Friday, July 31, 2009

Calvinism's Most Controversial Doctrine: Part Two
In my last post I simply defined and made clarifications as to the doctrine of reprobation. But in this present article, I want to actually show this truth as it is expounded from God's Word. Specifically, the classic biblical text is in Romans 9:17-18, which says: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."
As we begin considering these two verses, the first thing we must see is that they are an exact parallel to what Paul has written in verses 15-16 of this same chapter. In those verses, Paul illustrates the sovereignty of God's mercy from Moses, and then draws his conclusion that God's purpose of election does not depend on man's choices or efforts but on God's will to show mercy. But now, here in verses 17-18, Paul is illustrating the negative side to God's sovereign action over sinners - namely - His right NOT to save. And his illustration is in the case of Pharaoh.
What Paul is seeking to prove by the historical example of Pharaoh, is God's sovereign determination to pass over sinners He leaves to perish in their sins for the manifestation of His divine justice. Pharaoh is the great historical representation of all reprobates who will eventually face the full expression of God's wrath for their sin.
Now the particular passage Paul cites to establish this is Exodus 9:16. In the original context of this verse, God is sending Moses back to Pharaoh following the first six plagues which God has already sent upon Egypt. The message Moses is giving to Pharaoh in this passage, is to put this powerful Egyptian monarch on notice - that although God could have destroyed him with all of Egypt from the start; yet, God has spared him for one purpose. Pharaoh's life is preserved by God to show forth God's power in judgment on sinners, and thus glorify the name of the Lord.
To fully appreciate what Moses said to Pharaoh on this occasion, let me quote from verses 15-16 together in Exodus 9:
"For by now I could have struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."
The most important term in this whole passage are the words, "I have raised you up..." What did God mean by that? These words quoted in Romans 9:17 come from a Greek verb that carries the idea of "bringing forward" or "lifting up", and was used of the rise of historical figures to positions of prominence. In this context therefore, God is making it known to Pharaoh that he has been brought upon the scene of history to display the power of God's judgment on sinners.
Now in the light of this, how does Paul explain what happened to Pharaoh - and for that matter, how does Paul explain what happens to all sinners whom God chooses not to save? The answer to this question takes us directly to verse 18: "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills." This verse is obviously a conclusion. It is a conclusion to what Paul has stated in verse 17 - but it is also a conclusion to Paul's entire answer to the objection set forth back in verse 14. And we could go one step further: verse 18 even sums up what Paul was explaining back in verses 7-13.
You see, what Romans 9:18 is stating with one broad stroke of the brush, as it were, is how God deals with all people in every generation of history. In every generation of history there are those on whom God has mercy and then there are those He hardens. Or to say it another way: God chooses to save some while He passes over others. And Paul has been giving us historical examples of each. There is Isaac, Jacob, and Moses who represent those on whom God shows mercy (see 9:7-15). But then, there is Ishmael, Esau, and Pharaoh who represent those whom God hardens (9:7-13,17). These are the reprobate, the non-elect.
Now seeing verse 18 from this broad context, let's come in a little closer and go back to our leading question: how does Paul explain what happened to Pharaoh and all sinners God chooses not to save? In other words, what is God's action toward the reprobate? Romans 9:18 says that God hardens them. What does this mean? The word translated hardens is the Greek verb skleruno which means literally to "make hard", and metaphorically "to render stubborn and obstinate."
In the account of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, we are told ten times that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Ex.4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8). And in a few places we are also told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex.7:13; 8:32; 9:34). But the predominant testimony of Scripture is God hardening the heart of Pharaoh. What are we to make of this? How are we to explain this? To begin with, we must remember that Pharaoh was already a sinner with an evil disposition bent on rebelling against God. This was Pharaoh's natural inclination (see Jer.17:9). God therefore did not make Pharaoh sin nor did He create in Pharaoh a heart of unbelief. Pharaoh was a natural born unbelieving sinner - which is why he could harden his own heart.
For God therefore to harden Pharaoh's heart was simply to aggravate the unbelief that was already there. How did God do this? He pulled away the restraints of His common grace which were holding Pharaoh back from further evil and wickedness. To put this in the terms of Romans 1:24,26,28 - God gave Pharaoh up to his own sin. In other words, God made the decision to remove His restraining influences; while the wicked part of this process was carried out by Pharaoh himself. Understand this: God did no violence to Pharaoh's will. He just simply gave Pharaoh up to the sinful desires of his own will. This is how God hardens sinners! Listen to how R.C. Sproul explained this:
All that God has to do to harden people's hearts is to remove the restraints. He gives them a longer leash. Rather than restricting their human freedom, he increases it. He lets them have their own way. In a sense he gives them enough rope to hang themselves. It is not that God puts his hand on them to create fresh evil in their hearts; he merely removes his holy hand of restraint from them and lets them do their own will.
So what God did with Pharaoh and what He did with Esau and Ishmael (cf. 9:7-13) - and what He has purposed to do with all those He has chosen not to save, is to give them their heart's desire: that is, to resist and rebel against God all their days. This is how God hardens the non-elect. This is what God does in the act of reprobation. He leaves sinners to their own sinful desires which will eventually drive them to self-destruction and condemnation under the holy wrath and judgment of God.
