The church we could be – What churches can learn from Calvin’s congregational theology

  • Coenie Burger
Keywords: Calvin, Ecclesiology, Congregation, Embodied gospel, Unity


This article deals with Calvin’s understanding of congregations, their vital role in the unfolding of the Kingdom, and their ministry and structures. It argues, firstly, that not enough attention is given to Calvin’s congregational ecclesiology. Thinking about the life and the role of the congregation in Geneva was a central issue in the life and theology of John Calvin. He was not in the first place a professional theologian or teacher, but was the pastor of Geneva. His whole theology should be seen within its rootedness in his pastoral commitment and responsibilities. It further argues that Calvin’s acceptance of the call to Geneva probably had to do with his deep conviction that Christianity is not just a philosophy but that it can and should be practiced in life. This belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ must and can be embodied in the lives of Christian communities (and through them in the world) was a basic tenet of Calvin’s theology.In the rest of the article attention is given to the way Calvin tried to accomplish this goal. It deals with his strong focus on God and the Gospel in the life of the congregation, on the ongoing ministry of the Ascended Christ through the Holy Spirit, on his understanding of our human ministry in obedience to Christ, and on the reformation and building of the congregation according to the word of God. The last paragraph calls attention to Calvin’s deep commitment to the unity of the church as a vital mark of the church of Jesus Christ.