Sunday, 3 May 2009

Amyraldian Association Conference 2009

Reformed Christians have been enquiring about the papers that were given at the 7th Annual Amyraldian Association Conference, held in mid-April in Attleborough, Norfolk. The conference celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French Reformer, John Calvin in 1509 (10th July).

Various topics were dealt with by the six speakers, and these can be listened to at

Click the "2009 Conference MP3 Recordings NEW" and this will bring you to the six MP3s. Click on the paper desired, and listen.

Whilst all the papers are relevant, of particular importance to Presbyterians are the two papers dealing with Calvin and church order, delivered by Ron Barnett, an elder in Ely Presbyterian church in Cardiff, and Calvin and the covenant, dealing with Christian, or covenant, baptism, delivered by Rev Stephen Quinton, assistant minister at Norfolk Reformed Church.

Please post your comments in the box below.

Calvin and Servetus

Calvin’s life and ministry were characterised by many and varied controversies. Perhaps the most damaging to his memory and legacy, in the eyes of some, is the Servetus affair. Miguel Servetus, of similar age to Calvin, and a man of great, though erratic, genius, came from Spain to Geneva. At this time, Calvin was holding his power in Geneva with difficulty, and in the February elections of 1553, the polls went in favour of his opponents. Servetus’ arrival in Geneva was providential because it was early in 1553 that he published his book, Restitution of the Christian Religion. In it, he argued that the Nicene Creed with its doctrine of the Trinity, the Christology of the Chalcedon creed, predestination, total depravity, hereditary guilt, and the doctrine of infant, or covenant, baptism which was of no efficacy unless preceded by repentance and the illumination of the Spirit; these doctrines, according to Servetus, were the chief sources of the corruption of the church. Indeed, as early as 1545, he had begun an exasperating correspondence with Calvin, whose Institutes he contemptuously criticised.

Living and working as a medical man and under an assumed name, Servetus’ saw his calling in life to disturb, not only the Roman Catholic leaders, but the entire Reformed world as well. When he got in touch with the various Reformation leaders, and eventually with Calvin, Servetus sought to convince them of the errors of their ways and to persuade them to accept his views. Servetus demanded that Calvin be exiled and that his goods given to him. The people of Geneva were not prepared to openly support such a notorious heretic, and supported Calvin’s action against him. His true identity was finally exposed and, because of his heretical views, he, along with his books, were condemned. The heresy trial, which lasted for two months, and conducted by a large competent jury, ended with Servetus being found guilty and condemned to death by a slow fire on 27th October 1553. At the stake, the condemned man displayed “frantic terror” and yielded up his soul with the suffocating cry, “Jesus Christ, Thou Son of the Eternal God, have mercy upon me.” Even in death, Servetus would not recognise Christ as the Eternal Son of God.

While some voices were raised at this, many supported Calvin’s decision to have Servetus executed, agreeing that it was “justly done.” Many regard this trial as odious and the outcome tragic; but for Calvin, it was a great victory, because it freed the Swiss churches from any imputation of unorthodoxy regarding the Trinity. Calvin’s detractors “ruined themselves by making difficult the punishment of one whom the general sentiment of that age condemned.”

In such a tenuous position, it took great courage in Calvin to see this matter through to its conclusion. Humanly, his position was somewhat precarious, but from heaven’s perspective, he could do no other than remove the theological poison from the churches of that day. Obviously he believed that what he was doing was agreeable with, and conformable to, the Word of God, and thus for the ultimate good of the church. His own comfort and success were not uppermost in his mind, but the overall good of the church and of the Gospel in the church. Servetus he saw as “an enemy of the truth,” who was to be removed from the church, and even from the world. They must not be tolerated in the church who find the everlasting Gospel intolerable.

