Calvin on When Not to Leave a Church

May 11, 2017

I’m still reading Calvin’s Institutes (I will be for quite a while). I’m in the section dealing with the Apostles’ Creed. More specifically, I’m reading his comments on the church. For one’s FUTURE consideration (this is for the NEXT time someone might be considering a church family change), I’m going to mention three Calvin quotes about leaving a church. Obviously, there are reasons for leaving a church (distance being a main consideration), but frequently people leave for any and every reason. Here’s some of Calvin’s wisdom:

“How dangerous is the temptation—or rather, how ruinous (wow, a very strong word)—when in his heart a man decides to separate from a congregation which displays those signs (Calvin here is referring to the preaching of the Word and the sacraments) which our Lord thought sufficient to identify his church.”

And then for those who in the future might have doctrinal disagreements with a church:

“But I do say that we should not, through some difference of opinion, lightly forsake a church which fully safeguards the essential truths of our salvation and the sacraments, in a accordance with our Lord’s instructions”

Finally, for those who might consider leaving because of the scoundrels who attend a particular church:

“Since the Lord affirms that the church will suffer the misery of being burdened by the wicked until the judgment day, it is pointless for them to look for a church which is completely cleansed and pure.”

Good stuff to think about.

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4 Responses to “Calvin on When Not to Leave a Church”


  1. Sadly, it is necessary to leave many churches these days. Instead of loving and obeying God’s laws many churches have gone astray by approving of gay marriage and abortion. A church I know of supports a housing charity where they know that unmarried couples are living together. If the leadership will not listen then a Christ follower will have to leave.

    • Mark Says:

      To use your word, “sadly,” you are absolutely right. This is why Calvin places an emphasis on the Word rightly preached.

  2. phfs9 Says:

    Should we perhaps not apply “love the sinner – hate the sin”? Sometimes churches do things and say things that are socially popular to get “butts in the seats”….not that this is a good thing or a Christian thing for a church to do. Perhaps God placed a particular Christian in such a situation for a specific reason – whether it is to help guide such church behavior to more Christian beliefs or to awaken something Christian in the individual who knows these behaviors are not acceptable to God. Maybe there is that one person or one unmarried couple that one might save by not leaving such a church. The other side of that is if you lay with dogs you get up with fleas….kind of a crude saying but it gets the point over. I believe God guides each of us and gives each of us a path to walk in life. Each of us has to decide if that is the path God is guiding us to walk and why. I am not saying it is good or right or Christian or Godly to support such behavior in others but merely that perhaps some of us might be caught up in such church behavior for a reason.

    • Mark Says:

      Yep, churches want people in their seats. You never know what God is up to. This morning I read the section in the Institutes where Calvin treats the issue of church discipline. There are times when the church has to deal with the person who persists in open sin. To alter your analogy, a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. But the bottomline is that we are all sinners and this leads to all sorts of unwanted behaviors.


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