Calvin’s Attitude to Public Worship

The Rev William D Maxwell, BD, London

None more generally misunderstood than Calvin.   He was not a destroyer and innovator but had a profound regard for the Catholic principles of worship.  Although not disposed to elaborate ceremonial, a moderate amount of ceremony is necessary to achieve worship beautiful in its dignity and simplicity.  It would be sacrilege to abolish kneeling for prayer. The Sunday service should be conducted from behind the Communion Table since it is clear that Calvin saw it as Eucharist without Communion;  in harmony with Catholic and primitive precedent, the Lord’s Table was the centre of devotion and fellowship.  Left to himself, Calvin would have introduced Absolution (“some striking promise of Scripture”) at Geneva.  Calvin also speaks with favour of the Confessional and proposes alternatives, and of the restoration of Confirmation with the laying on of hands.  The observation of the main feasts of the Christian Year met with his approval. The taking of “reserved” elements to the sick, the receiving first by the minister of the Communion elements, and fixed orders of service (to help the unskilful, to keep harmony between churches, and to prevent “capricious giddiness and levity of innovation”), and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper “at least every Sunday morning” were all favoured by Calvin.

Volume 02 1929-30, p21