Calvin and the Church of Geneva

ReformationWallGeneva2Liturgy and worship is something that always draws controversy. Bring up the discussion of liturgy and worship with two people and you will have two opinions. Include in that discussion a congregation and the conversation just became unmanageable. Sometimes members of a Reformed church will simply claim “RPW”, as if that settles the discussion. The regulative principle of worship given in WCF 21.1 and Catechism on 2nd Commandment…most notably in the Heidelberg.

Calvin wrote, in my opinion, something helpful in this discussion:

“Inward truth of heart alone, is what the Lord requires. Exercises superadded are to be approved, so far as they are subservient to the Truth, useful incitements, or marks of profession to attest our faith to men. Nor do we reject things tending to the preservation of Order and Discipline. But when consciences are put under fetters, and bound by religious obligations, in matters in which God willed them to be free, then we must boldly protest, in order that the worship of God be not vitiated by human fictions.”

Calvin would place everything “subservient” to Scripture. Yet he also doesn’t reject things that preserve “Order and Discipline.” Keeping this in mind, I had been curious and asked, “How did Calvin construct his worship?” Recognizing that Calvin wanted to protect the consciences of the people on one hand and on the other, he wanted to preserve “Order and Discipline”. Before I look into that I want to set the context of the Geneva inherited by Calvin and then discuss the order of worship he will install.

Calvin will enter Geneva on the trail of William Farel, the iconoclast of the Swiss Reformation. Farel came into Geneva and swept away every form of superstition but also everything that was indifferent and harmless from the churches. Farel took down altars and put in their places two tables of communion, on which were placed bread and wine. In God’s providence, Farel was needed to sweep away the altars of idolatry that were in place before Calvin enters the scene to build up what would serve as a standard/template of Reformed worship for centuries.

Unknown-4Farel was a fearless preacher who brought the Reformation to Geneva in 1535. The doctrines and convictions of the Reformation spread rapidly before the city magistrates could do anything about it. Initially Farel was not permitted to preach in the more important churches and was forced to hold his meetings in the suburbs. Frustrated with waiting for permission, Farel was sent for by the people and he came and preached. This is sometimes regarded as the first triumph of the Reformation in Geneva. The magistrates gave push back but eventually he was free to proclaim the Gospel.

Geneva had sermons delivered in abundance. Every weekday at 6 a.m. and Sundays at 4 a.m. “for the convenience of servants”, then twice again in the course of the day. Geneva lacked however, a confession and an Order of Worship. Farel was not the man for this task. All Farel added was music to the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. Sometimes he would start the service with the Lord’s Prayer and perhaps a brief prayer.

1536 Calvin enters the picture and adopts Geneva. He will bring about a pure, solemn, scriptural mode of worship. For Calvin, the only course he had was to return to the scriptural and primitive forms of the Church now that everything had been wiped clean by Farel. He would bring a plain and logical structure of worship. Free of the corrupt ceremonial forms that had weighed on the souls of men for so long. Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

2 thoughts on “Calvin and the Church of Geneva

  1. Regarding the audio CD lectures I gave you, have you gotten to the part in the Reformation Lecture section on Calvinism, tongue-in-cheekly vilifying him in regard to to his kingdom that he set up in Geneva? What are your thoughts on “no separation between church fathers and state?”

    1. Hi Stephen
      I haven’t had a chance to get to that point in those lectures. Calvin’s ecclesiology is interesting in Geneva. He had a council of pastors and each had 1 vote. While Calvin only had 1 vote he was still incredibly influential to the discussions.

      That could be an interesting post for the future for me to write about how Calvin’s “Company of Pastors” worked with the city magistrates. It does seem like people think either he was the servant of the city or that Calvin was the equivalent of the “Pope of Geneva”. My response is, it depends on what they were talking about. In some matters yes Calvin had the influential word but in other matters his opinion was noted but that was it.

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