In Models of Communion: Performing Our Anglican Identity I challenged the claims of teachers who counsel abandonment of Canterbury and suggest that the fracture of our global Communion is a cost we must bear in order to separate from false teachings on matters of human sexuality. Their advocacy of what is effectively global schism - that is, the formation of what essentially will be a new denomination that shares our Anglican heritage but is no longer a part of the Anglican Communion - ensnares us in behaviors that contradict our identity in Christ and therefore leads us astray.
The recurring claim of the advocates of structural separation seems to be that Paul's insistence on discipline at table in Corinth
(1Cor 5) provides biblical warrant for their plan to split with Canterbury and form a new
denomination. In Part III (Paul, Corinth, and the Practice of Holy Discipline), we
saw that there is no such warrant in the text. In what follows, we shall see
that our received tradition confirms this exegetical result. Augustine,
Aquinas, and Cranmer actually practiced discipline in
a manner consistent with what I proposed in our exegesis of Galatians and
Corinthians. Furthermore, we shall see that John Calvin, perhaps the most
important authority since Luther for many self-described 'orthodox' of
the evangelical variety, presents an impassioned argument against those who
foment the kind of division these teachers favor.
My arguments in
this series raise scriptural and theological
challenges to the teachers' plan for what they euphemistically call a 'New
Reformation' and what I believe is rightly described as global schism. I claim
that the description of our current crisis as a choice between heresy and schism
is a false choice, and I contend that these teachers leads
us astray. In addition, I suggest, along with other Communion-minded scholars,
clergy, and laity, that faithful resistance to false teachings within the
Church - rightful discipline in accordance with Scripture and tradition - must always be through our Instruments of Communion
if we are to make the claim that we ourselves are acting faithfully.
In what follows, I examine our received tradition, focusing primarily on one
theologian, John Calvin, whose teachings have historically been important to
many among the conservative evangelicals who claim that the duty of discipline
requires their plan of global schism. In contrast with these teachers, I show
that Calvin emphasized the importance of the unity of the Church, condemned
those who would divide the Church, insisted that discipline was an act of the entire community, and
warned emphatically against overzealous false prophets who, in the name of
discipline, sought to instigate 'revolt' and division within the Church. In
order to show why Calvin condemned those who caused division and discord in the
name of discipline, I will take note of Augustine's and Aquinas' views of
discipline, consider briefly the concept of 'the Church as sacrament', and then
dig deeply into Calvin's account of the Church and discipline found in the
fourth book of his Institutes.
Our Findings So Far:
In Part II (Paul on the Gospel and Table Fellowship)
and Part III (Paul, Corinth, and the
Practice of Holy Discipline) of this series, I presented exegetical
accounts of Paul's teachings on table fellowship and discipline found in
Galatians and First Corinthians, along with a brief review of relevant early
Church liturgical practices. Several points arose from those exegetical
accounts that are important to keep in mind as we explore how our received
tradition implemented Paul's teachings.
- Discipline is a corporate and
liturgical act of the entire
community taken to protect the seed being formed in the community so that
it can fulfil its mission. In 1Cor 5, Paul does not have in view the
action of individuals or a minority, but emphasizes that the discipline envisioned
is the responsibility and action of the entire Church assembled in the
name of Christ.
- The discipline envisioned is
prescribed for individuals only. 1 Cor 5 does
not support in any sense the notion of a minority of persons declaring a
community no longer a church' or 'a heretic church'. Indeed, in spite of
all of its faults, Paul does not condemn the church at Corinth, but rather calls the community
to be at peace with one another, in spite of their differences.
- The discipline envisioned in 1Cor 5
is required as a result of heinous sin that denies the covenant with God
for which the penalty, in Torah, was death. As such, the community's
corporate action in removing one of its members from the protection of
Christ is the Church's equivalent to the death penalty.
- Paul's instruction to withhold table
fellowship from those notorious sinners who claim to be 'in Christ' seems
to be technical language that was familiar to the church at Corinth, but is
considered ambiguous today by Pauline scholars. However, given the Jewish
and Pentecostal nature of Paul's gospel, and the paschal meaning of the
symbols Paul uses in his letter, the most likely interpretation is that
the boundaries of discipline envisioned are the Eucharistic fellowship of
the church. As we shall see, this is how our received tradition has
understood Paul's teaching on discipline, as well.
