A Discussion of "ISMS"
Calvinism
Stan Cox


In the previous article mention was made of Martin Luther, one of the most prominent theologians of the Reformation movement. Because of his influence, most Protestant groups today believe that salvation is obtained by faith alone. His influence on Protestant denominations is rivaled only by John Calvin.

Calvin was born in 1509, and came to adulthood under the influences of the Reformation begun by Martin Luther. In 1536 he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which contain a systematic theology based on the premises of the total depravity of man, and the individual predestination of the saved. Though few Christian denominations can be said to be fully Calvinistic in their theology, Calvin's writings have had a profound influence upon Protestant doctrine.

Calvin's theology, when stated plainly, is hardly palatable. Notice the following quote from Sam Morris, a former Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Stamford, TX:

While the quote sounds absurd on the surface, and indeed is, it is a simple, honest assessment of Calvinistic doctrine. The tenants of Calvinism can be concisely stated using the acronym TULIP. Each letter in the word TULIP stands for a foundational pillar of Calvinistic theology:


T

 
otal Depravity

U

 
nconditional Salvation

L

 
Limited Atonement

I

 
rresistible Grace

P

 
erseverance of the Saints


Refuting Calvinism

Below we will concisely define each of the tenants of Calvinism, and refute them from scripture. It is important to note each of these "pillars" are interconnected. If any one of the five are disproved from scripture, the entire theology crumbles beneath its own weight. As stated previously, Calvin worked from the premise of the depravity of man. Calvin believed, as did others of his time, that we inherit the sin of Adam. In effect, that man is born into the world totally depraved. He rightly reasoned that if the depravity of man is total, he can have no part in his own salvation. His every thought and intent is evil. He is incapable of doing good. Even the attempts to do good are evil, as his depravity is total. Since this is the case, it is God alone who determines who will be saved and who will be lost. Never mind that this makes God a respecter of persons, and a capricious Being who condemns at His whim those who are not culpable in their sin.

This fatalistic attitude toward redemption has its comforts. After all, if God saves me, I am saved, and there is nothing I can do to invalidate my redemption. Conversely, if I am lost, I can do nothing about it, so there is no use in concerning myself with spiritual matters. Let's examine the major tenants of the doctrine.

Total Depravity. The Calvinist teaches that the little child is born into the world totally depraved. This contradicts the statement of our Lord regarding the little children, when He said "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14). Now, unless the Calvinist is willing to concede that the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of those totally depraved, he must admit to the purity of the little children, and the invalid nature of that tenet.

Further, rather than inheriting the sin of our forbears, the Lord informed Ezekiel that we are responsible only for our own sins. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). No, man is not born totally depraved. He is born with free will, and can choose whether he will or will not serve God. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).

Unconditional Salvation. The belief that salvation is unconditional is a logical outgrowth of the assumption that man is born totally depraved. If one's depravity is total, then he is incapable of doing anything to secure his salvation. If this is so, then the salvation of man is wholly dependent upon God's choosing. He must do nothing. However, the Bible paints a different picture. One has only to read Mark 16:16, quoted above, to see clearly that our salvation is conditioned upon faith and baptism. The fact that Jesus demanded action on this occasion reveals clearly that there are conditions ascribed to a person's redemption. Too, Peter indicated to the Jews on Pentecost that there are conditions attached to their escape from condemnation. When they asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do" (cf. Acts 2:37), he did not tell them that salvation was unconditional, but rather exhorted them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

Limited Atonement. This tenet of Calvinism is rather silly. It is necessitated by the belief that salvation is unconditional, and the reality that some will be lost. So, the logic is that Jesus only came and died for those predestined to salvation. His blood was shed only for a precious few. However, that plainly denies what Jesus said of Himself in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Clearly the redemptive blood is available not to only a few, but to whoever believes in Him.

Consider also the rather distasteful consequence of such a position. If God sent his Son to die only for the predestined few, then God has condemned for eternity the large number who, through no fault of their own, lay outside the scope of that redeeming blood. This makes God both capricious and unfair in His judgment.

Irresistible Grace. According to the Calvinist, if God chooses to redeem you, you can not resist his advances. Again, this is not born out in scripture. In fact, Stephen accused the Jews of doing exactly what the Calvinist says can not be done, "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). In scripture, the grace of God is always extended by invitation. No one is compelled to respond. In freely responding to the invitation, we are able to "...Be saved from this perverse generation" (Acts 2:40).

Perseverance of the Saints. Finally, the idea is promoted that if salvation is solely the work of God, then once you are saved, you can not so sin as to be eternally lost. This is perhaps the most popular tenant of the doctrine, embraced even if other tenants are denied. The logic parallels the rest of Calvinistic theology, but again is not born out in scripture. The Bible is replete with warnings of the possibility of Christians losing their souls (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:18-22) and with actual names of those who have lost their redemption (Hymenaeus and Philetus come to mind, cf. 2 Timothy 2:16-18). Simon, a former sorcerer, is recorded in Acts 8 to have obeyed the gospel, thus becoming a Christian (vs. 13). When he sinned Peter said unto him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" The question obviously arises, why would Peter threaten Simon with condemnation when Simon was incapable of so sinning as to lose his soul? The answer is that Calvinism has it wrong on this point as well! As the Lord proclaimed to Israel, "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die" (Ezekiel 18:24).

Conclusion

In reality, the salvation of man is predicated both upon God's extended grace, and man's response to that redemptive work. In affirming this we do not state that man earns or merits his salvation. Salvation is the freely given gift of God. But, we must be willing to accept the gift. Salvation is conditioned upon our faithful obedience to the commands of God.

In affirming the fact that a man can lose his salvation we do not state that God is unable to secure our safety. Truly, "...He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). We do not doubt what God can do, we only realize that it is possible for a man to "concerning the faith... suffer[ed] shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1:19).

The theology of Calvin offers false comfort. The underlying assumptions have been long held, and the tenants have been accepted without sufficient examination. The doctrine fails the test of scripture, and should be rejected by all Bible believers. We should follow the example of the Bereans, who "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).


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