Calvinism originated in John Calvin, a French theologian who moved to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1536, where he published his Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin’s theology was similar to Luther’s, yet highly influenced by Augustinianism, especially in terms of God’s sovereignty and predestination. Calvin held strongly to the belief that God had already determined who was and who was not going to be saved, that all things are under the direct control of God; man does not have free will since he “fell” into sin. Only God’s grace can lead to salvation for man. His belief system caught on, and Geneva soon became a Calvinistic theocracy. Calvinism spread throughout Europe and has greatly influenced Protestant theology for almost 500 years.
Sections on this Page
- General Considerations
- T – Total Depravity
- U – Unconditional Election
- L – Limited Atonement
- I – Irresistible Grace
- P – Perseverance of the Saints
- Concerning Ministers
Variants of Calvinism are seen in three main groupings: Reformed churches, Presbyterian churches, and Congregational churches.
Reformed churches originated as the continental European Calvinist churches, especially popular in the Netherlands. In North America, the Reformed Church in America represents one such group; more conservative groups include the Christian Reformed Church of North America and United Reformed Churches of North America.
Presbyterian churches owe their origins to John Knox, who studied under Calvin in the 1550s and desired to establish churches governed by the elder system (elder, in Greek, is presbuteros, hence “Presbyterian”). The Scottish government affirmed his Scottish Confession of Faith in 1560, but it is the Westminster Confession of Faith (written in England in 1646) that provides the basis of Presbyterian belief. In America today, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) (also known as PCUSA) represent the largest such bodies, although they have denied limited atonement and are rather liberal in many areas; more conservative groups include the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (not affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy). There is also the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, representing a group that rejected most tenets of Calvinism but maintained a presbyterian system of governance.
Congregational churches are the descendants of the Puritan or Separatist movement that came out of England in the seventeenth century. Congregational churches are so named on the basis of their belief that each congregation should govern its own affairs; thus they distinguished themselves from Anglicans and Presbyterians. The Puritans were mostly Calvinist in their theology, and Calvinist concepts remain in such bodies today. The largest and most liberal group of Congregational churches is the United Church of Christ (UCC); more conservative groups include Congregational Christian Churches (National Association) and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Birth: Christmas
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Death: Palm Sunday; Good Friday; Easter
Other Observances: Epiphany; Days Concerning Saints
Positions of Authority: Who is the Pastor?; A Hierarchy of Bishops; Female Deacons [Deaconesses]; Female Elders; Female Evangelists; Homosexual Evangelists [disputed among liberal groups]; Ordination; Synods, Councils, Conventions, and Other Meetings
The basic theology of Calvin was the concept of predestination and election, later summarized in the acrostic TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints1. Essentially, this doctrine states that due to his sinful nature, man cannot come to God; rather, God must come to him. God has already determined who He will save and who He will condemn, and therefore, His Son only died for those who are the saved, otherwise known as the “elect.” The members of the “elect” cannot help to be saved, for God will bring them to Himself; because of this, those who are truly the elect must be saved and cannot fall away. Let us now examine each of these tenets separately to see if they correspond to the teachings of the Scriptures.
T – Total Depravity
The first teaching in the TULIP acrostic is total depravity. Total depravity can be defined as man’s inability to come to God by his own means. Since man was born with original sin and cannot help but live in a fallen state, there is no way that he can perform any good deed; the only way he can be saved or to do anything good is if God works within him2. “Original sin” is addressed in Baptism: Infant Baptism and “Original Sin”. Likewise, the view that God must provide the individual with all things necessary for salvation, including faith, is considered in Lutheranism: Faith Alone, since Calvinists also use 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Ephesians 2:8-9 to justify their belief. This belief is further justified with verses such as Romans 8:6-8 and 2 Corinthians 3:53:
For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
…not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.
Are these claims true? On the one hand, it is true that man has sinned and that all have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), but on the other hand, this does not necessitate that man is completely unable to do any good thing and is unable to come to God.
The context of Romans 8:6-8 demonstrates that Paul is speaking about the differences between the man in sin and the man in Christ, as is made clear when examining a broader look at the chapter:
For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Romans 8:5-9).
