Dear Lighthouse Trails:
Enclosed please find this announcement that was in our church’s bulletin (see image below) titled “New City Catechism.” We do not have a computer to do research on this, and we were wondering if you would be so kind as to do this for us. We are wondering if it is a good thing or not. Would you please let us know? May the Lord bless you all and give you continued wisdom and discernment in 2019.
Mr. and Mrs. E. (Wisconsin)
Dear Mr. and Mrs. E:
We are writing regarding your letter asking about the New City Catechism. This is a Reformed/Calvinist project that was started by the Gospel Coalition and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The Gospel Coalition is an organization that has definite earmarks of being influenced by the emergent church, and Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Timothy Keller’s church) has on different occasions promoted the contemplative prayer movement.
On the New City Catechism website, one of their main books they use is titled The New City Catechism Devotional with an introduction by Timothy Keller. Keller is also one of the main contributors of the book, as is John Piper (a contemplative advocate) and John Calvin (a man directly and indirectly responsible for dozens of executions – see information below). The New City Catechism Devotional is published by the Gospel Coalition and Redeemer Presbyterian.
We hope that this short letter will be of some help to you as you research the matter and that you will use the utmost discernment and wisdom if you do end up doing this course.
Editors at Lighthouse Trails Publishing
Below are some resources from Lighthouse Trails that may help equip you:
Calvinism: None Dare Call It Heresy by Bob Kirkland (see chapter 2 below)
5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer by Ray Yungen
How to Know When the Emerging Church is Showing Signs of Emerging into Your Church by Roger Oakland
Three Vital Questions on Navigating Discernment by Harry Ironside
John Calvin’s Manner of Life” by Bob Kirkland (Chapter 2 from Calvinism: None Dare Call It Heresy
Bernard Cottret, a university professor in France, wrote a book titled, Calvin: A Biography in which he clearly shows his admiration for Calvin on several levels. Thus, given that Cottret is not what you would call a critic of Calvin, it lends credibility to the more than 36* executions with which Calvin was directly or indirectly involved that are recorded in the book. Cottret documents the dates of executions and the methods of persecution, torture, and execution. He describes the period of time when Calvin had much authority in Geneva; and when Calvin denounced someone as a heretic (often the denouncement came for criticizing or even just questioning Calvin’s teachings) that person was hunted down. Cottret describes the atmosphere during this time:
Fear of sorcery and of heretics entailed their retinue of hasty, indeed barbarous remedies: imprisonment, torture, the stake.1
Men and women alike endured the torturous imprisonments and deaths.
THREE EXAMPLES OF CALVIN’S PERSECUTIONS
Jacques Gruet, a known opponent of Calvin, was arrested and tortured twice a day for a month in an effort to get him to confess to the accusations against him. Then, on July 26, 1547, he was tied to a stake, his feet were nailed to it, and he was beheaded.2
Gruet’s book was later found and burned along with his house while his wife was thrown out into the street to watch. This was not unusual behavior to those who dared to challenge or disagree with Calvin:
Gruet was put to the torture many times (444) during many days . . . In reality such unmeasured use of torture was in Geneva a Calvinistic innovation. Gruet, refusing under the worst stress of torture to incriminate anyone else, at length, in order to end it, pleaded guilty to the charges against him, praying in his last extremity for a speedy death. On July 26, 1547, his half-dead body was beheaded on the scaffold, the torso being tied and the feet nailed thereto. Such were the judicial methods and mercies of a reformed Christianity, guided by a chief reformer.3
Michael Servetus, a scientist, a physician, and theologian was born in Villanova in 1511. He angered Calvin by returning a copy of Calvin’s writings with critical comments in the margins. Calvin drew up a doctrine of over thirty official charges against Servetus, one of which was the rejection of John Calvin’s teaching concerning infant baptism leading to salvation. Five days into the trial, Calvin wrote, “I hope the death sentence will at least be passed upon him.”4 He also stated regarding Servetus, “If he come, and my influence can avail, I shall not suffer him to depart alive.”5
Calvin got his wish on October 27, 1553. Servetus was burned at the stake. He was screaming as he was literally baked alive from the feet upward and suffered the heat of the flames for thirty minutes before finally succumbing to one of the most painful and brutal methods of death possible.
Servetus had written a theology book, a copy of which was strapped to the chest of Servetus. The flames from the burning book rose against his face as he screamed in agony.6
While Michael Servetus definitely had some unbiblical teachings, such as his rejection of the Trinity, he was, as the late apologist Dave Hunt puts it, “right about some things: that God does not predestine souls to hell and that God is love.”7
Some have tried to say that Calvin was not responsible for the cruel manner in which Servetus was executed and that all he wanted was for Servetus to be beheaded (obviously, a less painful way to be executed). Brenda Nickel, a former Calvinist who was featured in a documentary film about Reformed Theology, provides some insight:
Calvin had a long-standing vendetta against Servetus. Servetus foolishly taunted Calvin through letters; thus, Calvin insisted on having him arrested and charged when he entered Geneva. Calvin wanted the death penalty for him. Servetus pleaded with Calvin to be beheaded instead of being burned at the stake, and Calvin was willing to go along with the idea. If Servetus was beheaded instead of burned, then Calvin couldn’t be blamed. Beheading, in this case, was attractive to both Servetus and Calvin. Beheading would be seen as a civil crime and free Calvin from having blood on his hands. French reformer William Farel rebuked Calvin for the thought. Since the charge was religious and not civil in nature, Servetus was burned at the stake.
