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I am not a Southern Baptist but I have many friends who are. I live in an area of the United States (the South) where the joke around here is that there are more Southern Baptists than there are people. We also joke that the home missions department of the SBC are church splits. I know of one SBC church nearby that is splitting and have known others in the past. While some of them split over petty issues (one church split over a gym), some split over the issue of Calvinism. In the SBC you have two main colleges (Southern Seminary in Louisville and Southeastern in Wake Forest, NC) that are very Calvinistic while Southwestern in Fort Worth, TX is non-Calvinist. In the middle are schools such as Charleston Southern who is in need of evangelism.
The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. In the South, the SBC dominates. First Baptist is typically the largest church in many cities and towns. The SBC dominates the church life in the South. The SBC sometimes dominates even in politics in the South. Yet the SBC is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian. It is sort of a hybrid with both often found in the denomination. I know of several SBC pastors and a few of them are reformed in their theology and follow Dr. Albert Mohler from Southern Seminary. Others are non-Calvinists (they would avoid being labeled Arminians though they are) and follow men such as Johnny Hunt or Jerry Vines. Dr. Vines, as I noted in a previous post, sponsors the John 3:16 Conference and features various SBC pastors who are not Calvinists. Dr. Mohler, on the other hand, preaches at many Calvinist Bible conferences himself and is a strong defender of Calvinism. In passing, I enjoy the ministries of all those I have listed above. While I disagree with Dr. Mohler on some issues, I find him to be a man of God who loves the Lord and has a deep knowledge of God’s Word. I likewise appreciate men such as Jerry Vines or Ronnie Floyd who are not Calvinists and would preach and sound very Arminian (and in fact are Arminians if they took the test at the Society of Evangelical Arminians site).
My question here is whether reformed guys would love to see the SBC become a Calvinist church or would they prefer it remain as it is. I would think that most would want the SBC to adopt Calvinism as some hold that Calvinism is the pure gospel. Others would point to the history of the Baptists and would say that historically speaking, the Baptists were reformed in their theology for many years before Arminianism made in-roads into the church. Many would point to great Baptist preachers such as Charles Spurgeon and the fact that he was a Calvinist as proof that the Baptist church should be Calvinistic.
I myself would like to see the SBC remain as she is. I believe that the debate in the SBC over Calvinism is needed. It provides the church a place to work together despite our disagreements. If the SBC can accomplish this, I would be proud. However, one person said that an oxymoron is truly “Baptist fellowship.” Can Arminians and Calvinists work together for missions, for church planting, for the gospel? I would hope so. As I have said before, neither is the gospel. They may help us understand the gospel but neither system is the gospel that saves sinners. Jesus alone saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). I would love to see the SBC become a place of unity, where Christ is preached and glorified. I pray this happens.
We cannot reason together if we both begin our discussions with our views being the gospel. Yet if we can begin our discussions with the Bible being our point of agreement and that we would agree to look at the Scriptures with exegesis and time and grace, we might could agree or at least see the other’s point of view. I am convinced that this is why debates on Twitter or Facebook or other online sources are not the best places to debate. Even on blogs, we don’t know each other, we don’t see each other, we don’t know if we are being understood or whether the other person is debating with a kindred spirit. I am not saying that we there should be no debates but merely that it is likely that nothing will be accomplished unless we can sit and discuss these things face to face.
Is this why the early Church Fathers had councils? I know that Arminius debated several through letters but even there we find a much calmer spirit than what I see in many Arminian-Calvinists debate online today. What I find is much rhetoric, much personal attacks, many questions but few answers.
The best debate, in my opinion, is with a brother (or sister if you are a sister) who loves you and loves Jesus.
It’s fairly common to hear that Paul’s letters were crafted in order to communicate what he would have said were he able to be present with the communities to which he wrote. He would rather be there to speak to them face-to-face, but since that is not possible, for whatever reason, he resorted to letters. While it’s certainly true that Paul often desired to and did visit his churches in order to minister in person, I wonder more and more to what degree he really intended the letters to function as regrettable substitutes for personal presence. Two verses in 2 Corinthians drive the question.
First is 2 Corinthians 10:10, “I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away.” Paul here recognizes that his face-to-face interaction with the Corinthians is of a different character than his letters. His presence is marked by humility; his letters by boldness. He is so aware of this difference that he seeks to mitigate the typical perception of his letters as bold by declaring the gentle nature of the present appeal. The second instance comes just a few sentences later as Paul is describing what others say about him, “For they say, ‘His (Paul’s) letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (10:10). Here again Paul acknowledges that his speech is perceived differently than his written letters.
