(redirected from Calvinist Church, USA)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


Calvinism, term used in several different senses. It may indicate the teachings expressed by John Calvin himself; it may be extended to include all that developed from his doctrine and practice in Protestant countries in social, political, and ethical, as well as theological, aspects of life and thought; or it may be employed as the name of that system of doctrine accepted by the Reformed churches (see Presbyterianism), i.e., the Protestant churches called Reformed in distinction from those professing Lutheran doctrines (see also Reformed churches). Early Calvinism differed from Lutheranism in its rejection of consubstantiation regarding the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in its rigid doctrine of predestination, in its notion of grace as irresistible, and in its theocratic view of the state. Luther believed in the political subordination of the church to the state; Calvinism produced the church-dominated societies of Geneva and Puritan New England. Calvinism, stressing the absolute sovereignty of God's will, held that only those whom God specifically elects are saved, that this election is irresistible, and that individuals can do nothing to effect this salvation. This strict Calvinism was challenged by Jacobus Arminius, whose more moderate views were adopted by the Methodists and the Baptists. Calvinism challenged Lutheranism throughout Europe, spread to Scotland, influenced the Puritans of England, and received its expression in the United States in the modified New England theology of the elder Jonathan Edwards. The doctrinal aspects of Calvinism receded under the rationalism of the 18th and 19th cent. In more recent times, however, in the Reformed theology of Karl Barth, the Calvinist stress on the sovereignty of God found new and vital expression.


See J. T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (1954, repr. 1967); B. G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (1969); M. Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 1541–1715 (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a Protestant doctrine the founder of which was J. Calvin; it arose in the 16th century during the Reformation.

At the basis of Calvinist doctrine, which “was one fit for the boldest of the bourgeoisie of his time” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 22, p. 308), lie the doctrines of absolute predestination and of divine nonintervention in the orderly functioning of the world. According to the doctrine of absolute predestination, god, even before the creation of the world, predestined certain people to “salvation” and others to destruction, some to heaven and others to hell, and this judgment of god was absolutely immutable. The doctrine of predestination “was the religious expression of the fact that in the commercial world of competition success or failure does not depend upon a man’s activity or cleverness, but upon circumstances uncontrollable by him. It is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of the mercy of unknown economic powers” (ibid.). However, the teaching of predestination did not doom a man to a fatalistic submission to fate. According to Calvin, a man must be confident that he is “god’s elect” and prove this by his life and actions. God, as Calvin asserted, does not directly disturb the orderly functioning of the world that he created, and the indication that a man is one of the elect is success in his professional activity. Thus, the bourgeoisie’s entrepreneurial activity with its striving for accumulation and profit received a religious justification. The “secular asceticism” preached by Calvinism was expressed in simplicity of life and parsimony, in the elimination of numerous Catholic holidays, and in the increase of the number of working days. From Geneva (the homeland of Calvinism) this doctrine spread to England (the Puritans), Scotland, the Netherlands, certain regions of Germany, France, Hungary, and Poland. As the religious ideology of the bourgeois era of the primitive accumulation of capital, Calvinism played a major organizing role in two early bourgeois revolutions—that of the Netherlands (16th century) and especially the English Revolution of the 17th century.

The republican organization of a Calvinist church was radically different from the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. Standing at the head of the church communion were the elders (presbyters), elected from among the lay members of the communion, and the preachers, whose duties were not connected with priestly activity but only with ministerial service (from the Latin ministerium; hence their title, “ministers”). The presbyters and ministers made up the consistory. Such an organization of the church provided scope to the influence of the most powerful people in the communion and was extremely beneficial to the economically strong stratum of the bourgeoisie; it also fully embodied the bourgeois ideal of an “inexpensive church” (simplification of ritual, the elimination of luxury, etc.).

Calvinism was no less intolerant of those who held differing beliefs (especially of popular Reformation movements) than was Catholicism. In contrast to the popular “heretical” doctrines that denied the need for the church as a social institution, Calvinism preached that salvation was possible exclusively within the framework of the church. The ecclesiastical organization of Calvinism was built on the harshest discipline and absolute submission of the rank-and-file members of a congregation to its leaders. This Calvinist ecclesiastical organization was adopted not only by the bourgeoisie; it was also a convenient weapon for the struggle of the aristocratic strata of the gentry against royalist absolutism, for example, in France (the Huguenots).

Calvinism, together with Zwinglianism, which rapidly merged with Calvinism, in its various denominations (the Reformed Church, Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism) achieved its greatest dissemination in the USA, Great Britain and certain of its former dominions, the Netherlands, and Switzerland; by the end of the 1960’s there were approximately 45 million adherents of Calvinism.


Engels, F. “Liudvig Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
Kapeliush, F. D. Religiia rannego kapitalizma. Moscow, 1931.
Porshnev, B. F. “Kal’vin i kal’vinizm.” In the collection Voprosy istorii religii i ateizma, issue 6. Moscow, 1958.
Vipper, R. Iu. Vliianie KaVvina i kaVvinizma na politicheskie ucheniia i dvizheniia XVI veka. Moscow, 1894.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the theological system of John Calvin (original name Jean Cauvin, Caulvin, or Chauvin.; 1509--64), the French theologian and leader of the Protestant Reformation, and his followers, characterized by emphasis on the doctrines of predestination, the irresistibility of grace, and justification by faith
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005