The Protestant Reformation and John Calvin ~ Part 1
In my last post, we explored God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. In this post, we will explore the background behind the teachings of Calvinism.
One of the questions that I had when I first started to explore this whole subject of Eternal Security was why it took some 1,500 years after Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension for John Calvin to develop his doctrinal statements and then another 50 plus years for Jacobus Arminius to dispute Calvinism. So, I decided to research what was going on in the church at that time.
The Protestant Reformation 
The Protestant Reformation was the turning point of modern church history. The age of the Reformation bears a strong resemblance to the first century. The way for Christianity was prepared by Moshe and the Prophets, the dispersion of the Jews, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the language and literature of Greece, the arms and laws of Rome, the decay of idolatry, the spread of skepticism, the aspirations after a new revelation, the hopes of a coming Messiah.
The Reformation was preceded and necessitated by the corruptions of the papacy, the decline of monasticism and scholastic theology, the discovery of a new world, the publication of the Greek Testament, the striving after national independence and personal freedom, and perhaps most importantly, the invention of the printing press that allowed the Scriptures to be shared eventually with the masses.
In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Catholicism and Protestantism represent two distinct types of Christianity which sprang from the same root, but differ in the branches. Catholicism is legal Christianity which served to the barbarian nations of the Middle Ages as a necessary school of discipline; Protestantism is evangelical Christianity which answers the age of independent manhood. Catholicism is traditional, hierarchical, ritualistic, conservative; Protestantism is biblical, democratic, spiritual, progressive.
But Catholicism holds also a large number of “traditions of the elders,” which Protestantism rejects as extra-scriptural or anti-scriptural; such as the papacy, the worship of saints and relics, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and masses for the dead, purgatory, indulgences, the system of monasticism with its perpetual vows and ascetic practices, besides many superstitious rites and ceremonies.
Protestantism, on the other hand, revived and developed the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace; it proclaimed the sovereignty of divine mercy in man’s salvation, the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, and the sufficiency of Christ’s merit as a source of justification. It also asserted the right of direct access to the Word of God and the throne of grace, without human mediators; secured Christian freedom from bondage; and substituted social morality for monkish asceticism.
The Reformation began simultaneously in Germany and Switzerland and swept with astonishing rapidity over France, Holland, Scandinavia, Bohemia, Hungary, England and Scotland. Since the seventeenth century it has spread by emigration to North America, and by commercial and missionary enterprises to every Dutch and English colony and every heathen land.
The Reformers, it should not be forgotten, were all born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in the Roman Catholic Church, and most of them had served as priests at her altars with the solemn vow of obedience to the pope on their conscience. They stood as closely related to the papal church, as the Apostles and Evangelists to the Synagogue and the Temple; and for reasons of similar urgency, they were justified to leave the communion of their fathers; or rather, they did not leave it, but were cast out by the ruling hierarchy.
The Reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all-pervading power of religion in history. It started from the question: What must a man do to be saved? How shall a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace of his troubled conscience? The Reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of the Messiah and the triumph of His Besorah. They thought much more of the future world than of the present, making all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion. The Reformation removed the obstructions which the papal church had interposed between Christ and the believer.
There are three fundamental principles of the Reformation:
- The supremacy of the Scriptures over tradition;
- The supremacy of faith over works;
- And, the supremacy of the Christian people over an exclusive priesthood.
The Supremacy of Scripture
The objective principle of Protestantism maintains that the Bible, as the inspired record of revelation, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice; in opposition to the Roman Catholic coordination of Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition, as the joint rules of faith.
This is best stated in Luther’s defense of his theses when he declared the Five Solas of the Reformation:
- Sola Fide ~ Faith Alone
- Sola Scriptura ~ Scripture Alone
- Sola Gratia ~ Grace Alone
- Solus Christus ~ Christ Alone
- Soli Deo Gloria ~ To the Glory of God Alone
We must remember, however, that this wonderful progress was only made possible by the previous invention of the art of printing and by the subsequent education of the people. The Catholic Church had preserved the sacred Scriptures through ages of ignorance and barbarism; the Latin Bible was the first gift of the printing press to the world.
The Supremacy of Faith
The subjective principle of Protestantism is the doctrine of justification and salvation by faith in Yeshua; as distinct from the doctrine of justification by faith and works or salvation by grace and human merit. Luther’s formula is sola fide (by faith alone). Calvin goes further back to God’s eternal election, as the ultimate ground of salvation and comfort in life and in death. But Luther and Calvin meant substantially the same thing, and agree in the more general proposition of salvation by free grace through living faith in Yeshua (Acts 4:12).
The Priesthood of All Believers
The social or ecclesiastical principle of Protestantism is the general priesthood of Believers, in distinction from the special priesthood which stands mediating between Christ and the laity. The Roman church is an exclusive hierarchy, and assigns to the laity the position of passive obedience.
In the New Testament every believer is called a saint, a priest, and a king. “All Christians,” says Luther, “are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says, we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, alike; one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians for baptism, gospel and faith, these alone make spiritual and Christian people.”
Brief Bio-Sketch of John Calvin 
(1509 ~ 1564)
Into the beginning of the Reformation period, Calvin was born in 1509 was born in northwestern France, twenty-five years after the birth of Martin Luther. His actual name, Jean Cauvin, became “Calvin” years later when as a scholar he adopted the Latin form (Calvinus). His birthplace, Noyon, was an old and important center of the Roman Catholic Church in northern Europe. A bishop resided there; and the economic, political, and social life of the city revolved largely around the cathedral. From a middle-class status Calvin’s father, Gerard, after serving the church in various offices including notary public, had risen to become the Bishop’s secretary. As a result, young Calvin was closely tied to church affairs from the beginning. He was brought up with children of the aristocracy, a background that made him a much more refined reformer than the notoriously earthy Luther.
At age fourteen Calvin was enrolled in the University of Paris, the intellectual center of western Europe. Although Calvin pursued a career in theology, for several reasons his life took an unexpected turn. In 1528, just as Calvin had completed his master of arts degree, his father sent word for him to leave theology and study law. Dutifully, the son migrated to Orleans, where France’s best law faculty was located.
Little is known about Calvin’s conversion except that it occurred between 1532 and early 1534, when his first religious work was published. In 1536 Calvin published the first edition of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” The work, which underwent several revisions before its final exhaustive edition in 1559, was without question one of the most influential handbooks on theology ever written.
In my next post or two, we will explore more of Calvin’s influence on theology, education and government.
Click here for PDF file.
 Most of the information in this section is taken from the “AMG Concise Church History” by John Hunt.
 Excerpts from “Who’s Who in Christian History” edited by J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort.