Blog 169: 4.1.5 - 4.1.21
Calvin's teaching has never been for shrinking violets, nor is John Calvin himself thought of as "soft." He uses strong language about those who are enemies of the gospel ("pigs," "dogs").
In discussing church discipline he notes the special responsibilities borne by pastors (some are not sufficiently watchful, others tend to be over-lenient). But he also grants that pastors are often hindered from consistency by those who belong to the church they serve. The truth is, elders can turn down the thermostat of a congregation virtually at will.
Yet Calvin is also concerned about Christians who acts in haste and without grace and precipitously separate from the church because of its faults. The individual dare not do that simply out of personal whim or a unilateral declaration of independence. He is, after all, a member of the church, not a lone-ranger believer. Unwise zeal, pride and arrogance, false views of holiness (or, more accurately, false views of other's holiness or lack thereof) need themselves to be disciplined.
Separation from the visible church is, therefore, to be considered only when it actually ceases to be the visible church--for in its very nature its sanctity is mixed with ongoing sin and failure. Thus, when the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Savior himself are considered, we learn a biblical balance of commitment to truth with commitment to the imperfect community. It is inexcusable for an individual to abandon the church so long as it remains a real church
Forgiveness is always a watchword in church life. Calvin strikingly points out the significance of words many of us recite every Lord's Day: "I believe in the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sins . . ." The former (church) is the context in which the latter (forgiveness) is realized. The very forgiveness by which we enter the church is the forgiveness in which we are ever and again sustained.