Chapter 15, “On the Power of the Church,” maybe one of the most important chapters in the Institutes for today. If Calvin does not adequately defend his theory about whether or not the Church can decide doctrine, then he might as well become Roman Catholic for one might say that everything hinges upon this single fact. It seems (though this is said with limited knowledge), that there is little obligation to believe some of the tenets of Roman Catholicism outside of such an understanding of Church authority. Indeed, there is evidence that such things are happening today as some Reformed intellectuals are becoming Roman Catholic because they have become convinced that the Roman Catholic Church has such an authority (cf. calledtocommunion.com).
One important point within this issue is that of Apostolic Succession. On page 641, Calvin represents his opponents position as follows: “The truth does not remain in the church if it does not lie in the pastors, and the church itself could not exist if it did not manifest itself in general councils. Though this is not Apostolic Succession per se, it does touch on the idea that the continuity of the Church lies in its visible leaders. Calvin’s response is to point out many passages in the Old Testament (641-642), which show the continuity of the people of Israel through the idea of a faithful remnant and not through the leadership. Some respond (642) that that was true for the Jews, but he then points to some New Testament passage which also convey the same idea of a corrupt leadership (2 Pet. 2:1; Matt. 24:11, 24; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thess. 2; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-9, 4:3-4). Calvin does not think this diminishes the authority of the leaders in the church, but in order to bypass this predicament, he calls for great scrutiny in selecting pastors. So, it seems that Calvin is combining the view of Augustine and Donatist in that he does not place the holiness of the people in the holiness of the pastor, but he still holds high standards.