Two things. First, all this leads me to wonder whether Paul really saw his letters as substitutes for what he would say if present with the churches. If he knew that his verbal interaction with the Corinthians was distinctly different from his written correspondence, why should we think his letters record what he would have said were he present? Further, if there is something Paul really wants to say, but is concerned that his poorer ability to engage in person might negatively effect the success of his argument, then we might expect him to write a letter instead, especially if he thought his letters more rhetorically effective. Perhaps, knowing he had a rather difficult and important case to make, he preferred to use a letter instead of a personal visit in order to avoid coming off as weak and unpersuasive. Being more proficient at writing than oratory, he opted for the former. Not to say this is always the case, but it may sometimes be.
Second, in the case of 2 Corinthians 10, we may actually be hearing what Paul would say were he present with the Corinthians. Indeed, he seems to indicate that in 10:11. He intentionally reminds them that he is humble in person and goes to great lengths to help them hear his meek and gentle tone. He’s propping up the argument by appealing to the character of his personal presence. So, in this instance, he may be writing what he would have said were he present. But, it seems, this could be the exception to his normal practice. Thoughts?
Here is an excellent summary of the 2013 John 3:16 Conference. The Southern Baptist event seeks to give an answer to reformed Southern Baptists among their number. It is not specifically an Arminian conference but an Arminian would find much agreement with the views of the conference.
The John 3:16 Conference is sponsor by Dr. Jerry Vines. You can find more info here.
Here is an excellent article from the Examining Calvinism blog on the Arminian view of the providence of God. Arminius wrote the following about divine providence:
I consider Divine Providence to be “that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers. In this definition of Divine Providence, I by no means deprive it of any particle of those properties which agree with it or belong to it; but I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance. Beside this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that “God both wills and performs good acts,” but that “He only freely permits those which are evil.” Still farther than this, I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence Employing solely one caution, “not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin.” This I have testified with sufficient clearness, in a certain disputation concerning the Righteousness and Efficacy of Divine Providence concerning things that are evil, which was discussed at Leyden on two different occasions, as a divinity-act, at which I presided. In that disputation, I endeavoured to ascribe to God whatever actions concerning sin I could possibly conclude from the scriptures to belong to him; and I proceeded to such a length in my attempt, that some persons thought proper on that account to charge me with having made God the author of sin. The same serious allegation has likewise been often produced against me, from the pulpit, in the city of Amsterdam, on account of those very theses; but with what show of justice such a charge was made, may be evident to any one, from the contents of my written answer to those Thirty-one Articles formerly mentioned, which have been falsely imputed to me, and of which this was one.
You can the find the post here.
I want to make one point about my previous post on hyper-Calvinism and how I see it as consistent Calvinism. I want to make it clear that I don’t agree with the underlying thesis of the hyper-Calvinist and I believe that the hyper-Calvinist exalts the decree of God above all things. It makes the decree of God supreme when in fact, as an Arminian, I believe the love of God is supreme as seen in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9).
Now that said, I want to make one more point about this post and that is that I do not hold that Calvinists are all hyper-Calvinists. Not at all. In fact, the vast majority of them would preach against hyper-Calvinism and would view it as unbiblical. I want to make that clear. I have seen various non-Calvinists say that Calvinism is hyper-Calvinism. For instance, Dr. Norman Geisler, in his book Chosen But Free, writes that Reformed Christians are hyper-Calvinists whereas he sees himself as a moderate Calvinist. Another author, John Rice, wrote a book on Calvinism in which he called Calvinism, “hyper-Calvinism.” I disagree with this term being applied to all Calvinists. All the Calvinists I know personally would preach against hyper-Calvinism and would gladly go and preach the gospel along with me to all people. They rightfully agree with us Arminians that the gospel is to be preached to all and we should leave the results to God alone.
So again, I want to make it clear that most Calvinists would deplore the teachings of hyper-Calvinists. For that, I am thankful.
From time to time I read on a Calvinist blog or a site that the logical end of Arminianism is universalism. Therefore, so the writers imply, that if they embraced Arminianism then they would likewise embrace universalism since this is the Arminians logical end.
For me, if I were to embrace Calvinism, I would embrace hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is the logical end. If you follow TULIP correctly, the logical end has to be hyperism. I recently even heard a Reformed Bible teacher lecturing on hyper-Calvinism and he lamented that despite the success of the “young, restless, and reformed” movement, he believed that history showed that with the rise of Calvinism also followed hyper-Calvinism as young, zealous Calvinists go beyond the bounds and take Calvinism to places that Calvin never intended the theology to go to (though I think that Calvin was not always consistent). This Reformed teacher warned that the next movement he saw on the horizon would be a rise in hyper-Calvinism.
