Our church hosted a conference this past weekend on “Calvin for Today.” It’s been great to see so many people celebrating Calvin’s legacy in this, the 500th year of his birth. But to be honest, it’s been a little overwhelming, and much of the recognition has bordered on hero worship. The conference this weekend was fantastic, though, and a great celebration of Calvin’s legacy: as a gifted man of God involved in a greater movement to recover biblical teaching, restore proper church authority, rediscover proper ways to worship. The conference wasn’t so much focused on Calvin and his teachings as it was on the biblical legacy of the Reformation. We learned a lot, and still have lots to digest from the talks, but here are some random things I learned/needed to be reminded of:
1. The Reformation was primarily a conservative movement, not a revolutionary one. The reformers wanted to re-form the Rome-dominated church while maintaining the unity of the church universal. It was also primarily a movement centered around questions of the true worship of God.
2. John Calvin would be ashamed of us for giving him so much recognition this year. He was a humble, quiet man who wanted all the glory to go to God. He was buried in an unmarked grave, since he didn’t want anyone to set up any sort of memorial or shrine to recognize him there.
3. Calvinism is not the thinking of one man, nor can it be boiled down to the “five points” or predestination, but it is a total biblical worldview that was recovered in the Reformation. Fundamental to Calvin was human sinfulness and its effects in all of life, with reliance on God. A right view of man and a right view of God is essential.Calvin and others took Luther’s “discovery” of justification by faith alone and applied it to the reforming of the entire church and culture. It is also utterly gospel centered on an earnest appeal to believe and be saved through Christ alone.
4. Calvin never taught the Five Points of Calvinism, though aspects of them were present in his works. The Five Points of Calvinism were a response to the Remonstrance, a movement of the Armenians to thwart Calvinism after Calvin’s death. Armenians came up with the Five Points of Armenianism, to which the Five Points of Calvinism were a response.
5. While the reformers reacted against the oppressive papal authority and wanted to get vernacular Bibles into the peoples’ hands, they did not hold to the “just me and my Bible” perspective so rampant in evangelicalism now. They did not mean sola scriptura as the Bible only, but instead that there is absolutely no higher authority than the Bible. The reformers recognized the validity and necessity of a robust theology of the church, reliance on historical interpretations, the church fathers, the corporate nature of biblical study, creeds and confessional documents, and a well-educated clergy and laity to help interpret the Bible with the Scriptures as the highest authority.
6. The primary theme of the Reformation and what should be the theme of any modern reformation is the glory of God: soli Deo gloria. Something we should always ask ourselves related to our vocations, our worship, our study, and our Christian practice is How concerned are we with the glory of God?
7. The Reformation saw true Christian doctrine intimately intertwined with Christian practice; Christianity was and is vibrant enough for all of life. The important concepts of vocation, worship, and study were related to this as well. When we think theologically, the practical things we do are deepened and influenced by the knowledge of God. Thinking God’s thoughts after him is an essential aspect of the Christian life.