Friday, July 17, 2009

Calvin growing up at Noyon Cathedral

I feel like I haven't given Notre Dame, Noyon, the cathedral that is a stone toss from Calvin's birthplace (and across from our hotel), where his father worked for the bishop, Charles Hangest, and where it is inconcievable to imagine that Calvin did not know every nook and cranny as a boy, fair representation. It is a marvelous 12th century gothic masterpiece as you can see from these images, and Calvin would have known this place intimately as a boy. I've pasted in some descriptions of it from The Betrayal, chapter 4 below. Picture Calvin at 12-years old receiving his first benefice in this place.

An event transpired of great significance on May 21, 1521. I was there. The smoky sweetness of incense drifted like wisps of lingering spirits from the chancel of our cathedral church in Noyon-le-Sainte. In my youth, as is the way of youth, I appreciated little about that great edifice. To me, then it was merely a stout old building made of shabby old stones, wherein candles flickered and lecherous old men and tender boy choristers paraded about, chanting the gloomy Miserere.

I have since learned that our cathedral of Notre Dame, as I then knew it, was rebuilt after the great fire of 1131, coming to its completion, I’m told, nearly one hundred years later. Pilgrims from time to time would pass through out town to venerate the alleged relics of St. Eloi, 7th century goldsmith turned bishop of Noyon, patron saint of workers in precious metals. I thought goldsmithing a fitting avocation for a bishop. Inexplicably, St. Eloi was taken up as the patron of blacksmiths, and adding another layer of mystification, local horse breeders in Picardy still swear...

... For I knew that the chaplain of La Gesine had only just resigned his post and that the bishop was sure to confer the vacant chaplaincy upon the young scholar.

Yet did I despise him still more for what it all meant. He was being marked out for priesthood, and more to the point, for a handsome income, one that would now fill the purse of the favored young man—further setting him above me and my station, and further embittering my heart against him.

I had seen enough. Soundlessly I turned my back and left the cathedral, the chanting of the bishop fading as I went. From the eminence of the cathedral’s situation, I surveyed the tile roofs of Noyon, fanning out, like my life, in a disordered and seemingly random jumble.

Surrounding the tile roofs of the half-timbered, clustered houses lay wooded hills of beech and oak. For all its un-remarkableness then to me, Noyon is an appealing town with a long history. Since the Romans subjugated the Gauls, the fertile plain on which it rests, watered by the Verses and Oise Rivers, has been home to untold generations of craftsmen, farmers, bakers, butchers, tanners—like my family—horse breeders, nobles, and of course the clergy.

I mused on the infinite variety of human existence represented by that tumbling array of individual houses connected by the narrow cobbled streets that we called our village. It had been called that by many before my generation, and was like to by called so by many more, so I then thought.
As I stood considering the array of life that stretched downhill before me, the boy choristers must have ascended to the heights of polyphonic grandeur with the Ave Maria, ora pro nobis, for they succeeded, aided by the deep-toned organ, in pulling my attention back up the hill to the cathedral.

It was the only cathedral I knew, but since then I have seen many. Ours was of the sturdier sort. Heavy, boxy towers that cast their wide shadow across the red-brown roofs on sunny afternoons, stood square and unyielding, as if guarding the west entrance with twin might against heretics and infidels.

I now believe the east-end of Notre Dame Cathedral Noyon to be one of the most grand of all. Its magnificent flying buttresses flange out in three broad terraces holding the bishop’s seat immovably in its place. I wondered at such grand old churches, built, it would seem, so to impress the viewer as to make them unshakably committed to the lesser visible dimensions of religion...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Christians in Chartres France, 12 July 2009

Resting in Chartres with Cheryl. Great view of the cathedral from our hotel window. Total slow down and rest mode. Sunday 12 July, we worshiped at the nearby l’Eglise Protestente Evangelique, at least half African and a few East Indians represented as well. It was a thoughtful contemporary service with guitars, drums and keyboard never taking over the words, such as Jesus, Roi des rois and Gloire de Dieu, set at times to some upbeat French folk tunes. Still, I wish so much more for this congregation in its worship, but no elitism here; that is so important. It was good to see the men lead in prayer and in reading Scripture, administering the Lord’s Supper, and in the singing. About 55 people present, including some children (few of these articles in France, but one family with three boys).

Then the moment came for introducing newcomers. I began frantically preparing my comments in French. Closer and closer the moment came; I was sweating, conjugating verbs in my head, racking my brain for when it’s pronounced “Christ” with the “t” and when without. Cheryl’s fingers were digging into the flesh of my arm, “Don’t say anything. Just nod and smile,” she suggested. At last they looked at us and asked who we were. I rose, smiled, and launched in. “Bonjour a tout, dans le nom de Jesus Christ (I dropped the “t”--safe in French), et je m’appelle Douglas Bond, et ca c’est ma femme, Cheryl Bond. Nous sommes Americaine. Je suis desole, mon Francais est tres mal.” They all nodded a bit too vigorously in agreement—so it seemed--at my last comment about my French being abysmal. I’ve got to get this language down; a million miles away from it at present. What a relief, though. No questions about Obama, Bush, the war…

Then a venerable gentleman in a suit opened his Bible and delivered a thoughtful sermon (as much of it as I could understand; I did get 5 chapters of Romans read in English during his address). He used an illustration from the Tour de France underway and climbing the heights of the Pyrenees today (see picture at right); he spoke of the hard work of the Christian route and used another illustration from William Cowper, though I did not recognize the actual poetry he recited. No passive holiness here. The chimes of the great cathedral are ringing throughout the narrow streets of the old town as I write. This place is very restful, and we are very grateful for it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Calvin at 500 tour ends

After a last stroll through the village of Noyon, everyone in a bustle to set up for market day, John Schrupp and I went to the grammar school where Calvin studied in his youth, and, no doubt, where jealous classmates (Jean-Louis) came up with the taunt Accusative Case for the brilliant young man. The village is decorated with the French Tri-color, reminiscent of the bloody French Revolution and the virulent de-Christianizing of a culture. Granted, the French Catholic Church was profoundly corrupt in the 18th century, but it was a massive step in the wrong direction to expunge all Christian symbols from churches, cemeteries, even adornment and jewelry (no cross necklaces), and to rechristen Notre Dame Paris (and Reims and many other major churches throughout the country) Temple of Reason. France also revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that had granted toleration of Huguenots, Calvin's spiritual successors. Louis XIV reinstated official state persecution of French Calvinists in 1685, and thereby the country hemoraged its moral and spiritual backbone, seemingly never recoverying it.

It does make one reflect on the polarization of John Calvin’s biblical world view, philosophy of life, and theology versus that of the Enlightenment (Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jean Jacques Rousseau—all French men) and particularly that of Charles Darwin, the master craftsman of the modern world and the 20th century.
Calvin believed that God was the supreme Creator of the earth, the sky, the sea and all that in them is, and that he is the Sovereign Lord of everything he has made, of all the universe, that he guides and governs the minutest details of his world, and as gracious heavenly father, he pours out his electing love for the eternal blessing and redemption of his chosen children. Calvin’s teaching brought the greatest blessing to Western Civilization: a vibrant church, republican government, free market economics, judicial order, respect for marriage, family, women, the aged, children, born and unborn.
Charles Darwin, whose 200th birthday is celebrated by elitists here in Europe and in America (I saw this poster of Darwin in Paris, but none of Calvin), Darwin has given the world modern totalitarianism, communism, the gulags of Stalin, the eugenics of Hitler, abortion, euthanasia, child abuse, battered women, moral and civil chaos, and a world of human beings who live not for God’s glory but for self-gratification, a purposeless existence.

