Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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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.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Kind of Calvinist is a Baptist?

Generally, the term Calvinist is used for anyone who believes in the 5 points of Calvinism. many people believe that the 5 points originated with John Calvin but this is not so. In fact, they were not even formulated until after Calvin's death.

Jacob Arminius, who was 4 years old when Calvin died, wrote against the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace. This led him to a number of conclusions that conflicted with Calvin's writings. After Arminius died, his followers, called the Remonstrants formulated a document called the Remonstrance which petitioned the National Church in Holland to replace 5 points of stated doctrine with 5 doctrines championed by the Remonstrants. These 5 doctrines were:

1. Partial depravity - Although Arminius taught that man was totally depraved, but that depravity was overcome universally by prevenient grace, the Remonstrants taught that depravity was not total and that man retained enough freedom from the effects of sin to be able to respond to God's grace on his own.

2. Conditional election - that God chose to save those whom He foresaw would make a free will choice to believe in Jesus as savior.

3. Universal atonement - this is explained two ways. First, that Jesus' death did pay for the sins of every human throughout history. All that is needed is man's choice to believe to appropriate the benefits of Christ's death. Second, that Christ's death actually paid for no one's sins but acted to remove the barriers between men and God so that God can accept the sinner's faith and save him.

4. Resistible grace - the Holy Spirit employs every means at His disposal to entice the sinner to accept Christ. However, the Holy Spirit cannot act in any way which violates man's free autonomy. So, the Holy Spirit knocks, pleads, begs, cajoles, and in every way implores the sinner to accept Christ but whether or not the sinner actually accepts Christ ... is up to the sinner alone.

5. Conditional perseverance - the saint remains a saint so long as he continues in the faith. If the saint fails to continue in the faith, he may fall away to the point of losing or renouncing the salvation he has gained. It ought to be noted that Arminius himself was ambivalent on this point. Some of his writings seemed to indicate a believer could lose his salvation and other writings seemed to be against that idea.

The Church of Holland took the Remonstrance under advisement and debated it at the Synod of Dordt (short for Dordtrecht). Since the Remonstrance was a 5 point petition, the Synod answered in 5 points. They rejected the Remonstrance petition and declared that the doctrine formulated by Calvin was correct. As such they said that:

1. Man was totally depraved. And therefore, unable to contribute anything to his own salvation. Therefore, salvation was monergistic. All the work of salvation was done by God to which He calls men to respond.

2. Since man is totally depraved and there is nothing good in him to commend him to God, then election (God's choice of who He will save) has to be unconditional. God chooses who He will save simply because of the pleasure of his good and loving will. We are saved by grace, that is, God's undeserved favor.

3. Limited atonement or particular redemption - Jesus died on the cross as an actual substitute for those that the Father had given him - His people, his sheep, his Church, and so on. In so doing, Jesus actually paid for the sins of those he died for actually accomplishing their redemption.

4. Irresistible grace - this was the point of departure for Arminius. This doctrine says that the Holy Spirit will, by his power, find and draw those whom Christ died for, overcoming their resistance and ultimately ensuring that all of them come to Christ and find forgiveness and salvation.

5. Perseverance of the saints in God - that those whom Christ died for and the Holy Spirit brought to faith will be kept by God from ultimately falling away and dying lost.

When they were published they were called the Canons of Dordt. Later they came to be known as the 5 points of Calvinism.

With this background in mind, I can answer the question of what kind of Calvinist a Baptist can be. As I said in my opening paragraph, generally, everyone who believes in the 5 points are called Calvinists. But let's move past generalities and get to specifics.

Calvinists, more accurately, are those who hold to the doctrine that Calvin expounded. This is going to be Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, Christian Reformed Church, and others along those lines. Baptists, according to this definition, cannot be Calvinists. So, a Baptist can only be a Calvinist according to the most general definition that I mentioned above.

Reformed Baptists are Calvinistic Baptists. These Baptists are confessional and covenantal. They are confessional in that they hold to the great Baptist confessions of faith like the 1644 London Confession of Faith, or the 1689 Baptist Confession, or the Philadelphia or New Hampshire Confessions. They are covenantal but not in the Presbyterian sense. They hold that those in the covenant are those who profess faith in Christ proving that God has written his laws into their minds and hearts. These Baptists are Calvinists in the sense that they hold to the 5 points and they agree in large part with the Reformed statements of faith of other Reformed Churches. But they diverge with these other Churches on certain key doctrines and hold fast to the Baptist distinctives.

Sovereign Grace Baptists are Baptists who hold to the 5 points as an explanation of how the gospel works. But they would not necessarily hold to the older confessions not would they necessarily be covenantal. But they do hold to the 5 points. In this sense, they would be Calvinists in the general sense of holding the 5 points, but they, themselves, would not call themselves by that nickname.

So Baptists would end up in one of three groups. They might be Calvinistic, leaning towards Calvinist theology but not really being Calvinist. Some might call this group "Reformed leaning." The second group would be the Reformed Baptists. The final group would be the Sovereign Grace Baptists.

These are the senses in which a Baptist might be called "Calvinist." Ultimately, no matter which of these groups (or whatever other group) a person falls into, as a Baptist, as people of the Book, we all need to seek to be Biblical Christians above all else. If our theology is not Biblical theology, it doesn't matter what you call yourself. You are wrong.

I hope this short explanation is useful.

4 Comments:

Blogger Greg Alford said...

John,

Excellent summary of the relationship between Baptist and Reformed doctrine.

I consider myself more a “Reformed Baptist” than a “Calvinist Baptist” because I believe that the Baptist Movement throughout our history continued (however imperfectly) the Reformation long after most others got bogged down in tradition. Today we find that some (a few) Baptist are more Reformed/Biblical in their doctrine than Calvin, therefore I prefer the label “Reformed Baptist”.

Grace Always,

7:03 PM  
Blogger john said...

Greg,

Thanks for commenting. Since I find the 1689 Baptist Confession to be an accurate reflection of my beliefs I also consider myself to be a Reformed Baptist.

John

7:32 PM  
Blogger mark said...

Hey John,

I was kind of surprised in reading this post, as in most of my (short though they have been) conversations with you on this matter, you have always referred to yourself as a Calvinist. But i do, as Greg posted, think it was a very good summary of Baptists relation to "Calvinism".
As i have said many times in PT, the company I'm in determines whether or not i refer to my self as a "Calvinist" or not. And most times I try to refer to myself as "Calvinistic" rather than straight up "Calvinist". If I'm in the company of those who really don't know anything other than the "dreaded 5 points", I have no problem being labeled "Calvinist"....but if I'm in the company of those who know a bit more about the matter, or are "reformed", I shun the term "Calvinist" over the terms "Calvinistic" or what i prefer even more "Sovereign Gracer".

As always, I look forward to reading your posts, God Bless brother,

Mark

5:01 PM  
Blogger Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

I hold to the Doctrines of Grace, but not covenant, nor reformed theology. I am a dispensationalist, in that I believe God is a God of order, and will after the church is snatched away, keep his earthly promises to Israel. [Seecmy profile @
freegracepreacher@blogspot.com.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

5:56 PM  

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