Saturday, July 31, 2010

The TULIP of Calvin that Even Non-Calvinists Must Find Sweet-smelling

There are two issues being brought out why John Calvin (1509 - 1564) is being hated by many Non-Calvinists. One is his “horrible” doctrine of predestination. The other is the “murder” of Servetus. But both are often misrepresented, taken to their extremes and addressed out of their contexts.

His theology (specifically, his soteriology) is more popularly stated in the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). And, of course, Arminians don’t like it (Arminianism being the counterpart of Calvinism). They detest its smell. Sadly, some detest it too much to the point of hating Calvin himself, counting him and all professing Calvinists as hellish heretics.

My aim in this long post is not to defend Calvinism but to show a sketch of Calvin’s biography and a summary of his character so that perhaps those who slander him may be ashamed (will they be?), and those who don’t know him may see the grace of God that worked upon the life and theology of this man. Sure Calvin had flaws, but he had this different TULIP that even Non-Calvinists must find fragrant:

1. Total Submission to Authorities
 “If I were able to choose, I would do anything but obey you. But since I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart to the Lord as a sacrifice.”
“I would prefer nothing more than peaceful, scholarly work, if only he under whose command I stand would give me the freedom for it.” (John Calvin)

a. He was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France. He obeyed his father and pursued theology at Paris at age 14.
b. 5 years later (1528), his father changed his mind and wanted Calvin to pursue law instead of theology. He submissively studied and finished law at Orleans but left it after his father died.
c. After leaving France, he submitted to William Farel who threatened him of God’s curse. He set aside his dream to be a scholar in Strasbourg and decided to spend his whole life being a pastor in Genevaa city with not-so-few political, ecclesiastical and moral conflicts.
d. He did his best to mold Geneva into a Christian community but was banished with Farel for political reasons. Farel went to Neuchatel. Calvin settled happily in Strasbourg, having his dream fulfilled. However, 3 years later, the Genevans requested their return. Farel stayed. Martin Bucer threatened Calvin of God’s judgment. And, again, Calvin submitted (1541) and spent the rest of his life overseeing Geneva.

2. Unparalleled Knowledge and Memory
 “Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, 1551–1608]; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison (incomparabilem esse) in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy (spiritum aliquem prophetiae eximium). His Institutes ought to be studied after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination (cum delectu), like the writings of all men.” (Jacobus Arminius, Founder of Arminianism. 1560 - 1609)

a. Besides being a master of Latin and French, he had excellent knowledge on Hebrew and Greek.
b. He had familiarity with patristic commentators like Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, etc.
c. He had great knowledge on classical writers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Virgil, etc.
d. He had written one of the first exhaustive books on theology in Christendom – the Institutes of Christian Religion. It has undergone 5 rewritings and expansions from 1536 to 1559 but the substance never changes.
e. Except Revelation, he had unique, clear and thorough Commentaries on all the books of the New Testament (not to mention his series of expository sermons).

3. Laborious Actions for the Lord
"I have been a witness of Calvin’s life for sixteen years, and I think I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all a most beautiful example of the life and death of the Christian (longe pulcherrimum vere christianae tum vita tum mortis exemplum), which it will be as easy to calumniate as it will be difficult to emulate." (Theodore Beza. 1519 - 1605)

a. He woke up 4 o’clock in the morning and slept late.
b. Starting in 1549, he preached twice every Sunday and every other week preached no less than daily, which amounted to some 4,000 sermons.
c. He lectured on biblical exegesis three times a week.
d. He was at the Consistory, the disciplinary council of Geneva, on the appointed day.
e. Every Friday he was an active participant of Congrégations, a Bible study both for pastors and laymen.
f. He constantly visited the sick and the imprisoned.
g. He greatly cared for the persecuted believers in France by teaching, counseling and exhorting them through letters and by interceding for them.
h. He consistently wrote commentaries, correspondence and other writings which, within 31 years, would form 2 to 3 volumes octavo annually.
i. He only took 2 meals a day because he found out, by experiment, that it was the way to control his stomachache and migraine headaches. 
j. And he did all of these while he suffered the death of his three infant children and his beloved wife.

