What is Calvinism?
Question: My question is this! I am
talking to a friend of mine that is rooted in Calvinism. I am trying to
convince him concerning Faith, Baptism of Holy Spirit, Victorious Gospel
(Inheritance) etc. I do not know much about Calvinism except that it seems
dead! Can you enlighten me to how Calvinism works?
Thanks, Dave Richardson
The influence of Calvinism over the
Protestant churches cannot be overestimated. Although Calvinism was
developed centuries ago the lingering affects of it can still be felt. This
is why the message of faith is resisted. When you finally understand the
roots of Calvinism you discover why people have trouble with the faith
message. It is difficult for them to really live by faith and experience the
victory that God promises when they are buried by Calvinism.
gets its name from its founder, John Calvin, who was born in Noyon,
France in 1509. His father was a lawyer for the Catholic Church, and sent him
to be educated in Paris,
Orleans. There John became
friends with Protestant Reformers Pierre Robert and Melchior Wolmar. He
followed Wolmar to Bourges Law School. At this time he declared himself a
Protestant. He left France and settled in Basel, Switzerland and published
his “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In this volume he explains his
interpretation of the Christian faith. You have to understand this book in
light of the age he lived in.
who leave a church over doctrinal issues, Calvin, I believe overreacted to
the works-oriented salvation of the Catholic Church. No doubt the Catholic
Church, then and now, teach that works save us. They teach it in a way that
makes it impossible to have assurance of salvation. After all, how many good
works must I do to be saved? Maybe I haven’t done enough! You can understand
that under these conditions, John Calvin was disgusted with man’s attempt to
secure his salvation with good works. So his teachings swung the pendulum to
the other extreme, where man had “nothing” to do with his salvation—not even
“faith” was man’s responsibility. To him, faith was something that God
sovereignly gave to those He elected to be saved.
understand why Protestants have difficulty with the message of faith,
healing, miracles and victorious Christian living. They view faith not as
something we can have by getting into the Word of God, but as something God
gives if He wills for you to have it. This is an extreme form of
accuse me of denying the Sovereignty of God, but I do believe in it, just
not the same way as John Calvin taught it. Let me share an email from Nick
who believes I am a false teacher because I refuse to accept the main five
points of Calvinism:
know what Bible you are reading, but anyone that studies the word with an
open heart can see where the five points of Calvinism come from. Read the
New Testament; you know the books like Ephesians, Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2
Corinthians. They all speak of predestination, election, atonement,
perseverance of the saints, total depravity. It sounds to me like you think
salvation is of man.”
problem stems from his uncritical embrace of Calvinism. However, we are not
called to justify, prove or defend anyone’s teachings. We are only called
upon to stand for the Word of God. Of course the Bible mentions these
topics—predestination, perseverance, atonement—but not the interpretation
that Calvin gave to these terms.
Arminius was a pupil of John Calvin, and once embraced and defended his
views. But after digging into the scriptures, he came to the ultimate
conclusion that many of his teacher’s doctrines were wrong. He refuted the
main points of Calvin’s theology which had to do with “free will.” You see,
Calvin did not believe in “free will” but instead held to the idea of “total
sovereignty.” Arminius could not accept Calvin’s view of total sovereignty
in light of biblical teaching. Arminius was quite successful in refuting the
main points of Calvinism so the Calvinists came back with a rebuttal. The
rebuttal came in the form of what is commonly called the “Tulip.” Tulip is
an acronym for the five points of Calvinism:
Perseverance of the Saints
Except for the last one,
all the biblical terms are “labeled” not simply stated. In other words, you
can’t simply believe in depravity, but according to Calvin, you must accept
“total” depravity. It is not enough to believe in election but in
“unconditional” election. The belief of atonement is not sufficient; you
must accept “limited” atonement. So you believe in grace, who doesn’t? But
for Calvinists the doctrine of grace is not adequate, you must believe in
“irresistible” grace. Do you see that Calvinism defines for itself what the
biblical terms mean for its adherents?
This is why
I cannot be a Calvinist. I do not agree with how the Calvinists use the
terms. I believe in all the doctrinal terms, but not the definition that the
Calvinists give them.