But of course, the greatest point in all of this from Romans 9:17-18 is that God has every right to treat sinners in this way. God is fully justified to have mercy on whomever he wills, and to harden whomever he wills. You cannot say in either case that God is being unfair. On those He shows mercy He is giving them what they don't deserve; and on those He hardens He is giving them exactly what they do deserve. Neither sinner is being treated unfairly or unjustly. God is therefore free to save whoever He chooses to save and He is under no obligation to save anyone - because all have sinned and have come short of His glory (see Rom.3:9-18; cf. v.23). So then, whoever God chooses to pass over in judgment cannot charge God with injustice. In my next and final post on reprobation, I will answer the question: why would it be useful for me to know this doctrine?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Calvinism's Most Controversial Doctrine: Part One
There is no doubt that the most controversial and hotly debated doctrine of Calvinism is the doctrine of reprobation. I will also add that this doctrine is the most slandered of any teaching within Reformed theology. Sadly, for many Christians, they will not even entertain a discussion about it. The moment they hear that God has not chosen to save everyone, they immediately cry out: "Unfair! Unjust!" They cannot stomach the idea that God's election to salvation is not determined for all people without exception.
But what's most important for us as Christians, is not what we think but what does the Bible actually teach about these things. Remember: the very term "Calvinism" is simply an historic nickname for biblical Christianity. So, when we talk about this doctrine called "reprobation", we are talking about a teaching of God's Word as opposed to a teaching of John Calvin. Calvin believed in the doctrine of reprobation only because he saw it in the pages of God's Word. Therefore, what is mandantory for our discussion of this doctrine should always be: does the Bible teach it?
Now to begin with, I believe it is important that we start with a definition of reprobation. What is the teaching of this doctrine? Reprobation is the name given to God's eternal decision regarding those sinners whom He has not chosen to save. The essence of His decision is NOT to change them but to leave them in their sin (which is the desire of their sinful hearts), and to finally judge them as they deserve for what they have done in their sin. This is the truth of reprobation. It is God's sovereign eternal decree to pass over sinners by not choosing to save them and thus leaving them to receive the condemnation they deserve for their sins.
What must be clarified about this doctrine is that it differs in a very important way from the truth of election. And that difference can be best understood by exposing a common misunderstanding about reprobation. There is a false view of reprobation which goes by the name of "equal ultimacy". The best and simplest explanation of this view I have ever read comes from R.C. Sproul, in his book Chosen by God. Sproul wrote:
"Equal ultimacy is based on a concept of symmetry. It seeks a complete balance between election and reprobation. The key idea is this: just as God intervenes in the lives of the elect to create faith in their hearts, so God equally intervenes in the lives of the reprobate to create or work unbelief in their hearts."
In other words, the basic idea behind "equal ultimacy" is that God determines the destinies of the elect and non-elect in exactly the same way. In the same way God creates faith in the elect to believe on Christ, He also creates unbelief in the non-elect to reject Christ. So when it comes to those whom God chooses not to save, according to equal ultimacy, God has consigned them to hell apart from anything they have done and thus apart from anything they deserve. Instead, it is God who has created in them the sin that will drive them to hell.
Needless to say, this is a very scary doctrine! It is a doctrine which paints a view of God to be some cruel, cold ogre who arbitrarily chooses to send people to hell. It is also a doctrine which makes God the author of sin. Suffice to say, the equal ultimacy view of reprobation is a patently false heretical doctrine! The truth about reprobation is this: when it comes to those whom God chooses not to save, God leaves them to themselves. He passes over them. He does not create unbelief in their hearts. That unbelief is already there. Nor does God coerce them to sin. They sin by their own choices. What God does is to pull back His restraints on the non-elect whereby they continue down a path of sin; which is already the path their own hearts have chosen.
Now understanding this, what makes the difference between election and reprobation? In the act of election, God actively intervenes in the hearts of those sinners He has chosen to save. He does not leave them to the judgment of their own sinful choices. Rather, God creates faith and repentance in the hearts of all His elect so that they will come to Christ and lay hold of Him as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
But for those whom God has not chosen to save - He simply does nothing with them but leaves them in their sin. He withholds His special grace that would bring them to salvation by giving them over to the full intentions of their sinful nature which is always to rebel against God. So then, with the elect they receive what they don't deserve (salvation) and with the non-elect they receive what they do deserve (judgment for their sin). And this is the ultimate difference between election and reprobation.
As a footnote to all of this, let me make an important clarification. Those who hold to the aforementioned "equal ultimacy" view of reprobation are historically called "Hyper-Calvinists". The reason I make this clarification is because those Christians who are Evangelical Calvinists ususally get accused for holding to the Hyper-Calvinist view of reprobation. But let me be as plain as I can on this matter: those who are true Calvinists and are thus Evangelical Calvinists have never held to the view of equal ultimacy! Evangelical Calvinists believe in the doctrine of reprobation - but only as it is taught in the Bible as God's righteous judgment of sinners He chooses not to save. In my next post, I will look at the doctrine of reprobation as expounded from the Bible itself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Does Calvinism kill missions and evangelism?