We can understand Paul clearly in his proper context: Paul is explaining that the man who is in sin will be against the teachings of God, for he has chosen the world, not the Father (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). The man who lives by the Spirit will be in fellowship with God, for he has chosen wisely. Furthermore, Paul speaks of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 as the following:
I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk after the manner of men?
Paul says that the Corinthians are still “carnal” and yet calls them “saints” in 1 Corinthians 1:2. How can it be, then, that “carnal” people can be “in Christ” if we interpret Romans 8:6-8 to mean that the carnal ones of the flesh are consigned to hellfire without a chance?
Romans 8:6-8, therefore, is Paul’s attempt to encourage Christians to walk by the Spirit and is not an attempt to demonstrate that humans are totally depraved.
Concerning 2 Corinthians 3:5, Paul is explaining the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant; the discussion concerning the lifelessness of stone versus the life in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-8) attests to this. Paul is confirming to the Corinthians that the Gospel, the plan of salvation instituted by God, came not from man, but from God. All truth and really all existence come from God, not from ourselves; nevertheless, our ability to perform deeds that are good in the eyes of God is not negated by this.
The Scriptures have many examples of individuals performing good works, despite their not being in the fold of God. In Matthew 8:5-13, we read of the centurion who wished for Jesus to heal his servant. This man had the faith that Jesus could perform this deed by the word of His power, and exclaimed that he was “not worthy for [Jesus] to come under [his] roof” (Matthew 8:8). Jesus marveled at this, proclaiming that “I have not found such great faith in anyone of Israel” (Matthew 8:10). This man was a Gentile during God’s covenant with the Israelites, yet he had greater faith than they did. We also have the example of Cornelius in Acts 10:1-2, of whom it says:
Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
Here is a devout man who at this time was a Gentile and had heard not the news of Christ, yet he is determined to be “a devout man and one that feared God.” How can this be if those who are not saved cannot do good works? That God worked in them? Yet these men were not a part of the fold of God, and thus God would be a hypocrite! Surely even the unsaved can do good works, but they are still in their sins, and have not been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Only then can they be deemed truly righteous in God’s eyes.
Furthermore, we have the witness of passages such as Philippians 2:12 and 1 Peter 1:22, among others, that attest to the role of our obedience in our salvation:
So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently.
It is manifest, then, that while God has done the greater part by giving us of His Son, our response of obedient faith in Him is necessary for salvation. According to the Scriptures, the response comes from man on the basis of what God has done.
U – Unconditional Election
We now move on to unconditional election, the belief that God has already elected (or predestined) whom He desires to be saved, and predestined those who would be condemned4. Romans 9:15; 21, Ephesians 1:4-8, Ephesians 2:10, and 2 Timothy 1:9 are used to justify this belief5:
For he saith to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”…Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.
…who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.
As we begin to analyze the claims made, we must again consider the context in terms of Romans 9:15, 21; Paul is discussing the Jews and the choices God made concerning them (Romans 9:1-13). His conclusion is that God has the right to decide to whom He will open the doors of salvation (Romans 9:14-24). Is Paul saying here that God has already decided who will be saved and who will not? By no means! Paul is declaring God’s ability to do so, and how that ability was exercised in the Old Testament. Romans 9:22-33 declares that God has now opened the doors of salvation to all, Jew and Gentile alike:
What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles? As he saith also in Hosea,
“I will call that my people, which was not my people; And her beloved, that was not beloved. And it shall be, that in the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not my people,’ There shall they be called sons of the living God.”
And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved: for the Lord will execute his word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.”
And, as Isaiah hath said before, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah.”
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith: but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling; even as it is written,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.”
God has declared that all men–not only Jews–may come to Him now for salvation. This is what Paul says in Romans 9:1-33, not that God has already determined exactly who will be saved.
In order to understand what Paul means in Ephesians 1:4-8, we must also consider Romans 8:29-30:
For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
As Paul writes to encourage the brethren in Rome and Ephesus, he does establish that God has predestined them for conformity to the image of the Son and adoption. This predestination is not on the basis of God’s predetermined sovereign choice, as Calvinists contend; as Paul says in Romans 8:29, it is based in His foreknowledge of the choices man will make. God predestines those whom He foreknows, but that knowledge does not impede man’s free will, lest God be the author or cause of any kind of sin (cf. James 1:13, 1 Timothy 2:4).