Now for those who don’t know what hyper-Calvinism is (as some Arminians tend to think that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists), hyperism is the following:
The prefix “hyper” may be used generically to refer to anything that is considered “extreme” or which goes beyond the accepted norm. There is therefore a sense in which one may refer to Calvinistic views regarded as going beyond normal Calvinism as “hyper.” This non-technical use, usually as a pejorative term, has been applied to a variety of theological positions which fall outside mainstream Calvinism:
- that God is the source of sin and of evil
- that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
- that it is wrong to evangelize
- that God does not command everyone to repent
- that there is no common grace, i.e. God only cares for his elect and has nothing but hatred for the non-elect.
- that no government is to be obeyed which does not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord over it, or that Biblical Law is its source of authority
- that only Calvinists are Christians
I believe that the following is actually consistent if you logically follow TULIP. Think about it. If you hold to total depravity as taught by Calvinism than this means that mankind is dead in their sins like a corpse and even with the grace of God, they cannot respond to His call, they cannot hear His voice. God must regenerate them first to give them spiritual life so that He can give them the gift of faith. Now if this is true then it follows that God must do the complete work of regeneration and this means that God is the one who has chosen whom He will save and whom He will damn. Before you run away from that by saying that God merely passes over the non-elect, even if He does do this, He still has not chosen them and condemns them in theirs sins. It is not their sins then that condemn them to eternal hell but the sovereign will of God (Romans 9:22).
If God then is the One who elects whom He will save and whom He will condemn, it logically follows that He sent Jesus Christ to bear the sins of the elect. This limits the atonement to only the elect and none more. Further, whom Jesus died for on the cross will come to Him by His irresistible grace (John 6:44) and will be saved forever (John 10:27-29).
Now I had a Bible college professor who was a Calvinist and he always said he was a TULIPER. He added E and R for evangelism and responsibility to avoid hyper-Calvinism.
Yet hyper-Calvinism is very logical. Very coherent. Consider evangelism. Consider just a bit from a hyper-Calvinist blog I follow on Acts 17:30 (a passage that both Arminians and Calvinists use to teach that God commands all to repent):
Acts 17:30 is an exhortation to idolators to turn from their idolatry in light of the holiness and coming judgement of God. “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry… Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious… Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (vs. 16, 22, 29) The context of Paul’s sermon to the men of Athens does not expound on the glad tidings of the gospel, nor is there a directive command to believe on Christ in the hope of eternal life.
Gospel invitations are particular and not general because Jesus came to call the sick who have need of the Physician. This gospel call excludes the self-righteous. “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus only came to preach glad tidings to the meek, the brokenhearted, the captives, them that are bound, and all that mourn… that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (See Isaiah 61:1-3)
Now what hyper-Calvinists often vent against the most is the idea of “duty-faith.” This is the teaching that it is the duty of unbelievers to place their faith in Christ for salvation. They see this as a false teaching and against the gospel of Christ. For example, this hyper-Calvinist blog post that compares the words of Charles Spurgeon (who preached against hyper-Calvinism) and his predecessor, John Gill found here. You’ll notice that the writer pits Gill against Spurgeon time and time again. Gill was against duty-faith. Gill followed through on his Calvinism and he believed that whom God had elected, they will be saved. We need not call people to repent. God will save His elect in His time by His means.
John Gill stated this against preaching a universal gospel call:
To which I answer, that salvation is not offered at all by God, upon any condition whatsoever, to any of the sons of men, no, not to the elect: they are chosen to it, Christ has procured it for them, the gospel publishes and reveals it, and the Spirit of God applies it to them; much less to the non-elect, or to all mankind; and consequently this doctrine, or God according to it, is not chargeable with delusion and insult. When this author goes about to prove any such offers, I shall attend to them; and if he can prove them, I own, I must be obliged to think again.
He followed through. Gill was consistent.
I applaud those Calvinists who are not consistent. I do. I am friends with several brothers like that. In fact, in many ways they are Arminians in their gospel approach. They preach as I do, that Christ shed His blood so that men can come and be saved. They do as I do and preach the gospel to all men (Mark 16:15). They have no thoughts about whether or not this person is elect or not. They, like I, leave that to God. They preach God’s salvation to the lost and allow the Spirit to do His work (John 16:8-11). Yet they are not consistent.
