Calvin’s Geneva – Calvin’s Thought to the Liturgy and the Order of Worship

John_Calvin_2In the last post I wrote about that prior to Calvin in Geneva there was William Farel. Farel was instrumental in cleansing Geneva from all the remaining superstitious traditions of Rome but he wasn’t equipped to be the person to replace their forms of worship. Calvin, however, was equipped and in a very methodical and thoughtful manner put together a liturgy and Order of Worship that would remain influential for the Reformed tradition for centuries. In this post I will show that while Calvin wanted to return to a historic pure form of worship he was still a pastor that was mindful of the fragile souls in his ministry.

Calvin made it clear that worship was to be pure, solemn, and scriptural. His sources would be doctrines of revelation and the example of worship in Apostolic times. In Calvin’s view this was the only alternative to Rome’s inventions. If Farel was characterized by his “radical” methods, for Calvin it was his moderation. Calvin saw many excellent benefits to the ancient worship and wanted to omit only what was corrupt or useless. This is why he was impartial to some of the Roman Catholic practices.

One example was the rite of confirmation. Calvin did not see confirmation as a sacrament but was still favorable to the rite. “We should like to see that rite everywhere restored by which the young are presented to God, after giving forth a confession of their faith. This would not be an unbecoming approval of their Catechism” – Tracts, Vol III. p 288.

Another was auricular confession, (personal and private interview of communicants with the minister prior to each occasion of the Supper) something to be modified, not eliminated. He writes to Farel “I have often told you, that I should have thought it unwise to abolish confession in our churches, unless the rite which I have lately introduced be established in its place.” It appears that this was not something Calvin would be successful in enforcing to any great extent but in his mind it was worth thinking through before ruling out.

Throughout this process Calvin was mindful of the people. He recognized that many would be reactive to any forms similar to Rome. They were fearful they were being forced back to Roman worship with any form that reminded them of the Roman Catholic church. While Calvin applauded those who feared the falling back to the practices of Rome he still exhorted them to remain faithful and to separate what was good from what was bad. Calvin writes:

“It is no new thing that pious souls should fear our falling back into superstition, whenever they hear of our establishing anything that has even a remote similarity to Popish inventions. Although I cannot expel these doubts from their minds, for we have not the means of doing so, I may express the wish that they may be somewhat careful to separate the good wheat from the chaff and the tares” Henry’s Life of Calvin 1.142

Next I’ll look at the liturgy and his Order of Worship he put in place.