Guest Post Contra Bojidar Marinov II: Inaccurately Citing Calvin

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

In his rambling three part tome on “mandatory” church membership, Marinov claims, “In [Calvin’s] “anti-Nicodemite writings” he made it very clear that in the case where the churches in an area were all impure, the best course for a true Christian was to leave them and worship in private. Yes, worship in private!” Marinov then gives the following citation:

“Some one will therefore ask me what counsel I would like to give to a believer who thus dwells in some Egypt or Babylon where he may not worship God purely, but is forced by the common practice to accommodate himself to bad things. The first advice would be to leave if he could. . . . If someone has no way to depart, I would counsel him to consider whether it would be possible for him to abstain from all idolatry in order to preserve himself pure and spotless toward God in both body and soul. Then let him worship God in private, praying him to restore his poor church to its right estate . . . .”

I was immediately interested in those pairs of four littles dots in the middle and end of the quote. What did these two ellipsis omit? Well, thanks to some friends, I tracked down the whole quote in context. Here it is with what had been omitted (found in the second and forth paragraph):

“Some one will therefore ask me what counsel I would like to give to a believer who thus dwells in some Egypt or Babylon where he may not worship God purely, but is forced by the common practice to accommodate himself to bad things. The first advice would be to leave if he could. For when all is well considered; happy is he who is far from such abominations, because it is very difficult to be so close to them with sullying oneself in them. So let him withdraw to a place where he would not be forced to get involved in such garbage, or to hear God’s name and word blasphemed, keeping silent and dissembling as if he were in agreement. On the other hand, [it would be a place] where it would be permissible for him to profess his Christianity in the assembly of Christians, to be a partaker of the holy doctrine of the gospel, to enjoy the pure and entire use of the sacraments, and to share in the public prayers. In my opinion, this would be the best thing to do.

If someone has no way to depart, I would counsel him to consider whether it would be possible for him to abstain from all idolatry in order to preserve himself pure and spotless toward God in both body and soul. Then let him worship God in private, praying him to restore his poor church to its right estate.

Finally, let him do his duty by instructing and edifying the wretched ignorant souls as much as he can. If he replies that he cannot do that without the peril of death, I grant it. Yet the glory of God, which is involved here, should be much more precious to us than this perishable, fleeting life, which to tell the truth, is no more than a shadow.”

These omissions are significant because it underscores that Calvin saw private worship as a last resort and one that should be temporary. Calvin says that the best thing to do is to find an assembly where the believer can openly profess his Christianity. If such an assembly can’t be found, then the believer should move. If that can’t happen, then the believer can worship at home. However, Calvin goes on to say that the believer can’t simply worship at home. He has a duty to instruct the ignorant. This instruction has end, which is made clear in Calvin’s anti-Nicodemite sermon on Psalm 27:4. This sermon is also found in the work Marinov quoted from. Perhaps he didn’t finish the book.

Calvin writes:

“As for those babblers who ridicule us, wondering if one cannot get to paradise except by way of Geneva, I answer: would to God they had the courage to gather in the name of Jesus Christ wherever they are, and set up some sort of church, either in their houses, or in those of their neighbours, to do in their place what we do here in our temples! But what do we find? Not deigning to use the means God provides them, they still want to be saved. It is like asking if they cannot come to port rowing backwards, or if they cannot tempt God and still enjoy grace. Well, let them make themselves as big and strong as they like in order to break their own neck; but let the children of God be very careful not to exalt themselves with them. And, whoever has no means of being in the Christian church, where God is worshipped purely, let him groan night and day, ‘Thins altars, Lord; it is only thine altars that I desire, my God, my king!” And let this fire remain always lit in all good hearts, so that, come what may, they never weary of being thus transported. Let not the length of time cool them so that they stop seeking to be led to the flocks. Furthermore, let everyone look well to himself and see to it that he gathers quickly to the banner, as soon as our Lord gives him the means to do so. This is how one must show that he was not faking when he made this request to dwell in the house of God.”

In short, Calvin allows for private worship when attendance at a true church cannot be achieved. However, that private worship should, in God’s providence, lead to something more and more approximating a true church. It should only be a temporary situation and one that the believer is always eager to remedy. What we see here in Calvin is what is later codified in the confessions. Namely, that the visible church is the normative means of salvation and therefore should be cherished.

I should also add that this is the difficulty in dealing with a man like Marinov. His writings are loaded with references and citations. That is a good thing assuming that they are using rightly. That is not what I’m seeing as I go through and check every single one of his citations in his against “mandatory church membership” series.