Thursday, June 23, 2011

Calvinism VS Arminianism

Many people assume Jocob Arminus and Calvin were total opposites, completely incompatible. If that is true, one would have to be wholly right, and another wholly wrong, making somebody a heretic. I find it unfortunate that this is the conclusion of many concerning Arminius since I respect both men. If such a thing were truth that they were in fact incompatible polar opposites, what in the world do you do with something like this?

"I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read…. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed to us in the writings of the Fathers -- so much so that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, indeed, above all." - Jacob Arminus

Calvinism and Arminianism always made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. It wasn’t just because of the logical conclusions these theologies lead to, but because I believe both of them to be clearly un-scriptural. Both theologies suppress and “reinterpret” verses that are contradictory to their teachings. Calvinism and Arminianism seem incomplete at best, heretical in the extreme.

I am not endorsing or condemning anyone the following sentences, they are just to help you understand that key people of the faith are not all from one side or another. For instance, those that are in the Arminian camp or are Arminian leaning include the likes of John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Charles Finney, Methodists and Assemblies of God. Those who would be of the Calvinist persuasion include Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Presbyterians and most Baptists.

In out theology we spend much time trying to “assist” God’s word so comes out clearer, but often we end up changing what it actually says. The theologies of Calvinism and Arminians are by no means minor; these key interpretations of scripture create the structure for how we as Christians live out our lives. What is theology anyway other than an attempt to place our mighty God in a box that wouldn’t even hold his toe.

Let us remember that the great debates took place not between Calvin and Arminius, but between their followers. The followers these men took the ideas of both to their natural conclusions. Instead of a compromise between biblical truths to see the whole picture, some truths were held high and exaggerated and other truths had to be suppressed as a byproduct. Did these men intend to ignore biblical truth? No, I don’t think so, but as faulted men they could not help but do so. We don’t have to choose sides even though the theological descendants of both would have us do so. Both Calvin and Arminius knew that scripture was God’s word, and God’s word must agree. Even though the idea of predestination and free-will seem opposed. There is no need for division among us over this, that division is a result of our inability to comprehend complex perspectives of God.

While the anagram of TULIP and the brief explanations contained here cannot accurately represent every perspective or interpretation of the theologies it may help us get at least a base to work with. Please also note on each of the five points Calvin and Arminius did not completely agree with what their spiritual descendants taught. Both sides have demonized the other man as a form of propaganda.

The Five points of Calvinism

1. Total Depravity: Sin controls every part of man. He is Spiritually dead, blind, unable to obey believe, or repent. He continually sins for his nature is completely evil.
2. Unconditional Election: God chose the elect solely on the basis of his free grace, not anything in them. He has special love for the elect. God left the rest to be damned for their sins. Nothing outside of God's will can happen.
3. Limited Atonement: Christ died exclusively for the elect, not all men, and paid a definite price for them that guaranteed their salvation.
4. Irresistible Grace: Saving Grace is irresistible. He sovereignly gives the new birth, faith and repentance to the elect.
5. Perseverance of the Saints: God preserves all the elect and causes them to persevere in faith and obedience to the end. None are continually back-slidden or finally lost.

The Five points of Arminianism

1. Free Will: Sin does not control man's will. He is sick and near-sighted, but still able to obey, believe and repent. He does not continually sin, for his nature is not completely evil.
2. Conditional Election: God choose the elect on the basis of their foreseen faith. He loves all men equally. God passed over no one, but gives everyone an equal chance to be saved. Some Arminians believe God plays little role in any events of mankind, that God is distant.
3. Universal Atonement: Christ died equally for all men and paid a provisional price that made salvation possible for all, but guaranteed it for none.
4. Resistible Grace: Saving Grace is resistible, for God does not overrule man's free will. Man is born again after he believes, for faith and repentance are not gifts of God.
5. Falling from Grace: Only a few Christians continue in faith and obedience to the end. (Arminians are divided over whether one can actually loose his salvation.)

If these doctrines seem so diametrically opposed, is any sort of compromise possible? I believe so. I am well aware this solution may have errors and I do not proclaim to be a perfect solution; overall I think this is a compromise at least worthy of discussion. For verses whose content might be more commonly disputed I have it laid out word for word.

