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Leading the Church

What is Calvinism?

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Is Calvinism Biblical or just crazy man made doctrine? What most people and pastors do not realize is this is plainly taught in Scripture and even Arminius taught this. The Catholic Church and all Christian denominations have this as their core theology, because this is what Scripture clearly teaches.
What is TULIP all about? Is it Biblical or is it just crazy man made doctrine?

Calvinism and the Reformed faith find their roots in the teachings of the French Protestant reformer John Calvin. (1509-1564) Although there were other prominent Reformers such as Luther, the Anabaptists and Zwingli, who challenged the status quo of the Catholic Church, it is a fact that the Reformed church, including the various Presbyterian denominations, CRC, URC, RCA, Dutch Reformed, parts of Anglicism in their 39 Articles, and many others, look to Calvin as their father.

The Five Points of Calvinism in the acronym of T.U.L.I.P. is system of theology that came a generation after Calvin in the Synod of Dordt in Holland in 1619. This was a response to the five points presented by the Arminians in 1610. Both of these doctrines sought to define how we go to God through salvation. Both claim that the formula of salvation is presented and contained only in the Holy Scriptures. For the most part, in all the essential Doctrines of the Christian faith, there is agreement. Thus, we have far more in common with one other than we have disagreements. Most of the controversies and disagreements between Christian groups center upon the misunderstanding of key terms, and the focusing on one aspect of a Scripture verse rather than the whole teaching in context.

According to Calvinism, our salvation comes from the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose us; the Son died for us; and the Holy Spirit makes all this known to us. Without the intervention of the Spirit, we could not know Christ's death. Thus, our response by faith and repentance could not happen because of the clouding of our sin that blinds us to His Word and call. Without the power and intervention of the Spirit, we could not become Christians, because we could not obey the Gospel. Therefore, the entire process of our election, redemption, and regeneration is solely by the work of God. It is by grace alone, through our faith alone. Thus God, not we, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

What most people and pastors do not realize is this is plainly taught in Scripture and even Arminius taught this.


The Catholic Church and all Christian denominations have this as their core theology, because this is what Scripture clearly teaches. So, what is the fuss and debate about? It is the "why" and "how." The "what" is agreed. The "what" is God elects us. One would have to throw out most of the NT to disagree with this. However, the hot debate is the "why" and "how" God chooses us. Calvin said it is by God's divine decree and purpose. The Armenians say it is by God's foreknowledge, that God knows that we will chose Him so He saves us in advance.

So what does Scripture say? Well see for yourself:

John 3:16-18; (Eph. 1:3-14; 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10); 1 Cor. 1:8-9; Phil.1: 6; 1 Thess. 1:3-6; 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 1-12; 4:18; 1 Peter 2:10; 2 Pet. 1:10

These Scriptures clearly state that God chooses us by His purpose through the Holy Spirit. So, how can there be an argument against this position? The Arminians say the Reformed people twist Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:1-2 to say that salvation is by our choosing which God foresees.

Therefore, you may look them up for yourself. What do they say? Romans says both! It says that God foreknows and that He predestined, which supports their part of their position. Ephesians says, "God chose us in Him," which the Armenians say means God sees our faith beforehand, thus His choosing is based solely on that. However, they have to read this into the Scripture, because it is not there in the Greek or the English. At the end of the passage it says, "according to the good pleasure of His will." This clearly contradicts their position and supports the Calvinism position.

To the average Christian this may seem like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, which was the biggest debate in Christendom for centuries during the Middle Ages, and is totally silly! Perhaps on some level they are right. The argument is based on semantics and also placing the emphasis on one aspect and ignoring the other. Both groups do this. Again, perhaps they are right. God is all knowing and all-powerful, so He clearly knows beforehand that we will chose Him. Calvin taught that also! As you can see in these passages, Scripture teaches that!

