Semper Reformanda: John Calvin, Worship, and Reformed Traditions

A recent volume, sent for review by the good folk at V&R, offers readers a glimpse into the afterlife of Calvin’s ecclesial reforms.

The chapters in this volume contribute to recent scholarship exploring the reform of worship as a central feature of Protestant communities at their inception and through the ages. Case studies ranging from sixteenth-century Geneva and its environs to the early modern Netherlands and South Asia to nineteenth-century America provide a corrective to traditional depictions of Reformed worship as a static, sober, interior, and largely individual experience focused on the sermon. The key moments in the broad stream of Reformed worship traditions analysed by an international team of experts yield collectively an image of the adaptive and negotiated character of worship attitudes and practices over time and in varied cultural settings. The contributions examine the phenomenon of worship in broadly construed ways and from angles ranging from ritual studies, liturgical innovation, material culture, and social impact. A second ‘red thread’ running through the volume concerns the material, sensory, emotional, and experiential dimensions of Reformed religious culture. Worship emerges as both a site of conflict and renewal in Reformed traditions, inspiring not only confrontations and debates but also fruitful engagements that stimulated and continue to invite reflection on this critical category of Reformed faith traditions, self-understandings, and cultural impact.

The link above takes potential readers to a pdf of the front matter, table of contents, and sample chapter of the volume, so those materials won’t be repeated here.

John Calvin was the most influential theologian ever to inhabit the city of Geneva.  And his influence out lived him by over five centuries and counting.  Why is that?  Is that so at all?

The essays in this collection offer answers to that question.  So, for example, Maag justifies her contribution to the volume by writing

This contribution will build on this recent scholarship challenging the received notion of Geneva as a Protestant citadel where everyone lived and worshipped as Reformed Christians, providing evidence from a range of primary sources that shows that Genevans, their extended families, and visitors had a much more flexible attitude towards acceptable expressions of worship and devotion.

So, by working through a series of case studies, Maag is able to show that

These cases and others highlight the persistent power of Catholic worship practices and rituals in the minds and hearts of Genevans, especially given the close ties between these practices and their sense of family loyalty and tradition.

The notion, then, that Calvin was able to mold Geneva into his image is just simply wrong.  Similarly, the other essays in the work show readers that preconceptions about Calvin’s influence need to be re-thought.

When it comes to the quality of the essays, they are uniformly helpful.  But the best of the lot is Andrew Spicer’s The Material Culture of the Lord’s Supper: Adiaphora, Beakers, and Communion Plate in the Dutch Republic.  It is so well written and so wonderfully illustrated that readers will wish the title had been as lively as the content.

While there was no restriction on attendance at sermons and the ministers were expected to baptize any infant that was brought to them, the Reformed Church closely controlled access to the Lord’s Supper. Only those who were regarded as worthy by the ministers and ecclesiastical authorities were allowed to participate. This meant submitting to the oversight and consistorial discipline of the Church, to preserve the sanctity of the rite. Relatively few members of the community were prepared to submit themselves to this level of intrusive scrutiny and examination; it was estimated in 1587 that only one in ten people in Holland were full members of the Reformed Church.

The things one learns here.  Amazing.  This volume is worthy of the attention of all who are interested in the outworking of Calvin’s reform.

The volume includes very helpful bibliographies along with each essay so that readers are armed for further research.  I recommend it.

UPDATE:  It’s also now (September, 2018) been reviewed by Reading Religion.

Order Your Exorcism Online

Good news for all those needing their terrible children freed of their demons:

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Certainly not the Vatican—the Holy See’s switchboard is jammed with people wanting exorcisms. But fear not: you can now order an exorcism online from independent service providers. There has been a three-fold increase in the number of people resorting to exorcism because of demon problems, reported Italy’s Vatican News. The church is trying to train up more of its priests in the dark arts.

And oh my-

In Italy alone there are 500,000 requests for exorcisms every single year, claims one Vatican-sanctioned trainer of exorcist-priests called Friar Benigno Palilla, whose job it is to tool up the clergy in their fight against demonic possession.

Italians must be horrible people if that many need demons driven out.  But I’m not calling the Vatican when I want the demons driven from Joel Watts.  I’m calling Helen.

Fun Facts From Church History: Luther’s Lectures on Psalm Two and a Post-Mortem Slam on Zwingli

7headedlutherIn 1532 Luther lectured on Psalm two on the following dates: March 5, April 9, April 16, May 27, May 28, June 8, July 5. He took his time with the text (obviously) and in the course of those lectures snidely remarked

That the kings and rulers rage against us at the present time, that Zwingli, Carlstadt, and others cause disturbances in the church, that burghers and peasants condemn the Gospel, is therefore nothing new or unusual.


Münzer stirs up an uproar in Thuringia. Carlstadt and Zwingli stir up horrible disturbances in the church when they try to persuade others that in Communion the body and blood of Christ are not received orally, but only bread and wine. Others join them, and gradually this pernicious doctrine fills France, Italy, and other nations.


