Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

A Builder With Vision Saw An Opportunity

A biblically-shaped theology of work energized Geneva. "Calvin," writes Bloomer, "taught that your work was your worship...[and] every believer has a holy vocation, not just 'full-time ministers.' For example, if you are a shoemaker, that is your vocation. So you have to work as unto the Lord, since you are presenting that work to him as worship."

As a result of a) God-honoring work, b) the nurturing of family, c) reasonable interest rates, and d) a system of law with accountability, the economic level of Geneva started to rise within the first generation. Years later, Max Weber, the German economist, pointed to Calvin's teaching in Geneva as one of the sources of Western prosperity.

When it came to caring for the poor, such as Protestant refugees, widows, and orphans, a charitable organization was established. But this was no handout program. "Anyone who could work had to work," writes Bloomer [emphasis his], "the poor were considered accountable too...It is said that all Protestant charities have their source in Calvin's organizations in Geneva, since they were copied and adopted in all the Protestant countries."

I don't mean to imply from my recent posts that everything the Reformers did in Geneva was a good model to follow. They made missteps. As Bloomer notes, there were excessive controls, particularly when it came to implementing their third principle for rebuilding the city, the principle of "accountability." (I'll comment on this in later posts.)

To learn more about Calvin and Geneva, read Bloomer's full article. YWAM Publishing (thank you, Warren Walsh) has granted permission to make Bloomer's chapter of His Kingdom Come available as a .pdf document. Click http://www.biblicalworldview.com/Calvin_and_Geneva_Bloomer.pdf.

In Geneva, Calvin and his associates had the rare opportunity of rebuilding "from the bottom up." The city was broken. Yet in this seemingly hopeless vacuum, a builder with vision saw an opportunity to create something extraordinary from the ground floor. And he took this opportunity.

Calvin's opportunity came 475 years ago. But--some may ask--are there any opportunities to build communities from the ground up today?

As a matter of fact, there are such opportunities! Consider the work of Agros International in Central America. Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o15FYwdy3to

Back to Geneva next week.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

One Of The Long-Term Sources Of Switzerland's Prosperity

John Calvin dedicated most of his adult life to rebuilding Geneva from the ground up, on biblical foundations. Thomas Bloomer maintains that "Calvin wasn't always right in the way he saw things, but his noble attempt to rebuild the city on biblical foundations was history-making, and the first outside of Israel."*

One of the three principles upon which Calvin rebuilt Geneva was the practice of regular teaching on how to rightly work within one's "sphere" of responsibility.

While the first principle upon which Calvin and the Reformers rebuilt Geneva (that is, a personal relationship with Christ is necessary) is understood and practiced by most "Bible-believing" churches today, the second principle (that is, teaching how to live, how to govern, and how to work) is only partially practiced today.

I say 'partially practiced' because while serious instruction on how to live in the realms of marriage, parenting, personal finances, general leadership skills, and missions is readily available, serious instruction on how to govern (cities, states, or nations), and how to work (for Boeing, Microsoft or Starbucks) is off the radar.

Not so with Pastor Calvin and his fellow Reformers. They got specific.

"Calvin told the bankers," notes Bloomer, "they couldn't charge high interest rates, as that was the sin of usury in the Bible. He fixed the interest rates at 4 percent so that the bankers could have a fair return on their money, but people could still afford to borrow and invest. The 4 percent interest rate lasted for four centuries in Switzerland, and this practice was one of the long-term sources of Switzerland's prosperity."

Why would the Reformers be concerned about banking practices? Because they believed all work was to be done as "unto the Lord," and any work that violated Scripture was in need of a-d-j-u-s-t-m-e-n-t.

Remarkably, the Protestants of Geneva wanted to adjust. Bloomer notes that people coming to the city-state desired to "live the Reformation," and put the teaching of the Reformers into action.

Calvin's theology of work was a centerpiece. It was where the rubber of the citizens really met the city road.

Imagine: what might happen today if theology of work was on the shortlist of essential topics receiving in-depth attention by the Church and Christian schools?


*Thomas Bloomer, Calvin and Geneva: Nation-Building Missions, in His Kingdom Come (YWAM Publishing).

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Friday, January 14, 2011

He Was 27 Years Old

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).

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Friday, January 7, 2011

"May God Curse You And Your Studies..."

When the city electors voted unanimously to make Geneva a Reformed Protestant city in 1535, several culture-shaping initiatives were set in motion.

One initiative was that every child would be taught to read. This was something new.

"This commitment," writes Thomas Bloomer, "was the result of their theology that each person was created in the image of God and that each one could be in relationship with God directly and only needed to read the Bible to know how that was supposed to work. This was a real first in the history of the world--all children of a nation being taught to read, even the girls." *

Bloomer maintains, "literacy for all is a biblical idea." What happened in Geneva underscores the fact that worldviews determine values that influence behavior and shape culture. There is a reason why some cultures do not educate girls. And there is a reason why Christianity promotes literacy for all.

And because city leaders believed the basis for rebuilding Geneva was "individual conversion so that the population would put its trust in God," preaching the gospel became a priority.

"The French Reformers," writes Bloomer, "believed that every adult had to make a personal commitment to Christ to be saved. To ensure that every person had a chance to respond to Christ, there was a sustained, ongoing effort for many years to proclaim the gospel, even in the streets and marketplaces."

As more and more citizens came into personal relationship with Christ, it became evident that further teaching was necessary, "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."

To fill this need, William Farel--the evangelist once booted out of town, prior to the city's changes--sought out John Calvin.

In effect, Farel asked Calvin to come apply the theology he wrote about in Institutes of Religion to Geneva.

Did I say asked? To be accurate, Farel's words were: "May God curse you and your studies if you do not join me here in the work He has called you to!"

Calvin, "gave the rest of his life so that Geneva would be a city that was as biblically based as possible."

What does this mean?

Stay tuned.

*From Thomas Bloomer's, Calvin and Geneva: Nation-Building Missions, in His Kingdom Come (YWAM Publishing).

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