The age-old debate between Calvinists and Arminians now masquerades under the argument whether Christian’s can lose their salvation or are we once saved always saved. Endless discussions have led to nothing but further division in the Body of Christ and a poor testimony before a world in need of the real Jesus. My brother Tim Price does a masterful job explaining how in all the controversy we have missed the priority of Christ and His Church. See his teaching below;
“The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him.”
If there is one subject batted around perennially in church circles, it is the age-old controversy between Calvinism and Arminianism. At some point this boondoggle enters the awareness of the average “new believer” as almost a rite of passage. Online, in religious circles, and across the fruited plain, one can observe an on-going religious gun battle between hardened Calvinists or Arminians and believers just coming into awareness of this theological debacle: thinking they have to shoulder defending the faith…which in their awareness is either Calvinistic or Arminian.
During my tenure as a follower of Christ, I have seen this charade played out year after year, context after context, with no different results. Religious people taking cheap shots at one another and interactions walled out into heated arguments with no resolution. The world, the collective of the unregenerate, observe this train wreck astutely concluding what it really is: epic ridiculousness!
The basis of this age-old argument started in the early 1500s. In 1517, a Monk, by the name of Martin Luther, emerged on the world stage by nailing a thesis of 95 points on the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. Among other things, his thesis contested the selling of indulgences (a pardoning for certain types of sins in the Catholic view). Luther’s thesis also dealt with other issues such as purgatory, the essence of faith, corruption in the Church of Rome, the essence of repentance, and access of the believer to God—instead of through clergy. Luther became the lynch pin of what has been thought of as The Reformation, a time where Protestantism became an identifiable movement offering a way of belief in contrast to Catholicism.
Shortly following the events in Wittenberg, numerous other historical individuals came to the forefront establishing their view of differences between the religion of Protestantism and that of Roman Catholicism. To name a few: Huldrych Zwingli, Philipp Melanchthon, Guillaume (William) Farel, and John Knox. No list of movers and shakers of this era would be complete without John Calvin.
Calvin sought to establish his personal version of Protestantism—what became known as the Reformed tradition—by setting up shop in Geneva. Prior, he’d been thrown out of other towns, exiled, when he’d run amok with city leaders. Calvin eventually found acceptance among Geneva’s elites. There he developed a rigid code of living and moral standards.
He codified these notions in a landmark work titled The Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536. Though not in political office, Calvin became the puppet master over most of those who were in political positions in Geneva, Switzerland. He pulled their strings. Whatever he deemed right became the official position in Geneva, with few exceptions. Calvin sought to build a “Christian society.” So ambitious was Calvin in his effort that he oversaw the religious murder of some 58 people, on top of countless jailings, tortures, and even exiles in order to establish his social order.
Calvin wrote like a maniac. His magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion is nearly 1000 pages, handwritten by quill and ink: no small feat I grant you. Combined with teaching, administration and meddling in civil affairs, Calvin nearly killed himself between putting quill to parchment and his prodigious teaching regimen. His thinking and ideals spread into the Low Countries, as well as France, Spain, and England.
In 1582, a fellow named Jacob Arminius enters the burgeoning vistas of Protestantism. He was originally a student of Calvin’s teaching. He studied in Geneva under the tutelage of Theodore Beza: Calvin’s successor. Within a few years Arminius questioned Calvin’s view of predestination through his own sermons and writing. By the time Arminius was perhaps 27 years old, he was squarely against Calvin’s teaching. His study of Romans galvanized his opposing view.
In 1610, the followers of Arminius’ teaching continued to develop his ideals and attempted to get recognition and acceptance through the Synod of Dort. These points were originally called the Five Articles of Remonstrance. They are articulated in clearer terms as follows:
- Sin does not incapacitate man from responding to God concerning His offer of salvation
- Christ’s death is sufficient for the sin of all humankind
- Christ’s atonement is not automatic on a personal level, but is only granted to those who respond to God’s conviction
- God’s grace can be rejected
- Salvation is not a completed reality until death in belief, one must preservere in it
Arminius’ disagreement was not lost on Genevan Calvinists. In reaction, Calvin’s successors formulated Calvin’s ideas into their own five points. They are normally articulated in terms that form the acrostic T.U.L.I.P. I like to note them in a clearer way as follows:
- Mankind is totally incapable of responding to the truth of God
- God’s choosing of His believers is predetermined
- Not all people have been chosen by God (they were always destined for destruction)
- God’s calling is impossible to escape
- A saint’s salvation is irrevocable and secure
Thus, the stage is set for a 500-year argument that has preoccupied that which calls itself church and schools of theology. I do not wish to discuss the validity or folly of the points on either side as history is awash with such. I want to look at this controversy from a perspective of essence. The ultimate reality of an ideal is uncovered by history and the outflow of it. The question is, do these views or the argument between the two achieve God’s stated objective?
