Original Research

Calvin’s views on church governance

C.J. Smit
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 44 | a188 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v44i0.188 | © 2010 C.J. Smit | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 July 2010 | Published: 26 July 2010

About the author(s)

C.J. Smit, School of Ecclesiastical Studies, Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University, South Africa

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This article investigates whether the church was seen by Calvin as a mere human community based on laws, an association functioning on the basis of a constitution, or as a dynamic domain of the governance of Jesus Christ which functions on the basis of the Word through his Spirit.


According to Calvin the church is a new order ordained by Christ in which He never delegated his authority to his officers. He Himself, as the Head, remains the sole bearer of authority. Nevertheless, they receive full power, as representatives of Christ, to minister his Word and to administer the sacraments in his church. As such the church received the power to teach (“potestas docenda”), to govern (“potestas gubernatio”) and to make laws (“potestas regiminis”). This competence (“potestas”) is, however, exercised particularly as a ministry (“ministe- rium”) because it rests on God’s Word and is only ministered in conjunction with it. In the procedure of church governance Calvin considered faith and love as two key concepts.


In order to give a practical foundation to a spiritual mode of governance in the church as God’s new order in the world, a church order is needed which is founded in the Word. This church order must aim at the protection of the governance of the Spirit in the church.


For Calvin church government is, therefore, primarily a process of governing the heart – the hearts of those among whom God’s new order in the world exists.


Church; Church Authority; Church Governance; Church Officers; Church Order; New Order


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