Theology Thursday - Calvin on the Errors of the Separatists

John Calvin is most often known for his views on soteriology, anthropology and theology proper. He actually wrote a great deal more than this, of course. However, many Christians have not bothered to read anything else from him. In this excerpt, Calvin explains what a Christian’s duty is to a true church, and the grace Christians should show to one another in matters of minor disagreement. Indeed, Calvin believed we should “pardon delusion” amongst ourselves on unimportant issues. We should refrain from “inconsiderate zeal” and “immoderate severity.”

I’ll let Calvin explain the rest:1

We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot any where exist without producing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God. I say not that wherever the word is preached fruit immediately appears; but that in every place where it is received, and has a fixed abode, it uniformly displays its efficacy.

Be this as it may, when the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard, and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time the face of the Church appears without deception or ambiguity; and no man may with impunity spurn her authority, or reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her censures, far less revolt from her, and violate her unity.

For such is the value which the Lord sets on the communion of his Church, that all who contumaciously alienate themselves from any Christian society, in which the true ministry of his word and sacraments is maintained, he regards as deserters of religion … Whence it follows, that revolt from the Church is denial of God and Christ. Wherefore there is the more necessity to beware of a dissent so iniquitous; for seeing by it we aim as far as in us lies at the destruction of God’s truth, we deserve to be crushed by the full thunder of his anger. No crime can be imagined more atrocious than that of sacrilegiously and perfidiously violating the sacred marriage which the only begotten Son of God has condescended to contract with us.

Wherefore let these marks be carefully impressed upon our minds, and let us estimate them as in the sight of the Lord. There is nothing on which Satan is more intent than to destroy and efface one or both of them—at one time to delete and abolish these marks, and thereby destroy the true and genuine distinction of the Church; at another, to bring them into contempt, and so hurry us into open revolt from the Church.

To his wiles it was owing that for several ages the pure preaching of the word disappeared, and now, with the same dishonest aim, he labours to overthrow the ministry, which, however, Christ has so ordered in his Church, that if it is removed the whole edifice must fall. How perilous, then, nay, how fatal the temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterise his Church!

We see how great caution should be employed in both respects. That we may not be imposed upon by the name of Church, every congregation which claims the name must be brought to that test as to a Lydian stone. If it holds the order instituted by the Lord in word and sacraments there will be no deception; we may safely pay it the honour due to a church: on the other hand, if it exhibit itself without word and sacraments, we must in this case be no less careful to avoid the imposture than we were to shun pride and presumption in the other.

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults.

Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like.

Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord?

The words of the apostle are, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you,” (Phil. 3:15.)

Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all, or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation.

Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, “If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace,” (1 Cor. 14:30.)

From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged.

Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct. Here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his machinations to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness, as if they had already become a kind of aërial spirits, spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains. Such of old were the Cathari and the Donatists, who were similarly infatuated. Such in the present day are some of the Anabaptists, who would be thought to have made superior progress.

Others, again, sin in this respect, not so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal. Seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance with the doctrine, they forthwith conclude that there no church exists …

Still those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set bounds to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity. Thinking there is no church where there is not complete purity and integrity of conduct, they, through hatred of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church, while they think they are shunning the company of the ungodly.

They allege that the Church of God is holy. But that they may at the same time understand that it contains a mixture of good and bad:

  • Let them hear from the lips of our Saviour that parable in which he compares the Church to a net in which all kinds of fishes are taken, but not separated until they are brought ashore.
  • Let them hear it compared to a field which, planted with good seed, is by the fraud of an enemy mingled with tares, and is not freed of them until the harvest is brought into the barn.
  • Let them hear, in fine, that it is a thrashing-floor in which the collected wheat lies concealed under the chaff, until, cleansed by the fanners and the sieve, it is at length laid up in the granary.

If the Lord declares that the Church will labour under the defect of being burdened with a multitude of wicked until the day of judgment, it is in vain to look for a church altogether free from blemish, (Matth. 13.)

They exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence. What if the apostle’s sentiment applies here also? Among the Corinthians it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those not trivial errors, but some of them execrable crimes. There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine.

What course was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints.

