Calvinism is rooted in the sixteenth-century religious renewal in Europe that we refer to as the “Protestant Reformation.” 7 One of its major reasons for its success was the acceptance of Holy Scripture as the sole foundation of Christian faith by the local city and state governments, mainly the states of the Swiss-confederation who protected the reformation with their own soldiers and lives. Thus this authority was transferred to the church, which could soon govern itself and matters of life. In 1541, added by the city council, Calvin drew up the Ecclesiastical Ordinances.
He rejected the organization of the Medieval Church as contrary to the New Testament. He wanted a church modeled after the church of Apostolic times. He did not want bishops. All ministers were equal. They had to preach, administer the sacraments and look after the spiritual welfare of the people. Moral discipline was also hold up high by the ministers – and their elders supported that. The elders were civilian (laymen) who lived within the congregation and were elected by the city council.Calvin was not keen on this but it provided a link between the Church and state. The elders and deacons (also laymen who looked after the poor were subject to popular appointment and in that respect introduced an important element of spiritual leadership in the church and local society. All officers in the church belonged to the consistory and if there was a power struggle between the ministers and the laymen the outcome of that power struggle determined whether the church became Erastian (i.e. followed the way Erasmus wished a church to go) or the state would become theocratic i.e. the church controlled all aspects of life. Eventually Geneva became theocratic. Calvin was a strong believer in behaving as God wished. Immorality was severely condemned but to begin with the consistory was not an effective body. It only started to be so when the number of appointed ministers was greater than the elders. Also in 1555, the city council gave the consistory the right to excommunicate offenders. Only after this date a strict moral code was imposed and every sin and was made a crime. There was no work or pleasure on a Sunday, no extravagance in dress. If you were excommunicated you were banished from the city. Blasphemy could be punished by death, lewd singing could be punished by your tongue being pierced.
2.2 A New Moral as Link between State and Consistory
Calvin believed that the church and state should be separate, and yet the consistory had to deal with moral and religious offenders. Two members of the consistory, accompanied by a minister, visited every parish to see that all was well and that people could see that they were being checked on. The state had to obey the teachings of the church, according to Calvin. Magistrates felt confident to shut down the city’s taverns - and replaced them with "evangelical refreshment places" where you could drink alcohol but accompanied by Bible readings. Even public meals were preceded by prayers. Not surprisingly this was not popular and even Calvin recognized that matters had gone too far and the taverns were re-opened quickly! It must be remembered that he was introducing a high discipline code to the city and that this code effectively controlled people’s lives. There were those who opposed Calvin and he was never totally secure until he had the support of Geneva’s most important families. These 1,500 men had a right to elect the city council, which governed the city’s 13,000 people. Some citizens felt angered that their privacy was being trespassed on and though a moral code to maintain standards was accepted, Calvin saw it going all the way so that everybody in the city was affected - a view not shared by everyone. This changed in favor for Calvin when a Spanish scholar called Michael Servetus came to Geneva in 1553. This well known theologian, physician, cartographer and humanist from Aragon questioned the validity of the Trinity, which is central to all Christianity. The Libertines sided with Servetus to ‘get’ at Calvin and but his trial and burning as a heretic gave Calvin the opportunity to target the Libertines who fled Geneva. In May 1555, the Libertines attempted a take-over of Geneva, which was a disaster. The ringleaders were caught and executed, this success further strengthened Calvin’s hand.
2.3 Political and Religious Support from the Swiss-Confederation
Calvins’s reformation was not an isolated phenomenon. It was prepared by forerunners and happened in the context of the reorganizing of political powers. Since 1291 the Swiss Confederation was the only democratic governed place in Europe and did not condered itself as part of the “Holy German Empire of Rom” anylonger. – No wonder the first German Bible translation published in Strassburg (after from 1454) near Basel had its strong Swiss imprint and its content was no longer unknown to the public in the Alemannic German speaking world with its numerous dialects stretching from Alsace, South - West Germany, the Central and East of Swiss confederation to West-Austria. Alemannic German (Alemannisch ) is a group of dialects of the Upper German branch of the Germanic language family. It is spoken by approximately by ten million people in seven countries, including southern Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, Liechtenstein, Venezuela, and Italy. The name derives from the ancient Germanic alliance of tribes known as the Alamanni (from which also comes French "Allemagne", Spanish "Alemania", Portuguese "Alemanha" and Arabic and Turkish "Almanya".
Strassburg was the place were Calvin 50 years later lived too. By that time this area was more touched by Zwingli’s reformation already, but could not reach the French-speaking world. The public support of Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) act of posting his Ninety-five Theses on the church doors of Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, gave Zwingli a reason to go ahead and talk to Farel to seek for ways to “install” Calvin in Geneva as a reformer for the French world. Luthers 95 thesis were soon translated into numerous languages and distributed to the masses. On this spiritual ground Huldrych Zwingli as politican in Zurich prepared the political forces in Bern and elsewhere to have the major Swiss Confederation States’ support for Calvin’s and Farel reforms in Geneva and French speaking Europe.
