribing man’s justification to the grace of God alone. But he cannot agree with Calvin in his conception of the nature of the operation of God’s grace.

    Thus John Wesley put himself, “within a hair’s breadth of Calvinism” (Works, VIII, 284.) But that “breadth” was wider as to God’s free offer of that grace!

    Just a little ride in history and theology. Indeed, read John Calvin, John Wesley did!

    Fr. R.

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