Monday, May 06, 2019

Christ's Condemnation of Sardis (Revelation 3) Was a Condemnation of the Reformation?

Was John Calvin a Christian? Here's a snippet from a discussion board in which evidence was presented that John Calvin was not a Christian. I did not expect this answer!

Originally posted by James Swan
What is your evidence that Calvin was not a Christian?
He was a Christian all right .. he "had a name that lives but are dead." (Rev 3:1, Sardis) This is what Christ thought of the Reformation churches. They had the name b/c they believed the gospel but they were dead because they didn't obey it (Acts 2:38) nor did they teach others to obey it. They went to the opposite extreme from the Catholics. They wouldn't do anything in order to be saved.


"He was a Christian all right" is intended to be understood sarcastically. The point being made is that John Calvin was not a "Christian" because he lived in a time period prophetically described in Revelation 3:1-6! I never expected that answer.

The Sardis = Reformation churches has its roots in a theology known as Dispensationalism. As their paradigm goes, Revelation 2-3 is a prophetic description of future generations of church history beyond the writing of these chapters. The seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 correspond to seven distinct periods of church history. Here's a basic chart of how it works out:

Let's review Revelation 3:1-6.
To Sardis. 1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis, write this: “‘The one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says this: “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you. However, you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy. “‘“The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels.  “‘“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’

Clarence Larkin (1850-1924)
I was curious as to who first came up with this peculiar interpretation. A number of people point to Baptist pastor, Clarence Larkin, particularly his commentary on Revelation (1919) (pdf).  The author states,
This interpretation of the “Messages to the Seven Churches” was hidden to the early Church, because time was required for Church History to develop and be written, so a comparison could be made to reveal the correspondence. If it had been clearly revealed that the Seven Churches stood for “Seven Church Periods” that would have to elapse before Christ could come back, the incentive to watch would have been absent. 
While the character of these Seven Churches is descriptive of the Church during seven periods of her history, we must not forget that the condition of those churches, as described, were their exact condition in John's day. So we see that at the close of the First Century the leaven of “False Doctrine” was at work in the Churches. The churches are given in the order named, because the peculiar characteristic of that Church applied to the period of Church History to which it is assigned. It also must not be forgotten, that, that which is a distinctive characteristic of each Church Period, does not disappear with that Period, but continues on down through the next Period, and so on until the end, thus increasing the imperfections of the visible Church, until it ends in an open Apostasy, as shown on the chart--“The Messages to the Seven Churches Compared with Church History.”
To summarize Larkin, that the seven churches represented future spiritual church history was "hidden to the early church," so they would maintain "the incentive to watch" for the coming of Christ. Larkin's interpretation though is slippery:  these seven churches, while unfolding in seven distinct periods, exist in some form throughout the entirety of church history. In other words, all seven churches exist at all times! Larkin goes on to state specifically of the  Sardis / Reformation parallel:
The Church at Sardis was called a “Dead Church” though it had a name to live. That is, it was a “Formalistic Church,” a church given over to “formal” or “ritualistic” worship. It had the “Form of Godliness without the power.” The meaning of the word “Sardis” is the “escaping one,” or those who “come out” and so it is an excellent type of the Church of the Reformation Period.
By the Reformation we mean that period in the history of the Christian Church when Martin Luther and a number of other reformers protested against the false teaching, tyranny and claims of the Papal Church. This Period began about A. D. 1500. The condition of affairs in the realm dominated by the Papal Church became intolerable, and came to a crisis when Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 A. D., nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. From that date the Reformation set in. But it was more a struggle for political liberty than a purely Christian or religious movement.
It had the advantage of encouraging and aiding the circulation of the Holy Scriptures, that had hitherto been a sealed book, the revival of the Doctrine of “Justification by Faith,” and a reversion to more simple modes of worship, but the multiplication of sects only led to bitter controversial contentions, that, while they threw much light on the Word of God, interfered greatly with the spiritual state of the Church, until it could truthfully be said, “That she had a name to live and was dead.”
While the reformers swept away much ritualistic and doctrinal rubbish they failed to recover the promise of the Second Advent. They turned to God from idols, but not to “wait for His Son from the Heavens.” The “Sardis Period” extended from A. D. 1520 to about A. D. 1750.
Larkin's Sardis-Reformation church is a "formalistic" or "ritualistic" church. I suspect he means it was too similar to the practices of the Roman church. Perhaps it also is reflective of his move from the Episcopal church to a Baptist church. Elsewhere he asserts that the Baptists are, more-or less, the true descendants of the apostolic church:
Almost all the Anti-papist denominations date, either directly or indirectly, from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Protestant Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Churches, came out from the Roman Catholic Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church came from the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Baptists, however, do not date from the Reformation. Though Anti-papists, they are not, in the technical and historical sense of the word, “Protestants,” though they have ever protested, and do now protest, against the heresies and abominations of the Romish Church.
The Baptists claim to have descended from the apostles.
It is true that the line of descent cannot always be traced. Like a river, that now and then in its course is lost under the surface of the ground, and then makes its appearance again, the Baptists claim that, from the days of the apostles until the present time, there have not been wanting those persons, either separately or collected into churches, and known under different names, who, if now living, would be universallylly recognized as Baptists.
Larkin says the Reformation church was "more a struggle for political liberty than a purely Christian or religious movement." Larkin is correct that the Reformation also saw a struggle for political liberty. There were political power struggles with the papacy and empire long before Luther came on the scene, and yes,  the Reformation certainly played its role in the centralization of countries. To say though the Reformation was "more of a struggle for political liberty" ignores the fact that religion and politics were so intertwined that those people during this time period probably would not make such a dichotomy.