“These things have happened through no fault of mine, therefore let the authors of these evils torture themselves. Not I. I shall do and I shall indeed try everything I can to alleviate these evils somewhat, but if I am unable to do so, I shall not on that account consume myself in sorrow. If one Münzer, Carlstadt, or Zwingli is not enough for Satan, he may stir up many more. I know that the nature of this kingdom is such that Satan cannot bear it. He labors with hands and feet with all his might that he may disturb the churches and oppose the Word.”

And several other times as well. That Luther lumps Zwingli with the Radicals is no surprise. What is surprising is his willingness to speak so ill of the dead. Indeed, of the dead not long dead!

Luther: he was a real jerk. (He’s been dead long enough one can say so without any twinge of guilt).

Live Stream from the Qumran Institute

Via the undersigned-

Dear All,

Please join us this Thursday, 8 March, from 16.15-18.00 (CET), at the University of Groningen Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (Oude Boteringestraat 38), room 253, for the Dirk Smilde Research Seminar.

Professor George Brooke will present on “Comparing Contexts,” his third in a series of lectures on “Comparative Studies with Special Reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

If you are unable to join us in person, you can join us virtually by watching the live stream of Professor Brooke’s lecture at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies Facebook page:

We look forward to seeing you all then!

Best wishes,
Dr. Jason M. Zurawski
Postdoctoral Fellow, Qumran Institute

March 5, 1545

That was the day Martin Luther’s Latin works were published in a collection, with a foreword by  Luther himself.  Writes he

For a long time I strenuously resisted those who wanted my books, or more correctly my confused lucubrations, published. I did not want the labors of the ancients to be buried by my new works and the reader kept from reading them. Then, too, by God’s grace a great many systematic books now exist, among which the Loci communes of Philip excel, with which a theologian and a bishop can be beautifully and abundantly prepared to be mighty in preaching the doctrine of piety, especially since the Holy Bible itself can now be had in nearly every language. But my books, as it happened, yes, as the lack of order in which the events transpired made it necessary, are accordingly crude and disordered chaos, which is now not easy to arrange even for me.

Persuaded by these reasons, I wished that all my books were buried in perpetual oblivion, so that there might be room for better ones. But the boldness and bothersome perseverance of others daily filled my ears with complaints that it would come to pass, that if I did not permit their publication in my lifetime, men wholly ignorant of the causes and the time of the events would nevertheless most certainly publish them, and so out of one confusion many would arise. Their boldness, I say, prevailed and so I permitted them to be published. At the same time the wish and command of our most illustrious Prince, Elector, etc., John Frederick was added. He commanded, yes, compelled the printers not only to print, but to speed up the publication.

He continues on towards the end of a lengthy description of how he came to understand the papacy as a tool of Satan,

I relate these things, good reader, so that, if you are a reader of my puny works, you may keep in mind, that, as I said above, I was all alone and one of those who, as Augustine says of himself, have become proficient by writing and teaching.

I was not one of those who from nothing suddenly become the topmost, though they are nothing, neither have labored, nor been tempted, nor become experienced, but have with one look at the Scriptures exhausted their entire spirit.

It almost sounds like he’s talking about certain journalists these days, doesn’t it?  In any event, he concludes

Farewell in the Lord, reader, and pray for the growth of the Word against Satan. Strong and evil, now also very furious and savage, he knows his time is short and the kingdom of his pope is in danger. But may God confirm in us what he has accomplished and perfect his work which he began in us, to his glory, Amen. March 5, in the year 1545.

Oh Martin…


Karl Barth: On The Legitimacy, and Illegitimacy, of ‘Killing in Self Defense’

564426_w185If you’ve never read Barth’s discussion of ‘killing in self defense’, you ought to.  Especially now, when killing seems to be something of a sport for some and self defense is urged to such an extent that Christian people are told, with straight faces, that it is proper for them to meet violence, or even potential violence, with murder.

Barth’s treatment of the subject of self defense is the best in all of theological literature, and can be found in his Church Dogmatics, III,4 (p.427ff).

He writes, for example, quite provocatively

This cannot mean that somewhere and somehow… the imperative reaction of self-defence and therefore the primitive instinct to protect our possessions is right after all.  As forcefully as it can, the command of God tells us that this instinct is wrong and not right (p. 433).

Again, the entire section is absolutely brilliant.  Do read it before you say yes to retaliation and vengeance.

Quote of the Day

“When early Christian bishops were made of gold, their crosses were made of wood. But bishops became like wood when their crosses appeared as gold.  The more that there was simplicity in the administration of the Word of God and the sacraments, the more that pastors were small and humble in the eyes of the world, and the church had fewer troubles. And who can dare to despise poverty in a faithful servant of God in the presence of the prophets, apostles, confessors and martyrs, and Jesus Christ himself—who were all poor?”  —Simon Goulart

News for Members of SOTS

From the Secretary- 

The Society is pleased to announce that Sage Publications are now providing free online access for members of SOTS to the Book List each year. The links are now available in the password-protected Members’ Area of the SOTS website. The current links are to the 2016 and 2017 editions; the intention is that each new edition will be made available once it has been published, though members may wish to note that new editions will not necessarily be available online immediately upon publication but are expected to be linked as soon as possible thereafter.