John Calvin had many friends in his life, but some of his friendships did not stand the test of time and the stress of ministry. One friend in particular, Sebastian Castellio, embraced the Reformation and joined Calvin in Strasbourg to work alongside of him. Calvin made him a member of his household and asked him to move to Geneva when the church called him back in 1541. Calvin ensured that Castellio had work and had the city employ him to teach Latin, Greek, and French to the children of Geneva. The two men labored side-by-side until a seemingly insignificant event began to erode their friendship. Castellio discovered that the city paid him less than Calvin. There was good reason for this, as Calvin’s household was an extension of the church and the city expected Calvin to entertain and board students and guests. Castellio also took views that were different than Calvin’s and even mocked the reformer. The relationship quickly soured.
Castellio’s ire was further stoked when the company of pastors declined to ordain him because he dissented from Calvin’s views. Castellio believed he was just as gifted as any other minister including Calvin, yet he believed he did not receive the same respect. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the execution of Michael Servetus. Castellio was among a group of theologians who objected to the execution and argued that the church needed to exercise a braoder view of doctrinal tolerance because Christians were never called to destroy but preserve life. Shortly thereafter Castellio leveled significant criticism against Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Calvin and Castellio were never reconciled. The two started off as close friends and ended their lives as bitter enemies.
Sadly, we can change the names, century, and topics, and this scenario gets replayed in the church on a regular basis. Close friends who work alongside of each other become harsh foes. In spite of our redeemed state, we still sin. Our sin consequently disrupts our relationships. The best way to prevent the dissolution of good friendships is to treat them like marriages. While our friendships do not have the same nearly unbreakable commitment, at the same time we shouldn’t treat them as if they were disposable. I think our consumeristic age encourages us to discard anything and everything that does not immediately satisfy our needs. If your phone is too slow, pitch it and get a new one. If you burn through a friendship, find another one. Rather than toss friendships aside, we must work through the challenges we face because of the ultimate foundation for our friendships within the church.
Jesus told his disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friendsif you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15). Jesus called the disciples his friends, and this was a relationship based in his redemptive work. Within the body of Christ, our union with the Savior, binds us all together. We share this common bond, salvation, and brotherhood. This means that the gospel must mark our friendships.
We will undoubtedly encounter disagreements and even our closest friends will offend us. Yet, if we give in to pride, anger, and bitterness, we will never be able to see past offenses against us. We must be willing to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. But the reality is, more often than not, it takes two to tango. That is, there’s a good chance that we have given offense as much as we have received it. We should always be circumspect about our part in a disagreement to ensure we have not contributed to the rancor. In the end, pray that Christ would preserve your friendships, especially those sealed by the blood of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit. Pray for humility and the ability to love your friends, especially in the face of disagreement and offense.
This post uses information presented in Gary W. Jenkins, Calvin’s Tormentors: Understanding the Conflicts That Shaped the Reformer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 63-76.