John Calvin: Christian Scholar and Reluctant, yet Faithful, Pastor

John Calvin recognized early on in his Christian life that his gifts and skills were that of a scholar and author rather than an active reformation leader or pastor. Thus, one of the most significant aspects about his life was his ability to systematize protestant theology through writing. His Institutes of the Christian Religion played a major role in the furtherance of protestant theology during the reformation.

Another significant aspect of Calvin’s life was his availability for kingdom ministry. Calvin knew that he was more equipped to be a scholar and author and was reluctant to take on any ministerial roles. In fact, he declined such roles on numerous occasions, but when he experienced the Holy Spirit’s call to certain ministerial work, he submitted and served the church as a pastor. On one such occasion he was on his way to a comfortable life as a writer in Strasbourg, but he was detoured on his trip and landed in Geneva. He had planned on staying in Geneva for a day and then continue on to Strasbourg; however, after he had an encounter with a leader named Farel, who challenged Calvin to stay and pastor those in Geneva, Calvin had a change of heart and decided to stay in Geneva and help the protestant movement. Eventually he left Geneva and made it Strasbourg where he planned on fulfilling his original intentions to settle as a writer, but once again, a leader, named Bucer, recruited Calvin to the pastorate, and Calvin agreed and became the pastor in Strasbourg.[1]

This aspect of Calvin’s life should be emphasized because Calvin could have stuck his heels in the ground and refused to do anything other than scholarly writing, but he had an available heart before the Lord when things were coming together for him to step into pastoral ministry. It was not easy for Calvin to detour from his plan of a quiet life as a writer, but I imagine that he recognized that God was leading him in different directions, and so he needed to follow God rather than pursue his own ambitious plans.  

[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity: Vol.2 Reformation to the Present Day, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 1, ch. 7, “The Reformer of Geneva.” 

Luther and His Confessor

A significant element in Martin Luther’s life was his relationship with his confessor and priestly superior. As a spiritual advisor, Luther’s confessor had helped him during his spiritual and theological struggles by suggesting that Luther read the writings of the medieval mystics. Through the reading of the mystics, Luther experienced some liberation by adopting the mystic ethos of loving God. This enabled Luther to focus less on his internal struggles with sin and more on experiencing and reciprocating God’s love.

When Luther’s experience with the writings of the mystics had ran its course due to the re-emergence of his internal struggles with his past and with sin, his confessor did not give up on him but gave him further counsel. The confessor boldly and wisely ordered Luther to begin teaching the Scriptures at University of Wittenberg. The purpose of such an order was attached to the hope that if Luther began teaching and pastoring others, then he would be able to break away from his internal struggles. Thus, Luther began to teach the scriptures which eventually led him to lecture on the Epistle of Romans. At this point, the Holy Spirit pressed upon Luther Romans 1:17 which changed his perspective and life. He was set free by the truth of the redeeming gospel that “justification by faith” is a free gift from God to sinners. With his new perspective on the gospel and his new experience of God, Luther subtly began his new reforming mission.

This part of Luther’s life should be reflected on because it is an incredible picture of the drama of redemption and the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s storied people. God has acted through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit ministers and leads people to enter into the redemptive drama where people are liberated from sin, torment and death. The Holy Spirit opens people’s hearts and minds in order to understand God’s salvation. As the Holy Spirit leads the body of Christ in their performance of the drama of redemption through loving and ministering to one another, people will experience the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict emphasized the Lord’s service by means of a cenobite monastic lifestyle which was lived within a community under the direction and rule of the Abbot.[1] Benedictine Monasticism was considered a western expression of the monastic movement and differed from its eastern counterpart in that people were formed within community with a practical mission in the world.[2] The Rule emphasized discipline, obedience, humility, stability and prayer “for the purpose of amending vices or preserving charity” in order that  “the heart becomes broadened, and, with the unutterable sweetness of love, the way of the mandates of the Lord is traversed.”[3] Furthermore, The Rule emphasized physical labor which not only sustained the monasteries but also produced goods that were used to help the poor or sick. The main elements of the Rule were communal structured prayer times, two communal meals per day, manual labor, sacred reading, community councils and communal sleeping corridors with designated sleeping times. Material items were for communal use, and so  Monks did not own anything and did not keep personal items. There was an initiation period that people had to undergo to become a monk, and once they were accepted as a monk they were committed for the remainder of their life. They were not free to leave the monastery or transition to another monastery.[4]

