Calvinists – Are They Worthy of the Name?

Upon re-reading Georgia Harkness’ well-known book on John Calvin and his gallant fight for the truth of the Word against the heretics and for moral purity against the Libertines of his day, I could not help but marvel again at this great Reformer. Surely Calvin sought to put the stamp of God upon all of life! The holiness of God was the ruling motivation in his life. The twin attributes of this holiness were, as ever, separation. and dedication. To live the separate life in order to dedicate it to God was Calvin’s aim. “Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” Separation and dedication we can never achieve holiness apart from these two. There must first be a real separation from sin, the world and all that dishonors God before there can be a true dedication to him. We cannot, honor God if we cleave to sin. Holy must they be who in his temple dwell.

Keeping this in view is something we, too, must do especially in our day and age!

Calvinism is strong in its emphasis on the truth that Christ is to be enthroned as King in every one of life’s domains. All of life must be dedicated to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all of this is commonly affirmed by all Reformed Christians. The question arises, however, as to the separation which must precede the dedication. Are we agreed here?

Keeping this in view is something we, too, must do especially in our day and age!

Calvinism is strong in its emphasis on the truth that Christ is to be enthroned as King in every one of life’s domains. All of life must be dedicated to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all of this is commonly affirmed by all Reformed Christians. The question arises, however, as to the separation which must precede the dedication. Are we agreed here?

Should We Enter Every Phase of Life?

Can and should a Christian get into every phase of life as it opens up before us in this world?

Life is becoming more complicated and variegated right along. This is in continuation of the division into two streams which become evident already before the flood of Genesis 7. Seth and Cain represented the two diverse streams, the former the line of the sons of God and the latter that of the children of men. To the descendants of Cain were born the inventors, Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-cain, men of great genius—but in the line of Seth the blessed fear of God remained as long as the separation from the world of Cain was maintained. When mingling of the two spiritual lines came about through apostasy and inter-marriage it spelled the end of that civilization.

The men of genius, the inventors are still with us. III fact, multiplied a thousand-fold in skill and influence, with them we are following on the track of the first, pre-flood world. Unholiness rather than holiness is the stamp of our generation today.

Christ pictures the way to heaven as narrow and steep. a hard upward climb. Its course is always against the gravitational pull of this world, which is ever downward. Real enemies of the soul are the notorious three: the devil, the world and the sinful flesh. These offer distractions on every side and tend to draw our attention away from the goal of our Christian hope—the shining city of light, the city of God.

The world as God’s creation is good and as such John Calvin endeavored to dedicate it to his Maker. But by virtue of sin and the curse this good world can become a dangerous snare for us. Often we sin more in connection with things in themselves good than with things specifically and notoriously evil. To use the world and not to abuse it—this is ever a most difficult assignment for God’s child, and a task which presents many problems and causes much trouble.

Calvin and Moderation

Calvin was of a very sober mind and his system of thought is now dubbed as of the strait-jacket variety. True enough, the Geneva Reformer was strongly impressed with the reality and power of the sinful flesh. He knew that Christians as regenerated by the Spirit of God are not of or after the flesh, but he also knew very well that they are constantly beset with the dangers of flesh Ii ness and carnality. Therefore we should always be quick to ask not only as to the wrongness of this or that act, but we should also ask this most important question: Where does this lead me? Will it draw me upward toward the heavenly goal, or will it draw my attention away from that goal toward the world? The asking of the question as to the ethical quality of a certain deed or practice alone will not help us much in our battle against the flesh.

John Calvin was very emphatic at this point. He loved the simple li fe and lived it, not because he condemned the luxurious as in itself evil, but because he was realistic over against the fact that luxuries often occasion a strong pull away from the sanctified life. If we would also adopt this attitude we would win a great battle over calamity, the sin which spells defeat for us so often today, We are being distracted today by influences on all sides which appeal to us through things good in themselves but which are instrumental nevertheless in making us to be unfit for the spiritual struggle, robbing us of a significant usefulness in the service of the Kingdom of God.

Organized Christian Amusement

May we point to the tendency to organize “Christian” clubs and associations for every type of amusement: bowling, baseball, skating, etc. We are also beginning to hear more about the desirability of Christian theatrical productions, Christian movies, and even Christian dances! We cannot help but wonder just where we are heading. Tacking the name Christian on everything (except certain very important matters!) seems to be the mode. Years ago we read much about the so-called “institutional church”—the type with a million dollar “plant” of which the sanctuary, seating about 250 including the choir, was only a very small part stuck away in an obscure corner and dwarfed in size and importance by the Fellowship Gymnasium—which was condemned very strongly.

But are we not actually drifting into that very same sort of thing? When everything and anything is so gloriously Christianized, is there any real amount of time left over for the essential, spiritual task of the church? Some years ago I asked a certain brother as to how he accounted for the fact that he was elected to the Consistory so soon after he had joined a large city congregation. His answer was that the men of his church were so busy with their bowling and other interests that they had no time left for the type of work the church offices demand. Consequently a shortage of available people to man the church offices led to the nomination and election of a “new-comer.” This is not an unusual thing among us, I fear! Too many have (or think they have) time for all things but the things which should always come first.