In nearly every discussion or debate that I have engaged in over Calvinism, it never fails that this question will surface as either a sincere inquiry or an objection to dispute the truth of Calvinism. But this question is raised due to a misunderstanding on two different fronts: First, there is an historic perversion of Calvinism called Hyper-Calvinism, which goes beyond the bounds of Scripture concerning God's sovereignty and man's depravity. It reasons that since God has already chosen who will be saved and since men do not have the ability to believe the gospel and repent, there is therefore no point in promoting evangelism and missions. This view is solely based on fallen human reasoning rather than the divine revelation of God's Word. The "Hyper-Calvinist" grasps the truth of man's depravity and the truth that God will save only His elect, but he wrongly deduces that there is no necessity therefore to preach the gospel to all sinners and to engage in efforts to reach the lost. His "logic" in going beyond the Scriptures brings him into an unbiblical position where he ceases to see the necessity and divine command of using God-ordained "means" to produce the God-ordained goals. What is so sad about the Hyper-Calvinist is that he loses all zeal and compassion for reaching the lost, and even justifies himself for his anti-evangelistic attitude. But combined with this sad commentary, is that when most people in the church today (especially Baptist churches) hear about Calvinism, they rarely think of evangelical Calvinism but only of hyper-Calvinism.
The second contributor to believing the error that Calvinism kills evangelism, is that for many Christians in our day, they cannot accept the doctrine of God's sovereign election being a means of motivation for reaching the lost. Most Christians seem to reason like the Hyper-Calvinist when it comes to election and predestination: if God has already chosen who will be saved then why evangelize? For such people, their reasoning causes them to reject God's election of sinners for salvation in favor of a man-centered view of salvation and missions. In other words, they take the biblical truth of man's responsibility to believe and repent, along with the church's mission to reach the lost, but go beyond the bounds of Scripture denying God's sovereignty and thus turning salvation into an act determined totally by man's will. Hence, they end up being driven by a carnal dependence on methods to save sinners rather than looking to God's grace and power as man's only hope. This way of thinking is of course the classic position of Arminianism.
But the position of historic evangelical Calvinism embraces without reservation the biblical teaching, that God has chosen to save a people for Himself out of every nation of Adam's fallen race (see Jn.6:37; 10:15,16,26; Acts 13:48; 15:14; Rom.9:14-24; Rev.5:9; 7:9); and God has also chosen the work of evangelism and missions to call His elect to their appointed salvation (see Rom.10:13-17; I Thess.1:4,5; cf. Acts 13:48). Taking therefore these two truths together, the Calvinist reasons biblically: since the preaching of the gospel is God's chosen instrument to bring His elect home, then every Christian should be enflamed with a zeal and compassion to evangelize all men, because the church is assured by God that their labors will never be in vain (see I Cor.1:18-24; 3:5-7; 15:58).
So then, election and predestination do not kill evangelism but gurarantee its success. "All the Father gives me, " Jesus declared, "will come to me" (Jn.6:37). None of the elect will be lost. All whom the Father has given to His Son to save will be saved. It's certain. It's sure. It's guaranteed. Thus, when we obey Christ's command to go and preach the gospel to all people everywhere - we are not pursuing a mission that will fail. The success rate in evangelism is always 100% because all of God's elect will come to faith in Christ. And this is how historic evangelical Calvinism has always reasoned from the Scriptures. Missions and evangelism is not rejected because of God's election but embraced because of God's election. Thus, true Calvinism (not Hyper-Calvinism) will never kill evangelism and missions, but in fact will be its greatest defender and mobilizer.
And the history of the church bears out this testimony. For the greatest and most sacrificial evangelists and missionaries were all staunch, evangelical Calvinists. Just to name a few: there was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) the famed preacher and pastor of New England during the 18th century revival in Colonial America; also David Brainerd (1718-1747) who was a missionary to the unreached native American Indians in southern New England; and of course, George Whitefield (1714-1770) who has been hailed as "the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul"; then there was William Carey (1761-1834), English Baptist minister and "the Father of Modern Missions", who labored for forty years in India; also Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), who worked hard in the support of foreign missions, and gave special assistance to William Carey; Henry Martyn (1781-1812) was a missionary to India who translated the New Testament in Persian; Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was the first Baptist foreign missionary from America, who went to Burma, India; Luther Rice (1783-1836) was a pioneer in organizing the Triennal Convention, which was the first official mission agency and board for all Baptists in America; Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) pastored in London, England for thirty-seven years and was a diligent evangelist who saw under God's blessing a church grow to over 5,000 members, with 82% being brought in by conversion to Christ; John G. Paton (1824-1905) labored many years as a missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific; and finally, there was Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) who faithfully pastored Westminster Chapel in London, England for thirty-years, holding every Sunday evening "evangelistic services", where he preached the gospel and saw many conversions over those long years. But the most important truth and fact about all these men, is that none of them ever lacked for passion and labor in preaching the gospel to the lost, yet they were all convinced that God had elected to save a people for Himself, and only the elect will be saved.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What does Calvinism teach about "free will" ?
