Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is Traditional Reformed Theology Anti-Jewish? II.

We are asking an important question. Alas it is true that many Christians over the centuries have been as anti-Jewish as the Jews have been anti-Christian. We have spoken with Mr. David Bond of Christian Witness to Israel, who has informed us that modern Rabbinical Judaism seems to have been formulated after the destruction of Jerusalem with a decided anti-Christian bias. This does not excuse Christians who blindly follow Medieval traditions and engage in eisegetical gymnastics to make the 'all Israel' of Romans 11 mean simply 'all the Church'. As we have seen, that prince of Reformed exegetes, John Calvin, condemns them in that!
Again, there ARE Replacement theologians. It would be vain and foolish to deny it. But John Calvin, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, Matthew Poole, John Gill, Joseph Kinghorn, Charles Hodge, W.G.T. Shedd, Robert Haldane, Thomas Chalmers, John Wesley, Adam Clark, John Brown of Haddington, Samuel Rutherford, and Andrew Fuller CANNOT be claimed in support for such a position.

Thus, as the incomparable J.C. Philpot, one of the most influential Strict Baptists of his day, said in a sermon preached in 1867 at Gower Street Chapel in London:
"To my mind it is scarcely possible to read these ancient prophecies with an enlightened and impartial eye without being compelled to believe that they will be literally fulfilled in the literal Israel... Have we not seen the literal fulfillment of the threatenings? Why then should we disbelieve the literal fulfillment of the promises?" (Gospel Pulpit, Vol. 6 Pp. 3-4

His point is well taken. Replacement theology sees literal Israel as inheriting only the threatenings, engrafting theology (as we would name our position) sees them as to inherit the blessings at a future time.
How are we to look forward to this event? Surely with the longing of Samuel Rutherford, who wrote:
"O to see the sight, next to Christ's coming in the clouds the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon each other's necks and kiss each other! They have long been assunder, they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, thee and thine ancient people in mutual embrace!"

Now who can fault such zeal as that. such heart-felt prayer?

It may be said "you believe that the Jews will be swallowed up and cease to be a people." Not at all! This is to swallow Jewish anti-Christianism, which makes 'Jew' and 'Christian' mutually exclusive. To go down that road leads to heresy, as Dr. Horner agrees. No, when a Jew is converted to Christianity, he remains a Jew, just as a Welshman remains a Welshman and an Italian remains Italian. But the Jewish people have a promise no other nation has (being, as Calvin says, the Firstborn of the people of God).
It is true that not all who are Calvinistic on this point (stretching the term a little) looked for their restoration to the Land. But this was not a point of faith, it was rather a point of unbelief. In fact the conversion of the Jews requires their return to the Land, for how else can they be gathered together (Adam Clark)? How else can the fulfillment of the promises come about, when one of them is restoration to the Land?
So why have some engrafting theologians in the past doubted this fact? Because they staggered at the thought. The Jews, scattered among the nations for centuries, gathered back into Israel? So it has proved!

Again, we have swelled this article to incredible size, for which we apologise. We shall continue, God willing, next time. In the meantime, here are two useful articles exposing Replacement Theology from the CWI website:
Happy Birthday! To Who? Was the Church born at Pentecost?
Boasting Against the Natural Branches. A review of The Church is Israel Now

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. XIII

We shall conclude this series with history's judgement on Calvin, according to Nelson Price and according to truth.

"History has judged Calvin wrong on many issues. Many of his proponents admit this but believe him to be worthy of adulation because of his overall contributions."

