Calvin's Defense of Politics

Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book IV, Chap. XX

  1. This consideration should repress the fury of the Anabaptists.

7. The coercive character of magistracy does not hinder its recognition

In regard to those who are not debarred by all these passages of Scripture from presuming to inveigh against this sacred ministry, as if it were a thing abhorrent from religion and Christian piety, what else do they than assail God himself, who cannot but be insulted when his servants are disgraced? These men not only speak evil of dignities, but would not even have God to reign over them, (1 Sam. 8:7.) For if this was truly said of the people of Israel, when they declined the authority of Samuel, how can it be less truly said in the present day of those who allow themselves to break loose against all the authority established by God? 


As we pointed out, Calvin's purpose is to shift persecution onto the Anabaptists. He wants the king of France to believe that the magisterial reformers are no threat to his reign, but the Anabaptists are.

To this end, he completely twists the meaning of 1 Samuel 8. In that chapter God says that those who wanted political government rather than patriarchal (stateless) government were rejecting God. Here Calvin says that those who reject the politicians are rejecting God. A careful study of the passage will not allow this interpretation.

But it seems that when our Lord said to his disciples, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that does serve," (Luke 22: 25, 26;) he by these words prohibited all Christians from becoming kings or governors. Dexterous expounders! A dispute had arisen among the disciples as to which of them should be greatest. To suppress this vain ambition, our Lord taught them that their ministry was not like the power of earthly sovereigns, among whom one greatly surpasses another.   

What, I ask, is there in this comparison disparaging to royal dignity? nay, what does it prove at all unless that the royal office is not the apostolic ministry? Besides though among magisterial offices themselves there are different forms, there is no difference in this respect, that they are all to be received by us as ordinances of God. For Paul includes all together when he says that "there is no power but of God," and that which was by no means the most pleasing of all, was honoured with the highest testimonial, I mean the power of one. This as carrying with it the public servitude of all, (except the one to whose despotic will all is subject,) was anciently disrelished by heroic and more excellent matures. But Scripture, to obviate these unjust judgements, affirms expressly that it is by divine wisdom that "kings reign," (cf. Prov. 8:15) and gives special command "to honour the king," (Prov. 24:21; 1 Peter 2:17.)

In the parallel passage in Mark, Jesus says the gentile kings love to be "archists." He commands His disciples NOT to be such. This is the meaning of the English word "an-archist": not an archist. The participant in a laissez-faire capitalist society does not use force to accomplish his goals, but must serve the consumer, serve his neighbor. The seller must persuade the buyer that any exchange will benefit the buyer, or the buyer will not voluntarily enter into the deal. The voluntary society serves mankind better than the "command economy." What exactly is it that the politician can do that God forbids anyone else from doing? Calvin never tells us.