Church Government - John Calvin

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The Genevan Book of Order

The Form of Prayers and
Ministration of the Sacraments, etc.
Used in the English Congregation
at Geneva (1556)

The Confession of Our Faith,
Which are Assembled in the
English Congregation at Geneva

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;

I believe and confess[a] my Lord God eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, and invisible,[b] one in substance,[c] and three in person,[d] Father, Son and Holy Ghost, who, by his almighty power and wisdom,[e] has not only of nothing created heaven, earth, and all things therein contained,[f] and man after his own image,[g] that he might in him be glorified; [h] but also by his fatherly providence,[i] governs, maintains, and preserves the same, according to the purpose of his will.[k]

a. Rom. 10:9-10

b. Gen. 17:1; Ps. 63:1ff.; Ps. 139:1-16

c. Gen. 1:1; Eph. 4:4-6

d. Gen. 1:26; 1 John 5:7; Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19

e. Heb. 1:2; Prov. 8:22-30

f. Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:16; Ps. 33:6-7

g. Gen. 1:26; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10

h. 1 Cor. 6:20; John 17:1; Prov. 16:4

i. Matt. 6:26-32; Luke 12:24-30; 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6

k. Eph. 1:11

And in Jesus Christ
his only Son, our Lord;
Which was conceived by the Holy Ghost
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

I believe also and confess Jesus Christ the only Saviour and Messiah,[a] who being equal with God,[b] made himself of no reputation, but took on him the shape of a servant, and became man in all things like unto us (except sin),[c] to assure us of mercy and forgiveness.[d] For when through our father Adam's transgression we were become children of perdition,[e] there was no means to bring us from that yoke of sin and damnation, but only Jesus Christ our Lord: [f] who giving us that by grace, which was his by nature,[g] made us (through faith) the children of God: [h] who when the fullness of time was come,[i] was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost,[k] born of the virgin Mary (according to the flesh), and preached on earth the gospel of salvation,[l] till at length, by tyranny of the priests, he was guiltless condemned under Pontius Pilate,[m] then president of Jewry, and most slanderously hanged on the cross betwixt two thieves as a notorious trespasser, where taking upon him the punishment of our sins,[n] he delivered us from the curse of the Law.

a. Matt. 1:21; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 1:15

b. John 1:1; Phil. 2:6-7; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 5:20; Rom. 9:5

c. Heb. 2:16-17; Phil. 2:7-8; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5

d. Rom. 8:32ff.; 1 John 2:1

e. Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:16-18; Eph. 2:3; Gal. 3:10,13

f. Acts 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:6; Isa. 28:16; Rom. 9:33

g. John 1:14; Heb. 1:5; Rom. 1:4; Ps. 2:7

h. Gal. 3:26; Rom. 8:14; John 1:12; Eph. 1:5

i. Gal. 4:4; Acts 2:22

k. Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:31,35; Rom. 1:3

l. Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:5

m. John 7:32; 11:47-48,53; 12:10-11,42; Matt. 12:14; Matt. 27; Luke 23

n. Gal. 3:13; Isa. 53:6-10

He descended into hell;
the third day he rose again
from the death;

And forasmuch as he, being only God, could not feel death; neither, being only man, could overcome death, he joined both together, and suffered his humanity to be punished with most cruel death: feeling in himself the anger and severe judgment of God, even as if he had been in the extreme torments of hell,[o] and therefore cried with a loud voice, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [p] Thus of his free mercy,[q] without compulsion, he offered up himself as the only sacrifice to purge the sins of all the world, so that all other sacrifices for sin are blasphemous and derogate from the sufficiency hereof. The which death, albeit it did sufficiently reconcile us to God;[r] yet the scriptures commonly do attribute our regeneration to his resurrection;[s] for as by rising again from the grave the third day,[t] he conquered death,[u] even so the victory of our faith stands in his resurrection, and therefore without the one, we cannot feel the benefit of the other: For as by death, sin was taken away,[x] so our righteousness was restored by his resurrection.

o. Acts 2:27; 1 Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53:4-5,; 7, 10

p. Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46

q. Isa. 53:1ff.; Heb. 9:12,14, 25-26, 28; 10:12,14; 10:5-18; Gal. 1:4; Rom. 4:25; 5:8-10; 1 John 1:7

r. Col. 1:20

s. Rom. 10:9; 1 Pet. 1:3

t. Matt. 28:5-8; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4

u. Hosea 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:26, 55-57

x. Rom. 4:25

He ascended into heaven;
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence shall he come to judge the quick and the dead.