Calvin was wrong on some issues, indeed. He inherited from his age a view of Church-state relations that tended to lead to persecution, and most of his errors stemmed from that. Outside of this one issue, we judge Calvin to have been a singularly clear-sighted and godly man. To say that he was wrong on 'many' issues is far too strong. In fact he was wrong on remarkably few. Where Luther gladly handed over ecclesiastical power to the civil magistrate, Calvin at least tried to resist this tendency.
We would not say that he is worthy of "adulation", the word is too strong. But certainly admiration. And it is not only those who are called Calvinists who have admitted this point. Martin Luther called him a "learned and pious" man, and many have come to the same conclusions whilst dissenting from his theology. We quote a few:
"John Calvin was a pious, wise and sensible man." -John Wesley

"Calvin possessed a divine genius." - Father Simon, a Roman Catholic

"I know of no man since the Apostles' days, whom I value and honour more than Calvin." - Richard Baxter

"A man with whom few of his age will bear any comparison for patient industry, resolution, hatred of the Roman superstition, eloquence, and genius." - Mosheim

"I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin's commentaries... for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in interpretation of the 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." - Jacobus Arminius.

"His detractors believe he was obsessed with power, could not abide dissent, and is unworthy of praise often afforded him."

His detractors make, as we have shown, highly unfair statements that often bear little relation to the facts of history. Again we would remind our readers of the words of Basil Hall:
"One major difference between the older denigration of Calvin and that of our own time is that once those who sought to attack him first read widely in his writings. Now it would seem that the word 'Calvinism' is a self-justifying pejorative to be used without regard to what, in the context, the word is supposed to mean." (Basil Hall, 'The Calvin Legend', The Churchman, Vol. 73, P. 119)

Having no Biblical basis for their attack on Calvinism, they resort to vicious ad hominem arguments, attacking Calvin's person. The first man to do this was an apostate, Jerome Bolsec, and rationalists and Romanists have continued this tack for centuries. The better sort of critics, such as Wesley, have dissented from Calvin's theology while admiring him as a man.
"He lived in Geneva until his death on May 27, 1564."

Here at least we are in full agreement with Price!
"Respected historian Will Durant concludes his section on Calvin in his eleven volumes on history by saying: “But we shall always find it hard to love the man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense.”The Story of Civilization, Volume 6, page 490, Will Durant"

Will Durant was no doubt a great man. Yet he was born a Roman Catholic, trained by Jesuits, and in 1905 he became a Socialist. Although he abandoned atheism in later life, we find no evidence that Durant was any sort of orthodox Christian, and he was certainly not an evangelical - much less a Southern Baptist! Yet Dr. Price feels that we ought to accept the judgement of such a man as to Calvin's theology! Whatever happened to the natural man not receiving the things of God? His verdict on secular things may be worthwhile. His efforts to bring history and philosophy to the common man certainly put much of our evangelism to shame, but nevertheless his theological views count for NOTHING to us. "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
If we are to quote a secular author, I prefer to quote R.N. Carew Hunt, son of an Anglican vicar and certainly no Calvinist. Of Hunt's book T.H.L. Parker says: "whatever qualifications must be made about its interpretation of Calvin's theology, [it] is reliable and well-written history":
"At this point what we may think of his doctrine or his system become of no importance. We are left in the presence of a man who followed what he believed to be the truth, and consecrated his life to its attainment, and for this he will be had in honour as long as courage and singleness of purpose are held as virtues among men."
R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933) P. 316

Price's cited sources are:

Our sources are:
Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Trans. Darlington, Evangelical Press, 1997)
Jean Cadier, The Man God Mastered (London, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1960)
R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933)
Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology (Fearn, Mentor, 2006)
John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, (repr. from London edition of 1855, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980)
Basil Hall, 'The Calvin Legend', The Churchman Vol. 73, (London, 1959)
Robert M. Kingdon (editor) Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2000)
T.M. Lindsay, History of the Reformation, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1908)
John Laurence Von Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. Trans. James Murdock (London, William Tegg, 1880)
Nick R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Vol. 3 (London, Grace Publications, 2004)
J.I. Packer, 'John Calvin and Reformed Europe', Honouring the People of God (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1999)
T.H.L. Parker, A Portrait of Calvin (London, SCM Press, no date)
Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1914)
Williston Walker, History of the Church (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1960)
Francois Wendel, Calvin (London, Collins, 1965)
Despite the age of some of these sources, they are far more scholarly than those cited by Price. It is surely incredible that he should give a list of sources the most scholarly of which is the Catholic Encylopaedia! The article from Washington State University is the source of many of Price's errors, and in fact the Wikipedia article (!!!) is much better.
Other volumes have been read, but did not contribute to the final form of this article.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. XII

We continue with this series conscious that it may be wearing to our readers to have to wade through Price's errors of fact and misguided opinion. But we have started, and so we shall finish.

