Posted by: Michael M. Dewalt | September 16, 2008

John Calvin on Piety – Part Twelve

Conclusion on “Calvin on Piety”

Calvin strove to live the life of pietas himself—theologically, ecclesiastically, and practically. At the end of his Life of Calvin, Theodore Beza wrote, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years,…I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.”

Calvin shows us the piety of a warm-hearted Reformed theologian who speaks from the heart. Having tasted the goodness and grace of God in Jesus Christ, he pursued piety by seeking to know and do God’s will every day. He communed with Christ; practiced repentance, self-denial, and cross-bearing; and was involved in vigorous social improvements.  His theology worked itself out in heart-felt, Christ-centered piety.

For Calvin and the Reformers of sixteenth-century Europe, doctrine and prayer as well as faith and worship are integrally connected. For Calvin, the Reformation includes the reform of piety (pietas), or spirituality, as much as a reform of theology. The spirituality that had been cloistered behind monastery walls for centuries had broken down; medieval spirituality was reduced to a celibate, ascetic, and penitential devotion in the convent or monastery. But Calvin helped Christians understand piety in terms of living and acting every day according to God’s will (Rom. 12:1-2) in the midst of human society. Through Calvin’s influence, Protestant spirituality focused on how one lived the Christian life in the family, the fields, the workshop, and  the marketplace.  Calvin helped Protestants change the entire focus of the Christian life.

Calvin’s teaching, preaching, and catechizing fostered growth in the relationship between believers and God. Piety means experiencing sanctification as a divine work of renewal expressed in repentance and righteousness, which progresses through conflict and adversity in a Christ-like manner. In such piety, prayer and worship are central, both privately and in the community of believers.

The worship of God is always primary, for one’s relationship to God takes precedence over everything else. That worship, however, is expressed in how the believer lives his vocation and how he treats his neighbors, for one’s relationship with God is most concretely seen in the transformation of every human relationship. Faith and prayer, because they transform every believer, cannot be hidden. Ultimately, therefore, they must transform the church, the community, and the world.

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Responses

  1. I do appreciate this series of articles and do recognize that this series of article is on the subject of John Calvin on Piety. I read, copied, and pasted every part of the series to my web site.

    The defense overall to my comments could prevail on the basis that this series of articles focuses on John Calvin on Piety. But, I can’t help but state that I am disappointed in this conclusion that so focuses on the person John Calvin and his piety, rather than on how Calvin’s teachings helped us to generally focus on God and His work and His glory and to specifically understand the logical consistency of the elements of salvation.

    The conclusion should not be “Calvin strove to live the life of pietas himself”, but that God worked in Calvin’s life and our lives for His good pleasure.

    The focus should not be Theodore Beza observation of Calvin: “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years,…I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” The focus should be on what Calvin taught about God and His great work in developing our character.

    The comfort should not be “the piety of a warm-hearted Reformed theologian who speaks from the heart”, but the comfort should be the “sweetness” of eternal election as taught by Calvin.

    The pursuit by Calvin of “piety by seeking to know and do God’s will every day” is commendable, but we should more honor Calvin for how he helped us to pursue the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    Yes, “His theology worked itself out in heart-felt, Christ-centered piety”, but the focus should be on how his theology makes us trust God more to work itself out in our lives in heart-felt, Christ-centered piety.

    “Calvin helped Protestants change the entire focus of the Christian life.” Is that focus on “how one lived the Christian life in the family, the fields, the workshop, and the marketplace”? Or, is that focus on God who elects, who (through His Son Jesus) died just for His elect, who draws just his elect to His Son Jesus, and who preserves His elect?

    If “Calvin’s teaching, preaching, and catechizing fostered growth in the relationship between believers and God”, then it is good for the congregation in Geneva and for those who faithfully and sufficiently continue to read and follow Calvin’s teaching, preaching, and catechizing. However, if it is God and His Word which fosters growth, and if Calvin taught us to how to understand God and His works such that we trust God more and trust His Word more, then we all may and do benefit, regardless on whether or not we sufficiently continue to specifically read his writings.

    Does “Piety means experiencing sanctification”, or does sanctification mean experiencing piety?

    In such piety, is “prayer and worship … central”, or is God and His work central?

    Is “The worship of God … always primary”, or is true knowledge and understanding of God and His works primary?

    Is “worship … expressed in how the believer lives his vocation and how he treats his neighbors”, or is worship expressed in how the believer views God and glorifies God?

    Do “Faith and prayer … transform every believer”, or does the Holy Spirit, by the renewing of our minds, transform every believer?

    For this layman, the value of Calvin is not our observation of his character, as good as that character might be. The value of Calvin is not how hard Calvin strove to live the life of pietas himself. The value of Calvin is not how warm-hearted Calvin was. The value of Calvin is not Calvin’s pursuit of piety. The value of Calvin is not Calvin’s focus on how the Christian life should be lived in the family, the fields, the workshop, and the marketplace. The value of Calvin is not Calvin’s teaching, preaching, and catechizing as a cumulative contribution of work. The value of Calvin is not even his emphasis of the importance of worship, faith, and prayer, as important as those are.

    To this layman, the value of Calvin is his emphasis of the sovereignty of God, the general all-encompassing work of God, and the specific, logically consistent doctrine of salvation by grace alone, later formed and called the Five Points of Calvinism and TULIP. As stated by Henry Meeter in his article “The Fundamental Principal of Calvinism”: “As the great Calvinist B. B. Warfield has expressed it: “From these things shine out upon us the formative principle of Calvinism. The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will; who makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life-activities; and who casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of his salvation.”


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