And because he would accomplish all things,[y] and take possession for us in his kingdom, he ascended into heaven,[z] to enlarge that same kingdom by the abundant power of his Spirit,[a] by whom we are most assured of his continual intercession toward God the Father for us.[b] And altogether he is in heaven,[c] as touching his corporeal presence, where the Father has now set him on his right hand,[d] committing unto him the administration of all things,[e] as well in heaven above as in the earth beneath; yet is he present with us his members,[f] even to end of the world, in preserving and governing us with his effectual power and grace, who (when all things are fulfilled which God has spoken by the mouth of all his prophets since the world began)[g] will come in the same visible form in the which he ascended,[h] with an unspeakable majesty, power, and company, to separate the lambs from the goats, the elect from the reprobate,[i] so that none, whether he be alive then or dead before, shall escape his judgment.[k]

y. Eph. 4:10; John 14:2-3; Eph. 2:4-7

z. Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9, 11; 1 Cor. 15[?]

a. Luke 24:49; John 14:16-17, 26; Acts 2:1ff.

b. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1

c. Acts 1:9-11; 3:21

d. Col. 3:1; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2

e. Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:9; Col. 2:10

f. Matt. 28:20

g. Acts 3:21

h. Acts 1:11

i. Matt. 25:46; Phil. 3:20

k. Matt. 24:30-31; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 15:22-23; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8

I believe in the Holy Ghost;

Moreover, I believe and confess the Holy Ghost, God equal with Father and the Son,[a] who regenerates and sanctifies us, rules and guides us into all truth, persuading most assuredly in our consciences that we are the children of God,[b] brethren to Jesus Christ, and fellow heirs with him of life everlasting. Yet notwithstanding it is not sufficient to believe that God is omnipotent and merciful; that Christ has made satisfaction; or, that the Holy Ghost has this power and effect, except we do apply the same benefits to ourselves[c] which are God's elect.[d]

a. Matt. 3:16-17; 1 John 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:2, 22; 1 Cor. 6:11,19; John 16:7-13; Acts 17[?]

b. Rom. 8:13-17; Gal. 4:6-7

c. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; 10:9ff.; 1 John 3:23

d. John 17:2-3

The holy catholic church;
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

I believe therefore and confess one holy church,[e] which (as members of Jesus Christ,[f] the only head thereof) [g] consents in faith, hope, and charity,[h] using the gifts of God, whether they are temporal or spiritual,[i] to the profit and furtherance of the same. Which church is not seen to man's eye, but only known to God:[k] who of the lost sons of Adam, has ordained some, as vessels of wrath, to damnation, and has chosen others, as vessels of his mercy, to be saved;[l] the which also, in due time, he calls to integrity of life and godly conversation, to make them a glorious church to himself.[m]

But that church which is visible, and seen to the eye,[n] has three tokens, or marks, whereby it may be discerned. First, the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments,[o] which as it is above the authority of the same church,[p] and only [alone] sufficient to instruct us in all things concerning salvation,[q] so is it left for all degrees of men to read and understand.[r] For without this word, neither church, council nor decree can establish any point touching salvation.[s]

The second [mark] is the holy sacraments:[t] to wit, of baptism and Lord's Supper; which sacraments Christ has left unto us as holy signs and seals of God's promises. For as by baptism once received, is signified that we (as well infants as others of age and discretion) being strangers from God by original sin,[u] are received into his family and congregation, with full assurance, that although this root of sin lies hidden in us, yet to the elect it shall not be imputed;[x] so the Supper declares, that God, as a most provident Father,[y] does not only feed our bodies, but also spiritually nourishes our souls with the graces and benefits of Jesus Christ (which the scripture calls eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood).[z] Neither must we, in the administration of these sacraments, follow man's fantasy, but as Christ himself has ordained, so must they be ministered; and by such as by ordinary vocation are thereunto called.[a] Therefore, whosoever reserves and worships these sacraments, or contrariwise contemns them in time and place, procures to himself damnation.

