Quote from John Calvin on the Role of the King in Promoting True Biblical Doctrine

Growing up in a land where the separation of church and state is such a clarion cry, many times we forget how important it was for the first few generations of the Protestant reformers to actually present their understanding of Christian doctrine to the rulers and authorities of their time.

The Lutheran reformation itself would not have even gotten off the ground, if it wasn’t for the staged kidnapping of Luther himself by Fredrick the III after the Diet of Worms, and hiding him at Wartburg Castle so that the reformation could continue. In this castle, Luther changed his identity to that of a knight named Junker Jorg, and translated the entire new testament into German in 10 weeks! (Link) And of course the Augsburg Confession was a decidedly political document as the Lutherans presented their doctrinal beliefs to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

One of his greatest supporters, Frederick III the Elector of Saxony, staged Luther’s kidnapping after he was declared an outlaw. Disguised as a knight, Luther spent almost an entire year at Wartburg castle, where he translated the New Testament from Ancient Greek into German in just ten weeks. The first pilgrims came to the castle in the 16th century. Today it has some 35,000 visitors every year. (Source)

All the early reformers, from Jan Hus, to Martin Luther, to Ulrich Zwingli, to Thomas Cranmer, felt a duty and calling to not simply do their theological work in a corner somewhere, hidden from the eyes of the civil government of their day. On the contrary, they felt a duty from God to convince the King, Queen, Prince, City Council, or whomever else held the reigns of power, that the Protestant reformation was the proper and true interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

This morning I began another round of trying to read through John Calvin’s magisterial work “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”. (Don’t judge me, I’ve tried but failed to read through this book cover to cover, as I have many of my other books!) Upon opening the book, I was tempted to skip past something that is super important at the beginning, and just jump to the theological reading; the letter of Calvin to the King of France. But in skipping past this, I would have failed to see one of the most important motivations of Calvin for making this work public: to influence the King to accept the truth of the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation!

There is a reason why we in modern times cannot make this connection very easily. Go over and pull your favorite 20th or 21st century Systematic Theology book off the shelf, from guys like Grudem, Horton, Frame, or Beeke. As you open the book up to the front, will you find a letter addressed to the President of the United States or the Governer of the State they live in, commending to them the reading of their systematic theology book, so as to govern according to the proper understanding of the Word of God? Probably not, but why not? Shouldn’t we be sending our elected leaders complimentary copies of our reformed works of Systematic Theology, which a personal letter attached? Let’s start a movement!

Anyway, here is the quote that stuck out to me this morning as I was reading….

“Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how the truth of is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallibile which has declared, that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18)”. (John Calvin, Prefatory Address to the King of France, Institutes).

King Francis I, (1494-1547), to whom Calvin addressed his letter.

Imagine this. A copy of Calvin’s Institutes was delivered to the King of France, with this letter attached. And in this letter, Calvin is reminding the King that it is his duty under God, as the sovereign, to read and study what is contained in Calvin’s Institutes, and the Scriptures, in order to establish His reign in Truth and Justice. How many of us today have this expectation of our governmental leaders? Is it progress that we have separated church and state in this country, to the point to where our leaders are not even expected to have any knowledge of true Christian doctrine? Or may this be the very reason why the laws passed by our elected officials are so poor? Some food for thought today.

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