With these points in mind, I now turn to our received tradition.
Our Received Tradition: Ecclesiology as the Intersection of Holiness and Order:
We saw in Part
III (Paul, Corinth, and the
Practice of Holy Discipline) that the Church must be holy because
God is holy. Holiness has to do with our adoption into the destiny of Israel for a
particular purpose; holiness has to do with our capacity to be the light to all
the nations that is our vocation. We are to be holy not in order to be saved,
but rather to fulfill our blessed identity as the people who denote the life of
the triune God so that others may be brought into that blessing. In our time,
given that we live in an era when Christ's Church exists already in unholy
divisions, holiness necessarily reflects an earnest penitential posture that
drives toward the healing of our divisions. The problem is that we cannot be 'holy'
if we are not also 'one' and 'catholic', and, when we are not holy, we fail in
the purpose for which we are 'sent'. As we saw in our exegesis of 1 Cor 5, the question of discipline arises and can only be
understood in the context of our calling to be united and whole so that Christ
is visible in our common life. The absence of discipline (such as at Corinth) makes us unholy.
Yet, Paul's emphasis throughout his letter on the Church at Corinth being 'one body' reminds us that
there is also a kind of discipline that is unholy, as well. We know that
discipline aimed at maintaining the order that helps us be 'holy', can only be faithful insofar
that it causes us to be more 'one', more 'catholic', and more 'sent'.
understood well that our holiness cannot be separated faithfully from our 'oneness'. Admitting the need for discipline that is at times
coercive (what Luther would later call 'the strange work of love'), Augustine
also recognized the tragic risk that such punishment may be a turn against God
by resulting in a hardened alienation rather than the sweet peace of true
union. Punishment that results in such
alienation opposes God's purposes and thereby falls tragically into sin itself.
For Augustine, the goal of faithful discipline is always the healing
restoration of the proper orientation towards God, neighbor, and self that
leads to true reconciliation and reunion. The goal of discipline is thus 'oneness'. Indeed, in advising civil authorities in their
discipline of the Donatists, Augustine worries that
such discipline could result in schism. Schism is an unacceptable result of
discipline for Augustine, for it is a sin against the divine gift of charity.
His approach to Eucharistic discipline, which became the mainstream teaching of
the patristic era and our received tradition, was one of patience and
toleration based on the mixed view of the church he describes in City of God.
He notes that Cyprian 'used to admit to fellowship with the altar of God
colleagues who were usurers, and treacherous, and fraudulent, and robbers...in
what matter this may be defended has been sufficiently set forth'. Writing of
how best to correct the Donatists whom he claimed
were heretics, Augustine urged moderation in the application of church
discipline, while making the case for the use of coercion by the Roman state in
preventing schism, which he saw as 'the
most enormous of sacrileges'.
It is tempting
here to trace how Augustine's insistence on moderation in church discipline,
and his recognition that excommunication was the most severe form of that
discipline the Church could impose, dominates our received tradition. However,
except for brief mentions of Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Cranmer,
I will leave that for others to document in order to leap ahead to John
Calvin's discussion on the same topic. Thomas, writing in the 13th century,
embraces Augustine's understanding of 'heresy' as a sin that opposes the virtue
of faith, and of 'schism' as a sin that opposes the virtue of charity.
Reflecting on the seriousness of the discipline of excommunication I
highlighted in my exegetical accounts, Thomas makes clear that those
disciplined in such a manner 'deserve...to be severed from the world by death'.
In Summa Theologica,
Thomas writes of two kinds of excommunication that also closely track the
conclusions of my exegetical account of 1Cor 5 (Part III (Paul, Corinth, and the Practice of Holy Discipline).
