THE CALVINISM DEBATE: WHO IS THE ENEMY?
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Calvinism is a theology that was developed by John Calvin in the 1500s. He presented this theology in his Institutes of Christian Religion, which subsequently became the cornerstone of Presbyterian and Reformed theology. It is also called TULIP theology. Calvin himself did not use the term TULIP to describe his theology, but it is an accurate, though simplified, representation of his views, and every standard point of TULIP theology can be found in Calvins Institutes.
A Summary of TULIP Theology
Total Depravity: Man is totally corrupt and dead in his sin so that he cannot even respond to the gospel unless God sovereignly enables him, which only happens if he is one of the elect.
Unconditional Election: God unconditionally chooses who will be called to salvation. Calvin believed that God also chooses who will go to hell. [God] devotes to destruction whom he pleases they are predestinated to eternal death without any demerit of their own, merely by his sovereign will. he orders all things by his counsel and decree in such a manner, that some men are born devoted from the womb to certain death, that his name by glorified in their destruction. ... God chooses whom he will as his children while he rejects and reprobates others (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 23).
Limited Atonement: The death of Christ was only for those God will call to salvation. Calvin denounced the universal offer of the Gospel. When it appears that when the doctrine of salvation is offered to all for their effectual benefit, it is a corrupt prostitution of that which is declared to be reserved particularly for the children of the church (Institutes, Book III, chap. 22).
Irresistible Grace: Gods call to the elect is effective and cannot be resisted. That some, in time, have faith given them by God, and others have it not given, proceeds from his eternal decree; for known unto God are all his works from the beginning, etc. (Acts 15:18; Ephesians 1:11). According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however hard, and he bends them to believe; but the non-elect he leaves, in his judgment, to their own perversity and hardness (summary derived from the Synod of Dort).
Perseverance of the Saints: Those who are elected and drawn will continue in the faith. Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (Abstract of Principles, 1858).
SOME INTRODUCTORY POINTS
1. I have studied Calvinism from the horses mouth. In order to have a proper understanding of Calvinism for myself, I have studied Calvins Institutes of Christian Religion, as well as the writings of many influential Calvinists, both contemporary and past. In late 2000, I was invited to preach at a conference on Calvinism at Heritage Baptist University in Greenwood, Indiana, that was subsequently held in April of 2001. The conference was opposed to Calvinism; and I agreed to speak, because I am in sympathy with such a position. Before I put together the message for the conference, though, I did many things. For one, I carefully studied Calvins Institutes for myself. I also contacted Dr. Peter Masters in London, England, and he subsequently called me and we discussed the subject of Calvinism. He has distributed some of my books for many years. I told him that I love and respect him in Christ and I also love and respect his predecessor, Charles Spurgeon, though I do not agree in all points with either of them on Calvinism (or some issues, for that matter). I have long studied after and benefited from Spurgeons preaching. In recent years, I have spent many fruitful and blessed days studying in the Spurgeons Library in Missouri near Kansas City. I told Dr. Masters that I wanted him to tell me what books he would recommend so that I could properly understand what he believes on the subject (knowing that there are many varieties of Calvinism). I did not want to misrepresent Calvinism. Among other things, Dr. Masters recommended that I read Spurgeon vs. the Hyper-Calvinists by Iain Murray. I purchased the book and greatly appreciated it. It was a big help toward the goal of better understanding Calvinism. I have thus made a considerable effort to understand Calvinism properly and not to misrepresent it.
2. Baptists must face the issue of Calvinism. It is a divisive subject, but it must be faced because it touches some of the most important points of biblical truth and affects how Christians perceive of the gospel and the very person of God. It is interesting to observe that there have always been divisions among Baptists on the issue of Calvinism. The early Baptists in England were divided into the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists, referring to how they viewed Christs atonement, as to whether it was for all men (general) or only for the elect (particular). Adam Taylors History of the General Baptists of England (1818) deals with the history of the non-Calvinist Baptists in Great Britain, and there were a large number of them. To my knowledge, he is the only 19th-century British Baptist historian who was not a Calvinist. It is certain that the vast majority of Baptist histories are written by Calvinists and they typically neglect and sometimes pervert the history and beliefs of the non-Calvinist Baptists. Be that as it may, the fact remains that Baptists have always been divided on this issue and it is not wise to draw back from dealing with it, even though divisions come.
