Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 31, 2009

Calvin on Ecclesiastical Separation

One can argue (rightly, I opine) that a person leaving a church for doctrinal / ethical issues is a species of ecclesiastical separation — which is, as Kevin Bauder notes, is about “separation within the boundaries of the professing church” (original emphasis).  John Calvin has some interesting things to say in the Institutes (Book 4, Chapter 12) about this practice, given his own history as a reformer.

…private individuals must not, when they see vices less carefully corrected by the Council of Elders, immediately separate themselves from the Church; nor must pastors themselves, when unable to reform all things which need correction to the extent which they could wish, cast up their ministry, or by unwonted severity throw the whole Church into confusion.  What Augustine says is perfectly true: “Whoever corrects what he can, by rebuking it, or without violating the bond of peace, excludes what he cannot correct, or unjustly condemns while he patiently tolerates what he is unable to exclude without violating the bond of peace, is free and exempted from the curse.”  He elsewhere gives the reason. “Every pious reason and mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought always to have regard to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  This the apostle commands us to keep by bearing mutually with each other.  If it is not kept, the medicine of discipline begins to be not only superfluous, but even pernicious, and therefore ceases to be medicine.

He [Augustine] confesses, indeed, that pastors ought not only to exert themselves in removing every defect from the Church, but that every individual ought to his utmost to do so; nor does he disguise the fact, that he who neglects to admonish, accuse, and correct the bad, although he neither favours them, nor sins with them, is guilty before the Lord; and if he conducts himself so that though he can exclude them from partaking of the Supper, he does it not, then the sin is no longer that of other men, but his own. Only he would have that prudence used which our Lord also requires, “lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”

Calvin goes on to note the Donatists (in Augustine’s time) and the Anabaptists (in his own) as what he sees as examples of over-zealous separation:

when [the Donatists] saw faults in the Church which the bishops indeed rebuked verbally, but did not punish with excommunication (because they did not think that anything would be gained in this way), bitterly inveighed against the bishops as traitors to discipline, and by an impious schism separated themselves from the flock of Christ.  Similar, in the present day, is the conduct of the Anabaptists, who, acknowledging no assembly of Christ unless conspicuous in all respects for angelic perfection, under pretence of zeal overthrow everything which tends to edification. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: