by Wes Bredenhof
On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, John Calvin, Dallas:
Protestant Heritage Press, 1996. 64 pages. Softcover.
Occasionally one hears comments among Reformed church members
which lead us to question whether the Roman Catholic Church is really as
bad as our confessions make it out to be, or at least, whether the Roman
Catholic Church has changed for the better since the time of the Great
Reformation. Some university students may take ethics courses from
Romanist priests or nuns where their knowledge of the Roman Catholic
Church from the confessions and church history is put into question.
Others may come into contact with Roman Catholic Church members in their
daily work or through involvement with pro-life organizations. Here too
conversations may reveal that our knowledge and criticisms of Rome are not
as strong as we once thought they were. We therefore become softer in our
attitude towards the Papal Church. Besides all this, aren't "Evangelicals
and Catholics Together" overcoming their differences and working
I dare say that we have been gravely deceived if we think that the
Roman Catholic Church as an institution has changed substantially since
the 16th century. Recently I had the opportunity to observe a Roman
Catholic mass on television and what I saw taking place there was the very
same accursed idolatry spoken of in our Heidelberg Catechism. Moreover,
as I read John Calvin's little booklet, it was as if I was reading a
commentary and description of what I had observed. The false Roman Church
of Calvin's day is the false Roman Church of our day.
Though written so many hundreds of years ago, this small work by
the powerful Geneva Reformer contains much of value for us. Calvin wrote
it to persuade a friend to leave the Roman Catholic fold. His friend had
written to him and asked whether it was possible to remain a member of the
false church while inwardly being of Reformed convictions. At that time,
there was a large group of people in Reformation Europe, referred to as
Nicodemites (after the Pharisee Nicodemus of John 3), who were in
prestigious positions, and for whom conversion to the Reformed faith would
mean disaster in terms of social consequences. Such people could lose
their family, their incomes, and even possibly their lives. It was one of
these Nicodemites who had written to Calvin wondering what he should do.
The question is phrased this way in the Translator's Introduction: "Is it
lawful for a person who has renounced Popery in his heart to conform
outwardly to its rites, for the purpose of avoiding persecution, or for
any other imaginable cause?"
In the 64 pages of this minute tome, Calvin gives his reasons why
his correspondent should remove himself immediately from fellowship with
the Roman Church. Calvin's arguments are completely founded on Scriptural
grounds, as we would expect. He outlines why the Roman Catholic Church is
a false church and why true Christians can have nothing to do with the
blasphemies and idolatries found within. Even being in the presence of
the mass can give the appearance to others of conformity to sin against
the second commandment. Calvin describes Roman Catholic worship and the
Mass and argues "that those only preserve the holy religion of God who
profane it by no defilements of unhallowed superstitions, and that those
violate, pollute, and lacerate it, who mix it up with impure and impious
Readers at this point may be wondering to themselves if such a
book is valuable only as an historical artifact or of interest only to
theologians. Certainly there is meat here for historians and theologians,
but also others may benefit from this work. This book is immensely
relevant for our modern times and two factors in particular impel my
hearty recommendation. First, Calvin lays out quite clearly the
Reformation principle of worship (cf. Heidelberg Catechism QA 96). In a
time when so many do not understand worship and the Biblical principles
which should guide it, Calvin is calling us back home. Second, the old
Genevan applies the Reformation principle of worship to the Roman Catholic
Church and shows us clearly why we can have no fellowship with a false
church which has not repented of its blasphemy and idolatry in the last
Calvin is sometimes known as a fiery polemicist whose wrath often
overtook his reason. However, this little booklet, like all of Calvin's
letters, reflects Calvin's pastoral spirit. Certainly one can detect
Calvin's animosity towards the Godless foolishness of Romanism, but
fondness for his correspondent shines through clearly. Modern-day readers
will learn to appreciate the gentler, human side of John Calvin.