Benedictine Monasticism was an internally focused community with little contact with external society. They lived an extremely devoted, disciplined, structured and minimalist lifestyle for the sake of the kingdom of God. The Rule of St. Benedict developed monks that followed the spiritual rhythms of a less distracted life. Following Christ within a focused, committed and stable community was the emphasis. Prayers and intercessions for the world were continually lifted up to God. Love for one another was daily expressed, cultivated and matured. Gifts, skills and talents were used to serve the monastic community or the poor or the sick of society. People from the cities visited the monasteries to learn how to live a different life marked by love and devotion within community.


[2] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 3, ch. 27, “Benedictine Monasticism. 



The Early Monastic Movement

The early monastic movement was mostly a response to the drastic changes taking place within the Christian church due to the rise of Constantine and the implementation of his new religious policies. The new position of the Christian church under Constantine was that of power and prestige. People were greedy for monetary riches with the expectation of gaining more influence and position within the church. This type of aggressive reach for riches was the exact opposite of Jesus’ teachings about worldly treasures.

Moreover, as Christianity developed an elevated status of priority over the Greco-Roman religions within the Empire, people by the thousands were pursuing entrance into the newly advantaged Christian faith. Throughout the past, becoming a Christian was an extremely costly decision with life and death implications, but in the new Empire supported Christianity, there was a sense of easiness or shallowness to becoming a Christian. In a way, Christianity became the new Empire supported socio-religious program rather than a “Jesus is Lord” discipleship movement.

In view of these changes, many Christians believed that the church had been seduced with security and comfort and was caught in the snare of Satan. Many recognized the unfaithfulness and sinfulness of the church, and so they decided ‘to flee from human society, to leave everything behind, to dominate the body and its passions, which gave way to temptations.”[1] The monstatic movement established itself in the desert where people lived in solitude in caves or other natural structures, and their lives were defined by silence, solitude, minimalism, simplicity, prayer, celibacy and purity. They pursued a distraction free life with the hope of experiencing more deeply the presence and holiness of Jesus.

A positive and strength of this movement was that it became a strong spiritual voice from the desert against the sin and corruption of the Imperial church. They were performing their part of the drama of redemption as witnesses to the gospel’s redeeming power from sin and corruption. The monastic communities taught a powerful lesson of laying aside every sin and hindrance that so easily ensnares people and of fixing their eyes on Jesus the source and perfecter of their faith (Heb 12:1-2).

A negative and weakness of this movement was that it became a form of escapism for some. Rather than stay within the Empire and minister within their everyday context, some may have given up and ran away to the desert communities. This would have been more of a self-preservation and self-focused decision rather than a calling by God. The church would have needed many of these Christians to stick around and become catechists to the new people coming into the church.   

[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 15, “The Monastic Reaction.”

The Cappadocian Siblings and A Personal Reflection

During the Early Church period, an influential group was the Cappadocian siblings which included Macrina, Basil and Gregory (of Nyssa). Growing up, these three siblings had a strong Christian family foundation reaching back to their grandparents who endured under the Decian persecution. The siblings grew up to have significant ministry roles in the eastern church. Macrina played a major role in teaching and theologically influencing her brothers and others. Basil devoted himself to a monastic lifestyle and became the Father of Eastern monasticism because of his teachings and development of monastic orders and rules. He spent his life serving and advocating for the poor. Later in his life, he became a strong and influential bishop, even confronting powerful Roman officials. Gregory was known for the inner fire of his spirit which was evident through his writing. He played a significant role as a hesitant (preferring a contemplative lifestyle) bishop in the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople.

