Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For Calvin, Worship Was No. 1

An axiom of John Calvin's theology was the importance and centrality of worship for vital and genuine Christian faith and practice. In fact, Calvin put worship ahead of salvation in his list of the two most important facets of biblical religion. The Christian religion maintains its truth, he wrote, by "a knowledge,  first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and  secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained."

Calvin also observed that the first table of the law—the first four commandments—all directly related to worship, thus making worship "the first foundation of righteousness."

The prominence of worship led to Calvin's articulation of his regulative principle, one of the hallmarks of the Reformed tradition. The regulative principle teaches that public worship is governed by God's revelation in his Holy Word; whatever elements comprise corporate worship must be directly commanded by God in Scripture. The fact that a congregation always has worshipped in a particular way or that a certain practice stems from sincere piety are insufficient justifications for such worship. According to Calvin, God not only "regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates" whatever does not conform to his revealed will. "The words of God are clear and distinct," Calvin wrote, "'Obedience is better than sacrifice.' 'In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, . . . .' (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9)."

Not only did the desire to obey God inform Calvin's conception of the regulative principle, but equally important was his understanding of human depravity. The principal effect of Adam's first transgression was to turn all people into idolaters. All individuals, Calvin believed, possess a seed of religion or a sense of God in their souls. But after the fall this religious sense no longer led to the true God but forced men and women to create gods of their own making, ones that conformed to their own selfishness and vanity. The temptation of idolatry required Christians to be ever vigilant in regulating their worship by the direct commands of God in Scripture. This temptation made Calvin especially suspicious of practices in worship that were said to be pleasing or attractive to members of the congregation. He said, the more a practice "delights human nature, the more it is to be suspected by believers."

D. G. Hart, Reforming Worship


  1. Yes, in his treatise, he placed worship in front of salvation. I think it's because true worship of the true God is the evidence of salvation.


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