Category Archives: Calvin/Calvinism

This is My Body: A Reformational Comparison of Calvin and Luther’s Sacramentology, Part I

Note: This is meant to be an introductory study on Calvin and Luther’s understanding of the phrase: This is my body. This study will serve to provide a background for current controversies regarding the blatant denial of a robust Eucharistic faith in our modern Protestant Churches. The footnotes will be very helpful throughout these readings.1

The Reformation marked a return to the Scriptures in the area of the sacraments. This derived from a high view of Biblical authority. Throughout the Reformation, there was a conscious determination to bring all things under the authority of Scripture. Both Luther and Calvin believed that only the Scriptures would bring about true change. Though their adherence to Holy Writ led them to different interpretations on significant issues, yet their commitment to the authority of the Bible led to an unprecedented change in the European religious structure. It is with this zeal for the Word of God that Luther and Calvin approach the Lord’s words of institution. However, when great minds gather, great divisions occur.2

The sixteenth century was a time during which the moral collapse of the Roman Church stirred the Reformation, and other movements as well, to pursue a renewed church.3 Indeed, John Frame’s statement reflects the Reformation’s zeal: “We must first be assured that Jesus Christ established on earth one church.”4 The Reformation was not interested in starting a new church since Christ had already instituted His one apostolic church. Initially, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others were simply concerned, with the restoration of Rome and the purification of its doctrinal errors.5 Of course, as the years went by they became aware that Rome was not about to change. It appears that the people too wanted change, so when Luther found that Rome did not seek a return to the authority of Scriptures, the Reformation became a separate entity; a viable alternative to the Roman Church.6

At that point, they began to dispute differences among themselves. This diversion ultimately led to division between the early Reformers.7 Luther’s disciples began to concentrate on Luther’s distinctives and Calvin’s disciples on his. Among the many distinctions in the developing Reformation none caused greater division than the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Jesus’ phrase of institution: “This is my body”8 was the most disputed of the Reformation period. There were various understandings of this language among the Reformers. The irreconcilable differences among them led to the eventual fragmentation of the Reformation. The last chance of a united Reformation died on October 1st, 1529. That day brought Luther and Zwingli together in Marburg9 to discuss their differences and try to come to an agreement. If this had happened the Reformation would have been a more effective movement.10

 

  1. This is intended to be a seven part series. Each reading will take 3-5 minutes. [ back]
  2. This is evidently true for Luther and Zwingli. [ back]
  3. The Magisterial Reformers did not initially want a departure from Rome, but a reformation of her wide corruption. [ back]
  4. Frame, John. Evangelical Reunion, Volume 3, Number 23, June 4, 2001, www.framepoythress.org, Reformed Perspectives Magazine, chapter 1. Professor Frame is criticizing “denominationalism.” In personal correspondence I asked Professor Frame if “denominationalism” is a necessary evil? His response: “That depends on the source of the necessity. In the early days of the church, the evil was unnecessary. The problem of division might have been prevented and would have been if the people had followed Scripture. Of course today the prospect of complete reunion is so dim that I can understand your saying that for practical purposes at least denominations must be treated as necessary.” [ back]
  5. This is fundamental to acknowledge at the outset, lest some believe that the Reformers were anti-institutional. [ back]
  6. The Reformers continued to dialogue with Rome as the Colloquy of Resenberg (1541) indicates, but not as pervasively as they did in the beginning. [ back]
  7. It must be noted that though there were differences (as in the sacraments) there was also a great level of mutual respect among the leaders of the 1st and 2nd generation Reformers. Calvin, for example, who was much younger than Luther, spoke very highly of Luther in many occasions. [ back]
  8. Matthew 26:26 also I Corinthians 11:24. Some manuscripts read: “This Is my body broken for you.” This paper will center its attention primarily on Matthew’s account as opposed to Paul’s. Quotation is taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible. [ back]
  9. For a helpful summary see: Stephen J. Nichols: Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002, pgs. 117-120. [ back]
  10. I continually make this point clear because if the Reformers were to attack Rome’s serious errors together and united, their influence could’ve had far reaching power. Today Europe is a graveyard. The majority of Europeans are not even aware what the Reformation was. However, in God’s great providence the Reformation went beyond Europe. [ back]