Ephesians 2:10 is used to demonstrate that we do not perform good works, but that God works through us. This is not explicitly stated; however, God is said to have established the good works to be performed, which He most certainly has in His Word. Such does not mean that God performs the works. The actual performance of the work is left to us (Titus 3:8)! We have been created to perform good works and have been given the parameters of good works according to Ephesians 2:10 (and that the Scriptures equip us for all these good works, 2 Timothy 3:16-17); this does not require, however, that God also performs the works. James 2:14-26 also establishes that we are the ones who perform the work.
Finally, 2 Timothy 1:9 is a further explanation of the works done for our salvation, that Christ was crucified for our sins (cf. John 3:16). We affirm that we cannot work for salvation in the sense that by deeds alone we can be saved. We must have the grace of God, manifested in that sacrifice of His Son, in order to be saved; this is what Paul affirms in 2 Timothy 1:9. In order to receive this sacrifice, however, it is abundantly evident that a response is necessary, and whatever response is given is necessarily a work (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Philippians 2:12). We cannot earn our salvation, but we must be obedient if we wish to go to Heaven.
Unconditional Election, therefore, has not been justified from the Scriptures. The problems with this doctrine are many; if God has predestined the elect for salvation by His sovereign choice alone, which necessitates that God has predestined the rest for condemnation in the same way. This violates the Biblical precept found in Romans 2:11:
…for there is no respect of persons with God.
If God arbitrarily decides who will be saved and who will be condemned, this demonstrates partiality; if we accept the doctrine of original sin, there is thus no real difference between one who would be elected versus one who would be condemned except for God’s choice.
Some will say in response to this that Paul is only establishing that the sovereign choice of God is arbitrary: when God makes the choice, He does not take race, culture, ethnicity, birth, economic status, etc., into consideration. The text does not require such a limitation on the interpretation, however, and such a limitation is not consistent with the message Paul provides immediately before making the statement in question, as can be seen in Romans 2:5-10:
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Paul here clearly defines the standard by which men shall be judged; it is not God’s sovereign arbitrary choice, but on the basis of whether one was found obedient or disobedient to God. This is equally true of the Jew and the Greek. It is clear, therefore, that Paul demonstrates that God’s judgment is not based on some predetermined arbitrary judgment, but based upon the fidelity of each individual.
Furthermore, if God has already determined who will be saved and who will be condemned, this would even negate the need for the last Judgment, defined clearly in the following passages:
“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned,” (Matthew 12:37).
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds,” (Matthew 16:27).
“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left,” (Matthew 25:31-33).
“The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31).
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire, (Revelation 20:11-15).
The Judgment is spoken of as a real event, wherein every man will be judged on the basis of his life and his relationship with Christ. Why would this event be written about if God had already determined its outcome?
The main problem with unconditional election involves the Calvinist (and Augustinian) perspective on the nature of God Himself. While there is much regarding the nature of God which we do not understand (Isaiah 55:9-10), we can understand that which He has revealed to us. When we consider the Scriptures, we do not find evidence that God’s sovereignty demands His predetermination of all events; instead, we see times in which God’s will is not accomplished, along with times where God’s determination is changed based upon changes in circumstance. Examples include God’s predictions to David regarding Saul in Keilah (1 Samuel 23:1-14), changes in plans based on the repentance of Ahab and the Ninevites (1 Kings 21:27-29, Jonah 1:1-4:3), and the changes of fortune in Paul’s journey (Acts 27:9-44). Matthew 19:8 is also quite instructive: Jesus Himself establishes that the Israelites were not really following God’s original intention for marriage when they were given the ability to divorce their wives, yet God still suffered them to do so.
