January 7, 2009

What is Calvinism, Part I


First of all, I think that it must be said that John Calvin, I think would roll over in his grave if he knew that his system of beliefs had taken on his name. For John Calvin, his beliefs were nothing other than biblical Christianity. In fact, most people that hold to his system of beliefs prefer not to be called Calvinists. They prefer to be called ‘Reformed’ or just simply ‘biblical Christians;’ however, most would concede to the title of ‘Calvinist’ for the sake of conversation.

What Calvinism is Not

Those who oppose ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinistic’ theology make many slanderous accusations against it and those who subscribe to it. At this point in time, I only wish to address two such accusations.

Calvinists Do Not Worship John Calvin

The first of these is that those who are ‘Calvinists’ follow and worship the man John Calvin. This is nothing more than straw-man argument used to insight the masses to riot. In general, theological systems are named for their most prominent proponent or defender. Just a few examples that emerged from the Reformation era are 1) Lutheranism: was the theological framework that emerged from Luther’s teachings and those of his followers in the early days of the reformation; 2) Mennonitism: (or Mennonites) was named for the heretical Anabaptist Menno Simons; 3) Calvinism: the theological system we are here considering, which is named for John Calvin and is commonly know by the acrostic TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) though that is not the sum total of it; 4) Arminianism; founded by the followers of Jacob Arminius, who stood in opposition to five of the points of Reformed Theology (those of the acrostic above) believing that man is not so fallen as to not be able to choose God of his own free will, that it is man who chooses God not the other way around, Christ’s atonement is not limited in its purpose, that man can resist the grace of God, and that genuine believers can and do fall away from the faith, (this belief system was decried as error at the Synod of Dort in 1619); 5) Amyraldism: named for Moses Amyraut and is a theological system that is something of a compromise between Calvinism and Arminianism, holding to all the points of ‘Calvinism’ except the particularity or limitedness of Christ’s atonement.

So with all of that as a backdrop, Calvinist’s no more worship John Calvin than any of these other systems do, which is not at all.

Calvinism Is Not Just a Man-Made System of Beliefs

Another such accusation that opponents of Reformed or Calvinistic Theology make is, that it is just a man-made system of beliefs that are artificially foisted upon the biblical text. This is not the case at all. Reformed theology is an attempt to systematically look at the text of Scripture and compile what it says and means in its most natural and logical sense. So, anyone that disagrees with Calvinistic theology needs to do so on the basis of clearly exegeted Scripture.

What Calvinism Is
It is Part of Catholic Christianity

The statement that Calvinistic theology is catholic, may raise some eyebrows. However, you need to understand how I use the term. First of the 'catholic' comes from the Koinē Greek word, καθολικός (katholikos), which means general or universal (Bauer, et al. 1979). When this is applied to the church, it is referring to the universal church of Christ. The universal church of Christ, or, by some, simply the church, “… is the community of all true believers for [or from] all times (Grudem 2000).” That means that everyone who has ever been truly saved, and thus had communion with Christ, is part of this universal body.

Most people, when they hear the term ‘catholic,’ automatically think you are talking about the Roman Catholic Church. In part that is because the RCC traditionally taught that to be outside of the fellowship of the Bishop of Rome, was to be outside of fellowship with Christ. So, to many, they are the catholic church, the one true representation of the body of Christ. However, there are many who would disagree with this.

So, when we say that Reformed theology is part of Catholic Christianity, in some ways, it is simply another way of saying that it is truly Christian.

It is Part of Protestant Christianity

Historically the church was divided into two parts: the Eastern Church and the Western Church. This division was based on the division in the ancient Roman Empire. The Eastern Church is what we know today as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Church is the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Western Church, during the 1500’s, there was a division that arose. The Western Church had grown corrupt, adopting beliefs and practices that were unbiblical. The Western Church taught that there were two sources of revelation: scripture and tradition, both of which could only be infallibly interpreted by the Bishop of Rome. On justification, the Roman church taught that man is saved by working in cooperation with God’s grace. There was a German Augustinian monk who, after actually reading Scripture, became convinced of two things: first, Scripture was the sole authority for faith and practice for the Christian and, secondly, that the Christian was justified by grace, through faith, because of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and apart from any good work. These beliefs stood in stark contrast to the official church teachings on these matters. The later followers of Luther came to be known as Protestants. One such person was John Calvin.

For Further Study

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