On the coach to CDG. I read Calvin’s final words, prayers, and from Psalm 93, his favorite Psalm. Eunice, then, bustled to the microphone and led everyone in “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” (I've always wondered what a Beyonder is), and other gospel songs from the Revivalist Era. I don’t think Calvin would have approved.
Unloaded, said good bye to Bert and to all, then dispersed, our tour group to their flights and home, and Cheryl and I to collapse and rest in Chartres for a couple of days. A blessed trip, with daily evidences of the Lord’s kind Providence having gone before us in it all. I was told by many that the trip far and away exceeded their expectations. May it bear enduring fruit in each of our hearts, and may God graciously grant that all of us will be, like Calvin, consumed with zeal for the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

CALVIN at 500! July 10, 2009, Noyon

10 JULY, 2009! I awoke in the early morning and strained to listen for the crying of a newborn. Nothing. It is fascinating to think that just a stones toss from our hotel, Calvin was brought into the world 500 years ago. We strolled the village, bought a Calvin mug and a tin of candy; picked out a French cake—these are works of art—and some (5 because 500 would have zapped the trip budget and obliterated the cake, maybe even the St Eloi ball room, too) flaming candles that shoot up like fire works. I know, a Calvin t-shirt is a bit corny, but I just had to do it. We toured the Calvin birth place museum in Noyon, at left.

We gathered for the stroll down Rue St. Eloi to the fine hotel of the same name where we dined sumptuously. I wanted to recap the trip and return to where we began: Why are we doing this? Not for Calvin. He would not approve. Not just for us, so we can boast about all the cool things we saw and did, and about being here precisely on his 500th. Calvin was consumed with zeal for the glory of Christ. This supremely must be our goal. And the great benefit of studying Church history and her heroes is that we can inspire the next generation to live for the glory of God alone. Beza put it this way, “Since it has pleased God that Calvin should continue to speak to us through his writings, which are so scholarly and full of godliness, it is up to future generations to go on listening to him until the end of the world, so that they might see our God as he truly is and live and reign with him for all eternity. Amen” (19 August, 1564).

We sang Joyeux anniversaire, as the cake blew sky high. The ballroom at St. Eloi is spectacular, and the food was plenteous and delicious. Rick DeMass led off with reflections on the benefits of the tour and many others joined in. It was a blessed time, and our coach driver, Bert, joined us. From here we went on to Calvin’s birthplace museum, crowded but a fascinating visit, with first editions of major Calvin works, original paintings of Calvin and other Reformation scenes.

Went into Notre Dame during a Catholic service, as Brittany chatted away outside in French with a warden and another chap from the village (see youtube clip), then strolled around the entire cathedral, cloister, and library (est 1506). I had an interesting conversation (got a good deal of it) with a Catholic priest who directed me to the chapel le Gesine, Calvin’s first pastoral charge when he was only twelve.

Off to eat dinner again (you do heaps of eating in France, though Calvin ate one meal a day and never with the enjoyment we have been experiencing). From there we entered the Salle Capitulaire of the cathedral and heard Calvin’s story in French with l’Esemble Huguenot singing magnificently in between (see youtube). Calvin would have been in this part of the cathedral, a large chapel off the cloister, many times in his first 14 years, without a doubt.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin tour onward to Noyon

9 July, 2009… One day to Calvin’s quincentenary! We loaded the coach and set off for Reims and Calvin’s birthplace, Noyon in Picardy, the rolling hills of Alsace Lorraine alternating between golden wheat and lush green cornfields flank the coach as we motor to our objectives. I led us in prayer at the coach microphone, a prayer Calvin included in his commentary on the book of Hosea. Calvin seems to be redemptive historical in his approach to expounding the Bible so even in this Old Testament, Minor Prophetic book , he is full and overflowing with Christ the Redeemer.
We then sang Johann Heermann’s hymn, Ah Holy Jesus, the grand spire of Strasbourg Cathedral growing smaller behind us as we leave the city. Heermann studied at the University of Strasbourg and may have gotten early inspiration for his marvelous hymns from hearing the grand organ reverberating off the stone vaulting of that great cathedral. He later pastored a church in Westphalia during the 30-Years War, in which Heermann labored to comfort his beleaguered congregation against the brutal troops of the Holy Roman Empire closing in with blood and destruction on all sides. Twice he was wounded while attempting to guide his flock to safety, once fired upon repeatedly while crossing a river at night.

Paul Darby told us a wonderful story of his father’s heroic role as platoon leader in the conquest of Metz in WW II, and of how in his fear for his life he fell to his knees one night in a French farmhouse near Metz and begged God to save his soul and spare his life in the hellish conflict in which he found himself. It was a thoughtful witness to our Dutch coach driver, Bert. Bert spends heaps of time with us, often having meals with us, and strolling around, viewing historic sites, even listening to my talks; he actually applauded in Worms!

