Presbyterians Today

OCT-NOV 2017

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Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 41 O n October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Germany. His list of questions and propositions sparked the Protestant Reformation. The event inspired thousands to rethink their relationships with God and the church, including the founders of the Presbyterian Church. The Reformation ideas spread quickly across Europe and influenced people like John Calvin and John Knox, profound influencers of the Presbyterian faith. In 1555 the fiery Scottish reformer John Knox was exiled when Roman Catholic Mary Tudor rose to the English throne. He became part of a fellowship of reli- gious refugees from throughout Europe who thronged to havens like Geneva. K nox immersed himself in studies under the French theologian John Ca lv i n a nd m i n- istered to other S c o t t i s h - a n d E n g l i s h- sp e a k i n g refugees. The city reverberated with the polyglot ideas of the Reformation. Calvin's theology envisioned a model city in which mag- istrates and ministers ruled together and the Bible informed the shape of society. In the ferment of this experi- ment to bring the kingdom of God closer to earth, Calvin and the Reformed church urged citizens to exercise sober and useful lives. Children attended school to become literate in the Word of God. Parents led their families in daily devotions. Church and city leaders oversaw disci- pline. Worship rightly ordered included robust singing of psalms, hearing of Scriptures and sermons, and reception of sacraments as well as ministry to neighbors outside the church. Knox marveled about his time in Geneva, calling the city "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles." The influence of refugees Knox joined a large community of refugees in Geneva who strained the social order. Citizens of Geneva feared losing their power as exiles from France, England and elsewhere grew in number and economic success. Even as the needs of new refugees strained the city budget, many assimilated into the community and became valued members of society. The challenge Genevans faced was how to balance their religious call to hospitality with their sense of being overwhelmed by the vast numbers of newcomers arriving monthly. How could they trust their sovereign God in what felt like chaos? The Rev. Cynthia Jarvis, pastor of Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, recognizes a similar push and pull in our churches today. She contends that the "Reformed tradi- tion's belief in God's sovereignty leads Presbyterians, at our best, to take the risk of liberty within the social order, trusting that the One who rules incognito — yet is up to some- thing in human history — is finally the One who will reign. "That means that our witness to the 'Jesus Christ, the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death' (Barmen 8.11) lives in a tension that those on the polit- ical left would like to dissolve by institu- tionalizing various utopian visions and that those on the right would like to resolve by legislat- ing morality." The Genevan model existed in the strain between demands for unity and purity, as do we. Yet Calvin's emphasis on placing our full trust in God aims to infuse every aspect of our life with gratitude and faith. Calvin intended his doctrine of election to ease the anxieties of a people living in an age of plague, war and dislocation. He believed that as we grow in trust of God and love for God, we enlarge our ability to respond with the totality of our lives to God's call to love and service. Worship and social justice In the Geneva Ordinances that Calvin created in 1547 P R E S B Y T E R I A N H I S T O R I C A L S O C I E T Y John Calvin

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