Here is what
John Calvin did: rather than taking the understandable passages which
directly relate to particular doctrines, he pooled together various
scriptures and made assumptions based on these passages to develop his
system of theology.
When one has
a question about a doctrine, it is best to look at the plain, unambiguous
Bible verses that directly speak on the topic, rather than trying to
philosophize upon the meaning of a verse. Calvinism’s errors are easily
disproved by clear Bible passages. Let’s look at Calvin’s doctrine:
1. Total Depravity.
Calvinists believe that man’s nature and
will is absolutely fixed and determined against all godliness. He is so
depraved he has no ability whatsoever to even have faith. Man cannot even
come to Christ.
is easily refuted by Ezekiel 16:47: You not only walked in their ways and
copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more
depraved than they. If depravity is “total” than how could one person be
more depraved than the others? “More” speaks of quantity. If one can
have “more” than someone else, then the others cannot have “total”. Yet,
Calvin believed that all of humanity was “totally depraved.”
depravity was so grave to Calvin that he believed man could do “nothing” to
be saved, including “believing” the gospel. I agree that man cannot work his
way to salvation. No amount of good works could save anyone. That is true.
But to say that man cannot even “believe” is going too far.
Jesus taught the disciples that, instead of working for food which perishes,
they should “work” for food that is eternal. Obviously the disciples wanted
to be employed in this kind of labor, so they asked Him, “What must we do to
do the works God requires?”
answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
(John 6:28-29) The disciples were thinking plural “works” but Jesus made it
simple, there is only one “work” they could do, and that was to “believe.”
If Jesus did
not think it was possible for man to believe, then He had a royal
opportunity to expand on Calvin’s idea of total depravity, but instead, He
revealed to us that there is one thing that man can do to get saved, and
that is to “believe in the one God has sent.” This is within man’s reach.
said it a different way: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so
that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) Notice the subject matter is “grace”.
Grace by nature is not from us. It is a gift of God. Right of entry into
this grace is “through faith.” Faith is our responsibility. God will not
make us believe.
construed Paul’s words to mean that even our faith is not from ourselves.
However, he was referring to grace as not from ourselves. Sure there is an
element where faith is a gift of God too, however, it is gift only in the
sense that man cannot believe unless he “hears the Word of God.” Without God
speaking, man cannot believe anything about God. But God has spoken and is
still speaking through His Spirit.)
another passage which confirms the Apostle’s concept of the role of Faith
and Grace: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have
peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained
access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Rom 5:1-2)
How do we
gain access into this grace? Paul says we gain access by faith
into this grace. Grace is God’s doing, Faith is man’s doing. Grace is God’s
Work, Faith is Man’s Work.
wrong. Mankind has the ability to “believe.” He is not so depraved that he
lost his ability to have faith.
2. Unconditional Election.
Calvinists believe that the eternal destiny
of man is determined by God alone, and in no way is grounded in any
foreseen merit in the sinner. God does not elect based on any
foreknowledge that the person would believe. So if a person is saved, then
God saved him, solely, because God chose him. For those who are not saved,
God chose them also for damnation.
can be refuted without difficulty. Peter brings forth the concept of
election is his first letter: “To God's elect, strangers in the world,
scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who
have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through
the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and
sprinkling by his blood:” (1 Peter 1:1-2)
We are the
elect, but under what basis does God elect us. Peter makes it abundantly
clear that we have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.
Calvin did not believe that election was based on any foreknowledge, yet
Peter says it is. Who do you believe, Peter or Calvin? I will go with Peter!
