So much for the Reformation 17

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.

On Celebrity Pastors

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.

On Inurement

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.

On Criticism

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.

17 thoughts on “So much for the Reformation

  1. Matt Mar 10, 2014 12:08 am

    Based on these thoughts, I’m interested to know how you would treat the body of work of Driscoll, as an example. Do you throw it all out based on these recent developments or do you accept the good and reject the bad?

    • James Duncan Mar 10, 2014 12:45 am

      Matt, I don’t think it’s worth the effort trying to sort out the good from the bad (and the plagiarized from the original). Driscoll’s work has always been tainted with, well, Driscoll. If you want to read solid Biblical teaching, there’s no need to look to Driscoll for it in the first place. Once you remove the cussing and the sex, what does he have to offer that’s so special?

  2. Living Liminal Mar 10, 2014 12:30 am

    There really is nothing new under the sun!

  3. Andrew O'Brien Mar 10, 2014 2:03 am

    As a Catholic I’m finding all this interesting. A bunch of people reject (rightly I might add) certain errors and abuses only to repeat them in sys that are arguably more egregious.

    I think if you ask most Catholics nowadays they’ll admit that the reform was needed (isn’t it always). I’m happy to read Calvin’s criticisms. I’m happy he made them because, wouldn’t you know it, it worked! The Catholic Church is better today thanks to Calvin and Luther.

    Is it bad form to point that out at a time when American Evangelicalism is in creating authoritarian regimes that put the papacy to shame? Maybe. But I’ve gotta you guys. Things are awesome on this side of the Tiber right now.

  4. Tony Walker Mar 10, 2014 4:18 am

    History does repeat itself doesn’t it.

  5. Soli Deo Gloria Mar 10, 2014 9:00 am

    Thanks for your comment Andrew. But, I would have to ask whether or not Rome is indeed immune to this and “awesome” as you would say. It seems that the lavishness of just a single Bishop in your church (who, thankfully and finally was called out) reaches far beyond that of even the greatest prosperity teachers… Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst could have purchased Joe Osteen’s house 4 times for the investment he was making in his own.

    link to opposingviews.com

    Needless to say, the papacy is nowhere near being put to shame when it comes to overreaching authoritarianism.

    Lest the Catholics want to point to how it’s a good thing that they’ve addressed this Bishop, let’s not forget that there is still a far more harmful and long-standing scandal which you still need to address with more than words. When you do this, then maybe you can have a little ground for stating your church (which still hasn’t eschewed indulgences) “is better today thanks to Calvin and Luther.”

    “The bishops have forbidden marriage and burdened the godly estate of priests with perpetual celibacy… With this, they have given the occasion for all kinds of horrible, enormous, innumerable sins of unchastity. They are still stuck in these things.”

    Stating that “they are still stuck means it’s been happening for a while. Unfortunately this isn’t a quote from the past 30 years but rather it’s from Article 11 of Luther’s “The Schmalkald Articles” drafted in 1538!

    OK, sorry to have hijacked this post, Dr. Duncan. But I believe it does show the wisdom that God gave to the Reformers such as Calvin and Luther.

  6. Andrew O'Brien Mar 10, 2014 10:22 am

    I didn’t intend to come off with a holier than thou attitude. Believe, I am well aware of sins of the clergy (in fact, I am one). My only point is that pointing out sin to distinguish Catholics and Protestants is no longer valid. The very sins the reformers rebelled from have only reared their heads again in new innovative ways. Both are run by humans after all.

    pointing out sin no longer seems like a valid reason to remain in protest of the Catholic Church. Certainly, theological differences remain but we should be able to admit that the presence of sin in the Church is no reason to cause schism, division, and disunity. Do you agree?

  7. Ella Mar 10, 2014 12:19 pm

    Andrew, the Catholic Church still prays to Mary, the saints, & exalts the pope above Christ as mediator to God for us sinners. Those are just a few errors that keeps us from unifying with the Catholic Church. They still have an anathema on themselves & although there is sin in all churches, I would much rather unite with sinners who are doctrinally sound & preach the pure Gospel of Christ without adding works righteousness or prayers to dead sinners saved by grace who can’t hear or see us.

