“On this day, with the setting sun, the brightest light in the world and he who had been the strength of the Church was taken back to heaven.” So wrote Theodore Beza of the passing of John Calvin four hundred years ago, on May 27, 1564.

Who was this man who, though one of the greatest men of his age, was buried, in accordance with his own express desire, without any outward ceremonial in a grave unmarked by tombstone or epitaph? Some have made him out to be a monster and a tyrant, a hater of his fellow men and a perverter of the truth—so much so that still today in certain religious circles his name is regarded with abhorrence. This judgment of Calvin cannot be reconciled with the facts of history, and it is a cause for satisfaction that our own age is increasingly coming to a more just appreciation of the true worth of this remarkable man.

Calvin was not the ruthless dictator of religion and morals of the republic of Geneva. The faith of the Reformation and a strict moral code had been formally adopted by civic rulers and people before Calvin arrived in their city; nor was it of his own will and design that he settled in their midst. In 1536, Calvin, then a young man of twenty-seven, spent a single night in Geneva en route to Strasbourg. He had no thought of lingering in Geneva, let alone spending the rest of his life there. Indeed, his clear ambition was to pass his days in scholarly retirement, untroubled by the problems that beset the man who is a public figure, writing the books he felt it was God’s will for him to write. But the fiery William Farel, to whom Calvin’s presence in Geneva had been reported, had other ideas. He sought out the young scholar in his inn and, when pleadings proved fruitless, uttered an imprecation that God would curse his scholarly retirement if he refused to stay and labor in Geneva, where his help was much needed. In this way Calvin’s purpose was turned, and he became bound to the city and people of Geneva.

But he never ceased to long for release from the demands and controversies of public life, though there was never anything perfunctory about his self-giving. “The welfare of this church,” he said of Geneva, “lay so near to my heart that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life.” In this spirit he served it, working incessantly for its well-being and progress, a natural leader because of his phenomenal powers of personality and intellect. Despite the handicap of physical frailty and almost unremitting ill health, he never spared himself but gave himself freely and fully to the service of God and his fellow men.

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Calvin’s life is one of the outstanding examples in church history of the strength of God being made perfect through weakness. Each day of every other week he preached in Saint Pierre, and three times a week he lectured in theology. Far from abandoning his literary projects, he labored constantly with his pen, preparing his commentaries on the books of Holy Scripture, composing handbooks on Christian doctrine and treatises on important theological issues that were before the Church, and revising his Institutes. His other activities included corresponding with a host of persons of both noble and humble birth, known and unknown to him, in many lands; visiting the sick and those in trouble; making himself available to the stream of callers from far and near who sought him out; giving himself in wholehearted fellowship to his friends; instructing the clergy; guiding the affairs of the consistory; and willingly, when requested (remember that he had had a brilliant career in the law school of Paris prior to his conversion), allowing the civic leaders to benefit from the wisdom of his counsel—though, because of his clear conception of the distinct spheres of jurisdiction of church and state, he always did this in his capacity as a private person. Incidentally, some may be surprised to learn that this supposed tyrant did not even enjoy the privilege of citizenship during the greater part of his life in Geneva; this was not conferred on him until 1559, some five years before his death. Not only was his manner of living always unpretentious and frugal, but his whole life was one of single-minded devotion to the cause of Christ. At a time when he was severely weakened by sickness his friends pleaded with him to relax his labors and spare himself, but he replied: “What, would you have the Lord find me idle?”

Calvin’s compassion is seen in his tender devotion to his wife and his grief at her death in 1549, after ten years of happy married life together during which they had had the sorrow of burying their infant son; in his spontaneous love for his friends; and in his touching solicitude for fellow Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith in various places. At the same time, the forcefulness of his character is seen in his inflexibility of purpose when he discerned that the truth of the Gospel was at stake. He would rather die than dishonor Christ by compromising his Gospel. He hated controversy, but it was only God, never man, whom he feared. The extreme logicality of his mind led him at times to decisions and formulations that we might consider unduly harsh or rigorous, though we must beware of tearing him out of the context of his age. But the record of his achievement, as also of his personality, is there for all to study, and there can be only one verdict: that intellectually, spiritually, morally, and magisterially John Calvin has his place among the preeminent geniuses of the whole Christian era. And his influence did not die with him; on the contrary, it is greater today than it has ever been and shows every sign of becoming greater still.