If the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits, and avarice prevail; where a crime, which even the Gentiles would execrate, is openly approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honoured as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither decently nor in order: If there the Church still remains, simply because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth part of these crimes cannot be imputed?

How, I ask, would those who act so morosely against present churches have acted to the Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel, (Gal. 1:6,) and yet among them the same apostle found churches?

Notes

1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 4.1.10-14.  

1655 reads

There are 25 Comments

WallyMorris's picture

But aren't Calvin's beliefs on this topic based, at least in part, on his connecting the state and church together, the state using the church and the church using the state? So in his mind "separation" would be unthinkable?

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting here that while certainly Calvin is operating from the assumption of a state church, and while certainly Calvin is operating from a default position of assuming that the church ought to be one body--I would guess it troubled him immensely to separate from Rome, just as it did Luther--I think we can with due benefit take his writing as a sound warning against separating for frivolous reasons.  Separate over the Gospel?  You bet.  Lesser issues like lifestyle preferences?  Um, no.

WallyMorris's picture

Ah, yes . . "lifestyle preferences". Don't homosexuals, etc phrase their life as a "lifestyle preference", something not directly (but indirectly) connected with the gospel? So there we have the problem.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Calvin did not believe in a regenerate church membership and rejected religious liberty.  

And, if Calvin disagreed with you on an important subject, he had you mercilessly killed.

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2016/09/john-calvin-killing-servetus...

David R. Brumbelow

David, this is false.  Here's a more complete explanation of the issue with Servetus.  Calvin had been interacting with Servetus for the better part of the decade and had warned him that Geneva would not be a hospitable place for him.  He implored Servetus repeatedly to repent of his heresies, including the Trinity, and even asked for a more lenient method of death than the burning at the stake Servetus endured, and as a non-citizen of Geneva at the time, he could not compel any course of action, but could only request that the civil law against the denial of the deity of Christ be enforced.

Really, had Arminius had such a situation and lived in a place with a state church that punished heresy by death, the exact same thing would have happened.  So it's a convenient club to use against Calvin, but not one that stands critical inspection.

Bert Perry's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

Ah, yes . . "lifestyle preferences". Don't homosexuals, etc phrase their life as a "lifestyle preference", something not directly (but indirectly) connected with the gospel? So there we have the problem.

Wally, I think you can figure out some reasons why homosexuality would not qualify as a minor issue due to the clear witness of Scripture, versus other issues where the witness of Scripture is not so clear and are indeed minor, except perhaps in the minds of groups like the FBFI.  We can dispense with the straw man arguments, don't you think?

TylerR's picture

There are a few issues swirling about in this excerpt, and they're all worth considering:

  1. When is a church no longer a church? Calvin briefly explained his position at the beginning of the excerpt (there is more in 4.1, but I didn't include it for space). But, Christians need to consider what the "marks" of a church are, before they decide to leave one fellowship for another. As Kevin Bauder asked in his discussion on Landmarkism from his Baptist polity book, when is a dog no longer a dog? When it loses one leg? Two? A tail, too? At some point, the dog ceases to actually be a dog. So it is with a church; what are the critical components that make a church a church?
  2. Is "theological triage" a legitimate distinction? Some men don't believe so. Others believe some doctrines are more important than others. You have to have a position on this, because it will inform when and if you leave a congregation.
  3. How do we balance patience and accommodation with the drive for theological purity? How forgiving should we be to one another, and to the church leadership?

Teaching through 1 Pet 1:22 - 2:3 has left me, once again, wary of overcorrecting here. I don't want to be hypercritical, and I need to remind myself to be patient with other people. Many people leave congregations for foolish reasons, because the concept of a church covenant is largely lost in our Christian sub-culture, and therefore members often have no loyalty or commitment to one another at all. On that note, I think Christian leaders would do well to read John Hammett's Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

WallyMorris's picture

Straw Man Arguments? Don't Think So. The phrase "lifestyle preferences" should be precisely defined, if that's possible. Phrases such as "not so clear" and "minor" are "not so clear" and "minor" to some but not to others. While some issues do not directly and specifically relate to the gospel itself, some issues relate to personal testimony, which is related to gospel witness and therefore not "minor".

