John Calvin was born a Roman Catholic in 1509. When he was eight, the Lutheran Reformation started in Germany. When he was twelve, he became a Roman Catholic Chaplain. And when he was eighteen, he was appointed a Curate. At that time, the religious young Calvin had no appreciative interest in the Protestant Reformation whatsoever.
Upon hearing of the Reformation, Calvin instinctively disliked it. He reacted against it. He inquisitively read the Bible in order to refute Luther and to confirm his own Roman Catholicism. But in so doing, by the grace of God Calvin was suddenly converted to Christ.
Continuing to pursue his theological studies in earnest, he became more and more convinced that Protestantism and not Romanism was in fact the true Christian religion. Accordingly, he began to preach the necessity of reforming the Church of Christ.
Predictably, persecution broke out. Calvin was forced to flee his native France – forever. But the Lord would preserve him elsewhere – in the wilderness. For God had predestinated Calvin to become the Re-former of the Christian Church and the Re-constructor of the Ancient Church’s Presbyterianism.
As during Biblical and Early-Patristic times,1 many of the early Protestants amongst the various Pre-Calvinian Reformation groups in France and Switzerland and Italy had held to a system of Church Government by popularly-chosen yet divinely-appointed Elders.2 These groups were generally organized into Congregations ruled by Sessions consisting of several Ruling Elders or ‘Presbyters’ – including a Presiding Teaching Elder or Preacher. Presbyters representing their Session, sometimes met together with Presbyters representing other Sessions – in a flexible Confederacy called a Classis or Presbytery.3 Hence the term “Presbyterian” – a system of Church Government by Sessional Presbyters loosely confederated together into Regional Presbyteries.
When Calvin was twenty-six, he wrote an address to the Roman Catholic Sovereign. Francis King of France – pleading for tolerance toward French Protestants. Together with that address, Calvin included a statement of Presbyterian Doctrine for the king’s perusal. That statement, subsequently expanded into Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, is the systematic handbook of Biblical Doctrine which has been used by all true Presbyterians throughout the World – for ever since.
We ourselves are persuaded as to the essential Scripturalness and efficiency of the Calvinistic and Presbyterian system of Biblical Doctrine and Church Government. We propose to deal with it in this booklet.
First, we shall deal with Calvin the Presbyter’s relationship to his Fellow-Presbyters on his Local Session and in neighboring cities. Second, we shall deal with the Pastor’s or Preaching Presbyter’s relationship with his own flock or Congregation. Third, we shall deal
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with Calvin the Irenicist’s efforts to promote peace even among Non-Calvinistic Christians. Fourth, we shall deal with Calvin the Polemicist’s exposures of the errors of Romanism. And fifth, we shall deal with Calvin the Evangelist’s relationship to the whole World at large.
I.. CALVIN THE PRESBYTER
“The Elders which are among you I exhort – I who am also an Elder… Likewise, you younger ones, submit yourselves to the Elder!”4 Thus spoke the Apostle Peter. He, far from ruling over God’s heritage like a Romish Pope,5 regarded himself merely as a Fellow-Elder, co-equal to all the others. Indeed, he also regarded himself as equally obliged to execute the pastoral duty of feeding the flock – and leading especially the younger Christians.6
Calvin’s view was essentially the same as Peter’s. The Genevan Reformer passionately believed in “the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of the saints.”7 He loved to enjoy that communion – also with his Fellow-Presbyters at the sessional level. And he eagerly attended every meeting of the Session each week, in order properly to administer pastoral care to the Members of his Congregation in Geneva.