Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 22 – By Mike and Sharon Rusten*
In 1536 John Calvin no longer felt safe in his native France, so he left for Strasbourg, a free city situated between France and Germany that had declared itself Protestant. On his way there he stopped for the night in Geneva, Switzerland. Just two months earlier Geneva had given its allegiance to Protestantism as a result of the labors of William Farel, who had been ministering there for three years. That evening Farel met with Calvin and immediately asked him to join in leading the church in Geneva. Calvin declined, saying he wanted to go to Strasbourg to study and write. Farel thundered at him that unless Calvin joined him in Geneva, God would bring down curses upon him. Somewhat intimidated by Farel’s pronouncement, twenty-eight-year-old Calvin agreed to stay, even though his preference was to go to Strasbourg.
Calvin’s initial stay in Geneva, however, was short. In January 1537 Geneva’s Council of Two Hundred zealously enacted a series of ordinances prohibiting immoral behavior, gambling, foolish songs, and desecration of Sunday with no thought as to how they would be enforced. In July the council ordered all citizens to assent to a confession of faith. In November the council ordered banishment for anyone who refused to swear to the confession. This was more than the man on the street could stomach, and in the city council election three days later, a majority of anticlerical councilmen were elected.
The Council of Two Hundred met the following day, April 22, 1538, to decide their fate. The meeting stretched into a second day, at which time the order was given to Calvin and Farel to leave Geneva within three days. Farel went to Neuchatel, and Calvin returned to his original plan and went to Strasbourg.
In Strasbourg Calvin became pastor of the Church of the Strangers, a French refugee church. There he met and married Idelette deBure, the widow of an Anabaptist. Calvin was content in Strasbourg and probably would have spent the rest of his life there had it not been for the Roman Catholic cardinal’s efforts to bring Geneva back into the fold of the Catholic Church. In 1539 the cardinal write to the Genevans, inviting them to return to the pope. No one in Geneva felt qualified to answer the letter, so it was sent to Calvin to respond, which he did very effectively.
Meanwhile Geneva was not doing well in his absence. A new election had placed the city government back in the hands of friends who feared that the only way to save the city from anarchy was to bring Calvin back. As a result, in October 1540 the Council of Two Hundred voted to invite him back to Geneva.
Once again Calvin’s personal desire was not to go to Geneva. He wrote to a friend, “There is no place in the world which I fear more; not because I hat it; but because I feel unequal to the difficulties which await me there.” And once again it was through the counsel and persuasion of Farel, who himself was not invited back, that Calvin was convinced to return.
He returned to Geneva in September 1541 and ministered there the rest of his life, making Geneva the center for the Reformed faith.”
John Calvin spent most of his life in a place where he would rather not have been. Yet he was convinced that God wanted him in Geneva, so that is where he ministered. Do you put geographical limitations on where you will serve God? We will always be happiest where we are in the center of God’s will, regardless of where that may be.
“With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:47
Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 22nd entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.
*Other Significant Events on April 22nd in Church History:
536: Pope St. Agapetus died in the eastern empire, where he had gone in a vain attempt to prevent General Belisarius from coming to Italy. He failed at that but succeeded in moving Justinian away from the Monphysite heresy. After his death, his body was brought back to Rome.
1538: John Calvin and William Farel (see above) were fired by the town council of Geneva and ordered to leave the city within three days. The day before they had refused to administer the Lord’s Supper unless the townsfolk repented.
1723: J.S. Bach was elected cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig. This was the last post that he held before his death. Bach had a rule never to convert Christian works to secular use, although he often converted secular works to Christian use.
1987: Dr. J. Edwin Orr died on this day. He was a historian of revivals and showed that no revival ever began without prayer.
*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.