Calvinism has never denied that man has the freedom to choose, but it has been very careful to clarify the precise limits of that freedom. And what Calvinism has stressed most of all about man's freedom of choice, is that our ability to choose cannot go beyond our nature. Therefore, since man is born with a sinful nature (cf. Psa.51:5; 58:3; Jer.17:9; Rom.5:12) his natural choices will never be in favor of God but in rejection of God (Psa.10:3-4). So then, when a sinner hears the gospel he cannot understand it but thinks it to be foolish (see I Cor.1:18; 2:14); furthermore, because his heart is corrupted by sin, his desires are as well - which is why Jesus taught that sinners "hate the light" and will not come to the light because they "love the darkness" (Jn.3:19-20). And out of that love for the darkness comes a rebellion and resistance against God and His way of salvation in Christ.
Thus, if a sinner is left to himself to make the choice to follow Christ, he will renounce Christ everytime. It is not in man as a sinner to want Christ to save him. His desires and ability are both enslaved to his sinful nature, and are therefore bound to oppose God as a way of life. This is why the Bible declares as a matter of fact concerning all sinners apart from God's grace in Christ: "...there is none who seeks for God" (Rom.3:11). This one statement in the context of Romans 3:9-18, is stating that man in his sinfulness has not one single inclination to seek God as his God and Savior. In fact, based upon the meaning of the verb "seeks" (Greek: ekzeteo), Romans 3:11 is saying that in the nature of every sinner there does not exist a searching, longing, inquiring, craving, and seeking drive to want God in a saving way. This does not mean that man has no freedom to choose, but again, his free choices are totally limited by the natural bent of his nature. And if his nature is sinful (which it is!) then he cannot and will not choose to come to Christ for salvation, left to himself.
This is why Jesus made it so plain in John 6:44, that "no one can (Greek: dunamis - "power or ability") come to me, unless the Father draws (Greek: elkuo - "take possession of") him." Think carefully about what this verse is saying: no sinner has the ability to come to Christ unless God takes supernatural possession of him and brings him savingly to Christ. But this possession is not coercion. God is not forcing the sinner to come against his will. Rather, by giving the sinner a new nature through the new birth (Ezk.36:26; Jn.3:1-8; II Cor.5:17), he comes to Christ willingly and freely as he is enabled by the Holy Spirit (cf.Jn.6:63). This truth is expressed in the most comprehensive way in Chapter Ten of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith:
"At a time appointed by and acceptable to God, those whom God has predestinated to life are effectually called by His Word and Spirit out of the state of death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. Their minds are given spiritual enlightenment and, as those who are being saved, they begin to understand the things of God. God takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. He renews their will, and by His almighty power He sets them to seek and follow that which is good, at the same time effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ. And to all these changes they come most freely, for they are made willing by divine grace."
This therefore is Calvinism's position on the idea of "free will": man has the natural ability and desire to choose many things, but because he is by nature a sinner, he cannot make the righteous and spiritual choice to trust Christ to save him. He is morally and spiritually unable and unwilling to excercise his will towards Christ. The great gospel evangelist and Calvinist, George Whitefield (1714-1770), summed up the Calvinist doctrine on free will best when he said: "Man has a free will to go to hell but none to go to heaven, till God works in him to will and do for His good pleasure."

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is the biblical support for the Five Points of Calvinism?
The most critical question regarding the five points of Calvinism is if these so-called "points" are biblical. I will say from the outset that they in fact are biblical - and it is because they are biblical that in every discussion or debate that I have engaged in over these doctrines, all I have ever needed for support is the Bible. I don't need to turn to John Calvin or the Synod of Dort nor even to my favorite Calvinists like Owen, Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitefield, and Lloyd-Jones. If someone asks me to show why I believe the five points of Calvinism, I simply open up God's Word and begin.
So in this post it is my aim to show the biblical support for the five points of Calvinism (or what I prefer to call them, "the doctrines of grace"). I will not be exhaustive here, just concise enough to prove that these doctrines are not the concoctions of man's ideas. If you would like to read a more comprehensive treatment though, of how the doctrines of grace are simply the straight teaching of Scripture - I would suggest two wonderful books: The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and Lance Quinn; published by P&R; and The Foundations of Grace, by Steven J. Lawson; published by Reformation Trust. Both of these books are extremely helpful and illuminating for the Christian who sincerely is seeking to know if the Bible does in fact teach these things. I personally count them as the very best in their field.
But for now, let me at least point out some pertitent passages of God's Word which show clearly that the five points of Calvinism are first and foremost the doctrines of the Bible. For total depravity, there is Jeremiah 17:9 which declares that "the heart of man is desperately wicked, and deceitful above all things." There is also Mark 7:20-23, where Jesus teaches that everything that is evil and thus "defiles a person" comes from within his own heart. In John 3:19-20, we are told that a sinner "does not come to the light [Christ]" because they "hate the light" and "love the darkness." And finally, in Romans 3:9-18 and Ephesians 2:1-3, the world as a whole is denounced as being "under sin" which is expounded as being unrighteous, having no spiritual understanding, never seeking after God in a saving way, worthless, unable to do anything good by God's standard, dead to God, in bondage to sin, worldly, devilish, fleshly, and seated under the wrath of God by nature.
