I’ve been waiting a long time to get hold of Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology by Matthew Myer Boulton after reading about it in James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. For me the most gripping revelation in the book is Calvin’s appropriation of monastic spiritual practices for the entire church. Boulton says, “For Calvin, monastics are mistaken only insofar as they make elite, difficult, and rare what should be ordinary, accessible, and common in Christian communities: namely, whole human lives formed in and through the church’s distinctive repertoire of disciplines, from singing psalms to daily prayer to communing with Christ at the sacred supper. (p. 15)”
For years I’ve been on the lookout for churches that worship God with full devotion by his Word and Spirit; not just being really into teaching or really into prayer, but firing on all cylinders. Calvin’s system is the most full-on, balanced, whole life encompassing approach I’ve found. Whether or not his idea was successful, it is the audacity of trying such an intense way of life on an entire city that I find inspiring. Here is what Calvin pushed for:
“Calvin argued that in Reformed Geneva, worship services should be frequent, and should include the Lord’s Supper at least weekly; prayer should be both continual and punctuated by a daily office and a weekly day of prayer on Wednesdays; psalm singing should be pervasive, in church, at home, and in the fields; catechesis should be rigorous and grounded in both the home and the Sunday services; moral and spiritual life should be accountable, ultimately overseen by the city’s consistory; and engagement with Scripture…should be the discipline that founds and forms all the others. Disciples should engage the Bible as often and as deeply as they can, Calvin advised, reading it, listening to others read it, and frequently attending to preachers expounding it, putting particular passages in context and applying them to everyday life.” (p. 43)
The goal of Christian ministry is that we may be presented mature to Christ. For Calvin this happens through intensive discipleship resulting in “a reformation of life ultimately manifest in pietas, the reverence and love for God ‘which joins us in true holiness with God when we are separated from the iniquities of the world’ (3.7.3). (p. 26)”
I pray that God will inspire many leaders to attempt such a daring program.