October 25, 2020

Reformation Sunday: John Calvin

Passage: Psalm 8

Oct 31 is important because it marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. We should think of Oct 31 as Reformation Day. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany. Many people take that event as the launching point of the Reformation. On Reformation Sunday, I like to bring a message either on one of the major reformers or on one of the major principles that drove the Reformation.

One other person played a huge role in the Reformation and who continues to have a major influence on Protestant theology: John Calvin, the great reformer of Geneva. No matter what your views about Calvin, you cannot deny that he, along with Martin Luther, were the central figures of the Protestant Reformation. Since Calvin played such a major role in the Reformation, we must not neglect him or his teaching.

The fact that we are looking at his life and times today doesn’t imply that we endorse everything he taught or stands for. We can appreciate what is good about him and criticize or ignore what we don’t believe to be true.

Before looking at Calvin, we should review what the Reformation was all about. As one writer put it—

The Protestant Reformation stands as the most far-reaching, world-changing display of God’s grace since the birth and early expansion of the church. It was not a single act, nor was it led by one man. … The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. … The Reformation was, at its heart, a recovery of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and this restoration had an unparalleled influence on churches, nations, and the flow of Western civilization.[1]

What about the church needed to be reformed? Just about every part of it. The RCC had been the reigning power in western civilization for about 1200 years in Calvin’s day. But the theology of the church had strayed far from the Bible, the leadership in many cases was corrupt, and its greed and materialism were evident for all to see. The Reformation was essentially a “back to the Bible” movement, and several reformers rose up to cleanse the church of its corruption and align it more closely to the Bible.

Apart from the biblical authors themselves, Calvin stands as one of the most influential Christian leaders the world has ever seen. Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, revered him as the most able interpreter of Scripture in the church, and therefore labeled him simply “the theologian.” And Charles Spurgeon said that Calvin “propounded truth more clearly than any other man that ever breathed, knew more of Scripture, and explained it more clearly.” His influence remains strong within numerous branches of the church even today.

 

[1] Steve Lawson, “The Reformation and the Men Behind It.” http://www.ligonier.org/blog/reformation-and-men-behind-it/

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