John Calvin (1509-1564)’s View on Church & State: Part 2

John Calvin (1509-1564)’s View on Church & State: Part 2

Church And State:

Calvin understood that only the Church, not the State, could define orthodox theology and bring true long-term reform. According to the Bible, the State and the Church were jurisdictionally separate. Each had its God-ordained area of jurisdiction and authority – one civil (the State) and one ecclesiastical (the Church). Even so, Calvin insisted, both Church and State were ordained by God and obligated to follow His laws as they applied to their specific appointed jurisdictions.

Calvin’s view that God reigns everywhere and over everything led him to develop the biblical idea that man can serve God in every area of life – Church, civil government, education, art, music, business, law, and journalism. There was no need to be a priest, a monk, or a nun to get closer to God. God is glorified in everyday work and family life. Calvin’s teaching led directly to what has become known as the “Protestant work ethic.” Individual initiative leads to economic productivity as Christians work out their faith in their callings before God.

 Calvin’s pattern of Church and Civil government shaped the thought. It motivated the ideals of Protestantism in France, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungry, Scotland, and the English Puritans, many of whom settled in America. The great American historian George Bancroft stated, He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows little of the origin of American liberty.” The famous German historian, Leopold von Ranke, wrote, “John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.” John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote: Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it most respect.”

 The acrostic TULIP quickly remembers Calvin’s Five Points, and they are:

 Total Depravity (Total Inability) – T

Total Depravity is probably the most misunderstood tenet of Calvinism. When Calvinists speak of humans as “totally depraved,” they make an extensive rather than an intensive statement. The effect of the Fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality, thinking, emotions, and will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being. The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called “Total Inability.” The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God’s making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).

 Unconditional Election – U

Unconditional Election is the doctrine that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of His grace and not upon his looking forward to discovering who would “accept” the offer of the gospel. God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15,21). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4-8). This doctrine does not rule out. However, man’s responsibility is to believe in the redeeming work of God the Son (John 3:16-18). Scripture presents a tension between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to believe, which it does not try to resolve. Both are true but to deny man’s responsibility is to affirm an unbiblical hyper-Calvinism; to deny God’s sovereignty is to affirm an unbiblical Arminianism. The elect are saved unto good works (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, though good works will never bridge the gulf between man and God that was formed in the Fall, good works result from God’s saving grace. It is what Peter means when he admonishes the Christian reader to make his “calling” and “election” sure (2 Peter 1:10). Bearing the fruit of good works is an indication that God has sown seeds of grace in fertile soil.

 Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption) – L

Limited Atonement is a doctrine to answer the question, “for whose sins did Christ atone?” The Bible teaches that Christ died for those God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church, the total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian” (Ephesians 5:25). 

This doctrine often finds many objections, mainly from those who think Limited Atonement damages evangelism. We have already seen that Christ will not lose any that the Father has given to him (John 6:37). Christ’s death was not a death of potential Atonement for all people. Believing that Jesus’ death was a potential, symbolic Atonement for anyone who might, in the future, accept him trivializes Christ’s act of Atonement. Christ died to atone for specific sins of specific sinners. Christ died to make holy the Church. He did not atone for all men because all men are not saved. Evangelism is lifted in this doctrine, for the evangelist may tell his congregation that Christ died for sinners and that he will not lose any of those for whom he died!

 Irresistible Grace – I

The result of God’s Irresistible Grace is the response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44). The very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). 

It is comforting to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (I Peter 5:10)!

 Perseverance of the Saints – P

Perseverance of the Saints is a doctrine that states that the saints (those whom God has saved) will remain in God’s hand until they are glorified and brought to abide with him in heaven. Romans 8:28-39 makes it clear that when God has regenerated a person, he will remain in God’s stead. The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). 

Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified on the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.


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