RCC Honors History Project

John Calvin on Fellowship with Wicked Persons

Posted by mcelynrh on December 8, 2008

They also object that Paul severely rebuked the Corinthians for tolerating an infamous man in their fellowship [ <460502> 1 Corinthians 5:2]. Then he lays down a general principle wherein he declares it wrong even to eat bread with a man of shameful life [ <460511> 1 Corinthians 5:11]. Here they exclaim, “If it is not permitted to eat ordinary bread, how is it permitted to eat the Lord’s bread?”

I confess it a great disgrace if pigs and dogs have a place among the children of God, and a still greater disgrace if the sacred body of Christ be prostituted to them. And indeed, if churches are well ordered, they will not bear the wicked in their bosom. Nor will they indiscriminately admit worthy and unworthy together to that sacred banquet. But because pastors are not always zealously on the watch, and are also sometimes more lenient than they should be, or are hindered from being able to exercise the severity they would like, the result is that even the openly wicked are not always removed from the company of the saints. This I admit to be a fault and I do not intend to excuse it, since Paul sharply rebukes it in the Corinthians. But even if the church be slack in its duty, still each and every individual has not the right at once to take upon himself the decision to separate. Indeed, I do not deny that it is the godly man’s duty to abstain from all familiarity with the wicked, and not to enmesh himself with them in any voluntary relationship. But it is one thing to flee the boon companionship of the wicked; another, in hating them, to renounce the communion of the church.

But in thinking it a sacrilege to partake of the Lord’s bread with the wicked, they are much more rigid than Paul. For when Paul urges us to a holy and pure partaking of it, he does not require that one examine another, or every one the whole church, but that each individual prove himself [ <461128> 1 Corinthians 11:28]. If it were unlawful to partake of communion with an unworthy person, surely Paul would bid us investigate whether there is anyone in the multitude whose uncleanliness pollutes us. But when he requires each one to prove himself alone, he shows that we are not at all harmed if anyone unworthy foists himself upon us. What follows agrees with this: “He who eats unworthily eats and drinks judgment upon himself” [ <461129> 1 Corinthians 11:29]. Paul does not say “upon others,” but “upon himself.” And justly. For individuals ought not to have the authority to determine who are to be received and who are to be rejected. This cognizance belongs to the church as a whole and cannot be exercised without lawful order, as will be stated more fully below. It will therefore be wicked for any individual to be soiled with another’s unworthiness, whom he cannot and ought not to bar from access.



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