Calvinism has been given a bad name in the modern and postmodern eras. As some of the students at the college ministry observed, in the classes that mentioned Calvinism, they always explained it as an obscure glad-its-gone doctrine of a bygone age. It is purportedly a “rigid” system of doctrine; it breeds “dour” people; and it had that “horrible” belief of predestination. As Voltaire spoke of Calvin himself, so many think of his doctrines: “He was acquainted with Latin and Greek, and the bad philosophy of his time. He wrote better than Luther, and spoke worse; both were laborious and austere, but hard and violent…” (Schaff, Vol. 8, 277).
In the following posts, the tremendous impact of Reformation theology will be presented. It was not the only source of influence, but it was of great significance in the economics, sciences and politics of yesteryear and the roots of modern prosperity. Of course, history is not accomplished in a vacuum, the Reformers always insisted that they were only following doctrines already existing in the church but not fully understood or consistently carried out. What I hope to accomplish is a greater appreciation of the results of the Reformation; results, to be sure, that were not necessarily consciously pursued—a not uncommon activity among humans—but logically flowed from the biblical ideals of Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, and their fellow Reformers.
In the first installment, I summarized the core doctrinal effect of Luther’s 95 Theses, justification by faith alone. Human mediation was removed. Thus, the hierarchy of Rome was rejected. This lead to the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer: each Christian had immediate access to God through Christ alone by faith alone. No human instruments (sacraments, saints, or priest) came between the believer and Christ. This liberated the individual.
Luther also translated the Bible into German instead of following the tradition of Rome which only used the Latin Vulgate and that only by trained experts. Since Rome believed that salvation was found in the church (through her accumulated merit) and church tradition was on par with the bible, it followed that the church would control the bible. Again, the priesthood of the believer gave immediate access to the bible since it was there that Christ was found. Literacy abounded.
The priesthood of the believers also affected the church directly. Since the ministers were not priests in the strict sense of the word, but ministers (servants) for the church and for that salvation immediately obtainable to the individual, then hierarchicalism was greatly hampered. In the Reformed churches of Calvin & Zwingli, this top-down structure was abolished. Congregational songs, voting and discipline was revived accordingly.
The priesthood of the believer also gave rise to liberty of conscience. A man with a clear conscience is a man with liberty. The freedom to believe and worship God according to the Bible was a strong impetus in France, Holland and Scotland, leading to societal changes in those countries. Although, as with most revivals, there was not a perfect implementation of this idea, it still shook nations.
The priesthood of the believer arose directly from Luther’s view of salvation. Since justification (our right standing before God’s law court) was only through faith and only on account of Christ’s righteousness alone, then no mediating person or institution was needed. Society’s structures (home, school, guilds, etc) were no longer playing second fiddle to the Romish church. Monkery was rejected and a full marriage life was embraced. Holy days were abolished and time was freed. In other words, the Kingdom of God was no longer limited to the pope and his church. It was a broader kingdom, embracing all of life sanctified to God.
Christians are priest, so they are to dedicate all endeavors to God. Christians are prophets, so they are to declare the truth in all endeavors of life. Christians are princes, so they are to dominate all endeavors for God’s glory.
Justification by faith alone changed everything.
Naturally, many reading this series of articles may think it rather prideful, arrogant and self-serving. So, to prove my point I have attempted to cite secular, non-Christian if not non-Calvinist sources to prove my point. The rest of the proof is in the logic presented.
[Next: Economics 101]