The first is 'minor excommunication' in which the person is not allowed to
participate in the Eucharist. The second is 'major' excommunication, in which
the person is deprived of their membership in the body of the faithful received
at baptism and, as a result, also deprived of their participation in the Eucharist
An indicator of
traditional Anglican praxis (theoretically!) is in the 'disciplinary rubric' of
the Book of Common Prayer. This is where the BCP describes the way Anglicans
are to implement church discipline, which, following Augustine, is Eucharistic
discipline. I urge readers to look at p. 409 of the 1979 BCP for our current
version. However, for our purposes, it is helpful to review what Thomas Cranmer wrote, contemporaneously with John Calvin, in the
1552 version of the BCP:
And if any of those be an open and
notorious evil liver, so that the congregation by him is offended, or have
done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed:
The Curate having knowledge thereof, shall call him, and advertise him, in
any wise not to presume to the Lord's Table until he hath openly declared
himself to have truly repented, and amended his former naughty life, that the
congregation may thereby be satisfied, which afore were offended: and that he
have recompensed the parties whom he hath done wrong unto, or at least be in
full purpose so to do as soon as he conveniently may.
The same order shall the Curate use
with those betwixt whom he perceiveth malice and
hatred to reign, not suffering them to be partakers of the LORD's Table until
he know them to be reconciled. And if one of the parties so at variance be
content to forgive from the bottom of his heart all that the other hath
trespassed against him, and to make amends for that he himself hath offended:
and the other party will not be persuaded to a godly unity but remain still
in his frowardness and malice: The Minister in that
case ought to admit the penitent person to the holy Communion and not him
that is obstinate.
Augustine's approach to discipline, emphasizing patience and restraint in response to those
who zealously seek to separate the sheep from the goats, is based upon the
mixed view of the church he describes in City
of God and upon his emphasis that it is God, and not humans, who
acts both through and for the Church in the sacraments. Contrary to his Donatist opponents, Augustine insisted that salvation of
the holy did not depend upon their structural separation from heretics, for
God's grace is not diminished by human wickedness. This principle was also
enshrined by Cranmer as a basic tenet of Anglicanism
in the Thirty-Nine Articles:
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the
Ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
Although in the visible Church the
evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief
authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as
they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by
his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the
Word of God and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of
Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's
gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the
Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual because of Christ's
institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Some might think
it odd to turn to John Calvin for counsel in our current crisis in the Anglican
Communion. After all, Calvin, a Frenchman who spent most of his life in Geneva, is considered by
many to be a schismatic, and is the theologian most associated with groups who
broke away from the Church of England before and during the Enlightenment, like
the Puritans. But Calvin's influence within Anglicanism has been historically
significant and is especially strong now. First, there is a long line of
Calvinist evangelicals who stayed within the Church of England whose
descendants are part of the global Communion. Second, Calvin's influence is
growing throughout the Communion due to the success of institutions committed
to Reformed theology in extending their influence across the denominational
lines of major evangelical communities. It is important to note that this
Reformed influence represents an external source that is now shaping evangelicals
with already strong affinities to Calvinism, and that Reformed theology has
departed significantly from John Calvin in its evolution over the last 450
Before turning to
Calvin's Institutes, we can
anticipate what we will discover there by looking briefly at Calvin's
commentary on First Corinthians. We discover immediately that the unity of the
Church is highly important to Calvin. Commenting on 1 Cor
1:10, he stresses this priority, noting 'that nothing is more inconsistent on
the part of Christians than to be at variance among themselves, for it is the
main article of our religion that we be in harmony among ourselves; and
farther, on such agreement the safety of the Church rests and is dependent.' So
highly did Calvin value the unity of the Church beyond his own locality that he
worked hard to achieve communion with the Church of England. Writing to Thomas Cranmer in 1552, at the peak of evangelical power under
Edward VI, he said, 'So much does this concern me that, could I be of any
service, I would not grudge to cross even ten seas, if need be, on account of
it.' As we shall see, unity is the dominant theme of his discussion of the
Church in Book 4 of his Institutes.
The priority of
unity in the Church led Calvin to emphasize moderation in discipline. In his
commentary on the passage exegeted in Part III (Paul, Corinth, and the Practice of Holy Discipline),
1 Cor 5, Calvin applies the instruction of 1 Cor 5:11-12 only to those who have been formally
excommunicated from the church, and insists repeatedly that no single
individual and only the community, acting synodically,
can excommunicate someone: 'for the power of excommunicating is not allowed to
any individual member, but to the entire body.' Paul's teaching, Calvin
stresses, applies only to those who the Church, acting corporately, 'has cut
off from her communion'.
