“I Love Jesus but Hate the Church” – What would John Calvin Say?

It is always disastrous to leave the church.” The words are from John Calvin. The strong ecclesiology of John Calvin is hard to find in much of contemporary evangelical ecclesiology. It is more fashionable to hear that one hates the church but loves Jesus. “Who needs church?” is the question of the day. Here’s what Calvin said,

“Fanatical men, refusing to hold fast to it, entangle themselves in many deadly snares. Many are either led either by pride, dislike, or rivalry to the conviction that they can profit enough from private reading and meditation; hence they despise public assemblies and deem preaching superfluous.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.1.5)

Clearly, Calvin knew churches had problems. But he warns against leaving simply because there are problems.

“The pure ministry of the Word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society I which both these marks exist. The principle extends to the point that we must not reject it so long as it retains them, even if it otherwise swarms with many faults. . . . But I say we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions.” (4.1.12) He plainly says those who seek a church “besmirched with no blemish” are looking in vain (4.1.13) but we must remember that it “is no less true that the Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots” and from this “it follows that the church’s holiness is not yet complete.” (4.1.17)

It is true many evangelicals do not trace their heritage to Calvin directly but they are related to the Reformation in general as Protestants. I sometimes wonder what some Protestants believe are the necessary elements to a worship service. Indeed, are there any at all? For Calvin it was the preaching of the word and the proper distribution of the sacraments. Catholics have established guidelines in order for a Mass to be valid or invalid. (This is an interesting feature about Catholic liturgy. It is common to hear a Protestant say they were not being “fed” by a service/pastor/sermon but I’ve never heard one say their service wasn’t valid. The difference lies in the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church. Can Protestants learn something from this? Could it be said of a Protestant service that it is “proper” or “improper”?) I’ve been to numerous Protestant services where the sermon was omitted to allow for more singing or for prayer or for a special event. I’ve never been to a Protestant service where singing was omitted so maybe that’s the essential feature for some—there must be sung praise. The omission of the sermon is an intriguing phenomenon given the importance Protestants place on the Bible in general and preaching in particular. I’ve not seen the sermon omitted from a church that observes a liturgy. (Those churches include Presbyterian, Christian Reformed Church, Lutheran and Catholic.) Granted, it may happen but I’ve not seen it. Most of my experience has been with Baptist, Independent, Nondenominational, CRC, Evangelical Free, Charismatic, and Catholic churches.

This post is not intended to be a critique of any denomination. It is rather to stimulate thought on what constitutes the essential features of an evangelical church service. Are there any? Is it right to expect any?

But more important is the drift we’ve seen from the thought of someone like Calvin to what we see today. I think Calvin would be horrified at the sentiment expressed by “I love Jesus but hate the church.” What do you think?



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Misc. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “I Love Jesus but Hate the Church” – What would John Calvin Say?

  1. Pingback: More on Calvin: Marks of the Church and Fighting Nicely

  2. Your post here reminds me of Carson and Woodbridge’s excellent Letters Along the Way in which they spell out the twofold priorities of the servant-leader above all else in the church. They are: 1) the ministry of the Word and 2) prayer. The relevance here is that if the biblical data indicates these are the top priorities for a servant-leader in the church, then it follows that these are the quintessential activities for the church to be doing.

    Carson and Woodbridge insist that the servant-leader must count everything else in the Church as secondary or tertiary to the ministry of the Word and prayer. They say (my paraphrase) “Sadly, in some churches administration, counseling, youth programs, etc. could all be running smoothly and the Spirit could walk out and no one would even notice. These ministries are all excellent activities in God’s kingdom, but any servant-leader who has allowed the administration of these activities to eclipse the pre-eminence of God’s Word and prayer has forsaken his calling!”

    Thus, unless these two activities are not only present but prominent in a typical worship service (notwithstanding anomalies “along the way” [unintentional pun]), then we don’t have the defining biblical features of a church.


  3. Pingback: Baker Book House Church Connection | Would Luther Consider Protestant Evangelicals Christian?

  4. Tshepang says:

    I think, if somebody hates the church but loves Jesus is a contradiction. Jesus is the head of the church, the church is the body of Christ according to Paul. I think is a selfishness, pride that is not good for the church.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s