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The Necessity of Reforming the Church with A Reply to Cardinal Sadoleto

By John Calvin
August 2021 | Review by Robert Strivens
  • Publisher: Reformation Trust Publishing
  • ISBN: 978-1-64289-287-1
  • Pages: 153
  • Price: £12.15
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Book Review

This well-produced volume from the publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries contains new English translations of two works of John Calvin.

The first, from 1544, is Calvin’s explanation to Emperor Charles V and the Roman Catholic political leaders of Germany of the Protestant reasoning for reforming the church. Calvin examined four areas: worship, salvation, the sacraments, and church government.

In worship, all kinds of rites and ceremonies not sanctioned by the Word of God had been introduced by the church. In salvation, the church had distorted the biblical teaching of justification and produced a works-based salvation. The sacraments had been distorted out of all recognition; and the church was no longer governed at all in the manner laid down by Scripture.

The second work is Calvin’s 1539 response to Cardinal Sadoleto’s attempt to persuade the city of Geneva to return to the Roman fold. Calvin carefully explains why this would be a retrograde step by reference to the same four topics. It is a thorough demolition of his opponent’s pleas.

The topics that Calvin addressed are all relevant today. We need urgently to recover a truly biblical understanding of worship, to reassert more strongly the doctrine of justification by faith alone, to regain from Scripture an understanding of the central importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and to seek to conform our mode of church government more closely to the biblical model.

There is an extensive introductory foreword by W. Robert Godfrey, former President of Westminster Seminary, California. This provides an excellent explanation of the first document’s political and ecclesiastical background, and an overview of Calvin’s arguments. The translator states that he has deliberately chosen a fairly literal approach to his task, which is a pity, as the resulting translation is rather difficult to follow in places.

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