Protestant Heritage Press deserves our commendation for their
reprint of this booklet. It is printed attractively and has been edited
for easier reading. Comparing with the edition found in Volume 3 of
Calvin's Tracts and Treatises (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), this booklet
has headings, subheadings, improved punctuation and grammar, and an
informative Translator's Introduction. An improvement has definitely been
made which ensures that Calvin will not wither away under the pretext of
unintelligibility. Even three years short of a new millennium, Calvin's
voice can be heard loud and clear. We can only be enriched if we strive
to listen closer to the words of this saint.
Wes Bredenhof | "We are never nearer Christ than
42 McIntosh Ave. | when we find ourselves lost in a
Hamilton ON L9B 1J4 | holy amazement at His unspeakable
(905) 318-9470 | love." John Owen
FOR FURTHER STUDY (added by SWRB):
Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion
Herein Calvin maintains the sinfulness of outward conformity to false
worship. Dealing with a major problem of his day, Calvin answers the
question, "Is it lawful for a person who has renounced Popery in his heart
to conform outwardly to its rites, for the purpose of avoiding persecution,
or for any other cause?" He shows that false worship should never be
tolerated or participated in (even by your bodily presence), no matter what the cost - whether it be persecution, exile, or death. For his faithfulness in this matter, he was greatly scorned. Obvious parallels to our day abound, not the least of which include the Lordship controversy, false
ecumenism, rampant idolatry in the false rites maintained in the public
worship of apostate Protestantism, and in the rise of Roman Catholic
harlot. A good related item is Bradford's The Hurt of Hearing Mass ($2.94).
The book, The Canterbury Tales: An Extended Review and Commentary Based upon the Geneva Papers, can be purchased from Still Waters Revival Books at the address listed below.
Still Waters Revival Books, 4710-37A Ave., Edmonton, AB, Canada T6L 3T5
(Reformation resources at great discounts!) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Home page at: http://www.swrb.com/
Contact us today for your FREE mail-order catalogue!
Voice: (780) 450-3730
Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544)
C.H. Spurgeon once said, "[t]he longer I live the clearer does it appear
that John Calvin's system is the nearest to perfection." (cited in
Christian History magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4). Credenda Agenda reviewed this book stating, "the relevance of
Calvin's book today is exceptional. Apart from the grace of God, the human
heart never changes. Men have always loved external religion, and unless
God saves them, they always will. But God demands heart religion... His
writing is relevant because the church today is in dire need of a similar
reformation and revival. Like Calvin, some few believers today see 'the
present condition of the Church... to be very miserable, and almost
desperate.' Our context is different in one key respect however. The church
needing reformation in Calvin's day was the tradition-encrusted church of
Rome. Shortly after the Reformation, for those leaving Rome behind, two
streams became apparent. One was the stream of classical Protestant
orthodoxy, represented today by a handful of Gideons in their desktop
publishing winevats. The other was the left wing of the Reformation - the
anabaptist movement. In the early years, the anabaptists were suffering
outsiders. But today the anabaptist church is the Establishment - an
establishment governed by a chaos of traditions instead of biblical
worship. Everywhere we look we see Christians approaching God with
observances in worship which Calvin calls 'the random offspring of their
own brain.'" Though this work is not an elaborate systematic presentation
of the foundations of Christianity, such as Calvin's Institutes, it has
still been correctly acknowledged as one of the most important documents of
the Reformation. Calvin here pleads the cause dearest to his heart before
an assembly perhaps the most august that Europe could have furnished in
that day. It has been said that the animated style used by Calvin in this
work would not lose by comparison with any thing in the celebrated
"Dedication" prefixed to his Institutes. To this day, The Necessity of
Reforming the Church remains a powerful weapon, both defensive and
offensive, to fight the contemporary battle for Protestantism - the
everlasting gospel of truth. Here, in our modern setting, we find the
answers to many of the vexing questions which continue to agitate the
Church. (Softcover) $10.95-20%=8.76
KNOX, JOHN (Kevin Reed, editor)
Selected Writings of John Knox
This book sets forth the works of Knox with contemporary spelling, punctuation and grammar. It is possibly the most important publishing event of 1995! It has been over 100 years since Knox's Works were published in a collected edition. The editor has done a splendid job of including the writings of Knox that would most speak to our day. In fact, given the present state of religion in general, it is hard to imagine another (uninspired) author, living or dead, that should be considered as important as Knox. (Hardcover Book) $49.95 - 40% = $29.97
Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vol.)
