Frustrated with Church? Calvin Understands.
I suspected I would enjoy Calvin’s Institutes, and I shouldn’t even be surprised by how things really haven’t changed even though we live in very different times. Take this section by Calvin in which he discusses the marks of the church:
When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognize a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position.
Translation: You’re never going to find a perfect church, or one with perfect doctrine, so be satisfied with one that preaches God’s Word and celebrates the sacraments – and they may not even do that perfectly.
But what about the people who can be so frustrating? You know who I’m talking about. Calvin warns us that some are imbued with “a false persuasion of absolute holiness” and “spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains.”
Still others sin “not so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal.” These people get carried away with wanting a pure church. “For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity.” We shouldn’t do this. Calvin uses the example of the church in Corinth. Despite its many faults, Paul “acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints.”
Lots more on this topic. I have a feeling that Calvin would have something to say about many of our discussions about institutional churches vs. house churches and so on.
I find his approach refreshing these days when we tend to want church just as we like it. In general: find a church that has the marks of being a true church, and that’s pretty much enough. Don’t expect everything to agree with you on every matter, don’t expect perfection, and don’t get too discouraged by the mess. They may look like a mess, but they’re actually a community of saints.
Frustrated with church? Calvin understands, but sure doesn’t want us to give up on it.