Calvin placed the emphases on God's purpose. The Armenians place the emphasis on our choosing and God's foreknowledge. I certainly will not solve this debate. Both points are valid to a degree, so we can agree to disagree. But, I challenge you to carefully read and study those Scriptures. I grew up in Reformed churches (Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian) and went to a Reformed Seminary, yet for years I rejected four of the five points. The reason was that I refused to see the evidence, instead, choosing to believe my feelings and interpretation along with popular Evangelical thinking. I also did not read Calvin myself. I knew only what others said of him, and, as we will see, most people do a very good job of misrepresenting Calvin! It wasn't until through a Seminary buddy (Michael Horton), who kept pestering me to examine the evidence, did I finally and surely come to the logical and clear reformed perspective. My presumptions were in the way, as were my sources, which were plainly wrong.

Calvinism From the Critics


So, lets look at each point of TULIP briefly from what the doctrine says, then from the critic's point of view, and then from what Calvin and Scripture actually taught. May I say upfront that this doctrine of TULIP is an English translation from the Dutch, with which I will not bore you. Therefore, in order to keep the acronym, the language of the titles had to be stretched. In addition, when this was translated it made more sense, but, time goes on and our interpretation and definition of words change. In the Dutch, TULIP makes perfect sense and is thoroughly and theologically sound, but in English the exact meaning of the titles get skewed, especially over the nearly 400 years of the language barrier. Therefore, many people, including myself, might get the wrong idea from it and reject it outright, without any real investigation. Therefore, my purpose here is to clear up the meaning and to challenge you to see for yourself.

The Five Points of Calvinism from the acrostic TULIP:

T "Total depravity": Total Depravity, or perhaps better called, "Total Inability," is a doctrine of God's amazing grace as seen in John 3:16. This is the most misunderstood principle of Reformed theology! Calvinists are stating that all people have been affected by sin. Sin has invaded every aspect of our personality and being including our thinking, our emotions, and our will. Thus, we have no means to go to God ourselves, either by choosing or by good works.

The critic says: "This is the false doctrine that man is so depraved that he cannot see his sinful condition and call upon God for salvation. It is true that all men are natural- born sinners (Ps. 51:5 Rom. 3:23; 5:12;), but it is also true that God COMMANDS all men to repent and receive Christ (Acts 17:30-31; Luke 13:3; 1 John 3:23). Man is indeed depraved, but he is not so depraved that he has no free will of his own (Ex. 35:5, 21, 22, 29; Jos. 24:15; John. 1:12; 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). Total Depravity is heresy."

What Calvin is saying: It does not mean we are as bad as we could be, that we are "extremely sinful," because the Holy Spirit is the great restrainer. Yes, God does command us to repent and be saved, but there is something else that the Armenians ignore. The fact is Scripture also says we are fallen and corrupted by sin (Romans 5:12), which blinds us from knowing Him (Mark 4:11f). If we were able to go to God just by our own choosing, then what is Christ for? That is why Christ came, to liberate us. Sin is still in the way, so it is the Holy Spirit's role to unveil Christ to us. There is nothing good that can come from us with which to please God. Christ paid that debt so we can please God through Him. This is also called "original sin." (I Cor. 15:42-49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:10)

As far as "free will" goes, of course we have "free will!" Calvin spent most of his writings discussing this fact. He taught that we have responsibility, and duty to faith and prayer, three areas that require free Will. The doctrine of "faith alone" is a demonstration of our Will to choose, and we do choose to accept His amazing gift of grace (to what extent is a matter of debate in Reformed circles). However, we cannot choose it if we do not know about it, and that is the point of this doctrine. Sin is in the way of our choosing, so the Holy Spirit lifts our sin and our Will out of the way. Therefore, we can be saved by God's predestined decree (Grace Alone), and by what Christ has done (Christ Alone). We accept Salvation (Faith Alone), which is revealed by the Word (The Scriptures Alone), for God's glory (Glory to God Alone). (Slogans from the Reformation adhered by Calvinist and Lutherans.)