3. I am convinced that John Calvin has caused great and unnecessary divisions among Gods people because of his errors, and few things have hindered biblical evangelism more than Calvinism. It almost killed the Baptist churches of England in the 18th and early 19th century. Among Calvinists, evangelism is done IN SPITE OF Calvinism, not because of it. Baptist historian Thomas Armitage wrote: William Careys Inquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathen was published in 1792, but found few readers and produced little effect. To most of the Baptists his views were visionary and even wild, in open conflict with Gods sovereignty. At a meeting of ministers, where the senior Ryland presided, Carey proposed that at the next meeting they discuss the duty of attempting to spread the Gospel amongst the heathen. Ryland, shocked, sprang to his feet and ordered Carey to sit down, saying: When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine!
Things were not much better when Spurgeon took his first pastorate in 1854. This situation is described in Spurgeon vs. the Hyper Calvinists by Iain Murray. Many Calvinists opposed Spurgeon and denounced invitations for sinners to come to Christ. For example, one Calvinist publication warned, ...to preach that it is mans duty to believe savingly in Christ is absurd (Earthen Vessel, 1857).
4. It is important to understand that Calvinism is an unsettled theology. Calvinists are seriously divided among themselves and always have been. There is Supralapsarianism vs. Sublapsarianism vs. Infralapsarianism. The Supralapsarians hold that God decreed the fall of Adam; the Sublapsarians, that he permitted it (McClintock & Strong). The Calvinists at the Synod of Dort were divided on many issues, including lapsarianism. The Swiss Calvinists who wrote the Helvetic Consensus Formula in 1675 were in conflict with the French Calvinists of the School of Saumur. The are Strict Calvinists and Moderate Calvinists, Hyper and non-Hyper (differing especially on reprobation and the extent of the atonement), 5 pointers, 4 pointers, 3 pointers, 2 points. In America Calvinists were divided into Old School and the New School. As we have seen, the Calvinists of England were divided in the 19th century.
Whenever, therefore, one tries to state TULIP theology and then refute it, there are Calvinists who will argue with you that you are misrepresenting Calvinism. It is not so much that you are misrepresenting Calvinism, though. You might be quoting directly from various Calvinists or even from Calvin himself. The problem is that you are misrepresenting their Calvinism! There are Calvin Calvinists and Thomas Fuller Calvinists and Arthur W. Pink Calvinists and Presbyterian Calvinists and Baptist Calvinists and many other sorts of Calvinists. Many Calvinists have never read Calvins Institutes of Christian Religion for themselves. They are merely following someone who follows someone who allegedly follows Calvin.
Calvinists believe that they have the right to reject or modify some parts of or conclusions of Calvin. I agree with them 100%, and I say, further, that we also have the right to reject the entire thing if we are convinced that it is not supported by Scripture!
5. It is not wise to follow John Calvin; he was unsound at the very foundation of the Christian faith. Calvin never gave a testimony of the new birth; rather he identified with his Catholic infant baptism. Note the following quotes from his Institutes: At whatever time we are baptized, we are washed and purified once for the whole of life (Institutes, IV). By baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ ... infants are to be baptized ... children of Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism (Institutes, IV).
Calvin was vicious toward his enemies, acting more like a devouring wolf than a harmless sheep. Historian William Jones observed that that most hateful feature of popery adhered to Calvin through life, the spirit of persecution. Note how he described his theological opponents: ...all that filth and villainy...mad dogs who vomit their filth against the majesty of God and want to pervert all religion. Must they be spared? (Oct. 16, 1555). He hated the anabaptists and called them henchmen of Satan. Four men who disagreed with him on who should be admitted to the Lords Supper were beheaded, quartered, and their body parts hung in strategic locations in Geneva as a warning to others. He burned Michael Servetus (for rejecting infant baptism and for denying Christs deity). Calvin wrote about Servetus, One should not be content with simply killing such people, but should burn them cruelly.