4. Indifference to Money and Earthly Comfort
"The strength of that heretic consisted in this,—that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants, my dominions would extend from sea to sea.” (Pope Pius IV)

a. He had a promising career either in the Roman Catholic Church or in law but he preferred the reformed pastor’s life. And he always refused increase in salary and other presents except for the poor and the refugees.
b. He never owned a square inch of property in Geneva. When, in disguise, Cardinal Sadolet passed through Geneva (about 1547), he was surprised to find that Calvin lived in a plain house instead of an episcopal palace with a retinue of servants. Even his furniture, dining table and bed don’t belong to him.
c. He first arrived at Geneva on 1536 but has only received Genevan citizenship on Christmas day of 1559 as a gift.
d. He never cared so much of his health. And, because of his incessant labors, he often suffered indigestion, headaches, gallstones, hemorrhoids, gout, fever and chronic asthma.
e. He had a boring love life! He had needed Bucer to get the idea of marrying and find some good candidates. He rejected three and, by 1540, married a widow named Idellete de Buré.
f. He only left 200 gold crowns which he gave to his relatives, the school and the refugees. On May 27, 1564, he died and the next day he was buried in a common wooden casket in the cemetery of Plein Palais. In conformity to his wish, he didn’t even have a gravestone. 

5. Plentiful Influences
“Calvin’s system of doctrine and polity has shaped more minds and entered into more nations than that of any other Reformer. In every land it made men strong against the attempted interference of the secular power with the rights of Christians. It gave courage to the Huguenots; it shaped the theology of the Palatinate; it prepared the Dutch for the heroic defence of their national rights; it has controlled Scotland to the present hour; it formed the Puritanism of England; it has been the basis of the New England character; and everywhere it has led the way in practical reforms. His theology assumed different types in the various countries into which it penetrated, while retaining its fundamental traits." (Dr. Henry B. Smith, Professor of Theology in Union Theological Seminary, New York. 1815 - 1877)

a. Calvin had connections to the most influential persons of his age. He was admired by the great Martin Luther who was 25 years older than him. He was a friend of Farel, Viret, Beza, Bucer, Grynaeus, Bullinger, Knox, Melanchthon, Queen Marguerite, and the Duchess Renée.
b. In Geneva, there were English, Italian and Spanish Communities. Each of them had its own congregation and worship services. People even migrated from countries as far away as Crete, Tunisia and Malta.
c. At Calvin’s Academy, there were students from such territories as Catalonia, the Netherlands, Scotland, Calabria and Venice.
d. Many pastors educated from the Academy were spread out from Geneva. In 1555 to 1562, 1 pastor was sent to London, 1 to Antwerp, 1 to Turin, 2 to Brazil, 10 to Piedmont and 56 to France.
e. His Institutes, Catechism, and calendar with important biblical and church-historical facts are published and transported to France and other areas. His Psalter (which went through 19 Genevan editions, 7 from Paris and 3 from Lyon) was his bestseller, having 27,400 printed copies by 1562 in Geneva alone.
f. He had indirect influences on some well-known writings of Protestantism. Olevianus, one of the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism, was a pupil of Calvin. Francis Junius, who revised The Belgic Confession of 1551, was also a student of Calvin. Most pastors of the Waldenses were educated at Geneva and Lausanne so the Waldensian Confession of 1655 is Calvinistic too.
g. Most respected theologians and preachers are Calvinists: Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Martin Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Piper, John MacArthur, etc.
h. The Arminian John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was greatly aided by his bestfriend George Whitefield, a Calvinist.

May this TULIP satisfy our spiritual olfaction and cause us to  seek and taste the sweetness of the majesty of God that this man had tasted.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Profile of the Religious Hypocrites

If we are to read the whole chapter of John 5, we can see how the equality of Christ and the Father was emphasized (vv. 17-30). This chapter is probably one of the greatest bulwarks in the New Testament for the Deity of Christ.

But this chapter also shows the unbelief of “the Jews”religious people “who were entrusted the oracles of God.” (Rom. 3:2) The Jews should have confirmed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah of Israel. But these people were religious hypocrites as Jesus exposed in verse 44:  “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

I have tried to get a picture of what it means to be a religious hypocrite so that we may avoid them or being like them. For ease, I make an acronym. To be a religious hypocrite is to be F-A-K-E.