For unconditional election, there is John 6:37, where Jesus tells us that "all the Father gives me will come to me." In Matthew 11:27, Christ declared that "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." There is also Ephesians 1:4 and II Thessalonians 2:13 which plainly say that God "chose us" for salvation "before the foundation of the world." And in Romans 9:11-16 we are told that the basis upon which God did chose to save us did not depend upon "human will or exertion" but it was solely grounded in God's sovereign mercy alone. Moreover, God's choosing to save us is the only reason that we ever came to believe on Christ, according to Acts 13:48 and Romans 8:30.
For limited atonement or particular redemption, Matthew 1:21 pronounces that Jesus shall "save his people from their sins." And in John 10:15, Jesus claims that He lays down His life only for His "sheep." Moreover, in Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 5:25, it is clearly stated that Christ gave His life for "the church." Also, there is Hebrews 2:9-17, where we're told that Jesus tasted "death for everyone", and then the "everyone" is qualified as "the many sons" God is bringing to glory (v.10); those who are being "sanctified" (v.11); those who are called Christ's "brothers" (vv.11-12) and "the children God has given [to Christ] (v.13)"; they are also identified as "the offspring of Abraham" and "the people" for whom Jesus has made propitiation for their sins (vv.16-17). The point is, the "everyone" of Hebrews 2:9 cannot be isolated from its context which identifies who the everyone are - they are not everyone without exception, but a particular people whom God is bringing to glory, sanctifying, described as Christ's brothers and His children, the seed of Abraham, and a people who have had the wrath of God removed from them through the death of Christ. Such a people can only be Christians. Jesus did not die for anyone who would be lost in hell.
For irresistible grace or effectual calling, John 3:3-8 teaches that unless one is "born of the Spirit" he cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God. In John 6:44,65, Jesus makes it quite plain that no one can come to Him unless God the Father has "drawn" them and "granted" them the grace to come. And finally, in Ephesians 2:8-9 and II Timothy 2:25 we are taught that "faith" and "repentance" are both gifts which God grants to the sinner whom He chooses to save.
Lastly, for the perseverance of the saints, in John 6:39 Jesus promises that all those His Father has given Him, He shall lose none but raise them up on the last day. In John 10:27-29, Jesus reassures His sheep that none will perish nor be plucked out of His hand; in Romans 8:28-39, all of God's elect shall never be separated from God's love for them in Christ, but all things shall work together for their good and thus they can be certain that they will be glorified in the end.
As I said, these examples or proofs for the biblical support of the five points of Calvinism would not be exhaustive - but I hope that it is enough to at least provoke a careful study and consideration of these doctrines. As a Calvinist, all I need is the Bible to show why I believe what I believe regarding the sovereign grace of God in salvation. I do not claim this with arrogance but simply with a confidence in what God says in His word concerning why anyone is saved. Thus, for any fellow believer who has sincere and honest questions about the doctrines of grace, let me challenge you as I was challenged 20 years ago: go to the Scriptures and see what God Himself has said. The Bible is our final authority for everything we believe and practice as Christians. If the five points of Calvinism are not biblical then I don't want anything to do with them (and neither should you!). But to prove that, we must explain what the Bible means about the myriad of passages which clearly point to the fact that we are saved by the sovereign grace of God alone.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What are the "Five Points of Calvinism" ?
The so-called "five points of Calvinism" were the historical response of the Dutch Reformed Church to a movement within their ranks which was seeking to change their confessions on the doctrine of salvation. This movement called themselves Arminians after the Dutch theologian named, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609); who had been reared in Calvinism but came to reject it in favor of the humanist teachings of the 16th century philospher, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536). What Arminius believed and taught was that man has a "free will" to choose Christ, and on that basis God would save him. In other words, it was man's will that determined his salvation rather than God's will. God simply responded to whatever man's will chose to do. So then, for Arminius, man's will was sovereign in salvation and thus divided the credit between himself and God for reaching heaven.
But the essence of Arminius' teaching was simply a regurgitation of an old heresy from the fifth century called "Semi-Pelagianism." The basic principles behind this belief, that would be strongly followed by Arminius' followers, is explained well Dr. J.I. Packer:
"The theology which it contained stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified.) From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but it is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal."
So then, based on their Semi-Pelagian principles, the Arminians argued that the doctrine of salvation must be interpreted by the following positions which they formulated into five points. The five points of Arminianism are as follows:
1. Free will or human ability. Although human nature was seriously affected by the Fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and and believe, but He does so in such a manner as not to interfere with man's freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it.
2. Conditional election. God's choice of certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by, or conditioned upon, what man would do. The faith which God foresaw, and upon which He based His choice, was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit), but resulted solely from man's will. It was left entirely up to man to determine who would be elected for salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus, the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
3. Universal redemption or General atonement. Christ's redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved, but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe in Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners in the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone's sins. Christ's redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.
