Blog 228: 4.17.35 - 4.17.39

Stephen Nichols

Calvin continues his discussion of the errant Roman Catholic view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by prattling on about one of his favorite subjects to rail upon:  superstition and idolatry. The two, for Calvin, go together like ham and eggs. These practices, in this particular instance the piled on traditions of the adoration of "consecrated host," are repugnant to Calvin because they are extra-biblical (actually, he makes the case that they are anti-biblical) and injurious to the Christian life. How quickly the church can lose its way; how quickly we can lose our way. Some things, in other words, are worth getting polemical about (4.17.35 - 37).

But Calvin isn't all about nay-saying. He ends with a positive call, stressing how the Lord's Supper is a palpable, "forceful" means to "inspire us both to purity and holiness of life, and to love, peace, and concord" (4.17.38). The Lord's Supper is ultimately about unity because through it we are symbolizing and experiencing union with Christ as the body of Christ--not as individuals, but as his body, as one body. Then he adds one more point: "The sacrament cannot stand apart from the Word" (4.17.39).

I come away with two fundamental principles for practicing theology:

1.  Always focus on unity, but never focus on unity at the cost of doctrinal fidelity.
2.  Always focus on the Word. To paraphrase Calvin: "Theologizing--both in theory and in practice--cannot stand apart from the Word."