Christ did not remove sin; rather He covered it, which is what is meant by the word, Atonement. In God's eyes, we are white as snow because the work of Christ is covering it up. Nevertheless, as you know from your personal experience, we are not actually clean. Just ask a spouse! Growing in faith, education and commitment will prevent sin's practice, but it is still there. When we reject this essential doctrine, we are saying that we have no need for a Savior. This is what the Universalists and Unitarian Churches believe. Without Total Depravity we have no sin, which needs no redemption.

Calvin speaks a lot on the "civil good," that is, our good deeds. However, these cannot please God. It is by what Christ has done through faith that pleases Him. We cannot seek God either, thus "seekers" is not a Biblical term. God seeks us. The person without any knowledge of God will never come to saving faith in God without the revelation the Spirit gives, making them alive through Christ. (Ephesians 2:1-5) Total Depravity is NOT heresy!

U "Unconditional Election" means to select or to choose. God chose us by His purpose. PERIOD. It was by nothing else, neither by our means nor His foreknowledge. (Romans 9:15,21; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10) This doctrine states that God chose those with whom He is pleased to bring to them knowledge of Himself. This is not based upon any merit by anyone. Thus, the object of His grace is not based upon looking down the corridor of time to discover who would accept the offer of the Gospel of Christ. God has elected us based solely upon the His own Will for us, to do good works, which do not save us. (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 2:10)

The critic says: "This is a heresy derived from perverting verses like Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4-5. The Calvinists believe that God predestinated everyone way back before Genesis 1:1, totally ignoring their free Will to choose for themselves. That is, He supposedly decided who would go to Heaven and who would go to Hell long before anyone was even born. If you will read Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1-2 you will see that God's election is based on FOREKNOWLEDGE. He did not elect to save or damn anyone against his or her free Will. God knew all along who would choose Christ and who would not, and He made His 'elections' based on that information."

What Calvin is saying: This doctrine does not rule out our responsibility to accept, trust, have faith, and believe in the redeeming work of Christ. (John 3:16-18) The objection by the Armenians is based on a misunderstanding of the term. They believe the Reformed position rejects people's responsibility, which is not so. They also ignore the sovereignty of God! Who is better qualified and more trustworthy to determine Salvation, the greatest gift--our fallen reasoning, or the Holiness and Purity of God?

We cannot fathom the true implication of meaning or reasoning. We have to trust that God is God and we are not. Thus, we have no idea of His plan or purpose. All Christian groups who use the Bible teach Election. The division is in the meaning and purpose, which God has not revealed to us. We can only speculate. We know only what He has revealed, that He does elect, and that Election is to His glory and purpose. There is a balancing act between God's sovereignty and our responsibility. Thus, neither Calvin nor anyone else has been able to resolve this tension. This is why there is so much debate.

Our call is to trust and obey. (1 Cor. 1:8-9; Phil.1:6; 1 Thess. 1:3-6; 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; 2 Pet. 1:10). Our purpose is not to argue over this, but to accept His amazing Grace. God, in His reasoning, which is perfect and holy, does not select some, and/or allows them to stay in sin. This does not mean that He chooses that they should go to hell. This is "Hyper Calvinism" or "Double Predestination" and this is not Biblical doctrine! (Psalm 81:12; 1 Pet 2:8)

The doctrine of "Unconditional Election"puts the emphasis on our depravity. People do not want to think of themselves as worthless and unredeemable by their own merit. Although this is un-American, it is very Biblical. We are unable and unwilling to seek God on our own, thus we need Divine Intervention. This is the role of the Holy Spirit. This is God choosing for God's purpose. In His incredible love, He seeks us!!! Wow, we have to see the incredible blessing and wonder of this!

Election is no excuse to sit and do nothing in service and witnessing to others! Some Reformed groups over the centuries have refused to do missions or evangelism. This is in direct opposition to the Lord's Great Commission (Matt. 28), and the teachings of Calvin. It is based on laziness and has given the Reformed church a needless bad reputation and an unnecessary black eye.

L "Limited Atonement," or better-said, "Specific Redemption," refers to the Atonement of Christ. It answers the question, "who did Christ atone for?" Is it for everyone or just for some? This doctrine teaches that Christ died for the world, for those whom God so loved. Yet, only some will come. Others will not. (Matthew 26:28; John 3:16f; 6:37; 17:9; Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the world, but not all will come. If this were not so, we would have universal Salvation. He died for all those who will become "Christian".

