Blog 176: 4.4.5 - 4.4.10

Paul Helm

Yesterday we ended with a question. The answer to it is: that Calvin offers ecclesiastical advice to places other than Geneva by using the contrast of what is necessary for the being of the church, and what is necessary for its well-being. For his first aim is to secure in the existence of churches, and he seems prepared to compromise as to its well-being, at least in the short term.

After discussing ordination to the ministry of the word of God, he proceeds to the office of deacon, and tells a similar story. Deacons were appointed, by apostolic precedent, to attend to the financial needs of the poor. The canons and archdeacons that followed them had offices that served the same purpose. Gifts to the church were to be used for the benefit of the poor, and distributed fairly. Gold was not for the adornment of the church but to raise cash for the poor. Similarly, acolytes were simply young men who were receiving in-service training to begin fitting them for the ministry of the word. Calvin repeats the theme: the Bishop was (merely) the administrative head of all these offices. He was not (to be) personally wealthy, the gifts for the church were not for his own use, except for the minimum necessary. Ostentation and luxury were rebuked.

Once more, Calvin is both offering a justification of ad hoc arrangements in Geneva for which there was not strict biblical precedent, and preparing us for the post-apostolic history of the church, her decline into various kinds of corruption.