"Calvin taught salvation was not a choice but based on God’s pre-determined decision from the beginning of time.
This meant certain people were the “elect” of God and were to populate the church."

The alternative to this is the "manifestly wicked" (Musculus) teaching that God's power can be frustrated by the will of man, and that the power of Christ's death is entirely dependent on the free will of man. He must first seek our permission if He is to save us. No! Before He regenerates us we can do nothing but flee from God and resist Him, as Francis Thompson put it:
"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasm├Ęd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after."
('The Hound of Heaven')

And yet He followed on, and drew me by His sweet yet irresistible love to Himself. Praise God that He did not ask my permission, for, fool that I am, I would have refused Him and loved this passing world. But He who is too wise to be mistaken, too good to be unkind, did not leave me to perish in my sin. No, He who loved me when I hated Him sent His Son to die for me, and sent His spirt into my heart:
"To change the heart, renew the will,
And turn the feet to Zion's hill."

The Bible speaks of God's elect, and says "we love Him because He first loved us." From any perspectve other than the Calvinistic, it is almost impossible to say with Paul "The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." The Free-willer says "He loved all mankind and died in a general and non-substitutionary way so that I could be saved if I loved him by my own free-will."

In his “Institutes” Calvin defined predestination:
“We call predestination God’s final decree, by which He determined what He willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.”

It took us a while to find this quotation in Calvin, mostly because it is mis-cited and has been abridged. Again, Price has not given a reference, so we spent half an hour searching an electronic version of the Institutes. The full quotation is:
"We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which He determined with Himself what He willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.
" (Book III, xxi, 25, Battles Translation)
Now we agree that this is a reasonable use of the quotation. It must always be borne in mind that Calvin, and those who are called Calvinists, hold that the reprobate are condemned justly for their sins, as the elect deserve to be, and would be had their sins not already been punished in Christ. Although election is unconditional, condemnation is not, it is conditional upon the one condemned being guilty. Since we are all guilty before God, we all stand condemned. But God sent His son so that all who would believe on Him shall not perish everlastingly, but will have everlasting life in Him.

God willing, next time we shall conclude this series.

Brethren, we are not Muggletonians!

We ought to once again emphasise that Calvinists do not think that we can infallibly recognise the elect. The only person we know of in Church history who has claimed that power was Lodovic Muggleton (left), founder of the Muggletonian sect in the 17th century. The Muggletonians had nearly nothing in common with Calvinists, but they did hold that God's providence was not universal, so obviously they left a lot of room for free-will!
But then they also believed that heaven was six miles above the earth, that God had a physical human body, and that when Jesus (the only God they believed in) was on earth, he left the universe in the care and keeping of Moses and Elijah (they came down on the Mount to give their report to Jesus).
The last Muggletonian died in 1979, much to the surprise of historians, who had thought the sect already extinct. His family were quite shocked too, they'd thought he he was Church of England.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Is Traditional Reformed Theology Anti-Jewish? I.

It has been claimed by many Dispensationalists, from Hal Lindsay to Barry Horner, that the traditional Reformed teaching on the place of Israel today is basically 'anti-Jewish'. We wish to dissent, and shall, God willing, be reviewing Dr. Horner's book in due time.

Our present post is loosely based on Dr. Horner's appearance on Iron Sharpens Iron with Chris Arnzen on Monday, which we finally listened to last night. Since a fifty minute radio programme (we do not count the breaks) is plainly insufficient for the sort of in-depth analysis that the book must contain (we hope, as it's a little expensive on, and this blog has a tiny budget), we will save most of our comments for the actual book review in a few weeks' time.

