The “Vile Pollution” of the Worship of God

"What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears...?" 1 Samuel 15:14

Need I point out that the following does not only apply to the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church?

“Having observed that the Word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a licence of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his Word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colours; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom (Colossians 2:23); but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22), it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.” (emphasis added)

John Calvin, in his tract, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church” (cited from page 132 of Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet; Volume 1: Tracts, Part 1)


5 responses

  1. And some people charge John Calvin with being over the limit and far reaching.

    Hmmmm, I don’t see any cause with charging him with that by those words of his, do you? 🙂

    Seems like sound doctrine and a clear understanding of worship, to me!

    1. Me, too.

      By the way, Michael, do you use your Facebook page very often? I ran a search for FB pages out of my Yahoo! collection of email addresses and found yours. Sent you a request, in case you haven’t noticed yet.

      1. John,

        I saw the request and hit the ok button? What gives??

        Maybe I hit the down the tubes button accidentally? Who knows, I am like a bat flying in the noon day sun when it comes to all this stuff! 🙂

  2. Since you publish this information from an earlier time, am I to believe that you “infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption?” I would suspect Calvin was talking primarily about the operation of the Roman Church during his tenure as spokesman for the reformation. Surely his words are not “normative” for the entire Church age including the 21st century. While there are without a doubt problems in the Church of today, do you intend this statement to be your voice and inclusive of all worship experiences? And if so, what is your solution?

    1. Of course, Calvin was primarily addressing the state of the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church, and no his words are not normative of the entire 21st century church, but I submit they are applicable.

      When God revealed the way man is to worship him in the Old Testament, he very clearly and emphatically instructed his people “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deut. 12:32). We’re all familiar with the “strange fire” fiasco of Nadab and Abihu, who offered that which the Lord “had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1).

      Even the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament repeated the words of Isaiah who decried the hypocrisy of those who worship God in vain because they teach as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9; cf. Isa. 29:13). I dare say his repetition of this Old Testament principle is normative for his people, if he himself is the Lord who required strict adherance to what he prescribed as appropriate worship in the Old Testament. There would simply have to be some revelation in the New Testament expressly abrogating this biblical principle (which the Reformed call the Regulative Principle of Worship) before anyone should presume to innovate elements of worship. I’m unaware of any New Testament Scriptures which would seem to make this principle obsolete.

      Calvin’s words may not necessarily condemn the worship of every single church in the modern era, but it upholds the Scriptural standard against which every church ought measure the purity of its own worship.

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