Calvinism and Representative Government

Taken from Calvinism in History by Loraine Boettner - Posted at Reformed Theology.org:

Calvinism was revolutionary. It taught the natural equality of men, and its essential tendency was to destroy all distinctions of rank and all claims to superiority which rested upon wealth or vested privilege.

Loraine Boettner
While religious and civil liberty have no organic connection, they nevertheless have a very strong affinity for each other; and where one is lacking the other will not long endure. History is eloquent in declaring that on a people's religion ever depends their freedom or their bondage. It is a matter of supreme importance what doctrines they believe, what principles they adopt: for these must serve as the basis upon which the superstructure of their lives and their government rests. Calvinism was revolutionary. It taught the natural equality of men, and its essential tendency was to destroy all distinctions of rank and all claims to superiority which rested upon wealth or vested privilege. The liberty-loving soul of the Calvinist has made him a crusader against those artificial distinctions which raise some men above others.

Politically, Calvinism has been the chief source of modern republican government. Calvinism and republicanism are related to each other as cause and effect; and where a people are possessed of the former, the latter will soon be developed. Calvin himself held that the Church, under God, was a spiritual republic; and certainly he was a republican in theory. James I was well aware of the effects of Calvinism when he said: "Presbytery agreeth as well with the monarchy as God with the Devil." Bancroft speaks of "the political character of Calvinism, which with one consent and with instinctive judgment the monarchs of that day feared as republicanism." Another American historian, John Fiske, has written, "It would be hard to overrate the debt which mankind owes to Calvin. The spiritual father of Coligny, of William the Silent, and of Cromwell, must occupy a foremost rank among the champions of modern democracy .... The promulgation of this theology was one of the longest steps that mankind has ever taken toward personal freedom."1 Emilio Castelar, the leader of the Spanish Liberals, says that "Anglo-Saxon democracy is the product of a severe theology, learned in the cities of Holland and Switzerland." Buckle, in his History of Civilization says, "Calvinism is essentially democratic," (I, 669). And de Tocqueville, an able political writer, calls it "& democratic and republican religion."2

The system not only imbued its converts with the spirit of liberty, but it gave them practical training in the rights and duties as freemen. Each congregation was left to elect its own officers and to conduct its own affairs. Fiske pronounces it, "one of the most effective schools that has ever existed for training men in local serf-government."3 Spiritual freedom is the source and strength of all other freedom, and it need cause no surprise when we are told that the principles which governed them in ecclesiastical affairs gave shape to their political views. Instinctively they preferred a representative government and.stubbornly resisted all unjust rulers. After religious despotism is overthrown, civil despotism cannot long continue.

We may say that the spiritual republic which was founded by Calvin rests upon four basic principles. These have been summed up by an eminent English statesman and jurist, Sir .lames Stephen, as follows: "These principles were, firstly that the will of the people was the one legitimate source of the power of the rulers; secondly, that the power was most properly delegated by the people, to their rulers, by means of elections, in which every adult man might exercise the right of suffrage; thirdly, that in ecclesiastical government, the clergy and laity were entitled to an equal and co-ordinate authority; and fourthly that between the Church and State, no alliance, or mutual dependence, or other definite relation, necessarily or properly existed."4

Read more here...

Comments

Popular Posts:

Editor's Note:

Please know that even though all effort is made to only publish and share solid reformed Christian teaching, history and information, Our Refomed Christian Heritage does not necessarily endorse all that you may read in the articles posted or at the sites to which you will be linked. Please use Biblical discernment. Thank you!