COVID-19 has taught us that whom one surrounds oneself with has a profound influence on one’s well-being. In that light, does whom we worship with matter as well? John Calvin would in fact argue that the people we physically worship with have a great impact on our spiritual life. According to Calvin, if you simply worship with (who he deemed to be) the unrighteous group of people, you will lose your spiritual health or even endanger salvation. This is why he was so insistent on asking the French Protestants to leave France and join him in Geneva. What is striking is that worshipping with the right kind of people does not have that automatic effect. Rather, they have to actively engage in many beneficial activities together, encouraging and empowering one another. This is because, for Calvin, while unrighteousness itself is highly contagious, growing in a nurturing community takes conscious and purposeful effort. In this sense, Calvin explains that idolatry and unrighteousness were a spiritual epidemic that is spread physically, while true piety is acquired through a communal practice of many forms of spiritual exercises. This article will have many important contributions to the field of worship and faith formation. Most notably, while scholars have long been addressing Calvin’s view of active practices during worship which help faith formation, I will show that that is not all there is. Instead, I will demonstrate how even simple physical proximity in worship can have an impact on one’s spiritual growth in Calvin’s thought. Another important contribution of this article would be offering a clearer presentation of Calvin’s sacramental theology of body and soul. Scholars have long been arguing that, for Calvin, the bodily participation in a Roman Catholic mass while believing in (what was for him) the true gospel was a serious sin of idolatry and hypocrisy. My article will further develop this idea by noting that, according to Calvin, not only is it wrong to do one thing with one’s body and another with one’s soul but having one’s body in a negative environment is harmful to one’s soul. If one’s body is surrounded by other people who do not believe in the true gospel, it would have a devastating impact on one’s soul. In other words, for Calvin, the body and soul influence each other in a way that has sacramental and developmental implications.
Ha, Sam, "With Whom Should One Worship? A Fresh Perspective on John Calvin’s Liturgical Theology of Physical Proximity and Spiritual Epidemic" (2023). University Faculty Publications and Creative Works. 609.