God has a will for every man's life. All men are sinful and completely unworthy of salvation (Rom. 3:23, Jer. 17:9). No man with his sinful nature would ever choose to follow God's will (John 6:44, (Phil.2:13) and is in a state of total depravity. The sinful nature is too cowardice and arrogant to humble itself before God. God gives men moments of clarity and grace that reveals his will for our lives, but that does not mean they have received salvation (Acts 17:26-27). Man can deny the work of the Holy Spirit and so resist him (Acts 7:51, 1 Tim1:19). If a man repents, it is not the man that repents, but the Holy Spirit working within him, this is where salvation begins (2 Tim 2:25). If a man offers himself as a living sacrifice, it is not himself. Again, it is the Holy Spirit. God however, being holy cannot sin and desires the salvation of all men (II Peter 3:9, Mat. 23:37, I Tim 2:3-4). He died for all men, even those who rejected him (Heb. 2:9, 1 Tim. 2:6, 1 Tim. 4:10, Isa. 53:6), therefore we cannot have limited atonement. To desire men to sin and fall away would be as evil as the actual sin itself (Jam. 1:13). Just because God wills something does not mean that it will happen (John 21:21-24). As we saw God’s desire is for all men to be saved, but scripture is clear that will not be the case. There is no need to question God’s ultimate sovereignty in these cases, but there is evidence God allows our wills to have some purpose. To remove that concept is to say that everything good and evil was pre-designed. It exaggerates predestination to mean more than it actually does. Accounted for, allowed, foreknew and planned around yes, because God is outside of time, but to say God planned men to commit certain sins would mean God causes evil, which is not possible (James 1:13-14), for they would have no choice. That is “double predestination,” the only natural conclusion from the definition Calvinists have given. It would also imply that we are nothing more than robots. If we are nothing more that pre-planned programs do we have any reason to feel emotion? If all that happens is God’s will then who are we to be upset by anything that happen in life? If that is true would Christ have sinned when he wept? Was his will opposing that of the Father’s? Why else would he be upset? Why would has ask that this cup might pass from him if it were possible. No, of course not, this is more proof that Calvinism must be incomplete. God desires the salvation of all men and man’s free will to resist is demonstrated in the following.

I Timothy 2:3-4 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NASB)

Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (NIV)

God allows man freewill, but not that he may choose God, for God alone draws us to him, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9). Man’s freewill is available only that he might choose to continue in his natural sinful state, that is disobedience thus resisting God's will to change his life (Jam 1:14). Man’s will always causes him to rebel against God unless God enables him to see clearly (Phil.2:13) . For this reason the term “free-will” doesn’t seem appropriate. Man’s “natural will” or “sinful will” would seem to fit better. Then man, enlightened only by God may submit his will to God’s will who conforms us to his image. This can only come through God’s movement. This seems to be reflected in the heart of Peter (John 6:68). God enables men saved and unsaved alike with moments of clarity to see the word that they would otherwise not have seen. That enabling does not save; salvation is merely an end result of that enabling when man is finally broken. Man can allow himself to be overcome by his sinful will and deny God at any time during the process. God may also speak truth directly to a man and purposely allow his heart to harden. Since salvation is by grace alone, individual sins do not cause salvation to be lost. Man can reject the workings of the Holy Spirit and God’s will on a temporary basis, not loosing their salvation, but merely faltering; although, one who loved God would not abuse this practice (Rom 6:1). At times God voluntarily yields his sovereignty so that we might continue to surrender our sinful will by trusting in his revelations of clarity and enabling truth. But it is him who initially enables us to see and accept his will, that is not our own doing, for our natural will would have us look away from his truth.

Man can also choose to disregard the workings of the spirit (Acts 7:51, 1 Tim1:19, Mat. 13:20-21) and do so on a permanent basis, so closing out the Holy Spirit after he has already repented. They would never allow the Holy Spirit to work within them again; this alone may lead to the loss of salvation. It is a spiritual divorce of God. If we separate ourselves from God on our own accord we loose our purpose and become empty. We, by rejecting God, place ourselves in his position and therefore falling pray to the same lie of the Serpent from the beginning, "That in our knowledge of good and evil we can be like God." For salvation is not nearly words but commitment,

James 2:17-26 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)

Hebrews 6:4-6 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (NASB)
Calvinists have suggested several possible loopholes around these verses, but they must be stretched. Often it is suggested these people were never “really” saved. The scripture states they were made partakers. Can you fall away from something you have never reached or attained? Can you be renewed to something you never had? No, so they must have had it. It has also been suggested this only a hypothetical scenario which explains what would happen if someone fell away, even though it is not really possible. That doesn’t make any sense, why place a warning in a chapter if it wasn’t actually possible? Recognizing traditional Calvinistic interpretations don’t seem to fit, R.C Sproul has suggested that the author of Hebrews recorded Hebrews 6:4-6 as a popular false teaching he then attempted to prove false in later verses. Reading the verses in context this too seems to be quite a stretch.

