Wednesday, April 15, 2009

4/15- Tax Day- Calvin kicked out of Geneva

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/15- Tax Day-

In 1538 (actually 4/25- so we’re a few days early), Calvin and Farel were kicked out of Geneva. They were kicked out over church-state relations.

Calvin (upon hearing on 4/23 they were to leave Geneva in a few days) said: “Well and good. If we had served men we would have been ill-requited, but we serve a Good Master who will reward us.” “I have served Him who never withholds from his servants what He has promised.”

There was tension between Calvin and the Councils of Geneva on his first stay. Some of the tension was just a tension of transition and some of it was a tension of power. Calvin and Farel were pushing for the right of the church to excommunicate people, and then asked the state to back them up. This was the form of Protestant discipline of Basel Switzerland (from which Calvin had come). But the Genevan people had lived under a strong-handed oppression by Duke and Bishop and wanted none of that. In reality, Calvin and Farel were very zealous and probably too demanding- especially Farel and his blind preaching colleague Corauld. Farel was a bit puritanical wanting to abolish Easter, Christmas, Ascension Day and Pentecost (Calvin was more silent on these days- seeking to abolish only the saint’s veneration days). The Swiss city-state of Berne wanted Geneva and the other Swiss Protestants to follow its ways of celebrating such holidays. Farel had also abolished entrance fonts for holy water and baptism as well as the idea of unleavened bread being served in communion. Calvin again was less strict about such things, but gave into his older colleague. When Geneva accepted Berne’s ceremonies and the church was told it could not ex-communicate, Calvin and Farel preached their Easter sermons (Farel at St. Gervais, Calvin at St. Pierre) but refused to serve communion to anyone in such a tense situation. Not having Easter communion was the last straw for the councils, and they forced them to leave. Of course, later, the Genevan councils regretted their actions as the libertines took control and the immorality in the city (adultery, prostitution, gambling) grew explosively.
They eventually humbly called Calvin back from his exile. But the exile was good for Geneva (who saw the need to be less controlling) and Calvin (who saw the need to be a bit more humble and afterwards wrote more of “things indifferent” in order to keep unity). It was also in exile in Strasbourg that Calvin befriended Bucer and learned from his kind-heartedness, and married Idelette. Calvin’s exile and coming back was almost a post-type of the death and resurrection of Christ, and it vastly influenced his writings. He clearly saw the benefits of self-denial and cross bearing, and always had hope.
Another post-type of the death and resurrection was what happened off the coast of Somalia this week. The Maersk Alabama was captured by pirates. The captain, Richard Phillips, allowed himself to be captured and taken away on a lifeboat to save his ship and crew. He was as good as dead- or at least held for ransom. But he has been set free- and that on Easter Sunday right after church (EST). I have thought about how many prayers went up for him on Easter Sunday. In my opinion too little credit for this is given to God’s hand. I have also thought about how this parallels the death and resurrection. But it is this way for all of us- we must die to selves to be raised to life. Jesus said, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will bear no fruit. He who loses his life will save it” (John 12:23-28).
On this tax day, church state relations easily come to mind. I hear way too many voices of Christians concerned about the government and less about the Lord. While I do not doubt that the church should speak as the conscience to government, it does not need to run every policy and go into a rage (as some do) when things don’t go their way. This is a bit like the young Calvin who still needed to learn. We need to live in the world but not give into it, nor let it shape all of our messages and time. No government will be a heavenly government. Yet we should seek to make this world and our governments better for God’s glory. The early church prayed for the government, but their main concern was that they have peace in order to spread the gospel. Too many Christians today are taking their resources and giving for political spreading instead of gospel spreading. When Calvin cam eback he focused on the church and the state things fell into line- so much so that Geneva was called "the closest thing to heaven on earth" by some.

Prayer: Lord, bless our country and our world and its leaders. May your gospel spread throughout our country and world. Use me, O Lord, to be a witness for you today.

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