I read an excerpt from Stand Fast about C. S. Lewis’s time in WW I as we passed by Verdun, the Battle there commencing February 21, 1916. Lewis was wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Arras, taken to a field hospital in Etaples (remember Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples the Wycliffe of France?), then back to England and a hospital on the Salisbury Plane where he began writing bitter, arrogant, atheist poetry--atheist poetry cursing God for the horrors Lewis had experienced in WW I. He eventually would see his own inconsistencies, perhaps better than most.
We stopped for lunch in Reims where the German’s surrendered to the Allies in WW II before the official surrender in Berlin. We strolled around the old town and visited the magnificent cathedral, “The Westminster Abbey of France,” the tomb of many French monarchs and VIPs through the centuries. No Calvin connection, to my knowledge, but, hey, a body’s got to eat lunch somewhere.

Noyon and the Hotel l’Cedre, directly across from the cathedral where Calvin received his benefices first in 1521 (while Luther shouting, “Here I stand!” to the emperor), and “two steps,” according to the hotel web site (it’s actually two short blocks), from Calvin’s birthplace museum. We’re here and tomorrow is his 500th! Imagine 500 years ago this night, July 9th, 1509, as Gerard and Jeanne Franc reviewed their La Maus (sp?) breathing exercises and prepared for John Calvin’s birth next day. Little did they know the role God had set their son apart for in the years ahead.

Calvin's influence on Heidelberg Catechism

Rain fell heavily as we entered the great stone archways into the inner precincts of Heidelberg Castle. Here Christian Elector Frederic III commissioned Zacharius Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, students of John Calvin’s, to craft a Reformed catechism, a statement of Christian belief that would combine the most biblical elements of Lutheran and Calvinist/Reformed theology. No doubt these two young men, both remarkably only in their twenties, labored for about a year in rooms in this castle. “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood…” The catechism was presented and approved here by the Synod of Heidelberg in 1563, one year before Calvin’s death. (The close-up above is for Kim St. John who thinks I need more people shots on this blog).

Back in Strasbourg we gathered, amidst heavy rain showers and thunder, at the excellent Alsacian restaurant, Zeum Strissel, near the Hotel Gutenberg. What a feast! And so scrumptuously presented by witty attendants who enjoyed (far too much) correcting my French and showing off their English skills. All in great fun and in a richly old-world setting in the shadow of the cathedral. Menu: quiche Lorraine, salad, Ham hock, saurkraut, potatoes, du l’eau, avec gas, local reisling and pinot noir, tarte de pomme, and coffee. I waddled out of the place, feeling like I would need to do considerably more sit-ups and pushups than I felt capable of doing before bedtime—maybe ever, after all this food!

Calvin in Worms and Luther

8 July, 2009. After breakfast we boarded the coach for Worms and Heidelberg praying together and singing “I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art.” When an hour and twenty minutes later we arrived in Worms, I attempted to put Luther and Calvin in context at the excellent Reformation Monument, the only statue, of which I am aware, that has ever been construct or composed like a hymn. We sang Luther’s great “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” later the chimes of a nearby church echoed Luther’s enduring melody, Ein Feste Berg. I read portions of letters Calvin wrote, first to his friend Melanchthon and the only one he wrote to Luther himself. “In the Church we must always be upon our guard, lest we pay too great a deference to men. For it is all over with her, when a single individual, be he whosoever you please, has more authority than all the rest.” Perceptive words from the quintessentially humble giant of the Reformation himself.

April, 1521, Luther arrived in Worms in answer to an imperial summons. The diet (court) convened at the bishop’s palace, now a garden near the southeast corner of the Romanesque cathedral, built between 1125-1181. We talked about the interplay of Frederick the Elector of Saxony, Luther’s patron, and the role of Phillip of Hesse in supporting the progress of reformation in the vast and disunified German dukedoms. Here Luther took his memorable stand before the young emperor, Charles V, who declared him a heretic, rendered variously, “Unless convinced by Holy Scripture and clear reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I will not and cannot recant. God help me, here I stand, I can do no otherwise.” From Worms, Frederic the Wise, wisely wisked Luther away to the Wartburg Castle and safety. In his year of exile, Luther translated the German New Testament, wrote a German catechism, wrote hymns, worked on sorting out the order of Lutheran worship, and more—a good year’s work!

