July 12, 2009
Happy Birthday, John Calvin!
Teri: Two days ago would have been John Calvin’s 500th birthday. He was born in France in 1509 and died in Geneva in May of 1564. During his life he was a preacher, a teacher, a theologian, a political reformer, an ecclesiastical leader, a lawyer, a husband and more.
But the Presbyterians around the world have been celebrating this anniversary of his birth because he is considered the father of our denomination.
To help us celebrate John Calvin’s birthday today, we have a special guest joining us. Please say hello to John Calvin.
(Calvin comes in waving, walks up and down center aisle, waves and shakes hands. One kid goes up to ask him for an autograph on bulletin.)
Calvin: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here this lovely summer day to celebrate my 500th birthday. I’m so proud to see my legacy still lasts here at Northminster. (Lots of arm waving and looking around)
Parishioner: Good morning, Mr. Calvin, my name is Vicky Smith and I’m still pretty new to Northminster and to being a Presbyterian. I’ve heard your name, but to be honest, I don’t know much about you and I would LOVE to know more about what you’ve done for us Presbyterians.
Calvin: Well, being a minister myself, I LOVE to talk, and having been dead now for more than four hundred years, I’d love to talk about myself.
I’m sure you’ve heard about or probably attended one of those Tuesday night meetings of the Elders or Deacons or one of your church committees? (Looks around) Show of hands, who here has been to one of the Tuesday meetings? (pause) That was me! Early on in my career I came to believe that the church should be led by not just the ministerial staff but also by the lay people. I know that you are capable of, nay, should help be responsible for, governing your own church.
Teri: That’s right. Mr. Calvin believed that ALL of God’s people can hear God’s voice and for that reason, they can help lead our churches including governance and teaching.
Calvin began life as a Catholic, and his belief that we can all hear God’s words was one of the reasons he broke away from the Catholic church.
I know that we sometimes roll our eyes about yet another committee meeting but remember that back in the days of Calvin, lay people being involved in church governance was revolutionary—it never happened in the Catholic church.
Calvin: I’ll tell you one other dis-belief I held that makes you a Presbyterian today rather than a Catholic. I did not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Parishioner: And that would be . . .
Calvin: Oh, pardon me, transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and the wine, or grape juice in your case, physically become the body and blood of Christ when it is blessed by a Priest during communion. I did not believe that that actually occurred or is even necessary.
And speaking of communion, I want to mention two of my other beliefs (short pause) from which I understand you have recently broken. I believe that the preached word and the sacramental word belong together. (use hand motions). I am concerned that you no longer take communion on a weekly basis. Sacraments are earthly signs associated with a promise from God and I believe we need to keep them consistently before us, so I do hope you will reconsider this and serve communion on a weekly basis at AT LEAST one of your services.
Secondly, and, John Wright I hope you will not take this personally, but I believe that public praise of our Lord should come in the form of scriptures and psalms being sung. I believe that hymns and musical instruments distract from true praise and the message that come to us from God’s word. I’m sure if anyone can change my mind about that it will be John Wright, and I look forward to having a beer or glass of wine later with John to discuss this.
Teri: That reminds me of a bit of trivia I think you should all know about . . . I’m sure you’ve heard of one of our ChristCare groups, Theology on Tap. This group was inspired by John Calvin.
When Calvin lived in Geneva, he noticed that there were many, many bars, so he decided to open the “Reformed Pub” where patrons could enjoy beer, wine AND Bible study.
Parishioner: Any chance we could open the Reformed Gathering Space Pub?
Calvin: I like the way he thinks!
Teri: We can talk about that later. Here’s another important contribution Mr. Calvin made to our church that, more than anything else, makes it what it is today. He preached justification by faith through Jesus.
Calvin: Here’s a verse from Romans that significantly informed my views on justification by faith: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Teri: Calvin’s doctrine of justification by faith is great for us because it really sort of lets us off the hook—we don’t have to constantly worry if we are doing enough good works because Jesus has already taken care of all of that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should not try to do good and to be good, but it’s not a legal requirement. Calvin encouraged people to do good works, not because they had to, but because they wanted to as a way of thanking God for all our many blessings.
Calvin did have some more controversial and challenging beliefs, such as the doctrines of election and predestination. He believed that God has already determined that some of us will be saved and some of us will be damned. God has decided and it is already a done deal—even before we are born.
Yet he also believed totally in free will. Go figure.
Calvin’s beliefs in predestination and the doctrine of election were both born of his theology that ultimately God rules!
Calvin: Throwing around words like predestination and doctrine of election makes me sound like I was one of those ivory-tower types, but that’s not at all who I was. In fact, I was responsible for making sure that the Bible was translated to be readable, not overstuffed with thee’s and thou’s and a bunch of other fancy sounding multi-syllabic mumbo jumbo.
And here’s something else I did. When I was 27, I wrote a book called “Institutes of the Christian Religion” which I put out for the public—not just my colleagues!—so everyone could read it and we could discuss it. Don’t worry, I’m not here to sell copies, but it is available in your very own church library.
Teri: Now this is a bit of bad news about Calvin. While he did many great things that benefited society, he had little tolerance for anyone who didn’t share the most basic tenets of his faith. One man was tried for and found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake because he disagreed with belief in the Trinity. Calvin went on record as having agreed with both the verdict and the sentence. Although these types of executions were fairly common at this time, we need to recognize that Calvin did have some less-than-warm and fuzzy qualities.
Calvin: (obviously trying to change the subject) So anyway, I also emphasized education and founded schools and a university. (pause) Ok, look, one of my other beliefs is that although we have free will, we are simply incapable of choosing to NOT sin. The original sin of Adam and Eve has caused us to be in bondage to sin. So thank God for justification by faith!
(Calvin sits in a chair next to Ruth.)
Teri: Calvin’s legacy is seen in our church service and in our country today. Prior to our service we sit quietly and have access to a centering thought because Calvin believed we can hear from God and that we should spend quiet time seeking his voice.
We often sing Psalms because Calvin believed they should be the centerpiece of our public praise.
Our democratic system of government in the church and in our nation is attributed to John Calvin. So are public education and the separation of church and state.
Much of how we live and how we worship has its roots in the Protestant reformation.
But the key to it all is that we are all together the people of God and it takes us all to worship, to govern, and to form a community of faith.
And when we form this community, we can be assured that God is with us, speaking, leading and blessing us on our way.
Thanks be to God. Amen.