I don’t think we can conclude that anyone mentioned thus far was an incarnate “evil” person in the ultimate sense. All purposed good things in their efforts and work. However, the good intentions of a Buddhist will not justify them before God. In addition, just because someone intended to do right or good for Jehovah God does not mean they achieved it.
Something isn’t automatically what it espouses itself to be just because it portends such of itself. Charities can say their purpose is to relieve suffering, pain, and abuse. In most cases, these entities do as they advertise. However, a number have CEO’s in the million-dollar salary club. Actual “relief” is but a fraction of the organization’s budget. My point is that it is not what every ideal or agenda purports about itself that turns out to be its actual essence or reality. Analysis of whatever an entity does or achieves is a much better measure of the group’s value or significance over and against what they advertise.
Additionally, we need to ask the question “why” much more often. There are the reasons and excuses people give for the things they do. But, if you were to continue asking why, you get closer to the truth of the matter. Agendas and subjective thinking get exposed right away if you start asking the right questions.
Any mature adherents to either ideal (Calvinism and Arminianism) can support their view with many texts and tons of argumentation. Both want to make the discussion an exclusive absolute, supporting their view of course. However, neither view by any means includes all of what the Bible has to say. Both would have you decide to accept one view or the other, based upon arguments… This detail I feel is a huge trap for most church people.
Real truth always takes into account the largest number of Bible texts that relate to that subject without sweeping stuff under the rug, or telling people that verse doesn’t say what it seems to be saying. Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism fits this approach. Both views use a subset of texts that are convenient to supporting their view while downplaying, denying, or twisting texts that blow their view out of the water. Such is the history of theology.
The world, in 15-1600AD, was politically torn between Catholic dominance and Protestant reaction along with straight political personalities trying to forge their own power base and autonomy amidst a quickly changing world. Politically, government and governance were evolving tremendously during this period. Leaders needed to hold on to the religion of the masses for purposes of control. At this juncture political figures had two flavors of religion to pick from. Meanwhile these two religious factions fought as Protestantism continued to develop and define itself… It was an extremely messy period, which oft times played out in affairs involving high body counts. Millions were executed for being on the wrong side or because of being discovered through the inquisitions by the other flavor. And in the case of early Anabaptists, you could be attacked, jailed, tortured, or dispatched by both Catholics and Protestants.
Most of the Reformers kept a major tradition of the Catholic Church, namely: Constantinianism. What is “Constantinianism”? Constantinianism is a relationship between church and state, where the church organization is a subservient to the state in trade for recognition, toleration, protection and inclusion in society. Numerous non-Catholic believers and groups did not continue in this unbiblical practice after the initial Reformation was rolling. These were labeled “radical reformers” who became persecuted by both Constantinian Reformers (Lutherans, Reformed, Church of England, Congregationalists, Presbyterians…) as well as Catholics.
Next, I want to talk about “Confessions”. “Confessions” are like statements of faith. But an interesting detail not well understood relates to whom these statements were given to and why.
Augsburg Confession (1530) – Written by Philipp Melanchthon, a German Reformer and successor to Martin Luther. The Confession was presented to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, at the Diet of Augsburg in efforts to restore political and religious unity in the German Free Territories.
Gallican Confession (1559) – Written by John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Pierre Viret and De Chandieu. The initial work was expanded consisting of 40 articles. It was presented to Francis II in request for persecution to cease against Calvinist Protestants.
Belgic Confession (1561) – Written by Guido de Brès a Calvinist Reformer in the southern Low Countries. It contains 37 articles. It was presented to King Philip II of Spain in effort to establish toleration for Protestants. It is Reformed in view. Dealing with Arminianism was a large part of its focus.