Even though "the reformers swept away much ritualistic and doctrinal rubbish" they failed to emphasize the second coming of Christ. One wonders how much Reformation history Larkin was actually aware of, particularly the details of Luther's theology. Luther was convinced he was living on the verge of the end of history, and this belief heavily fueled his later polemics. Many of the radicals were also convinced it was the end of the world.

Larkin says, "the multiplication of sects only led to bitter controversial contentions, that, while they threw much light on the Word of God, interfered greatly with the spiritual state of the Church." In every period of church history, there have been controversies, some leading to extreme divisions. Even in the earliest period of church history (the New Testament church), there were divisions: there were those who followed their favorite teacher Paul, Apollos, Peter, 1 Cor. 1:10-17), there were the Judaizers in Galatians, and then there were various Gnostic sects that rose up early in the church. Within some of these broad groups, there were also various sects and divisions (particularly those within Gnosticism). According to Larkin's own interpretive grid, he's simply wrong. Generally speaking, the "multiplication of sects" is not a blatant characteristic of the sixteenth century. In the Reformation period, there were basically six broad groups: the Roman church, the Orthodox church, the Lutheran church, the Reformed church, the Anglican church and the radicals. Certainly, each in this broad grouping had divisions (Luther himself claimed "there is no other place in the world where there are so many sects, schisms, and errors as in the papal church"). Simply compare the Reformation period of church history to post-Reformation time periods.

What strikes me as most absurd about Larkin's comments is his view that the Reformation churches positively circulated the Bible, revived justification by faith, and had "more simple modes of worship," but because there were controversies and "the multiplication of sects" these trump these positives! Think on this for a moment: reviving the very heart of Christianity, the Gospel and the Scriptures (sola fide and sola scriptura) is, according to Larkin, the characteristics of a dead church!

