He was 27 years old when John Calvin was convinced by William Farel to come and rebuild the socially, economically, and spiritually broken city of Geneva. Three years later, the city authorities recognized Calvin as head pastor of the city.
"As the word went out that John Calvin had been named the head pastor of Geneva," writes Thomas Bloomer, "Protestants all over Europe were electrified. He was well known because of the Institutes [Calvin's book on theology], and people knew that his ministry in Geneva could be a historic opportunity."*
A historic opportunity, Bloomer notes, "in that the deeply entrenched social order of church and nobility had been torn down, so in that vacuum there was a unique opportunity for the Reformers to rebuild a city on biblical foundations."
The city of Geneva became a model of Reformation theology in practice. "This small city-state," relates Bloomer, "was the laboratory, the pilot project, for the vision of a nation built on biblical principles and living in peace, prosperity, and righteousness."
Once called "the smelliest city of Europe," Geneva became known as "the city set on a hill." The population doubled from five thousand to ten thousand, as it became a city of refuge for persecuted Protestants.
John Knox came to Geneva and studied what Calvin was doing there. He later took what he learned back to Scotland. Puritan England was also influenced by Geneva, and eventually this influence spread to North America.
What exactly did Calvin and his fellow Reformers do in Geneva?
Bloomer identifies three principles upon which the Reformers rebuilt the city:
1. Public Preaching of the Gospel: "...so that people would be saved and start to be transformed, and the church would be restored to biblical purity."
2. Systematic Daily and Long-Term Teaching: "...so that people would know how to live, the authorities would know how to govern, and all would know how to work in their different spheres."
3. Accountability: "...so that the teaching would not just be theoretical but applied in all areas of life."
A well-articulated theology of work undergirded the transformaion of Geneva. Calvin taught that a "holy vocation" included the work of the banker, the shoemaker, and the pastor. He saw all legitimate work as legitimate worship.
More to come.
*Thomas Bloomer, Calvin and Geneva: Nation-Building Missions, in His Kingdom Come (YWAM Publishing).