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Calvinism

In Continental Europe, the Reformation proceeded along two distinct lines, the Lutheran and the Reformed, the latter being more emphatically Augustinian, or Calvinistic, in doctrine. Led by Zwingli, Calvin and others, it also differed from the Lutheran in its views of the cucharist. Churches were organized as follows: Reformed Church in Germany; Switzerland; Austria; Hungary; Bohemia; in Holland; and in France. In Prussia and other German states the Reformed and Lutheran Churches were united in 1817 in the Evangelical State Church. Holland continued to be a stronghold of the Reformed Church, whence it was early planted in the East Indies, Africa and America.

Calvinism stands for a strenuous moral discipline. Calvin himself drew the bands of discipline tightly at Geneva, and insisted upon a severe, strenuous, and even austere morality. He had an autocratic strain in his character. The typical Calvinist is distinguished by habits of orderliness, moral correctness, reverence, and obedience to authority, as well as by self-respect, personal responsibility, and conscientiousness. Calvinism secures moral discipline in the daily life, and is distinguished for strictness in the training of children. The Calvinist believes discipline essential for the spiritual upbuilding of the community. The greatness of Calvinism lies in its ethical strenuousness. Its strength lies in its power to develop strength of character, as well as in its superior family discipline.

The pervading principle of Calvin's theology was the idea of the sovereignty of God. Calvin's God was an Almighty Ruler, upon whose will the lives and the fortunes of men depended; a King, whom men had to fear. It was Calvin's absorbing aim to bring his own life and the lives of others into subjection to the will of God. He believed in the necessity of entire submission to God's will. He dared not disobey what he believed to be the will of the Almighty. He was not a man who easily yielded to entreaties; but his reluctance was promptly overcome when another, speaking with the fervor of a prophet, threatened him with the curse of God in case he refused to obey God. The fear of God was the centre of Calvin's religious life, just as it has been with the Hebrew prophets. The love of God had no place in his theology. There was a large infusion of the Old Testament spirit in Calvin's religion. Indeed, the Old Testament was studied by the early Calvinists with an absorbing interest. Calvinistic preaching was solemn, severe, inculpatory, and gloomy.

Calvin clung to the idea of a state-church, and retained the baptism of infants. Indeed, the friends of state-churches have always shown a determination to maintain infant baptism. The civil laws which Calvin framed at Geneva were conceived in the spirit of the Hebrew theocracy. Offences against the moral law were treated as crimes in Geneva. No distinction was made by the early Calvinists between sins and crimes. The Genevan ideal was that of a community consecrating its political and social life to God's glory, and aiming at the immediate realization of God's kingdom, at the establishment of the direct rule of God upon earth, of a theocracy, through the repression of all base habits and instincts by the whole weight of collective authority, that is, through the influence of discipline.

The typical Calvinist is intellectual. Calvin himself was distinguished by an uncommonly clear and powerful intellect. The typical Calvinist dwelled on the intellectual side of religion. Calvinistic preaching was didactic, and was an appeal to the intellect rather than to feeling. The typical Calvinist is logical. Calvin's own mind was exceedingly clear and logical. He early formed the habit of arranging his thoughts logically, and of thus reducing them to order. The typical Calvinist is distinguished by his logical precision, as well as by his keen analysis and sharp argumentation.

The typical Calvinist is a systematizer of thought. Calvin himself had a genius for organizing thought. The typical Calvinist endeavors to erect a theological system by means of logical inference. His creed surpasses those of all other Protestants in systematic elaborateness. He is characterized by an over-confidence in the adequacy of logic to bring theological thought into a system. The typical Calvin 1st is an organizer by nature. Calvin himself had a genius for organizing. The typical Calvinist is a theologian. Calvin's main interest was in theology and in doctrinal soundness. The typical Calvinist puts theological doctrine into the foreground. He is distinguished by his fine-spun theological definitions. His interest in dogmatic theology is intense. He is more interested in doctrinal questions than all other Protestants.

The typical Calvinist is dogmatic. Calvin himself was dogmatic. He required theological agreement with his teaching at Geneva. In the same way, the typical Calvinist requires theological agreement to his standards, or doctrinal uniformity. He emphasizes doctrinal soundness as being of great importance for the religious life. He strenuously resists what he believes to be dangerous departures from sound doctrine.

The dogmatism of the Calvinist leads to dissension. While the Calvinists require theological agreement, or doctrinal uniformity, yet their logical and dogmatic attitude of mind naturally results in disagreement and in polemics, and tends to divide them into hostile parties and sects. The emphasis put on doctrinal soundness makes men anxious to expose the doctrinal errors of others.

The typical Calvinist is intolerant. Calvin, personally, was intolerant. He tolerated but one form of doctrine and of worship. The intensity of his own convictions made him impatient with dissent. He would meet with a pitiless hostility attacks made upon what he believed to be the truth. He believed in suppressing religious dissent by force. He considered heresy a crime which the civil authority was bound to punish. The civil laws of Geneva, therefore, punished severely the teaching of divergent theological doctrines. The early Calvinists held to the doctrine that heresy should be punished by civil authority. Dangerous heresies have to be extirpated by the magistrate. The settlers of New England repressed dissent, and banished dissenters.

On the other hand, the typical Calvinist, everywhere, learned to defend his rights against the tyranny of civil rulers. While, in the constitution which Calvin created at Geneva, the jurisdiction of the Church unduly abridged the liberty of the individual, yet the idea of the sovereignty of God, the conviction that man owes supreme alleglance to a Heavenly King, gave the Calvinist the moral strength to humble the might of his earthly king. It is thus that Calvinism, indirectly, leads to civil liberty.

Calvinism has set up a high standard of intelligence for both its ministers and its laity. It stands for an educated ministry. But the typical Calvinist is opposed to scientific investigation. The requirement of doctrinal uniformity pledges all ministers to teach the views formulated in the standards of the Church. Calvin professed the doctrine of the supremacy and the sufficiency of the Bible as the only norm of faith and of practice. The Calvinist is convinced that there must be some final test of religious truth, and finds this test in the Bible. The final authority of the Bible forms his test of religious truth.



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Page last modified: 08-11-2011 19:38:17 ZULU