The Severity of Calvin’s Institutes

I have been meditating on Calvin’s superb description of the impact of sin. All men are by nature self-absorbed in their idolatry factory producing more and more idols everyday. In fact, it is so incessant, that they pursue the creation of idols more than the Creator. Unbeknownst to them is that God himself is the Creator of all. In all its glory, “true piety,”– not to be confused with modern definitions of “piety,” which equate it with legalistic Pharisaism–is the salvation for idolaters. A holy trust in God and a holy fear of His nature is the prescription given to lost souls by Calvin. He writes:

Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear–fear, which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare.

Instead of seeking a debonair spirit, Calvin without hesitation breaks the orientation of most readers that consider themselves to be pre-approved before a holy and righteous God. Man has a sense of deity (Calvin focuses his attention immensely on this point), but because of their nature this sense of deity leads them to utter wickedness and hatred of God. God must in Himself move man to the place of health, lest his sickness swallows him.

Calvin’s Institutes come as a penetrating sword to the contemporary reader. For those who have been constantly bombarded by the messages of godless teachers, these ancient words come as a refreshing drink from the most pristine waters.

James White versus Dave Hunt

Many of us have probably accompanied James White in the last few years as he has been an able defender of the Doctrines of Grace. Though I have strong disagreements with James (doc) on issues of ecclesiology, sacraments and probably several other issues; however, I am in strong agreement with his exegesis of Scriptures when defending Calvinism. Once again today he and Dave Hunt debated on the topic of Calvinism. It is unfortunate that the moderator was so unfair and spent the first three minutes giving a silly, unlikely and foolish illustrations in order to prove how Calvinists prefer to worhsip Calvin than Jesus. Oh, by the way, if you ever find one of these guys that worship Calvin more than Jesus please let me know.

I don’t want to give a summary of the debate since I still have not heard all of it. However, I think Arminianism is summarized by Dave Hunt’s summation of his position. Here is the direct quote:

Is God sovereign? Of course He is sovereign!  Was He sovereign when Satan sinned/rebelled? When Adam and Eve rebelled? Of course! The fact that God is sovereign does not mean that everything he desires is going to happen.

Suddenly, I think I have been misled on the definition of sovereignty… or have I?

Calvin: “Man is an idol factory”

Calvin’s comment in regard to the main tendency of the human heart is not only a reality but an evangelistic need. The sinner is in as much need to hear about sin as he is about Christ. The call of the gospel is to turn away from idolatry to the living Christ. Dr. Steve Childers comments on this gospel invitation when he states that the “gospel is directly linked to the first two commandments.” By that he means that our sin is worshipping other gods and making to ourselves graven images in the form of personal passions. One may find pleasure in adultery, but what is really taking place is that adultery has become a temporary idol or at times a permanent one. All sin is an issue of the heart and it is the heart that needs to be turned. As Luther has stated in his 95 theses, “Repentance is part of the daily life of a Christian (paraphrase of theses one).” In repentance we find restoration and turn once again our gaze upon the true God and Savior of our lives.

A particular insight I have acquired in my studies of evangelism, is that in a sense, sins are inherently polytheistic. That is, when we sin we all serve and worship many gods. We serve the god of lust, the god of pride, the god of reputation, ad infinitum. This reality would make even the largest syncretistic religion in the world (Hinduism) envious of such an accumulation of gods. The beauty of the gospel is that God is seeking to bring His people to once again put their trust in the monotheistic faith of Abraham. However, turning from idols and gods has become an ineffable homily in modern evangelicalism; rather we are told that these are vices or habits. Don’t you think the gods are pleased to hear that? If we do not treat these matters as what they really are then I see sin’s domineering power becoming another source of doubt and endless despair in the lives of Christians. Christ is the only solution to the billions of alternatives. He alone can deliver us from sin’s dominion. Our Lord is as supremely interested in the rescuing of our sins today as He was when He delivered us from the penalty of sin.

