The great Protestant reformer John Calvin (depicted here) was born 500 years ago, on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France. So why should we give a hoot today? My partial answer here today is a follow up to yesterday's posting about 500-year cycles of change in Christianity.
Well, in many ways Calvin shaped the religious world in which we live today. He grew up in a devoutly Roman Catholic home but he is credited -- with Martin Luther and others -- of creating the Protestant Reformation that so profoundly changed Christianity, including the Catholic Church. (For a Catholic take on Calvin, click here.)
And some of his ideas -- especially those distorted by zealous followers -- are very much with us today. Many of those ideas remain good and healthy, while others have led to some regrettable results.
One of the regrettable results, at least to me, has been the atomization of Protestantism. And as Joseph D. Small, director of theology, worship and education for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has written, Calvin was actually a champion of church unity: "His strong censure of the Catholic Church was pervasive, but the purpose of his critique was always reform, not separation. . . Calvin understood that the restored unity of the church was a gospel imperative."
Unity, of course, does not mean uniformity. What is regrettable is that the unity among followers of Jesus that Jesus prayed for in John 17 has disintegrated as countless splits have happened. But if Protestantism is divided, so is Catholicism. Indeed, there are many Christianities today.
Did Calvin get everything right? My, no. He's been roundly criticized, for instance, for allowing the execution of MIchael Servetus, convicted of heresy. And his ideas about predestination have caused not just people in the Reformed Tradition of Christianity to scramble around for a thorough explanation but have been rejected by lots of other Christians.
Still, Calvinism, though it has taken different forms over the centuries, has been enormously influential both theologically and culturally. Sometimes Calvinism is thought to be the philosophical parents of the Protestant Work Ethic and its disgruntled cousin, which I think of as the Wealth Shows God Approves of Me idea. But, as I say, some of this is an outgrowth of some of Calvin's more zealous followers and less an outgrowth of what Calvin himself said.
Even today, 500 years later, it's not uncommon to see Calvin appealed to as a seer because of what he understood about human nature and especially human sinfulness. For a good example, click here.
And speaking of human sinfulness, Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook (for which I write a monthly column), wrote this about Calvin several months ago: "Neither business leaders in a laissez-faire economic system nor government officials in a governmentally controlled system are immunized from the corrputing effects of unchecked power. Calvin would tell us to elect leaders who will submit to the checks-and-balances that restrain their worst inclinations. Speaking of economics, Calvin would not allow the general population to scapegoat leaders for the economic woes they also have caused. He would shake his head in disbelief over how we have misappropriated the prosperity with which we have been blessed."
For a list of biographies about Calvin, click here.
And, finally, for several articles from The Presbyterian Outlook about Calvin and his importance, click here.
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ABUSE SCANDAL SPREADS TO IRELAND
A newly released, distressing report shows that for decades some children in Ireland under the care of various Catholic agencies suffered abuse. Worse, the report says church leaders knew abuse was endemic but failed to stop it. For some reaction to the report, click here. And for a summary of other sexual abuse scandals in the church, click here. The church is supposed to be protecting children, not arranging for their denigration. I believe things are better now in churches in the U.S. since the priest abuse scandal broke several years ago, but the Catholic Church (which also means members in the pews who must call leaders to account) is going to have to be sharply vigilant to keep this from happening again. And, yes, I know that abuse has happened in other faith communities.
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P.S.: Earlier this week I wrote here about prayer studies and mentioned a piece from Christianity Today that was not yet online. Well, now that article now is online. If you'd like to read it, click here.