Lest some imagine this is Luther and German Reformation territory and so why visit it on the Calvin at 500 Tour, let me explain. While preaching and teaching in Strasbourg from 1538-1541, Calvin was made a delegate of the city and sent on her and the Gospel’s behalf to the city of Worms. The monument includes a large round relief of Calvin at the feet of Luther and to his left. Forerunners of Reformation, Hus, Savonarola, Waldo, and Wycliffe, are depicted in seated bronze surrounding Luther. Madgeburg weeping is a sobering symbolic statue of a grieving woman, reminiscent of the horrors of 1631 when HRE troops forced 3,500, mostly women and children, into the parish church and set it aflame, tossing live infants into the inferno through the stained glass windows.

After some of us visited the Maguskirke, near the cathedral, the oldest Lutheran protestant congregation at least in this region of Germany (already preaching justification by faith before Luther arrived in 1521), we had a bite of lunch and set of to Heidelberg.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Calvin in Strasbourg

6 July, 2009. Arrived in incomparable Strasbourg and after getting a bit tangled up with a bicycle, de-coached near the Hotel Gutenberg, then off to the Au Pont St. Martin Restaurant in the quaint neighborhood, Petite France, zig-zagging with canals, bridges, narrow medieval streets, and old-world half-timbered homes. We dined on salad, bread, Tarte Flambe, an Alsacian specialty, sort of a northern French pizza, chocolate mouse, local wines, and coffee, all consumed amidst good conversation, overlooking the canal, the ascending darkness, and the glowing illumination of the monuments that emerge from the dusk as night falls on this charming city.

We gathered at the bronze statue to Johannes Gutenberg in sight of our hotel of the same name, and put in context the central importance to the Reformation of the printing press, first book published on the press in 1450, the Gutenberg Bible, Latin Vulgate. One is reminded of the Sorbonne ordering two presses from Mainz, Gutenberg’s hometown, 28 miles north of Worms on the Rhine, in 1469, thus bringing the essential engine needed to spread the recovered truths of the gospel by Calvin and the reformers.

Calvin wrote several important books while here in Strasbourg, his first commentary, on Romans in 1540, the same year of the founding of the Jesuits by Loyola, a definitive work on the Lord’s Supper, and the reply to the letter of Cardinal Sadoleto, a work that was such a clear definitive statement of Reformed Christianity that it was rapidly taken up, translated into various languages, printed, and distributed throughout Europe. Luther read it and remarked, "Here is writing with hands and feet." Eloquent Sadoleto withdrew without attempting a reply. He had accused Calvin of joining the Reformed party for the money, to which Calvin replied that if he cared about money and personal advancement he would have stayed within the corrupt Catholic church where offices could be bought and sold as readily as spices in Venice. Calvin would write and publish 48 books but, to my knowledge, make no money on their sale.

We walked over to the north side of the cathedral where Martin Bucer preached and, no doubt, Calvin, to where I had found earlier that morning graffiti that read "Dieu est amour," God is love. He is indeed, and Calvin saw predestination as the ultimate love of God as Father for his chosen children, love joined with ultimate authority and the power to accomplish all of our salvation for us, Soli Deo Gloria. From there we talked about Calvin’s banishment from Geneva in 1538, Bucer’s urgings for Calvin to come to Strasbourg and pastor the French refugee congregation there, which he eventually does.

Calvin was very happy in his ministry in Strasbourg and was appreciated by his flock and by the amiable authorities of that city. French speaking Jean Stordeur and his wife Idelette developed a relationship with Calvin as Calvin urged them to embrace the gospel of grace and abandon their Anabaptist tendencies. Jean and his wife were converted and joined Calvin’s congregation. Then the Bubonic Plague hit; Jean Stordeur developed buboes in his armpits and groin, and in a few days was dead, Idelette now desolate without a husband to care for her and her two children. You guest it. Calvin, a the urgings of his sister Marie, Bucer, Melanchthon, and Farel, decides to marry Idelette, “the best companion of my life.”