Book Review – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

1339packer.jpeg J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1991).

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a historical masterpiece. Though the title would seem to indicate that a final and ultimate explanation of these realities has been elucidated satisfactorily, the contrary is the case. J.I. Packer is not interested in “reconciling friends” as Spurgeon explained (at least in a philosophical sense). His main theme is that the reality of these two Biblical truths–God’s sovereignty and evangelism–must significantly challenge our thinking in the field of evangelism. His thoroughgoing Calvinism does not hinder his rich application, but rather strengthens it. As it is stated, the Calvinist “will be able to evangelize better for believing it” (126). It is the certainty that this theology is Biblical that enables the true evangelist to place his trust on the author of faith -– God Himself.

The most profound insight Packer’s classic offers is his ability to bring seemingly contradictory realities into a single book. In the end, the reader finds comfort, stability and the recognition that God’s sovereignty and evangelism are complementary and utterly dependable on one another. The writer instills this truth in his readers with utmost delicacy and sensitivity to this critical question in biblical history. Another strength of Dr. Packer is his observation that even the Arminian must come to grasp the concept of God’s sovereignty. When he prays that God would intervene in the salvation of his friend or family, unconsciously he is depending that the sovereign grace of our God may change the heart of stone and makes it into a heart of flesh. However, one critique, perhaps the only one this reviewer has to offer, concerns Packer’s omission in dealing with the famous evangelistic crusades of his time and even of our times in the 21st century. This reviewer feels rather strongly against such practices and would have preferred that J.I. Packer would offer a critique of such practices rather than leaving it to further discussion. Of course, anyone familiar with Jim Packer’s writings is aware of the irenic spirit and the gracious tone of this godly man. Hence this critique is perhaps unwarranted, but still a critique nevertheless.

This classic reveals an unpopular application to the modern Christian thinker. One who is concerned with the evangelistic enterprise will notice that the common “handing out pamphlets” or even “knocking on doors” is not the most effective approach to evangelism. Rather, the approach he offers is that of establishing relationships. Instead of bombarding the lost with undefined biblical slogans, we need to approach our neighbor with love and a genuine desire to know them and their needs. This will enable the believer to understand who they are evangelizing and how to better approach them with the gospel.

A Brief Response to a Friend on Limited Atonement…

You quoted Romans 5:18 in order to prove that my understanding of certain words are selective. Perhaps what follows may help to solidify my exegesis, thereby providing a defense of the Reformed faith.

Here is the verse as you quoted:

Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon ALL men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon ALL men unto justification of life.

First,  notice how “justification” (dikaiwmatos) is used in the text. The correct exegesis of this verse is answered in its context beginning with verse 1 in chapter 5. Paul is addressing the elect when he says: “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, justification has been applied to a certain people and they are having peace with God. The Westminster defines justification as:

an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC Q33).

These whom Paul addresses have by God’s grace believed in God’s covenant promises and experienced salvation through the gospel as Abraham did in the Old Testament (see chapter 4). Justification is applied to a people, not made possible to a people.

Secondly, Paul continues his case in chapter five by declaring that those who are justified receive the benefits of redemption, that is, peace with God, access by faith and joy in the hope of God’s glory (vs.1-6).

