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.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Real Total Depravity

Some years after the death of John Calvin, in Holland, the followers of a Calvinistic theologian named Jacob Arminius presented a document to the state church asking for certain points of doctrine to be reviewed and replaced. This document was known as the remonstrance, and those who presented it were known as the Remonstrants. The document was centered around the writings of Arminius, especially his belief that the work of the Holy Spirit in a person could be effectually resisted by the exercise of the person's free will choices. The document argued for 5 doctrines that the Remonstrants felt needed to be changed in the state church's official doctrinal statement.

The Church of Holland called together a synod, a meeting of church leaders and theologians. After the careful study and debate, the Church issued a document called the Canons of Dort. It was called that because the synod met in the city of Dortrecht in Holland. There were 5 canons, each one addressing one of the 5 points of the Remonstrance. Today, we remember these 5 canons by the acrostic TULIP. This is an English acrostic with each letter standing for the main thought of each of the canons. Since the Dutch Church affirmed the Protestant theology articulated by John Calvin in his book The Institutes of the Christian Religion, this acrostic has come to be called the 5 points of Calvinism. But Calvin himself had long before gone to be with his savior before the 5 points were ever formulated.

The "T" stands for total depravity. It is a teaching that the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden affected all the parts of the human being. Our minds, our bodies, our wills, our emotions, every part of us was touched by the fall. Hence, it is "total." It is depraved in the sense that the fall sets us against God. We are sinners by nature. We do not become sinners by sinning. We sin because we are sinners.

But I fear that today, the Christian church has come to trivialize total depravity in our handling of it. In my paragraph above, I say "... the fall ... affected all the parts of the human being." It is easy to say and one misses the massiveness of the idea behind it. But in our modern discussions of total depravity, that is what we do. We reduce it to a few words and fail to impart to our hearers the massive break between us and God that is taught in the doctrine of total depravity.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was teaching a study on prayer in our church. The author of the study asked if you had ever felt a desire to pray, almost like an inner compulsion, but instead of following through, you went and did something else. I could identify with that. Well, he said that the flesh does not want to do anything holy or pleasing to God and therefore, that desire to pray had to be given to us by the Holy Spirit. It was there and then that an understanding of total depravity came to me. In our flesh we are at enmity to God. There is nothing good in our flesh. We don't want to pray, or read our Bibles, or go to church, or witness, or do any holy thing. If left to ourselves, we would not ever do any of those things. That is why the biblical writers often exhort us to stay close to God and to depend on Him for every good thing. Everything around us and even in our lives, can be used to pull us away from God if we do not cultivate a close, intimate, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly Father. And a humble, loving, obedient walk with God is the only way to live it out.

We are sinners by nature. We can corrupt any thing, even holy things. We are idol worshippers by nature. Therefore, recognizing this, it is all the more important to stay close to the Living God and to stay humble, open and loving to His leading. Total depravity tells us how bad we are compared to God. But far from driving us to despair and hopelessness, it drives us to the foot of the cross where we find a savior who is mighty to save. We do not come to Jesus claiming some sort of right to be saved, but as humble beggars, seeking mercy, we come. As the old hymn says so well "Nothing in my hands I bring, but only to thy cross I cling." Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but he came for sinners. Total depravity tells us what great sinners we are. Great sinners need a great savior. And we find him in Jesus Christ the Righteous. In the end, understanding total depravity brings us to our need for Christ. Honestly, all our doctrines ought to lead us to Christ. Wouldn't you agree?

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