Editor’s Note: John Calvin is best known for his Institutes. He worked on them consistently throughout his life, and they were the backbone of his literary output. They informed his practice as he trained pastors and sent them out to plant churches. It’s impossible to imagine that those men were unaware of the Reformer’s magnum opus. So what would it be like to plant churches today with Calvin’s Institutes in mind? In this series of blogs, Philip Moore, Acts 29’s vice president for global regions, will be walking through the Institutes so we can plant churches with Calvin.

Calvin starts his Institutes in Book I with this famous declaration: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

There is gold here for church planters! But before Calvin gets to this, he writes to the reader. His audience is those who wish to read the Word of God “easily and without stumbling.” That Calvin had a broad audience in mind is seen by the fact that he translated his work into French for the general public, avoiding the elitism that went with books published only in Latin. 

In this word to the reader, Calvin shares that throughout the writing of his book—a process that spanned the best part of three decades and numerous editions—“God has filled my mind with zeal to spread his kingdom and to further the public good.” 

Church planters trained in this school would go forth with at least four principles soundly in place.

  1. Theology is, above all, a preparation for the reading of God’s Word faithfully and well. 
  1. Elitism is out.
  1. His life’s work was zeal to spread God’s kingdom.
  1. Calvin thought of the spreading of the kingdom as being for the public good.

Let’s apply each of these principles to church planting today.

Reading God’s Word Well

Theology is important for church planting. In Acts 29, we have our five distinctives, which we have thought about deeply and carefully. But these theological distinctives, if we take Calvin’s point of view, are not ends in themselves. They exist to help us to read the Bible easily and without stumbling. The Word of God, and not our theology, is what we are consistently communicating. “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” -John Calvin Click To Tweet

We believe that Scripture transforms people’s lives, not theology. So church planters need to make sure that theology is not driving them or their pulpits. Our job is to open the Word of God and help people understand and apply its truth. Our task is to let people see and meet Jesus from the pages of the Old and New Testaments.

There is a link between the first principle and the second. If our theology has as its end goal the easy, assured reading of the Word of God, then it follows that this is not reserved, as it was in the Catholic Church, to the clergy. It is for all people. Everybody gets to read the Word of God, and everybody gets to read it well. 

Elitism Is Out

Luther said that a ploughboy with a Bible knows more than the pope. Debating with a clergyman, Tyndale, the great Bible scholar and translator, said, “If God spare my lyfe ere many yeares, I wyl cause a boye that dryveth the plough, shall knowe more of the Scripture then thou doest.” It was inconceivable for Calvin to create a firewall to his work by writing in Latin. Elitism was out then, and it is out now. 

We do not have a preferential option for the rich, the educated, the sophisticated, or the “cultured.” We do not assume, either, that any concept, any framework, or any tool for understanding Scripture is too difficult for certain sections of the population. Theology is for reading God’s Word, and his Word is for everybody. 

Zeal for God’s Kingdom

The logic continues with the third principle. Calvin’s endeavors—the sermons, the commentaries, the reformed church, the city of Geneva, the training and sending of pastors, and the Institutes—were informed by his zeal to spread God’s kingdom. This zeal came from his understanding of the Word of God, and the Word of God was, for him, the principal means of pursuing this mission. Church planters and church plants will fix their eyes on the building of God’s multicultural kingdom through God’s Word. Click To Tweet

The church is created by the Word and the means by which the Word goes forth. It follows that the Word will, of necessity, beget more churches, and that those churches will continue the propagation of the Word until Christ comes and fills the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).

God’s Kingdom Is for Our Good

When these three principles are in place, the fourth can be established in its rightful place. The public good will result from establishing churches where the Word of God is faithfully taught, read, and understood. We avoid the twin dangers of jettisoning the gospel for social issues and ignoring social issues in the name of the gospel. 

Church planters and church plants will fix their eyes on the building of God’s multicultural kingdom through God’s Word. And the result of this will be church members zealous for good works and pursuers of justice, peace, and love in their neighborhoods.

Philip Moore
Written by: Philip Moore on November 4, 2022

Philip Moore is Acts 29’s vice president for global regions and the Europe network director. He lives in Paris with his wife, Rachel, and they have five children.