At St. Columba’s United Reformed Church in Oxford, where I spent many happy years, the premises are a little bit old and rambling. In a far away corner, not often visited was a hidden away toilet. This was always known as the Calvinist toilet, because it was very dark and gloomy. It’s a sure fire bet that outside specialist theological circles, Calvinism always creates images of puritanical prohibition of enjoyment, of doom and despondency, and the one word that immediately creates revulsion: predestination.
But I want to challenge you that we consider some of this, and see that it has a relevance of our lives and faith today - don’t worry I won’t get technical or use long words. Today, the last Sunday of October is traditionally marked as Reformation Sunday, being the Sunday nearest to when Martin Luther nailed up his ninety-five propositions, began the popular movement of the Reformation. It was something that Reformed Churches, of which, of course, the United Reformed Church is the main representative in England, marked regularly, but has fallen out off the agenda in recent years. This year is five hundred years since the birth of John Calvin, the father of Reformed theology, in 1509, so it seems an ideal year to revive this sadly neglected area.
Calvin and Calvinism have something of a bad name today, as we’ve already noted. We need to be clear that Calvin was doing the right thing in the situation and circumstances in which he was living. We don’t live in those situations and circumstances today, and we shouldn’t adversely judge the actions of a different historical age solely because we can’t make sense of it in our own age. The biggest alleged horror of Calvin is predestination. Nowadays every sane person knows that the suggestion that some people are automatically saved and some automatically damned is total nonsense, and no-one seriously suggests that is what Christian faith is all about. In preaching predestination, Calvin was doing nothing different from everyone else five hundred years because, as we heard from Ephesians, predestination is in the Bible. We should not condemn those who did was natural in their day, but might do things very differently, had they lived in our age.
Moving on, I’m going to mention - in simple terms - a few important aspects of what Reformed theology has to offer and why it’s relevant to our faith today.
1. The sovereignty of God. An important characteristic of Reformed theology is that God is in charge. God reigns over all, in charge of everything. The Reformed ethos is that each and every one of us at all times, lives before our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We’re all living under God. We place our lives before God, whose glory and purpose are more important than anything else. Religion is not something that exists to satisfy our needs, or to give meaning to our lives, but how we acknowledge, praise, and serve our God. God is the beginning and the end of all things. God, is utterly indescribable, sovereign of all, but also immediate and everywhere. We can only come before God with empty hands and open hearts.