If we are serious about this business of bearing the name Calvinist, let us strive to possess the spirit of him after whom we name ourselves! For we are convinced that John Calvin held to a wholesome, healthy conception of the Christian life. The “kill-joy” attitude was not his, as has falsely been asserted. Georgia Harkness did not own sympathy for Calvin as far as his theology was concerned, but nevertheless she felt compelled to draw a most favorable picture of him because of the consistently high standard of personal morality which characterized his life. Calvin lived in the consciousness that he was always under the all-seeing eye of Almighty God. Therefore he weighed carefully his time, and applied himself to this God-assigned task with all his power. With the psalmist he prayed,

So teach us to number our days,

That we may get us a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12).

The Ease Era

This day of fun and sport is producing an ease loving generation of Christians far removed from the seIf-denying spirit of Calvin. Easy money, short working hours, high wages, economic security -for these we strike, and their materialistic spirit has come also into the spiritual blood stream of many an ardent Calvinist, so-called.



We are thinking of a play once sponsored by Christian people, intended to counter-act our Americanized Santa Claus type of Christmas celebration. But at the performance of this very play Santa Claus was sandwiched in between the acts assisted by a couple of black-faced fellows who with him went through the audience in order to prosecute with amusing chastisement certain alleged culprits! In our opinion we need Santa Claus no more at the beginning of December than we do on the traditional day of our Christmas observance. As far as the play itself is concerned, the moral was unobjectionable and the parts were played quite well. But my thoughts could not help but return to the example of John Calvin. And the question arose in my mind, what influence does such performance have on the actors themselves who are asked to portray characters we would hate to see them resemble in actual life? The dramatization of prayer and love-scenes instinctively arouses within liS the feeling that these things are too sacred to be enacted upon the stage in play. Christianity and Calvinism do not seem to be compatible with such plays. Couldn’t we spend our time more profitably in music, declamation and recitation with equivalent cultural benefit and less spiritual risk?

The Christian Movie

It is not uncommon nowadays to hear that we should stake out the claims of Christ the King in the world of cinema and film. There is no doubt about it, the motion picture call be instrumental for the accomplishing of much that is good, especially in the way of pictorial education. Are would like to raise the question, however, as to whether this good is not very much over-emphasized.

Pictures are adapted to the mind of the child. When they are small we instruct our children by this means. As they develop, however, we teach them to read, which increases their capacity to think and reason. But today everyone stresses the need of pictorial education for both child and adult. As a result we can scarcely find any who are willing to concentrate in hard work to build up an intellectual competence capable of giving sound leadership.

We are developing “movie minds” rather than minds willing to do hard work. A hot indictment of our Canadian schools was issued recently by Prof. Hilda Nearby of the University of Saskatchewan in a book entitled So Little for the Mind. In this book she charges today’s educators, and she is referring to the majority of teachers in our Canadian provinces, with being “men of scanty scholarship, incapable of using their minds, who have frittered away their resources by making school life easy and pleasant and have practically ruined the old standards of scholarship and discipline.” Incidentally, the weekly newsmagazine Time has stated that there are few better qualified to give a true evaluation of the state of education in Canada than Prof. Neatby.

All indictment of this sort should not be applicable to Christians who follow the leadership of a man like John Calvin. But alas! this aversion to solid work in education even with respect to the most worthwhile things of the Kingdom is one of our most glaring weaknesses today. Who takes the time and makes the effort to read a serious, solid book today? Who wouldn’t rather go see a movie?

There are other considerations which make the Christian motion picture project quite impractible for serious-minded Christians. The enormous sums needed to produce high quality forms means that we would be courting financial disaster, I’m sure. There is also a definite limit to their value for the Christian community. Serious·minded Christians and Calvinists are (or ought to be) far too busy to devote much time to the viewing of motion pictures. And we cannot hope to attract the worldly-minded for the simple reason that they want something of an altogether different character, judging by the products of the movie industry they patronize. Among them the more corrupt the film is the larger the audiences and the financial profit. A New York city venture designed to show only Christ-glorifying pictures soon went bankrupt. A certain theater manager attempted to restrict himself to the showing of pictures of a high moral tone, but after a very short time was compelled to change his policy or close the doors. Surely you must make Christ King everywhere, but you cannot go just anywhere and crown Christ King. Let us not, after the old saying, like fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

There are some who would have every church join the World Council of Churches at the head of which stands men of confirmed modernist convictions. The argument is that we should be members in order to bear testimony to the truth. But is this the Scriptural way? Shall we first join with unbelievers in order later to convert them? Is not the significance of our joining with them the fact that we thus become one with them? How then can we honorably turn against them? This is the way the devil works, but not the Christian. We should let stand this Word of God:

Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? (II Cor, 6:14, 15)

Let all who are truly one in Christ become organizationally united in projects of primary wonh, but let us beware of yoking ourselves with them who are not one with us in the Christ of the Scriptures.

We should return to John Calvin and to the Word of God of which he was such a grant expositor and exponent. Read Calvin! Imbibe his reformation spirit! Read and re-read his Institutes! This will provide rood for the mind and spine for the spirit. Instead of wasting time in the pursuit of that in which the world finds its pleasure, seek the things which are above. The Bible speaks of them who give themselves to pleasure as those who are dead while they live (I Tim. 5:6).

Calvinism reacts against pleasure madness with vigor. The Geneva of Calvin’s day became a model of spirituality and dean living. It stands as a model of a Christian society for all time. The getting of Calvin’s self-sacrificing, consecrated spirit will help us to keep ourselves unspotted by the world. Then we shall honor God in the way which he himself will honor. May especially we who name the name of Calvin re-capture the indispensable truth of the Reformer’s devotion to the cause of the glory of God!