While reflecting on this family, I began to compare Macrina with my little sister when I began my walk with Jesus. My sister was well grounded in her Christian school and in her youth group at church. She had a vibrant faith and a ‘joy of the Lord’ filled heart. At my first birthday after my conversion, my sister smiled when she and my parents gave me my first meaningful and engraved Bible. She was there at my baptism (and I am certain it was her idea to go cliff diving afterwards. She had a way of showing me how to live the new and abundant life). She was there at my first sermon to her youth group and at my first public testimony about God’s radical work in my life. This was probably a little embarrassing for her because I can attest that my public speaking skills needed some work, but she was always there with her spirit-filled eyes and smile offering encouragement and support. There were times when we and others would go out on the streets talking to people about Jesus and giving out warm clothes. We worshipped together, prayed together and maybe even did a biblical word study or two together. When I got serious about academics and theology, she was my inspiration because she was a high school scholar at the top of her class and a science olympian who was kicking butt. My sister has gone on to a very impactful neonatal nursing career, and so she continues to be an inspiration while using her life and gifts to serve and support others.

Like Basil and Gregory who received the encouragement and ministry from Macrina, I have received the blessings, inspiration and support from my little sister. God used the Cappadocian siblings in a powerful way for the furtherance of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Similarly, I boast in the Lord that in his compassion and grace he has used my sister and I for his glorious purposes.

Constantine and the Church

Prior to Constantine, the Roman Empire had a well established social and religious pecking order. The traditional Greco-Roman citizens and Greco-Roman religions were at the top and the Christians, who were traditionally viewed as annoying and deviant, were at the bottom. This socio-religious positioning led to the disdain and persecution of Christians throughout the centuries. However, as Constantine gained sole control of the Roman Empire, the socio-religious landscape began to drastically change. Constantine believed that the best move for restoring the Roman Empire to its ancient glory was by acknowledging the power of the Christian God and giving Christianity superior status.[1] Thus, Christians were no longer persecuted, and they became legitimate and advantaged citizens. This new positioning of Christianity did not abolish the traditional Greco-Roman religions, but it lessened their influence and relevance within the empire which contributed to the expansion of the gospel and of the Christian church.

This new order and relationship between the Roman Empire and the church had both positive and negative aspects. As for the positives, the Christian church had a chance to breathe and regroup from the centuries of persecution. This certainly would have given the Christians a chance to experience the joy of the Lord apart from the fear of persecution and death. They would have been able to reimagine hope and peace in Christ. Another positive is that the church had a chance to focus on other doctrinal issues that needed to be addressed. With more freedom to move within the empire, Christian leaders were able to meet at church councils in order to debate theological ideas and establish orthodoxy. Furthermore, Christians were able to establish themselves in physical churches which would enable them to better organize gospel ministry and establish kingdom of God beacons within the Empire.[2]

As for the negatives, the new “privileges, prestige and power now granted to church leaders soon led to acts of arrogance and even to corruption”[3] which initiated a slow compromise of and shift away from earlier Christian values and ethics. Moreover, Christians were seduced by the power of the Empire rather than focusing on a kingdom of God ethos. There was a distorted understanding of the relationship between worldly power and heavenly power. They falsely equated a worldly conquering empire with the rule and reign of the crucified, suffering servant. The new Christian emphasis on power, riches, prestige and comfort was antithetical to the life and ministry of Christ the King.

While I believe that Constantine played a major role in God’s sovereign plan to benefit the Christian Church during this era, I do think that many of the changes were detrimental to the development of the church throughout the following centuries and even into the present day. I believe that the detrimental aspects are due to the sin corruption of human hearts, but despite the human proclivity to mess things up, God still moved and worked all things together for the benefit of his church (Rom 8:28).      