Now let me state that if Arminianism leads naturally toward universalism, my question is this: which God would you rather serve? The God who loves all and desires all to be saved (or has saved if universalism were correct and the natural end of Arminianism) or the God who condemns people in their sins before time began and offers them no hope at all apart from His sovereign election?
In closing, I believe both hyper-Calvinism and universalism are wrong. I believe they are extreme views. If universalism is the logical end of Arminianism then I am happy to be an inconsistent Arminian as I am sure that many of my Calvinist brethren are happy to be inconsistent Calvinists. Dr. Robertson McQuilkin always exhorted his students to “find the center of biblical tension and stay there.” I say “amen” to that.
Just wanted to give a short post on the subject of receiving the Holy Spirit. Why does God give us the gift of the Holy Spirit when we repent (Acts 2:38)? Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:16-17 that He would send the promised Spirit. Jesus said that the Spirit of truth dwelt with them (in the person of Jesus; 14:6) and He would be in them. John 7:37-39 clearly shows that the Spirit was not in the disciples until after the cross. Many, like myself, believe that John 20:22 is when the Apostles received the Spirit.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to be His witnesses. The Holy Spirit does this in two ways. He enables us to live godly lives for the glory of God (Galatians 5:16-17; Titus 2:11-14). Secondly, the Spirit of God empowers us to boldly preach the Lord Jesus Christ to the lost. We need the Holy Spirit to do effective witnesses for the glory of God. We are not effective witnesses merely because we can debate with an unbeliever. What we need is a godly life filled with the power of God to enable us to live for the Lord and to speak of Him.
Hebrews 12:14 says that without holiness no one will see the Lord (NIV). This is true both in the eternal sense and in the temporal. When we are living a holy life, it shows the salvation of the Lord. Sanctification begins at the new birth (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and yet we are to continue to die to self and to sin (Romans 6:11-23). Ephesians 4:22-24 says:
22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
This can only happen as we trust in the Holy Spirit. This is why we need the Holy Spirit. God does not give us the Spirit merely to give us an emotional experience but He gives us His Spirit to help us to be His witnesses and to glorify His name.
What is astounding to me is to listen to various evangelistic preachers on the Internet. You can listen to an Arminian, Calvinist, or even a Pelagian evangelist and they will all sound the same. All three will cry out, “Repent of your sins. Turn to God through faith and repentance in Christ Jesus. Trust Him alone to be saved.” All three will use these words when preaching to the lost. All three groups agree that Jesus alone saves and that He is the only way to be saved (John 14:6). All three agree that faith and repentance are necessary for eternal life. All three agree that the Spirit of God must work on the sinner to draw them to salvation.
No doubt there is much difference between the three especially between the Calvinist and the Pelagian. The Pelagian would agree with the Arminian that humans have free will though Arminians differ in that we teach that while the will is free, it is free to sin. To come to faith in Christ, the Spirit of God must woo the sinner and draw the sinner (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15). Arminians, such as myself, deny that we can just come to Christ in our own free will powers. The Spirit of God must be at work and He works through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21.
The Calvinist evangelist, while crying out for the lost to repent, likewise agrees with the Arminian that the lost can only come as the Spirit of God works. Both the Arminian and the Calvinist believe that salvation is accomplished by the grace of God who draws the sinner to Himself by the gospel. Both affirm that faith and repentance will come forth by grace. The key difference would be whether this salvation is conditional or unconditional. The Calvinist evangelist will tell the lost to repent but he knows that the lost will not repent unless they are elect. The Arminian would preach justification by faith alone and would call the sinner to repent. This repentance would come forth by the sinner’s will that is freed to either believe or reject the gospel. God does not force the sinner to repent but He allows the sinner to repent out of his will that has been freed to hear the gospel and be saved. Even the Calvinist evangelist would acknowledge that people who believe the gospel do so on their own free will. The Calvinist would say the sinner was “made willing” through the special inward call that goes out to the elect. The Arminian would say that the Spirit of God opens the eyes of the sinner and allows them to repent and place their saving faith in Christ and thus becomes the elect of God although God foreknow (1 Peter 1:2).
My point all here is not to ramble. I simply wanted to point out that the gospel message of these three will often sound the same. Repent. Faith. Trust in Christ alone. Turn from your wickedness. All these three groups would preach this. The difference would be the results. If a sinner repents, the Calvinist evangelist would say that this was the sovereign work of grace. The Arminian would agree but note that the sinner did belief and was saved. The Pelagian would say that through the exercise of the will, the sinner was saved by grace through faith.