How sparse courageous ministers are in the church today! How few men there are who take the Gospel seriously, when it is challenged by theological liberalism and ecumenism, and other ‘isms’! Where are the men of ‘true grit’ in the modern church? Where are the “Calvins” who not only profess they believe in the Gospel, but demonstrate in practical terms that they do? They are not hard to count! Even those regarded as men of theological principle can and do fall to pragmatism and the lure of ecclesiastical politics and position, counting the Gospel as a matter of personal preference rather than biblical principle.

But not so Calvin. He knew his Book, he knew his God, and he remained true, regardless of personal consequences.

It is quite interesting and disturbing that the modern liberal evangelical churches sing "worship songs" that teach the very doctrine for which Servetus was burned at the stake. He was put to death for denying that Christ was the Eternal Son of the Eternal God. Unthinking and untaught liberal evangelicals do exactly that today. The words of one popular song go, "I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God." Servetus believed Christ was the son of God, but not the Eternal Son of God. Christians are sons (children) of God, and no different from Jesus, according to Servetus and the liberal evangelical religion of today. Yet there are not the reformed men of courage and conviction who are prepared to oppose such heresy being taught as evangelical truth, why? Because these are the very men who include such heretical teaching in the services of worship for which they are responsible.

I ask again, "Where are the Calvins" in today's decadent churches? Answers please in the comment box.

Calvin and the Libertines

When John Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1553, he was met by the godless Libertines. This group appealed to the freedom of the Spirit as an excuse to indulge the desires of the flesh. They argued against the Evangelists, jeered at the Apostles calling each of them nicknames, and denied the resurrection. Some have said of the Libertines, that the "communion of saints" meant the common possessions of all goods, including other men's wives. They were sexually immoral and proud of their liberty, and all the while insisting on their right to attend the Lord's Table.

But the Reformer opposed them. ‘A dog barks if it sees someone attacking its master,’ says Calvin. ‘I would be cowardly if I remained silent and did not make a single sound when I see the truth of God being attacked.’

Calvin was concerned about the well-being of the church and community. Experience taught him that “the upshot of serious doctrinal deviation was moral mischief.” No tolerance whatever should be shown to heretics. Calvin entered this conflict, determining that “nothing short of their suppression and extinction” be settled for. His love for the Church and for the Gospel demanded manly courage in this situation. Indeed, true pastors will be known by such a zeal for the truth burning them up. Calvin knew nothing of a “nice quiet country living” for the minister! Ministry for him meant daily battles with “the enemies of the truth.”

To Calvin, the shepherds of the church must not only provide good food for Christ’s flock, but must also keep watch against wolves and thieves. Calvin saw it as his God-given responsibility to argue against this dangerous sect, in his view, the most pernicious in the world. In addition, believers had asked him to speak out against this sect in view of the havoc they were creating, but Calvin held back to see if this evil would go away, not the wisest decision the Reformer ever made. It didn’t, and he had to speak out.

This sect was led by Quintin Thieffry, and Calvin simply had to expose their use of Scripture, in which they interpreted it allegorically, and even expected Calvin and Co. to go beyond it in search of new revelations. Such a suggestion angered Calvin, who viewed it as heretical to go beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. If these ‘theologians’ were prepared to tamper with the Scriptural data, they would have Calvin to answer to. Making Scripture say what the writers never intended it to say was anathema to the Reformer, a lesson we all need to keep in mind.

These Libertines were dogma-driven, but Calvin was data-driven; they had made up their minds about what the Scripture taught, and then looked for texts to back up those beliefs. Calvin sought what God was saying in His Word, and drew his doctrine from that. The two methodologies could not have been more different. And the doctrines they arrived at were also very different. The truth of God was being attacked by these men, and Calvin could not remain silent. And neither can we!

