What is Calvinism?


     Two great periods in religious history were the reformation (ca. AD 1517-1648) and restoration (ca. AD 1785-) periods. The goal of the Reformation Movement was to reform the Catholic Church. It was realized, though, that instead of reforming the Catholic Church, New Testament Christianity should be restored; hence, the Restoration Movement. Germany, England, and Switzerland were the countries that greatly experienced the reformation efforts. There were two major reformers who emerged in Switzerland. They were Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. John Calvin is the often recognized founder of the five point doctrinal system known as Calvinism (John Calvin also founded the Presbyterian religion). Calvin's system was actually based on the philosophic principles advocated by Augustine of Hippo (4 th Century). The five point system popularly known as Calvinism is suggested by the acrostic "TULIP," using the generally accepted titles of the five major tenets. There is Total Inherited Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Let us now briefly consider each of these tenets, in light of the scriptures.

     Total Inherited Depravity. The teaching is simply that all men (babies) have inherited Adam's sin. Not only have all inherited Adam's sin, but also man enters the world totally depraved ("Adam's sinful nature"). The Bible, conversely, teaches "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father…" (Ezek. 18: 20). Furthermore, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ibid.). All have sinned, but it is because we ourselves have chosen to go astray (Ps. 58: 3, Rom. 3: 23). "Babies" are not presented in the Bible as depraved, but as pure and models of the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18: 3-5).

     Unconditional Election. Calvinism teaches that since man is so totally depraved when he is born, it is impossible for him to choose to serve God. Therefore, God must arbitrarily choose who will be saved. This teaching is sometimes referred to as Predestination. The Bible teaches predestination, but not as taught by Augustine and Calvin (see links at the end). God is no respecter of persons and all who choose to be saved, will experience God's forgiveness and blessings (Acts 10: 34, 35; Jn. 3: 16).

     Limited Atonement. Limited Atonement is the position "that since God arbitrarily chose those who would be saved, Jesus only died for those individuals." However, the scriptures teach that Jesus tasted death for "every man" (Heb. 2: 9). God would have all men saved, but only a few desire to be saved (I Tim. 2: 3-6; Matt. 7: 13, 14). "And he is the propitiation for our sins," John wrote, "and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn. 2: 2).

     Irresistible Grace. The teaching of irresistible grace is based on the belief of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. The chosen have no choice or participation in their salvation, the Spirit overwhelms them, even against their own will, according to Augustinism. Calvinism teaches that man, any man, who has not experienced this irresistible working and transformation effected by the Spirit, can not understand the gospel (Rom. 1: 16, Eph. 3: 3 ff.). Hence, without this special working man cannot be saved.

     Perseverance of the saints. Since man initially has no say or participation in the procuring of his salvation, so it is during the remainder of his life. If it is all of God, man cannot lose his salvation, says Calvinism. As a result, the doctrine of once saved, always saved had to be introduced. Notwithstanding, the scriptures plainly teach the Christian can fall (I Cor. 10: 12). In fact, if one does not grow in Christ, one will fall (2 Pet. 1: 5-11). The exact phraseology "fall from grace" is used in the past tense application (Gal. 5: 4). Man's continued salvation is contingent on man's remaining with God (Jude 21, 24, 2 Chroni. 15: 2).

     You have probably observed that each of the foregoing five points is dependent on the others, each is necessitated by the preceding tenet. Hence, they are sequential and constitute a unit. Since I grew up in the Primitive Baptist religion and later attended Baptist Seminary, I am both intellectually and experimentally familiar with Calvinism. Calvinism has permeated more religions than any other false system (Premillennialism is a competitor). Many religions today that have embraced "Calvinism," pick and choose which tenets they want. Many of their members object to Total Inherited Depravity (they do not want to so view their babies and have hope for them if they die in infancy). Therefore, some religions attempt to omit Total Inherited Depravity. As seen, though, you can not consistently have one without the other four. Calvinism is a package system. Each point, alas, is false and contrary to the Bible, making the entire system fallacious and heretical. In stead of God arbitrarily choosing some to salvation and some to eternal damnation and both classes being fixed and unalterable, he is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3: 9). (Some related material to read would be: Predestination , Salvation, and God's Grace .)  (More related material is, "No Respecter of Persons," "The Problem of Evil and God," and "The Foreknowledge of God.")