See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.
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OF THE TEACHERS AND MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH. THEIR ELECTION AND OFFICE.
1. Summary of the chapter. Reasons why God, in governing the Church, uses the ministry of men. 1. To declare his condescension. 2. To train us to humility and obedience. 3. To bind us to each other in mutual charity. These reasons confirmed by Scripture.
We are now to speak of the order in which the Lord has been pleased that his Church should be governed. For though it is right that he alone should rule and reign in the Church, that he should preside and be conspicuous in it, and that its government should be exercised and administered solely by his word; yet as he does not dwell among us in visible presence, so as to declare his will to us by his own lips, he in this (as we have said) uses the ministry of men, by making them, as it were, his substitutes, not by transferring his right and honour to them, but only doing his own work by their lips, just as an artificer uses a tool for any purpose.
A great statement of the importance of offices in the Church. The same "tools" reasoning, of course, also applies to the papacy, yet when Calvin turns to that topic, it is all flawed "either/or" reasoning: if God is head of the Church, how can the pope be?, etc. yet his followers don't seem to notice that he applies a double standard when he argues in such a fashion.
What I have previously expounded (chap. 1 sec. 5) I am again forced to repeat. God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men. See on this subject August. de Doctrina Christiana, Lib. 1
--> First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person.
Absolutely. And that's why the Catholic Church retains priests, bishops, popes, and councils: all rejected by Calvin. We don't see any conflict: God uses men as His instruments.
Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man’s mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary. Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth.
And to receive baptism and confirmation and the Holy Eucharist and forgiveness and absolution through the same men . . .
Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour?
That's why Catholics feel so strongly about the Holy Eucharist. Christ is literally present with us. Yet Calvin would (quite oddly and inexplicably) call such a notion "idolatry."
But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us. Moreover, nothing was fitter to cherish mutual charity than to bind men together by this tie, appointing one of them as a pastor to teach the others who are enjoined to be disciples, and receive the common doctrine from a single mouth.
Calvin retains ordination in some sense, but not in the full Catholic understanding of the term, and of priesthood.
For did every man suffice for himself, and stand in no need of another’s aid (such is the pride of the human intellect), each would despise all others, and be in his turn despised. The Lord, therefore, has astricted his Church to what he foresaw would be the strongest bond of unity when he deposited the doctrine of eternal life and salvation with men, that by their hands he might communicate it to others. To this Paul had respect when he wrote to the Ephesians, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:4-16).
Amen! Can't disagree with Scripture! How Calvin will later apply it, however, is a different story.
2. This ministry of men most useful to the whole Church. Its advantages enumerated.
By these words he shows that the ministry of men, which God employs in governing the Church, is a principal bond by which believers are kept together in one body. He also intimates, that the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety. Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). The mode of filling is this: By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. In this way, the renewal of the saints is accomplished, and the body of Christ is edified; in this way we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head, and unite with one another; in this way we are all brought into the unity of Christ, provided prophecy flourishes among us, provided we receive his apostles, and despise not the doctrine which is administered to us.
But how does ordination occur; on what grounds and basis? What special power or ability, if any, do such men possess, by God's design?
Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church.
That's right. Hence, Catholics argue that the disposal of priests, bishops, popes, and councils have caused grave damage to the unity of the Church.
For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral office to preserve a Church in the earth.
Without apostolic succession, the historic meaning and nature of these offices are gutted.
3. The honourable terms in which the ministry is spoken of. Its necessity established by numerous examples.
Accordingly, I have observed above, that God has repeatedly commended its dignity by the titles which he has bestowed upon it, in order that we might hold it in the highest estimation, as among the most excellent of our blessings. He declares, that in raising up teachers, he confers a special benefit on men, when he bids his prophet exclaim, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace” (Isa. 52:7); when he calls the apostles the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13, 14). Nor could the office be more highly eulogised than when he said, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me” (Luke 10:16). But the most striking passage of all is that in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul treats as it were professedly of this question. He contends, that there is nothing in the Church more noble and glorious than the ministry of the Gospel, seeing it is the administration of the Spirit of righteousness and eternal life. These and similar passages should have the effect of preventing that method of governing and maintaining the Church by ministers, a method which the Lord has ratified for ever, from seeming worthless in our eyes, and at length becoming obsolete by contempt. How very necessary it is, he has declared not only by words but also by examples. When he was pleased to shed the light of his truth in greater effulgence on Cornelius, he sent an angel from heaven to despatch Peter to him (Acts 10:3). When he was pleased to call Paul to the knowledge of himself, and ingraft him into the Church, he does not address him with his own voice, but sends him to a man from whom he may both obtain the doctrine of salvation and the sanctification of baptism (Acts 9:6-20). If it was not by mere accident that the angel, who is the interpreter of God, abstains from declaring the will of God, and orders a man to be called to declare it; that Christ, the only Master of believers, commits Paul to the teaching of a man, that Paul whom he had determined to carry into the third heaven, and honour with a wondrous revelation of things that could not be spoken (2 Cor. 12:2), who will presume to despise or disregard as superfluous that ministry, whose utility God has been pleased to attest by such evidence?