It has been said that men like David Brown and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who held to a future for Israel, were exceptions that prove the rule, and much has been made of certain Dutch Reformed theologians. Well, as the title of this blog indicates, we are not from that tradition, but from the English Strict and Particular Baptist tradition. Our theologians are not Bavinck and Kuyper, but John Gill, Joseph Kinghorn, and J.C. Philpot. Since the Particular Baptists developed out of the English Puritan tradition, and had important links with Scottish Reformed Theology, we will also refer to these streams. Our argument will be that these streams of Reformed theology, following John Calvin, developed a Biblical position on the future restoration of the Jews, founded in particular upon Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. To keep this post to a reasonable length, we shall be taking the position that taking "All Israel" in Romans 11.26 as referring to the nation of Israel, rather than the Church, constitutes Reformed pro-Israelism (to use a rather ugly-looking word). Indeed, we have met some modern Reformed teachers (and argued with them in the seminary classroom) who DO teach a replacement theology. Bavinck certainly did, for one. But we find (and we can only speak in the main of traditional Darbyite Dispensationalists, having moved among the Plymouth Brethren for some time) that Dispensationalists tend to over-react to this continental replacement theology.

It has been said that it is basically anti-Jewish to interpret the Old Testament prophecies by the New Testament. we utterly fail to see why, as we view the Bible as one book given to the one People of God, in whom we Gentile believers have been grafted on by grace. But we shall develop this point in future.

Dr. Horner seemed to accuse Calvin of not only being anti-Jewish, but of anti-semitism in the Iron Sharpens Iron broadcast. He suggested that Calvin was responsible for having the Jews ejected from Geneva. In fact Geneva, like many Medieval cities, had already thrown out the Jews. In 1490 a rabid anti-semitic preacher arrived in Geneva and called on the city to eject the Jewish population. Sadly, the council agreed, and by the time Calvin arrived in Geneva the former Jewish quarter had been repopulated with 'Christians'.
Calvin himself, however, said in his commentary on Romans 11.26:
"When the Gentiles have come in, the Jews will at the same time return from their defection to the obedience of faith. The salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be drawn from both, will thus be completed, and yet in such a way that the Jews, as the firstborn in the family of God, may obtain the first place." (emphasis ours)

Note that, although Calvin identifies the 'Israel of God' as the one people of God, he argues that in the Israel the Jews will have "the first place". We simply do not see how a man who said that in the Eschaton the Jews would have a pre-eminent place in the Church can be said to be anti-Jewish. Certainly the theories of replacement theologians have no support in John Calvin.

We have collected the testimonies of more than fifteen Reformed non-premillenialists, as well as of the Westminster Assembly, John Wesley and Adam Clark, all of whom hold to a future conversion of Israel, a view so prevalent in the 17th century that the Westminster Assembly mandated prayer for the conversion of the Jews in its Directory for the Publick Worship of God!

On a better note, on the show Dr. Horner bemoaned the fact that J.C. Ryle's book Coming Events and Present Duties was unobtainable. In fact it has been in print since 2001, but in an edition that combines it with another small book by Ryle on the same themes. This combined edition is called Are You Ready for the End of Time? , and it is available for £6.99 from Christian Focus. Ryle was an historic Premillenialist.

But since this post has already swelled beyond the modest dimensions we planned for it, we shall, God willing, continue next time.

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. XI

So we continue with Dr. Price's article. We believe that we have already demonstrated that it is stuffed with inaccuracies and misrepresentations. For a man who has claimed in a private e-mail to us to have studied Calvinism for more than fifty years, his knowledge of Calvin's life is woefully bad and seems to be based on a few Calvin-bashing articles.

"The most controversial teaching of Calvin regarded predestination."

We agree that predestination is controversial. How can it be anything else when it lays in the dust the Dagon (pictured) of man's boasted free-will, the great Diana of the Arminians? Men will not have God to rule over them, and as a result they hate the idea of his rule. But it is no wonder that rebels hate the rule of the one they rebel against! That a teaching is controversial is no test of whether or not it is true! Indeed, if a teaching is not opposed by the pride of men, it is highly unlikely to be of God. The LOrd Jesus Christ 'came unto His own, and His own received Him not', will it be any different with His Word?