1.  Fervent for religious rites but blind to their essence.

In verses 1 to 16, there was a man who was 38 years suffering from infirmity, expecting to be healed through a miraculous, first-come-first-serve pool. Christ healed him, saying “Get up, take up your bed and walk.” (v.8) That day was Sabbath where people ought to rest and not work. (v.9 cf. Exo. 20:8-10) Therefore, the Jews persecuted Christ because he worked on the Sabbath (v.16) and even commanded the man to work by taking up his bed and walk (v.10). Jesus’ defense was not a denial of working but an affirmation with elevation. He was not working as a man under the Sabbath but as the Son of God who, like His Father, sustains all things even on Sabbath. (v.17)

In those verses, we can see the emphases of the Jews and the healed man to be different. While the former focuses on the rite of not doing a work (vv. 10, 12, 16), the latter focuses on the rest given through the work of a Miraculous Person (vv. 11, 14-15).


The Jews missed the meaning of the Sabbath. It was a mere shadow portraying the true rest we’ll have in Christ. (see Col. 2:16, 17; Mt. 11:28; Heb.  4) The healed man already spent many Sabbaths yet found no rest from his illness (which seems to have been rooted from sin, see v.14) until Christ gave him rest. And the religious hypocrites didn’t see that.

But, like them, we tend to focus on the doings but not their essence. We can be diligent reading our Bibles, praying for others, going to church, leading our small groups and performing other religious deeds but still miss the point. We can miss deepening our relationship with God and with His people for the glory of God. We can miss the essence we ought to pursue.

2. Against the Son because of ignorance of the Son.

After Christ implied that His work equaled Him with the Father (vv.17-18), the Jews “were all the more seeking to kill Him”. What followed were greater claims of Christ: he is equal not only in nature and works but also in power and honor (vv. 19-23), possessing the power to give life and judgment (vv. 24-30). Christ was correcting because the Jews were ignoring. They lack knowledge of who the Son is.


Perhaps we are not like the Jews who don’t understand the Person and works of Christ. But we still have the tendency to be ignorant of the preciousness of Christ. Christianity is all about “looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), “beholding the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18), knowing, gaining and loving Christ! (Phil. 3:8-12) Whenever Christ becomes less beautiful to us, whenever we become less mindful of Him and His glory, or whenever we lose the focus, we succumb to sin. And all sins offend Christ. All sins are against the all-satisfying Treasure found in the Person of the God-Man Jesus. Just like the Jews, we are against Christ whenever we trade Him with our sins that spring from ignoring His beauty.

3. Kind to human ministers but cruel to the Divine Person.

After Jesus stated His astounding claims, he enumerated his unrivaled witnesses (vv.31-47), starting with John the Baptist (vv.31-35). Jesus said that the Jews “were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (v.5) The Jews somehow enjoyed the ministry of John the Baptist. But John the Baptist testifies of Jesus so the Jews should believe Jesus if they believe John the Baptist. They
even should’ve rejoiced more in the Sun if they rejoiced in the lamp.

Like the Jews, we tend to enjoy human ministers but not the Divine Person. We can appreciate the ministries of our pastors and leaders and godly parents, and still become cruel to the Divine Person. We can value the company of the church without valuing Jesus, the Bride of the Church. And when we become like that, we become religious hypocrites.

4. Eager in searching the Scriptures yet not for Christ (or love for God and glory of God) but for their honor.

Another witness for Christ mentioned is the Scriptures (39-44). Jesus made it clear that if they search the Scriptures rightly, they should’ve recognized Him because they testify of Christ. The scriptures point to Christ. (Lk. 24:44) But the Jews didn’t recognize Him because their motive was wrong. It was not actually to magnify Christ or love God or glorify God that they seek the scriptures. It was for their honor. They study the scriptures and keep them so that others might praise them.

And, again, like them, we have the tendency to diligently study our Bibles but not to please God by gazing at Christ. We have the tendency to search the scriptures so that others might say we’re good and we’re great and we know what’s right and true about God. We can master the book from cover to cover and still not glorify God and honor Christ if what we seek primarily is the vindication and exaltation of our self-image rather than God being pleased by us. And that’s religious hypocrisy.

Now, how do we avoid being religious hypocrites? How do we avoid being F-A-K-E? The answer is not to avoid searching the scriptures or stop appreciating human ministers or not do religious actions. These are not evil in themselves. But they should be means to know Christ more. The key to cease from religious hypocrisy is pursuing Christ in all our religious pursuits because Christianity is all about Christ.