As a general statement of the dignity of ministry, this is fine. It is only what Calvin omits, in his ecclesiology, that causes the problem.
4. Second part of the chapter, treating of Ecclesiastical office-bearers in particular. Some of them, as Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists, temporary. Others, as Pastors and Teachers, perpetual and indispensable.
Those who preside over the government of the Church, according to the institution of Christ, are named by Paul, first, Apostles; secondly, Prophets; thirdly, Evangelists; fourthly, Pastors; and, lastly, Teachers (Eph. 4:11). Of these, only the two last have an ordinary office in the Church. The Lord raised up the other three at the beginning of his kingdom, and still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires.
No more evangelists as an ordinary office? That would come as a strange suggestion to someone like Billy Graham.
The nature of the apostolic function is clear from the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Exactly. Thus, some men can and should devote themselves to that task (evangelists, and to some extent, apologists).
No fixed limits are given them, but the whole world is assigned to be reduced under the obedience of Christ, that by spreading the Gospel as widely as they could, they might everywhere erect his kingdom. Accordingly, Paul, when he would approve his apostleship, does not say that he had acquired some one city for Christ, but had propagated the Gospel far and wide—had not built on another man’s foundation, but planted churches where the name of his Lord was unheard. The apostles, therefore, were sent forth to bring back the world from its revolt to the true obedience of God, and everywhere establish his kingdom by the preaching of the Gospel; or, if you choose, they were like the first architects of the Church, to lay its foundations throughout the world.
But the Bible itself implies that bishops would be the successors to the apostles.
By Prophets, he means not all interpreters of the divine will, but those who excelled by special revelation; none such now exist, or they are less manifest. By Evangelists, I mean those who, while inferior in rank to the apostles, were next them in office, and even acted as their substitutes. Such were Luke, Timothy, Titus, and the like; perhaps, also, the seventy disciples whom our Saviour appointed in the second place to the apostles (Luke 10:1). According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as churches were to be formed where none previously existed, or at least where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time.
Okay; a little window is allowed for evangelists.
For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted.
By its nature it is outer-directed: towards the nonbelievers and outsiders.
Next come Pastors and Teachers, with whom the Church never can dispense, and between whom, I think, there is this difference, that teachers preside not over discipline, or the administration of the sacraments, or admonitions, or exhortations, but the interpretation of Scripture only, in order that pure and sound doctrine may be maintained among believers. But all these are embraced in the pastoral office.
This is the radical innovation. Calvin relegates the pastor (presbyter in Greek) to the realm of expositors of Scripture rather than presiders over the mystery of the Mass and Holy Eucharist and other sacraments. That was simply not the historic understanding of the Catholic Church since the beginning. Again, Calvin does this (at least so far) without any particular argument. He baldly asserts it, and that is that! I think there is a lot more biblical and historical evidence to be brought to bear on the question:
The Biblical Evidence for Priests
The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church
Biblical Evidence For the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Ordination)
Bishops in the New Testament and the Early Church
Dialogue With a Presbyterian Pastor Regarding Ordination, Priests, and Vocations For Everyone
Biblical Evidence for Formal Forgiveness of Sins and Absolution (Confession)
5. Considering the office of Evangelist and Apostle as one, we have Pastors corresponding with Apostles, and Teachers with Prophets. Why the name of Apostles specially conferred on the twelve.We now understand what offices in the government of the Church were temporary, and what offices were instituted to be of perpetual duration. But if we class evangelists with apostles, we shall have two like offices in a manner corresponding to each other. For the same resemblance which our teachers have to the ancient prophets pastors have to the apostles. The prophetical office was more excellent in respect of the special gift of revelation which accompanied it, but the office of teachers was almost of the same nature, and had altogether the same end. In like manner, the twelve, whom the Lord chose to publish the new preaching of the Gospel to the world (Luke 6:13), excelled others in rank and dignity. For although, from the nature of the case, and etymology of the word, all ecclesiastical officers may be properly called apostles, because they are all sent by the Lord and are his messengers, yet as it was of great importance that a sure attestation should be given to the mission of those who delivered a new and extraordinary message, it was right that the twelve (to the number of whom Paul was afterwards added) should be distinguished from others by a peculiar title. The same name, indeed, is given by Paul to Andronicus and Junia, who, he says, were “of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7); but when he would speak properly, he confines the term to that primary order. And this is the common use of Scripture. Still pastors (except that each has the government of a particular church assigned to him) have the same function as apostles. The nature of this function let us now see still more clearly.