2.4 United in Opposition to Medieval Roman Catholic Abuses.
This success was supported far beyond the local borders because of long time prework by forerunners and Dr. Martin Luther. Luther on the other hand was more influenced and supported by Bohemia’s Reformer Jan Hus and its emphasize on the need to translate bible into the local languages of the people as he witnessed it in Bohemian Christian churchlife. Probably the so-called “tower experience,” which probably predated his theses by a few years, became the crucial event for him. Through this experience, Luther came to grasp the definitive doctrine of the Reformation: justification by gracious faith alone. This brought more than renewal as it happened in earlier attempts through forerunners, the most notable of which were led by Peter Waldo (ca. 1140–ca. 1217) and his followers in the Alpine regions. – Among those frontrunners were: John Wycliffe (ca. 1324–1384), The Lollards in England,John Hus (ca. 1372–1415) and his followers in Bohemia.
Lesser-known reformers, are Thomas Bradwardine (ca. 1300–1349)14 and Gregory of Rimini (ca. 1300–1358).15 They came very close to what would become known as Protestant theology. They all came even closer to what would become known as Protestant theology. All these men are properly called forerunners of the Reformation rather than Reformers because, although they anticipated many of the emphases of the Reformation, they lacked a complete understanding of the critical doctrine of justification by gracious faith alone. All forerunners of the Reformation were morally, doctrinally, and practically united in their opposition to medieval Roman Catholic abuses. This opposition is critical to note, since the Reformation began primarily as a reaction to the abuses of Roman Catholicism.17 Luther did not set out to destroy the Roman Catholic Church and to establish a new church. His initial intent was to purge the Roman Catholic Church of abuses. Reformed theology thus cannot be fully understood apart from its reaction to problems in the church, such as: Reformed theology thus cannot be fully understood apart from its reaction to problems in the church, such as:
• Papal abuses. The medieval papacy was rife with abuses in theology and practice. Immoral conduct was lived out and condoned even by the popes, and grace became a cheap, commercialized religion throughout the church via a complex system of vows, fasts, pilgrimages, masses, relics, recitations, rosaries, and other works. The papal imperative was “do penance” (as translated in the Vulgate) rather than “be penitent,” or “repent,” as Jesus commanded.
• Papal pretentiousness. Biblical and historical study by the Protestant forerunners led them to
question papal claims to apostolic authority as head of the church. For example, the Reformers concluded that the rock on which the church was built (Matt. 16:18) was the content of Peter’s faith rather than Peter himself, which meant that the bishop of Rome possessed no more than a position of honor. Though the Protestants initially were willing to accept a Reformed papacy that would honorably serve the church, the cruel opposition of the popes to reform eventually persuaded many of them to regard the pope of Rome as Antichrist (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.6).
• Captivity of the Word. Protestants taught that the Roman Catholic Church held Scripture captive, withholding it from the laypeople and thus keeping them in bondage to church councils, bishops, schoolmen, canonists, and allegorists for interpretation. The Protestants worked hard to deliver the Bible from this hierarchical captivity. As Malcolm Watts writes:The Church of Rome degraded the Holy Scriptures by alloying the purity of the Canon with her apocryphal additions, by supplementing the inspired records with an enormous mass of spurious traditions, by admitting only that interpretation which is according to “the unanimous consent of the Fathers” and “the Holy Mother Church,” and, particularly by diminishing the role of preaching as their “priests” busied themselves with miraculous stories about Mary, the saints and the images, and magnified the importance of the Mass, with its elaborate and multiplied ceremonies and rituals. It was thus that preaching deteriorated and, in fact, almost disappeared. The Reformers vigorously protested against this and contended with all their might for the recovery of God’s Holy Word.
• Elevation of monasticism. Protestants opposed the Roman Catholic concept of the superiority of the so-called religious life. They did not believe that monasticism was the only way to spirituality or even the best way. By stressing the priesthood of all believers, they worked hard to eliminate the Roman Catholic distinction between the “inferior” life of the Christian involved in a secular calling and the “higher” religious world of monks and nuns.
• Usurped mediation. Protestants also rejected the Roman Catholic ideas of mediation by Mary and the intercession of saints, as well as the automatic transfusion of grace in the sacraments. They opposed all forms of mediation with God except through Christ. They reduced the sacraments to two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, thereby stripping priests and the church of mediating power and the sacramental dispensation of salvation.
• The role of good works. Protestants rejected the ideas of Semi-Pelagianism,19 which says that both grace and works are necessary for salvation. This theological difference was at the heart of Protestant opposition to Roman Catholicism, though it was largely through moral and practical corruption that the issue came to the fore.
The Protestant response to Roman Catholic abuses gradually settled into five Reformation watchwords or battle cries, centered on the Latin word solus, meaning “alone.” These battle cries, expounded in chapter 10, served to contrast Protestant teaching with Roman Catholic tenets as follows:
Scripture alone (sola Scriptura)
Faith alone (sola fide)
Grace alone (sola gratia)
Christ alone (solus Christus)
Glory to God alone (soli Deo gloria)
Roman Catholic Teaching
Scripture and tradition
Faith and works
Grace and merit
Christ, Mary, and intercession of saints
God, saints, and church hierarchy
The first of these battle cries deals with the fundamental issue of authority, the middle three deal with the basics of salvation, and the final one addresses worship. In early Protestantism, both Lutheran and Reformed believers embraced these five watchwords. Regrettably, Luther and Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), the early leader of the Swiss Reformation, parted ways in October 1529 during the infamous Marburg Colloquy, when they could not reach agreement on the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. 20 From then on, Protestantism divided into two traditions, Lutheranism and Calvinism—the latter being the Reformed tradition as understood and expressed in the writings of John Calvin and his fellow Reformers.