Contend Earnestly: A Little on John Calvin

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Little on John Calvin

As I have started to really acquire a taste of biblical history I have noticed that there is only one person whose name you bring up in Christian circles that causes so much controversy it is almost, if not entirely, ridiculous. It is not Satan, Pontius Pilate or Judas Iscariot. It is not Muhammad or Joseph Smith. It is not most of the people you would think of. It is actually the name of John Calvin.

As I have, as most try to do at some point in their lives, tried to pinpoint my beliefs on every major doctrine in the Bible, I can say almost anything on different subjects and will be listened to and reasoned with. But, bring up Calvin and people can get almost violent. Some have tried to just say “I believe the Bible” but so do liberal theologians who would be far from believing Sola Scriptura. So there has to be some extra thought on the individual subjects in the Bible to pinpoint easily what someone believes without spending 4 hours on each subject. Such as, I can tell you that I am a progressive dispensational premillennialist and most know exactly what I believe on eschatology without having to enter an all day discussion on the topic. Which, by the way, would be enjoyable anytime if you would like to discuss.

So, whether we like it or not, there has to be some sort of quick response to soteriology when someone asks, even though most like to skate around the subject if not completely avoiding the topic altogether. I just find it interesting that if I were to tell you that I believe what Luther and Augustine taught on the subject or even what Athanasius believed on the subject most wouldn’t blink an eye. Say I am a Calvinist or I believe what Calvin said concerning salvation and the backlash and disgust will start to pour out. What’s amazing is that most do not even know what Calvin taught or have ever even sat down and listened to his exegesis of Scripture. I have been reading a lot about his background lately trying to understand more of who he was, as have I been reading on Martin Luther as well. My most recent book that I have been reading, The Unaccommodated Calvin, pointed out something that I didn’t know about the man and also should remind us all on some things about these reformers.

The book goes into detail that the reformers were just men who wanted to exegete Scripture and preach and teach it. They were not men out to start controversies and definitely not men who sat out to be called “Lutherans” or “Calvinists.” They actually would have both hated to be called either one of these. Remember these two men, Luther and Calvin, were deep in the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to simply know what Scripture said on different doctrines and dogmas held so closely by the Catholic Church. Most people think that Calvin set out to prove his five points on Grace, commonly referred to as TULIP. What’s interesting is that this acronym is a 20th century term, Calvin was born and died in the 16th century, and he didn’t even come up with the five points, the Synod of Dort did in 1618/1619 to refute the teaching of James Arminius. John Calvin died in 1564. These men, Luther and Calvin and other reformers, were not men out to “die for their cause” they were just exegeting Scripture, following in line of men such as Augustine, Jerome and Athanasius. They were preachers, preaching the truth at the danger of dying for it.

The other part that amazes me and surprises a lot of people is on the subject that gets most people up in arms is Calvin’s view on predestination and/or election of the saints. Guess what, Luther wrote many more volumes on this subject than did Calvin and Augustine and Jerome were the first to really fight against “free will” in the 4th and 5th centuries against Pelagius.

The reason behind this post is just to open our eyes to the early church fathers and also to the reformers. I am not here to promote Calvinism but just want people to calm down on their hate for a man that wanted to preach like Paul preached, Christ crucified. Most of the reformers were either fighting heresies or fighting for the truth. They were not out to put a “stamp” on history, they were ones that stood for truth and that truth is the Bible. So next time when you hear someone mention Calvin’s name, listen to see how they are responding to a man who loved God so much that most of his life was spent trying to be killed for his reformed beliefs against the Catholic church and understand that he was fighting for the same truths and absolutes that we hold so dear today.

When he was nearing his death he often had to be carried to the pulpit so he could preach and also asked that when he died only the initials “J.C.” be put on the tombstone in an uncommon place with no witness or ceremony. He was a humble man who loved the truth and yet many if they saw him today would spit in his face. May we remember those who went before us and study the truths that aren’t theirs, but God’s, in His Holy Word.


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