Calvin the Extremist

Most of you probably did not know or notice that last Friday would have been the 500th birthday of John Calvin, had he still been alive.  He is known for many things, but perhaps he known best as one of the great shapers of Reformed thought in Europe.  Much of what Protestantism teaches came directly or indirectly through his writings.  Whether you listen to Christian programs on the radio or are speaking to friends from mainstream churches, it is important to note that there are basic differences in the foundation of beliefs between the Church of God and mainstream Christianity even in areas you might not be aware of.

Calvinist theology is sometimes identified with the five points of Calvinism, also called the doctrines of grace, which are a point-by-point response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance (see History of Calvinist-Arminian debate) and which serve as a summation of the judgments rendered by the Synod of Dort in 1619. Calvin himself never used such a model and never combated Arminianism directly.

The five points therefore function as a summary of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, but not as a complete summation of Calvin’s writings or of the theology of the Reformed churches in general. In English, they are sometimes referred to by the acronym TULIP (see below), though this puts them in a different order than the Canons of Dort.

~ Wikipedia, Calvinism

Arminianism is sometimes viewed by its critics to include the belief that man has an effect upon his salvation (a view called Semipelagianism).  It was called Arminianism after Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch pastor who rejected the view that God unconditionally elects some people.  At the core of his beliefs was the idea that God’s election was of believers and was conditional upon faith.  Arminius died before he could produce a paper outlining his beliefs, so his followers, who called themselves the Remonstrants, wrote the Five Articles of Remonstrance.  [Sources: Wikipedia, articles on Arminianism and Semipelagianism.]

Calvin, however, had an extreme view of salvation as a gift from God.  The Five Points of Calvinism were a direct response to the Arminian view.  The language of TULIP expresses this extremist view of God’s plan of salvation (contrasted with Arminian view):

T – Total depravity.  This is the only point that Arminianism and Calvinism agree (according to Article III of Remonstrance).

U – Unconditional election.  Article I of the Remonstrance states that faith in Christ is required; therefore, it is conditional.

L – Limited atonement.  Article II of the Remonstrance states, “Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man”, thus making atonement unlimited.

I – Irresistible grace.  Article IV of Remonstrance specifically states that grace is “not irresistible”.

P – Perseverance of the saints.  Article V of Remonstrance states that believers are given “full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory”, but they are capable of “forsaking” Christ and “returning to this present evil world”.

The traditional Church of God perspective would disagree with all 5 points of Calvinism.  Since Remonstrants believed in “total depravity”, the COG would break from them in this belief as well.

The impetus behind total depravity is actually a valid one, even though the doctrine is flawed.  It comes from the reality that mankind cannot save itself.  Humanity needs a savior.  That is the long and the short of it.

However, to take that one step further and say all humans are “totally depraved” really misses the boat.  The tree that Adam and Eve ate of is called the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”.  People sometimes forget that.  It wasn’t called the “Tree of Evil” or even the “Tree of the Knowledge of Evil”.

Adam and Eve rejected revealed knowledge.  They decided they would learn about good and evil on their own.  They would decide if something sounded good and do it.  If they did not like the results, they would pick more good fruit from the tree and try again.  However, it is the wrong tree.

We have all sinned, therefore none of us can save ourselves.  It isn’t because we cannot do anything good.  It is because the good has been tainted.  Personally, I like apples.  Apples are good.  However, once an apple starts to rot, radical surgery from an outside agent needs to take place or the entire apple will rot.

It is not total depravity.  It is total helplessness.

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