“Calvin charted a course between the Erastianism (the doctrine that the state is supreme over the church in ecclesiastical matters) of Lutherans that subordinated the church to the state, and the asceticism of Anabaptists that withdrew the Church from the State and society. Like Lutherans, Calvin and his followers insisted that each local polity be an overtly Christian commonwealth that adhered to the general principles of natural law and that translated them into detailed positive laws of religious worship, Sabbath observance, public morality, marriage and family life, social welfare, public education and more. Like Anabaptists, Calvin and his followers insisted on the basic separation of the offices and operations of church, and state, leaving the church to govern its own doctrine and liturgy, polity and property, without interference from the state. But, unlike both groups, Calvin insisted that both church and state officials were to play complementary legal roles in the creation of the local Christian commonwealth and in the cultivation of the Christian citizen.”
John Witte, Jr.
The Reformation Of Rights – pg. 78
A couple notes here.
First, Calvin’s expectation “that each local polity be an overtly Christian commonwealth that adhered to the general principles of natural law,” must be understood in the context that natural law can only yield Christian conclusions when interpreted in a Christian community. Natural law, when pursued in the context of a Christian people and a Christian Worldview, can be expected to fulfill Calvin’s expectations and is the only place where it can really work without the use of raw force to implement it. It is the height of foolishness to think that Natural law will translate “into detailed positive laws of religious worship, Sabbath observance, public morality, marriage and family life, social welfare, public education and more,” when it is considered apart from Christian people living in a Christian commonwealth. One problem with Natural law as the R2Kt people pursue it is the expectation that the Natural law, as promulgated by Christian Natural law theologians, will be embraced by people who do not share the Biblical starting point that the Christian Natural law theologians have. Indeed, what is interesting is that Calvin expected Natural law to translate into detailed positive laws in areas that the current R2Kt Natural theologians insist that Natural law does not speak to at all (i.e. — religious worship, and Sabbath observance).
Second, the appeal to public education must be take into account that public education in a Christian commonwealth will be doing the same thing that public education in Secular humanist pluralist commonwealth does, and that is to catechize children into the guiding dominant mindset. There is nothing wrong with public education when it is pursued in the context of a Christian commonwealth, which is the context for which Calvin and Luther were advocating its existence. (Though I still would never require it through legislation.)
Third, this quote does serious damage to R2Kt idea that pluralism is the ideal societal arrangement. Calvin does not agree with the innovative thinking that is without Reformed historical legs that is coming out of Westminster West.