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this set of books would be among the ten most influential writings in the history of the world. It is hard for us to imagine how far Calvin had come in his time, and, if you know the thought of his day, how much he has influenced our world. "Perhaps no other theological work has so consistently retained for four centuries a place on the reading list of studious Christians... Wherever in the crises of history social foundations are shaken and men's hearts quail, the pages of this classic are searched with fresh respect," notes the introduction. This edition includes (for the first time in any language) comprehensive Scripture, Author, and Subject indexes that run to nearly 200 pages. This is the definitive edition of Calvin's Institutes edited by John McNeill. It is used in Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen's cassette course Reformation Theology (81 cassettes, $643.95-56%=283.34), in which he teaches through all of the Institutes. It shows, more clearly than any other work of Calvin, why John Knox called Geneva "the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles."
(Hardcovers, 2 volumes) $89.95 - 33% = 59.37
EIRE, CARLOS M.N.
War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin
Eire shows that as the Reformation progressed the primary focus of the Reformers became upholding God's sovereign prerogative in worship -- what today is called the regulative principle of worship. Eire's _War Against the Idols_ demonstrates the extent of the Reformers clear condemnation of Arminianism in worship (i.e. will-worship [Col. 2:23]) in rejecting all elements of worship that did not have Scriptural warrant. In fact, Calvin was so intent on highlighting this point, concerning the centrality of worship (and the application of *Sola Scriptura* as exhibited in the regulative principle of worship), that he placed worship ahead of salvation in his list of the two most important elements of Biblical Christianity.
Regarding Calvin's On the Necessity of Reforming the Church Eire notes,
Calvin speaks about the nature of worship and about the seriousness of the sin of idolatry in his 1543 treatise, On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, where he concentrates on the significance of worship for the Christian religion. CalvinŐs argument, as indicated by the title of the treatise, is that the Church had reached such a corrupt state that its reform could wait no longer. The most significant aspect of corruption singled out by Calvin is the perversion of worship, and it is in explaining this issue that he set forth the basis for his attack on idolatry.
Calvin begins by studying the place that worship holds in the Christian faith, and he concludes that it is one of the two elements that define Christianity:
"If it be asked, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge first, of the right way to worship God; and secondly of the source from which salvation is to be sought. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain."
The scholarly translational work found in Eire's book also gives insights into the worship question not found in any other English history books (concerning Calvin, Knox, and a host of others) -- for it contains much from previously untranslated (into English that is) Reformation documents.
A large portion of this book centers on Calvin, but its major thrust is to reveal the single most burning issue confronting the Reformers: purity of worship! Furthermore, this book's teaching regarding the Reformers (and their view of the Scriptural law of worship) is as applicable today as it was in the days of the first Reformation -- for it demonstrates the time tested Biblical principles which guard against the errors, excesses, and idolatries of the Roman harlot, Eastern Orthodoxy and all liturgical innovators on one hand and the modern "evangelicals," Anabaptists and Charismatics on the other. This is, without a doubt, one of the best Reformation history books available -- stirring, scholarly, relevant and edifying!
As far as we know this book may be out of print in the near future, so those interested would be advised to obtain a copy as soon as possible.
