It's the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, and whether you agree with his theology or not, this is a biggie. It's been suggested that the Protestant Reformation, and Calvin's teachings in specific, were fundamental to the rise of capitalism (see "Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber). Of course the spirit of America, too, owes a great debt to this man and these philosophies. Some would say the spirit of America is dead, and only the United States remain, but I'll let that go for now...
If you've been reading so far, you'll note we're challenged by attending to the politics of the age, since we wish to maintain America's freedoms--which defend the practice of our religions--and yet, we want not to be "of this world." Here's a recent essay on Calvin which poignantly speaks to this dilemma:
Calvin understood that we must remake worship. Everything else is icing. To put it another way, Calvin understood that we must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not so that we might have all these things added to us, but so that we might have the one needful thing -- the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
We, the heirs of Calvin, have forgotten this lesson. We, if we think about worship at all, see it as a means to the end. The end we have in mind is the power and the glory. We want to build political coalitions that we might change the world. We want to overcome the powers of the Hollywood elite that we might change the world. We want to remake the economic landscape that we might change the world. What God wants is that we would bow down in repentance and give glory to His name. What God wants is what Calvin did.
When Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He wasn't telling us: "Now when you go about your life, when you pursue your goals, don't forget the big picture. Don't lose sight of why you do what you do." Instead Jesus was telling us: "Seek this. Seek this alone. Forget about everything else. Have a single-minded passion and leave the rest alone. It is in my hands anyway."
We, on the other hand, have it all upside down and backwards. We will, especially this year, look at the glory that once was Geneva because of the ministry of Calvin. We will, especially this year, look out at all the nations that felt the ripples of Calvin, moving from Geneva, to England, to these United States, then back out across the globe through the modern missionary movement. We will, especially this year, remember the great economic power that was unleashed with the spread of liberty that likewise redounds to Calvin. What we will miss is the true glory, the real story. What we will miss is the unvarnished beauty of a single congregation in one neighborhood of Geneva, bowing in prayer to the living God, lifting up their voices, singing the Psalms of God, receiving the Word preached, and receiving the Word as bread and wine. There is where the glory is found.