4. The Holy Spirit can be effectually resisted. The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit's call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man's contribution) precedes and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man's free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ's saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God's grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.
5. Falling from grace. Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc. All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ - that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost (The citations of the "five points of Arminianism" is cited from Steele, Thomas, and Quinn's book, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented; pgs. 5-8).
So, to summarize these five positions taken by the Arminians, we can say this: "According to Arminianism, salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) - man's response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, choose to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man's will plays a decisive role; thus, man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation" (lbid., p.8).
Now once the Arminians had written their "five points", they called on the Dutch Reformed Church to embrace them in place of their confessional Calvinism. So in 1618, a National Synod of the church was convened in the city of Dort to examine the Arminian doctrines in light of God's Word. After 154 earnest sessions, which lasted seven months, the Five Points of Arminianism were found to contradict the Scriptures and declared heretical. The reason they were denounced as heresy is because at the core of Arminianism is the belief (as already mentioned) that man's salvation depends ultimately on man. Salvation then is no longer the sole work of God's mercy and grace, but a work of man getting himself saved.
In response therefore to the Arminians, the Dutch Reformed Church reaffirmed the position held by the Protestant Reformers as consistent with God's Word. They formulated what would be known as The Five Points of Calvinism. And over the years the studied reply of the Synod of Dort to the errors of Arminianism has been set forth in the form of an acrostic spelling out the word TULIP. Thus the Five Points of Calvinism are as follows:
1. T - total depravity: Because of the Fall, man is unable of himself to savinlgy believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free; it is in bondage to his evil nature. Therefore, he will not - indeed, he cannot - choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance to bring a sinner to Christ. It takes regeneration, by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation. It is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.
2. U - unconditional election: God's choice of certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen responses or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause, of God's choice. Election, therefore, was not determined by, or conditioned upon, any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus, God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
3. L - limited atonement (or particular redemption): Christ's redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith, which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, thereby guaranteeing their salvation.
4. I - irresistible grace (or the efficacious call of the Spirit): In addition to the outward general call to salvation, which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected. However, the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call, the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God's grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those whom it is extended.
5. P - perseverance of the saints: All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit, are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of almighty God, and thus persevere to the end (Ibid., pgs. 5-8).
Now the one great point that each of these "five points" are teaching is the biblical truth which declares: God ALONE saves sinners (Jon.2:9). From first to last it is the Triune God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - who are saving sinners. Hence, the Five Points of Calvinism have been better called, "the doctrines of grace". For it is only by God's grace that any sinner is saved, excluding all efforts and boasting on the sinner's part to take credit for being redeemed.
Observing therefore the key differences between the Five Points of Arminianism and the Five Points of Calvinism, consider as a final musing what Dr. J.I. Packer wrote:
"Here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves (Calvinism); the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself (Arminianism). One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind - election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit - as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man's salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms.
One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God's gift of salvation, the other as man's own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the 'five points', as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Why is Calvinism called "Calvinism" ?
The term "Calvinism" is historically derived from the name of John Calvin (1509-1564) who was one of the pillar influences of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century. Calvin was a pastor, theologian, writer, and religious reformer who had formulated many biblical doctrines into a clear and concise system of understanding. This systematization was published in Calvin's classic work called The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which became his magnum opus of Reformation Christianity. Through this book and many other publications, along with his massive correspondence, he gained a wide adherence from his ministry base in Geneva, Switzerland.
Calvin's teachings however were not new. His expositions on God's sovereignty, human depravity, and the necessity of effectual grace had actually come to clear expression in the work of Augustine of Hippo (354-530 AD). Furthermore, his teachings on justification by faith alone and the bondage of the human will to sin, were already well explained in the works of Martin Luther (1483-1546). What therefore made the significant difference in Calvin's influence, was that he was the first Christian theologian to bring together biblical doctrines recovered during the Reformation into a helpful system of thought. In other words, John Calvin helped the Church to "connect the dots" of biblical truth in one coherent order. Thus, the biblical teachings of the Protestant Reformation have been given the nickname, "Calvinism."
Therefore, those Christians who call themselves "Calvinists" are not strictly and solely following the teachings of John Calvin. I myself am a Calvinist, but I do not agree with Calvin's position on baptism nor even do I agree completely with his church polity. Nevertheless, I am a Calvinist. And the reason I am a Calvinist is because I embrace those doctrines of God's Word which Luther, Calvin, and the rest of the Protestant Reformers so ably expounded. Calvinism then goes far beyond the man, John Calvin. Instead, it is nothing short of biblical Christianity, with the accent falling heavily on the truth of God's sovereignty.
Commenting on the name Calvinism, Baptist preacher and staunch Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) once observed:
We only use the term "Calvinism" for shortness. That doctrine which is called "Calvinism" did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Spirit of God, from diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them of the Holy Spirit, from Jesus Christ the great founder of the Christian dispensation. We use the term then, not because we impute extraordinary importance to Calvin's having taught these doctrines. We would be just as willing to call them by any other name, if we could find one which would be better understood, and which on the whole would be as consistent with fact.

Monday, July 06, 2009

What is Calvinism?