Interesting. We are different but oddly sound the same.
We must guard against being anti-Calvinist or anti-Arminian when dealing with our theological systems. We can be against a system while loving the people in the system. This is true of all things humans are involved in. I can detest the abortion clinic and abortion itself while pleading with tears and prayers for the abortion workers to be saved and the women who commit abortions to be saved and healed. I can hate drugs but love the drug dealer or user. I can hate the sin of homosexuality while loving the homosexual. I can hate the sin of witchcraft while loving the witch. I can hate cults while loving people in cults.
People are made in the image of God. Whether they are Hindus or atheists or Moonies. People are people. They deserve to hear the gospel. They deserve to be loved and cared for. They desire the right to practice their religions or beliefs in freedom. They deserve the right to be helped when in trouble. I believe this demonstrates the goodness of God toward them (Romans 2:4).
When it comes to our Calvinist brethren, may we love them. Calvinists are not our enemies. They are our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. I know that some of them (and perhaps some Arminians as well) view myself as lost but I have no ill will toward my Calvinist brethren who love Christ and desire to see Him glorified. I keep repeating this but it is true: Jesus saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He said He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He didn’t come to call the righteous to repentance. He didn’t come to save only the Arminians or the Wesleyans or the Baptists. He came to save sinners. I am part of that lot (Romans 3:23).
I have read testimonies of Calvinists who were saved in Arminian churches and later became Calvinists. I have read Arminian testimonies as well of people who were saved in Calvinist churches and later became Arminians. A dear friend of mine was a liberal Methodist pastor and he was radically saved back in 1982. He was asked to resign from his Methodist Church after preaching for a year almost every week on John 3:3. He left and began to attend a Presbyterian Church (ARP). He even began to pursue getting ordained by them. Yet he began to struggle with his ARP faith when he began to study the Confession and especially predestination. He began to re-read his old Wesley books and found that he agreed with Wesley and so he left the ARP church and today is an Arminian pastor in a church in Mississippi. My point: he does not speak ill toward his ARP days and in fact praises God for what he learned there. He told me, “I would not studied depravity where it not for my ARP days. I would not have appreciated the sovereignty of God had I not been an ARP. God used the ARP’s to teach me His Word and I praise God for that.”
I agree. You Calvinist who were saved in an Arminian church, did you grow there? Did you learn about God there? I am sure you did just as my friend learned about God from the ARP church. God uses us in spite of us and sometimes despite us. He teaches us His ways despite our flaws. I am thankful for that.
I’m just wondering where are true holiness preachers? Where are those who will preach the wrath of God against sin, His grace given to us to be forgiven of our sins, and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin? We can be free from sin and it’s power. If we fail to teach that Jesus is not only able to forgive us of the penalty of sin but also to release us from the power of sin, we are essentially teaching that sin is still more powerful than the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is able to set us free from sin. Jesus is able to help us overcome sin. Our focus should not be upon our flesh but upon the Lord Jesus and He is able to deliver us from the penalty and power of sin.
I just wonder where are the preachers who will tell the people to stop sinning. I’m not advocating preaching fleshly holiness where we overcome sin by our own powers but I am speaking of the grace of God to deliver us from sin (Titus 2:12). I am speaking of the mighty blood of Jesus that is able to set the soul free from sin and is able to empower us to victory (1 John 1:5-2:2). 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises us that God helps us escape from sin. We sin by our own free will. We choose to rebel by our own free will. Yet for the child of God, we can look to Christ and His work on the cross to save us from sin and to help us to overcome sin.
Oh holiness preachers, arise! Preach the powerful blood of Jesus Christ to not only free us from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin.
This post is meant to be both satire and yet some truth mixed in here (much like Arminianism according to watchdog Calvinists). So take what I write here with a grain of salt. I know that will be tough on you watchdogs out there.
Heresy hunters. I once was one. On one hand I believe that heresy hunters are good. They point out errors to us and expose false teachings. I became a heresy hunter briefly back in the 1990′s. My main heresy I was after was the Word-Faith movement. I would listen for key words in conversations or in sermons. It get so bad that no one could mention “faith” around me without a flag going up. I would spend hours talking about the heresies of the Word-Faith movement. While I still agree that the Word-Faith movement is very bad theology and leads many astray, I no longer feel it is my duty to correct everyone’s theology around me concerning their views regarding the Word-Faith movement. I would gladly tell someone that I disagree with the movement and would attack them by my own Bible teachings but God is bigger than the Word-Faith movement and He is able
to correct His people through His truth (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Frankly, I wasted so much time trying to correct everyone else around me. Instead of doing more profitable things like prayer or evangelism or even worship, I spent my time listening to Kenneth Copeland tapes (yes the 90′s) and reading books against the Word-Faith movement. My prayer life suffered as I would be consumed in my thoughts and efforts with the Word-Faith movement while all around me where people going to hell who knew nothing of either the gospel or Benny Hinn. I eventually grew weary with my efforts and laid down my guns for another cause.