Heidelberg Catechism (1563) – Authorship is contested and is believed to have contributions of many. It was commissioned by Frederick III of Simmern, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, a devote Calvinist.
Westminster Confession & Shorter Catechism (1647) – Was more like a “church council”. It was formed by the Long Parliament and had member of the House of Lords, House of Commons, Scottish Commissioners. This confession and adjoining Catechisms (Larger & Shorter) ruled The Church of England for 300 years. The church of England is a state church specifically.
Why were the confessions so important?
The point of noting these confessions is to show their fundamental focus and dependence on the political arena for acceptance and inclusion. The important “why” question we need to ask here is: where do we find Christ or Paul appealing to the political powers to stop persecution and solidify a means of control? Where do we find in the NT the attempt to control society with a religious ideal? Was it not the Pharisees and Sadducees who worked this way?
Christians on this end of history see no problem with the development of Christianity. It all seems “natural.” Constantine the Great offering an Edict of Toleration to the persecuted church has been almost exclusively seen by Christians since then as a blessing from God and an accomplishment. It’s seen as an acceptable progression. Yet, when we read of Israel in the Old Testament choosing a king instead of God, why don’t we see it as a harbinger for the New Covenant and all that God sought to do through it? Is not the church accepting Constantine’s Edict of Toleration—and crawling in bed with Him—virtually the same as Israel’s rejection of God? Think about it!
Israel chose a king, followed by centuries of compromise and degradation after King David. Yes, there were a few periods of repentance over subsequent centuries. But it was always followed by deeper sin and finally punctuated by God judging both Israel and Judah for adulterating what He purposed for them and through them. “The Church” accepted the rule of an emperor of the kingdoms of men and went on a binge of compromise for centuries, which altered everything about what it meant to follow Christ and be His kingdom. Yes, there were some points of repentance and renewal: Waldensians, Jan Huss, Moravians, Ultraquist, early Anabaptists… The Reformation suddenly appears, which modified some of the teaching of the Roman Church. Yet, the Constantinian Change remained in place followed by 500 years of epic divisions. Do we NOT see the similarities between Israel choosing a King and the church choosing a kingdom?
Do you really think that it was God’s purpose for “the church” to be the driving force of the Dark Ages? Was it God’s purpose for “the church” to keep the Bible out of the people’s hands so it could create traditions and teaching that take people away from God and His purposes? Think folks! Are you willing to admit that in accepting Ecclesiastical History as know it, we’ve been sold a bill of goods about “God’s hand” and His intended purpose?
In another effort of acceptance, some folks raise the specter of the churches diversion into Constantinianism by arguing that the political arena in Biblical times was not open to inclusion or a democratic existence. Do we accept this theory without discernment? Just because you come to a cliff on your hike doesn’t mean you ought to jump, does it? Just because the political arena is accepting or wants to be, does that mean it’s good? Could joining up with the secular political order not just as well have been a satanic trap? History shows us this was cosmic error that should be rejected and confronted among believers.
A Belief in a Belief:
Oblivious to the degradation of Constantinianism, today’s religious folk will ask, what’s-the-rub-bub, concerning Calvin’s and Arminius’ Constantinianism? Instead of being truly reforming to God’s intended purpose in the NT of launching the Kingdom of God to contrast the kingdoms of men, Calvin and Arminius came along to give mankind another belief in a belief in the tradition of the Roman “church”.
Why are Calvin and Arminius’ ideas merely beliefs in a belief?
First, Christ’s truth is a dynamic that results in organic growth and perfection brought on by a relationship with God and obedience. Calvin and Arminius’ ideas were static positions and perspectives that could not inspire growth, only rigid adherence to the arbitrary objectives articulated within these views leading to a religious utopia.
Secondly, Christ did say that His followers would be persecuted and hated for His sake, Matt. 5:10-12, 10:22; Luke 21:12, John 15:18-21, 2 Tim. 3:12, and Rev. 6:9-11. There never was a prophesied end to this mark of authenticity. Jesus spoke of it and Paul repeated it. The Apostle John noted that at the end of the age, but it wasn’t noted in the sense that persecution would reappear once again. Persecution was always to have been differentiation between “the world” and the kingdom of God. But in Calvin’s case, he became the persecutor. He had people murdered, jailed, tortured, and exiled because if they either offended him personally or they did not agree with his view. Calvin made examples of people who didn’t carry his water. Jesus or Paul NEVER did this. And they didn’t authorize such to ever take place in the name of Christ.