No particular disagreement . . .
6. As to the Apostles so also to Pastors the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments has been committed. How the Word should be preached.
When our Lord sent forth the apostles, he gave them a commission (as has been lately said) to preach the Gospel, and baptise those who believed for the remission of sins.
What does "remission of sins" here mean, apart from baptismal regeneration? Did Calvin believe in that? Some Protestants think that he did.
He had previously commanded that they should distribute the sacred symbols of his body and blood after his example (Mt. 28:19; Luke 22:19).
Jesus made no reference to "symbol" on Luke 22:19. He said, rather, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." "Symbol" is pure eisegesis, or reading into Scripture what is not there. Matthew 28:19 refers to baptism, which is not a "symbol" of Jesus' body, either.
Calvin didn't think much of Martin Luther's retention of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist:
. . . if Luther has so great a lust of victory, he will never be able to join along with us in a sincere agreement respecting the pure truth of God. For he has sinned against it not only from vainglory and abusive language, but also from ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us in the beginning, when he said the bread is the very body! And if now he imagines that the body of Christ is enveloped by the bread, I judge that he is chargeable with a very foul error. What can I say of the partisans of that cause? Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ? . . .Luther had a quite different take on the eucharistic words in Jesus' Last Supper discourse:
(Letter to Martin Bucer, January 12, 1538; in John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. / Anchor Books, 1971, p. 47. This letter was translated by Marcus Robert Gilchrist)
[S]ince we are confronted by God’s words, “This is my body” – distinct, clear, common, definite words, which certainly are no trope, either in Scripture or in any language – we must embrace them with faith . . . not as hairsplitting sophistry dictates but as God says them for us, we must repeat these words after him and hold to them.Luther was right in this respect (though he held that the bread and wine also remained after consecration and rejected the sacrifice of the mass). Calvin and Zwingli and the Anabaptists were the radical, heretical innovators with regard to eucharistic theology.
(Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528; in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, 390)
Such is the sacred, inviolable, and perpetual law, enjoined on those who succeed to the place of the apostles,—they receive a commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.
Good, but note that Calvin (like Luther) ditched five of the seven sacraments.
Whence we infer that those who neglect both of these falsely pretend to the office of apostles. But what shall we say of pastors? Paul speaks not of himself only but of all pastors, when he says, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1). Again, in another passage, he describes a bishop as one “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9).
Where are the Calvinist bishops? Or does Calvin attempt to collapse the notion of bishop into merely the local elder or presbyter, as some Protestants today do?
From these and similar passages which everywhere occur, we may infer that the two principal parts of the office of pastors are to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. But the method of teaching consists not merely in public addresses, it extends also to private admonitions. Thus Paul takes the Ephesians to witness, “I kept back nothing that was profitable to you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” A little after he says, “Remember, that, for the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:20, 31). Our present purpose, however, is not to enumerate the separate qualities of a good pastor, but only to indicate what those profess who call themselves pastors—viz. that in presiding over the Church they have not an indolent dignity, but must train the people to true piety by the doctrine of Christ, administer the sacred mysteries, preserve and exercise right discipline. To those who are set as watchmen in the Church the Lord declares, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:18). What Paul says of himself is applicable to all pastors: “For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:16). In short, what the apostles did to the whole world, every pastor should do to the flock over which he is appointed.
No disagreements here, except about what Calvin intends to omit (not mentioned here), among these pastoral duties.