the weblog of Alan Knox

Calvin, Doctrine, and Life

Posted by on Jan 10, 2008 in blog links, discipleship | 6 comments

Over at Eric’s blog, “Hammer and Nail“, in his post called “Church Reform – Doctrine“, he says, “Doctrine must be lived out”. A commenter by the name of “Crazy Calvinist” said the following in agreement:

John Calvin said thus: “Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart”.

I don’t quote Calvin often, but I think this quote is one that deserves quoting. I’ve been meditating on what Calvin says here for the last few days, and I want to add a few comments of my own.

As John Calvin and Eric and Crazy Calvinist rightly point out, doctrine is not simply a matter of the tongue or the intellect. Instead, doctrine is a matter of the life – of practice. We can say that we believe something and we can think that we believe something, but unless we live it, we do not actually believe it.

Jesus says something similar at the end of the sermon on the mount:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

Jesus does not say that you are wise if you hear his words and repeat them, or teach them. He does not say that you are wise if you hear his words and mentally agree with them. He says that you are wise if you hear his words and DO them – put them into practice.

I like the way Eugene Peterson interprets this passage in the Message:

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27 The Message)

When I first read this passage, I didn’t particularly like it because it hits too close to home. Being in seminary, I know many people who “use [Jesus’] words in Bible studies and don’t work them into [their] life”. Of course, that has been me too many times as well. It is foolish – stupid – ridiculous – worthless.

If I say that I believe that I should love God, but I do not put that into practice – if it does not make my life different from the lives of those around me – then I do not actually believe it. It is not a doctrine in my life.

If I teach that I should love other people, but I do not practice love – if I do not genuinely demonstrate love for those around me – then that teaching means absolutely nothing to me. It is not a doctrine in my life.

If I think that I should proclaim the good new of Jesus Christ to those around me, but I do not practice this – if I never find myself speaking this good news to my neighbors or friends or coworkers – then this is not something that I truly believe. It is not a doctrine in my life.

I wish doctrine were easier. If doctrine were easier, then I could sit around and chew on the finer points of these teachings and separate myself from those who disagree with my decisions and proclaim myself to be the keeper of all things godly and true. But, of course, sitting around and chewing on the deep things of God does not constitute obedience. Practice constitutes obedience.

I think this is what Calvin – oh, and Jesus – was saying.


6 Comments

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  1. 1-10-2008

    Alan,

    Absolutely!

    That’s why,after half a lifetime believing it was good for a congregation to have a well known, old “Statement of Doctrine” and coming to realize that statement had become the ground of faith for most who claimed to be believers,even held in higher esteem than the Scriptures,I have changed my position.

    I still believe a statement of doctrine is good to have, but one which is developed by the congregation, through careful, prayerful teaching of Biblical (as opposed to denominational) soteriology and ecclesiology.

    Such a statement will be OWNED by the congregation, who will KNOW that it really is what they believe,because this is what Scripture says, not what Calvin or Spurgeon,or the denomination, approve as true with appropriate proof texts.

  2. 1-10-2008

    Wow. Love it. Great post.

    Thanks for posting my other comment.

  3. 1-11-2008

    kinda like … the famous quote .. preach at all tmes; use words when necessary …

    or maybe not

  4. 1-11-2008

    Aussie John,

    Yes. And I would go a step further and say that their true “statement of faith” is what they live day in and day out.

    Bryan,

    Thank you for the encouragement.

    Jeff,

    Yes. Kinda like that. :)

    -Alan

  5. 1-11-2008

    Alan,

    I couldn’t agree more!

  6. 6-14-2011

    Mark this day in history. I actually agree with something John Calvin said ;)