John Calvin played a major role in the Reformation. He was very well educated, studying humanistic studies as well as law in France. Martin Luther’s writings also had an influence on him. Calvin strongly believed in the sovereignty of God, and this made Calvin firm in his resolve. King Francis I was known for persecuting the Protestants, however, so Calvin had to leave Paris and he went to Basel. This was the place where he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.
Calvin had many of the same ideas as Luther, especially concerning justification. But, unlike Luther, Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God. Out of his belief in God’s sovereignty, Calvin derived predestination, which meant that God had chosen people who would follow him. These people were known as the elect, and any Christian belonged to this group. Calvin then came up with three different ways to determine if someone was saved or not. The first was if there was a public profession of faith, the second, a godly life, and the third, participation in baptism and the Eucharist. Calvin did not believe that any amount of worldly possessions or success would save someone. Calvin also did not know 100% that anyone could be saved, however, many later Calvinists were so sure of their salvation because they knew they were part of the elect. John Calvin believed that the church’s job was to spread God’s word and to give out the sacraments of baptism and communion. Calvin did agree with Luther on Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper, but only in a spiritual way. Since Jesus was sitting next to God in heaven, it was only possible for him to be there in spirit.
Up until 1536, John Calvin had merely been a scholar, but during that year, he went to Geneva and began a ministry. He came up with the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which was approved in 1541 by the city council. It said that the clergy and laymen could be part of the church service. He also came up with the Consistory, which was in charge of moral punishment and discipline. Sometimes, the Consistory would make a person do public confession, or even excommunicate them. There were some punishments worse than excommunication, however, and these were given to the city council. The Consistory was basically in charge of keeping the people in line. John Calvin developed the city of Geneva into a thriving Protestant city. A later Reformer in Scotland, John Knox made a remark about Geneva saying it was, “the most perfect school of Christ on earth.” Geneva became a hub for missionary training for all around the world. Geneva also became a key city in the Reformation, with one of the most powerful movements in church history.