Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dr John Calvin

John Calvin (French: Jean Cauvin; 10 July 1509 - 27 May 1564) was the most influential French theologian and pastor during the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation in Europe. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530, around which time he was converted to Christ. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, a reality that was to feature in French history later against the Huguenots, (or French Protestants who were mainly Presbyterians), Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where he published the first edition of his seminal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, in 1536.

In that year, and by a most strange convergence of circumstances in which God's hand was evidently at work, Calvin was recruited by William Farel to help reform the church in Geneva. The city council resisted the implementation of Calvin and Farel's ideas, and both men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg, where he became the minister of a church of French refugees. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and was eventually invited back to lead its church.

Following his return, Calvin introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. Calvin came to see that the current arrangements for the government of the church did not reflect the biblical model, nor was the liturgy faithful to Scripture. This was in 1553, and during this time, the trial of Michael Servetus for heresy took place which resulted in the latter being burned at the stake for his denials of clear Scriptural teaching. This was accompanied by the violent opposition of the Libertines who attempted to harass and threaten Calvin. However, since Servetus was also condemned and wanted by the Inquisition, outside pressure from all over Europe forced the trial to continue. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new elections to the city council, Calvin's opponents were forced out. Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva and throughout Europe.

Calvin was a tireless polemicist, apologetic writer, preacher, pastor, commentator, letter writer and theological giant who generated much controversy. He also exchanged cordial and supportive letters with many reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In addition to the Institutes, he wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible (except Revelation), as well as theological treatises and confessional documents. He regularly preached sermons throughout the week in Geneva. Calvin was influenced by the biblical teaching and also, and subordinately, by the Augustinian tradition, which led him to expound the doctrine of God's sovereignty of God in the salvation of the human soul from death and eternal damnation. He saw the very heart of the his theology, from man's side, as being faith, not predestination, a fact that is everywhere present in his sermons.

Calvin's writing and preachings provided the seeds for the branch of theology that bears his name. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches, which look to Calvin as a chief expositor of their beliefs, have spread throughout the world.

For more information on Calvin as a compassionate pastor and strong church leader, see this website,  where Calvin's dealing with Servetus and with the Libertines is discussed.

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