Calvin 500 Symposium Thoughts

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500th John Calvin


In spite of the floods and landslides, the symposium was well attended by a good mixture of Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.

A lot of discussion centered on Calvin being a “theologian of the Holy Spirit,” a label that befits him because of his rich development of the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The great Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield argued in 1909,

But in the same sense in which we may say that the doctrine of sin and grace dates from Augustine, the doctrine of satisfaction from Anselm, the doctrine of justification by faith from Luther,–we must say that the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit is a gift from Calvin to the Church.

It was evident that many in the audience did not know this. The Pentecostals, in particular, seemed to be delighted that Calvin was a “theologian of the Holy Spirit” (any mention of the word “Spirit” seems to delight them). One asked what Calvin’s view was about miracles, speaking in tongues, and other signs and wonders. Dr. Hesselink replied that Calvin’s view is very different from Pentecostalism. Having said that, he argued that the Reformed and Pentecostals need each other. He also encouraged us to be “more open to the Spirit,” to which the Pentecostals in the audience applauded in delight.

What did he mean by being “more open to the Spirit”? Is he encouraging a marriage between Reformed and Pentecostals? I’m sure that the Pentecostals concluded as much. But is this possible? A related question was asked, “If you were a Calvinist, but you deviate from some of Calvin’s teachings, are you still a Calvinist or Reformed?” Again, the speakers were vague at best, but all of them left the door open to Pentecostalism within the Reformed faith. One of them even accepts speaking in tongues in his church, but “regulates” it.

I thought that if one claims to be a Christian, but then later rejected a Biblical doctrine, e.g., the Trinity, should he/she still be called a Christian? God forbid. But that, in essence, also comes into play whether or not someone is “Reformed” or “Calvinist.”

What did Calvin have to say about “new revelations,” speaking in tongues, and other Pentecostal motifs?

Hence the office of the Spirit promised to us, is not to form new and unheard-of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel recommends (Institutes, I:9:2).

It is incredible…that there were any people who spoke, [even] by the influence of the Spirit, in a language they did not know themselves! For the gift of tongues was not bestowed merely for the purpose of making a noise, but rather for the purpose of communication, of course! For how laughable it would have been, had the tongue of a Roman been directed by the Spirit of God to utter Greek words — when he himself [even while speaking in Greek] had no knowledge of Greek whatever! He would have been like the parrots, magpies and crows which men train to make human sounds! (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:14)

Either to hope for or to seek any new addition to these treasures is truly to arouse God’s wrath and provoke him against us. No one should delude himself with a vain expectation of some new doctrine or revelation (Institutes 4.18.20).

This, however, remains certain: the perfect doctrine he has brought has made an end to all prophecies. All those, then, who, not content with the gospel, patch it with something extraneous to it, detract from Christ’s authority… And the prophetic dignity in Christ leads us to know that in the sum of doctrine as he has given it to us all parts of perfect wisdom are contained (Institutes 2.15.2).

And when he speaks of the last times, he intimates that there is no longer any reason to expect any new revelation; for it was not a word in part that Christ brought, but the final conclusion… If God then has spoken now for the last time, it is right to advance thus far; so also when you come to Christ, you ought not to go farther… In short, the limit of our wisdom is made here to be the Gospel (Commentary on Hebrews 1:1).

What about the Reformed confessions? What did they say about this subject?

Prayer with thanksgiving is a special part of religious worship and is required by God of all men… Prayer is to be offered with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance. If vocal, it must be offered in a language that is understood (Westminster Confession of Faith 21:3).

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory and man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly stated in Scripture or by good and necessary inference may be deduced from Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or by traditions of men (WCF I:6).

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one — even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says — ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us.  For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects (Belgic Confession of Faith Art 7).

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people (Thirty-Nine Articles 24).

Thus, it is impossible to wed Reformed/Calvinism with Pentecostalism. As Dr. Scott Clark says in “Reformed and Pentecostal?”,

You cannot stuff John Calvin into the same sack as Thomas Muntzer or Hans Hut or Denck or sister Aimee or Cane Ridge or any of the others. These things are mutually exclusive. There is a Reformed piety. It doesn’t need to be augmented or fixed. It needs to be tried.

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