Thirdly, you mentioned: “Your picking and choosing which verses mean “all” as in “all” and which verses mean “all” as in “some” namely those which further your argument for Calvinism.” This is false since my proposition is that context indicates the meaning of a word. In verse 15, Paul says that the gift of Jesus Christ abounded to “MANY.” It is an interesting passage since if Paul desired to prove your point he would have said “ALL.” Now, in verse 18 Paul says, “through one man’s offense judgment came to all men (here we have no problem in affirming the universal judgment poured upon all mankind), resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

This is a fascinating description of redemption applied; hence, it deserves a few observations. A) Verse 18 confirms the universal judgment that must be poured upon men because of Adam’s sin. As the saying goes: “In Adam’s fall we died all.” B) Jesus described the”one Man” performing a righteous act. When Jesus’ acts are described as “Righteous” we can safely infer perfection. That is, his sacrifice was righteous and efficacious. Why? Because it “came to all men.” It did not remain as an ethereal, abstract, theoretical possibility. It was actually applied to all men, and as a result, they were justified unto life (they were converted; united with Christ). C) Notice “eis dikaiosin zoes,” meaning for the purpose of or for the result of justification. Would you still understand the “all men” of this latter part as referring to all people in the universe?

Fourthly, you stated:

Since you’re making the argument that Justification is not available to all men, then I would think that the second word “all” in this verse must be taken as “some” therefore you would also have to take the first “all” to mean some and admit that not all men have sinned and are condemned through Adam’s sin.

Notice your first statement and its fallacy. You said: “Since you’re making the argument that Justification is not available to all men…” The text says nothing about Justification being available. It says, it came to all men, resulting in justification unto life. Notice it does not say: ” It came to all men so that they may choose if they want it or not, hence resulting in justification unto life.” Your interpretation is impossible since it assumes one thing, but is contradicted in the text itself.

Finally, your interpretation is dangerous since this text is often used by Universalists to prove that all men will be saved. In fact, listen to the words of inclusivist John Sanders:

God’s intention is to save the human race, not a pathetic little segment of it. The Scriptures says: ‘Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men’ (Romans 5:18).

This is Dr. Sander’s clear conclusion: If it brings life unto all men, then all men will be saved.

You fail because you read “all men” to refer to all without exception. By taking this interpretation you add into the text and deny the context that affirms that justification is not a possibility but an actuality to a certain people, not all mankind. Also, according to verse one, Paul is addressing the believers who have been justified, so “all men” refers to all believers. Furthermore, notice how “pantwn” and “pollon” (all and many respectively) are used differently in their contexts. To prove this, read the following verse. Verse 19 reads: “For as by one man’s disobedience “many” were made sinners, so also by One man’s obedience “many” will be made righteous.” As you can see, the following verse from the one you quoted provides an example of this dual usage. I am sure you are not willing to propose that only “many” are fallen. But this is exactly what verse 19 says. So on the basis of the text we conclude that “many” indicates that all man are fallen not a few. Again, it is defined according to its context.

I look forward continuing our dialogue.
Soli Deo gloria,
U.T. Brito

John Newton’s rebuke

“And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and the man may have a heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with unorthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”*

Perhaps this rebuke should cause most of us who unashamedly call ourselves “Calvinists” to tremble. We have at times ( and I guilty of it) elevated ourselves so high, that instead of exalting the doctrines of God’s Grace we have made it a stepping stone for the enhancement of our intellect, pride, and even, our self-righteousness.

We lose the beauty and majesty of grace when we reduce it to mere abstract theological jargon used to bring glory to ourselves. Remember Paul says that we are the “weak vessels” that bring a great message, not a great vessel that brings a weak message. The message of Grace is lost when presented by one who shows no grace. Sadly, most of us Calvinists have done just that. We have turned our focus on ourselves, our logic, and our abilities instead of stooping low to reveal the giver of Grace.

It is our highest aim to proclaim a doctrine that so diminishes us, as to make us look insignificant to the rest of humanity. And it is our highest aim to make God look so significant and glorious so as to make him the desire of nations. Let us not turn the purpose of Calvinism on its head by missing the goal.
* The Works of John Newton (quoted on pg. 30 of “Reformed is not Enough” by Douglas Wilson.