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There is something else to be said about this amazing man. Although his name is indelibly associated with the city of Geneva, his interest was by no means confined to the territory of Geneva. It is probably not generally realized to what an extent the Geneva of Calvin’s day was the hub of a wheel from which radiated the spokes of missionary activity. One of the outstanding characteristics of the Genevan church under Calvin was precisely its missionary-mindedness. This fact alone should silence the glib and oft-repeated assertion that Calvin’s theology spells death to evangelism and missionary activity. Geneva, it is true, became a refuge for many who were fleeing from the terrors of persecution, and this influx was a source of strength and enrichment to the church there. But that church was not content merely to receive and give shelter; it was intent on the advancement of the Gospel in territories far beyond its own limits. Accordingly, suitable men were constantly prepared for this vital ministry and sent out to preach and to teach the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

The men sent out were tried and trusted, and they were men of vision and courage; for this was no simple operation that they were undertaking, but one of the greatest hazardousness. The enemies of the Reformation were ruthless, and discovery might well mean (and in numerous cases did mean) torture and death. Not surprisingly, then, these messengers of the Gospel were sent out in secret, often covered by the cloak of an assumed name. On reaching their destination, after a journey by dangerous mountain tracks across the Alps, they ministered to those whom they could muster behind closed doors or in the shadows of the woods. The mission field to which these men were sent out comprised, in the main, France and Northern Italy; but in 1561 two pastors were sent as far afield as Brazil to serve among the members of a French expedition and to bring the Good News to the South American Indians. (That the venture proved abortive does not detract from its significance.) Thus year after year men were sent out from Geneva with their Bibles and their doctrine. The number of missions reached a peak of some 150 in 1561—a remarkable testimony to the outward-looking, unselfish effect of Calvin’s theology when it is properly understood.

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John Calvin has much to say to us today. There is first of all the theological legacy he left us, which, thanks to the enterprise of publishers and translators, is readily accessible to all who wish to study it. Foremost in this is his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the finest systematic presentation of biblical theology in the history of the Christian Church. As for his commentaries on Holy Scripture, these should certainly not be neglected, 400 years old though they are; for they and the Institutes were intended to supplement each other, and with their sane explanation of the natural sense of the sacred text they form a landmark in the history of exposition. His other writings, too, will be found to be full of treasures. Through his writings, then, Calvin speaks to us and instructs us.

But again, the whole of Calvin’s life speaks powerfully to us today. How can we fail to be challenged by such a man? Indeed, a consideration of his life is likely not only to challenge us but also to cause us to blush with shame, for his ardor, his dedication, his singleness of purpose, which we regard as so phenomenal, should surely be characteristic of every follower of the Master. Calvin shows us what God can do with a single, frail servant who is willing to put aside personal preferences; to abandon the funk hole of religious respectability; to go, if need be, against the ecclesiastical tide; to denounce error; to proclaim the truth without apology and without ambiguity; to labor ceaselessly for Christ’s cause, regardless of personal cost; and to have but one ambition: the glory of God.

And Calvin challenges the Church of our day to repent of its introversion and to cease “playing it safe”; to return to its missionary task, which after all is its main task both at home and abroad; to be not merely a haven but also, in the power of the Holy Spirit, a dynamic centrifugal force penetrating with the message of life to the uttermost parts of the earth.

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Finally, John Calvin says to us all as we lounge in the luxury of complacency and unconcern: “What, would you have the Lord find you idle?”

Premature Obituary

“Historically speaking, the age of the missionary is drawing to a close.” With this sentence C. L. Sulzberger began a recent New York Times column in which he assumed the imminent demise of the foreign missions movement. On the basis of missionary difficulties in Burma, India, and Africa, and quoting Prime Minister Milton Obote of Uganda (“White missionaries have done good work, but their era is finished”), Mr. Sulzberger concluded that the complex problems of emerging nations and the historic link between missions and colonialism have made the foreign missionary enterprise obsolete.

But this judgment is premature. That missionaries are now working under changing conditions is undeniable. The passing of colonialism has indeed affected those missions that at one time rode on its crest. Like every enterprise in which men are engaged, Christian missions have made mistakes. When school systems and hospitals have been built by government subsidies, problems have multiplied. Sometimes the headship of the missionary leader has tended to obscure the headship of Christ. There are problems of recruitment, although there are still missionaries eager to go to nations to which doors are now closed.

