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Calvin: Love Him Or Hate Him Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
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June 14, 2023 1:00 am

Calvin: Love Him Or Hate Him Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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June 14, 2023 1:00 am

The term “Protestant” comes from “protest.” One man who learned much from Martin Luther's writings was John Calvin, a young, brilliant theologian and author. In this message, Pastor Lutzer helps us understand the doctrinal and political environment in Geneva during John Calvin’s day. Where did Protestantism get its beginning?

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Martin Luther's influence spread far and wide in medieval Europe. One man who learned much from Luther's writings was John Calvin, a brilliant theologian who, as a young man, was already writing massive volumes of his own.

He found his place in Geneva in what is now Switzerland. Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, you've titled today's message, Calvin, Love Him or Hate Him.

Why the ambivalence? Well, Dave, of course, Calvin, as you know, is a very controversial figure in the history of the church. I think it was Voltaire who said that he thought that there was a special place in hell for John Calvin because Calvin stressed the sovereignty of God in salvation. Of course, all of these issues are discussed in my book entitled, Rescuing the Gospel, The Story and the Significance of the Reformation. I want people to understand how Calvinism influenced the Netherlands and even influenced America. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours.

Simply go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now let us go to the pulpit of Moody Church where we learn more about church history and in doing that, we learn more about our faith. Now the question is, why are we talking about the Reformation and what is the Reformation? Well, you need to know that throughout the history of the Christian Church, we always have not had what was known as Protestantism. Somewhere after the year 300, for reasons we won't go into, the church began to acquire certain superstitions and certain traditions and the souls of people were kept in the hands of the church. There was no freedom of religion at all, none.

If you were a heretic, you were put to death. And the whole history of freedom of religion is an interesting one and we aren't going to deal with that in this particular session, but what we're talking about is, where did Protestantism get its beginning after a thousand years of Catholicism? Now if you're here today and you're a Catholic, you are not only welcome, but you are in good company because 25 to 30% of all the people who joined Moody Church were reared Catholic. And our intention is not at all to bash the Catholic Church, but only help people to understand how Protestantism came about. The word Protestant comes from protest. They protested. The word actually came from a town in Germany called Magdeburg and the Catholics were excluding the Protestants from leadership and so forth, or I should say excluding the Lutherans from leadership and they protested it and so they got the name Protestant. And today we still have the name, don't we? Protestants.

I'm putting this in context. There were three great reformers. All three lived simultaneously, that is to say their lives overlapped in the 16th century. One was Martin Luther. If you were with us, you know that we gave two messages on Luther and today we come to a man by the name of John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Most people who think of John Calvin, they think of him negatively. They say, oh, John Calvin was the kind of a guy who if he found you having a good time, he'd slap your wrist. They say that he would have been a terrible man to take out for dinner because he would have been so dour and so negative and so critical.

I don't think that's true at all. I think Calvin has been given a really, really bad reputation and Calvin could have cared less what people thought of him. Oh sure, the people used to sick their dogs after him and kids threw stones at him, but he could care less because he was doing the will of God and someday God's going to set the record straight. Calvin, love him or hate him.

What shall we do? Well, I'm going to plunge right in and tell you some stories tonight and we're also going to look at the Bible and see that doctrine of predestination that he's known for and people dislike him for that. I have to smile as if he invented it. All that Calvin was doing was trying to find out what the Bible had to say and he's been vilified throughout the centuries. Well, if you do not stay in Geneva, you will be cursed. Those are the words spoken to him by a man named Pharrell, fiery preacher in Geneva.

Calvin was spending the night there in Geneva in 1536. He was on his way back to Strasbourg, France and he needed a place to stay. There was war in the area and Pharrell came to him and told him, quite frankly, he persuaded him to come to Geneva and said that if he did not come, may God curse your studies if now in the time of need you refuse to lend your aid to his church. Sometimes we find it difficult finding the will of God. Where does God want me to be? Well, Calvin was told by Pharrell, this is the place for you and if not, God will curse you.

So that's one way to find out God's will is to get some counseling and people will help you determine it. Now, keep in mind that Calvin would have been eight years old when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle door there in Wittenberg, which we talked about and now, of course, Calvin was older so it would have been 19 years since that happened. And because of that, Luther's ideas thanks to Gutenberg and the printing press had been spread throughout Europe and they came to France and all over and Calvin learned the gospel through Luther. Now, this man Pharrell who asked Calvin to stay in Geneva had come to Geneva in 1532 and later returned to strengthen the Reformation movement. He was able to capture Saint Peter's Cathedral, Saint Pierre there in Geneva and he preached the doctrines of the Reformation but he knew that he was too old and there was too much conflict in the city and he couldn't handle it so he was trying to convince Calvin to stay and it worked. Calvin stayed. But how did Pharrell come to know of John Calvin? Calvin, 27, 28 years old at this time.

Why would he even go to a motel in Geneva to meet with him? Well, the answer is John Calvin had published a book called the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It was a book on Reformed theology and it was being read everywhere. Now, they didn't have many books but the books that they did have were being widely read and so Calvin's reputation, he was surprised that he was known in Geneva but his books made room for him. Though it would be later re-advised and expanded, this book would serve as a theological primer that would have a great impact on Europe for 200 years.

