Why we should know John Calvin

by Lewis Loflin

The influence of John Calvin (1509 - 1564) and his brand of Protestantism can be seen to this day. Calvinism had many profound social implications such as thrift, industry, and hard work are forms of moral virtue and that business (material) success is evidence of God's grace. These views created a climate favorable to commerce and in the establishment of modern capitalism.

Calvin agreed with Luther's criticisms of the Roman church, and with most of Luther's fundamental religious ideas, such as justification by faith alone and not by works. (Augustinianism) Calvin also followed Sola Scriptura, the idea that all Christian teachings should be based only the New Testament alone. (I emphasize alone for a good reason.)

Calvin along with the invention of the printing press promoted mass literacy. Protestantism in general opened a theological "Pandora's Box" not just against the Catholic Church, but Protestantism as well.

Both the Lutheran and Anglican (English) Churches became national churches often tied in closely with the governments of various German states and England. Lutheranism would dominate Germany and Scandinavia, but spread little outside those regions while Calvinism had little influence there. Only in the Netherlands and Switzerland would Calvinism dominate.

Geneva became the "Rome" of Calvinism where "reformers" would go to learn the faith and spread it all across Europe. Calvin established a theocracy in Geneva, a government controlled by religious leaders. One of Calvin's most inspired students would be the Scotsman John Knox.(1514-1572)

Scotland of the time was still heavily Catholic and had a Catholic queen. (Mary, Queen of Scots, etc.) His conflicts with Protestant Elizabeth I (Knox hated any idea of a woman ruler and wrote Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in 1558) meant Elizabeth banned him from England, he went to Scotland.

It was easy for Knox to gather followers because anti-French (thus anti-Catholic) sentiment was running high. He established Presbyterianism in Scotland. But the conflict between Calvinism (called Puritans in England) and the Church of England and the English throne was just beginning.

To quote: Calvinists refused to recognize the subordination of church to state, or the right of any government-king, parliament, or civic magistracy-to lay down laws for religion. On the contrary, they insisted that true Christians, the elect or godly, should Christianize the state. They wished to remake society itself into the image of a religious community. The bitter struggle within English Protestantism would carry over to America. The Calvinists would be the Congregational Churches of New England, the Presbyterians, and some Dutch Reformed thrown in.

The Calvinist' idea of democracy would spread in America minus the Calvinism. They had to end religious strife so the 13 Colonies could ban together to fight the English Throne. At this time the Episcopalian (Anglican) and Calvinist' Churches were by far the largest while all others including the Baptists and Methodists were very small. (They would explode and dominate later on the American frontier.)

The idea of the "Wall of Separation" in Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association was to promote religious freedom, not ban God from public life. Calvin had a hand in founding democracy, but was himself a tyrant and established a theocracy. This met opposition even from many Calvinists. America established a similar democracy with the specific goal of ridding themselves of all tyrants, kings and theocrats alike.

To quote Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000

By the early 17th century, Calvinism had been adopted by Protestant groups in many lands. The Synod of Dort (1618-19) in Holland fixed this form of belief as Dutch orthodoxy. French Calvinists founded the Huguenot movement, which was suppressed by the Roman Catholic church. In England, Puritanism developed and briefly achieved ascendancy during the period when the monarchy was suspended under Oliver Cromwell. The Westminster Confession (1646) represents the systematic expression of Puritan theology.

It was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648 and has become the basic creed of Presbyterian groups in Britain and throughout the world. Many English Puritans, dissatisfied with the policies of the Church of England, immigrated to America during the colonial period. Settling in New England, they contributed greatly to shaping the religious character of the United States, especially through the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and other leaders during the Great Awakening.

The conflict between secular extremism and the so-called Religious Right (culture wars) versus the intentions of American Founders can only be understood by understanding Calvin and his influence. Neither extreme side today be they secular extremists nor Religious Right represent America of 1776. The American Revolution was based indirectly on both Calvinism and a reaction to it.

Understanding Calvin is to understand the absurdities that have plagued Christianity for the last 150 years. While Christian fundamentalists today reject most Calvinist theology, they demand what I'd call social Calvinism. While most reject Calvin's "TULIP" they desire his theocracy. They see themselves as the elect chosen by God to rule over all others. Oddly the Calvinist style theological democracy is best illustrated today by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a police state.