The critic says: "Then we have the "L" for LIMITED ATONEMENT. This is the belief that only a limited number of people can be washed from their sins in the precious blood of Christ because only "the elect" will be saved anyhow. The idea is that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, (Eph. 5:25), so the blood of Christ was only shed for the Church. This is foolishness. 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Christ gave Himself a ransom for ALL, not just the elect. ALL have sinned. (Rom. 3:23) So, He died for ALL, and He saves "as many as" receive Him."

What Calvin is saying: Again we see a major misunderstanding of this Doctrine! This Doctrine in no way was, or is, restrictive. It does not have a limited value on what Christ did. It does not say that Christ's death was powerful enough only for a few people. Hence, there is a lot of misleading theology by the misunderstanding of this term. Christ's sacrifice was, and continues to be, limitless in its scope and value and power. It is fully enough to save all who ever lived. However, the focus is not the power and ability, but the purpose. Therefore, the power of the Atonement could have saved all, but He did not atone for all because obviously all people are not saved.

Another criticism with this doctrine is that evangelism is nurtured. However, this is not the case. The responsibility to evangelize the world is still an imperative because we do not know who will accept or who will not. Evangelism is actually promoted because Christ died for all sinners, even though not all will accept Christ. He will not lose any of those for whom He died! In addition, Calvin said it is the responsibly of the Christian to proclaim the Gospel to everyone, just as Christ commanded.

Note that all Christian faiths teach this Doctrine, the Atonement part! The argument is in the semantics and purpose, of "who" is atoned and "why." The difference is that Armeniaus taught that Atonement was for everyone and we chose to reject it. Traditional Reformed thinking is that Christ's sacrifice was for only those who the Father has selected (Election), and that He bore our place in suffering and wrath and in taking God's judgment upon Himself. Thus, this term "Limited Atonement" should be "Specific Redemption."

I "Irresistible Grace:" Grace, or "charis" in Greek, means an undeserving act of kindness. This is one of the most enduring actions of love that could ever be conceived! (Gen. 6:8; Psalm 45:2; 84:11; Zech. 12:10;Luke 2:40; John 1:17; 6:37, 44; Acts 4:33; Rom. 1:7; 5:17; 8:14; 11:6; 16:20; 2 Cor. 8:9; 13:14; Gal. 5:4; Eph. 1:7; 3:2; 4:7; 6:24; Heb. 12:28; James 4:6) This means that our salvation is a gift, which cannot be earned or purchased. (Hos. 14:4;John 1:16; 10:4; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:2; 5:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:18.) "Sola Gratia," or By Grace Alone, was the sounding proclamation of the Reformation. What this means in reformed theology is that Jesus knows His sheep, that He reveals Himself in such a way that we will respond to evangelism and find it irresistible through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit. This is an incredible comfort, that the Gospel of Christ will penetrate our hardened and sinful hearts and save us!

The critic says: "The "I" stands for IRRESISTIBLE GRACE, which is also false doctrine. This teaching says that God the Holy Spirit overpowers the sinner and grants him the New Birth without his submission or positive response. As we've already seen, man DOES have a free will and no one is saved without CHOOSING to believe on Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no such thing as irresistible grace. God has given us all the ability to resist anyone or anything we choose. (Acts 7:51; 2 Tim. 3:8; Jas. 4:7) There are times when the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is so strong and real that a sinner sees no choice but to give in to God and receive Christ as Savior. However, the sinner always has a choice. No one is saved against his will, and no one is saved without first choosing to receive Christ."

