Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19- Calvin adn Calvinism

(Monument to Reformed preaching Intl Museum of Reformation Geneva)

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is unwilling.” Revelation 2:20,21

Calvin: “Do not change anything to innovation!” (CR 9.893)

There is a scholarly skeptical tendency to differentiate between the founder of the movement and the movement itself. Even though the gospels were all written within 70 years of his death when eyewitnesses could reject or correct the writings, people still want to separate Jesus from his followers, without truly appreciating the continuity. “The Search for the Historical Jesus” is a movement that springs up often, and often ends in futility and frustration. If only we had cameras to record the different angles of Jesus talks- we could have an “instant replay” and analyze his speeches as referees analyze a controversial play [Yes, I’m being sarcastic]. There is a delicate balance between skepticism and faith. In our day, the pendulum has swung way off to the side of skepticism (fueled in part by Enlightenment ideas, and post-modern toleration). Think of the popularity of the Da Vinci Code raising the old heresies of Gnostic thought and rumor from the dead. I say all this to point out that there is a difference between Calvin and Calvinism. This has been well-documented.
Having talked about passing the baton, there also needs to be a recognition of the successes and failures of such passing. Beza, Bullinger, Knox, Olevianus were not the leaders Calvin was. Yet here we are 500 years later, still wondering about Calvin. Any movement must adapt, and Calvin was for this dynamic for of reformation- in contrast to static, hierarchical (top down), Latin speaking Roman Catholicism of his time, Calvin wanted some dynamism in terms of lay involvement (giving up some control of clergy to elders), and worship in the language of the people. Beza was timid compared to Calvin-though a fine humanist scholar, and Knox was a bit more like Zwingli compared to Calvin. Certainly none were the writers Calvin was.
McGrath says that Calvinism began to distinguish and define itself by the doctrine of predestination as it seemed to be an item of emphasis (in contrast to Luther’s justification by faith). Though certainly Calvin believed in justification and Luther believed in a form of predestination. Certainly the next generation of Calvinists turned toward Calvinistic scholasticism (Turretin’s Institutio is an example), and there was an immediate and for 150 years ongoing (mostly unsuccessful) political and military defense of Calvinism (Coligny in France, Frederik In Germany, Orange in the Netherlands, Cromwell in England, Scottish nobles in Scotland). The collapse of the Huguenot nobility and Cromwell’s undiplomatic harshness (and inability to pass the baton) with other Calvinists pretty much assured a secondary political part to Calvinism. But Calvinism, like Christianity, is purer and deeper when it is not tied closely to political power.
Calvinism historically has prospered when there is freedom of thought, when the middle-class (denigrated Bourgeoisie) has prospered, and when Calvinists stick to their Protestant roots of grace alone, scripture alone, faith alone. Calvinism dies off when it becomes overly-legalistic (first of the 20th century in America and Scotland); when it loses its faith in scripture (as is happening in America and western European Calvinism today), and when its emphasis for love of mind gives way to unbridled skepticism.
Calvinism’s motto has been “reformed and ever reforming.” But the question is reformed to what? Reformed in a sense means going back to the form. If we feel we cannot go back to our roots, but must be endeavored to constant change and innovation, then we will lose ourselves. The debate among Protestant churches in the west about the ordination of practicing, unrepentant homosexuals is classic and symptomatic of our demise (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has lost from 6.1 million in 1965 to 2.1 million today in 2009). An inability to live with a long-worked-out compromise (PUP report) almost kills the church in Cromwellian (or think Gardner-Springs amendment after the civil war that kept south and north from reuniting for 120 years) fashion. There is a balance between being static and being dynamic. There are always differences between a person and those who follow him. It is important to think about where we have been when we are trying to get to a new place. Sometimes this keeps us from going down a stray path and losing our way and our very lives!

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