We discussed what Calvin wrote in his commentary on Genesis about music and its role in Christian worship. Here in the Strasbourg Psalter published 1544, was included “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” clearly not a strict Psalm versification (though it has hints of Psalm 67 in it, “shine on us with the light of thy pure day”). Calvin commended Psalm singing, versified poetry from the Psalms himself, commissioned Clement Marot, the work carried on by Beza after him, but nowhere during or after his time in Strasbourg, where German Lutheran hymns were widely sung, did he condemn the writing or singing of hymns of human poetic composition. In the Geneva Psalter published 1551, Calvin included “I greet thee.” Some hymnologists believe Calvin wrote this hymn; it is very Calvin and may have been so; the fact that we don’t know who wrote it is actually a vote in favor of humble, un-self-serving Calvin. Here in Strasbourg the tune “Greiter,” named for Bucer’s cantor/organist, was written by Greiter to accompany the Huguenot Battle Hymn, Psalm 68, “God shall arise and by his might/Put all his enemies to flight.” Simply whistling the tune Greiter became sufficient evidence of ones Huguenot leanings and could get one thrown in jail, and worse. (Yes, Eunice at 86 climbed Notre Dame Strasbourg!)

We dispersed to climb the tower of the grand cathedral (taller than Noah’s ark set on end), to explore the museums, books stalls, Romanian craft, food, and music exhibits, vast medieval alleyways, quaint shops, bakeries, canal boats, restaurants, and cafes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to draw my wife away from this comfortable, charming city. At the moment she’s cooking up a scheme how we might move here! (That's ma belle at right forging ahead along the canal)

It helps to appreciate why Calvin was so loathe to leave Strasbourg and return to the “tearing wolves” of Geneva. The City Council, led by mayor Ami Perron, had now repeatedly come, cap-in-hand, begging Calvin to return. He said he’d rather face death 100 times a day than return to Geneva (doesn’t sound like the power-hungry tyrant we are told he was), but finally he submits to the will of God and returns, September, 1541, perhaps reminding himself of his personal seal,”My heart I offer you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” In one of the most remarkable pastoral gestures in the history of the church, Calvin stepped into his pulpit in St. Pierre, opened his Bible, and recommenced his exposition of God’s Word precisely at the verse he had left off three years before. Challenges still awaited Calvin and the cause of Christ in Geneva, but years of triumph and gospel blessing lay ahead.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Calvin in Lausanne, October, 1536

Another marvelous breakfast in Geneva with too many courses even to begin to list, though I’ll attempt it: exotic Swiss cheese dishes, specialty egg dishes, delicious coffee, fruits of many kinds (especially good raspberries and yogurt), muesli (3 varieties; you’ll never enjoy store-bought cereals again), croissants, and other pastries, bacon, sausages, and I’ve left many things out.

Brilliant sunshine and more moderate temperatures, and a gorgeous drive to Lausanne where we met Lionel and Monica, and their darling one-year-old Dania. Climbed the millennium tower on the pilgrimage route overlooking the ancient city, the lake, and the mountains. This is Switzerland at its loveliest!

I love Lausanne, in part because I spent a good deal of time here when in 1982 I lived and worked on a Swiss dairy farm nearby, and studied French in the city. Readers of Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation will remember episodes that I created from these experiences (including the one-legged milking stool).

We had arranged a tour of the city and the cathedral led by one of the pastors of the Reformed church Monsieur Lederry (descended from Huguenots--descended, as in “go down,” sadly absorbing postmodernity like it was the finest Swiss chocolate and there were no scales, mirrors, or tape measures, no hell to pay for the party). To my chagrin he managed to give us an hour and a half tour without mentioning Calvin or the Reformation (at least in a favorable light); I somehow did manage not to be so rude as to interrupt him, ubiquitous synchretism, with a French accent. Then had a nice lunch with the Jauverts. Enroute to Strasbourg on the coach I told about the October 2, 1536 Lausanne debate wherein young Calvin began to show his incomparable skills in theological debate, his photographic memory of vast swathes of the Early Church Fathers, and his uncanny search-engine ability to bring to mind precisely the paragraphs needed to support every nuance of his argument. You might enjoy reading more about it in chapter 32 of The Betrayal. These scenes from the interior of Notre Dame, Lausanne, Calvin would have seen surrounding him as he proclaimed sola Scriptura and solus Christus in this place.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Calvin's pulpit, Sinclair Ferguson preaching

