Opinions on faith and life

A Product Of His Time

2008-07-09

How often have we heard this excuse for someone we’d like to whitewash but who did something that is really evil? Can a Christian ever use this excuse? First let’s look at an important example, and then some scripture.

If you’ve ever read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, you read many hundreds of pages of Christian suffering, frequently at the hands of “church leaders”. The preferred method of the Roman Catholic Church was by burning alive at the stake. And Fox rightly points out the deep evil of these actions, things no Christian of any century should condone in any way. There is simply no excuse for this.

Unless someone you revere is doing the burning!

And Fox shows great prejudice and hypocrisy in this, his account of the life of Calvin. After many pages about the evils of Rome, we read this concerning Calvin’s burning of his enemy Servetus:

It has long been the delight of both infidels and some professed Christians, when they wish to bring odium upon the opinions of Calvin, to refer to his agency in the death of Michael Servetus. This action is used on all occasions by those who have been unable to overthrow his opinions, as a conclusive argument against his whole system. “Calvin burnt Servetus!—Calvin burnt Servetus!” is a good proof with a certain class of reasoners, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true—that divine sovereignty is Antiscriptural, —and Christianity a cheat.

We have no wish to palliate any act of Calvin’s which is manifestly wrong. All his proceedings, in relation to the unhappy affair of Servetus, we think, cannot be defended. Still it should be remembered that the true principles of religious toleration were very little understood in the time of Calvin. All the other reformers then living approved of Calvin’s conduct. Even the gentle and amiable Melancthon expressed himself in relation to this affair, in the following manner. In a letter addressed to Bullinger, he says, “I have read your statement respecting the blasphemy of Servetus, and praise your piety and judgment; and am persuaded that the Council of Geneva has done right in putting to death this obstinate man, who would never have ceased his blasphemies. I am astonished that any one can be found to disapprove of this proceeding.” Farel expressly says, that “Servetus deserved a capital punishment.” Bucer did not hesitate to declare, that “Servetus deserved something worse than death.”

Now of course Calvin’s defenders are quick to add the next paragraph:

The truth is, although Calvin had some hand in the arrest and imprisonment of Servetus, he was unwilling that he should be burnt at all. “I desire,” says he, “that the severity of the punishment should be remitted.” “We endevored to commute the kind of death, but in vain.” “By wishing to mitigate the severity of the punishment,” says Farel to Calvin, “you discharge the office of a friend towards your greatest enemy.” “That Calvin was the instigator of the magistrates that Servetus might be burned,” says Turritine, “historians neither anywhere affirm, nor does it appear from any considerations. Nay, it is certain, that he, with the college of pastors, dissuaded from that kind of punishment.”

Is changing the preferred method of execution a display of Christian mercy by Calvin? Such alleged benevolence is clearly not what it appears (see Here and Here, where he is called a ’hero of history!’). The fact remains that Calvin, for both political and religious reasons, hated the man! Can one who hates, and to the point of murder, be saved?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another... If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another. (1 John 4:7-11, 20-21)

Ah, but it isn’t murder because it was political, and as the ruler of the city, Calvin was only signing an execution, right? Wrong! He personally hated Servetus and wanted him dead. And even the most evil judge can grant mercy. But we must also remember that a leader is responsible for his followers while he lives, and Calvin had to take responsibility for what he taught them. Servetus’ blood is forever on Calvin’s unrepentant hands.

A product of his time? Calvin knew very well what Rome was doing and that it was evil. And what believer, especially a teacher, can claim this excuse when the writers of the New Testament were not “products of their time”? The government of ancient Rome was far worse than the Rome of Calvin’s time; the preferred method of execution was crucifixion! Yet never do we see Paul or Peter or John advocating even hatred, much less murder!

No, believers can never use the excuse “a product of their time”. We are not products of time but children of God, heirs of eternal life and citizens of God’s Kingdom. And in that kingdom there is no murder, no execution, no hatred; all of that is in “outer darkness”.

