Calvin on the Public Rites of Confession and Absolution

Lourdes, Haute Pyrénées, France: Pilgrims Praying and Confessing by the Roadside


This article by Clayton Hutchins was originally published in Ad Fontes Volume III, Issue 2.


In the third book of his Institutes, John Calvin argues that the church’s worship should begin with a corporate prayer of confession:

Besides the fact that ordinary confession has been commended by the Lord’s mouth, no one of sound mind, who weighs its usefulness, can dare disapprove it. For since in every sacred assembly we stand before the sight of God and the angels, what other beginning of our action will there be than the recognition of our own unworthiness? But that, you say, is done through every prayer; for whenever we pray for pardon, we confess our sin. Granted. But if you consider how great is our complacency, our drowsiness, or our sluggishness, you will agree with me that it would be a salutary regulation if the Christian people were to practice humbling themselves through some public rite of confession. For even though the ceremony that the Lord laid down for the Israelites was a part of the tutelage of the law, still the reality underlying it in some manner pertains also to us. And indeed, we see this custom observed with good results in well-regulated churches: that every Lord’s Day the minister frames the formula of confession in his own and the people’s name, and by it he accuses all of wickedness and implores pardon from the Lord. In short, with this key a gate to prayer is opened both to individuals in private and to all in public.[1]

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Debating the Simple God

In the last few years, few issues have been more controversial among Reformed evangelicals than the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.[1] To the extent that God’s intra-triune life has been thought to be the foundation and model of inter-human relationships, many have perceived their various social programs (particularly in relation to the sexes) to be at stake, at times driving the debate’s resolution in a particular direction. One meta-issue continually at the forefront in the debate over eternal subordination concerns the traditional doctrine of God’s simplicity. In classical Christian theology, it is insisted that God is not composed of parts. The simple in divine simplicity is not simple as opposed to complex, but simple as opposed to composite. It is clear that, for instance, God is not a composition of soul and body. But from the classical theist perspective, the doctrine of divine simplicity goes further than this. God is also not composed of His attributes. They do not inhere in Him as accidental properties of a fundamental “God” substance. Rather, God’s existence is simply as His attributes, which simply are Him, and which (then) are to be seen as diverse ways of naming all that is in God. What is more, since there is only one God who just is (for instance) His own will, it is problematic—from a classical perspective—to speak of the Son as “submitting” to the Father in the intra-triune life from eternity past. It is difficult to see how this would not imply a multiplicity of wills of which God’s supposed “one will” is an amalgam. Read more…

Distinguishing Before Denouncing: A Review of “Why Liberalism Failed”


Why Liberalism Failed. By Patrick Deneen.

(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018. Pp. xix, 225. ISBN 978-0-300-22344-6).

Liberalism has failed. Or so confidently declares Patrick Deneen in his obviously named Why Liberalism Failed. Deneen offers one of the more useful and concise attacks on the often vaporously defined liberalism that has, according to Deneen, plagued modern societies for the last several hundred years. Deneen’s proof of liberalism’s failure is not that it failed to change society, but that liberal societies became exactly what they were supposed to be. The liberal state increasingly worked towards removing cultural and social institutions responsible for governing society’s consumer and sexual appetites.  Few orthodox Christians dispute that these are woeful problems. And Deneen deserves praise for identifying the ills that plague modern society. The book’s weaknesses are anachronism, and imprecise and lethargic taxonomy. Read more…

The Bishops are blind. It is up to us to open their eyes.

By Tim Enloe

Most of us are very familiar with the Reformers’ polemics against the episcopate of their day, but it’s just as important to be familiar with long-standing pre-Reformation critiques of it. For it is there that we can find a major illustration of why it is wrong to claim that the Protestants were the heretics, rebels, and innovators who ripped to shreds the seamless robe of Christ and departed from “the ancient and constant faith of the universal church.” Read more…

Why Protestant Christianity Needs a Theology of Natural Law

By David VanDrunen, Westminster Seminary California

Natural law is an idea of perennial importance and controversy in the Western world, and now in other places too. This idea didn’t die in twentieth-century Protestant thought, but it fell on hard times. During the opening decades of the twenty-first century, interest in natural law has suddenly sprung to life again in many Protestant circles. This is an encouraging development—from historical, philosophical, and theological perspective. But it remains controversial.[1]

In this article, I don’t offer a detailed theory of natural law. I simply wish to make a biblical and theological case that Protestants need some account of natural law if they are to make sense of many of their fundamental convictions as heirs of Reformation Christianity.

It is appropriate to begin with a brief comment on what I mean by natural law. In very general terms, natural law is a universally obligatory morality that all people know, or at least can know, simply by being human and living in the kind of world they do. But as a Christian, I want to say more than just this. Natural law, more specifically, is an aspect of God’s natural revelation by which He makes known His basic moral law to all people, not through Scripture but through the world He has made. To be clear, by “natural law” I don’t mean people’s theories about natural law, but the law itself that God reveals through His creation and which thus exists independently of anybody’s theory. People’s theories about natural law are subjective and fallible, and thus always open to debate; God’s natural law is objective and true. Read more…

A Call for a Free Council

By Andre A. Gazal

As the controversy surrounding Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses intensified, the University of Wittenberg professor’s prince, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, arranged for him to be interviewed by Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg during the meeting of the imperial diet there in October 1518. During the meeting the professor and the cardinal discussed indulgences, the treasury of merit, papal authority, the relationship between Scripture and ministry as well as the necessity of faith for the saving reception of the sacraments. Read more…

Decades II.7: Of the Magistrate

The whole office of a magistrate seemeth to consist in these three points: to order, to judge, and to punish, of every one whereof I mean to speak severally in order as they lie. The ordinance of the magistrate is a decree made by him for maintaining of religion, honesty, justice, and public peace: and it consisteth on two points: in ordering rightly matters of religion, and making good laws for the preservation of honesty, justice, and common peace.

Martin Luther’s Farewell to Arms: The Two Kingdoms and the Rejection of Crusading

Martin Luther’s political theology has fallen on hard times. While it was once common to give him credit for the emergence of modern political liberties, Luther’s legacy has, especially since the second world war, soured. Many have claimed that he set the stage for an unholy sort of sacred nationalism, while more recent commentators say that Luther had no political theology at all, but was instead content to take a “hands off” approach, ceding everything to an emerging secular state.