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Sorry, Wally, but you knew exactly what was meant.  There is a not very subtle difference between issues of human sexuality, where the Bible speaks very clearly, and lifestyle issues like dancing, beverage alcohol, music with a beat, and the like.  Nice straw man, but next time, let's try an argument.  

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“The burning of Servetus – let it be said with utmost clarity – was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible.  It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say.  He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish.  It occurred because of him and not in spite of him.  After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument.  There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings.  The event was the direct result of the sacralism to which Calvin remained committed, a sacralism which he never discarded.” 

-Leonard Verduin (AD 1897-1999), a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, and the University of Michigan.  Verduin knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Dutch, English.  On the subject of Calvin, it is noteworthy that Verduin is of the Reformed tradition. 

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rob Fall's picture

I resist being labeled Reformed or Calvinist. Do you have the location of this quote?

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

“The burning of Servetus – let it be said with utmost clarity – was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible.  It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say.  He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish.  It occurred because of him and not in spite of him.  After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument.  There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings.  The event was the direct result of the sacralism to which Calvin remained committed, a sacralism which he never discarded.” 

-Leonard Verduin (AD 1897-1999), a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, and the University of Michigan.  Verduin knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Dutch, English.  On the subject of Calvin, it is noteworthy that Verduin is of the Reformed tradition. 

David R. Brumbelow

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

JohnBrian's picture

CanJAmerican wrote:

You might be a Hyper Anti-Calvinist if you bring up the the death of Servetus in your criticism of Calvinism.

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

On the subject of Calvin, it is noteworthy that Verduin is of the Reformed tradition. 

His version of the story is to be believed above all other versions solely on the basis of his being in the Reformed tradition!

Here's another version of the story:

And now one man alone stands forth to plead for a mitigation of the sentence, namely, that another form of death be substituted for the stake. That one man was John Calvin. He interceded most earnestly with the judges for this, but in vain. Both Farel, who came to Geneva for the purpose, and Calvin, prayed with the unhappy man, and expressed themselves tenderly towards him. Both of them pleaded with the Council for the substitution of a milder mode of death; but the syndics were inflexible.

and

The main facts therefore may now be summarized thus:

1. That Servetus was guilty of blasphemy, of a kind and degree which is still punishable here in England by imprisonment.
2. That his sentence was in accordance with the spirit of the age.
3. That he had been sentenced to the same punishment by the Inquisition at Vienne.
4. That the sentence was pronounced by the Councils of Geneva, Calvin having no power either to condemn or to save him.
5. That Calvin and others visited the unhappy man in his last hours, treated him with much kindness, and did all they could to have the sentence mitigated.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“The burning of Servetus – let it be said with utmost clarity – was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible.  It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say.  He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish.  It occurred because of him and not in spite of him.  After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument.  There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings.  The event was the direct result of the sacralism to which Calvin remained committed, a sacralism which he never discarded.” 

-Leonard Verduin (AD 1897-1999), a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, and the University of Michigan.  Verduin knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Dutch, English.  On the subject of Calvin, it is noteworthy that Verduin is of the Reformed tradition. 

The above quote is from “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren”, by Leonard Verduin, Eerdmans; 1964.  Reprinted by The Baptist Standard Bearer,Inc., Paris, Arkansas. 

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2016/09/john-calvin-killing-servetus...

David R. Brumbelow

David R. Brumbelow's picture

How anyone can defend Calvin on this issue is beyond me. 

You don’t have to have a formal political office to wield great influence.  

Calvin said before hand, if he ever had a chance, Servetus would never leave his town alive.  

Yes, Servetus was messed up on his doctrine.  Anyone here want to justify killing those who do not believe in the Fundamentals of the Faith?  Of course not.    

Trying to justify Calvin by saying he was for Servetus being beheaded rather than burned?  Really?  Does that justify anything?  It should not take a non-Calvinist to realize Calvin was 100% wrong.  

Why not just say you like John Calvin a lot, but he was dead wrong on this issue?  

 

By the way, “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren”, by Leonard Verduin is a must read for Baptists, Reformed and otherwise.  