Anyone reading the entire Bible would not naturally come to Calvin’s conclusions unless they had been warped by religion and taught to see things that way. Calvinism is contortionism of the bible. Calvin took a few texts and a few specific words, and then weaves a telling that could make sense from a perspective, but not from what ALL the Bible has to say. Calvin’s rendition of “the gospel” made God out to be a monster, whose goal was Christianizing human society. Again, this was NEVER God’s revealed purpose in the NT. Calvin’s teachings were and still remain fatalistic, impersonal, and manipulative.
Calvinists did have an understandable concern about Arminius’ view, but this doesn’t mean that Calvinism is any better or correct. The concern about Arminius’ message was man’s self-actuation of scripture. Arminius’ rendition of “the gospel” made it appear as if man could just “walk on” with God as one would walk on a college football program. Arminius also took a few specific texts to hatch his view, but by no means grasped everything the Bible teaches. This is what “beliefs” are made of.
Calvin and Arminius’ only real success has been the perpetual controversies spawned by their arbitrary positions. Arminius teaching worked well for a Humanist infiltration because both have a common essence: the happiness and actuality of mankind. Calvin’s “irresistible grace” worked well for Universalism. His approach in Geneva gave way to Dominionism, Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy and Kingdom Now amongst other errant notions that have found their way into acceptable “orthodoxy.”
Man’s best efforts always end in perversion, compromise, and the subversion of God’s declared purposes. Both Calvin and Arminius have giant followings but only controversy in their wake. The deception is so complete that acolytes begin to spin their own self-justifying mythology. One such case, a Calvinist once told me Calvin gave the clearest most succinct presentation of the gospel.
Are they willing to say that the God of the universe, in Christ Jesus, failed in presenting the gospel properly so that someone 1,500 years later had to come along and bring everything into focus? What garbage as well as stupidity! Calvin as well as Arminius both presented something utterly different than Christ, which made them appear necessary to an ignorant religious population, following a belief in a belief as well as many compromises from centuries prior.
If there isn’t mystery in your understanding of God, then God isn’t God anymore: you and your beliefs have assumed that role. The fallacy of theology is that there are answers for everything. Nobody approaches a relationship with an everyday person as religious people go at God: having pet answers to every question. Thus, people who buy into theology tend towards arrogance and pride in their alleged “knowing” and belief.
Calvin’s teaching, to say nothing of Arminius, have failed to accomplish basic litmus tests Christ’s followers should discern by, look for, strive to embrace: love for one another, the acceptance of persecution, staying away from trivialities and arguments about inane religious questions, and living the kingdom of God as a contrast to the world order as a short list. The Bible itself is complete, lacking nothing, and supplemented by the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance all that CHRIST taught. The Holy Spirit does not bring to remembrance the teachings of Calvin or Arminius.
If a soul never heard of Calvin or Arminius but they read the Bible, knew God and followed Him, they would not be any worse for being oblivious of the aforementioned. The alleged chasm between Calvin and Arminius is a false dichotomy. Scripture has flecks of truth that can be borrowed by both views, which begs the question. What is the point of these views IF the Bible already articulates a truth that transcends either view within all else that is inspired?
An apt analogy is comparing Calvinism and Arminianism to brands of White Bread to the whole grain. They empty calories and carbs robbed of all nutrition. Of what need was there for these two guys to surface and foist their religious wares? It is precisely that they were unwittingly hawking junk, based from their pride and arrogance on progressions of religious compromises that were centuries old. These two gas bags used God’s name and people’s lack of relationship with Him to offer strange fire to the masses. Tim Price”
For the record I believe we are eternally saved and how the Holy Spirit will call back all those that today have walked away is the Lord’s problem. This is no way separates my love for brothers in the opposite camp.
Inventing doctrine to explain what we are seeing today will not help the problem nor will trying to scare them into staying with sermons on hell. The Church is in transition and the Lord will not stop until He and His Holy Angels sift the religious, the hirelings and the man invented doctrines out of His Bride. Praise God she will be spotless and without wrinkle!
Jose L. Bosque
Debate between Calvinists and Arminians