Moreover, Calvin offers a benevolent reading of the constraints on table
fellowship, and stresses the same tensions I stress in my conclusions,
interpreting the boundaries of table fellowship to mean 'either living together, or familiar association in meals. For if, on going
into an inn, I see one who has been excommunicated sitting at table, there is
nothing to hinder me from dining with him; for
I have not authority to exclude him (emphasis added)'. Calvin
elaborates, again confirming my exegesis, 'For [Paul] means not that he should
be counted as an enemy, but as a brother, (2 Thessalonians 3:15;) for in
putting this public mark of disgrace upon him, the intention is, that he may be
filled with shame, and brought to repentance.'
One of the
reasons that Calvin may be instructive in our time is that the context of his
ministry, and therefore an important concern in his Institutes, is the schism among the groups who broke away
during the Reformation. Groups from Switzerland and southern Germany, who felt
the leading reformers like Luther and Calvin were not radical enough in their
reforms, advocated complete 'holy separation' from the reformed communities,
and ultimately formed radically sectarian communities such as the Anabaptists.
The radicals claimed that the church was present only where holiness was found
and so separated from the Lutheran and Calvinist communities in order to ensure
their purity. In guiding his flock towards faithfulness through his writings,
Calvin thus struggled against Rome
on the one hand and these radical reformers on the other.
It is not
unexpected, then, that, among Reformation era teachers, I am only able to
identify two who subscribe to a reading of 1 Cor 5
similar to that proposed by my 21st century contemporaries who rely on Paul's
biblical teachings to support their advocacy of schism. The first is one of the
top Anabaptist theologians,
who, of course, wrote to justify Anabaptist sectarianism, Dietrich Philips (c.
1560). Shunning and banning was a common practice of 16th century Anabaptists.
Similarly, Calvin decries the reading of the Pope of his era, who he says 'burst
forth into interdicts, prohibiting any one from helping one that has been
excommunicated to food, or fuel, or drink, or any other of the supports of
life.' Calvin condemns such readings as 'tyrannical and barbarous cruelty, that is altogether at variance with Paul's intention.'
Calvin takes care to refute only one patristic scholar's reading of 1 Cor 5. In aligning his own reading with Augustine's call
for moderation in discipline, Calvin rejects Chrysostom's
unduly severe reading of this passage:
compares the rigor of the law with the mildness of the gospel, inasmuch as
Paul was satisfied with excommunication in case of an offense for which the
law required the punishment of death, but for this there is no just ground.
For Paul is not here addressing judges that are armed with the sword, but an
unarmed multitude that was allowed
merely to make use of brotherly correction (emphasis added).
the question 'How is Christ present to us?', in the
fourth book of his Institutes.
He echoes my introductory comments about the Church in the first few sentences
of the book, describing the Church as the 'means or helps by which God invites
us to fellowship with Christ, and keeps us in it.' Calvin similarly introduces
his discussion of the Church by describing her election and calling by God. For
reasons that will become clearer below, it is essential for us to notice that
Calvin's emphasis on election sees the Church as a continuing, historical Household of God, constituted and
sent forth by Christ, and passed from generation to generation, the Mother who
alone gives birth in Christ, and outside of which there is no participation in
the eternal life of the triune God. Indeed, Calvin describes the Church in
terms similar to those I introduced in my exegetical account of Galatians (Part
II (Paul on the Gospel and Table
Fellowship) in describing Paul's insistence on patience in nurturing
Christ within the community: Calvin calls the Church 'Mother', and says 'there
is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and
give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us
under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become
like the angels.' [4.1.1] It is clear that, for
Calvin, the Church is a continuum originating in Christ, who is present to us
in and through the Church which teaches us how to live in fellowship with God
and each other.
of the Church leads Calvin to stress repeatedly the priority of unity within the Church. Alluding to
Augustine and our creedal confession of 'one, holy, catholic, and apostolic
Church', Calvin teaches that our hopes for
eternal life are directly related to our unity as the Body of
Christ: 'For unless we are united with all the other members under Christ our
head, no hope of the future inheritance awaits us. Hence the Church is called
Catholic or Universal, (August. Ep. 48), for two or
three cannot be invented without dividing Christ; and this is impossible.'