6. God does not require His people to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism! The Bible says prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bible itself is the test of truth, not some mans systematic theology. I have the right and responsibility to test every theology by the Bible, and I am free before the Lord to reject any part of it or even all of it. I do not have to make a choice between human theologies. I can stand strictly and exclusively upon the Bible itself. It is the sole authority for faith and practice. Many Calvinists wont allow that, though. James White, author of The Truth about the King James Bible Controversy and several other books, wrote to me in about the year 1999 and challenged me to a public debate. He urged me to defend Arminianism. That is a strange notion, because I dont follow Arminianism and I dont care anything about Arminianism. I have studied the theology of James Arminius some and I find errors in it just as I have found errors in John Calvins theology. White has the idea so typical among Calvinists that a Christian must either follow Calvinism or he must follow Arminianism. If he is not a Calvinist, he is surely an Arminian. No so! But this idea began with Calvin. He treated those who disagreed with his position on election as enemies of God and the gospel and would not admit that men can reject Calvinism and still believe Gods Word! From the time that I was saved by Gods marvelous and free grace 28 years ago until this very day, I have wanted to understand the will of and be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ through Gods preserved Word, the Scriptures. As best as I know how, I have made that my sole authority. I enjoy systematic theology; I am teaching a course in Bible doctrine right now in a new Bible college that we are starting in South Asia and am preparing to publish a book on Bible Doctrine, but I test all of the various theologies with the Scriptures alone, and I have never agreed completely with any mans systematic theology. I praise God that I am not under any divine obligation to follow either Calvinism or Arminianism.
7. Some of the things that I appreciate about Calvinism. Though I do not agree with Calvinist theology, there are many things that I appreciate about Calvinism, especially in contrast to the shallow, man-centered theology and evangelism that is so popular today even among fundamental Baptist churches. Four things come to mind:
First, Calvinism exalts God as the sole Author of salvation and gives glory to Him alone. In this, it is exactly correct and perfectly biblical and right on target. There is no salvation apart from God. There is no good in man and there is nothing he can do to achieve his salvation. It must be of God entirely. Except that God in His mercy and grace has provided salvation in Christ and has drawn men to this salvation, convicting them and enlightening them and granting them faith and repentance (which are both gifts of God), no man would be saved. All glory to God.
Second, Calvinism humbles man and gives him no role in salvation and nothing to glory of. This is the flip side of the previous point, and in this, Calvinism is perfectly scriptural. The Bible gives man nothing whatsoever of which to glory. Salvation is entirely of God and nothing of man. Romans 4:2 says that if Abrahams salvation were not entirely of God he would have something to boast of, but of course that is impossible because no man can ever boast of anything before a thrice holy God. Even mans righteousness, his very best deeds, is but filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6).
Third, Calvinism gives eternal security to the believer. Calvinism promises eternal security to the believer, because it knows that (1) salvation is entirely of Gods grace and thus depends nothing whatsoever on mans puny works whether good or bad, (2) God has elected and ordained the saved person to a glorious eternal inheritance, and (3) the saved persevere in the faith through the effective working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this it is right on target.
Fourth, Calvinism teaches that the elect will give evidence of their calling. The Calvinist knows that salvation produces a dramatic change in a persons life, and in this he is right on target. Any salvation that does not result in a change of life and direction and thinking and purpose is not a biblical salvation.
CENTRAL ERRORS OF CALVINISM
1. Calvinism turns theology into philosophy
Calvinism goes beyond biblical statements in an attempt to systematize the mysteries of God. John Calvin was a philosopher; his Institutes are extremely philosophical. It was first written when his mind was still filled with the philosophy that he had studied as a Catholic priest.
Theology is simply believing and interpreting the Bible. Period.
The Bible warns against philosophy and leaving the simplicity of Christ (Col. 2:8; 2 Cor. 11:3).
And yet Calvinism is not simple; it is very complicated. James White often makes the claim that Dave Hunt doesnt understand Calvinism, even though he of reasonable intelligence and has studied the issue. This highlights the complexity and philosophical nature of Calvinism. It results in an elitist mentality. Consider some of the terms that James White uses in his debate with Dave Hunt: compatibalism, monergism versus synergism, electing grace vs. irresistible grace, effectual calling vs. general calling, effective atonement vs. hypothetical atonement, libertarian free will vs. the bondage of the will. Other Calvinists speak of objective grace and subjective grace, natural ability and moral ability, mediate vs. immediate imputation of Adams sin, supralapsarianism, sublapsarianism, infralapsarianism, and antecedent hypothetical will.
I believe that Calvinism is more akin to philosophy than to sound Bible theology.
2. The Calvinist system tries to reconcile things that cannot be reconciled in this world.
Consider Acts 13:48 and Acts 13:46.
Verse 48 is a pet Calvinist verse: And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. The Calvinist says, See, here is a plain statement that those who believe are those who are sovereignly ordained to believe.