We have no quarrel with the fact that God is omnipotent and sovereign: in fact, we will not impose on Him any form of “logical” necessity! God’s omnipotence and sovereignty does not demand that God function in any given way; instead, He reveals for our benefit part of His nature so that we can serve Him. That nature is not the tyrannical God presented in Augustinian Calvinist theology; instead, God calls all men through the Gospel, and it is up to them to choose to serve Him or not, and reap the consequences (Romans 1:16; 6:17-23; 10:14-17, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 2:4). Man’s fate was not arbitrarily predetermined before his existence!
Therefore, it can be determined that unconditional election of each saint is not established in the Scriptures, for God now allows all men to come to Him.
L – Limited Atonement
The next doctrine in the TULIP acrostic is limited atonement, the belief that Jesus Christ died only for those in the elect. John 17:9 and Matthew 26:28 are used to justify this belief:
“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.”
“…for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.”
Do these teach that Christ died only for some? Let us examine these passages.
John 17:9 is a part of what is called Jesus’ “High Priestly” prayer; the first part of this prayer concerns the disciples of Christ, as seen in verses John 17:6-7:
“I manifested Thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me; and they have kept Thy word. Now they know that all things whatsoever Thou hast given Me are from Thee.”
We see that in John 17:9, Jesus is saying that He is praying for “these”. Exactly who is under discussion is made evident in John 17:11:
“And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are.”
Then, in the end, Jesus prays in John 17:20-21 for all who would believe:
“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.”
Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus is not saying in John 17:9 that God has given to Him only some, but that during His lifetime, the twelve plus the seventy given to Him have learned of Him. His prayer is clearly being given on behalf of all or any who will believe in Him and in His Father, as seen in John 17:20-21.
Matthew 26:28 says that Christ’s was poured out for “many” to receive the forgiveness of sins. Does this mean that Christ’s blood is limited to a few? We have the witness of the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 9:11-12:
But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.
His sacrifice was performed “once for all,” and the all is not qualified. Therefore, the Hebrew author is telling us that Christ’s blood was sacrificed for all men. How can these two statements agree?
It is inaccurate to say that Christ died to cleanse the sins of a few or for many; Christ died to cleanse all men of sin. Not all men are cleansed of sin, however, for they do not accept Christ’s sacrifice and/or declaration. Therefore, in the end, Christ’s blood will cleanse those who have accepted Him of their sins. Christ did die for all men to be saved; however, since only a few will accept that sacrifice, it is effective only for those who do. The agent of the limitation is not God but man, for it is up to him to accept or reject the work of God through Jesus Christ.
I – Irresistible Grace
The next tenet of TULIP is irresistible grace, the belief that God calls those whom He has elected with His grace and that the elect cannot help but to heed the call. This belief is justified with John 6:37, John 6:44, and Romans 8:14:
“All that which the Father giveth Me shall come unto Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
“No man can come to Me, except the Father that sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.”
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Let us now examine these Scriptures.
John 6:22-49 is the discussion between Jesus and the Jews concerning spiritual matters. He declares that the Father has drawn men, which He has, and that those will come to Him. How are men drawn? We see this in Romans 10:13-14:
…for, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
God draws men to Him through the preaching of the Gospel and the acceptance thereof. Jesus is not saying that the elect will be forced to come to Him because of the Father’s will, but that those who will heed the call of the Father will come.
The statement in Romans 8:14 is not making a declaration concerning how men are called; it is a simple statement of fact: if you are led by the Spirit, you are a son of God. He has accepted you. This verse makes no comment concerning how the Spirit was bestowed upon you, whether God has forced Him upon you or if you received it by desire. The multiple conversion stories in the Acts of the Apostles point clearly to the desire of man to follow the Gospel call as seen in the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47), those who believed when the lame man was healed (Acts 3:1-4:22), the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), and many, many more. God certainly calls, but as Paul explains in Romans 10:16-17, man may not answer; if one does answer the call, he has faith in Him:
But they did not all hearken to the glad tidings. For Isaiah saith,
“Lord, who hath believed our report?”
So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Furthermore, if God calls irresistibly by grace, why is it that Christians are called to go out and preach the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)? What need is there for the “preacher” of Romans 10:13-14 if God will call them, preacher or no?