Yet the Great Commission still stands. Despite mounting opposition, there will always be Christians obedient to their Lord’s command to go and make disciples of all nations. While the Iron and Bamboo Curtains seem well-nigh impenetrable and while there may be hostility to missions among new nations, the gospel outreach is being pioneered in the jungles of Amazonia, in the hinterlands of New Guinea and Borneo, and in other areas where men have never heard the name of Christ. Missions are changing; die indigenous church is far more important than it was a generation ago. But the message and the commission continue unchanged and unchanging.

No, the missionary’s era is not over. It will continue until the consummation of the Kingdom at the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. In the foreign missionary enterprise the Church moves forward; therefore no opposition, not even Communism or nationalism, shall prevail against it.

The Forgotten American

The United States’ unjust treatment of the American Indian is unfortunately not yet a matter of bygone history. The latest chapter is being considered in Congress, where a Senate-House conference committee is considering the Seneca Indian reparations bill. On October 1, the 700 members of the Seneca tribe in western New York must leave their homes as a result of government action that has taken a large part of their lands for the Kinzua water-storage project. The 1794 treaty, which was backed by George Washington, recognized these lands as belonging to the Senecas forever. But neither Congress nor the Supreme Court saw fit to uphold the treaty. The takeover was justified on grounds that the displaced persons would be granted generous reparations. The House accordingly approved a fund of $20.2 million for a reasonable program of rehabilitation that would include relocation, housing, educational and industrial projects.

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But in the Senate, this fund was spectacularly slashed to $9.1 million. Seemingly topping the injury with insult, the upper house also approved an amendment “terminating” the relationship of the Seneca Nation to the United States.

We believe that the conference committee should accept the House version of the bill. Economy in government is exemplary, but not when it is at the expense of justice. The Indian vote is not a large one, and this has bred a certain callousness in handling the affairs of the “forgotten American.”

Senators should ponder well the $20 million our government awarded the Pennsylvania Railroad for twenty-eight miles of right-of-way acquired for this same water-storage project. And while considering economies, they may ponder as well the purpose of the House bill: to render the Senecas self-supporting, despite loss of their treaty-guaranteed lands. But over and above such considerations is the fact that congressional consideration of the fate of 700 people has become a crucible for American integrity.

Public Schools And De Facto Segregation

The Supreme Court did the sensible thing when it refused to review a decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that children need not be transferred to schools across town to overcome the tie facto segregation in many cities that occurs because children attend their neighborhood school. The right of a child to go to a public school in his own neighborhood ought to be honored. To sacrifice this right in order to achieve an artificial pattern of school integration of checkerboard consistency is as much a violation of civil rights as it is illogical.

No child should be banned from any public school for reasons of color. This cuts both ways as does any just law. No Negro child living in a predominantly white neighborhood should be excluded from the neighborhood’s predominantly white school. For the same reason, neither should a white child be transported across town to attend school in a Negro neighborhood in order to overcome de facto neighborhood segregation.

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Civil rights means equality before the law; it does not mean the mixture of races beyond the demands of the law. In the long run, only the removal of housing barriers will eliminate de facto segregation.

Francisco Lacueva: Nothing Sinister

Despite some misguided smoke-screening, a clearer view is now possible in the case of the vanishing ex-priest, Francisco Lacueva (see “Missing in Action,” CHRISTIANITY TODAY, News, March 27). Dark hints at skullduggery, made by an official of the evangelical society that employed Lacueva and publicly reiterated by the missing man’s twenty-three-year-old wife, have proved to be unfounded with the emergence of a more mundane explanation. “I was overworked and homesick,” he is reported to have said when finally traced to a Spanish Jesuit retreat in Tortosa. The latter destination can be connected with a visit he paid to a London Jesuit priest on the morning of his disappearance, but without the sinister interpretation put upon it. The English evangelical society concerned now announces that Mrs. Lacueva has joined her husband in Spain, and that he proposes to work there in collaboration with a Protestant pastor.

A peculiar responsibility attaches to those who undertake the rehabilitation of former Roman Catholic priests. A man transported suddenly from one world to another is particularly vulnerable. He is often assumed to be suitable for work for which he has in fact no natural aptitude, a fallacy perhaps encouraged by his own quite understandable eagerness to tell of the great change God has wrought in him. Even against the demands of Protestant propaganda a wise restraint may be prudent at first. This would guard against his becoming involved in meeting after meeting, particularly when (as in this present case) a necessarily incomplete grasp of Reformed doctrine is further complicated by a tenuous command of the English language.

