The Ecumenicalism Of John Calvin -- By: W. Stanford Reid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 11:1 (Nov 1948)
Article: The Ecumenicalism Of John Calvin
Author: W. Stanford Reid

The Ecumenicalism Of John Calvin

W. Stanford Reid

THE church’s unity and its meaning is undoubtedly uppermost in the minds of a great many Christians today. With the world staggering as the result of a second World War, and with people in some quarters already prophesying a third, men and women in desperation are beginning to turn back to the church. Yet many feel that the professing Christian organization is not effective because it is outwardly disunited. If only it were united in one body, they feel, it could wield a much greater influence for good. Indeed, many would go so far as to say that unless ecclesiastical unity is actually attained, the church can and will accomplish nothing. To such people, therefore, today’s greatest ecclesiatical issue is that of the unity of the church; and ecumenicalism, as expressed in the World Council of Churches and similar movements, is said to be the contemporary church’s most significant development.

Not infrequently, if blame for the present divided condition of the church is laid on anyone, the major portion is allocated to the Protestant Reformers. There is a wistful looking back to the ecclesiastical unity of pre-Reformation days, and a hopeful looking forward to a time when in a sense, that unity will be restored. Because of what the church accomplished in the Middle Ages, or at least because of the influence which it wielded, it is hoped that the church will regain what is called its “former ecumenical character”. The disastrous disunity brought by the Reformation, it is said, will be obliterated. Only then will the church once again assume its rightful place in world society.

This diagnosis of the situation has much in its favour. It is true that the Reformers brought to the fore principles which helped to disrupt the organized church’s outward unity. For

instance, they placed the Bible in the hands of laymen, telling them to read, learn and inwardly digest. Along with this the Reformation emphasized the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Combined, these two facets of Reformation thinking were to produce startling results, even though Luther’s doctrine of “the individual interpretation of the Scriptures” is not as simple as many would seem to think. It is true, therefore, that the Reformation has had much to do with the matter of the organized church’s present divisions.

Yet, while so much must be admitted, we tend, not infrequently, to look at the outcome of the Reformers’ activities from our own point of view, without endeavouring to understand the true nature of their thinking. If we feel that we must undo much of that for which they may be partially responsible, it seems reasonable that we ...

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