Friday, May 22, 2009

5/21- Calvin and Democracy

5/22- A Legacy of Representative Democracy
22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22 NIV)
Calvin: I will not deny that aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy,F960 far excels all others: not indeed of itself, but because it is very rare for kings so to control themselves that their will never disagrees with what is just and right; or for them to have been endowed with such great keenness and prudence, that each knows how much is enough. Therefore, men’s fault or failing causes it to be safer and more bearable for a number to exercise government, so that they may help one another, teach and admonish one another; and, if one asserts himself unfairly, there may be a number of censors and masters to restrain his willfulness. This has both been proved by experience, and also the Lord confirmed it by his authority when he ordained among the Israelites an aristocracy bordering on democracy, since he willed to keep them in best condition Exodus 18:13-26; Deuteronomy 1:9-17] until he should bring forward the image of Christ in David.(IV.20.8)

John T. McNeill (The History and Character of Calvinism p. 411) said’ “While Cavlinists have adopted a variety of political attitudes, it is possible to affirm one generalization that admits to few exceptions. They have favored and fought for representative government and rejected the various forms of absolutism.” Max Weber, the historical sociologist attributed the fall of feudalism and rise of capitalism to Calvin, but also hinted at the emphasis of representative democracy to Calvin as well. Calvin did not found the idea of representative democracy, but there is little doubt that he helped spread it. The Swiss already had their councils before Calvin was on the scene, but Calvin helped preserve the council and founded the consistory for the church (even though the council exiled him and often was at odds with him). Some have said Calvin started a theocratic government in Geneva, but there is little doubt that it was separate from the church. In fact, when Servetus was killed an anti-Calvin party (the Libertines) was in charge of the council. But if it is meant that Calvin saw all governments as “under God” then they are right.
This is the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, but it is the twentieth of the “Autumn of nations”, the revolutions against communism beginning in Poland (influenced by Roman Catholics) and Hungary and Romania (influenced by the Hungarian Reformed churches). It was May 1989 when Solidarity, the union was legalized in Poland as a political party, and when Hungary began the first tear in the iron curtain opening the way for East Germans to go to West Germany through Hungary via Czechoslovakia. One of the most amazing circumstances was the candlelight vigil in Romania around the Reformed Church and its pastor László Tőkés, who was to be removed from his office by the government for his inflammatory sermons. Hundreds of thousands prayed, lit candles, and locked arms. This was the turning point in the nine day revolution in Romania. There are those who think the church is irrelevant. The Soviets said that for 80 years, but it was not true. Just twenty years a revolution happened led mainly by Catholics in Poland and the Reformed (Calvinists) in Hungary and Romania.
The scripture says “Plans fail for lack of council.” Calvin was deeply aware of our sin, and thought a possible check on sin would be for people to check each other. Certainly in the Bible there are various forms of government- by kings, by judges, theocracy under Moses. One of the most constant features of government in the Old Testament was the elder. In the New Testament the church picked this up. So Calvin sought to instill the idea of both a company of pastors and a body of elders that steered the church. For individual Christians, this means we need to seek counsel in our decisions- from God, but also others.
Prayer: Lord, you put us around others for a reason. You encourage us, admonish us, rebuke us, and mold us with others. Help us to be wise and listen to advice from others and from your Word.

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