Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door on 31 October 1517. That’s why we commemorate the Reformation in the month of October.
It was John Calvin, however, who set forth the system of theology that influenced most of the Protestant church today. His masterful expositions of Scripture laid down the doctrinal distinctives of the Protestant Reformation, making him arguably the leading architect of the Protestant cause.
Calvin’s key strategy for denouncing the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church was the use of Scripture. He concluded that “whenever any controversy arises, the proper course is not to settle or decide it by the will of man, but to set it at rest by the authority of God only.” That authority is Scripture.
He taught that “Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit” and everything it teaches is necessary, useful and expedient to know. It is only in the Scriptures that our confused knowledge of God is replaced by truth and clarity. With this clarity before us, God has “rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion”. Errors that originate from human opinion can only be uprooted by the true knowledge of God through the Scriptures. Calvin saw the authority of Scripture coming directly from God himself and not from the church. He rejected the idea that the Canon of Scripture was determined by the church, but that it is self-authenticating. He held Scripture to be superior to all human wisdom and does not require any “external props” for clarification.
Calvin’s view of the Scriptures continued to influence the Protestant church. This influence is clearly seen in the Westminster Confession of Faith, where it shares the same stance on the authority of Scripture. It is a document made by an assembly of Puritan theologians in Westminster from 1643 to 1649. Many orthodox Presbyterians and Congregationalists still use it as their confessional document today. This is the reason why we use the Westminster Confession of Faith as the doctrine of our church.
Calvin’s views on Scripture are vitally relevant today. The ignorance of the mutual bond between the Word and the Spirit has caused many to seek after spiritual experiences outside of Scripture. Also, when a controversy arises, many fail to decide on it using Scripture. Due to their ignorance of the Word, they seek after the opinion of those who have the loudest voice or seek to reason within themselves on the matter.
The sound preaching of the Word of God needs to be emphasized in churches today, so that congregations are able to grow to maturity by having the authority of Scripture as their guiding light.
Dn. Mervin Lin
(edited by Pastor Robert Chew)