Melanchthon (Luther’s friend and successor) praised Calvin for Servetus’ death. This execution basically skyrocketed Calvin to fame throughout Europe. It put him on the map, so to speak, as a noteworthy and respected reformer.8
Apparently, Calvin must have felt a need to appease himself of guilt in the murders he had helped to institutionalize.
Bernard Cottret also wrote of the persecution of the Anabaptist Belot:
While he shared the prejudices of his contemporaries against sorcerers, Calvin the churchman remained devoted to one of the church’s principal missions, the denunciation of heresy and the condemnation of heretics. For Calvin the greatest heretics were the Anabaptists. They were the internal enemy, as against the papists, who threatened the development of the “true faith” from outside. Papists, moreover, were not heretics in the strict sense; their errors were predictable, almost programmed, and less dangerous on the whole than those original thoughts that risked affecting the Reformed world itself. In 1545 the Anabaptist Belot held that the Old Testament was abolished by the New. This point of view might be debatable theologically, but did it justify the torture inflicted on poor Belot after he was chained and his invectives against Calvin were laughed at?9
Gruet, Servetus, and Belot were not the only ones to be persecuted for speaking against John Calvin and his institutes:
With dictatorial control over the populace (“he ruled as few sovereigns have done”), Calvin imposed his brand of Christianity upon the citizenry with floggings, imprisonments, banishments, and burnings at the stake. Calvin has been called “the Protestant Pope” and “the Genevese dictator” who “would tolerate in Geneva the opinions of only one person, his own.”10
It puzzles me immensely why anyone would think that God would use such a man as Calvin to be a great leader of Christianity?
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers (imitators) of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Was John Calvin an imitator of Christ in his actions? I see no answer to that question but a resounding, “Not at all!”
CHRIST OUR EXAMPLE
Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Jesus was persecuted for over thirty years and finally crucified. In Luke 23:34, we read how Jesus responded to His enemies. He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And in John 13:15, Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
Dave Hunt, who wrote the Calvinist expose, What Love is This?, said:
Perhaps Calvin thought he was God’s instrument to force Irresistible Grace (a key doctrine in Calvinism) upon the citizens of Geneva, Switzerland—even upon those who proved their unworthiness by resisting to the death. He unquestionably did his best to be irresistible in imposing “righteousness,” but what he imposed and the manner in which he imposed it was far from grace and the teachings and example of Christ.11
EXAMPLES OF THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST
Stephen’s persecutors did not write a note on the margin of his sermon outline; they were smashing his head in with rocks. He cried loudly, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). When Peter, James, John, and Paul were persecuted, they had no desire to strike back at their persecutors. They responded the way they did because they were all under the control of the Holy Spirit. “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22). But Calvin had no real persecutors and responded to those who opposed him by having them imprisoned, brutally tortured, and murdered.
Bible Christians who are born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit never hope the death sentence is passed upon their persecutors as did Calvin when people disagreed with him.
WHAT SPIRIT CONTROLLED JOHN CALVIN?
The primary teaching in Calvinism is the teaching on “election” in that the majority of people God created, He did not elect to save nor did He love them. In fact, He hated them from before they were even born. Under the Calvinist view of election, wherein God does not love every human being or desires that each one come to faith and be saved, it makes sense that John Calvin did not have God’s love toward those he saw as his unsaved fellow man. After all, if God does not even love them, why should he? It is this reasoning that would have made it easy for Calvin to justify the torture and murder of people whom he believed, in his own estimation, to be heretics.
But the Bible says that God is love. And He is righteous, true, faithful, and just. Such are fruits of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22, and love is the first one mentioned.
It is hard not to believe that John Calvin was under the influence of some other spirit than the Holy Spirit. You will have to look long and hard to find anything in Calvin’s writings about love. It is certainly not obvious in his manner of life.
- Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Company, English translation, 2000), p. 181.
- To read more about Gruet’s execution and other Calvin-era executions, read Preserved Smith’s (1880-1941) The Age of the Reformtaion (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1920); see page 120 for information about Gruet.
- J. M. Robertson, A Short History of Freethought, Ancient and Modern, Vol. I (London: Owlfoot Press, 1914), p. 352; citing partly from: “Stähelin, i, 400. Henry avows that Gruet was ‘subjected to the torture morning and evening during a whole month’ (Eng. tr. ii. 66). Other biographers dishonestly exclude the fact from their narratives.”
- “The Murder of Michael Servetus” (http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/servetus.html). Also see The Ridpath Library of Universal Literature, Vol. 5, p. 89 by John Clark Ridpath documenting actual letters from Calvin discussing the fate of Servetus.
- J. M. Robertson, A Short History of Freethought, Ancient and Modern, Vol. I, op. cit., p. 354.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Reformation, Vol. VI (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1957), pp. 482-484.
- Dave Hunt, What Love is This? (Bend, OR: The Berean Call, 2013, 4th edition), p. 79.
- Brenda Nickel, featured in the documentary film, Wide is the Gate, Vol. 2 (Produced by Caryl Productions; available through Lighthouse Trails or The Berean Call; trailer for the film: http://www.lighthousetrails.com/home/29-wide-is-the-gate-dvd-volume-2-the-emerging-new-christianity.html). Her online book on Calvinism, which includes biography on her years as a Calvinist, can be accessed at www.CalvinismNoMore.com.
- Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography, op. cit., p. 208.
- Dave Hunt, What Love Is This?, op. cit., p. 74; partly citing Williston Walker from John Calvin: The Organizer of Reformed Protestantism (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 259 and 107.
- Ibid., p. 72.