Calvin’s High Bar for Communion


Here’s a brief sampler on Calvin’s view of catechesis and Communion. First, a reference from the Institutes (HT: Nick Smith):

13. I wish we could retain the custom, which, as I have observed, existed in the early Church, before this abortive mask of a sacrament appeared. It would not be such a confirmation as they pretend, one which cannot even be named without injury to baptism, but catechising by which those in boyhood, or immediately beyond it, would give an account of their faith in the face of the Church. And the best method of catechising would be, if a form were drawn up for this purpose, containing, and briefly explaining, the substance of almost all the heads of our religion, in which the whole body of the faithful ought to concur without controversy. A boy of ten years of age would present himself to the Church, to make a profession of faith, would be questioned on each head, and give answers to each. If he was ignorant of any point, or did not well understand it, he would be taught. Thus, while the whole Church looked on and witnessed, he would profess the one true sincere faith with which the body of the faithful, with one accord, worship one God. Were this discipline in force in the present day, it would undoubtedly whet the sluggishness of certain parents, who carelessly neglect the instruction of their children, as if it did not at all belong to them, but who could not then omit it without public disgrace; there would be greater agreement in faith among the Christian people, and not so much ignorance and rudeness; some persons would not be so readily carried away by new and strange dogmas; in fine, it would furnish all with a methodical arrangement of Christian doctrine.

Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Book 4, Chapter 19, Section 13. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

In the following reference one can see Calvin’s concern that catechumens need to “pass” the catechism:

“When a child has been well enough instructed to pass the Catechism, he is to recite solemnly the sum of what it contains, and also to make profession of his Christianity in the presence of the Church. Before this is done, no child is to be admitted to receive the Supper; and parents are to be informed not to bring them before this time. For it is a very perilous thing, for children as for parents, to introduce them without good and adequate instruction. (John Calvin, Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances, 1541, SW, p. 240)”

Now, if you take a look at his catechism, you’ll see that it’s no piece of cake. This is pretty comprehensive. Calvin referenced the age of ten in his Institutes, and one would think that the catechizing had to commence at a tender age and consist of systematic, daily instruction. Here’s a link to the Geneva Catechism: link.

R. Scott Clark also has a series of posts on his blog about Communion and catechetical expectations. Here’s one helpful link where he references John Calvin and modern scholar, Cornelis Venema: link.

This post is simply a small sampling of some research into the matter and doesn’t represent my personal convictions on the matter. As a credo-baptist, we must also deal with the question of what is sufficient for a person to be baptized. There is a wide range of conviction on this issue in  Baptistic circles, just as there is in Reformed circles.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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