The third mark of this church is ecclesiastical discipline,[b] which stands in admonition and correction of faults. The final end whereof is excommunication, by the consent of the church determined,[c] if the offender is obstinate. And besides this ecclesiastical censure, I acknowledge to belong to this church a political magistrate,[d] who ministers to every man to every man justice, defending the good and punishing the evil; to whom we must render honour and obedience in all things, which are not contrary to the word of God.[e]

And as Moses, Hezekiah, Josiah, and godly rulers purged the church of God from superstition and idolatry,[f] so the defence of Christ's church appertains to the Christian magistrates, against all idolaters and heretics, as Papists, Anabaptists, with suchlike limbs of Antichrist, to root out all doctrine of devils and men,[g] as the Mass, Purgatory, Limbus Patrum,[1] prayer to saints, and for the dead; freewill, distinction of meats, apparel, and days; vows of single life, presence at idol service, man's merits, with suchlike, which draw us from the society of Christ's church ­ wherein stands only [alone] remission of sins, purchased by Christ's blood to all them that believe,[h] whether they

are Jews or Gentiles ­ and lead us to vain confidence in creatures, and trust in our own imaginations. The punishment whereof, although God oftentimes differs in this life,[i] yet after the general resurrection,[k] when our souls and bodies shall rise again to immortality, they shall be damned to unquenchable fire;[l] and then we which have forsaken all man's wisdom to cleave unto Christ, shall hear that joyful voice, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit ye the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world,[m] and so shall go triumphing with him in body and soul,[n] to remain in glory everlasting, where we shall see God face to face,[o] and shall no more need one to instruct another; for we shall all know him, from the highest to the lowest: To whom, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be all praise, honour, and glory, now and ever. So be it.

e. Matt. 16:18; John 10:3-5; Eph. 5:25-27; Rom. 8:28ff.; Song 2

f. Eph. 1:10,; 22-23; Col. 1:18; 1Cor.; 12:12-13

g. Eph. 4:15-16

h. Eph. 4:1-6; Phil. 3:16; Col. 2:2

i. Acts 2:41ff.; 4:32ff; Rom. 12:4ff.; 1 Cor. 12: 1ff.; Eph. 4:7,11-12

k. Rom. 2:28-29[?]

l. Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:4-6, 11-12

m. Rom. 8:30; Eph. 5:26-27

n. Matt. 16:17; 1 Cor. 15:9

o. Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 10:14, 17; 2 Cor. 3-4; Eph. 2:20; John 10:3-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21

p. Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 17:5[?]; John 10:3-8

q. John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15-17

r. Josh. 1:7-9; John 5:39

s. Eph. 5:17; Matt. 15:1-20

t. Matt. 26:26-30; 28:19; Rom. 4:11; Eph. 5:26[?]

u. Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-7; Titus 3:5; Gal. 3[?]; Rom. 7:18ff.

x. Rom. 4:5-8[?]; Ps. 32:1-2

y. 1 Cor. 11:23-29

z. John 6:48-58

a. Heb. 5:4; John 3:27

b. Matt. 18:15-22; Luke 17:3-4; Lev. 19:17; Ecclesiasticus 19:13-17

c. 1 Cor. 5:1ff.

d. Rom. 13:1-7; Wisdom 6:4; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-14

e. Acts 5:29

f. Ex. 32:26-28; 2 Kings 18:4; 23:1ff.; 2 Chron. 29; 35:1ff.

g. 2 Tim. 4:2-4; Col. 2:8, 16-23; Matt. 15:1-9; Isa. 29:13; Heb. 9:12,14,; 25-26,28; 10:10, 12, 14; Acts 10:15; 1 John 2:22; Rom. 7:6; Gal. 5:1; Col. 2:8; Rom. 14:1ff.; 1 Tim. 4:1-8; Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:2, 9; 1 Cor. 8[?]; 1 Cor. 10:25; 2 Cor. 6:16; Luke 17:23; Rom. 3:19-20; 1 Cor. 3:11; Gal. 4:9-10

h. Isa. 33:24; Matt. 18:18; John 20:23; 2 Cor. 5:9-13; Rom. 1:16; 10:11-12; Eph. 2:11ff.

i. 2 Pet. 2; Jude 4-16; Rom. 9[?]

k. Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:12ff.; Phil. 3:19-21; 1 Thess. 4:13ff.

l. 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Isa. 30:27; John 5:29

m. Matt. 25:21, 23, 34, 36

n. 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 5:9-10; John 5:29; Isa. 26:19

o. 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2; Jer. 7:34; Heb. 8:11

Note for Confession

1. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the souls of some persons pass from this life into a place of limbo ­ neither heaven nor hell, but some other abode to await their final disposition. Papists hold that Limbus Patrum is the place bordering hell and purgatory where the Old Testament patriarchs waited until their redemption was completed by Christ, specifically by his descent into hell. The Romish notion of Christ's descent into hell is openly repudiated in this confession; see the exposition of the phrase, "He descended into hell," as found above. See Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), "limbus," p. 178. [Ed.]

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