Descendants of Calvin urged to work for social justice

By Stephen Brown
July 15, 2008

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches, whose roots go back to the 16th century Protestant Reformation of Jean Calvin, is urging members to celebrate in 2009 the 500th anniversary of his birth by working for the unity of the church, promoting social justice and respect for creation, and by addressing war and violence.

The Protestant leader, known in the anglophone world as John Calvin, was born on 10 July 1509 in Noyon, in northern France. He is renowned for his role in the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, a once independent city-state which became part of the Swiss Confederation in 1815.

"How do we celebrate the birthday of a person who did not want to draw attention to himself?" writes WARC's general secretary, the Rev Setri Nyomi, in an introduction to a new book, intended for churches to prepare for the anniversary. "His life and ministry were focused on glorifying God and he had nothing but disdain for any attempt to elevate any human being."

The book, "The legacy of John Calvin: Some actions for the Church in the 21st century", has been published by the Reformed alliance and by the John Knox International Reformed Center. It was launched in Geneva on 10 July.

"The best celebration that we can have to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin is in a renewed commitment to be God's agents of transformation," states Nyomi.

The book notes that a recurring theme in Calvin's writings, especially in his sermons and in his actions in Geneva, is a call to social justice. It urges Reformed Christians to promote economic justice and respect for creation to honour Calvin's legacy. "In the face of the widespread economic injustice and the blatant destruction of the environment leading to speedy global warming, we cannot remain silent," the book states.

It calls on Christians in industrialised countries to reflect on their consumption and to make lifestyle changes, by cutting their use of energy and compensating for greenhouse gas emissions.

The book also urges Reformed churches to celebrate the anniversary by addressing "violence and destruction in times of war and armed conflict", stating that, "Calvin clearly rejected
war as a means to serve the Gospel."

WARC is a grouping of 75 million Reformed Christians in Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches in 107 countries.

The church and its unity was a central concern to Calvin, the new book notes, but today "the family of Reformed churches is deeply divided", with several Reformed churches being present in almost all countries.

It suggests that the 2009 anniversary is an opportunity for Reformed churches to promote the unity of the Church and to build contacts with each other: "Get to know the other Reformed churches in your community and consider new mission ventures together."

The idea for a publication to urge Reformed Christians to celebrate the anniversary by making a difference in the world came from the Rev Lukas Vischer, a Swiss Reformed theologian who died in March 2008. Though he did not live to see its publication, five days before his death, an editorial meeting was held at Vischer's home to put the final touches to the work.

Reference:"The legacy of John Calvin: Some actions for the Church in the 21st Century," initiated by Lukas Vischer, edited by Setri Nyomi. Published by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the John Knox International Reformed Center, ISBN 978-2-9700619-0-8.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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