Watchdogs are out there. Whether they be Catholics, Arminians, Wesleyans, Baptists, and yes, Calvinists, they are all around us. They watch your every deed. They analysis your every statement. Many of them are well-meaning (as I was above) and desire for the truth to win out. They want to see sound doctrine taught. The problem is that they often lack grace. That was true of me. I remember once going to a poor lady’s house for a youth pool party. On her table was a book by Kenneth Hagin. I saw that book and my blood begin to boil. I turned to this lady who was in a conversation with another lady and pointed to the book. I said, “Why do you have this heretic here?” She was very young in the Lord and I begin to go off on Hagin by pointing out his errors. She broke down into tears and told me to get out of her house. It was a horrible scene and one I would rather not mention but I need to. It shows my lack of grace, my lack of tact. I meant well but I was trying to be the Holy Spirit. Later another brother met with me and corrected me and rebuked me and my days as a heresy hunter were gone.
When correcting another person I believe we need to do several things.
1. Is My Heart Right? Do I Love The Other Person?
Why do I want to correct this brother or sister? Is it that I love them or that I simply want to be a watchdog? Am I full of pride and believe that I am free from theological error so I will correct this poor soul who is confused and wrong? We must guard our hearts from being full of pride and thinking that we have the right to speak into another person’s life when in fact we have not earned that right and we don’t love that person and we don’t care what happens to them.
2. Is Their Heresy That Bad?
If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest, go onto Twitter and type something about Calvinism with the hash mark #Calvinism. In a few minutes you’ll get one comment after another from those who have made it their “calling” to correct all. Any attack on Calvinism or any defense of Arminianism will bring out these watchdogs. They are relentless. They will come after you and come after you and come after you. They will not give up. Usually I have to stop the debate or just don’t answer them.
And why? Because they believe #Calvinism is the #gospel. Despite the fact that the majority of the Christian Church has not been Calvinists, they believe that Calvinism alone is the pure gospel. In fact, if you are not a Calvinist, you are not saved. They don’t all hold to this but many of them do believe that Calvinism contains the truth of God therefore it should be defended against all enemies because when you attack Calvinism, you are attacking God Himself.
Now before you seek to be a watchdog, ask yourself if the heresy you want to rant against will send souls to hell? Does Arminianism or Calvinism send people to hell? A case can be made that any theological system could send souls to hell if that system is honored above Christ and His saving work. Anything can become an idol and can condemn the soul to hell (1 John 5:21). Is the heresy that I hate really that bad? If so, preach against it and warn people but never hate the heresy without loving the person in the heresy. Love always wins out.
3. Remember There Are Sometimes Worst Heresies Out There.
The Calvinist watchdogs I have encountered are convinced that Calvinism is the pure gospel so Calvinism becomes the grid to judge all thins by. Not Scripture per se but rather Calvinism or at least their branch of it. Everything apart from Calvinism is humanism, man-centered, false teachings. But is Arminianism the worst heresy out there? To many of these watchdogs, it is since they believe that the entire Western church is Arminian therefore the problems of the Western church are directly linked to the error of Arminianism.
I would argue that Pelagianism plagues the Western church more than Arminianism (from the Calvinist viewpoint that is). Most people I have met in evangelism are Pelagian or semi-Pelagians. I have even met lost Calvinists who (incorrectly) believed that the doctrine of eternal security allowed for them to continue in their life of sin. I have never met an Arminian (though I am sure there are lost Arminians). I know that no matter what I write here, some watchdog Calvinists will insist that they must evangelize Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Arminians because they are all the same, all of them hate the true God.