The Libertines were quite a troublesome lot, and became very concerned about there being too many ministers (Geneva only had four, but for them, this was four too many), too many sermons, and Calvin was writing too many books. These men wanted to abolish the sermon from church services because in these sermons, their promiscuous life-styles were being lashed by this faithful preacher, and this condemnation found its way into the press and from platforms. They preferred a harmless kind of worship – we might say, a user-friendly form of worship where anything goes, where large numbers of contemporary worship-tasters are attracted, where there is a high level of worldly entertainment, where the Word read and preached is kept to a respectable minimum, and where the young are catered for fully – this is the kind of worship services the Libertines desired, the kind of thing we see in all liberal evangelical churches around our country. Tozer puts it well when he talks about "that part of the church that cannot be satisfied without a vists from the latest gospel peddler, who promises cowbells, a musical hand-saw, and a lot of other novelties." These Genevan ‘liberals’ were prepared to tolerate, as a minimum, the “Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments,” as the content of teaching. More than that was too much, too dangerous, and not needed.

Those who denigrate and who wish to minimum the reading of the Word and biblical preaching, are not keeping very good company!

Here is what one historian writes on the occasion of these Libertines wishing to come to the Lord’s Supper:

"The eventful morning dawned. The bell invited the people to the church of St. Peter. The Libertines were present, with their swords (drawn), determined to communicate (saying, ‘Administer communion to us or you will die.’ ). Calvin preached on the intention of the sacred ordinance, and spoke of the state of mind necessary for obedience to the Lord’s command. At the close, he said: “As for me, so long as God shall leave me here, since He hath given me fortitude, and I have received it from Him, I will employ it, whatever betide; and I will guide myself by my Master’s rule, which to me is clear and well known. As we are now about to receive the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, if anyone who has been debarred by the Consistory shall approach this table, though it should cost my life, I will show myself such as I ought to be.” - He then left the pulpit, and stood at the table. Removing the white cloth, and covering the bread and wine with his hands, he said, with a voice that rang through the building, “These hands you may crush; these arms you may lop off; my life you may take; my blood is yours, you may shed it but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profane, and dishonor the table of my God.”

As if the very power of God prevailed, a calm succeeded, and the Libertines retired.... A solemn silence enabled the Reformer to celebrate the sacred ordinance in awe, as if the Lord Himself had been manifestly present. The question in the mind of Calvin was not whether he or the Libertines should succeed; but whether the Reformation should be wrecked at the very table of the Lord. He stood firm; and victory remained with him."
Calvin's courage against the Libertines was tested because it wasn't easy to face down the threat of swords. But it was obvious to Calvin that the thought of the Libertines participating in the Supper of the Lord was a thought worse than death. Calvin’s determination to fence the Lord’s Table displayed tremendous courage, a trait that is seldom found within modern evangelicalism, and a lesson we still have to learn.

Meekness and Humility

Dr A. W. Tozer penned the following wise and challenging words: “God may use people whom you think are not worthy to shine your shoes and in a given situation He will expect you to humble yourself meekly and take from them whatever it is they are pouring on you. In that spirit of meekness you are humbling yourself under the mighty hand of God.”

Not to do so is to resist what God had ordained. To refuse to accept God’s grace just because you do not like the hand that offers it, is blasphemous. It is to despise God, and shows a lack of humility. Spiritual pride always refuses to accept whom God has accepted.

Here, the irreconcilable conflict between pride and humility reveals itself. ‘Must the Christian believer always humble himself and accept every situation with meekness?’ Answer: ‘Yes. As Christians, we much never violate morals or truth.’ If in humbling ourselves we violate or compromise morals or truth, we must NEVER do it. God has never asked a man to degrade himself either morally or in truth.

But Tozer is not referring primarily to these issues. He is focusing our minds on our duty to accept those whom God has accepted and to submit to their teaching, provided it conforms to the Word of God. If a beggar brings the truth of the Gospel to our hearts, we are bound to accept it. If an unlearned man brings us the true Gospel, we must accept it and glory in it. We might not care much for him, or for his lack of a “sound theological education,” or for the fact that he was trained in a suspect college or university; but if he brings us “the unsearchable riches of Christ,“ we must receive it as God’s provision for our souls, and rejoice!

