Christians weren’t always so well-read about the Bible as many are today. For a long time, the Word was carefully kept safe in The Church and it’s stories were taught by images in stained glass windows. Back then John Calvin or Martin Luther or any of the other Reformers hadn’t been born. No one could just open it and read it or interpret it or even translate it. Such tasks were reserved for the priests who were ordained and trained to do just that.
At some point, a teaching about Purgatory developed. Because the average person lacked their own Bible as well as the ability to read it, they had no choice but to believe exactly what the priests told them. Thankfully, it went hand-in-hand with Indulgences – a way to decrease the amount of time a deceased relative would be passing through purification on the way to their eternal destination. It took centuries to develop the theology of Purgatory – but the Reformers stood opposed to it when the realized that much of the teaching wasn’t directly supported by Scripture. Church tradition had been largely responsible for it’s content.
There has been a resurgence in Calvinism in recent decades – so much so that it’s difficult to imagine a way of understanding the Bible without it. The problem is that it depends on the traditional interpretation given by John Calvin to explain what Scripture means. To me it looks like the same mistake – putting our trust in a well-read priest to explain to us what Scripture means. We don’t have to worry about Purgatory, but we do have to worry about what teachings that originate from John Calvin’s understanding that are not directly supported by Scripture.
The brilliance in it is that once it is taught, it’s telling people what they will find in Scripture if all of their theology is correct. They cannot possibly find another other interpretation if they read the Bible on their own. If they do, then obviously their theology is not correct. But Calvinism is also the equivalent of reading glasses – without them you might find a totally different understanding of Scripture that the glasses did not permit you to see. I never really had purely Calvinistic reading glasses in the first place – so I don’t see things the same way. To me the Bible isn’t about obedience to commandments, it isn’t about disobedience to laws, but it’s about believing that an individual ought to hold his or herself alone to a higher ethical standard. It’s about choosing mercy, compassion, kindness, humility, etc.; it’s not about enforcing obedience by punishing disobedience through Church discipline administered by the elders.
So when I find myself in a conversation with certain Christians it feels like I’m getting nowhere – they’re too busy seeing me as a heretic to consider that I might have a point, and I never really know how to argue back because they already believe that everything I say is wrong anyway. Christians may be well-read, but that doesn’t mean they understood the heart of what Jesus was trying to say. I guess we should take comfort in that it has always been like that in all of the centuries since Jesus’ ministry began.