What Calvin is saying: Reformed theology does not deny choice/ Free Will at all! God does not force us, nor coerce us to follow Him. This is not found in the teachings of Calvin or in the Bible, although some Reformed pastors have made such statements out of their own misunderstanding. What this doctrine means is that God creates the work to allow us to be willing to be lead and purchased by His blood. The "irresistible" part means we will put up a fight against Him naturally, being resistant, because of our sin and Will! If we were left out on our own, we would never accept His precious gift. Thus, it is by Christ's work first, and then we respond. He creates the "irresistible" aspect. We do not respond first, because we are unable to do so. God is the one who regenerates us, creating a new Will to allow the work of the Spirit. His Grace is sufficient, "effectual," meaning it will overcome our sin to accomplish God's purpose.

P "Perseverance of the Saints" This doctrine teaches that when we become Christians we will remain in God's hand until He comes back or until we are glorified and brought to Him in Heaven. (Romans 8:28-39) It teaches that we are preserved in faith by the strength of Christ. Our salvation is secure and cannot be lost. God is the one who perseveres and we are its recipients. Faith is our entire being in a right relationship with Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Heb.11: 6) We can continue in the faith for the long run because of His work and not our sanctification or growth. This is the proof of our election. (Gal. 5) Our growth is a result and effect, and not the cause. Those who truly are regenerative are secure, and if they fall into sin there will be consequences but also forgiveness. Those who are not regenerated have no hope. (John 6:37-40; 10:28-29; 17:2-24; Phil. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:8; 9:1; 1Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Thess. 3:32; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18)

The critic says: "The last letter is "P," which represents the PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. This is the only point in "T.U.L.I.P" which is scripturally sound. Once a sinner receives Christ, he is predestined to be conformed to Christ's image. (Rom. 8:29) That is, as Christians, we are eternally secure and cannot lose the Salvation which God has freely given us."

What Calvin is saying: What can I say? There had to be at least one thing we could agree upon! Actually there is little debate on this point. Virtually all Evangelical, Calvinistic and Protestant Christians in general agree upon this because there is not a scant of Scriptural support otherwise. Every now and then, you will hear people arguing that we can lose our salvation. Just ask for the Scriptures and read them in their context, and you will see that if a person is genuinely a Christian they will stay a Christian. What gets people mixed up is that people fall away from the church. There are many reasons for that, so they seek an answer in theology and not in the behavior sciences. In theology, Jesus answers the question in the Parable of the Sower, (Matt. 13:1-23). Sometimes people who leave may not have been a true Believer, or are backsliding or have been hurt and are afraid to come back.

The purpose of this doctrine is the work of Sanctification. This means the God who has elected us will continue with us until we reach fulfillment in the Life to come. (John 6:39; Phil. 1:6) The Christian must stand upon the Word of God, trust in Christ's promise, and model Christ's character. This is done so that we can fulfill the Will of the Father in our good works and personal spiritual growth. Thus, our desire, and response to regeneration is gratitude. /This leads to our being humble, knowledgeable, and repentive, always reaching out and always seeking God.

Here you have a basic presentation on the Reformed faith, which most Protestant Denominations have as their roots. I realize that not every Calvinist will agree with every statement I have made. There is debate among Reformed groups on these definitions and there are the debates on the Supralapsarian and Sublapsarian views (which I will not bore you with), and the influence of Armeniaus, who was a Calvinist but objected to the deterministic logic of the second generational Calvinists. His followers took further issues that lead to the debates we have today.

As you can see we have more in common, than we have in disunity, once we see the explanations clearly. I believe most Evangelical people who are against TULIP or Calvinism genuinely do not know what it entails, because it has been so badly misrepresented. There is also a lot of misunderstanding out there on semantics, which comes from reading ideas into the titles that are not intended. Also, there is the pride issue. Many times doctrine, good or bad, can be propagated by people refusing to look at the evidence of Scripture or just by their going on their presumptions and not on sound reasoning.

So let us focus on God's Word. Look at it carefully in its context and lift up the blood of Christ as our final Lord and Mediator.

Preparation for this article was done by rereading the "Institutes" by Calvin in a new and wonderful translation. (I wish I had done this while still in seminary.) It is be on the Doctrine Channel at Notes from theology classes as well as old fashion research were also used.

© 1992, 2001 Rev. R.J. Krejcir, Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership,
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