"The early church and moderate Protestant churches had taught God had not predestined salvation for certain ones while predestining others to hell."

Dr. John Gill in his Cause of God and Truth, Part IV, chapter i, gives chapter and verse proving that many of the Church Fathers taught predestination, and in chapter 3 he shows their low views of the power of man's will. But here we would notice a manifest inconsistency in anti-Calvinists. If we quote the Church Fathers, they reply that the Fathers were Catholic, and therefore agreement with them proves that Calvin was not Biblical. Yet we can only know the views of the early Church from the writings of the Fathers! At the same time we would push the date back. When a free-willer can explain Romans 9 without violating every rule of context and good exegesis, we will be happy to accept his theology. The Fathers are not infallible (we are not Romanists!!!), and the Bible is always above them. Like all theological writers, the Fathers are at their best when they stick closely to the Bible.
So Dr. Price thinks that "the early church and moderate Protestant churches" did not teach predestination and total depravity. What, then , does he think they did teach?

"It was commonly held that salvation was a gift of God based on man’s free will in responding positively to God’s love initiative."

Sorry, but this is simply not true. Martin Luther, in his Bondage of the Will, if anything, out- Calvins Calvin himself! The Lutherans were also scathing about Free Will. The Lutheran Musculus called the idea that man's free-will could frustrate the saving purposes of God "manifestly wicked", and John Laurence Von Mosheim, the great Lutheran Church Historian, said:
"whatever the Arminians may say, the doctrines taught since the Synod of Dort by their principal doctors respecting grace and the points connected with it, approach much nearer to the sentiments of those called Pelagians and Semipelagians than to those professed by Lutherans." (Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Century XVII, Sect. ii., Part 2.)

The Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 states:
"Of Free Will they [Lutherans]teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2,14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word."

The Reformed Confessions, the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, Belgic Confession of 1561 and the French Confession of 1559, all deny that man's will is freely able to obey God.
There were certain Anabaptists, many of whom also denied Justification by Faith and the total depravity of man, and who held that Christ's body was composed of 'heavenly flesh' (i.e. that He did not take flesh of the seed of David, but that His humanity was an entirely new creation that passed through Mary's body as water through a pipe), who would have agreed with Price, but they were in a decided minority. ROME might have been more favourable to the teaching, but he does not want to go there, and nor do we. Of the mainstream of the Reformation, both Lutheran and Reformed branches rejected this teaching of free-will. As Anglicanism is often taken as a third stream we append the statement of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England on Free Will (article 10):
"The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will."

And finally the Waldensis, in their Confession of 1655, article 9, said of man: "Our free will has become a servant and a slave to sin."

Hardly a ringing endorsement of Free-willism, all things considered. Apart from a few fringe groups, the moderate Protestants of the Reformation all joined with Calvin and Luther in the Biblical teaching that man's fallen will is a slave to sin.

Next time, God willing, we shall continue.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. X

We continue with our response to Nelson Price's article on John Calvin. In an aside we should like to say that we have obtained the first volume of the English translation of the Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids, 2000). Covering the period from 1542 to 1544, they bear out everything that we have said about that court. It dealt with ecclesiastical offences and imposed ecclesiastical penalties, most often simply admonishing those accused before it to go to church and listen to the sermons, a most unlikely penalty to be imposed by an inquisition! Like all ecclesiastical courts, the Genevan Consistory sought rather the reformation of those cited before it than their destruction.
These registers were not intended for publication, in fact they are the very minutes of its sessions; So we have from them a true picture of the consistory, which did indeed deal mostly with mundane things like people not going to church, adultery, slander and fornication.
Now back to Dr. Price.