Hebrews10:26-31 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (NIV)

II Peter 2:20-22 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." (NIV)

Even though some may loose salvation, we can still have assurance (Rev 3:5, 1 Pet. 1:5, II Thess. 3:3, John 10:28-29, Phil. 1:6). Often our assurance of salvation is an area of weakness for us continually attacked by demonic forces. Guilt comes from of what we perceived to be slow growth or weak faith. We are tempted to doubt our salvation, which says in essence we don’t believe God’s blood or word is enough. The combination of these verses is clear: if you do loose salvation you cannot renew it. Because of assurance verses listed above and the sins of Peter in his denial of Christ and the treatment of gentiles (Matt 26:69-75, Gal. 2:11-16) we can assume it must be a very serious turning away, not a mere single sinful act. We do not loose out salvation every-time we sin, but we are expected to be on our guard continually repenting and growing, faith without works is dead (Jam 2:14-26, Rom 1:5, John 15:5-8).

The faster we get about doing the work of the Lord the more he can bless us. Our purpose for being created is to reflect the glory of the Lord and complete the work he has given us. The quicker we respond the more work and tasks he can give us allowing us to participate and be blessed even more in him. That is how we can find Shalom, yes it means peace, but it also means be full and complete in the Lord and your purpose. God keeps knocking. God hates the lukewarm, he wishes we were either cold or hot, and will continue to push us to one extreme or the other through trial.

If you still believe in Calvinism and disagree with me, truth is you can’t be angry with me. If God chose only to save a specific few then by default, he chose to predestined the others to hell. If you are right, you must also acknowledge God predestined me to argue against Calvinism, so you have no right to be mad at me or even bother arguing. Don’t blame me for my sins either, for God created me to do them. If that is true is there a hell? I am merely doing as God will, how then could I be punished for that? You have no reason to feel sorrow, the only reason you feel sorry is because you are unaccepting of God’s will. The reason so many of us resist Calvinism is that it really seems to be nothing more then a sophisticated form of dualism wrapped in the concept that God is one.

I have noticed that churches holding tightly to reformed doctrine have a tendency to slip into a nature of legalism. Leadership becomes overly dominant and gifts disappear. It seems rather ironic that many Calvinists spend so much time trying to determine the will of God. That sort of action contradicts their own theories of God’s sovereignty and they forget that according to their own theology they can do nothing outside of God’s will. So what is the point? Many abuse that practice and in the search for God’s will they become lazy not doing what is right in front of them to, always looking for something bigger or more to their liking. We can't sit around and be idle as Paul reminds us in II Thess. 3:6-15. We must be efficient with the little things as Paul tells the Colossians. It also leads to inconsiderate evangelism; removing the responsibility God has given us. Often it is thought all we must do is speak truth and God will do the rest. That does seem to be what Paul conveys when he says he becomes all things to all people (I Cor. 9:19-23).

Many Arminians are completely not satisfied with Arminian teaching and continue in humility to search for answers. I can tell you that I have observed most churches adhere strictly to Arminainism often find themselves in dangerous waters. If you hold to too tightly to free-will, then you don’t give enough credit to the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy or grace (Rom 9:15-18). It might not seem like a big deal, but it will always hinder your relationship with him. You will never learn to rely fully on him, trusting in him, and because of that you are a house built on sand. Because you take credit for your salvation, you will have a difficult time coming to grips with your pride, the root of all our sin. Humility is an essential part of growth.

Churches that adhere to classical Arminian teaching often become man centered and humanist, they fall quickly into liberalism. Liberalism causes leadership to become weak. Often gifts can become chaotic or worse, or become virtually non-existent based on the theology of gifts in that particular church. We also know liberalism reaches to question the inerrancy of scripture, once that line is crossed there is no going back. While Calvinistic churches may become dominantly legalistic, but those in Arminian churches may become instead to liberal. Is one really worse than the other?

I believe one of the best things we can do is take delight in the mystery of God in that we don’t know all the answers, bury ourselves in scripture and continue to have respectful discussion on the subject.

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