John Calvin: Closet Charismatic??

As we try and work out what COVID church looks like, especially when there is no congregational singing, we (I) are trying to work out how do we do “corporate worship”. I should point out that I come from a conservative culture of church…and Anglican…and Australian. The idea that we might express ourselves emotionally is highly distrusted. I have to admit, that I am OK with that. Recently I found out that my emotional intelligence is not as high as I would have thought so that might have something to do with how I feel about emotions in church.

However, I was challenged by Rob Smith’s conversation on the Pastor’s Heart about singing in church. Rob has a new book out that I am looking forward to reading (Come Let us Sing). But as a throw away comment in the interview he talked about gestures in church and especially John Calvin’s attitude towards them. I had always seen Calvin as a fairly focussed, intellectual kind of guy and so his attitude to gestures in church surpurised me:

The inward affection is indeed the chiefest thing in prayer; yet the external signs, as kneeling, uncovering of the head, lifting up of the hands, have a double use; the first is, that we exercise all our members to the glory and worship of God; secondly, that by this exercise our sluggishness may be awakened, as it were. There is also a third use in solemn and public prayer, because the children of God do by this means make profession of their godliness, and one of them doth provoke another unto the reverence of God. And, as the lifting up of the hands is a token of boldness and of an earnest desire, so, to testify our humility, we fall down upon our knees.

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 76851. (Acts 20:36).

Yes, you saw it “lifting up of hands”. In fact this is not the only place that Calvin mentions this.

Hence the rite of lifting up the hands, to which we have previously referred—one common to all ages and peoples, and still in force. But how rarely is there one who, in raising up his hands, is not aware of his own apathy, since his heart stays on the ground?

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, 20.16

Does this mean that Calvin was indeed, as someone from my tribe would judge someone, a charismatic? We could debate this for sometime.

But the point that I want to draw your attention to is in the first quote. Why would this be a good thing to do in public worship:

  1. We are using our whole body in the act of worship. Even if we can’t use our tongues or mouths.
  2. It gets us out of our “sluggishness” as Calvin put it. I have found doing something like this when I am praying enacts prayer in my life more effectively.
  3. It may provoke others to worship God. It is something we can do in terms of encouraging others.

In the current day and age of not being able to worship God in song, this may be a good alternative for people in church.

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