Yet in verse 46 we see a different story. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. Here we see that salvation is associated with mans response to the gospel. These Jews did not go to Hell because they were not part of the elect but because they refused to believe.
Consider John 6:37 and John 6:40
Again, John 6:37 is a favorite Calvinist proof text. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. The Calvinist finds his doctrine of sovereign election and irresistible grace here.
Yet John 6:40 says, And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. This is not Calvinism. Here the sovereign will of God is said to be that each and every sinner who believes on Christ will be saved. Here the sovereign will of God is to allow men a choice in salvation, and a great many other verses agree.
Consider John 6:44 and John 12:32
John 6:44 is another Calvinist proof text. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. The Calvinist finds sovereign election and irresistible grace here.
Yet John 12:32 says, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Here we see that God is drawing all men to Christ.
How can these seemingly contradictory things be reconciled? Calvinism doesnt have the answer, because its proposed solution ignores or twists too many clear Scriptures.
I dont believe these things can be properly reconciled in this present world. We should simply let them stand and not try to force them into a perfectly formed theological system. God truly elects and man truly chooses. God elects and yet every man is urged to be saved and every man can be saved. God elects and yet sent His Son to die for the whole world. God elects and yet does not want any sinner to perish. All are equally true and Scriptural, so let them stand.
3. Calvinisms doctrines are contrary to the plain teaching of Gods Word.
The Bible vs. the Calvinist doctrine that faith is a work
Calvinism says that grace means man cannot do anything, cannot even believe, because otherwise grace would not be grace and the sinner would have something to boast of.
First of all, this is unscriptural, because the Bible plainly says faith and believing are not works
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
Furthermore, this doctrine is unreasonable. Salvation can be likened to receiving a gift, accepting a pardon, and taking a life preserver. If someone purchases a nice gift for me and I accept it, do I have anything to boast of? If I am in prison on death row for my crimes and the governor mercifully offers me a pardon and I accept it, have I done anything that I could boast of? If I am drowning in the ocean and a boat pulls alongside and offers to rescue me and I allow them to do that, have I thereby had some part in my salvation from drowning? Have I done something I could boast of? Of course not. When the sinner hears that Christ loves him and died for him and rose from the dead and offers him eternal salvation and the sinner receives that salvation, that is not works. The sinner has nothing to boast about.
The Bible vs. the Calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of man
The Bible teaches that man is morally corrupt (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18) and dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and spiritually blind (1 Cor. 2:14), but it does not teach that man cannot respond to the Gospel. It teaches, rather, that God enables men to respond, giving them light (Jn. 1:9), drawing them (Jn. 12:32), convicting them (Jn. 16:8), calling them through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14), and commanding them to repent (Acts 17:30) and believe on Christ (Acts 16:31).
The Bible vs. the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace
Consider Cain. Gen. 4:6,7 -- And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
God spoke to Cain and urged him not to act on the jealous anger that was burning in his heart, and yet Cain resisted Gods will and murdered his brother. God gave Cain a choice.
Consider the world before the flood. Gen. 6:3 -- And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
God strived with men before the flood and had Noah preach to them for 120 years while the ark was building, but they resisted God and rejected his warning. Gods will can be resisted and rejected.
Consider Israel of old. Rom. 10:21 -- But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
We see that God wanted to save Israel and continually reached to them, but Gods salvation was resisted and rejected.
Consider Israel of Christs day. Matt. 23:37 -- O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! John 5:40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
Here we see that the sovereign will of the Son of God, who desired to save Israel throughout her history and who sent His prophets to her, was refused.
Consider the unsaved of our day 2 Cor. 4:3-4 -- But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
Here we see that men are blinded because of their own unbelief and they are lost because they reject the gospel. It is Gods sovereign will to save every sinner (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but sinners can resist Him.
Consider the unsaved during the reign of the antichrist 2 Thess. 2:10-12 -- And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Why will these sinners perish? The reason is stated plainly, and it is not because they are not among the elect. It is because they resist the Gospel and reject the truth.
The Bible vs. the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement
God loves all men (Jn. 3:16).
God has commanded that the gospel be preached to every person (Mark 16:15).
God wants to have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32).
God desires to reconcile all men to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
The promise of faith by Jesus is for all (Gal. 3:22).
Jesus was a ransom for all men (1 Tim. 2:6).
Jesus tasted death for all men (Heb. 2:9).
Jesus bought even unsaved false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1).
God desires all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9).