"The five points of doctrine identified by the acrostic TULIP that bear his name did not originate with Calvin. They were a product of the Synod of Dort, sessions of which were held in 1618 and 1619. They were issued in response to five special objections that arose after Calvin’s time (1509-1564). They were based on his teachings.
The Synod so strongly reacted to those opposing their positions as to have beheaded four days after the Synod one of the most respected statesmen of the time Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Additionally the outstanding jurist of the era, Hugo Grotius, was imprisoned for life."

The Synod of Dort is more or less outside the remit of this response, which is concentrating on John Calvin himself. Nevertheless we ought to say a few words on the matter. Suffice to say that the Synod judged the writings of the Remonstrants from the Bible, not from the writings of any mere man. Richard Baxter, by no means an orthodox Calvinist himself, said of the Synod and the Westminster Assembly:
"The Christian world, since the days of the Apostles, had never such a Synod of more excellent divines (taking one thing with another) than this synod [i.e. the Westminster Assembly] and the Synod of Dort." (Quoted in John Macpherson, The Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1881) P. 15)

We have read the Canons and Decrees of this famous council, and they are careful, balanced and Biblical (take a look!). The fact is that the Arminians failed to prove their point. Actually their tactics were such as to put them at a disadvantage, since, as the Lutheran historian Mosheim notes: "The Arminians wished to commence the defence of their cause by attacking the Calvinists." (Century XVII., sect. ii, Part 2.). Obviously one does not gain toleration in a time when toleration was a strange thing, by attacking your judges and the doctrine of the Belgic Confession!
Holland in 1619 was an embattled nation that had just won its freedom after a bloody war with Roman Catholic Spain. The Reformation was bound up with the Dutch nationhood, and there were suspicions that the Arminian doctrine would lead in the long run to Unitarianism. The idea of a universal atonement was seen as part of a system that undermined the doctrine of original sin, the Christian scheme of Salvation, and ultimately the person of Christ. The whole Reformation had centered on the subject of Salvation, there was no way that the extent (or rather intent) of the atonement could be regarded as an adiaphora, a thing indifferent.
Further, we note that the Arminian party produced the Rectoral or Moral Government view of the atonement, teaching that Christ did not die for any in particular, but rather as a display of God's judgement against sin. This is quite unsatisfactory, as the hymns of Charles Wesley illustrate - even as an Arminian, he rejected the Rectoral theory in favour of the Evangelical and Biblical teaching of penal substitution.

The execution of Oldenbarnevelt and the imprisonment of Grotius were undoubtedly wrong, but they are not to be charged against Calvinism but against the pernicious mingling of church and state introduced through the emperor Constantine. It is therefore
that is proved false, not Calvinism. Mosheim notes "The suspicion of the Calvinists that the Arminians aimed at the overthrow of all religion." (ibid). It is surely of note that, whilst Remonstrant (Arminian) ministers were indeed deposed, none were executed or condemned to perpetual imprisonment. The Wikipedia(!) article on Grotius confirms what Mosheim says, that the execution of Oldenbarnevelt was primarily politically motivated. Prince Maurice of Nassau, Stadtholder of the Netherlands, perceived Oldenbarnevelt as a threat to his own power and ambitions, and used the Synod's condemnation of the Remonstrants for his own ends. Thus we may put the blame first on Maurice, and second on Constantine. Thankfully Maurice's death in 1625 introduced a more tolerant regime, and many exiled Remonstrants were allowed to return to Holland. They established their own seminary in Amersterdam and enjoyed freedom of worship. Unfortunately Grotius, who had escaped from prison, was not allowed to return, and it was only after his death following shipwreck in 1645 that his body was returned to his own country. All modern Calvinists condemn this sort of political persecution.

God willing, we shall continue this series next time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. IX

And so we continue with Dr. Price's scurrilous attack on John Calvin

"Calvin’s theocratic government believed every sin was a crime and practiced excommunication. Such applied even to persons who wore what was considered inappropriate clothes or engaged in work or pleasure on Sunday. Persons guilty of “wild dancing” or “bawdy singing” were severely punished. The latter ones had their tongues pierced.

