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The Polluted Church


While you’re looking for that perfect church, consider Calvin’s commentary on the opening verses of 1st Corinthians:

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To the Church of God which is at Corinth. It may perhaps appear strange that he should give the name of a Church of God to a multitude of persons that were infested with so many distempers, that Satan might be said to reign among them rather than God. Certain it is, that he did not mean to flatter the Corinthians, for he speaks under the direction of the Spirit of God, who is not accustomed to flatter. But among so many pollutions, what appearance of a Church is any longer presented? I answer, the Lord having said to him, “Fear not: I have much people in this place” (Acts xviii. 9, 10;) keeping this promise in mind, he conferred upon a godly few so much honour as to recognize them as a Church amidst a vast multitude of ungodly persons. Farther, notwithstanding that many vices had crept in, and various corruptions both of doctrine and manners, there were, nevertheless, certain tokens still remaining of a true Church. This is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, that we may not require that the Church, while in this world, should be free from every wrinkle and stain, or forthwith pronounce unworthy of such a title every society in which everything is not as we would wish it. For it is a dangerous temptation to think that there is no Church at all where perfect purity is not to be seen. For the man that is prepossessed with this notion, must necessarily in the end withdraw from all others, and look upon himself as the only saint in the world, or set up a peculiar sect in company with a few hypocrites.

What ground, then, had Paul for recognizing a Church at Corinth? It was this: that he saw among them the doctrine of the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper—tokens by which a Church ought to be judged of. For although some had begun to have doubts as to the resurrection, the error not having spread over the entire body, the name of the Church and its reality are not thereby affected. Some faults had crept in among them in the administration of the Supper, discipline and propriety of conduct had very much declined: despising the simplicity of the gospel, they had given themselves up to show and pomp; and in consequence of the ambition of their ministers, they were split into various parties. Notwithstanding of this, however, inasmuch as they retained fundamental doctrine: as the one God was adored among them, and was invoked in the name of Christ: as they placed their dependence for salvation upon Christ, and, had a ministry not altogether corrupted: there was, on these accounts, a Church still existing among them. Accordingly, wherever the worship of God is preserved uninfringed, and that fundamental doctrine, of which I have spoken, remains, we must without hesitation conclude that in that case a Church exists.

Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:50–52.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have hold our churches to biblical standards, but that we must not write them off as false churches simply because they contain impurities.



Posted 2019·06·13 by David Kjos
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Posted in: 1 Corinthians · Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 Corinthians · John Calvin

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