It is true that some people were called more strongly or clearly than others. We can think of Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-31, or Matthew in Matthew 9:9: both received personal and specific calls. Nevertheless, both still had to obey the call: Saul needed to be baptized (Acts 22:16), and Matthew had to leave what he had to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9). Had Saul not believed the vision, or had Matthew not left his post, would they have received salvation? We have no reason to believe that they would!
“Irresistible grace,” then, is at odds with the way the Gospel was promoted in the New Testament.
P – Perseverance of the Saints
The final doctrine in the TULIP acrostic follows logically from the first four: if man cannot come to God, but God has determined to come to some through the death of His Son Jesus Christ and such individuals have no choice but to come to Him, it logically follows that those individuals must be saved and cannot be lost. This final idea is known as the perseverance of the saints. Romans 8:28-39 is often used to justify this:
And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written,
“For thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Does this mean that those who are saints must be saved? Let us examine this and other Scriptures.
Romans 8:31-39 is a very wonderfully comforting passage, for Paul is confirming for us that no external power can separate us from Christ. Even though Christians may go through no end of persecution, pain, and suffering, Christ will always be there for us. There is one significant variable, however, that Paul does not address here: one’s own choice. It is true that no external force can separate us from the love of Christ; our own hardness of heart, however, can. Paul says of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10a:
…for Demas forsook me, having loved this present world, and went to Thessalonica.
He has loved the world and has therefore left the fold of Christ. Did any power separate him from the love of Christ? No, but his own desire for the present world severed him from Christ again. We have further commentary on this in Hebrews 6:4-6:
For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
The Hebrew writer here explains quite clearly that if one falls away, one may never return to the fold. Thus, one who was a saint may fall away and be lost.
To this many will turn to 1 John 2:19 and say that John establishes that such individuals were really never with us; therefore, they were merely hypocrites, who attended services and performed service to God but were never saved. Let us consider the passage:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us.
John does say that these individuals were really not of us, for if they had been, they would still be in the fold. This is, in fact, true: one can only fall away if there is a deficiency in the faith of that individual. This does not mean, however, that they never were saved or any such thing. We saw in Hebrews 6:4 that these individuals had “once been enlightened and [had] tasted of the heavenly gift and [had] been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and [had] tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” How can one have been enlightened, have been a partaker of the Holy Spirit, and have known the good word of God and yet not have been saved? Peter demonstrates in Acts 2:38 that through baptism, the remission of sins, one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are to have trust in God and His promises, we will see that these individuals were at one point saved, but they did not endure, and thus fell away from the faith. Jesus describes these as the seeds who fell in the rock in Matthew 13:20-21:
“And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth.”
Likewise, the Hebrew author speaks of Christians who flagrantly sin without repentance in Hebrews 10:26-31:
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries. A man that hath set at nought Moses’ law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know him that said, “Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense.”
And again, “The Lord shall judge his people.”
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Does the Hebrew author give the impression that the persons who did such things were never saved? He indicates that they “received the knowledge of the truth” and that for such persons there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin. He speaks of these persons in the first person plural: it could be us ourselves! Such a one was “sanctified” by the “blood of the covenant”. If one can have knowledge of the truth, be considered part of the church, and sanctified by the blood of the covenant, yet in reality were never saved in the first place, how can any of us cherish the hope of eternal life?
In the end, this exposes a great difficulty with the entire TULIP system: no one can ever really know whether they represent part of the elect. The possibility always exists that one was always a reprobate. The assumption is made, of course, that those who are part of Calvinist churches are the “elect”, but such ones will even admit that such may not be the case for each individual. We can contrast this with the message of the Scriptures, where God establishes in 1 Peter 1:3-9, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, and other passages, that many are initially saved and strive in hope to obtain the final salvation, and yet some will sin so as to fall away without obtaining that final salvation.
We can thus see that one can be saved and then fall away. The TULIP theology of Calvinism may be logical, but it does not conform to the teachings of the Scriptures.
Many Calvinist groups also teach that ministers must be called and elected according to the standards in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-86. They also teach that the minister is the only one to administer the “sacraments,” baptism and the Lord’s Supper7, that he holds the keys described in Matthew 16:198, and that he is to administer church discipline9. Are these teachings in harmony with God’s Word?
