Calvin’s View on Worship

There are controversial issues in the church today that were also contentious during the Reformation. One of these issues was how God is worshipped. Calvin identified that this was one of the two things that separated the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.

Calvin believed “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word”. The strictness of this principle was to prevent the congregation from following their own pleasure and prevent them from wandering from the right path. Calvin recognized that the Roman Catholic Church in its manner of worship, had robbed God of His glory and transferred it to His creatures. This caused worshippers to chase after shadows and thereby overlook true repentance that leads to salvation.

One of the reasons images were used in worship during Calvin’s time was to aid the uneducated to understand what was taught in the Scriptures. However, Calvin maintains that if the Church was faithful in teaching the Word of God, there would not be any uneducated people in the congregations. Another reason for this need of images in worship is due to the lack of trust in the absence of God’s physical presence.

Calvin acknowledged that God did not leave behind in detail how we ought to worship Him. Therefore, we must take refuge in general rules which God has given in his Word, to maintain the order and decorum of worship. With this principle in place, worship is characterized by simplicity, decency and dignity in its ceremonies that ought to lead us straight to Christ.

The worshipping of images is not an issue in the Protestant church today. However, Calvin’s insight helps us to understand why people seek after tangible manifestations of God’s presence. Music has become the tool to invoke such experiences in many churches today. While music itself is not the problem, it can be misused to take the focus away from Christ. Calvin’s principle for worship is one that requires us to be led straight to Christ, so that the truth is not obscured, and grace is not overlooked. The church will do well in using this principle as a guide to evaluate how praise and worship are practised today.

Dn. Mervin Lin