14 Comments

Lin

Paula,

have you read The Step Children of the Reformation by Leonard Verduin? If not, I highly recommend it. Even Calvin followers will have a hard time refuting his evidence. Verduin researched this book on a grant from the Calvin Institute. He went to Europe in the 50’s and did some deep research into archives that had been unaccessible pretty much until after WW2. He quotes from letters Calvin wrote to his friends lamenting the ’persecution’ he was receiving from people after Servetus. Poor guy. Seems the tide was turning and even his supporters were a bit shocked that he had the nerve to have a guy arrested who came to his church to hear him preach.

He also gives credible evidence that Calvin ordered ’green wood’ so Servetus would burn slower...because he refused to recant.

This and many other things about the ’high priest’ of Geneva bother me very much. While Ana Baptists were hiding in caves because they did not want to be forced to attend the fake ’state church’, Calvin was all for rounding them up.

Another good book for persecution is Martyrs Mirror which records the persecution of the Ana Baptists and others from the Reformers.

I question Calvin’s fruit. How come a "brilliant theologian" such as he was not hiding out in caves, too, for the sake of the pure Gospel?

Guess those passages in scripture did not apply to him, huh? And yes, I have heard the exact same arguments from the Reformed camp that he was a product of his time. A very insidious excuse for condoning murder. Makes you wonder what these lovers of Calvin would be willing to overlook today.

Paula Fether

No, I haven’t read that one. But I do have Vance’s The Other Side of Calvinism.

Calvin’s supporters still excuse him and venerate him... and, and I’ve written before, they too show the same kind of "fruit". Not all of them, of course, but the "honest" Calvinists are hateful and bitter control freaks. It’s like a lot of other things: most of the followers have no idea what the people they look up to are/were like or what the logical conclusions are of their teachings.

And you’re not the only one wondering how such hatred can live in the heart of a true believer. Calvin was trained as a lawyer, and I’ve seen some brilliant theology from very lost brilliant people, proving that one does not have to be saved to write convincingly about theological matters.

His supporters always point to his writings, but that proves only that he wrote. He also admitted to getting his theology primarily from Augustine, who ironically enough, is also cited as probably the most venerated theologian of the Roman Catholic Church. Strange bedfellows indeed!

Lin

Actually, I saw the exact same control freak behavior from the leaders at quite a few Arminian seeker megas. They just did it with cheap grace and different methods. The effect was the same. It was: Follow the leaders. Don’t be divisive with disagreement, we want unity in relatinships at all costs and we ruin people who dare say anything negative about the church, lack of correct doctrine, and esp the leaders! Many even had ’covenants’ one had to sign upon membership promising not to criticize the leaders! Saddleback does this!

Funny how they were totally on board with the CBMW indoctrination. Seems that CBMW can transcend the Calvin/Arminian debate!

There is a control and authority problem on both sides. It is called: Sinful man who has turned the servanthood of the bible into lording it over others for personal gain and fame.

But Calvin as a role model? Calvin as an expert of doctrine? How any Baptist can fall for this, I do not know. Baptizing babies, sacraments, burning heretics, magistrates, state church, compulsory attendance, etc, etc. Please!

Paula Fether

Funny how they were totally on board with the CBMW indoctrination. Seems that CBMW can transcend the Calvin/Arminian debate!

Now that’s really saying something!

And of course, the other thing that transcends not only Christian denominations but all religions is male supremacism. But that’s really a subset of the Pride sin anyway.

tiro3

Not having read much about Calvin, that was a startling read. WoW!

Greg Anderson

I was raised in the Lutheran Church, and was involved in the Calvary Chapel movement many years ago. Both are "religions" despite what some adherents would say about Calvary Chapel not being a religion. One thing I have learned over the years, and some of it by painful experience, is that Jesus’ Kingdom is truly not of this world. When I finally came to the realization that the traditions and religions of men can be brutal straitjackets, it was like being liberated from a POW camp. It was like drinking from a spring in Eden and breathing in untainted air for the first time. And like the old Who song says, I "Won’t Get Fooled Again".

