before him, Calvin unpacked the importance of all creation
bringing glory to God. God is glorified in His creation. God is
glorified in His Son. God is glorified in His church. And God
is glorified in His salvation. Soli Deo gloria! In this, Calvin was
echoing the words of the great apostle Paul, “Do all to the
glory of God” (1 Cor. 10: 31).
Roman Catholicism had become a man-centered theology,
emphasizing what man needed to do to merit God’s favor.
Hence, Martin Luther believed he could never do enough to
please a holy God. For Calvin, man didn’t need to do anything
because God did it all. He was, therefore, deserving of all the
glory, because He did all the work! When people can boast of
their own righteousness, the focus shifts from God to man.
For Calvin, God does it all and He alone is worthy of praise.
Calvin may rightly be said to be the theologian of God’s glory.
In this series of essays, I have emphasized why Baptists
should appreciate the Protestant Reformation, even if we
didn’t emerge directly out of it. Certainly these points regarding Calvin should give all Baptists grounds to be grateful.
True, the Reformers said and did things with which we
strongly disagree. Calvin is no exception. The sad story of
Michael Servetus is a case in point. Some think that Servetus
was an Anabaptist or some kind of early Baptist. Servetus was
burned at the stake in Geneva under Calvin’s watchful eye.
Therefore, Calvin is charged with persecuting the Baptists.
In response, it is important to note that Servetus wasn’t
actually any kind of Baptist, good or bad. He was a heretic, an
anti-Trinitarian heretic. He rejected the deity of Christ. Both
the Catholics and the Protestants rejected his views. He was
arrested by the Catholics in France, escaped to Geneva, was
rearrested there by the Protestant civic officials, and was con-
demned to death. Calvin, who by this time had great influence,
didn’t light the match that started the death fire, but he didn’t
stop it either. The goal was theological conformity under pain
of death. When Servetus refused to recant, he was burned.
Baptists historically have opposed this tyranny of forced
religious conformity, mainly because they often felt the brunt
of such tyranny. They rightly lament the execution of Michael
Servetus while at the same time they reject the heretical views
that he espoused. While Calvin didn’t participate in the execution, he could have done something to stop it. This is a blot
on his record, to be sure. Baptists abhor Calvin’s action on this
Nevertheless, there is much in the story of John Calvin that
Baptists can appreciate. He rightly understood the importance of the Scriptures, and he rightly understood that a true
church would preach it aright. Finally, he saw in the Scriptures
the centrality of the glory of God. With the apostle Paul, he
sought to glorify God above all, and so should we. Soli Deo
Jeff Straub (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of
historical theology and registrar at Central Seminary in Plymouth, Minn.
He is a member of the American Society of Church History.
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