Guest Post Contra Bojidar Marinov I: The Nature of the Genevan Church

[ The following post is written by guest blogger Michael Foster]

It is stunning how casually Marinov makes assertions that are obviously false. Perhaps he doesn’t know any better. Maybe it is truly an oversight and he isn’t as versed in church history as he should be. That, I think you’ll agree, is the most charitable possibility. The other option is that he is knowingly misrepresenting the facts of history. It is one or the other. I’ll leave determining the motives to the reader.

Now, let me give you an example of an obviously false assertion. Marinov claims:

“The Reformers worked to Christianize societies but they never mentioned anything about “local church membership.” In Geneva of Calvin, the city had a number of church buildings for church members to gather on Sunday (and every day, for that matter), but there was never a division of which family goes to which church, or any membership in a specific church.”

This is demonstrably false. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Calvin’s Geneva should know that this isn’t true!

The reality is that Genevan children were suppose to attend their parish church for their catechism instruction. Likewise, communicant Genevans were suppose to take the Lord’s Supper in their parish church. This is clearly outlined in the Ecclesiastical Ordinance (1541). For example, Calvin writes:

“For bringing children to catechism, and for receiving the sacraments, the boundaries of the parishes should as far as possible be observed; that is, St. Gervais embracing what it had in the past, the Magdalene similarly, St. Peter what belonged formerly to St. Germain, St. Cross, Our Lady the New, and St. Legier.” (LCC p. 62 Also, see p. 69)

This wasn’t simply for practical reasons. There was a pastoral motivation behind it. Calvin writes:

“The Sunday before the celebration, intimation is to be made, in order that no child come before it has made profession of its faith as proved by examination by the Catechism, and also that all strangers and new-comers may be exhorted first to come and present themselves at the church, so that they be instructed and thus none approach to his own condemnation.” (LCC p. 67)

In other words, Calvin doesn’t have a wishy washy view of the Lord’s Supper. Only those that have demonstrated what we would know refer to as a “credible profession” along with a good moral standing were welcomed to the table.

The table was protected by the pastors. So much so that consistory would typically be very busy with resolving church discipline cases just prior to the quarterly communion service. In essence, they wanted all those that demonstrated repentance to be welcome to the table but that required that the consistory rule on their case. Conversely, the want to keep the table from those that would shirk discipline. This is why Calvin required them to attend their parish church. Calvin had wrote to Bullinger expressing his concern that Genevans saw them simply as preachers and not as pastors. This practice then allowed for a degree of pastoral oversight.

Also, consider the fact that Calvin had hope that reform would lead to weekly communion. It is reasonable then to conclude that he would have advocated for Genevans to attend the same church every Sunday. I suppose that is debatable but the rest isn’t. Marinov is wrong. There were requirements placed on what church Genevan should attend. It wasn’t weekly requirement for adults but quarterly requirement was an application of pastoral theology.