In the theological sense most Evangelicals and Charismatics are Armanian. Calvin wrote volumes of Biblical commentary and drew heavily from St. Augustine. One extreme modern form embraced by radical Evangelicals is Christian Reconstructionism, which claims the mantle of the Reformed Churches. Calvin was an intellectual, while many believers wanted a more personal faith. They want to feel good, not get a sermon on theology. Most are ignorant of history and theology. Calvinism doesn't dwell on endless "end times" speculation.

American democracy threw the lid of Pandora's Box wide open. Churches had lost their power to dictate belief and dogma, now Sola Scriptura would explode as private interpretation fostered many heretical beliefs on God. Deism and Unitarianism, both undercurrents within Protestantism, would become the "fad" among the upper classes.

For the everyday people struggling with just surviving, they would need God both available and on a more personal and positive level. Calvin's God was in many ways was remote and cold. More on this below.

Basic Theology

Calvinist' theology is translated into the following basic doctrines, expressed by the word TULIP:

This is nothing new at all. Luther and Calvin alike drew heavily from the Paulist theology of St. Augustine, a debauched 4th Century Catholic theologian. Jesus, His moral teachings, and any form of decent conduct are irrelevant. Thus Calvin puts believers in a moral dilemma: should they even bother trying to be good? What's the point?

Quote; "His most important work involved the organization of church governance and the social organization of the church and the city... to model social organization entirely on biblical principles...the incorporation of the church into city government..so that clergy would be involved in municipal decisions, particularly in disciplining the populace..he himself developed a catechism designed to impose doctrine on all the members of the church.

This is drawn directly from St Augustine and his City of God: Christians could not reject their city entirely, but must bend it to fit a Christian pattern. The city... must be based upon Christian principles. (His) Warfare, economic activity, education, and the rearing of children should all be conducted in a Christian spirit.

Although the City of Man was ever evil, imperfect, and of no consequence in comparison to the City of God, it was not about to disappear and be replaced by the Kingdom of God on earth...the state must employ repression and punishment to restrain people, who were inherently sinful, from destroying each other and the few good men and women that God had elected to save from hell..
.

See St. Augustine

But like Augustine had his rival in Pelagius, Calvin had his critic in Jacob Arminius who argued that sinful humans do indeed have an ability to choose between doing good and doing evil, thus he rejected the doctrine of predestination. His perspective came to be known as Arminianism and developed into a much more moderate form of Calvinism which became influential in the United States.

Most Protestant fundamentalists in America follow forms of Arminianism or variations of Arminianism. As pointed out below by a visitor to this webpage, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc. are not Calvinist and most religious fundamentalists have never heard of Calvin. They accept Augustine's version of Original Sin, Luther's "faith alone" doctrine, and Calvin's democracy/theocracy of the Elect.

The most notorious episode in relation to Calvin was the Servetus murder. Calvin would oversee Dr. Servetus' death for heresy.

the Servetus Murder

In the end Servetus got the last laugh in theology. The Socinians would greatly influence Unitarians, Deists, and John Locke. All would reject the Trinity and the negative, self-loathing theology of Augustinian Original Sin. It was very easy for man by force of will and choice (with guidance from, not fear of, God) could obtain salvation. Calvin's theocratic democracy would be stripped of Augustine's theology. Influenced by John Locke and the European Enlightenment, it would produce the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States.

More on Calvinism and references.


Visitor Comment

I wanted to set the record straight about something. Pat Robertson is not a Calvinist. The chief distinguishing feature between Calvinism (Augustinianism) and Arminianism is that Arminians believe that the individual must choose to have faith and is therefore free to choose salvation or reject it. Pat Robertson is an evangelist who believes that salvation is a choice.

That makes him an Arminian by default no matter what he himself may claim. Calvinism teaches that God's will is immutable and that he alone dictates all that was, is, and is to come. In other words, it is God who decides who is saved and who is not irregardless and in spite of human will (the five points of Calvinism). I suggest you look to modern theologians like R.C. Sproul to see a true Calvinist at work.

I am no Christian so please don't misconstrue my message as a defense of the faith, but in all fairness, your characterization of Calvinism is distinctively off base. Calvinism is most commonly found among Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches. Hank Hannegraff, who has done a lot to expose the utter quackery of people like Robertson, Benny Hinn, as well as the whole T.B.N. empire... is himself of Dutch Reform extraction and a Calvinist. He's one of the few "public" Christian figures that has actually done the nation a favor.

Admittedly, Calvinists are sometimes biblical literalists to the maximum, but it is Calvinists such as Sproul who encourage believers to try to understand that the bible is very often written in figurative and metaphorical language and there is a great deal about it that should not be taken literally. In fact, Calvinism is historically millennial, which means they reject all the "end-time" eschatological nonsense that figures so prominently in most Charismatic and Fundamentalist circles.

