Sunday, January 14, 2007

In my absence, besides playing with my daughter, I've had a little time to reflect on my theology, and assemble an outline of the beliefs I'd like to pass on, not just to her, but to anyone who's interested. Because a theological system, no matter how simple, is a daunting task, I chose a format that addresses each point with an essay. Strung together, these essays should paint a picture of my interpretation of the truth. My brain is not an organ given to linear thought; my points don't always come in a recognizable order. Over the next couple weeks, or maybe months, many of these essays will make their rough-draft appearance here (and on my blogspot) for the first time. Don't worry, I won't bore you that long...even though there's about 50 points or so on my outline, I'm not going to cover them all here. Nor do I intend to include one every week. Amen? Very well, here goes:

God's Aristocracy

John Calvin wrote that "the seed of the word of God takes root and brings forth fruit only in those whom the Lord, by his eternal election, has predestined to be children and heirs of the heavenly kingdom.(1)"
This reference to children and heirs is an interesting phrase. It implies a kind of spiritual heredity springing forth, not from human loins, but from our spiritual Father. But no one can be an heir without an inheritance, and Calvin addresses that, too. What you'll receive is a heavenly kingdom, and that's another point of interest.

Curious is this man's choice of words: elect, children, heirs and kingdom. It is almost as though Calvin is suggesting a spiritual aristocracy or nobility. While the bible certainly uses all of these terms, the implication was never more distant.

A Calvinist, of course, would disagree, for they are as certain of their correctness as I am of mine. They would assert, and do assert, that Calvin's idea comes from the infallible Word of God and therefore, God Himself. Perhaps they wouldn't state it in terms that suggest divine inspiration, as I just did, but the implication is close. Is their assertion necessarily true? Couldn't there be some other inspiration? After all, if we're as depraved as Calvin suggests, then he and his ideas are in the same hand basket as the rest of us. Let's step back for a moment and glance to the past, to Calvin's day, in particular.

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, about sixty miles from Paris. France, like most countries in that day, was steeped in aristocratic notions. Calvin Senior was a well-respected lawyer, secretary of the bishopric, attorney of the cathedral chapter, fiscal agent of the county and registrar of the Noyon government. His wife was also well-respected, but for her piety and motherly affection, rather than her status. It is unfortunate that she died at such a young age and left John with his father, a powerful and distant man with little time for children(2).

As a result of his wife's death and his own misgivings, the father sent his son to live with a noble family, part of the aristocracy. From there, he began to attend college in Paris, where he learned gentlemanly ways, such as proper manners and how to conduct oneself in polite society. This aristocratic learning distinguishes him from Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.

According to Webster's Dictionary, the aristocracy is the minority of people who may be regarded as superior to the rest of the community in rank, wealth or intellect. Doubleday Dictionary adds that it is a hereditary honor, designated before birth. Though neither book was around in Calvin's day, we know that the definition hasn't changed significantly since then. This definition isn't far from Calvin's definition of the Elect, who are chosen by God, before their birth, to receive a special honor: inheritance in God's kingdom.

It seems to be, and perhaps is, quite a coincidence that Calvin, who lived as part of the aristocracy, should come up with a theological system that so closely resembles it, when other reformers, just as vehement about the truth, but having no "superior" background, missed it entirely.

1. Calvin, John; "Instruction in Faith"
2. Qualben, Lars P.; "A History of the Christian Church"

Note: This is the first essay of two in a series. I'd like to follow it next week with its sequel, but often, something more novel catches my attention and I get distracted.

To continue with Part II, click HERE.

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