Jesus provided propitiation for all men (1 Jn. 2:2).
The iniquity of all men was laid on Jesus (Isaiah 53:6).
The Calvinists doctrine of limited atonement is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture.
4. Calvinism interprets Scripture by theology rather than context.
In Bible interpretation, the first, second, and third rule is to interpret according to the context. Calvinism, though, assigns preset definitions to theological terms instead of allowing the context to define them. Sovereignty means Gods will cannot be resisted.
Election means man has no choice. Total depravity means man is unable to respond to God and cannot even believe.
Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist, yet he wisely refused to force his theology upon the Scriptures. Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:3-6 Spurgeon said:
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. All men, say they, -- that is, some men: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said some men if he had meant some men. All men, say they; that is, some of all sorts of men: as if the Lord could not have said All sorts of men if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written all men, and unquestionably he means all men. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God (quoted from Spurgeon vs. the Hyper-Calvinists by Iain Murray).
5. Calvinism misstates what non-Calvinists believe.
They claim the non-Calvinist doesnt believe in Gods sovereignty. I cant speak for others, but this non-Calvinist certain believes in Gods sovereignty. God is God and He can do whatsoever He pleases whensoever He pleases. As one man said, Whatever the Bible says, I believe; the Bible says the whale swallowed Jonah, and I believe it; and if the Bible said that Jonah swallowed the whale, I would believe that. If the Bible taught that God selects some sinners to go to heaven and the rest to go to hell or that He chooses some to be saved and allows the rest to be destroyed, I would believe it, because I believe God is God and man cannot tell God what is right or wrong.
They claim, further, that the non-Calvinist believes man is saved by his will. I cant speak for others, but this non-Calvinist does not believe that. No sinner can believe unless God enables him to do so. Man is not saved by his will; he is saved by the grace of God in Christ.
They claim the non-Calvinist doesnt believe that salvation is 100% of God. I cant speak for others, but this non-Calvinist most definitely believes that salvation is 100% of God. It is God who enlightens (Jn. 1:9), convicts (Jn. 16:7-8), draws (Jn. 12:32), and saves. Man does nothing but receive and that is not a work and is not something to boast of! As with salvation, so with Christian living, it is all of God and man has nothing to boast in. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); and, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). It is all of Christ, from beginning to end.
I can say with John Wesley, The author of faith is God alone. It is he who works in us both to will and to do ... There is no more of power than of merit in man; but as all merit is in the Son of God, in what he has suffered and done for us, so all power is in the Spirit of God. And therefore every man, in order to believe unto salvation, must receive the Holy Ghost (Works of Wesley, vol. 8, p. 49). When we say that a man must receive the Holy Spirit in order to believe unto salvation, we do not mean the unscriptural hyper-Calvinist nonsense that a man must be born again before can believe, but simply that a sinner must receive the Spirits enlightenment, conviction, and wooing.
6. Calvinism confuses the church with Israel and national election with personal (Rom. 9:9-24).
John Calvins major argument for unconditional election and reprobation is based on Gods dealings with Israel. This is described in Calvins Institutes, Book III, Chapter 21, Eternal Election.
9:9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.
10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Does this passage teach that God arbitrarily or sovereignly chooses some sinners to be saved and the rest to be lost? Lets consider eight important facts about this passage:
a. The example of Esau and Jacob is not referring to election pertaining to personal salvation but to election pertaining to nations in Gods overall plan.
b. As for Pharaoh, he first hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15). The Scripture teaches that it is always Gods will for men to serve Him, but when they reject Him He rejects them and judges them. Compare 2 Thess. 2:11-12.
c. Rom. 9:22-23 does not say that God sovereignly fits some sinners to destruction and some to glory. The phrase vessels of wrath fitted to destruction allows for a variant voice; according to the PC Study Bible, it can be both the passive and middle voice in Greek; middle means to fit oneself. Middle means the subject acts in relation to him/herself. Vincent Word Studies: Not fitted by God for destruction, but in an adjectival sense, ready, ripe for destruction, the participle denoting a present state previously formed, but giving no hint of how it had been formed. That the objects of final wrath had themselves a hand in the matter may be seen from 1 Thess. 2:15,16. By comparing Scripture with Scripture we see that the sinner fits himself for destruction by his rejection of the truth. Even those who have never heard the gospel have the light of creation and conscience and are responsible to respond to the light that they have (Acts 17:26-27).
