The year 2009 is the five hundredth anniversary of a most significant event, namely, the birth of one of the greatest men that God ever raised up to serve His church. John Calvin was born July 10, 1509 in Noyon, a city located in the northern region of Picardy, France. This anniversary must be properly observed by Reformed and Presbyterian churches who owe an immense debt to Calvin. To that end, the Protestant Reformed Seminary plans to host a theological conference in September of this year, the Lord willing. The conference title is: “After Five Hundred Years: John Calvin for the Reformed Churches Today.”
The title expresses our conviction that the work and doctrine of John Calvin are crucially important for Reformed and Presbyterian churches in 2009. It would be well nigh impossible to exaggerate the significance of the reformer’s work. According to God’s sovereign determination, Calvin set the course for the true church of Jesus Christ. God equipped the stalwart Martin Luther to raze the apostate church of Rome and to uncover the true cornerstone of God’s church—Jesus Christ. God then used Calvin to build rightly on that foundation—to build the church that endures to the present day. Jesus Christ preserves His church. In the sixteenth century, He made Luther and Calvin mighty instruments to restore His church to the old paths, the good ways.
Consider just a few of the ways that John Calvin, as Christ’s chosen vessel, reformed the church. Start with theology. Calvin wrote the doctrinal work of the Reformation that excelled all in value and lasting significance—the Institutes of the Christian Religion. This summary and defense of the Protestant faith is the supreme systematic theology of the Reformation, rightly described as its most eloquent theological statement. It is clear, orderly, antithetical, and above all, biblical. Calvin’s Institutes raised the ensign for the Reformed truth, and believers yet today study it with great profit.
Calvin led the way in doctrinal purity and clarity. On such doctrines as the church, Scripture, predestination, justification, sanctification, and so many more, Calvin faithfully expounded the Scriptures. He set the right course for the history of doctrine to the present day.
Calvin’s power as a theologian is rooted in his exegetical ability. Calvin was a man of the Word. He preached thousands of sermons—sermons based on solid, faithful work with the Bible, for Calvin is the prince of exegetes. His sermons and commentaries continue to instruct and edify hundreds of years after he wrote them.
With his clear exegesis, profound theological understanding, and firm grasp of church history, Calvin was prepared by God to reform the church in many areas. Worship was of primary importance to Calvin, and he developed a liturgy in harmony with the biblical (regulative) principle, namely, that only that which the Bible commands may be included in the worship service. The form and elements found in faithful Presbyterian and Reformed churches yet today have been largely shaped by John Calvin’s writings.
Calvin reformed church government. His church ordinances (a church order) restored the lost offices of elder and deacon to the church. Due to Calvin’s influence, Reformed and Presbyterian churches today reject hierarchy, refuse state intervention, and insist on catechism classes for the youth of the flock. Unless they have forsaken their heritage, their current church orders reflect the solid work of Calvin.
Calvin’s polemics set forth the truth and annihilated error, and thus benefited the church of his day, and all subsequent ages. He defended the truth against Rome, the Anabaptists, the antinomians, the Lutherans, and more. His exposition on the Lord’s Supper finally calmed the storm in the Reformed church world on the presence of Christ in the sacrament. His masterful treatise on predestination demolishes Arminianism of every stripe.
The Presbyterian and Reformed confessions also testify to Calvin’s lasting influence. The three Reformed confessions adopted in the Netherlands were directly or indirectly impacted by Calvin. The authors of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism all studied under or had contact with Calvin. Both confessions bear the mark of Calvin’s theology. The Canons of Dordt are the embodiment of Calvin’s doctrine of sovereign grace, so much so that the five heads of the Canons are known as the five points of Calvinism (TULIP). The Westminster Standards likewise carry the imprint of Calvin’s theology.
That is just a beginning. Calvin’s influence is significant in many more areas. God used John Calvin to reform, that is, restore, the church, bringing her back to the Bible in doctrine and practice.1
That is why John Calvin’s work and teaching are relevant for today. The planned conference intends to emphasize this. The conference is not intended to praise Calvin. Nor is it merely a historical study of the man and his significance. Rather, the speeches will demonstrate how the doctrines espoused by Calvin are of enduring significance for the church in the twenty-first century. They should expose significant departures from Calvin, as well as demonstrate doctrinal development beyond Calvin. The conference is for Reformed believers who love Reformed theology and its application to life today. Not light fare, but not ivory-tower by any means. The speeches and speakers are listed below.
The conference is set for September 3-5 in the spacious First Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan. This date enables the delegates of Classis West (meeting September 2 in the Chicago area) to attend the conference. It is hoped that many more Reformed people will arrange their summer vacations so as to allow them to attend.
Two other related activities will add to the conference’s worth. The three Protestant Reformed high schools (Heritage in Dyer, Indiana; Trinity in Hull, Iowa; and Covenant in Grand Rapids, Michigan) have committed to bringing to the conference student-created displays. The projects will cover the history of the Reformation in various European countries. These exhibits will be on display through the whole conference.
In addition, the seminary is sponsoring a writing contest on various aspects of John Calvin’s teaching. The contest has three levels. The theme for junior high (ages 12-14) is “What does it mean to be a Calvinist?” Highschoolers (ages 15-18) are invited to write on “The Protestant Reformed Churches’ Debt to John Calvin.” Post-high school writers (ages 19-25) can sink their teeth into the issue of evolution—”The Theory of Evolution and Calvin’s Teaching on Creation and Divine Providence.” Any serious writer will grow by the writing of the essay, and some of the essays certainly will be published. The top three essays in each group will also receive significant prize awards. A panel of teachers has agreed to be the judges of the papers. More details will be forthcoming.
The conference is open to all. I stress this. All who love the truth of the Reformation are heartily invited. And those who love that truth, will enjoy the conference. It promises to be profitable.
“Calvin as Model for Reformed Ministers” – Prof. Barrett Gritters
“Calvin as Church Reformer” – Prof. Russell Dykstra
“Calvin as Expositor and Preacher of Holy Scripture” – Rev. Steven Key
“Calvin’s Doctrine of Justification” – Rev. Angus Stewart
“Calvin’s Struggle for Church Discipline” – Prof. Ronald Cammenga
“Calvin’s Doctrine of the Covenant” – Prof. David Engelsma
“Calvin’s Doctrine of Predestination” – Rev. Chris Connors
1 SB readers interested in more on Calvin’s significance are referred to the special SB issue on John Calvin, Vol. 80, No. 2. (Available at:http://sb.rfpa.org/)