[4.1.2] Indeed, our creedal confession in the 'communion of saints' requires
that we 'maintain brotherly concord with all the children of God, give due
authority to the Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock'
[4.1.3]. Because God chooses to bring his people to maturity in Christ through 'the
education of the Church', Calvin warns that 'abandonment of the Church is
always fatal' [4.1.4]. Because of these stakes, Calvin finds 'detestable' those
'who delight in producing schisms in
churches, just as if they wished to drive the sheep from the fold, and throw
them into the jaws of wolves.' Indeed, Calvin calls such persons 'apostates'.
reality that the Church includes 'hypocrites' who call themselves Christian but
whose actions are evil [4.1.7], Calvin insists that nonetheless we are to
believe the Church because only God 'know[s] those who are his' [4.1.8].
Trusting in God, even in view of such hypocrisy in the Church, we are to 'cultivate
its communion' [4.1.7]. For Augustine (as also Aquinas), fellowship, and thus
virtue, involves that forgiving action that accepts others, in spite of the
unacceptability of their actions toward us, so that the relationship is sustained.
Paradoxically, true virtue - and thus Christian fellowship - is present only
when we practice this habit of 'overaccepting' that
allows us to coexist in harmony with our neighbors, embracing differences
positively. The key to such fellowship is charity, which 'involves that exact
appropriateness of reciprocal action necessary to produce a “beautiful” order,
and, in this sense, charity is the very consummation of both justice and
prudence.' Calvin follows Augustine in pointing to charity as the essential
guarantor of the fellowship that is the Church, in spite of the problem of hypocrisy.
In spite of our differences within the Church, we are to rely on 'the judgement of charity, by which we acknowledge all as
members of the Church who by confession of faith, regularity of conduct, and
participation in the sacraments, unite with us in acknowledging the same God
and Christ' [4.1.8].
It is noteworthy,
given the claims of those who justify schism on the basis of Paul's instructions, that Calvin distinguishes between how we are
to judge individuals and how we are to judge churches. Given the primary
criterion of charity just mentioned, Calvin refers to 1 Cor
5 in giving his instructions for discipline of individuals, and offers an
interpretation quite similar to mine. Charity and tolerance is the rule. Over
and against Rome
('the Church is where the bishop is') and the Anabaptists ('the church is where
holiness is maintained'), Calvin offers two criteria for churches, noting that:
they have the ministry of the word, and honour the
administration of the sacraments, they are undoubtedly entitled to be ranked
with the Church, because it is certain that these things are not without a
beneficial result. Thus we both maintain the Church universal in its unity,
which malignant minds have always been eager to dissever, and deny not due
authority to lawful assemblies distributed as circumstances require [4.1.9].
to note that, for Calvin, there were two marks of the Church and not three.
Calvin taught that the true Church is present wherever the gospel is heard and
the sacraments are duly administered. It is commonplace among some evangelicals
to claim that 'discipline' is a third mark of the Church, but that is not
Calvin's teaching, but rather the teaching of the Scottish Puritans, more than
a century after Calvin completed the first edition of Institutes, who wrote the Westminster
Confession during the English Civil War. The only time this 'scholastic
Calvinism' was ever a significant influence in Anglican theology was during
Cromwell's reign, the period when England abolished both the monarchy
and episcopalianism. It was imported again during the
Great Awakening (or, as the British call it, The Evangelical Revival), when
those who followed George Whitefield rather than John Wesley were attracted to
Scottish Calvinism at least insofar as the doctrines of grace are concerned.
However, this did not translate into political conservatism or anti-episcopaliamism as the life of such leaders as William Wilberforce
teaching into Anglicanism seems innocent on the surface, for Paul
unquestionably insists that the churches at Corinth
maintain discipline within the body of Christ in order to bring glory to the
Lord. Discipline is clearly an important theme of Calvin's, also, and he
compares discipline to the sinews that hold the body together. He says that all
'who impede the restoration of it, whether they do this of design or through
thoughtlessness, certainly aim at the complete devastation of the Church'
[4.12.1.] But Calvin makes an important distinction between the marks of the
church and sinews. The marks, which he calls the 'saving doctrine of Christ',
constitute 'the life of the Church' and discipline is the sinews. Discipline,
in other words, supports the Church, but it is not the life of the Church.
between discipline and the marks of the Church is important for two reasons.
