John Calvin and The Servetus Affair

One thing that often comes up in debates about Calvinism is the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. Those opposed to Calvinism try to make Calvin out to be a murderer of Servetus and therefore someone that should not be listened to in the realm of theology. But there are a few problems with this argument.

The first problem with this argument is that Calvinists follow Scripture, not John Calvin. Even without Calvin, the doctrines that we hold to still apply because they are found in Scripture. They were not invented by John Calvin, they were not invented by Augustine of Hippo either. They are found in every book of Scripture.

The second problem with trying to say that the Servetus affair should dismiss Calvin is that it means there are other authors this principle would apply to as well. Should we dismiss all of Paul’s writings for his persecution of the church? Should we dismiss the Psalms of David because of his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah? I do not think you will find one person who uses the Servetus affair as an argument that would agree to dismissing those authors as well. This is an inconsistency in their philosophy.

The third and final problem that will be discussed about the Servetus affair is that the argument has no basis in historical accuracy. Unfortunately, for those who use this argument, facts matter. So what are the facts? Did John Calvin murder Michael Servetus? Did he order his execution? Did he light the flames? The answer to all of these questions is no, he did not. So what did happen?

Michael Servetus was a man who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. He was wanted on charges of heresy by both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants alike. Unlike today, heresy in the 16th Century carried the penalty of death. He had been warned by John Calvin not to come to Geneva but Servetus ignored the warning and came anyway under a disguise. However, he was found out and tried as a heretic.

John Calvin did supply the evidence against Servetus in the trial. However, he was not the one that tried Servetus, nor did he sentence Servetus to death. In fact, after Servetus was sentenced to death, Calvin lobbied to have his execution be that of beheading rather than burning at the stake so that it would be quicker with less suffering.

Now, did Calvin believe Servetus should be executed? Yes. But we need to remember the time period in which Calvin lived. It was not John Calvin who held this view and to somehow make him the villain in all of this in order to discredit other beliefs that he held is absurd.

When someone uses the Servetus Affair in arguments against Calvinism, it means they have run out of arguments and are not able to focus on the actual theology and the doctrines that Calvinists hold to in the light of Scripture.

Are Theological Debates Useful To The Church?

I was recently in a conversation where it was argued that theological debates, particularly Calvinism vs. Arminianism, are not useful to the church and belong only in the realm of academia. As I pondered this statement I wondered if there is any truth to it? Do some theological conversations only belong in a classroom or academic journal? Are there areas of theology that should not be discussed or debated within the church? My answer to this question is no. No, we should not reserve certain theological topics for academia. But why?

I am sure that the sentiment of leaving things to academia is the idea that they hurt evangelism or the mission of the church. But what exactly is the mission of the church, within the church? For the purpose of this article I am talking about the church worship, service, meetings. I am no referring to the body and what our mandate from Christ is in going into all the world.

The mission of the church is to disciple the body of the church. To train, to educate, to worship God, to glorify God, to learn more about God. That is the purpose of the meeting of the church. To encourage, to lift up, to strengthen. The purpose of the meeting of the church is not evangelism. The church service is not for the unsaved. Now, do not get me wrong on this, I am not saying the unsaved should not be welcome in a church service. They should. And I pray that they are converted as well. But what I am saying is that our services should not be designed with the unsaved in mind. The purpose of the services of the church are for the believers.

So back to the question of theological debates. I not only believe that they are proper for the church, they are necessary. We should all be wrestling with Scripture. We should all be striving to know God better in all aspects. We cannot effectively do that if there are areas of theology that we shy away from because they are uncomfortable or can lead to heated opinions. So have the discussions, have the debates, but make sure that we are doing things in love, something I do not always follow.

To Live Is Christ

I have been studying the book of Philippians for a few weeks now and something in Chapter One stood out to me like it has not before in the past. Paul is writing that famous verse, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) I’ve heard that verse all my life, I have always known what it meant, but did I truly know what it means? Well now I do.

The following verses are so beautiful as Paul shows his great love for the church and the people of God. He says that he is hard pressed between the choices of going to heaven and seeing the savior, or to continue the work of the Lord here on earth. What a statement!

So often we get caught up in our yearning to see the savior that I think we honestly forget why he has us here in the first place. There is work to be done. We should be glad that we are here to continually serve others for Christ.

Why The Global Methodist Church Is Doomed Before It Starts

It was recently announced that the “traditional” answer to the United Methodist Church, the Global Methodist Church, will be officially starting in May of this year. They claim that they are fundamentally different and are fixing the errors of the UMC. But is that really true? I do not believe so.

The core problems of the United Methodist Church are not one of structure, though that is certainly a problem, nor are they the human sexuality issues of the culture today. The core problem of the United Methodist Church is that they do not stand on Scripture alone. It appears that this will also be the case in the Global Methodist Church which means that it is doomed to fail before it begins.

For example, the Global Methodist Church will still have women clergy despite this being prohibited by Scripture (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7). This again is going on the tradition of Methodism, and not Scripture. So, if the Global Methodist Church is willing to compromise Scripture in favor of tradition, then how are they any different than the UMC? How will they not be in the same boat the UMC is today in five, ten, or fifteen years? I believe the answer is they will be in that exact same position.

Another problem I see is with Salvation. They literally list on their website the “Wesleyan Way of Salvation.” Friends, there is only one way of Salvation, and it should have no man’s name attached to it.

They also put extra emphasis on John Wesley, just as Methodism has done for decades. The fact that a denomination is so centered on one man, who is not named Jesus Christ, is troubling. Now, I am not saying that they do not follow Jesus. But he is not the sole focus. You can say that he is all that you want, but in actual practice, that is not true. Until the Global Methodist Church abandons everything but Scripture, they will continue to fall into error.

I may be missing something, and I’m sure people will be ready to tell me what I am missing (and that is ok!), but it seems to me that the GMC is just a rebranding of the UMC with the exception of the LGBT push and some changes to property.

Islam and the Gospel

I have started teaching a series on world religions to a group of teens at church and last night we focused on Islam. As I was preparing for the study I could not help but think of the horrors of 9/11 and what we have seen in the last decade with ISIS and other terror groups. And, of course, there is always the threat of what is Iran going to do with their push for nuclear weapons?

It prompted me to think about what we should do? How can we best reach Muslims for the kingdom?

I think that far too often we try to come up with creative ways to evangelize. We think of strategies, we think of programs, we think of what might be useful. What can we do to reach these people? Where should we reach them? What should we say, or better yet, what should we not say?

When we ask all of these questions, I believe it hinders our mission. It holds us back. The Bible does not instruct us to come up with all of these programs and ideas. What does the bible actually say? It says to GO. It says to teach what we have been taught. (Matthew 28:18-19)

In Scripture, we do not see them coming up with strategies, programs, materials, etc. No, we see them going out and preaching the untainted Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what we should do. That is our calling. The Gospel is enough. I firmly believe that. We don’t need to dress it up, it will cut like a two-edged sword just as it is (Hebrews 4:12).

So let’s go. Get out of the planning rooms. Get out of the meetings. Just go and preach the Gospel!