Yes, I did respond to Calvin's detractor, but it didn't go beyond this last reply:

Originally posted by skypair View Post
You really don't need to be dispie to see the churches laid out (though if helps). Clarence Larkin first noticed the progression and even assigned dates to the eras of the church development. It looks like you have read the portion about Sardis. Notice what Jesus told them "Remember how you first heard, and received, and REPENT!" How and when did they first receive? Pentecost where the church began!!!
Whatever people are being referred to in Revelation 3:1-3, the text indicates they were Christians, so this passage does not demonstrate John Calvin or the Reformers were not Christians (recall, I asked you for your evidence that Calvin was not a Christian). In fact, after the rebuke of 3:1-3, there were members of Sardis that "had not defiled their garments" and were "worthy." Even though I disagree with your "eras of the church" hermaneutic, If I were to grant it's hypothetical credulity, it would be just as fair to say Revelation 3:4 refers to John Calvin and the Reformers.

Originally posted by skypair View Post
He didn't teach "repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18, 2:38, 26:20) Repentance unto life means repent and receive eternal life.
Calvin on Acts 11:18
The word repentance alone is expressed in this place, but when he addeth unto life, it appeareth plainly that it is not separated from faith. Therefore, whosoever will rightly profit in the gospel, let him put off the old man, and think upon newness of life, (Ephesians 4:22) that done, let him know for a certainty that he is not called in vain unto repentance, but that there is salvation prepared for him in Christ. So shall it come to pass, that the hope and assurance of salvation shall rest upon the free mercy of God alone, and that the forgiveness of sins shall, notwithstanding, be no cause of sluggish security.

Calvin on Acts 2:38
And we must also note this, that we do so begin repentance when we are turned unto God, that we must prosecute the same during our life; therefore, this sermon must continually sound in the Church, repent, (Mark 1:15) not that those men may begin the same, who will be counted faithful, and have a place already in the Church; but that they may go forward in the same; although many do usurp the name of faithful men, which had never any beginning of repentance. Wherefore, we must observe this order in teaching, that those which do yet live unto the world and the flesh may begin to crucify the old man, that they may rise unto newness of life, and that those who are already entered the course of repentance may continually go forward towards the mark. Furthermore, because the inward conversion of the heart ought to bring forth fruits in the life, repentance cannot be rightly taught unless works be required, not those frivolous works which are only in estimation amongst the papists, but such as are sound testimonies of innocence and holiness.

Calvin on Acts 26:19-20
Conversion, or turning unto God, is joined with repentance, not as some peculiar thing, but that we may know what it is to repent. Like as, also, on the contrary, the corruption of men and their frowardness is nothing else but an estranging from God. And because repentance is an inward thing, and placed in the affection of the heart, Paul requireth, in the second place, such works as may make the same known, according to that exhortation of John the Baptist: "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance," (Matthew 3:8). Now, forasmuch as the gospel calleth all those which are Christ's unto repentance, it followeth that all men are naturally corrupt, and that they have need to be changed. In like sort, this place teacheth that these men do unskillfully pervert the gospel which separate the grace of Christ from repentance,

Originally posted by skypair View Post
Calvin believed in "faith alone," right?
For a refresher, see this link.

Originally posted by skypair View Post
He taught FAITH ALONE -- MONERGISTIC salvation -- where man cannot save himself by anything that he does.Do you realize how many false churches can be started by faith alone in what we believe alone??
False churches "can be started" just as easily without "monergistic salvation" or "what we believe alone" ...Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Christian Science, Black Hebrew Israelites, Branch Davidians, etc.

Originally posted by skypair View Post
What is really amazing about salvation is that God answers your prayer of repentance from "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (Psa 34:18) IMMEDIATELY! You will feel the burden of sin lifted from you conscience and the Holy Ghost come into your heart .. and it will give you "joy unspeakable,... Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your soul." (1Pet 1:8-9)
Calvin has stated,

" confess to God privately is a part of true repentance that cannot be omitted. For there is nothing less reasonable than that God should forgive those sins in which we flatter ourselves, and which we hypocritically disguise lest he bring them to light."

and also:

"Now if it is true - a fact abundantly clear-  b(a) that the whole of the gospel is contained under these two headings, repentance and forgiveness of sins, do we not see that the Lord freely justifies his own in order that he may at the same time restore them to true righteousness by sanctification of his Spirit?"

In conclusion: what proof do you have that Calvin was not a Christian?