In the discussion in Positions of Authority: Who Is the Pastor?, it is determined that the Scriptures speak of an office known as the overseer, the elder, the presbyter, the bishop, or the pastor, and a completely different office of the evangelist, or minister. Thus a minister may be an elder if he meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-8 and the congregation accepts him as such, but being a minister does not necessitate being an elder/pastor.
Most Calvinists have missed this distinction in the Scriptures and thus state that the minister is also a pastor/elder/overseer/bishop. This is not consistent, for even the examples in the Scriptures demonstrate that a minister need not be also an elder, etc. Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 7:5-7:
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that.
He thus states that he is not married, yet he commands the following concerning elders in 1 Timothy 3:2:
The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach…
Here he says that an overseer must be the husband of one wife. Finally, there is Colossians 1:24-25:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church; whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God.
He calls himself a minister, yet is not married despite the fact that he says all overseers must be the husband of one wife. There is only one conclusion that we can possibly draw from these three statements made by Paul: there is a difference between the evangelist/minister/preacher and the elder/overseer/bishop/presbyter/pastor. They are not one and the same.
Do the Scriptures require an evangelist/minister to baptize and to offer the Lord’s Supper? The Scriptures make no such commandment. We even see examples in the New Testament that contradict this notion in Acts 9:10-12 and Acts 22:12-16, concerning Saul and Ananias:
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, “Ananias.”
And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.”
And the Lord said unto him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.”
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there, came unto me, and standing by me said unto me,
‘Brother Saul, receive thy sight.’
And in that very hour I looked up on him.
And he said, ‘The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For thou shalt be a witness for him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.'”
Paul states that Ananias baptized him, but we have not been told that Ananias was a minister, but simply a disciple of Christ. We see Christians baptizing individuals into Christ, but that serves as our only valid example from the Scriptures. Therefore, to determine that only ministers/evangelists can administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper is not a doctrine supported by the Scriptures.
Do ministers hold the keys to the Kingdom as described in Matthew 16:19? Let us examine this Scripture:
“I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This is the same idea that was presented by Luther concerning confession, which was discussed in Lutheranism: Confession and Sin, that the church has been given the keys (thus, the Office of the Keys). The Calvinists have determined that the ministers, not the church, have this capacity. Yet just as the church has not been given that authority, neither have ministers as well. We discussed in Roman Catholicism, I: Authority: Apostolic Succession that the correct translation of this passage demonstrates that God has done the binding and the loosing, and that the Apostles, to whom this gift is given, are the agents of proclaiming this binding and loosing. Thus, the power is not their own, but is of God. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this power was retained after the death of the Apostles by any evangelist.
We must also ask the question, “What are the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?” We should not think that Jesus refers to literal keys. The best understanding, from the Scriptures, is that the Gospel is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, and therefore the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles opened up the Kingdom to those who hear. Since evangelists are entrusted with preaching the Gospel (cf. 2 Timothy 4:4), they are to promote the Kingdom of Heaven; on the other hand, the charge to promote the Gospel is given to all Christians (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, we can determine that it is not the minister’s duty to hold the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; that responsibility was found with the Apostles in the first century and is now seen through the preaching and acceptance of the Word of God.
Finally, is it the minister’s obligation only to perform church discipline? We read the following in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world: but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.
This Scripture says that the wicked man needs to be removed from among “yourselves.” This is our example from the Scriptures of church discipline, and it appears that the obligation falls upon the collective body, not just an evangelist. We as a group are to remove the wicked man from among ourselves; the minister is certainly included in this, although it is not his obligation alone.
- Faith, Works, and Grace: Understanding the Pauline Synthesis
- The Sanctification of the Believer
- What Is Sanctification?
1: The acrostic is explicitly discussed at http://www.reformed.org
2: The Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter IX, pargraph 45 (IX, 45)
4: Ibid, IX. 52
6: The Second Helvetic Confession, XVIII. 150
7: Ibid., XVIII. 156
8: Ibid., XVIII. 159
9: Ibid., XVIII. 165