My overall summary report to CBC
Steve Lawson's session focused on what John Calvin would say to modern Charismatics. Lawson is a lot of things: senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, teaching fellow with Ligonier Ministries, visiting professor at the Ligonier Academy, The Master’s Seminary, and Samara Theological Seminary in Russia — and a constant fixture at conferences. (Seriously: how do you get that gig?)
It was really a terrific session. Lawson showed a surprising facility for spontaneous humor, particularly on display when a remark drew one person's applause ("Thank you to the one person who clapped" — and then, when everyone applauded, "I can tell when you don't mean it").
Having read Lawson's recent book on Luther (the review of which I plan to post after this series), I appreciate all the more the extent of research that goes into his talks. This was laced liberally with direct quotations from Calvin.
Lawson observed that Calvin faced foes who also believed they had inner light and direct revelations from God — the Anabaptists and the Libertines. He quotes Calvin as saying that they were 100 times worse than Roman Catholicism. Some of the libertines wore torn robes and seemed to want a "grunge" look. (When the audience laughed, Lawson remarked, "I feel like I just stepped on something," to more laughter.)
Lawson largely found Calvin's thoughts revealed in his commentaries on related passages. I looked them up to add to my notes and to BibleWorks as needed. Here are just some of the highlights:
On Acts 2:38, Calvin said:
Calvin's note in the Institutes is particularly telling as to his Biblically-derived view of the attesting/revelatory gifts' purpose:
In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought.In other words, Calvin saw the purpose of the gifts as being to confirm the new message of the gospel and its messengers. When his contemporary critics demanded that he and the other reformers perform miracles, his response in effect was "Why should we? We are not bringing any new message, but the old message which has already been revealed and attested by God's supernatural power."
As I've often argued: define the gifts' purpose Biblically, and you define their intended shelf-life. Describe the gifts Biblically, and you refute modern substitutes.
Calvin again notes tongues' long-past cessation in his comment on Acts 10:44 —
It was particularly interesting to hear that Calvin, in his remarks on Acts 21:9 some 500 years ago, made the same point about errorists in his day that I've made again and again about Charismatics (bolding added):
Prophecies had now almost ceased many years among the Jews, to the end they might be more attentive and desirous to hear the new voice of the gospel. Therefore, seeing that prophesying, which was in a manner quite ceased, doth now after long time return again, it was a token of a more perfect state. Notwithstanding, it seemeth that the same was the reason why it ceased shortly after; for God did support the old people with divers foretellings, until Christ should make an end of all prophecies. Therefore, it was meet that the new kingdom of Christ should be thus furnished and beautified with this furniture, that all men might know that that promised visitation of the Lord was present; and it was also expedient that it should last but for a short time, lest the faithful should always wait for some farther thing, or lest that curious wits might have occasion given to seek or invent some new thing ever now and then. For we know that when that ability and skill was taken away, there were, notwithstanding, many brain-sick fellows, who did boast that they were prophets; and also it may be that the frowardness of men did deprive the Church of this gift. But that one cause ought to be sufficient, in that God, by taking away prophecies, did testify that the end and perfection was present in Christ; and it is uncertain how these maids did execute the office of prophesying, saving that the Spirit of God did so guide and govern them, that he did not overthrow the order which he himself set down. And forasmuch as he doth not suffer women to bear any public office in the Church, it is to be thought that they did prophesy at home, or in some private place, without the common assembly.Lawson also noted that, when challenged as to why he invested so much time in responding to errorists, Calvin replied, "Even a dog barks when he sees someone assault his master." This clearly resonated deeply with us who heard. This foolish error opens the door to Satan, leads the simple away from the truth, and provokes God. For Calvin, a charismatic Calvinist would be an oxymoron.
Lawson closed his stirring talk with three principles:
- The exclusivity of Biblical authority. Either there is one stream of revelation, or there are two. Either Sola Scriptura or something else. Calvin faced the "two streams" model in Roman Catholicism, and then in another form with the Anabaptists and libertines. It is the notion of the word of God and ______ that Calvin opposed, insisting that the Word of God formed the one and only stream.
- Priority of Biblical preaching. Look to two streams and pulpit is diminished. Bible mandates Biblical preaching. Two streams dilutes that.
- The unity of Spirit and Word. The Holy Spirit is not opposed to the Word of God, but is its divine Author, and uses it as His means.