Blog 175: 4.3.16 - 4.4.4

Paul Helm

Part of Calvin's idea of church order is to see it as following 'apostolic precedent' (in the matter, for example, of ordination by the laying on of hands) where there is no explicit NT command. Such precedents 'ought to serve in lieu of a precept'. As in several other places in the Institutes he plots in a rather laid back and generous way the administrative developments in the early church, offering a reasoned defence of them. (This generosity will enable him, when the time comes, to plot more dramatically the decline of the church into legalism, tyranny and superstition). 

So when he considers ordination, the stress is (once more) on the need for order, simplicity and biblical precedence. For example, he notes that the office of a Bishop first arose to meet what was simply an administrative need to head up bodies of ministers in some urban areas 'for the preservation of its (the church's) organisation and peace in that region'. Through the changes that led to the elevation of one man, the bishop, he remained the first among equals, and remained through his tenure of the office a minister of the word of God.

Perhaps there is more to what Calvin writes than a mere apologia for the early church's ways of doing things. Perhaps he sees their way as his way. How is Calvin to advise on the different ecclesiastical arrangements in the various countries of Europe where the Reformation was beginning to develop?