[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “From Rome To Constantinople.” [2] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “The Impact of the New Order.” [3] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “The Impact of the New Order.”

Sundays During the Early Church Period

The Early Church stands among the storied people of God, and so they participated in and performed (lived out) the Theo-drama—God’s drama of redemption in the past, present and future. God’s redemptive drama culminated in the life and ministry of Jesus, and so Christ’s redeeming death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming are the earmarks of the Christocentric metanarrative of the “already-not yet in full” Kingdom of God. This was the good news that the Early Church proclaimed and celebrated and was the reason they began gathering on Sunday—the Lord’s Day (the day of Jesus’ resurrection).

During these gatherings, Christians were committed to the reading of the Scriptures, to commentating on those readings, to singing hymns, to prayers, to the kiss of peace, to offerings, to partaking of the bread and cup (as the broken body and shed blood of Jesus) and to departing benedictions.[1] The Early Church gatherings were marked by joy, gratitude and celebration. Justo Gonzalez writes, “A new reality had dawned, and Christians gathered to celebrate that dawning and to become participants in it.”[2]

In the book of Acts, converts to the Jesus movement are typically baptised immediately, whereas in the Early Church there was an emphasis on catechumenate which was “a period of preparation, trial, and instruction prior to baptism.”[3] This was due to the gospel expanding throughout the Greco-Roman world resulting in the large influx of Gentiles becoming Jesus followers. Most of these new Gentile Christians would have needed a lot of instruction regarding God’s story with the Jews and how that story leads to the good news of Jesus for the world.[4]  After the catechumenate period, catechumens were baptized early in the morning on Easter Sunday. Once they were baptized, they received white robes signifying new life in Christ (Col 3:9-12; Rev 3:4) followed by their first eucharist with the community.[5] 


[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 11, “Christian Worship” [2] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 11, “Christian Worship” [3] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 11, “Christian Worship” [4] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 11, “Christian Worship” [5] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 11, “Christian Worship”  

Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp

Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp give readers valuable insights to the life of the Early Church. For example, Didache portrays a strong emphasis, commitment and dependence on the teachings of Jesus, especially on Jesus’ sermon on the mount (cf. Did. chs. 1, 2, 8, 16 ; Matt 5-7), and on the teachings of the Apostle Paul (cf. Did. chs. 5, 6, 15; Gal 5:19-21, 1 Cor 8, 1 Tim 3:1-13), but there are also many allusions to the teachings of other New Testament writers and to the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Did. ch. 2; Ex 20).  

Didache reveals an emphasis by the Early Church on the broken body and shed blood of Jesus by giving instructions on the eucharist ( i.e. chs. 9,10,14). This appears to be central to the Lord’s Day gathering (ch. 14), and a vital part in experiencing the ongoing presence of Jesus among the faith community.  

Furthermore, Didache provides instructions regarding traveling teachers and Christians (chs. 11,12) which gives readers a glimpse into the robust itinerant missionary activity of the Early Church but also of the challenges of false teachers. Overall, Didache presents as an Early Church catechism, and so it demonstrates the Early Church’s commitment to providing instructions about Jesus and about the life of “the Way” (John 14:6; Acts 9:2, 22:4).

Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp help readers understand the contextual background and some of the issues that confronted the Early Church. Epistle to Diognetus addresses the Greco-Roman culture’s emphasis on the gods and idols. The writer explains that the Christians are distinctly different because they refuse to acknowledge and worship the Greco-Roman gods, and while they live within the Greco-Roman world, their citizenship is in heaven. Due to these differences, the writer explains that “persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks” (5:17). Likewise, Martyrdom of Polycarp depicts Polycarp being compared to an “atheist” (3:2) because he refused to endorse and worship the gods as well as bow down to Caesar as lord (8:2). The Christian distinctive of neglecting to worship the gods and refusing to say “Caesar is Lord, and offering incense” (8:2)  ultimately led to Polycarp’s martyrdom (15:1-18:2). Therefore, both of these writings tell of the harsh persecution that confronted the Early Church.