The first reason is that hearing the gospel, baptism, and dining at the Lord's
Table are acts in which the triune God is subject and those who gather in
Christ's name are objects; that is, they are acts of grace. Discipline, like
worship, is the act in which the community of faith is both subject and object,
correcting its members so that it acts out its identity as Israel.
Discipline is part of the community's subjective response to the Word. Since it
is God's acts of grace alone that create and sustain the Church, it is error to
claim that humankind's response of discipline constitutes the Church, and
Calvin avoids this error. The second reason this distinction is important - and
the reason we engage this Reformation era question now - is that, in our time,
some Anglicans who conceive of their plan for schism as 'holy separation' do so
on the basis of their claim that TEC is no longer a church or is a false church
because TEC has failed to discipline heretics in her midst. In other words,
they base their advocacy of schism on this teaching of the non-Anglican
Westminster Confession that where discipline fails, there is no church. Calvin
agrees that discipline is an urgent priority, but denies the right to revolt
due to a failure of discipline. Rather, he calls for the patience needed to
reform the Church [4.1.12].
warns that 'No crime can be imagined more atrocious' than leading a revolt
within a 'Church society' precisely because breaching the fellowship the Spirit
has created is putting asunder the marriage between Christ and his bride, the
Church. It's ironic that those who advocate global schism within our Anglican
society do so purportedly in order to 'protect the truth', for, as Calvin
notes, those who lead revolt in the Church aim 'at the destruction of God's
truth'. Calvin emphasizes that:
No man may ... violate her unity. For
such is the value which the Lord sets on the communion of his Church, that
all who contumaciously alienate themselves from any Christian society, in
which the true ministry of his word and sacraments is maintained, he regards
as deserters of religion. [4.1.10].
against such sinful responsibility for division, Calvin warns against the 'pride
and presumption' that lead us to the 'fatal... temptation, when we even entertain
a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the
signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterise
his Church!' [4.1.11] Charity demands that we act with tolerance so that even
defects in the word preached and administration of the sacraments 'ought not to
alienate us from its communion' [4.1.12].
Calvin sets a
high standard for defects in the preaching of the Word that would be cause for
reform. The essentials that must be fixed and undoubted are the stuff of our
creeds: 'that God is one, that Christ is God, and the
Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like'
[4.1.12]. In other words, a claim that the Gospel is not being preached would
have to show that the most fundamental claims of the Church about the nature of
God are being denied or defectively taught. But even then, one must not abandon
the Church. In the event of such a serious defect, 'if we strive to reform what
is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty', but 'we must neither renounce
the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and
discipline when duly arranged' [4.1.12]. Calvin notes that Paul chastised both
the churches at Corinth and within the province of Galatia for serious defects in their
teaching of the Gospel and Eucharistic fellowship, but did not renounce or
abandon them as churches on that account. Nor should we abandon the whole of
TEC because we perceive serious defects in a number of her congregations.
Calvin calls us to reform, not rejection of the Church.
established the inviolability of communion, and that it is sinful to cause
division of a church's fellowship, particularly on the grounds that it is not a
church, Calvin then rather humorously turns to the nature of persons who tend
to promote such division: 'For there always have been persons who, imbued with
a false persuasion of absolute holiness, as if they had already become a kind
of aerial spirits, spurn the society of all in whom they see that something
human still remains' [4.1.13] He gives an example that is particularly relevant
in our time, describing the kinds of behavior we see prominently in the most
visible champions of schism:
Others, again, sin in this respect, not
so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal. Seeing that among
those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance
with the doctrine, they forthwith conclude that there no church exists....Still
those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set
bounds to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and
give themselves up to immoderate severity. Thinking there is no church where
there is not complete purity and integrity of conduct, they, through hatred
of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church, while they think they are shunning
the company of the ungodly [4.1.13].
Calvin once again
returns to his interpretation of 1 Cor 5, mocking the
advocates of schism who 'exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice
which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence' [4.1.14] Such advocates of
schism would have us act contrary to Paul, for 'those who think it sacrilege to
partake the Lord's bread with the wicked are in this more rigid than Paul'.