d. Rom. 9:23-24 does not mean that God calls only a certain pre-chosen elect group to salvation. The Calvinist claims that verse 24 refers to effectual calling, but this adding to Gods Word. The Bible plainly states that God has called all who will come to Christ. God calls through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) and the gospel is to be preached to every creature (Mk. 16:15). God calls whosoever will (Rom. 10:13; Rev. 22:17). God calls every one that believes on Christ (John 6:40).
e. Gods salvation even of the Jews was not a matter of sovereign election but was based on their faith in His Word (Rom. 9:31-32).
f. Romans 10 leaves no doubt about this; the promise of salvation indicates that it is not Gods arbitrary choice (Rom. 10:8-13). Note the words whosoever and all. Would God mock sinners by promising them salvation if they believe in Christ and then only enable some to exercise such faith?
g. Gods sovereignty does not mean that His will is always accomplished in man (Rom. 10:21). See also Matt. 23:37. God has made man in His image. Man is not a robot. He can exercise his will in saying no to God, and man has said no to God and has resisted God from Genesis to Revelation. If Gods sovereignty means that His will is always done, this world would make no sense! It is Gods will, for example, for every believer to Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Pet. 1:16), but we know all too well that this is not always the case and is never the case perfectly.
h. Gods blinding of Israel was not a matter of sovereign election but it was because they first hardened their own hearts (compare Rom. 11:8-11 with Ezek. 12:2; Matt. 13:15; Acts 28:25-27).
7. Calvinism goes back to the church fathers for authority instead of strictly to the New Testament apostles and prophets.
Calvin freely acknowledged that his authority was Augustine: If I were inclined to compile a whole volume from Augustine, I could easily show my readers, that I need no words but his (Institutes, Book III, chap. 22) Let Augustine answer for me (Ibid.) [Augustine is the one] we quote most frequently as being the best and most faithful witness of all antiquity (Institutes, Book IV, chap. 14) Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so ... out of his writings (Calvin, A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. by Henry Cole, Calvins Calvinism, Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing, 1987, p. 38, cited in Laurence Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 1999, p. 38).
Who was Augustine? He was so polluted with heresy that the Roman Catholic Church claimed him as one of its doctors.
He was a persecutor and the father of the doctrine of persecution in the Catholic Church. The historian Neander observed that Augustines teaching contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition. He instigated bitter persecutions against the Bible-believing Donatists who were striving to maintain pure churches after the apostolic faith. He was the father of a-millennialism, interpreting Bible prophecy allegorically; teaching that the Catholic Church is the kingdom of God. He taught that Mary did not commit sin. He believed in purgatory. He was one of the fathers of infant baptism, claiming that unbaptized infants were lost, and calling all who rejected infant baptism infidels and cursed. He exalted church tradition above the Bible and said, I should not believe the gospel unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church.
8. Calvinism cannot explain Christs warnings and His judgments.
Repeatedly, Christ warned sinners that except they repent and believe on Him they would perish (e.g., Lk. 13:3, 5; Jn. 8:24). He also issued judgments upon sinners because they did not believe (e.g., Lk. 10:12-16).
In light of Calvinisms definition of sovereign election and the irresistible drawing of the elect, Christs warnings and judgments make no sense. Why would He warn sinners to repent and believe or perish and pronounce severe judgment upon sinners for not believing when He knows that only those sovereignly elected can do such a thing? Calvinists have tried to answer this, but in my estimation the fact of Christs warnings refutes their doctrine.
9. Calvinism cannot explain the apostle Paul.
Paul attempted to win the more (1 Cor. 9:19). How can I win more if the number of the elect has been settled from eternity?
Pauls goal was to save some (1 Cor. 9:22). Isnt the election of the saved already assured without Pauls help?
Paul sacrificed so that men would be saved (1 Cor. 10:33). If election is certain and irresistible, this makes no sense.
Paul persuaded men (2 Cor. 5:11). If Paul were a Calvinist, he would know that the elect dont need persuading and the non-elect cant be persuaded!
Paul was willing to go to hell for the unsaved Jews (Rom. 9:3). How could a mere man care more about the destiny of the unsaved than God?
10. Calvinism cannot explain prayer.
The Bible teaches us that mens prayers change things (2 Cor. 1:8-11; Heb. 13:18-19). Prayer can even change Gods mind (Ex. 32:9-14).