Its up to you, but you might want to cut Calvinism some slack. The whole Word-Faith, Evangelical, Charismatic movement that has been sweeping and perverting Christianity for a century and a half now is decidedly Arminian and Calvinists have been the only Protestants willing to take the heat (and believe me...they get it in buckets) to expose the charlatanism of televangelism and arena revivals.

It would surprise you the things I've seen and heard. I remember I tried one time to sort of categorize and catalog all the so called "utterances from the Lord" that I heard from various preachers and lay people alike. I found so many glaring contradictions. I also noticed a correlation between the gossip of some church-goers and some of the "utterances." I mentioned this to a pastor and several friends and basically got a "don't rock the boat" response...you know, for the sake of the "new-borns in Christ.

One mustn't confuse them with facts". It not only left me confused but concerned. I just couldn't fathom what a supposedly perfect god would be doing "indwelling" such petty people. Its one thing to reform from pettiness, but its quite another to continuously make bold statements then claim that the "Lord" told you to. The hypocrisy was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I realized early on also that churches by in large do not like to have an intellectual in their midst. If you do not respond "properly" which means if you do not have an emotional outburst, fall on the floor, start jabbering in an unknown tongue, so on and so forth, then you get eyed suspiciously. The worst possible sin one can commit in the typical church is to question. I can't tell you how many times I've had self appointed deputies of god and "prophets" tell me, "Feel. Don't think."

I was told that in no uncertain terms, the bible does not contradict itself. Even if you produce one of the many sections where it does, you are told that you are mistaken and not to dwell on it. On a weekly basis, I witnessed people, normal hardworking people, being conditioned that to have doubt is the worst way to fail god. You can backslide, cheat on your wife, steal from your neighbor, and lie to your mother's face, but don't ever doubt or you literally have to go to the back of the line. What a palaver!

It that most reject predestination but of the five points they pick combinations of the others. What they want is the Calvinist political/social system complete with tyranny minus predestination.

The vast majority of Christians reject the "five points of Calvinism" as an institution. Some of their tenets may resemble one or two of the points, but that's only because they use one book in common... the bible. But if you dig, you'll likely realize that most believers don't even know what the five points are. Most won't even know who Calvin is. Protestants know who Luther was (although they are rarely told that he was a raving loony). Typically you will only find a scholarly discourse about historic Church leaders either in seminary or from a professor of theology. You see, history is bad for church meetings.

History is full of bad things done in the name of god and there is little if anything historic that the church actually did that was fundamentally for good reasons (rightness for the sake of rightness). Most church-goers haven't the slightest inkling as to what you would be talking about if mentioned Calvinists or Arminians.

Ask them about the end times and the rapture, however, and you'll typically get a whole story about how the antichrist is somewhere in Europe and that the European Union is going to try to take over the world...yadda yadda yadda... mark of the beast is in the bar code system....bible code....yadda yadda....Israel.

It is true that there are a number of fundamentalist movements who want to impose their "way of life" on the rest of the country, but make no mistake, most of their energy is spent on theology. Because it goes against even common sense, it takes a great deal of effort to maintain faith. For the religious right, the nation is only a stepping stone.

They have higher ideals in mind. But as a movement, they are not stupid. They know that a secular government is a real threat to their institutions. And lets face it. It is. As it stands, the only thing still providing Christianity, or any "revealed religion" with any measure of legitimacy is the fact of the shear numbers of adherents.

That's a lot of voting power. It is already a documented fact that the medical community see chronic religious fervor as a possible sign of instability. But you try to institutionalize 40% of the population. Once their stranglehold on government institutions is finally broken, reason and science will fill the void as they should. The result will be a dramatic drop in active adherence to systematic theology within two generations.

In short, it would mean an end to their political clout. They wouldn't go away of course. The only way that can be accomplished is if each and every person achieved a certain level of education. You may have noticed that the uneducated and the "poor" tend to flock to religion and its hollow promises of a better life.

A completely secularized nation must see to the wellbeing of ALL its citizens, primarily where education is concerned. I'm a Libertarian myself, so I have little confidence in government beyond defense of borders, but even I would like to see the entire education system, basic and collegiate, become open to all regardless of income...and naturally, free from religious interference. Maybe someday.

Anyway, I enjoy your site.

Thank you for your time, Stewart C.