Saturday, October 16, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part III)

This is the conclusion of my series on Calvinism and Arminianism. If you do not yet know very much about these Christian theologies, each portrait links you to the respective Wikipedia articles.

Now that I've discussed the fundamental issue that I believe the two theologies are trying to address, let me answer three other very critical questions:

Does God hold us accountable for our actions? Calvinism, if taken to an extreme, might be interpreted to teach that what we do doesn't matter. If God decides who is saved and who isn't, then what I do has no bearing on my salvation, and witnessing to others is unnecessary, since their standing at the Judgment was pre-determined before the beginning of time (predestination). However, James' exhortation to bear the fruits of our salvation and Jesus' Great Commission are fully valid and cannot be ignored. No matter what roles election and free will play in salvation, we cannot shirk our responsibilities as children of God.  Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!" (Luke 17:1).  And of Judas Iscariot, He said, "The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24).

Can we ever lose our salvation? If I hear "once saved, always saved" one more time, I think I'm going to hurl. Oops! I just typed it again! Excuse me a sec.... Seriously though, I don't like this term because it suggests that we can do whatever we want, and we'll still be OK.  Add to that pastors and ministers of almost every denomination declaring over and over that "we're all sinners", and any hope of victory all but vanishes.  Of course, we've already established that taking it to that extreme is foolhardy, but it puts us on a slippery slope that I prefer to stay off of.  Anyway, this doctrine is probably most directly derived from John 10:28 ("neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand") and Romans 8:35-39 ("[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God").   If there's enough interest among my readership, I could probably spend an entire post (or two, or three) on this question alone, but for the time being, I want to try to guess how our two theologies would answer.

I think the Calvinist would take us back to election and say that it's really a moot point.  Since salvation is something that was decided before God even gave Adam breath, the elect will bear fruits worthy of repentance and the unsaved (even if they once claimed to be saved) were never actually saved in the first place.  On the other hand, the Arminian would point to free will and state that since we are always free to obey or disobey God, salvation is something that can be refused (through the rebellion of sin) or reclaimed (through the obedience of repentance).  This latter view is what I believe, but I also know that (1) God wants us to be assured of our salvation, and (2) He doesn't want us stuck in an endless rut of sinning and repenting.  That's why I also believe that through the Holy Spirit, He gives us the power to resist sin and live free of its grip.  But that's a topic for another post. :)

And finally, how do the Calvinist and Arminian differ in their Christian walks?  Short answer: they don't... or at least they shouldn't!  Regardless what one believes about election and free will, we have a duty to live by Jesus' two "love commandments", spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, and live each day as if He's returning tomorrow.  The Calvinist and the Arminian both repented of their sins and forsook the things of this Earth for the treasures that no moth or rust can corrupt and which no thief can lay a finger on.  The same Holy Spirit dwells in both of them and gives them reassurance of their salvation.  They both bear the fruits of the Spirit and are a shining light for God wherever they go.  They will both be dressed in robes of white in that Beautiful City, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!"

Doctrinal discussions (among the saved) are good if they edify, but if things get heated, take a step back and remember that you both serve the same mighty God, Whose Holy Spirit dwells in you, and you are brothers and sisters, through the One Who purchased your salvation with His very blood!  Now, who can argue with that???

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part II)

Well, since I have written a lot more than I initially planned, and I like shorter posts anyway, I decided to milk this topic for a full trilogy. How else am I going to build my average back to 2 posts a month???  ;)  Each portrait still links you to the respective Wikipedia articles.

"If God is Love, and He created us, why doesn't everyone go to Heaven?" How Calvinists and Arminians answer this question sheds some insightful light into the fundamental differences between the two theologies.

Arminianism holds that God loves everybody, but that not everyone accepts the Gift of Salvation. God knocks at people's doors, but He will not force Himself upon them. They have free will to reject Him, and the cost (if repentance is never made) is an eternity in Hell. If we dig deeper, we extract a second layer of doctrines, which teach that Jesus died for all humanity and that salvation, though not dependent on works, can be lost through unrepented sin.