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

I don't care about the "Calvin/Servetus" issue. He would have run every Reformed Baptist out of Geneva, too! That is not what this thread is about, or what this excerpt is about. Perhaps we talk about what the man wrote, above?

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

Perhaps a good way of seeing the debate over Calvin would be to ask how one could possibly honor the contributions of Southern Baptist theologians prior to the SBC repenting of supporting Jim Crow in the late 1960s/early 1970s, or prior to their repentance (sort of) of supporting slavery after the Confederacy surrendered.   

So either one would concede that someone can contribute to the theological conversation despite having glaring blind spots, or we are going to be terribly short of theologians whose work we can consult.  And we can also attempt to understand Calvin's actions in light of the historical setting; Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Catholics were alike executing those they considered to be heretics, and that at a time when the Turks were still making inroads into eastern Europe and threatening (1529 Siege of Vienna) to break into Western Europe as well.   The understanding at the time was that to cause difficulty in the church was to do the same for the state at a time when the Turks were most definitely attacking.

And like I noted above, had Geneva been Arminian in theology, the results would have been exactly the same. 

One final note; citing Verduin (who attended the 2nd best Big 10 university in the state of Michigan and 14th best Big Ten university overall) as a "final" authority in the matter is called the fallacy of "appeal to authority".  Plus, if Verduin's work impeached any possibility of respect for Calvin, he seems to have missed the message himself.  Just sayin'. 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

The difference is this:

I don’t in any way try to condone, justify, minimize slavery or racism.

There were otherwise good preachers who were completely wrong on slavery and racism. 

 

Why in the world do so many Calvinists try to defend and minimize John Calvin’s indefensible killing of Servetus? 

As I said before, just say you like Calvin a lot, but he was dead wrong on killing Servetus.  Is that so difficult?  

 

Quoting Verduin is not a fallacy, it is simply quoting Leonard Verduin.  I never said anything about “final” authority.  I use that term to refer to the Bible. 

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

You ask:

Why in the world do so many Calvinists try to defend and minimize John Calvin’s indefensible killing of Servetus? 

This thread isn't about defending Calvin. It's a short excerpt from Calvin's writings, where he briefly describes his view on ecclesiastical separation. I'd appreciate it if we could move beyond the "Calvin is bad 'cuz he killed Servetus" motif. That really doesn't help us, today! Calvin was a man of his times, and I believe his own context influenced his position on the relationship between the church and the state. Perhaps, as we read what he wrote on ecclesiastical separation (above) and consider our own ecclesiastical lives, we can consider whether our own contexts have blinded us a bit, too?

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

JohnBrian's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Why in the world do so many Calvinists try to defend and minimize John Calvin’s indefensible killing of Servetus? 

I don't know any Calvinists who "defend" Calvin in the "death" of Servetus. But the version of the story you have presented is very different from the version I have presented. So which version is accurate? I don't know. But even if he was as guilty as your version insists, Calvinism is not based on the life of Calvin. Those of us who hold to the view do so because we believe it is what the Scripture affirms, not because we follow another dude with the initials JC.

It seems that the anti-Calvinists are the ones who like to talk about Servetus!

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

Jay's picture

The whole discussion of Calvin on this thread reminds me of why I hate that discussion so much.

TylerR said:

There are a few issues swirling about in this excerpt, and they're all worth considering:

  1. When is a church no longer a church? Calvin briefly explained his position at the beginning of the excerpt (there is more in 4.1, but I didn't include it for space). But, Christians need to consider what the "marks" of a church are, before they decide to leave one fellowship for another. As Kevin Bauder asked in his discussion on Landmarkism from his Baptist polity book, when is a dog no longer a dog? When it loses one leg? Two? A tail, too? At some point, the dog ceases to actually be a dog. So it is with a church; what are the critical components that make a church a church?
  2. Is "theological triage" a legitimate distinction? Some men don't believe so. Others believe some doctrines are more important than others. You have to have a position on this, because it will inform when and if you leave a congregation.
  3. How do we balance patience and accommodation with the drive for theological purity? How forgiving should we be to one another, and to the church leadership?