    • Jordan Apr 3, 2014 10:44 am

      Ella, could you please provide a basis for your claim that the Catholic Church “exalts the pope above Christ as the one mediator between God and us sinners”? The Catechism of the Catholic Church #891 says “Christ governs her (the Church) through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.” To me, that sounds like Christ governs the Pope, rather than the other way around, as you have asserted. Moreover, the Pope is the vicar of Christ. “Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?” Romans 9:20-21. The Pope can no more exalt himself over Christ than a lump of clay can exalt itself over the potter.

  8. scott Mar 10, 2014 1:34 pm

    So can I incur from this post that you would take issue with Grace Community Church, First Presbyterian Jackson, Christ Fellowship Baptist. They all have Executive Pastors. As well as Senior Pastors that write books and make money from those books.

    • Matt Mar 10, 2014 1:52 pm

      Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas both sell their books at the book store at FPC Columbia. They even announce that they are available for sale at church sanctioned events. Does that fall into the same category?

      • James Duncan Mar 10, 2014 2:03 pm

        Matt, it probably does, though it would depend on how the bookstore is set up and how “arms length” it is from the pastor (said as someone who is neither a lawyer nor an accountant). A point I made in the inurement post is that the IRS’s only way to police this is to strip the entire church of its exemption, which it hasn’t wanted to do except when it wants to make an example of flagrant abuses.

        Scott, if they don’t preach, they’re not pastors.

        Re. books, I have no objection to pastors writing books; in fact, I said as much in this post. Luther and Calvin were both authors, though there weren’t any copyright laws at the time to allow for either to make much money. Luther really didn’t make anything at all from his publishing, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Luther.

        • Soli Deo Gloria Mar 10, 2014 4:15 pm

          The question of other prolific Christian authors being writers and pastors is a red herring. Offering the books for sale at the church shouldn’t be a big deal, either.

          The problem is with the motives and sincerity used for them to achieve some type of otherwise unachievable merit of a “NYT Bestseller”. We do know that Driscoll used ResultSource from the latest news about his book sales numbers. As I was doing some searching (I love how Google can filter by date to remove newer stories…), I found this from 2012 completely unrelated to the church’s current problem:

          link to forbes.com

          Some interesting data is there with regards to how many copies would need to sell for a Wall Street Journal bestseller status (roughly 9-10,000). If the content of the books warranted enough demand for them, then each member of the congregations purchasing a copy in week 1 could be enough to land a spot.

          But I’ve been thinking of this as well with regards to John Piper – who may be one of the most prolific authors who are current (until last year) preachers. I can’t find, though, where Piper was ever on a NYT Bestseller list. But his books have far more (ongoing) sales that Furtick or Driscoll can probably ever hope for. I remember that he addressed this in the past, so I offer this link to a great interview with Piper: link to thegospelcoalition.org

          At first, I thought I could do this simply by channeling the royalties to the church, but realized soon that this had tax implications. Since these royalties were technically in my control as the copyright holder, giving all of them to the church made me liable for income taxes. So we created a foundation. The Desiring God Foundation now owns all the copyrights of my books and intellectual property, and receives and distributes all the income. I have no access to the money at all. I do sit on the board of the foundation with my wife and five others. This board safeguards the aims of the foundation, and makes the decisions to which ministries the income should be given. It is a thrilling ministry.

          I believe this is an excellent example of what we should expect from shepherds who sell books to do with the earnings.

          • Matt Mar 10, 2014 5:11 pm

            How do you measure motives and sincerity? That’s my point with the Sinclair Ferguson comment (so, it was meant to be intentionally a red herring). Seems a little easier to give him and others, like Piper, the benefit of the doubt. But who knows their motives and sincerity?

          • Soli Deo Gloria Mar 10, 2014 5:17 pm

            Well Furtick initially said he was buying his lavish house with only his book sales. Sounds like a motive to me….

  9. J Mar 10, 2014 9:49 pm

    Soli Deo Gloria, I see that motive for SF.

    But, this conversation is around Driscoll.
    How do you measure his motive?

    • James Duncan Mar 10, 2014 10:43 pm

      Driscoll’s motive is clearly stated in the official documents of his company that holds the copyright to his books, and it’s “to manage book royalties, printing and publishing and all related and derivative activities.”

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