John Calvin, 1509-1564, and MVO Church Olympics

He will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths. Micah 4:2

“Here in a few words the prophet defines true worship of God. For it would not be enough for the nations to come together to one place to confess that they are worshippers of one God if they did not show real obedience. True worship depends on faith, as faith depends on the Word. It is, therefore, especially worthy of note that the prophet here sets God’s Word in the center to show us that religion is founded on obedience in faith, and that God can be worshipped only when he himself teaches his people and tells them what they ought to do. When God’s will is revealed to us, we can truly adore him. When the Word is taken away, some form of worship of God remains, but there is no real religion which could please God.

Hence we conclude that the church of God can be established only where the Word of God rules, where God shows by his voice the way of salvation. Therefore, until true doctrine sheds its light, men cannot be gathered in none place to constitute the true body of the church. Clearly, then, where the teaching is corrupt or is despised, there is no religion approved by God.

Men can, indeed, take God’s name boastfully on their lips; but before God, there is no religion except what is measured by the rule of the Word. It follows then that there is no church which is not subject to God’s Word and is not ruled by it. The prophet here defines both true religion and the way in which God gathers his church together.”

John Calvin, “Calvin: Commentaries” in the The Library of Christian Classics: Ichthus Edition, edited by Joseph Haroutunian (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 79-80.

Reading this passage from Calvin in 2022 creates quite a conundrum for the Church. Is the modern church in fact “measured by the rule of the Word?” This would infer that the Word was a standard against which the church could be measured but as countless posts have indicated, the modern church and the MVO position decries a standard and indeed thrives on the absence of a standard. How then is the modern church, according to Calvin, to determine whether or not it is in the Christian faith tradition? Calvin writes that “there is no church which is not subject to God’s Word and is not ruled by it.” Are we then to conclude from this erudite author and theologian that without a rule or standard, the church is without anything to be measured and is therefore “no church” at all? But must a church have a standard to be measured by to indeed be a church? Can a church be measured by something that is not a standard or rule such as by simple proclamation or self-identification? Can a church be a church in the same manner that a man can self-identify as a woman? In this case, the individual has become the standard by which gender is assigned. Under these circumstances is anyone at liberty to say that a man who self-identifies as a woman remains a man based on physiological chromosomal distinctions no matter what he calls himself. If physiological chromosomal distinctions and Calvin’s “measured by the rule of the Word” are logically congruent, then without the standard of the Word, there is no grounds to call a church a church no matter what anyone else calls it. What remains, however, is not nothing. As Calvin writes, “When the Word is taken away, some form of worship of God remains, but there is no real religion which could please God.” And indeed, some form a worship does remain in America on Sundays in Fundamental and Evangelical MVO churches. The question everyone must ask themselves is whether this traditional practice pleases God. How is it true religion? First, God’s Word must be “in the center to show us that religion is founded on obedience in faith.” Advocates of the MVO position have yet to support an argument that the Viva vox dei, the living voice of God can be heard in modern versions. How then can God’s word be said to be “in the center” when there is profound doubt His word is there at all. And if there is a question of His word being present, how can God be worshipped when it is God himself who “teaches his people and tells them what they ought to do.” If it is not God telling the congregants what to do through the preaching and teaching, who is?

What a pickle.

So next Sunday for our MVO friends, when you walk into a church building, ask yourself, “by what standard can I make the claim that I am going to corporately worship God?” Look down at the Red Flyer wagon stacked with Bibles you pull behind yourself up the steps into the vestibule and ask yourself whether this cacophony of Bibles is that to which the church is subject and is ruled by. If you say yes, my wagon load is the standard, then ask yourself how a distinction is made between textual variations and what Calvin calls “corrupt” teaching where “there is no religion approved by God.” For example, if someone says, “the last twelve verses of Mark do not belong in the Bible,” is that speech corrupt teaching or merely an alternative form of self-identifying Christianity? Furthermore, if the omission is true to the facts and that is why it does not belong, why is it there at all? If the version says, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” and draw a dividing line between verse 8 and 9, is this inference that the passage should be omitted a corruption of the text or simply the message of a re-modeled, self-identified Christianity?

How about introducing an ecclesiastical category in the Olympics for MVO churches? It’s a sure bet they would win the Gold Medal.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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