Paula Fether

As the people of Geneva said, "We’ve only traded one pope for another." They all reformed when they should have revolted.

Lin

"One thing I have learned over the years, and some of it by painful experience, is that Jesus’ Kingdom is truly not of this world. When I finally came to the realization that the traditions and religions of men can be brutal straitjackets, it was like being liberated from a POW camp."

Greg, I have had a similar journey finding that out and it was quite painful for several years. It is hard because you ’fit’ nowhere...in your normal world and you are surrounded by people who still follow man thinking they are really following Christ.

But then after a while as you grow, It is so wonderful you want others to have it. But, it does not work like that.

Truthseeker

Lin and Greg, your words hit close to home because I am beginning those painful years, as you so aptly described it, Lin. I, too, now fit nowhere. I, too, wish others could see the beauty, freedom, and truth of what I see Christ really teaching. How does one share the truth? Not in any churches I have been in or visited. Yet. I am still hoping to find, in this area in which I live, which is new to me, a group of likeminded believers. Maybe they will meet in a home, or be a Sunday School class somewhere. I don’t know. Meanwhile, these blogs are my badly needed refreshment.

Paula Fether

We need to think "first century" again, when the faith was new. The world was like it is today: completely unaware of the risen Jesus, knowing only false gods, relying on Religion to get by. Our message is the simple gospel, without the baggage of Churchianity, the social club that Christianity became after the apostles died.

This of course is much bigger than just the issue of women in the church and home; it needs to go back to proper Bible study, beginning with accurate and unbiased translations, then study guides that actually study and guide. ;-)

Lin

I agree with Paula.

I have found this in my Sunday school class. We are like a small church and we study scrpture intently, pray over each other and Glorify God together. I am blessed with this. It was a pure accident I found them. I had left my seeker church and decided to go to church with grandpa while I was recovering.

The church is not perfect but I love the mix there and in SS...we have those who believe in election, free will, comps, egals, cessationists, non cessationists, etc. We have decided to focus on the primary Gospel ONLY. We have decided to disagree in love. When we do not, we meet, discuss, search scrpture and pray. It works. Right now we are focusing on the Holy Spirit while we exposit Acts.

The only unity that matters is in Christ.

Truthseeker

Lin, your group sounds like a huge blessing and a wonderful gem! I am glad you have it! Would that we all focused more on the primary issues and less on the extraneous. Sometimes circumstances require a temporary focus on a secondary issue, but perhaps it is best done by individuals or by agreement within groups. Recently I discovered-or rediscovered-Wayne Jacobsen on his LifeStream website. 24 years ago he was co-pastor of a church I attended regularly. I was shocked to see the stance he has come to since then-180 degrees from where he was. I agree with what he has written about church. He has written a series of 5 (so far) articles, (as well as a few books, etc.) and one is entitled ’Why I don’t go to church’. And he doesn’t. (the links to his articles are on his site)

Lin

Truthseeker, Wow, he has taken a turn. But, some of his other stuff scares me. I am very careful about such things. While I agree about the concept of ’church’ so many of these folks have gotten into contemplative spirituality and other bizarre teachings. I have a big problem with The Shack, too.

In this day and time, we can no longer afford to align ourselves with any group, person or movement. It is a lonely existence at times because we are made to belong to a Body. I am more than willing to be gracious on secondary doctrines but when it comes to primary doctrines, I have to take a stand.

Paula Fether

I noticed that too, Lin. Same problem I saw in Frank Viola. I wrote to him with my concerns and he was unwilling to listen.

For anyone who doesn’t know, "The Shack" is not Christian at all, and is in fact anti-Christian. There’s a good review at the Berit Kjos website.

TS, this is no reflection on you, but on those Christian leaders who should know better. They get some things right but others wrong, and we can’t risk being associated with anyone who hedges on the gospel essentials. I have no problem associating with Calvinists, KJV Onlyists, Eternal Insecurity proponents, or anyone else as long as they stick to the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus alone, and do not promote any kind of sinful lifestyle.