Despite the growing resurgence of Calvinism in many sectors of American Evangelicalism, there is still a wide breadth of ignorance as to what Calvinism really is and what it is about. I saw this demonstrated two weeks ago at the Southern Baptist Convention, when CEO and president of the Executive Committee, Dr. Morris Chapman, sought to maintain that the rise of Calvinism in the SBC is the rise of a denial in man's personal responsibility in the matter of salvation. Now thankfully, many people have come out publicly to denounce Dr. Chapman's "strawman" version of Calvinism - but nevertheless, it proves my initial point, that there really is an ignorance (whether willful or not) as to the truth about Calvinism.
With this said, I am going to devote my next several posts to answering the most commonly asked questions about Calvinism. Whether I convince the reader or not to become a Calvinist is not my primary goal in this endeavor. But rather, what I at least want to accomplish, is to bring greater light to the truth about Calvinism; so that hopefully there can be a little less ignorance.
The first and most important inquiry we need to raise is simply - what is Calvinism? Historically and theologically, Calvinism is the relentless, uncompromising expression of God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) as the Creator of the universe and hence, the Sovereign and Sustainer of all things (Rom.11:36). Calvinism affirms then the biblical testimony that God is working all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11) and nothing can frustrate His plans nor undermine His purpose (Ps.33:10,11; Isa.46:10). Calvinism, in short, is God-centered. It therefore has, as its beginning and end, the glory of God as its highest concern and aim (I Cor.10:31). Thus the doctrine of God is the root principle of Calvinism. For this reason, J.I. Packer once described Calvinism as "a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God's own Word...[it] is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible - the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace."
Now the outworking of Calvinism's root principle (the doctrine of God) has been seen most in church history by what is called, "the doctrines of grace." In fact, Calvinism has been called "the theology of grace". It has always expressed by confession and proclamation the biblical revelation that God alone saves sinners (Jon.2:9). That is, the Triune-God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - working together in sovereign power, wisdom, love and mercy to accomplish the salvation of countless sinners; whom have been chosen for eternal glory to the praise of God's grace and according to His good pleasure (Matt.11:27; Jn.6:37,44,65; Rom.8:28-30; 9:6-24; Eph.1:3-14). This understanding does not detract nor deny man's responsibility to believe and repent when hearing the gospel, but it explains why he ever would - it is only by God's grace alone!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Hardest Thing to See
In twenty years of ministry I have become convinced that the hardest thing for people to see is their own sinful depravity. They can talk about the sins of other people all day long, but when it comes to looking at themselves as sinners - well, they're not really all that bad. But this is really the problem, isn't it? Our sinfulness has a built-in blindness where we cannot see the true nature of our corruption and rebellion as sinners against God. The Bible puts this problem in the plainest of terms: "The heart of man is desperately wicked, and deceitful above all things..." (Jer.17:9). There is nothing in the world more "deceitful" than our own natural sinful disposition. And this comes to light with particular force whenever people are confronted with the reality of their sin.
We make excuses. We try to justify ourselves. Or better, we shift the blame. This is the easiest thing to do. We blame our parents. We blame our spouses. We blame our children. We blame our environment. We point the finger at everyone else for our sin (even at God) only so we can escape personal responsibility and not be made to "look bad". But the truth is, we are bad. We are born in sin (Psa.51:5), with a nature that is bent on rebellion against God and a self-serving spirit that is always vying to be in first place.
The Bible again makes this plain and clear: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom.3:10-12). This is a grim and alarming picture of humanity, but it is the truth. We are not good but bad at the very core of our being. Our lives do not conform in any measure to that which is perfectly righteous. We have no natural understanding to embrace the things of God nor do we have any inclination to seek God in a saving way. In fact, by nature, we have turned aside from God and His way of salvation, and continue to do so if left to ourselves. Moreover, our natural disposition is as a rotten as sour milk, and thus there is nothing we are able to do in our own strength which measures up to the only true standard of goodness - which is God's standard. This is why the world we live in is so troubled and corrupt. This is why there is murder, hatred, envy, pride, gossip, lying, adultery, and cheating. It's not the environment that causes these things, it is the state of our own hearts (Mk.7:20-23)!
But to explain this truth of our sinfulness to people at large, is like trying to penetrate a Sherman tank with a pea shooter. Their hearts are naturally hardened to hear the truth of what they really are. They don't want to hear it. They want to hear how good and wonderful they are. They want to hear that if they just believe in themselves and follow their hearts, then everything will be just fine. And in the context of religion, they want to hear that as long as they go to church, read their Bible, pay their tithes, and have been baptized or have walked the church aisle - then they are "o.k." with God. The bottom-line is this: in our sinfulness we do not want to believe that we are hopeless and helpless to save ourselves, and deserving of hell before a holy God. Instead, what our sinful hearts crave is to be told that we can be good enough for God.
This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ makes no sense to a sinner lost in their sins. "The natural person [the person who is lost in their sins] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor.2:14). Man in his sin cannot see his own sinfulness and thus he cannot see his desperate need to be saved by God's grace in Christ. He is blind to his true need and his plight as a sinner. But it is only as we see ourselves as sinners - guilty before God and hopeless to save ourselves - that we will see the joy and glory of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. However, such a redeeming vision will not come to any of us unless God grants this by His sovereign grace.