How would you like to write a book that would be used as a textbook in theology for 200 years? Calvin did that and the basis of it was written when he was only 27 years old. In the Institutes of Christian Religion, Calvin sets forth a view of God and a view of the church that would inspire millions. You don't think that he is important?

He is very important. Calvin himself had been a beneficiary of God's grace. He was born in northern France, studied for a brief time at the University of Paris where he was introduced to the writings of Luther. Afterwards, he went to the University of Bourgeois.

I hope I pronounced that correctly in 1529. He tells us very little about his own conversion but explains that he was devoted to the superstitions of the papacy and that nothing less than an act of God could extricate him from these beliefs. He said he was a stick in the mud, unable to wade to freedom, possibly even content to wallow in the comfort and familiar mire of Catholic spirituality. But he says at last God turned my course in a different direction by the hidden bridle of his providence.

By a sudden conversion, he tamed my mind that was too stubborn for its years and so he says God overcame my blindness and showed me the light of the gospel. The problem was that persecution began of the Protestants in France. Now sometimes Christians do silly things and there was a king reigning in France by the name of King Francis I and he was an ardent Catholic. And in October of 1534, some Protestants anonymously placed placards in prominent locations throughout France and one of them was even put on the doorknob of the king's bedroom and it criticized and ridiculed the doctrine of Mary and the doctrine of the mass. This is bad silliness because Protestantism was growing in France and if they had just allowed it to grow, that would have happened but as a result of that there was a terrible backlash. This was known as the affair of the placards. It's a good example of a mistake made by well-meaning Christians and the backlash began an outbreak of persecution of Protestants throughout France.

In fact, I won't tell you the numbers of hundreds of people that were put to death. Now it's that crisis that motivated Calvin to go to Basel, Switzerland and there he continued his work on the institutes and so forth but it was after that that he wanted to return to his hometown of Strasbourg, France but there was war that was going on and that's why he ended up going to Geneva where he met Pharrell who told him to stay in Geneva or else he would be cursed. Sometimes we get the impression that the Reformation happened because you know these preachers began to preach and people believed the gospel.

I wish that were the case but politics was so entwined in what was happening. You see it was really the city council that was controlling Geneva and the city council when the Protestants were in charge they wanted Calvin. When the city council turned more Catholic they expelled Calvin from Geneva.

There was so much politics involved in this. For example, Bern, Switzerland was going Protestant and because of trade between Geneva and Bern, Geneva had a great deal of pressure on it to turn Protestant which it did and so it invited Calvin based on the work of Pharrell and now John Calvin was invited to Geneva but he stayed only two years because after that his enemies got in control of the city council and he was expelled and he went back to Strasbourg and it is there that he married a woman by the name of Ida Lett and she became his wife and there he also revised the institutes of the Christian religion, the book. When Calvin was gone a well-known Catholic wrote a letter on why Geneva should return back to Catholicism and Calvin returned the favor and wrote a brilliant reply on why Protestantism should be the religion of Geneva. Well Calvin was invited back after a few years and he stayed there for the rest of his life. Now he must have had a very methodical mind because he would preach through the scriptures and apparently the story is that when he went back to the cathedral after being gone for three years he picked up the text of the Bible and began to expound the scriptures at the very point where he had left off years before and by the way you can go to Saint Pierre's today and you can see three different forms of architecture and you can also see some of the work that Calvin did in rubbing off all the images and you can go and you can look and the gospel is not preached there today.

When I visited it many years ago, though I've been there several times since, I actually knelt in the cathedral and prayed because I thought somebody has to remember the gospel that was preached here under John Calvin. Well once he was in Geneva he in our opinion made the fatal mistake but you have to understand he's coming from a medieval mindset of turning Geneva into the Israel of God. He had rules for the city of Geneva.

Like ancient Israel she should make a covenant with God to worship the Lord alone standing against the seductions of Babylon. Within the city he had strict codes which today of course we ridiculed perhaps but in those days Calvin made sure that even trifles were covered. There were penalties for fortune telling, making noise in church or betting on Sunday, taverns were abolished, church attendance was mandatory, a goldsmith might be punished for making a chalice that a Catholic priest might use, parents might be admonished if they named their children after one of the Catholic saints. Catholics were permitted to stay in Geneva if they remained quiet, however they were eliminated from government, they were urged to convert and to mend their ways. Many in Geneva therefore despised. Calvin I told you that that's why people would sick their dogs on him. When I was in Geneva our guide said something very interesting. We're acquainted with the English word carouse, we don't use it often but you know carouse I don't have to define it for you it means just doing all sorts of things that college students sometimes do on weekends it seems to me.

