Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Exactly Is A Calvinist?

Much has been written all over blogdom recently about calvinism. Reading various sermons and blogs leaves me with the impression that few people really understand what calvinism really is. Now, smarter people than me have addressed this topic and my meager offering in this blog may not add much to the discussion. However, I really want to say these things.

Calvinism is known by various names. It is also called reformed theology because John Calvin was a second generation Protestant reformer. Reformed theology is set apart from the two sister streams of the Reformation, Lutheranism and the Radical Reformation under Ulrecht Zwingli. Calvinism is also known as the doctrines of sovereign grace or the doctrines of grace for short. But it is most often identified by the name Calvinism after the man who brought this system of theology together in one place for the first time, John Calvin. Calvin was a Frenchman, a lawyer and humanist who found an interest in the writings of Martin Luther. (Calvin was 8 years old when Luther nailed his 95 Thesises to the church door in Wittenburg). In fact, Calvin had been travelling to try to meet Luther when he was sidetracked and brought to Geneva, which would be his home for much of his adult life.

But, that tells us a little of the man but does not answer the question "What is a Calvinist?" Let me offer this beginning definition "A Calvinist is a Christian who strives with his or her all to see God given all the glory for all things." This includes seeing God glorified in scripture, in worship, in our salvation, in our homes, in our work, in our everyday lives, indeed, in all things. A Calvinist sees man, compared with God, far, far, beneath God. Calvinism then is a way of thinking, a worldview. It colors and filters everything we see, hear and process.

Calvinism is best known however, by the 5 points of calvinism. These are 5 doctrinal positions formulated at the Synod of Dortrecht (in Holland) in response to a 5 point argument made by the followers of a Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius. Arminius felt that Calvin did not give man's free will enough credit for it's (free will's) ability to resist God. After Arminius had died, his followers formed a Remostrance, a petition to the Dutch church requesting that certain points of reformed doctrine be replaced with those set forth in Arminius' writings. The Synod examined the Remonstrace and determined that Calvin's position was the biblical one. So, against the 5 points of the Remonstrance, they set the Canons of Dort. These Canons are also called the 5 points of calvinism. They are (with a short explanation) as follows:

Total depravity: Because of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden, man is completely infected with sin in every one of his faculties. His mind, body, will, emotions, desires ... every part of him, is infected with sin. Therefore, man is completely unable to assist in his own salvation. Any work we would offer to God would be corrupted by sin. In short then, all we have to offer God is sin. If salvation is going to happen, it is going to have to come from God first.

Unconditional election: God has chosen, out of the mass of sinful humanity, to save some. This election or choice by God is based on nothing from man. Man has nothing to offer. God's choice is based on His own gracious love and if there is a condition on those He has chosen, it is hidden in the secret counsels of God and is not known to men. This group, called the elect, the sheep, the Church and other names, is a numberless multitude that no man can count. It is drawn to Christ from every language group, every tribe, every nation, every people on earth. A vast people given to Christ for the purpose of bringing glory to Him (Christ) first on earth, then eternally in heaven.

Limited atonement: This doctrine says that when Christ came to the earth, he intended to make an effectual atonement for the ones God had chosen to save. Since Jesus is God, his death has infinite value, however, it's application is only to those who believe. Many calvinists prefer the term particular redemption rather than limited atonement. A favorite saying is that Christ's death is "Sufficient for all; efficient for the elect."

Irresistable grace: God comes to those He has chosen in an act of grace, that is, not us first coming to Him, but Him first coming to us. Through the agency of the Word (Holy Scripture) and the Spirit, God (who is God) works in the hearts of His chosen to bring them powerfully to Himself. Though a person may seem to resist God for a time, God's purposes will ultimately prevail and the sinner will come to Christ. God makes the sinner willing in the day of His power.

Perseverence of the Saints in God: God's work will persevere to the end in the life of the person whom the Lord has saved. Therefore, the end of our salvation is dependent on God and not on us. Thus, God is the Author and Finisher of our faith. The true saint, the one who is genuinely born again, cannot ever be damned to hell.

Many who are not calvinists rail against these five doctrines. They argue that man is more powerful than what is allowed for in these doctrines and that man must cooperate with God in coming to salvation. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century New England puritan said it well when he said that "God does all and man does all. All that God calls for a corresponding response from men. Yet, at no point can man act without God so that man cannot credit himself for his own salvation at any point." But the critics of calvinism are wrong is saying this a cooperative work. God acts, we respond. But it is not God doing part and man doing part. It is God working and man receiving by faith the work that God has done.

One can see then, that calvinist doctrine leaves man utterly dependent on God for his salvation. In this, the calvinist sees the fulfillment of the Latin term soli Deo gloria - to God alone be the glory. It is this desire to see God glorified for all things, in all things that marks the calvinist above all other things. The calvinist is a helpless worm of a sinner who has nothing to offer God except the filth of sin and his own wretchedness. The calvinist knows that if he is saved, it is because God has loved him in spite of what he is and that God sought him out and drew him to Himself. The calvinist knows that God has miraculously changed him and made him into something new. By God's power, by God's love, God saves sinful men. The one who knows this ... that is the calvinist.

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