Early Church Councils: Part 3 Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon met in 451 C.E. and over 500 bishops were in attendance. The focus of the council was to develop a definitive understanding and definition of the incarnation. The majority of bishops did not want to announce a new creed but rather uphold the Nicene Creed. However, Emperor Marcian thought that there was a need for a new creed due to recent contrasting views about Jesus. Responding to the views of Eutyches was the primary focus of the council.[1] Eutyches advocated a newly revamped Apollinarianism (or monophysitism).[2] Eutyches argued that Christ had one nature after the union, meaning that the human nature had merged with the divine nature “as a drop of honey mingled with the ocean.”[3] The Council of Chalcedon condemned the views of Eutyches and confirmed and strengthened the statements about Christ as read in the Nicene Creed. The council declared Christ’s two natures— that he is perfectly God and perfectly man at the same time.[4] Christ is the God-Man “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and substance.”[5] From the Council of Chalcedon, the Chalcedon Creed was formed and this creed continues to be the Christological standard for most Christian traditions.

[1] T.G. Weinandy, “Chalcedon, Council of” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT) eds. Martin Davie et al. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] H.D. McDonald, “Monophysitism” in NDT, EPUB edition. [3] McDonald, “Monophysitism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [4] D.Demarest, “Creeds,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [5]“The Chalcedon Formula”

Early Church Councils: Part 2 Council of Constantinople

In 381 C.E., the newly appointed emperor, named Theodosius, called to order the First Council of Constantinople. This council was smaller in size, compared to its predecessor at Nicea, with only 150 eastern bishops in attendance.[1] The council primarily met in order to readdress lingering Arian views, to debate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity and to confront the views of Apollinarius.

First, the council reaffirmed the results of the Council of Nicea regarding the deity of the Son, thus emphatically closing the door on Arianism and semi-Arianism.

Second, the council determined that what was said about the deity of the Son should be applied to the Holy Spirit. The creedal statement regarding the Holy Spirit states that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father” and is to be “worshipped and glorified.” Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus were dissatisfied with such statements regarding the Holy Spirit because they thought that the statements were not strong enough in identifying the deity of the Holy Spirit. They preferred an explicit statement that the Holy Spirit was ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) “of the same substance” with God-the Father and God-the Son.[2] Nevertheless, the council agreed on the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Third, the council addressed the Trinity controversy which at one point involved the views of Sabellius who argued that “God as a single monad is manifest in three distinct and successive operations of self-revealing.”[3] Thus, God-the Father revealed Himself in the temporary modes of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.[4] The council decided on the Trinity by proclaiming that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one essence (Gr. ούσια, ousia) in three persons (Gr. ὑπόστασες, hypostases defined with Latin personae).[5]

Fourth, the council rejected and condemned the views of Apollinarius who denied that Jesus had a human mind or spirit. He believed that if Jesus was totally divine, his human nature must have been replaced with the divine logos. Thus, Apollinarius repudiated Jesus’ fully human existence. However, the council agreed that the scriptures teach that Jesus was the God-Man—fully God and fully man.[6]

The Council of Constantinople produced the revised Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed that is presently used throughout Christendom and is simply referred to as the “Nicene Creed.”

[1] T.A. Noble, “Constantinople, Council of” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT) eds. Martin Davie et al. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic,2016), EPUB edition. [2] Noble, “Constantinople, Council of” in NDT, EPUB edition. [3] H.D. McDonald, “Monarchianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [4] McDonald, “Monarchianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [5] González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 2, ch. 20, “Gregory of Nazianzus.” [6] H.D. McDonald, “Apollinarianism,” in NDT, EPUB edition.