You know where that came from? Outside of Geneva there is a city called Carouge and people used to leave Geneva and they could go to Carouge and do all kinds of things that Calvin never let them do in Geneva and that's where we get our word carouse. We can thank John Calvin for that. Now a word of parenthesis here, Luther, Calvin and Swingley whom we shall talk about next time, they all had a contradictory view of the church because on the one hand they understood that the true church was the church of the elect, the real saints who were born again. They understood that but they also wanted to hang on to what is called Christendom so they wanted to insist that even the unconverted should have their infants baptized because somehow that brings them into this covenant called Christendom. Calvin held that view too and he wanted to however create this church to be a unique church here in Geneva with all of these rules.

We of course believe that that was a mistake for a couple of reasons. First of all he denied people freedom of religion and that is very very critical to us. That did not happen in Europe until about 1648 so remember Calvin is the 1500 so he didn't understand that freedom of religion was incredibly important. Secondly he should have known that outward conformity even among the church folks is often counterproductive because you have people keeping the rules but they are not necessarily born again of the Holy Spirit. But Calvin's impact as we shall see in other areas was huge. I have to say something about the burning of Servetus because people who know nothing about Calvin they want to lay on him the fact that Calvin burned Servetus at the stake in Geneva.

Someday all that is going to be straightened out too. Servetus was a heretic. He denied the Trinity. The Catholic Church wanted him extradited back to his hometown so that he could be put to death there but he fled to Geneva thinking surely the John Calvin the great John Calvin will welcome me into Geneva. Servetus went into the cathedral and sat near the back and Calvin met with him many many times urging him to mend his ways and to give up his heresy. The city council voted that Servetus should be put to death by fire. Calvin argued that it would be more humane to put him to death with a sword then you get your head cut off and death comes more quickly.

He said that burning was very very inhumane. But Calvin was overruled and Servetus was burned at the stake. And today people lay that on Calvin.

Two comments very quickly. First remember it was the decision of the city council though I'm sure Calvin probably went along with it. Secondly keep in mind that in those days that's what you did to heretics.

You see you and I we can criticize very easily and say how terrible it is. We have every right to protest against the cruelty of earlier generations. For us freedom of religion is so cardinal but we do not have the right to single out Calvin as a mean Protestant who had a man put to death because of a doctrinal error. The fact is that throughout Europe Catholics and Protestants persecuted and often killed those who regarded as heretics.

We cannot criticize Calvin unless we also mention the persecution of the Protestants in France and later things like the Spanish Inquisition. I read a book on the Inquisition a few years ago absolutely horrible. There were cities where thousands of people were killed and one of the men responsible to doing the killings wrote to the Pope and said we cannot distinguish between true believers and heretics and the Pope wrote back in a very famous letter and said kill them all God will distinguish between them. So let's remember those were cruel days when heretics were being burned and killed all the time and I am going to shock all of you. If you return for these lessons on the Reformation I'm going to tell you a story of what happened to the rebaptizers. You will learn something that nobody has ever told you before about persecution and about what happened after the Reformation. It's unbelievable and yet we take freedom of religion for granted. Don't you ever take it for granted.

It is a tremendous privilege. Well my friend this is Pastor Lutzer I'm so glad that we do live in different times the animosities the retaliation for wrong beliefs we thank God that that does not exist in America today. Of course there are other countries that do not have the freedoms we enjoy but at the same time we have to understand that our freedoms are really the result of Christian influence. I've written a book entitled rescuing the gospel the story and the significance of the Reformation and as I mentioned in the sermon it is so important that you return next time as you learn something about the rebaptizers the Anabaptists. We have to know the tremendous persecution that people have had to endure for the cause of the gospel but back to the book rescuing the gospel the story and the significance of the Reformation for a gift of any amount it can be yours here's what you do go to hope that you've had an opportunity to pick up a pen or a pencil go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337 I think that you will be instructed you'll be informed it will help you to understand the difference between Lutheranism Calvinism their impact for America even today. Remember go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337 and from my heart to yours thank you so much for helping us as we get the gospel of Jesus Christ to millions around the world.

It's time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life those of us with sound minds cannot comprehend the difficulties faced by those with mental impairments Dave listens to our program he asks this for those of God's children who suffer poor mental health how does God take into consideration the mistakes we inadvertently make along the way does God give perhaps special consideration to those of us who struggle in this fashion the short answer is yes of course you know the Bible says in Psalm 103 that the father has pity on his children and he shows his mercy toward us and as a father pity of his children so the Lord also pity of them that fear him for he knows our frame he remembers that we are dust he's not going to expect something from people that they cannot give if you are born with a certain intelligence God will judge you on the basis of that some of course have more some have less and the judge of all the earth will do right and as Jesus said in Luke chapter 12 verse 48 until much is given much is required so responsibility will be based on what you do with what you were given that's the basis upon which we will be evaluated thank you Dave for your question thank you Dr. Lutzer if you'd like to hear one of your questions answered you can just go to our website at and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer or call us at 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard Chicago Illinois 60614. Next time on Running to Win Calvin is remembered for burning a man at the stake for believing differently than Calvin did. Religious freedom was not to be found in Calvin's Geneva and for the full story join us for our next program in this series The Reformation Then and Now. Thanks for listening for Pastor Erwin Lutzer this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-14 06:01:15 / 2023-06-14 06:09:41 / 8

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