As we have seen, the consistory alone could excommunicate. In England under Elizabeth the state excommunicated. This was not simply "Calvin's theocratic government", it was common in all Europe. Since Calvin was never a member of the government, he could pass no laws. Indeed, most of the laws Price refers to here were in existence before Calvin came to Geneva, and were acted on during his exile. For instance, in 1537, after Calvin had been expelled from Geneva and when we can reasonably suppose his opponents were in power, a man found gambling was hanged for the offence. In 1539 a group of young people were arrested for "singing indecent songs, dancing, blaspheming God and running naked about the streets."
Now we think that people doing such things would probably be arrested today (and are most weekends in British cities). We have laws, less strict of course, governing appropriate clothing and behaviour. Dr. Price, we suspect, agrees that such laws ought to be in place. He would not want young people in his town "running naked about the streets" (though we suspect that some clothing worn to nightclubs today would have exposed its wearer to the charge in the sixteenth century).
Every nation has laws that govern acceptable behaviour, and while we may disagree with them, we recognise that "the past is another country, they do things differently there."
"Such actions resulted in excommunication and many persons being banished from the city."

Again we marvel at Dr. Price's ability to misrepresent matters. He implies that excommunication and banishment were closely linked, whilst in fact most people excommunicated in Geneva remained in the city. Banishment was reserved for more serious offences than dancing!
Secondly these punishments were given by different courts. Excommunication was an ecclesiastical punishment and therefore meted out by the Consistory, while Banishment was a civil punishment inflicted by the civil magistrate. True, those who were banished from Geneva were generally (but not always) excommunicated, but that was because the crime for which they were banished was also a cause for church censure (just as a church member found guilty of a crime today will be put under church discipline as well as punished by the court). As we have said, Calvin never presided over a court in his life, he was never more than a member of the Company of Pastors. If he was treated as first among equals it was due to his moral stature, not to physical force.
"Calvin’s reprehensible approval of torture is an issue most modern day Calvinists do not deny but do disavow."

Exactly. Although ahead of his age in many ways, in others Calvin was a man of his age. It was an age when torture was an accepted part of judicial procedure. But can we really claim to stand higher than him when the bestial practice of 'waterboarding' or simulated drowning is approved by the President of the United States? Our forefathers (and some of our modern political leaders) thought torture was an acceptable method of obtaining information. We disagree, and add our voice to those of our fellow Calvinists in disavowing Calvin's approval.
We must remember that Calvin was approving something already in existence. A visit to the Tower of London will be enough to demonstrate that the use of torture was widespread in Europe in Calvin's day, and continued to be for some time after Calvin's death. It is a pity he did not see that it is cruel and an unsafe way of obtaining information.

"Calvin professed to believe in separation of church and government. However members of the consistory and church formed judicial boards that imposed theocratic law."

Once again, the consistory was a Church court! Members of the consistory were ecclesiastical, not civil, rulers! Price has not bothered to read up on Geneva in Calvin's day, and so he has turned the church court into a civil tribunal. Now this is all the more inexcusable when some of the proceedings of this court are actually available in print at the present time!
This is not to say that the Genevan Church and state were as separated as Calvin wished. confusion of church and state was general in Medieval Europe and especially in Geneva, where the Bishop had been head of state. The Council appointed its own members as Elders, and this did tend to the confusion of Church and State, especially as the president of the consistory was always an elder and therefore a civil magistrate. Calvin wished for a greater separation than then existed, but he was thwarted by the desires of the Council. In France, where the civil government remained Romanist, Calvin's dream of a free church was realised in the face of terrible persecution.
"They closed taverns and replaced them with “evangelical refreshment places” where alcohol could be consumed but only with Bible reading. This practice was short lived."

We do hope that this is merely a record of a fact (these 'Abbeyes' were meant to replace the taverns in which drunkenness was rife). It was a laudable aim to replace the taverns with places where Bible reading and Christian fellowship were encouraged. No-one in the sixteenth century (and certainly not a Frenchman like Calvin!) was teetotal. Everyone drank alcohol for the simple reason that the water was not safe to drink!

God willing, we shall continue next time