Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Calvin on Church Government: Part Twelve
Note: Here continues our series from Calvin’s Institutes on church government and office.
What persons should be elected bishops is treated at length by Paul in two passages (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:1). The substance is, that none are to be chosen save those who are of sound doctrine and holy lives, and not notorious for any defect which might destroy their authority and bring disgrace on the ministry. The description of deacons and elders is entirely similar. We must always take care that they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them; in other words, that they are provided with the means which will be necessary to fulfil their office. Thus our Savior, when about to send his apostles, provided them with the arms and instruments which were indispensably requisite (Luke 21:15; 24:49; Mark 6:15; Acts 1:8; 1 Tim 5:22). And Paul, after portraying the character of a good and genuine bishop, admonishes Timothy not to contaminate himself by choosing an improper person for the office. The expression, in what way, I use not in reference to the rite of choosing, but only to the religious fear which is to be observed in election. Hence the fastings and prayers which Luke narrates that the faithful employed when they elected presbyters (Acts 14:23). For, understanding that the business was the most serious in which they could engage, they did not venture to act without the greatest reverence and solicitude. But above all, they were earnest in prayer, imploring from God the spirit of wisdom and discernment.
Analysis: Calvin goes to the classic descriptions in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to describe the role of the “bishop.” He is to hold sound doctrine and live a holy life. As with deacons care is to be taken that “they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them.”