4. Debates Should Be Face to Face (At least normally).
Debates on blogs, message boards, Twitter or Facebook are not useful. Why? First, the world mocks our debates. They see “Christians” as fighting and hating each other despite the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35. Secondly, they are impersonal. I don’t know if the Calvinist or the Catholic or the ______ person I am debating is hearing me correctly nor do I get to see if they are loving me for me. All I see are words. I don’t hear your tone. I don’t know your motive. I don’t get to see your heart. All I know is that I have my books and my Bible open and I am googling my views while you are doing the same with yours. Further, is anything really going to change? Are you going to see my point of view? I doubt it. I have been an Arminian disciple of Jesus since I was saved in 1992. I don’t plan on ever changing. I love Arminianism. I love the doctrines of grace as taught by Arminius. I love our rich history. I love that the early Church Fathers were nearly united in their beliefs on determinism (against it) and free will (for it). I love the great men and women of God among Arminianism. I love that Arminius himself was a man of God, that he was a kind, gentle servant of God who loved people. He even loved the hated Anabaptists of his day and felt they should be allowed to practice their faith in freedom (in a time when many were calling for these heretics to be killed all over infant baptism vs. adult baptism).
Twitter debates are the worst. You are only allowed 140 characters so the points are short and words are not enough. Further, they, like all others, are not personal. I would rather sit and talk theology with a brother who loves me but disagrees with me than to tweet with a guy in Kansas who doesn’t know me, doesn’t ever plan on knowing me personally, and just thinks I am wrong.
5. Burn the Heretics!
Sometimes I feel that the Calvinist watchdogs would love to see heretics burn. These men would have been those in the time of Calvin who would have been happy to hear that Servetus was to be burned at the stake. They would love to see all enemies of Calvin destroyed. While I am generalizing here, their lack of love shows and it seems their aim is one common goal: to banish all enemies of Calvin.
The fact is that the history of the Church has often been filled with such people. People who hate others all in the name of Jesus. They burn, kill, destroy, and are proud of this all in the name of the Savior. How sad. They want to kill Muslims or to kill Catholics or to kill Mormons or whoever all in the name of riding the world of heretics. Both Augustine and Calvin appealed to Luke 14:23 as use of the State Church to force people into Christianity. Thomas Aquinas said about heretics that they should, ”not only to be separated from the Church, but also to be eliminated from the world by death.” Oddly enough, even the Protestant John Foxe who wrote a book on persecution of true Christians, believed in some forms of persecution against heretics.
These are poor excuses for persecution. I find nothing in the teachings of Jesus nor the Epistles to suggest that we should ever be violent toward those whom we disagree (see Matthew 5:10-12, 44-48; Romans 12:19-21). Peter the Apostle said in 1 Peter 4:11-19 that we should only suffer for righteousness and he never mentions attacking others in return. The Lord Jesus gave us an example says Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-24 of how to respond to ill-treatment. It was never with the sword that we were to spread Christianity but with the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
I have never wanted to see a Calvinist dead. I disagree with my Calvinist friends over many issues but I don’t want them burned or killed or even for their mouths to be stopped. I only want for them to preach Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). I am of the opinion of Paul in Philippians 1:15-18.
Watchdogs are all around us. I will receive their words and tweets as soon as I send this out into the world. I ask watchdogs to guard their hearts. Don’t hate others. Don’t judge others you don’t know. Don’t assume you are right and all others are wrong. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an ism saves instead of Christ saves. Don’t make your theology the basis for all truth when you are marred by sin and the world. Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). There are fundamentals we should agree on and Arminianism and Calvinism agree on these issues. Our battle should not be labeled a battle at all but a friendly dialogue. I don’t enjoy arguments at all. I would rather pray, worship, enjoy the honor of knowing Christ any day than to sit and debate Arminius and Calvin.
Dr. Jack Cottrell makes some interesting points about Ephesians 1 in regard to the issue of predestination in this text. This text, along with Romans 9-11, has been the cornerstone for Calvinists concerning their doctrine of unconditional divine election. Calvinists see Ephesians 1 clearly teaching that God predestined us to salvation even before time began (v. 4). They see the sovereignty of God as the center of Ephesians 1 and the reason that they are the elect of God.
Dr. Cottrell’s view is that Ephesians 1 is not speaking about individual people but about Jews and Gentiles. He makes his case for this by pointing out the use of the words “us” and “you” in the text. In Ephesians 1:3-12 Paul uses the term us or we and Dr. Cottrell believes that Paul is using this for the Jews. In verse 13 Paul shifts to the Ephesians who were Gentiles with the words “you.” He builds his case that the purpose of the book of Ephesians is to show the unity of the Jewish believers with the Gentile believers and that God has brought together two groups into one body (Ephesians 2:11-3:6). God’s purpose was to take His predestined people, the Jews, and to bring them together with the Gentiles to create one Church.