Some insist that pure Arminianism promotes a works-based salvation, but that is a misinterpretation of its teachings; Jesus (see the Gospels and Revelation) and Paul (see Romans 11) were very clear that sin, if not repented of, results in loss of salvation. Arminianism is also criticized for teaching uncertainty in one's own salvation, but I see it simply as motivation to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Romans 8:16 assures us that "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Therefore, by the Holy Spirit's witness, you can know that you know that you're saved!

Calvinism all but denies the existence of free will, focusing instead on election (a concept well-founded in scripture; again, see Romans and the Gospels).  God loves only the elect, which are those whom He wills to save. Although Jesus' blood on Calvary was certainly enough for all humanity, it covers only the elect. Else, why would the "unsaved" be sent to Hell, if their sins were already paid for? Repentance, then, is not an act of free will, but rather an irresistible response to the moving of the Holy Spirit in one's heart. Instead of a turning point in one's life, that marks the "decision for Christ", it is a fruit of the Spirit in one who is already saved.

In Romans 9, Paul declares that some are created for salvation and others for damnation. He also addresses the question of fairness, stating simply that God is sovereign, and therefore is the one to decide what's fair.  That may sound like a cop-out to some, but I believe it's true. Think of when you were a child, and your parents (probably) made you go to bed while it was still light out, wouldn't buy you the candy you wanted, spanked you when you were bad, made you eat broccoli, sent you to school, and forbade you from getting that skull tatoo. At the time, you probably thought it wasn't fair or that they were being mean, but you hopefully realize now that it was for your own good.  Likewise, I believe when we go to be with Him, all will make sense... either that or being in His presence will be so awesome, I won't even care!  :)

To be continued...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part I)

John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Click on each, to go to their respective Wikipedia articles.

I had already been saved for several years and thought I knew a lot about Christianity and the Bible, when I began fellowshipping with one of my colleagues at work. He was a very sincere Christian and devout Biblical scholar, but some of his views were so contrary to mine, that I was taken aback. The points he was making and the terminology he used were like second-nature to him.  So much so, that neither of us seemed able to understand where the other was coming from!

That was my first exposure to Calvinism and Reformed Theology. I did not grow up in any church, and when I got saved, I was mentored with (I would later discover) an Arminian worldview. But at the time, I did not know that's what it was called, or even that there was another view, some of whose doctrines were diametrically opposed to mine... but yet, well-founded in scripture.  Since my initial discovery of the two views, I have had numerous deep discussions with Calvinists.  I still lean Arminian, but can definitely see both sides of the coin.

Recently, I had a run-in with a young and very zealous Calvinist, who pretty much picked a Theological argument with me.  He didn't say anything I hadn't heard before, but he knew his supporting scriptures much better than I knew mine, so I just backed out of the discussion.  I couldn't help but rehearse the experience over and over in my head, until I came to two revelatory conclusions, which I would like to share with you now.

I will not try to summarize the two beliefs here, but you can click on either portrait above (even though they may not look like links), to read Wikipedia articles on the theologies these men ignited. (If prompted about scripts or active content, please allow them to run.) Instead, I will focus on some core concepts and leave the deeper digging to the curious.

Both belief systems hold that humanity is inherently sinful and, but for the Grace of God, unable to seek reconcilliation with God. This is called total depravity. Closely tied to this concept is the idea that no works of man can atone for his sins and earn him salvation from an eternity in Hell. Jesus' blood is the only atonement, and a calling from God is the only way one's eyes are opened to the unmerited Gift that is free for the taking. These ideas are well-founded in scripture and you will be hard-pressed to find a Calvinist and an Arminian who will disagree on these points.

However, where the two will greatly differ is in answer to the question, "If God is Love, and He created us, why doesn't everyone go to Heaven?" Perhaps they don't consciously think in these terms, but a lot of the doctrinal differences appear (to myself, at least) to stem from their differing answers to this single question.

To be continued...