Blog 200: 4.11.14-4.12.4

It is a fact often cited (too often?) that Calvin did not regard church discipline as a mark of the church, insisting instead on two marks: faithful preaching and the right administration of the sacraments. This is often said to make Calvin differ from, among others, the Scottish brothers as seen in the Scots Confession. But this conclusion is premature. In insisting upon the right administration of the sacraments Calvin presupposes a measure of discipline.
Calvin could not be clearer as to the need for discipline (4.12.1). It is the duty of pastors and presbyters (two separate offices in Calvin's view) "not only to preach to the people, but to warn and exhort in every house, wherever they are not effective enough in general instruction" (4.12.2). If the errant believer refuses to heed a second time, in the presence of witnesses, he is to be called before "a tribunal" (Calvin/Geneva's consistory). In a day when democratic religion governs the church, the very mention of church discipline conveys something intrusive and a violation of personal freedom. No such qualms in Calvin's day and no such qualms in Paul's day either!

For a healthy church, Calvin advocates both formative and corrective discipline. It's goal is the restoration of holiness. In its corrective form, it includes warning, correction, rebuke, admonition and ultimately excommunication. With some irony, Calvin concludes: "Those who trust that without this bond of discipline the church can long stand are, I say, mistaken; unless, perhaps, we can with impunity go without that aid which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us" (4.12.4).

And what Calvin say of the church today?