Dr. Cottrell points to Romans 9-11 as more proof of this view. Romans 9-11 is not about individual, divine election to salvation but God’s sovereign will in regard to His choosing of Israel and then rejection of Israel. He points out that salvation is never mentioned in Romans 9. He further points out that God’s rejection of Israel opened the door for the Gentiles to be included as His people (Romans 9:24-33; 11:32). The mystery if not divine election to salvation but the mystery of the gospel is God’s sovereign choice to unite His covenant people, the Jews, with the Gentiles to create one group of covenant people in Christ Jesus.
For more information, see the book Perspectives on Election: Five Views.
The following passage is a concise summation of what could be the defining principle of Arminian theology. It is certainly representative of my embrace of classical or Reformation Arminianism.
… It is clear that Arminius holds to a so-called “classical” doctrine of God. Within the simplicity of the Triune life, God is infinite goodness. Arminius understands this conviction to be grounded in the biblical revelation and articulated in the Christian tradition with the use of scholastic categories. It is utterly bedrock for his theology, and as we will see, it is particularly important for his doctrines of providence and predestination. Within the simplicity of the divine life, there are no parts or pieces — thus there can be no competing wills within God. Within the perfection of divine aseity, God can lack nothing and can have no need — not even the need for glorification through the display of justice or wrath. It is, for Arminius, literally unthinkable that the God of perfect, simple goodness and holy, unalterable love might create humans in his image for the purpose of destruction. On the contrary, humans can begin to glorify God by understanding that the divine purposes and the divine actions are perfectly in accord with the pure and simple goodness of the divine nature… Jacob Arminius, Theologian of Grace, Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall Oxford University Press, NY, 2012, p. 81
This orthodox and ancient position is such a contrast to that of our Calvinist friends and their hyper-sovereignty and divine determinism doctrines. This exploration of Arminian theology is a must read in my opinion and I expect Stanglin and McCall’s efforts will become a modern definitive work on the “root underpinnings” of classical Arminian theology.
Thanks to my friend Chris over at his blog, I have picked back up reading David Bercot’s book, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up. This book is an excellent book that shows that the early Church Fathers were not evangelicals. They are some points of evangelicalism that they would agree to but they would not be Calvinists and would not be Arminians though they would agree with Arminius more so than with Calvin. Bercot shows what the early Christians believed about various theological issues ranging from salvation by grace to free will to obedience to Christ being necessary for salvation. Many of these themes have been debated in our times as well but it is interesting to read the early Church Fathers especially over issues such as original sin or free will.
Now before you go and accuse me of placing the Church Fathers on par with Scripture, I assure you that Scripture must be our authority. Yet to ignore the early Church Fathers in favor of our views is simply misleading. These were men who lived closer to the time of Apostles than we did and many of them knew some of the Apostles. While I agree that their views are not infallible, they are worth reading. For instance, their views on free will. Nearly every early Church Father believed in free will and it is clear in their writings that they would reject divine determinism. The writings of Augustine would transform the church from believing in free will to believing in such a view of depravity that robs people of free will. Let me give you just a few quotes from the Church Fathers on free will to make my point:
Justin Martyr: ”And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions…”
Minucius Felix: ”For God made man free, and with power over himself. …That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. … so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting.”
Tertullian 200-240 A.D. 3:220 “Still there is a portion of good in the soul, of that original, divine, and genuine good, which is its proper nature. For that which is derived from God is rather obscured than extinguished.” 3:301 “Therefore it was proper that (he who is) the image and likeness of God should be formed with a free will and a mastery of himself; so that this very thing – namely, freedom of will and self-command – might be reckoned as the image and likeness of God in him.” 3:303 No doubt it was an angel [Lucifer] who was the seducer; but then the victim of that seduction [Adam] was free, and master of himself;” 3:308 “Who is the author of good, but He who also requires it?” 3:308 “Behold, they [Marcionites] say, how He acknowledges Himself to be the creator of evil in the passage, ‘It is I who created evil.’ They take a word whose one form reduces to confusion and ambiguity two kinds of evils (because both sins and punishments are called evils), and will have Him in every passage to be understood as the creator of all evil things, in order that He may be designated the author of evil.” Against Marcion chap. 14.
Arnobius: ”To all, He says, the fountain of life is open, and no one is hindered or kept back from drinking. If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindly offered gift, … why should He keep on inviting you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend upon your own free choice?”
And there are many, many more. While it is true that the Church Fathers are not equal with Scripture, we must not be so foolish as to think that they cannot provide us with wisdom. Further, to ignore their words until you get to Augustine would be foolish as well.