After introducing ma belle, Cheryl and Brittany to Joel Beeke, his wife, his brother and his wife, he said to Cheryl, “What troubles it must be for you being married to someone with so much imagination.” I first met Joel in Cambridge a year and a half ago. He was kind enough to write a perceptive endorsement of The Betrayal. He admitted that he had only had time to skim the book in manuscript before writing his endorsement but that he read it with enjoyment on the flight over to Geneva. Had short chats with Michael Horton, Phil Ryken, David Hall, Steven Lawson, and others.
I had a nice chat with Sinclair Ferguson, and greeted him on behalf of Eric and Irene MacCallum, our good friends in Newmilns, Scotland (where Covenant High School students are graciously hosted on our UK trips), whose children went to St. George’s Tron Church in Glasgow where Sinclair used to pastor and where we had the privilege of hearing him as a family in 2001 (readers of my Crown & Covenant Trilogy have seen his gracious endorsement of that series). He now pastors First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina. His text was Philippians 3:7-15, and he challenged each of us to value our relationship with Christ far above all other things. Of Paul he made the observation that two paths lay before him when confronted with the stalwart Stephen: destroy Christ’s Stephen, or bow before Stephen’s Christ. His application of the text on the surpassing excellence of Christ: Gathered here in Calvin’s church are many dozens of pastors, 6 seminary presidents, 27 seminary professors, 1 archbishop, and authors collectively of over 300 books. Do we consider all these things no better than dung compared with the excellency of being known by and knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

After the morning service we enjoyed a delightful group lunch at the Les Armures restaurant in the shadow of the cathedral and the Hotel de Ville where Geneva’s City Council has convened for centuries (it is a tourist destination since an American family by the name of Clinton dined here; didn’t know that before we booked some time ago; oh well). Some then toured the Reformation Museum next to the cathedral, others climbed the cathedral tower for glorious views of the city and the lake, others to hear a Canadian choir rehears in the Auditoire, others stopped at a café for a Calvin biere, only to be caught in a violent thunder and lightning storm and get absolutely drenched.

In the 6 PM service, the Rt. Rev. Henry Orombi, Archbishop (Anglican) of Uganda (you have read about him in the news if you have followed any of the American Episcopalian controversies) spoke from Matthew 24:45-51--"Who is the faithful servant whom the Master has set over His household?" Dr. Orombi became a Christian at age 18, and considers himself a spiritual descendant of faithful English missionaries of the late 19th Century, many of whom were martyred there for their faith. He focused on the spiritual decline and darkness of Europe, and the worsening spiritual condition of the American church. It was striking to hear this man of God ask us (pampered Americans that we are), "Where is your boldness for the Gospel?" He challenged the ministers present to feed Christ's sheep by faithfully preaching His Word.
After a reception hosted by the Church of Scotland congregation of Geneva that meets in the Auditoire, there was an evening Psalm singing service, and then Dr. Bryan Chappel, president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis preached from Ephesians 1:3-6, “In Praise of Predestination.” He emphasized that in his text “in Christ” appears 12 times, that we have been loved forever by a loving heavenly father who chose us not for what was in us but for what is in Christ. I would summarize his emphasis like this: Rather than allowing predestination to become a point of controversy we ought to see it as the ground of doxology. He quoted from an oldie Dan Fogelberg (sic) pop lyric paraphrased as: before the fishes were in the ocean, before the stars were in the sky… I’ve been in love with you. On a far higher plane, so it is with the infinite, electing love of the Father toward his children. Certainly God is absolutely sovereign in predestination, but here we see a loving heavenly father loving unworthy wretches from all eternity, and organizing all human history for out adoption, redemption and sanctification, in Christ. It was one of the most thrilling sermons I have ever heard or read on this foundational doctrine, recovered by Calvin and proclaimed from this very pulpit.