Sunday, April 26, 2009

4-27 The Invisible Church and Calvin

(Picture of Calvin preaching- and many making fun of him)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

Calvin: Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him;… Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called “church” in respect to men. (IV.1.9)

When Billy Graham used to say, “There are some of you out there who have been to church all your life but in your heart of hearts you have not made a commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior. You may be a deacon, or an elder or a pastor, but you must get right with God.” Billy Graham was affirming Calvin’s idea of the invisible church. There are people who have gone through the motions of church, but their hearts haven’t been given to the Lord. The invisible church is the church God sees. He sees right to the heart of people. The Pharisees were religious, but Jesus saw them as “Whitewashed tombs.” From a pastor’s point of view, there have been people who join the church not because they believe but because they have a variety of reasons. Maybe their wife made them join. Maybe they joined for their kids. Maybe they thought their business would be improved by networking in church. Maybe they liked the music or were wowed by the worship service. Calvin said that those who were really Christians were called “elect.”
Calvin lived in a time in which the church was corrupt and had strayed away from the teaching of scripture. In an environment where a pope or a bishop was a feudal political office as much as it was a spiritual office, Calvin calls the church back to its spiritual roots. It seems in the passage above, that Jesus recognized that on this side of heaven there would be weeds along with the wheat. Augustine of Hippo came up with the concept of the invisible church against the heresy of Donatism. The Donatists believed in a perfect church and were especially outspoken against a priest who had betrayed the faith during the Roman persecution but still were performing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They thought the priest wasn’t effective. Augustine emphasized grace. So the invisible church idea has a twofold effect. On the one hand it emphasizes that we are not perfect yet (though longing for our perfection in heaven). On the other hand, it emphasizes that God sees perfectly. In our day, the church is largely corrupted with false doctrine, and even some of those who have orthodox doctrine are falling away into sin. In such a day, we need to believe strongly in grace- and that God sees those who are truly his. Yet we also need to recognize that the church is going to be imperfect on this side of heaven. Calvin was a reformer. He sought to reform the church’s corruption and not give up on it. I think we need people who will do that today.
Calvin clearly said “we should not withdraw from church because of its impurity, its faults of its members, or because they do not agree with the way it is governed” (Wallace p. 233). Calvin said that Christ told the parable of the wheat and tares “to restrain and moderate the zeal of those who fancy that they are not at liberty to join in a society with any but pure angels.” (Mt. 19:389 comm.). So on the one hand Calvin believes in assurance of you own faith, but on the other, only God sees into the heart of your neighbor to see whether they believe or not.

Prayer: Lord, let my judgments be gracious. Give me patience with your church until the end.

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