Thursday, July 09, 2009

On the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of John Calvin

500 years ago, on July 10, 1509, a male child was born in France by the name of Jean Cauvin, or as it is in the anglicanized form, John Calvin.

Now, in the way we folks number things, 500 seems like a really cool number. If you were going to celebrate an anniversary that you normally wouldn't bother with, the 500th year would be a much more likely candidate than, to pick a number at random, 324th. So, all of this is to say that it is not unreasonable to celebrate the 500th birthday of any notable person.

For those of us who have an interest in church history, there is more reason to celebrate. Historians are just that sort of folk. Now, when the 500th birthday of a notable historical figure who happened to champion a lot of the beliefs that you hold comes along, well, then, all the more reason to skip work and eat some cake.

All of this is to say, that there is nothing idolatrous in celebrating John Calvin's 500th birthday. So let us celebrate! I'm not skipping work, though. And I probably won't have cake. But oh well.

Now I shouldn't have had to spend all of this space saying all of this except for the fact that I can't think of any person in church history or set of Christian beliefs that is more hated and reviled. People have an unreasoning hatred of anything associated with the name of Calvin, despite the fact that they usually know nothing about him or about "Calvinism".

I could spend some time explaining why I believe that this hatred comes from a supreme love of self, but I will not bother.

I will also forego explaining why "Calvinists" have no particular preference for that name (we normally refer to ourselves as "reformed" or holding to the "doctrines of grace"). I believe that I have written before on this blog that us reformed folk believe what we believe because we are convinced that it is what the Bible teaches, and that most of us believed these things before ever reading anything by Calvin (and many of us still have never read anything by him). Whether Calvin taught these doctrines or not is irrelevant--I believe them because the Bible teaches them. I am not a Calvinist, I am a Paulist, a Jesusist, a Mosesist.

But, since God did use John Calvin to bring back the truth of His Word in a time of great spiritual darkness and manmade traditions and doctrines, then we all can have some cake on this anniversary.

Being as it is this fantabulous number of 500, there are a lot of books and conferences and discussions of Calvin being put out right now. I haven't read or heard them all, but from what I have read and heard, I can tell you this. All of these point past Calvin to the God he believed in, and His glory. His biographers (of which there are many all of a sudden) all say that it is hard to get could first-hand accounts of his life because Calvin did not talk about himself. He talked about the triune God. Calvin's many commentaries and sermons are not filled with fun autobiographical anecdotes, but all stick to the inspired Scripture. He was consumed with a love for God and a desire that His name be hallowed. Calvin did not was his own name hallowed. He would be mortified if he knew there were celebrations of his birthday or books written about him. He even willed that he be buried in an unmarked grave. So all of the lectures I've heard about Calvin lately really focus very little on Calvin himself, but rather expound the Scriptural bases for the things that Calvin taught. And in all areas of theology and Christian living, Calvin always focused on one thing--not predestination as many would expect--but on the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As such, we should only thank God that he gifted His church with such a man to be an undershepherd in time of darkness. It is God alone that gave Calvin the grace to believe and teach the right things. Anything that Calvin taught that was wrong (and there is a fair share of that), is purely Calvin the man. All that he taught that was right was taken straight from the Bible. This, I am sure, is what Calvin would say.

Interestingly enough, while those who are "Calvinists" are celebrating by talking less about Calvin and more about God, those who are opposed to Calvinism, when speaking on the subject, spend little or no time in the Bible, but use all of their energies on a polemic against a mere man.

Oh, and don't say "happy birthday, John Calvin." He cannot (or at least would not) hear you because there are much better things to hear in heaven. Rather, praise God and pray that He send more reformers in our own day of darkness.

Oh, and according to something-or-other, this is my 100th blog post. How about that! Did my free will arrange for my 100th post to fall on Calvin's 500th birthday? Hmmm....

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