Calvin reminds us that, at Corinth,
the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but
a multitude, and those not trivial errors but some of them execrable crimes.
There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine. What course
was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly
Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek
separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ?
Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? [4.1.14]
As we have seen
in Part III (Paul, Corinth, and the
Practice of Holy Discipline) of this series, the answer to Calvin's
question is that Paul commanded the Church at Corinth to publicly and ritually
excommunicate the notorious sinner. In our exegesis, we found that the boundary
of discipline envisioned is the Eucharistic fellowship of the church, though it
is possible to interpret Paul's meaning along the contours of the shunning
practices of the 16th century Anabaptists. In contrast to the Anabaptist
practices, Calvin's Geneva
churches did exactly what our exegesis suggests. According to PCA historian
Professor David Calhoun, Geneva
averaged about 200 excommunications per year between 1557 and 1560.
Excommunication in Geneva
meant Eucharistic discipline. The excommunicated were not allowed to share in
the quarterly Eucharist. They were not banished from the church, for all were
required to attend Sunday worship. Typically, a person would miss just one
quarterly Eucharist, and, having repented of the presenting cause of their
discipline, would be restored to the Eucharistic fellowship. In rare cases, a
person would refuse to repent after repeated quarters, which meant that the
church had exhausted all of the steps available to it. In those cases the
church could turn such persons over to the state for civil judgment.
example at Corinth and Galatia, and
Augustine's example in dealing with the Donatists,
Calvin emphasized moderation in the administration of discipline:
'Every pious reason and mode of
ecclesiastical discipline ought always to have regard to the unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace. This the apostle
commands us to keep by bearing mutually with each other. If it is not kept,
the medicine of discipline begins to be not only superfluous, but even
pernicious, and therefore ceases to be medicine' (August. contra Parmen.
Lib. 3 c. 1).
'He who diligently considers these
things neither in the preservation of unity neglects strictness of
discipline, nor by intemperate correction bursts the bond of society' (Ibid. cap. 2)
admonition to moderation in the execution of discipline, Calvin warns the
faithful to beware of the leaders of schism. Their 'excessive moroseness',
Calvin warns, 'is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than
genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the
most forward, and as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church,
have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority
by despising all other men.' Calvin turns to Augustine to lament the spiritual
those bad sons who, not from hatred
of other men's iniquities, but zeal for their own contentions, attempt
altogether to draw away, or at least to divide, weak brethren ensnared by the
glare of their name, while swollen with pride, stuffed with petulance,
insidiously calumnious, and turbulently seditious, use the cloak of a
rigorous severity, that they may not seem devoid of the light of truth, and pervert to sacrilegious schism, and
purposes of excision, those things which are enjoined in the Holy Scriptures
(due regard being had to sincere love, and the unity of peace), to correct a
brother's faults by the appliance of a
For Calvin, then,
those who advocate schism - who willfully act to break the fellowship of the
church in order to purify it - are not heroes and heroines of the church, but
rather 'bad sons' who, as a result of their pride and lack of charity, endanger
their own inclusion in the book of life. It is fitting, therefore, to conclude
with Calvin's words of warning to these advocates of schism, who cloak
themselves in claims of 'orthodoxy':
For as God has been pleased that the
communion of his Church shall be maintained in this external society, any one
who, from hatred of the ungodly, violates the bond of this society, enter on
a downward course, in which he incurs great danger of cutting himself off
from the communion of saints. Let them reflect, that in a numerous body there
are several who may escape their notice, and yet are truly righteous and
innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Let them reflect, that of those who seem
diseased, there are many who are far from taking pleasure or flattering
themselves in their faults, and who, ever and anon aroused by a serious fear
of the Lord, aspire to greater integrity. Let them reflect, that they have no
right to pass judgement on a man for one act, since
the holiest sometimes make the moat grievous fall. Let them reflect, that in
the ministry of the word and participation of the sacraments, the power to
collect the Church is too great to be deprived of all efficacy by the fault
of some ungodly men. Lastly, let them reflect that in estimating the Church, divine
is of more force than human judgement. [4.1.16]