Why is our
understanding of election important? It is important because if election is
the sole cause of our “choosing” Christ, then sinners cannot choose to
repent. They could only repent if God first chooses them to get saved. Yes,
I understand that Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John
15:16). But under what basis did He first choose us? He chose us because He
has omniscient powers of foreknowledge, and He is able to know in advance
who will choose Him, so he “beats us to the punch” and chooses us before we
can choose Him.
illustrate it this way: suppose a gambler knew all things and so he knew
which horse would win the race. He would then pick the winning horse. Now,
would the gambler be the “cause” of the horse winning and conversely be the
“fault” of the other horses losing? No! In the same way, you cannot blame
God for those who are not saved any more than you can credit Him “solely”
for being the cause of those who get saved. I am not saying that God does
not have something to do with getting us saved, but He is not “solely”
responsible for us getting saved.
might be offended and accuse me of making God out to be a gambler. I am not
trying to bring God down to the level of a gambler anymore than Jesus was
trying to bring God down to a level of an “unjust judge” (Luke 18:6) or
Himself to the level of a “thief in the night” (Matt. 24:43-44). This was
only an illustration to help you understand election.
Calvinism often use Roman’s chapter nine to defend the concept of
only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father
Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in
order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him
who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is
written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God
unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have
mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” It does not,
therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
understandable how someone can get “unconditional election” from Paul’s
words here in this passage. But as Peter says, “Paul’s letters contain some
things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people
distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2
Here is a
“hard to understand” passage if you pull out this passage from the
entire book of Romans. What Paul was trying to argue for was the right of
the Gentiles to be included in the plan of redemption. There were some Jews
who felt that Gentiles were excluded from salvation, so Paul cites an
incident when God elected the young brother, Jacob instead of the older
brother to receive the inheritance.
that Paul was making is it may seem a surprise for God to “elect” the
gentiles for salvation, but He does surprise us. Paul reminds the readers
that God will have mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and He will show
compassion on whom He wants to have compassion. You cannot tell God whom He
So in the
next chapter Paul concludes his teaching on election with this wonderful
Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For
there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all
and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name
of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom
Do you see it? Paul
concludes his remarks with the fact that now all may be saved—Jews and
Gentiles together. All they need to do is “call on the name of the Lord.”
Calvin got stuck in Romans 9, when he should have continued reading because
in chapter 10 Paul makes it clear that salvation is available to “Anyone”
who trusts in Him.
3. Limited Atonement.
Calvinists believe that Christ’s sacrifice
was intended to affect just those who would be saved. Jesus did not die
for everyone, but only for the elect.
I suppose if
there is any awkward doctrine for Calvinists to defend is limited atonement.
The scriptures are blunt on this idea: He is the atoning sacrifice for
our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1 John 2:2)
do we need the Bible to be on this point? John clearly says that Jesus’
atonement covers not just our sins, but the sins of the whole world.
There is no limit to the atonement. The price has been paid for everyone.
Not all will accept the payment, but it is there nevertheless.
will split hairs at this juncture. They might say that technically Jesus’
blood “could” cover everyone but God “intended” it to cover only the elect.
Furthermore they teach that the atonement is the “cause” of salvation, not
simply the “provision” of salvation. In other words, the atonement is not
just the payment for our sins. If it were, then a person would be able to
“cash in” on the payment and that would allow sinners to accept the payment.
Calvinists cannot have just any sinner accepting the death of Christ, so
they redefine the atonement to mean more than “payment” and “provision” but
actual “disbursement” of salvation.
illustrate it this way: The Bible’s understanding of the atonement would be
like a millionaire who left his wealth to his four children. Now the
responsibility of the children would be to probate the will. Once they
probate the will, then the wealth is theirs. This is how God works. Jesus
died and left enough salvation for all men, but men must accept the payment,
which would be their way to probate the Will of God.
On the other
hand a Calvinist cannot allow any responsibility for the sinner. The sinner
cannot “accept” Christ, because, to their thinking, that would make them
somewhat responsible for obtaining salvation. To the Calvinists, they would
see the wealthy man leaving an inheritance to only the children whom he
wanted to have the wealth, not to all. And then the wealthy man before he
died would have probated the will himself and put the money in the
children’s account. The special children then would find the money in the
bank. In this scenario, what responsibility did the children exercise? None!
biblical scenario, the responsibility for actually obtaining the inheritance
was the children’s. The Bible teaches that it is our responsibility to
accept the atonement, and by accepting it, we become heirs of salvation.
Do you see
how ludicrous the doctrine of “limited atonement” becomes? The simple
understanding of Christ dying for the sins of the entire world is now
twisted to mean that Jesus died only for the elect.