Where does this fit into Calvinisms emphasis upon Gods absolute sovereignty? The fact is that man is an amazing creation. He is made in Gods image, and he is not a robot or a puppet. God is still God, but God has ordained that man has a will and can say yes or no to Him. Men can even change His mind!
I DO NOT TREAT ALL CALVINISTS THE SAME
It is important to understand that there is a great variety of doctrine and practice among Calvinists, and by no means do I consider a man to be an enemy of the truth just because he accepts some of the Calvinist theology. The book Spurgeon vs. Hyper Calvinists: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain Murray (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1995) does an excellent job of describing some of the differences among Calvinists. There are soul winning Calvinists, Calvinists with great evangelistic and missionary zeal; and there are Calvinists who condemn these things. Some interpret Calvinism in such a way that they do not believe in offering salvation to or preaching the gospel to all sinners; they do not even believe that God loves all men. According to Murrays definition, these are hyper Calvinists.
Charles Spurgeon faced this in his day. He believed in Calvinism, but he refused to allow any theology to overthrow the clear teaching of the Bible. Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:3-6, for instance, Spurgeon said:
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. All men, say they, -- that is, some men: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said some men If he had meant some men. All men, say they; that is, some of all sorts of men: as if the Lord could not have said All sorts of men if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written all men, and unquestionably he means all men. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God (C.H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1 Timothy 2:3,4, vol. 26, pp. 49-52).
Amen and amen. That is a wise Calvinist!
Spurgeon refused to try to reconcile every seeming contradiction in the Bible, and he was wise enough to know that he could not understand every mystery of God. He said:
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring (C.H. Spurgeon, New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 4 (1858), p. 337).
Spurgeon warned about creating theologies that attempt to reconcile every biblical difficulty:
Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle,--are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonises them all (C.H. Spurgeon, Faith, Sword and Trowel, 1872).
In these matters, Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist but he was much more than a Calvinist; he was a Biblicist. It has been said of Spurgeon, that if you pricked him, even his blood was bibline. He loved theology and studied theology diligently, but the bottom line was that he had childlike faith in everything the Bible says and he refused to allow any man-made theology to overthrow any clear teaching of Scripture.
And while Spurgeon was a Calvinist, he was at the same time a great evangelist and believed in offering the gospel to all men and urging them to be saved. Spurgeon believed that more sinners could be saved if the gospel was preached to them, and he did not try to reconcile such a view with Gods election. He believed his responsibility was to preach the gospel to as many sinners as possible. He believed that tools such as prayer could result in a greater harvest of souls. He had prayer meetings before the preaching services and every Monday night and on other occasions. Sometimes when the auditorium of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was full, a group would remain in the downstairs prayer hall and pray during the preaching (as per e-mail from Mrs. Hannah Wyncoll, Administrative Assistant, Metropolitan Tabernacle, June 2, 2000). Spurgeon loved soul winning and taught his people to be soul winners. His famous book The Soul Winner is still in print. There were some in Spurgeons church who made it their special work to watch for souls in our great congregation, and to seek to bring to immediate decision those who appeared to be impressed under the preaching of the Word. [Bro. Cloud: Note the word decision in Spurgeons description of this soul winner!] One brother has earned for himself the title of my hunting dog, for he is always ready to pick up the wounded birds. One Monday night, at the prayer-meeting, he was sitting near me on the platform; all at once I missed him, and presently I saw him right at the other end of the building. After the meeting, I asked why he went off so suddenly, and he said that the gas just shone on the face of a woman in the congregation, and she looked so sad that he walked round, and sat near her, in readiness to speak to her about the Saviour after the service (C.H. Spurgeon, The Full Harvest, p. 76). Thus we see that Charles Spurgeon was a man who was very zealous for the winning of souls, and his Calvinism and his convictions about the sovereignty of God in no wise hindered that.
On the other hand, many Calvinists of that day opposed Spurgeon vehemently from their pulpits and in their magazines and denounced his practice of giving invitations for sinners to come to Christ. (He did not have the people actually come forward during the church service as is commonly practiced today, but he invited them to come to Christ all the same; and he believed that a sinner was saved in every seat in the massive auditorium of the Metropolitan Tabernacle of that day.) For example, one popular Calvinist paper of Spurgeons day was the Earthen Vessel. In one of its issues in 1857, it boldly stated that to preach that it is mans duty to believe savingly in Christ is absurd. Well, that was exactly what Spurgeon preached, so to a great many Calvinists of his day, Spurgeon was an absurd fellow!