(Softcover) $29.95 - 20% = 23.96
On Rebellion (Edited by Roger Mason)
This compilation brings together, for the first time, all of Knox's most important political writings. It shows, in Knox's own words, how he directly and faithfully confronted the problem of resistance to tyranny. It is especially illustrative in regard to how Knox made application of Scripture to the specific circumstances of the Scottish Reformation and the rule of Mary, Queen of Scots. It includes his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, the Appellation to the Scottish Nobility, his confrontations with Lethington (the Queen's secretary) during the General Assembly, and much more. Reconstructionists, and all serious students of the Reformation, will welcome this volume, as it conclusively proves that Knox held to some very specific points related to Theonomic ethics. Knox even went so far as to call for the execution of the Queen, because she was publicly promoting sedition (against Christ the King) in her celebration of the idolatrous Popish Mass. He based his reasoning, including negative civil penal sanctions, on Old Testament case law. B.K. Kuiper says of him, "After Knox returned to Scotland the Reformation in that land swept forward... The preaching of Knox was like a spark in a keg of gunpowder. Wherever he preached there followed an iconoclastic explosion. Images were broken and monasteries stormed by the mob. He wrote: 'The places of idolatry were made level with the ground, the monuments of idolatry consumed with fire, and priests were commanded under pain of death to desist from their blasphemous mass... The pope's authority and all jurisdiction by Catholic prelates was abolished, and the celebration of the mass was forbidden. Maintenance of the true religion was declared to be the prime duty of government...'" (The Church in History, pp. 217-18). This book will leave no doubt in your mind as to why Knox has been called "Calvin with a sword." It will light a fire in your soul for righteousness in civil matters -- something the Reformers often addressed!
Making Shipwreck of the Faith:
Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together (1995)
In 1994, a group of prominent evangelicals and Roman Catholics issued a statement of cooperation entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (ECT). The document has provoked numerous articles and books assailing the evangelical signatories to the accord. To date, most critics of ECT have taken aim at areas where Rome is an easy target, while avoiding crucial aspects of doctrine and practice where modern evangelicals exhibit remarkable similarities to Rome. The accord and its aftermath reveal much about the present state of evangelicalism, demonstrating that most evangelicals have departed from the doctrines and practices of the Protestant Reformation. This essay seeks to give the reader a framework for assessing Roman Catholicism, contemporary evangelicalism, and the ECT document. It illustrates how both Romanists and evangelicals have rejected Scriptural teaching about: 1.) the essence of the gospel (especially regarding justification by faith alone and the sovereignty of God); 2.) divinely-instituted worship (in faithful obedience to the second commandment); and 3.) the marks of the true church. By corrupting the gospel, worship and the church, evangelicals and Roman Catholics together are making shipwreck of the Faith. This is, without a doubt, the best book on this topic yet to appear! Related item: CURE's 8-cassette clash with three prominent Romanists, What Still Divides Us? A Protestant Roman Catholic Debate ($39.96), clearly demonstrates that Rome has never repented of her Reformation denying heresies. It focuses on the two major disputes of the Reformation: 1.) the sufficiency of Scripture (sola Scriptura); 2.) justification by faith alone (sola Fide). (Softcover Book) $10.95 - 40% = $6.57
Family Worship (1996)
Family worship has always been a major component of all true revivals and reformations. In fact, where it is not practiced, love for God is, at best, shallow and superficial. Among the Old Testament people of God, in the days of the Apostles, during the great Reformations that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, at the founding of the American colonies, and wherever there is a love for the Truth, daily family worship has been a sign of faithfulness to God. When it is practiced faithfully, daily family worship is one of the great blessings of covenant life; when it is ignored or set aside, it is a serious sin which has devastating consequences to the individual, the family, the church, and the state. (2 Cassette set) $15.90 - 82% = $2.86
Scottish Confession of Faith (1560)
"After the death of the regent Mary of Guise, Knox and five others drew up the Scots Confession, which parliament approved. The authority of the pope was abolished and celebration of the Mass became illegal" (Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, p. 208). "It was the Scottish church's official theology for only 90 years, having been superseded in 1647 by the Westminster Confession... the Confession is... cordial, vigorous, and spontaneous. A crystal-clear theological core is dressed in prophetic and militant language. A number of passages have inspired Christians in Scotland and elsewhere. Especially noteworthy are its insights on the Bible, Communion, Christian living, and the Christian's relationship with civil power" (Christian History, Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 24). Interestingly, some German Christians, suffering under Hitler's tyranny, sought guidance from this Confession -- a pattern that has often been repeated regarding Knox's works, whenever tyranny raises its ugly head. Knox championed and defended the Biblical doctrine regarding the right to revolution and its concomitant, resistance against unbiblical authoritarianism in Church and State. Updated to reflect modern spelling, punctuation, and grammar.