Book Review: The Necessity Of Reforming The Church

The Necessity Of Reforming The Church, by John Calvin

I got out of this book of about 100 pages what I expected to get out of it.  I expected to see lawyerly attempts to defend the legitimacy of a deeply compromised and even self-contradictory worldview and that is what I found, although admittedly Calvin is a great deal easier to read, for all of his personal history, than many of the Calvinists I have read over the course of my life, and his writing is at least to the point (even if sometimes that point is a very long one).  I am no friend of Calvinism [1], but by and large I found a great deal to appreciate about this book.  I am especially pleased that this book is an honest one–it states its aims and makes a stand on what it considers to be legitimate grounds, and does so with a surprising and remarkable degree of restraint and moderation, and even if I disagree with the author’s perspective, I do not think it unreasonable that he should defend the necessity of reformation in the face of the gross abuses of the late medieval Catholic Church.

This short book, ostensibly written to the Roman Catholic Emperor Charles V in 1543, although it was probably not appreciated nor perhaps even read by him, is divided into several parts.  Most of the parts have titles that seem greatly unconnected from their contents, and there is a consistency in approach overall.  The author occasionally comments to his audience about the mildness and even timidity by which Luther and other reformers (possibly including himself) sought to redress the obvious wrongs present within the contemporary Catholic Church, points out some of those abuses, refers to a verse or two in isolation, makes some generally sound interpretations when it comes to the issue of priests marrying (for example), and points out the evils of believing that the saints have merit that believers can access, making a strong case for faith alone.  The author shows obvious familiarity with Augustine and other Hellenistic Church Fathers and shows himself to be a post-Nicene and post-Chalcedonian Christian who considers himself obviously legitimate to correct the mistakes and issues within Christendom as a whole.  Perhaps most strikingly, the latter parts of the work point out the use of synods and an open discussion of issues in a quick fashion so that things do not get out of control, as they did in the 16th century.

It is important, though, to recognize this work for what it is. Calvin, like Luther and others, wanted to reform the Hellenistic Catholic Church.  They accurately pointed out errors and flaws within that church and sought to see those abuses.  They viewed themselves as good Christians and successors of Augustine and did not see any need to return to the apostolic practice, but rather hand in mind a post-Nicene church purified of its medieval accretions as their ideal.  I must admit that as a reader I have a different viewpoint.  I look in Calvin’s statements looking at divine law and see him as woefully ignorant of biblical law and not interested in following the pattern of behavior of Jesus Christ and the Apostles and rejecting Hellenism outright.  As a result, while there is a great deal of worth in the author’s desire to junk a lot of obviously corrupt and unbiblical practices and superstitions, the author himself does not have a firm basis in biblical truth and practice, and so his recommendations are of the nature of rearranging deck chairs on or repainting the smokestacks on the Titanic as its heads for its maiden voyage into the iceberg of post-Reformation religious experience.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/08/calvinisms-cold-comfort/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/12/avoiding-total-depravity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/03/mysteries-of-the-bible-does-isaiah-646-imply-total-depravity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/02/08/rushdoonys-compaint/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/27/book-review-the-institutes-of-biblical-law-volume-one/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The Necessity Of Reforming The Church

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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