This reminds us that there are different kinds of Calvinists and it is not wise to lump them all into the same mold.
I have had the privilege of knowing, and communicating at a distance with, many godly soul winning Calvinists. Though I am in strong disagreement with such men on the subject of Calvinist theology, I do not consider them enemies.
BEWARE OF ANOTHER DANGER: QUICK PRAYERISM
A danger that is at least as damaging to evangelism as Calvinism is the Easy Believism or Quick Prayerism that is so prevalent among fundamental Baptists and many other groups. I prefer to call it Quick Prayerism rather than Easy Believism because the fact is that salvation is by believing (John 3:16) and it is not difficult. Those who practice Quick Prayerism are characterized as follows:
(1) They are quick to lead people to Christ even when the gospel presentation has been shallow and insufficient. Consider the following statement on What is Salvation? from Saddleback Church pastored by Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Church fame: Our disobedient nature has eternally separated us from our Creator. No matter how hard we try, we can never earn our way back into Gods presence. Our only hope is to trust Jesus as Gods provision for our disobedience. This statement is so shallow and insufficient that it is difficult to know where to begin, but briefly, salvation is much more than a vague, undefined decision to trust Jesus as Gods provision for our disobedience. There is no mention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, even though this is how Paul defined the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. There is no mention of the blood. No mention of repentance. The Saddleback paraphrase of the gospel is no gospel at all, and to lead a person in a sinners prayer when this is all of the gospel they understand is a crime and a disgrace to the cause of Christ. The shallowness of this type of evangelism is why I could sit next to a church member at Saddleback last year and have him tell me that he has always been a Christian. This was in response to my question, When were you born again?
(2) They are quick to lead people in a prayer even when there is no evidence of conviction or regeneration, in contrast to the Apostle Paul who, like John the Baptist, required evidence of repentance. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20).
(3) They are quick to ignore repentance or redefine repentance to have nothing to do with sin or a change of life. The typical soul-winning plan doesnt even hint at repentance, that there is going to be a change of direction, a submission to God.
Many have rejected traditional definitions of repentance as a change of mind that results in a change of life and have re-defined repentance, instead, as merely a change from unbelief to belief. If a large percentage of their converts show no sign of a change of life, it does not greatly concern them, because they do not believe that repentance always results in a change of life.
(4) They are quick to give people assurance even if there is no evidence of salvation. Biblical security is only for those who are genuinely born again and those who are such will give clear evidence of it (2 Cor. 5:17). To give assurance to someone merely because he has prayed a sinners prayer or has walked down an aisle and professed Christ to a church worker is very dangerous, because it tends to give false hope to large numbers of unregenerate people.
(5) They are quick to count numbers regardless of how empty. Those who practice Quick Prayerism typically report large numbers of salvations even though a significant percentage of their professions give no evidence of salvation. In my experience, it is not uncommon that 90% of the professions produced under such ministries are fruitless. It is dishonest to give such reports. It is one thing to say that 20 men prayed to receive Christ in the prison last night or 500 people prayed the sinners prayer through the ministry of our church last year. It is quite another thing to say 20 men got saved in the prison last night or 500 people got saved through the ministry of our church last year. This is especially true when the one giving the report knows by experience that most of his converts dont pan out and that most of the professions produced in his ministry are as empty as a homeless mans refrigerator.
In conclusion, I am not saying that there are forms of Calvinism that are Scriptural and that it is only some types of more extreme Calvinism that are unscriptural. Spurgeon said that we need to go back to the Calvinism of John Calvin. As much as I respect Charles Haddon Spurgeon (knowing, too, that he was only a man), I must disagree with that grand old warrior in this particular matter. I say we need to go far beyond that. Calvin himself went back as far as Augustine, but that, too, is not nearly far enough. In fact, depending on the very undependable Augustine was one of Calvins chief errors. We dont need to go back to Calvin or Augustine. We need to go all the way back to the faith once delivered to the saints as it is perfectly and sufficiently recorded in the Scriptures! That is where our systematic theology must start and end.
For more on this subject see the following:
James Whites Debate Challenge - www.wayoflife.org/fbns/ja...lenge.html
Dave Hunts Refutation of Calvinism - www.wayoflife.org/fbns/da...ation.html
Debating Calvinism - www.wayoflife.org/fbns/de...inism.html
The Calvinism Debate - www.wayoflife.org/fbns/ca...ebate.html
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