As Jesus said: "Unless is one born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn.3:3). We "cannot see" God's rule, His glory, His redemption for us in Christ unless something happens to us. We must be born again. We must be given by God a new heart that sees our own sinful depravity for what it is, and out of that new heart comes forth a cry of faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope, confidence, security, and assurance for being right with God. We no longer look at ourselves as being good enough for God but we look only to Christ as our sole righteousness whom God accepts (II Cor.5:21; cf. Rom.3:21-28). Hence, we cling to nothing we have or can do to be right with God - since we have come to see that all our righteousness is stinking putrid rags in God's sight (Isa.64:6). Our only acceptable righteousness before God is Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished by His life and death in perfect obedience to God's law in our place. Therefore, we cling to Christ and Christ alone for salvation with the confidence that God has accepted everything Jesus has done to save us (Rom.8:1). This is our only hope. This is our only surety to be cleansed of our sinfulness and given a new heart, whereby we will escape God's wrath and embrace His everlasting mercy. But left to ourselves apart from God's grace, we will not see our own sinful depravity and thus our need for Christ alone to save. This therefore is why our own sinfulness is the hardest thing to see.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What is a Healthy Church Member?
While on vacation this week, among the many books I'm feverishly reading, is Thabiti M. Anyabwile's "What is a healthy church member?" Though I am not finished with the book yet, I have already decided that this is going to be a church-wide study for our congregation at Sovereign Grace. In fact, I would highly recommend this book for all pastors to consider as something either for your church-family to read together, or as a book for new members to be required to read. In this little work (it is only 127 pages), Thabiti gives ten marks that identify the biblical characteristics of a healthy church member. One of these marks (which I was reading about today) is that a healthy church member is a committed church member. The key to this aspect of healthy church membership is what Thabiti calls "committed love." Basing this on John 13:34-35, where Christ plainly says that all men will know that we are His disciples if we "have love for one another" - Thabiti says rightly that this love for one another shows up best in the local church. He writes: "The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God's people."
Now following this as the "essence" of church membership, Thabiti goes on to raise an all-important question: What does a committed church member look like? In other words, where do we see the essence of church membership (love for one another) show up? Thabiti answers this question in eight different ways.
First, a committed church member attends regularly. They are not only known to the church because their name is on a roll book. They show up to all the stated meetings of the church. And they do this because they "love the brethren" (I Jn.3:14). Moreover, they attend regularly to stir up fellow believers to love and good works (Heb.10:24,25). Second, a committed church member seeks peace. This is not "peace at any price", but he seeks to be a source of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph.4:3); rather than being a source of division. Third, a committed church member edifies others. He seeks to build others up in their walk with Christ (Eph.4:11-16) rather than being self-serving and expecting everyone to exist only to meet his needs (Phil.2:3,4). Fourth, a committed church member warns and admonishes others. Concerning this point, Thabiti observes:
"A committed member is committed to speaking the truth in love to his brothers and sisters, to helping them avoid pitfalls, and to encouraging them in holiness and Christian joy. A committed member will not be wrongly intrusive in the lives of others - a busybody - but he also will not be 'hands off' when it comes to caring for and counseling others."
Fifth, a committed church member pursues reconciliation. He does not let things fester between fellow believers. If there has been a breach in his fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ, he will seek forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt.5:23,24; Col.3:13). Sixth, a committed church member bears with others. He shows patience, kindness, meekness, and compassion toward fellow Christians. He strives to esteem them as better than himself, and thus not to think more highly of himself than he should (Phil.2:3; Rom.12:3-8). Seventh, a committed church member prepares for the ordinances. That is, he prepares himself spiritually whenever the church observes either baptism or the Lord's Supper. He does not treat these precious means of grace for the church as something that is merely ritual or "the thing we do". He rejoices when a believer is baptized and looks with anticipation to meeting with his brethren at the Lord's Table to remember why and for what purpose Christ died for His people (I Cor.11:27). Finally, a committed church member supports the work of the ministry. Thabiti explains this point very well:
"A committed member gives resources, time, and talent to the furtherance of the gospel in the local church. He lives out the Bible's call to the body of Christ (see I Cor.12:6-8)...A healthy, committed church member receives and applies the grace of God by working to support the ministry of the local church and excels in giving what he has already received from God to gospel work. He should follow the example of the Macedonians, who committed to a financial giving strategy that was sacrificial, generous, increasing over time, and fueled by faith in God despite present circumstances (II Cor.8-9).
In light of these characteristics which bespeak of what it means biblically to be a "committed" church member, how do we measure up? Where do we need to be more sanctified as those who have committed to one another as the body of Christ in a gathered local assembly? There is certainly no such thing as a "perfect" church member. But neither can we say that our commitment as church members is at a place where we need no more growth. So, let us examine ourselves carefully here, and pray that God will give us grace to increase in the measure of our love for one another as believers in Christ - committed to each other as His people for His glory.

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