Francisco Lacueva, newly converted after fourteen years as a theological professor in Spain, had barely arrived in England in 1962 when he was taken to an evangelical convention to witness before several thousand people. His name and his story became known. Thereafter the glare of constant publicity and the merciless pressure on his time and energies could not have contributed to an atmosphere in which a man could compose his soul. The cumulative effect was physical weariness and a confusion of mind that compelled him to get away from it all. Where else should he go but to his homeland? If English Jesuits encouraged him in this, would not we have done the same in their position?

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Those of us who knew this man loved him and mourn the circumstances that have permanently inhibited his ministry in Britain—circumstances that may now, however, in the mercy of God, prove a blessing to the evangelical cause in Spain. At the same time one is left pondering whether it is not a dubious kindness and a dubious Christianity that hustle new converts from one public platform to the next before they have time to attain even a human adjustment.

The Church And The Mission Hospital

Is a ministry of mercy a legitimate part of the missionary work of the Church? Most would immediately ask, “Is this debatable?” Yet last month the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church debated the question whether or not to build a hospital in Eritrea (now Ethiopia).

In a minority report of the Committee on Foreign Missions, Dr. Meredith G. Kline wrote, “The precise question that requires study is whether there is biblical warrant for the church as church institution to administer the affairs of a medical establishment.…” He answered the question with an emphatic No. Christ’s healing miracles, which served as “attendant witnesses to divine revelation,” could not be adduced as an argument for medical missions or medical missionaries, Dr. Kline maintained. “On the contrary, those healings were such as to obviate the need for medical establishments,” he wrote. “The church finds itself in conflict with the most important principles of biblical ecclesiology as soon as it adopts the traditional approach to medical missions.…”

The Rev. Herbert Bird, an Orthodox Presbyterian missionary to Ethiopia, took issue with Dr. Kline in a biting rebuttal in which he said: “It is not written that when the leper sought cleansing, Jesus said to him, ‘I will now perform a special sign in this special period of redemptive history, serving as an attendant witness to divine revelation.…’ It is written, ‘And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand and touched him and said unto him, Be thou clean’.… If we should agree that official appointments to a ministry of mercy as part of missionary work are unwarranted, we really have no choice but to instruct the evangelist at Ghinda [Ethiopia] to cease and desist from such [medical] work.… Or if this should seem unrealistic, we may decide that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church should withdraw completely from the area, and send its missionaries to some less contaminated region, to some place where the pure preaching of the Word will not be complicated by the demands of human wretchedness.…”

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As is reported elsewhere in this issue (page 36), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, far from deciding to withdraw, agreed on a statement that medical missions are properly a work of the Church. It is going ahead with plans to build its hospital.

We cannot endorse this decision strongly enough. Evangelicals, who have deplored movements within the Protestant church that would have converted it into “a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works,” as H. L. Mencken once wrote, have often tended in the direction of neglecting good works for fear of exposing themselves to the social gospel. The result is that those who have looked to the Church to do something, or at least say something, about social evils (need we remind ourselves that they are also moral evils?) have sometimes looked in vain in the direction of evangelicals. Yet that this need not be so is shown by the trend toward greater social concern among many evangelicals today.

It is incredible that in 1964 the matter of setting up a hospital under the auspices of a mission should be the subject of debate; but it is heartening that, in this case at least, the issue was faced and realistically settled.

Only A Beginning

The adoption of a self-imposed advertising code by the companies that manufacture 99 per cent of American cigarettes is at least a step in the right direction. The promise of the code to abandon the virility appeal may help deliver youth from the notion that they must smoke cigarettes to be adult. A similar promise not to associate cigarettes with health claims may make the manufacturers look more honest. No doubt it filtered through the industry’s prudence that the belated move to police itself might also forestall more severe regulations by the Federal Trade Commission and governmental health agencies. Yet the moral problem of the continued making and marketing of a product harmful to the consumer remains. The code in no way relieves government of its duty to keep on informing the public of the dangers of cigarettes to life and health. And it does not lessen the Christian obligation to judge and to react to the cigarette habit in the light of the stewardship of the body.

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