These are good questions.  I think that my first stab answer is that a church no longer is a church when it leaves it's intended position and purpose, either through sinful corruption, especially of the leadership, or by slow drift into some other role.  If sin is tolerated and ignored, any true church will lose its' vitality and purpose.  We know that Paul withstood Peter to his face when he was compromised by the Judaizers, and Christ threatens the destruction of at least two churches in Revelation (Ephesus in 2:1-7 and Laodicea in 3:14-22) for losing their love for him.  Others in Revelation are specifically warned to strengthen themselves by dealing with the sin issues in their midst.

"Theological triage" is something I would think is necessary as long as we are here on Earth.  Would I separate over wine in communion instead of juice?  Probably not.  Would I separate over something like using different versions?  Not likely.  If someone, however, decided to go all in on the Inspiration of the ESV, however, and I couldn't win them off of that position by following Matthew 18, and the church followed that person instead of throwing them out, then I think we'd need to separate from the church.

The third point is the hardest for me to do but also the easiest point, I think, to answer.  We have as much patience and accommodation for those who are sinning as Christ has with us.  Jesus takes pains on several occasions to warn us about judging people fairly, and there are several instances where other Biblical passages directly tie our forgiveness and mercy to the demonstration of mercy and forgiveness we receive from the Father.  Here's a short list of passages that leapt to mind:

  • "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." (Matthew 5:7)
  • For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15, see also 18:21-35)
  • "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:36-38)
  • "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." (Luke 10:36-37)
  • "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:4-7)
  • "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." (Jude 1:20-23)

I am continually am amazed at just how much mercy, forgiveness, and tolerance of weakness Jesus continually demonstrated over and over and over again with his disciples in the gospels.  Being quick to judge and harsh in execution of penalty is something that comes very easily to my fleshly nature, but it is also a sinful and usually anger based response.

The other two concepts that I keep going back to are pastors as shepherds ('Shepherds, not Sergeants' is a title that I'm dying to use somewhere someday), and concept of Messiah as One who will not quench a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3 / Matthew 12:17-21). If you saw a shepherd beating a sheep with their crook or rod, you would (I hope!) realize that something is dreadfully wrong with that shepherd. JFB says this about the wick passage:

The grandeur and completeness of Messiah’s victories would prove, it seems, not more wonderful than the unobtrusive noiselessness with which they were to be achieved. And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.

Be like that, brothers.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

I've been trained, by the ecclesiastical culture I've "grown up in," to be a separatist. I thank God for fundamentalist's courage to stand for biblical truth in the midst of apostasy. I think we see that same ethos displayed by many people today (e.g. the Nashville Statement), even if they don't "self-identify" (heh!) as fundamentalists or wouldn't be accepted as such in our circles.

But, the danger is to be overly harsh and hyper-critical. I have this tendency. It takes great effort for me to be patient with other leaders who are looser, have different views or move slower than I do. It's easy to attack or criticize. It's harder to be patient, listen and wait. The guys I am in leadership with at my church would never describe themselves as fundamentalists. They're conservative evangelicals, through and through. But, they're good men who want the best. They're kindler and gentler than the folks I'm used to. I don't think that's a bad thing. They view me as "the blunt guy" because I don't tap-dance on things. But, together, we manage to strike a balance that I think is about like Goldilocks' pooridge - just right. An echo chamber is never a good thing.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

G. N. Barkman's picture

I read Verduin's "The Reformers and their Step-Children" many years ago, and found it helpful.  It documents a side of the Reformation that is usually overlooked.  I did not remember his perspective about Calvin and Servetus.  However, I have read enough accounts to cause me to believe that Calvin has been treated unfairly.  He tried to get the Geneva City Council to spare Servetus, but they refused.  This is the same body that ejected Calvin from Geneva for about three years, then asked him to return.  Calvin clearly did not control the Council.  Calvin bashers love to talk about Servetus.  I would be more impressed if they demonstrated a desire to portray an accurate historical picture.  Usually, it seems, they misrepresent the account to stir up animosity toward Calvin.  Both Calvin and the members of the Council were men of their times, which helps explain, but does not excuse the event.  But there is much evidence to demonstrate that Calvin was a gracious man.  Really.  I used to hold a highly prejudiced view of Calvin, but that slowly changed the more I read about him, and especially as I read his own writings.

G. N. Barkman

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.