Happy Birthday, John Calvin!

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Have you ever heard of John Calvin? This year, you’ll be hearing about him a lot in The Banner because he’s having a big birthday! John Calvin was born in the year 1509, so if you baked him a cake, do you know how many candles you’d have to put on it? FIVE HUNDRED! So who was he, and why are people are still talking about him 500 years later? Let’s find out!

What Was the Reformation?

In 1517, when John Calvin was 8 years old, a movement called the “Protestant Reformation” divided the churches of Europe into two groups: Roman Catholic and Protestant.There were lots of big reasons for this split, but one was that the Roman Catholic Church  of that time taught that people had to do certain things to be saved. The Protestants, who “protested” those teachings, believed that people are saved only by having faith in God. They said the Bible teaches there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves—only God can save us.(The Christian Reformed Church is a Protestant church, and so are thousands of other churches around the world.)John Calvin was one of the people called “Reformers” who tried to “reform” the teachings of the Catholic church of that time. Many of the Reformers were killed for what they believed. (Thankfully, Roman Catholic Christians and Reformed Christians share a much warmer relationship today!)When John Calvin was 25 he had to move to Switzerland because things were getting dangerous for him in France. In Switzerland he worked hard to help people understand God, their faith, and the Bible in a new way.

Strange but True

  • For much of his life, John Calvin was very sick. He had migraine headaches, arthritis, kidney stones, gout, and more. Sometimes people had to carry him to the pulpit so he could preach.
  • Because of his illnesses and stomach troubles, John often ate only one meal a day.
  • John was only 55 years old when he died, but in the 16th century that wasn’t so young, since many people died before age 50.
  • We’re not sure where John is buried because he didn’t want his grave to have a name on it. (He wanted people to honor God, not him.)

John Calvin and You

If your church is a Christian Reformed Church, you’re connected to John Calvin!Years ago in the Netherlands, many Dutch people followed the teachings of John Calvin in what they called “Reformed” churches. When Dutch people came to live in Canada and the United States, they started Reformed churches in their new homeland. Later some people left the Reformed Church to start the Christian Reformed Church (we call it the CRC for short). That’s the group of churches your church is part of.Today, Christian Reformed people aren’t only Dutch—they’re African American, Cuban, Hmong, Korean, Navajo, Nigerian, and more. John Calvin has touched the lives of people all over the world!

Things and People Named After John Calvin

  • John Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States
  • Calvin in the cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes”
  • Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Calvin Theological Seminary (where your pastor probably went to school)
  • 11 Christian Reformed churches in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Wisconsin are called “Calvin CRC.”

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Name: John Calvin (My parents named me Jean Cauvin. Jean is the French name for John, and I changed my last name when I was in school).Birthday: July 10, 1509 (I’m turning 500 this year!)Hometown: I was born in Noyon, France, but I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, for many years.
About Me: I’m a theologian (someone who studies and teaches about God). I’m also a preacher, a lawyer, and a teacher. I started the Academy of Geneva in 1559, and 450 years later people still study there. (Now it’s called the University of Geneva. It has more than 13,000 students!)Interests: Law, literature, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, philosophy, education, governmentActivities: My friends tease me that I never take a break! I’m always busy with something: preaching, writing, teaching.Religious Views: I was born  Roman Catholic, but when I was a young man I became a Protestant.Relationships: At age 31 I married Idelette De Bure, the best friend of my life, who died only nine years after our marriage. We had a son, Jacques, who died when he was just a baby. Favorite Books: The Bible and the book I wrote called the Institutes of the Christian Religion. I worked hard on it for many years, and people still read it almost 500 years later!Favorite Movies: What are movies?

About the Author

Sandy Swartzentruber serves as the resource coordinator for Faith Formation Ministries and is a member of Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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