Monday, March 19, 2012

Calvin's Gospel for Called to Communion

Here's a  further reflection on a recent Called to Communion excerpt:
"When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” This struck me as odd because I knew our denomination (PCA) considered Calvin to be our true founder. I also knew that the evangelical doctrine of “New Birth” (regeneration), understood as the moment of personal, conscious conversion, was the linchpin, the central dogma of our congregation. As an Evangelical Presbyterian, I had grown up constantly hearing these exhortations to be “Born Again.” My pastors and teachers revered evangelistic luminaries like Billy Graham and Bill Bright right along with the great Lion of Geneva. It was simply inconceivable to me that the great John Calvin did not know how to be saved! Nevertheless, as I kept studying, a clear but shocking picture emerged. Calvin knew no conversionistic account of Christian initiation. His was a vastly more ecclesial, sacramental view of the Christian life – one begun in baptism, and nourished through the Eucharist. It was not conversion but the Eucharist, Calvin held, which “brings an undoubted assurance of eternal life.”[“Have you been Born Again? Catholic Reflections on a Protestant Doctrine, or How Calvin’s view of Salvation destroyed his Doctrine of the Church”]
Perhaps David Anders missed the following from Calvin's letter to Cardinal Sadoleto:
I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevese, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.

First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sist his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

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