The Church in Crisis.

Churches tend to see themselves as possessing an authority that is higher than the Word of God. Indeed, most major churches see themselves firstly as religious denominations or systems, and only secondly as Christian churches. They admire and relish their power and authority, their position and prestige. They enjoying disobeying the clear command of Christ, and ‘lord it over the flock,’ including Gospel ministers, holding them in a kind of servile fear. This is disguised in very spiritual language as “submission in the Lord to the courts of the Church.” They demand submission to their authority, regardless of whether or not it has Scriptural warrant. They expect ministers to submit conscience, not to the Word of God, but to their dictates, and when the minister refuses to submit conscience to any authority but the Word of God – as his ordination vows require – he is sacked.

The Christian faith is defined in their terms, and at their will and pleasure, and not by the Word of God. So to submit to such “scurrilous authority,” as Calvin describes it, can only be done if “we are prepared willingly and knowingly to deny Christ.” Hence, there is no reason for any thinking person to object that some are prepared to distrust these ecclesiastical authorities.

But why is it that so many ministers will give their agreement either willingly or gladly according to their inclinations, or from ambition, or out of fear, to the ecclesiastical dictators? Because keeping in with the church authorities is more important to them than keeping in with Christ. As Calvin said of the church authorities in his day, “they are so enamoured with their own depraved state, that they cannot bear any reformation,” (Comm. 1st Peter, 1551:222).

Let me give two or three examples of where this is seen. First, when a minister is convinced that there is no place in the public worship of God revealed in Scripture for the modern innovation of the giving of children’s addresses, or indeed in the reformed liturgy of Geneva – where traditional Presbyterianism finds its roots; and when he submits his conscience to no other authority but the Word of God, but is required by Presbytery to violate his conscience, and to break the most solemn holy vow not to do this, he is then introduced to an ecclesiastical process that will lead inevitably to his dismissal.

From a personal perspective, and from painful personal experience which still burns sorely, when I found myself in this situation, not one ministerial colleague was prepared to stand with me or defend me and go against the Presbytery and only one spoke in my favour against the decision of the powerful Judicial Commission of the General Assembly, why? Because those who hung me out to dry had already willingly and knowingly denied Christ. As a result, I have had “to drink the cup of perpetual silence,” (Calvin).

Second, where unregenerate lawyers within the local congregation bring such pressure upon a Gospel minister and upon their Presbytery, to remove Gospel preaching from their congregation, the Presbytery caves in, surrenders to legal blackmail, and accommodates these godless lawyers. Why was this done by Presbytery? Because the elders there – both teaching and ruling – had already denied Christ in their hearts!

Third, examples could be given of the difficulties of ministers who oppose the ordination of women to the eldership being pressurised to say nothing, or to withdraw from services where such unbiblical ordinations take place. Opposition to unbiblical ecumenism by reformed ministers – which is non-existent in today’s decadent church – is met with secret plans to effect their removal from the ministry, and facilitated by evangelical, ‘reformed’ colleagues.

This is where the church in Ireland is at today. There is not one minister known to me who is working for reformation within the churches; they are all content with how things are. Admittedly there are few good ministers in these churches, but none who desire the reformation of the church according to the Word of God. Reformation is a most costly business, too costly for cosy ministers. A blind eye is turned to what they know to be wrong, but they still tolerate it – to save their own bacon, no doubt. No one is prepared to make themselves “slightly obnoxious” for the sake of the truth, or the cause of Christ and the Gospel. And these men still take to themselves the honoured titles of reformed ministers, and evangelical preachers.

A former Presbyterian minister told me today, that in his prayers, he is pleading for God to raise up ‘true men of God’ who will stand in the gap, lift high the standard of truth and righteousness. If and when they come is in God’s sovereign gift; but that they are urgently needed within organised Christendom is undeniable.