What Did Calvin Say? (re-post)

From 15 Mar 2007. Reposted here by request.

Recently a prominent evangelical Bible teacher claimed publicly that, were Calvin alive, he would be a dispensational, pre-tribulational, premillenialist (DPP). Previously I suggested that, to the degree that DPP is chiliast (belief in a literal thousand reign “of the pious” on the earth) it is incompatible with what we know Calvin said.

Another feature of DPP is the widely held view is that during the millennium the sacrificial system be re-instituted. Dispensational writers are aware of the Reformed criticism that the book of Hebrews (9:26; 10:10) says explicitly that Jesus offered himself as the “once for all” sacrifice. They reply that there doctrine does not contradict Hebrews because the re-instituted sacrifices are said to be memorial in nature, though there has been debate among DPPs over whether the sacrifices are merely memorial.

What at least some DPPs seem not to know is that the Roman communion also holds to the re-institution of memorial sacrifices (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 1357). They also think of their ministry as a sort of re-institution of the Mosaic sacrificial system of worship.

Certainly, there can be no question what Calvin thought about the idea of the re-institution of Mosaic priesthood by the Roman church. He wrote against this notion at such length, in so many places, it’s hard to know where to start, but perhaps his reply to Sadoleto would be a good idea.

Of course DPPs think of themselves and their theology as being utterly distinct from Rome’s but are they? One may be sociologically distinct from the Roman communion but hold views that are substantially Roman. I’m sure this claim, in this context, will strike my DPP friends as ironic since they think of us Reformed folk as little more than benighted Protestants entangled with all sorts of Roman holdovers (e.g., infant baptism).

Yes, all Protestants have some practices in common with Rome. The 16th century Anabaptists made this same criticism of the Reformed. Guy de Bres (the primary author of the Belgic Confession) responded to this criticism by asking, “Romanists pray. Are we supposed to stop praying?” The question is not whether there are common practices but whether we explain our practices in the same way.

It seems to me, therefore, that there is a difference between common practices and a common theology, especially on a topic which was at the center of the Protestant Reformation. It was partly the Roman doctrine of the Eucharist as memorial sacrifice which caused the Reformed churches to condemn it as a “damnable idolatry” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 80).

I wonder if, having isolated themselves from historic Protestant theology, having isolated themselves from the Reformed confessions, having isolated themselves from the life of Reformed congregations where Reformed doctrine is a living, breathing entity transmitted weekly in catechism classes and sermons, having isolated themselves from the broader history of the church, they just don’t know the ways in which their theology actually rehearses errors that the confessional Protestants rejected almost 500 years ago?

I realize that the Bible church folk think of themselves as being pre-eminently biblical but perhaps their isolation from the confessional Protestant churches has led them into paths that are actually not biblical?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!