When I started reading Calvin’s works a few years ago, I was surprised at how contemporary and fresh they were. One of his books, The necessity of reforming the church, perfectly describes the church in our own time, and you don’t even need to be a Calvinist to see that his diagnoses were right.
It turns out that the Reformers weren’t just criticizing what they saw in their day, they were prophesying.
They not only rival princes in the splendor of their dress, the luxuries of their table, the number of their servants, the magnificence of their palaces, in short, every kind of luxury; but also … they dilapidate and squander ecclesiastical revenues, in expenditure of a much more shameful description.
Time was, when poverty in priests was deemed glorious. …On one occasion, too, it was decreed that a bishop should reside within a short distance of his church in a humble dwelling, with a scanty table and mean furniture.
On Creative/Campus/Executive Pastors
What duties do they perform in return for [their pastor’s salary]? In the same way as anciently, under the laws, those who served at the altar lived by the altar, “even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). These are Paul’s words. Let them, then, show us that they are ministers of the gospel, and I will have no difficulty in conceding their right to stipend. [Emphasis added]
On Multi-Site Pastors
Canons and parish priests, not deriving enough from one cure for gluttony, luxury, and pomp, soon found out a compendious method of remedying the inconvenience. For there is nothing to prevent him who could, in one month, swallow much more than he draws in a year, from holding four of five benefices [church incomes]. The burden is nothing thought of. For there are vicars at hand ready to stoop, and take it on their shoulders, provided they are allowed to gobble up some small portion of the proceeds. Nay, few are found who will be contented with one bishopric, or one abbacy.
I openly declare my dissatisfaction that more regard is not paid to the due application of ecclesiastical revenues to those purposes only for which they were destined. This I deplore in common with all good men. But the only point under discussion at present is, whether our princes sacrilegiously seized on the revenues of the church, when they appropriated what they had rescued out of the hands of priests and monks? Is it profanation to apply these to some other purpose than stuffing such lazy bellies? For it is their own cause which our adversaries plead, not the cause of Christ and his church. No doubt, heavy judgments are denounced against those who rob the church, and carry off for their own use what belongs to her.
The last and principle charge which they bring against us is, that we have made a schism in the church. And here they boldly maintain against us, that in no case is it lawful to break the unity of the church. …Now, however, let me make this brief reply — that we neither dissent from the church, nor are aliens from her communion. But, as by this specious name of church, they are want to cast dust in the eyes even of persons otherwise pious and right-hearted. I beseech you … not to be instantly terrified on hearing the name of church, but to remember that the prophets and apostles had, with the pretended church of their days, a contest similar to that which you see us have in the present day…. When they, by the command of God, inveighed freely against idolatry, superstition, and the profanation of the temple, and its sacred rites; against the carelessness and lethargy of priests; and against the general avarice, cruelty, and licentiousness; they were constantly met with the objection which our opponents have ever in their mouths — that by dissenting from the common opinion, they violated the unity of the church….
It is not enough, therefore, simply to throw out the name of church, but judgment must be used to ascertain which is the true church, and what is the nature of its unity…. Our adversaries, therefore, if they would persuade us that they are the true church, must, first of all, show that the true doctrine of God is among them; and this is the meaning of what we often repeat, that is, that the uniform characteristics of a well-ordered church are the preaching of sound doctrine, and the pure administration of the sacraments. For since Paul declares (Eph 2:20) that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” it necessarily follows that any church not resting on this foundation must immediately fall….
Let it, therefore, be a fixed point, that a holy unity exists among us, when, consenting in pure doctrine, we are united in Christ alone.