4. Irresistible Grace.
The Calvinists believe that there is no
cooperation of the man’s will with the divine power. An apparent change in
the will of man is wholly God’s doing, and not man's, even in part.
Now we come
to faith and repentance of the sinner. How does a sinner repent? According
to the Bible, “The Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin
and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) A person comes to faith in
Christ through the convicting power of the Spirit. To this there is no
Calvinists take this further to mean that the Holy Spirit convicts to such a
degree that you will be “forced” to believe. You will not be able to resist
the Holy Spirit in any way. In Calvinism there is no “free will” but only
the “Sovereign will” of God. Since you were elected for salvation, according
to the Calvinists, God cannot leave it with you to believe and repent. He
will cause you to repent. This is what is meant by “irresistible grace.”
Grace that you cannot resist.
Bible mention whether it is possible to resist the Holy Spirit? It sure
does, and here is a clear verse: You stiff-necked people, with
uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always
resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51) There it is! They resisted the Holy
Spirit. If the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, then how was it possible for
these people to do it? It is clear; man still can resist the Holy Spirit.
This makes their judgment even worse.
does everything He can, without violating free will, to bring us to
salvation. He even sent His precious Spirit to convict us, and yet, to
resist Him takes a great deal of effort. However, the Calvinists believe
that the Spirit violates free will to make a person repent. A Calvinists
believes that a person’s faith and repentance only appears to be of their
volition, but it is really the outcome of the Will of God. So that means,
those who do not repent, it is because the Spirit had not convicted them; if
He had, then they too would have repented.
5. Perseverance of the Saints.
Calvinists believe that
those, whom God has elected, can neither totally nor finally fall away
from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end, and be
We come to the final problem with
Calvinist’s theology. They know the Bible warns about apostasy and falling
away from the faith. They acknowledge the necessity of producing good fruit
to show their salvation, and that he who stands firm to the end will be
saved. (Matt 24:13) How does a Calvinists take these warnings? Simple,
they believe if a person is truly regenerated, that means they are the
elect, and being the elect, the Lord will “make them stand” to the end.
there are many promises from God that He will be faithful to do everything
He can to make a believer stay saved. To him who is able to keep you from
falling (Jude 24) is one of them. Another is he who began a good work
in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
(Phil 1:6) How about Jesus personal promise, “I give them eternal life, and
they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John
The Lord is
clear, if someone loses their salvation, they cannot blame God. He is
faithful to keep His word. However, like in the preceding points of
Calvinism, the doctrines are taken to the extreme so that free will is
nullified. If man does not have a free will then God is the only one
responsible to cause the believer to persevere.
that brings us to the issue of the warnings in the Bible concerning apostasy
and backslidings. If God warns the believer not to backslide and depart from
the faith, and if the believer cannot really ultimately fall away, then the
warnings is needless and pointless. Right? Why warn us about something that
I suppose in
the end, it is this final point that is most dangerous of all. Calvinism
provides a believer with an “unconditional” eternal security. They do not
believe that anything they do will have any affect upon their eternal
destiny. If God has chosen them, then there is nothing they can do to
ultimately be lost, and if God did not chose them to be saved, then there is
nothing good they can do as well. So they fall into a fatalistic
mindset—whatever God wills, it shall be done! This is dangerous. (For a
fuller teaching on the Eternal Security of the believer,
think everything is already determined—set in cement—you might have a
tendency to live recklessly or like the movie “Unbreakable” starring Bruce
Willis he lived numb. He had no feelings or ambitions. He thought he was
unbreakable and, thus, could not die.
person feels that their actions do not amount to “anything” it becomes
difficult to claim God’s blessings by faith. They already assume He either
has predestined them for them or not.
is probably what you notice about Calvinist's churches—they seem lifeless
and dead, much like Bruce Willis’s character.
Thank God we
know the real truth about the gospel and our responsibility to it. Our
decisions and actions do matter for eternity. Don't give up on your
Calvinist's friend. Print out this article and have him read it. Perhaps he
will see the light.
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