A POINTED DISCUSSION ABOUT THE AMAZING GRACE OF GOD
The 5 points of Arminianism and of Calvinism. Reviewed, questioned, affirmed.
I must say at the outset that the following paper was meant to be as fair and balanced as possible, giving as much Scriptural weight to one side as the other, and perhaps even leaving it to the reader to deal with the solution. While that element is still there in some measure, I must confess that, even though I was unknowingly an Arminian most of my Christian life, I have – similarly unknowingly – leaned in these last couple of years towards the findings of John Calvin, though, as you will become aware later, I never read John Calvin.
So be aware that I write much of what you will read and hear, through the lens of the verse with which I have placed on the cover of that book, a word taken not from some great theologian, but out of the mouth of a pagan emperor who had stumbled across truth in his dynamic dealings with the God of Daniel. “He does what he wills.” Whatever He wants to do, he does. He never asks me if I agree with His reasoning or logic in the matter. Not once has He consulted my feelings or opinions, my great studies and conclusions. He just does what He wants to do.
Neither was Calvin or Arminius or Augustine or Paul offered a chance to weigh in on the subject before He acted. These men are, seeing through a glass darkly, mere reporters of what they think they see. I too. He did what He wanted to do, and I’m going to try to tell you what He did, though I can never tell you why, for He has not revealed that to me. Or to you. That’s what makes His grace so amazing. There is no reason on earth why Bob should have experienced the grace of God. But there is one in Heaven. And only God knows it.
Recently, a listener to my regular podcast asked me to address the five points of Calvinism. By studying the Scriptures on this subject two years ago, I had already done that, but it seemed it might be helpful to some listeners, to address the subject with Calvinists and Arminians in mind. Although I hasten to repeat, I have never read either of these giants of the faith.
Now, by calling both men giants, I will offend all of my readers and listeners for sure. Both sides seem to be fixed in their position, and truly believe the other side to be consigned to eternal damnation, unless of course God is merciful to them at the last minute.
In fact, all of us have been consigned to eternal damnation and are dependent on His mercy and grace for our salvation. And all of that, salvation grace, has to do with trusting in the shed blood of Jesus, not which doctrinal position I cling to, on most any subject.
I do not mean to say there are two sides to this issue. When God’s Word is involved, only one side is allowable on any given topic. I do mean to say that the truth of the matter is not as easy to comprehend as either side might allow. No matter which way a person goes, he is going to run into those “difficult” passages. He is going to experience the “tension” of which John Macarthur speaks. He will perhaps agree with Spurgeon who once commented to the effect that when we get to Heaven, the sign on the gate will say “whosoever will”, but after entry and looking back at that same gate, we will see the words “saved from the foundation of the world.”
There are elect – chosen ones -on both sides of the strife, and non-elect on both sides. The family portrait seen by the Father is not influenced by these doctrinal wars. But Light is in His Word, and we must walk in it. Then we must ask others to see what we see, joyfully, not with hammer in hand. Only slowly, very slowly, do some come to the truth. And the truth is broader than the wars allow. What if both “truths” are true after all? That is, what if there are not two sides, but one huge side that comprehends both concepts, free will and determination by God?
One thing is certain. We must all look at both sides. One never knows what truth might be lurking “over there.” I’m certainly glad I took a chance.
A Little History
The dominant system of the day when all of this current conflict began, in 16th century Europe, was an unyielding Calvinism. To be outside what Calvin taught was simply to be a heretic. Anathemas were placed on the rising Arminian thought, curses that could easily compare with those afforded to Rome. As I have indicated, some of that cursing mentality persists to our own day, and is lamentable.
It might be enlightening to see how many believers in our own day have never even heard the name Jacob Arminius. I suppose some may not even know who Calvin was. Perhaps it does not matter, in one sense. I personally have never read a full book by either man, but based my growing understanding of the issue, on Scripture alone. Men are men. They regularly fail. The best of them are not 100% accurate.
Take Pelagius, for example. Pelagius? Who was that, and why bring up yet another man to cloud the issue of the doctrines of grace? Well, we must begin with Pelagius, as many who are involved in the controversy see him as the forerunner of Arminian thought, while his nemesis in that day, Augustine, they say, foreshadowed Calvinism. Many of course, including Spurgeon, want to trace Calvin’s thinking to Paul, not any of the church fathers. It may be a little early in the discussion to cede that point.
Pelagius and Augustine lived in the fourth century. The former was a “British-born ascetic moralist,” as Wikipedia describes him. Very scholarly. Learned in theology. Persuasive speaker. An ascetic. His studies and the conclusions thereof quite simply could not allow the concept of predestination, that God had ordained all things ahead of time, and so he presented a rationale for man’s free will.
Early in his career he had been praised by Augustine as a saintly man, but when these doctrinal differences began to show, He was accused by that same contemporary, and others, of denying the need for Divine aid in performing good actions. Works theology, they said, won’t work.
It seems he also denied original (Adamic) sin. He claimed, some said, that a man could keep the law without God’s help. Through rigorous self-effort, a man could eventually obtain perfection. Perhaps he was misunderstood, that he did not mean to leave God out of the picture, but his emphasis on man’s part in it all got him eventually declared a heretic by a church Council. His doctrine of free will, and human effort was later known as Pelagianism, and was guarded against through the centuries. It was a heresy. It was laid to rest. But not really.
Pelagius lived in a time, as do we, when moral laxity was on the rise. He blamed Augustine and other modern theologians for this situation. By believing in “grace” so strongly, Augustine, said Pelagius, was encouraging immorality to rise. Men felt they were not accountable for their actions. Of course, Augustine and the others only taught that man needs the grace of God and the implanted desire of God to do the will of God. But to Pelagius it sounded as though man was not involved at all.
Pelagius taught that the human will – created by God, of course, and hence the grace of which Scripture spoke – was sufficient to live a sinless life. God would have to “assist” man as he went along, but it was basically up to man as to whether he would walk with God.
There is a fine line to be drawn here, for sure. Human effort, “assisted by God” vs God placing His assistance inside of the man at the beginning of his salvation experience, that is, saving him by grace, and directing his paths in this manner. It could be very tricky trying to tell the difference in those doctrines. But one is salvation by works, and the other is salvation by grace.
So we come to the time, one thousand years later, when the division between these two systems of thought, seemed to rise again. Does man have totally free will? Can he chart his own course? Can he say no to God, even if God really wants to save him? Is man capable of living a holy life with only an “assist” by God, or does he need an infusion of grace initially and constantly?
Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) was also a very brilliant and very spiritual man, hailed by his peers as a true man of God. But slowly he began to come against some of what Calvin was teaching. Conflicts ensued.
Not with Calvin himself, for that great Reformer had passed away when Arminius was only five years old. But Calvin’s heirs were everywhere, and ready to defend everything Calvin had taught.
Arminius himself died in 1609, leaving behind him a respectable trail of followers, also. The year after his death, “five points” were presented to the church of Holland. They are as follows:
The five points of Arminianism
• Human Free Will–This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God. His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
• Conditional Election–God chose people for salvation, but only based on His foreknowledge, where God looks into the future to see who will respond to the Gospel message. Knowing who says “yes”, He chooses them.
• Universal Atonement–The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
• Resistable Grace–The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally beaten so as to reject salvation in Christ.
• Fall from Grace–The teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.
This system of thought, known today as Arminianism, was popularized by the Wesleys and their movement of Methodists. And many others. The great majority of Christians in the West, think as Arminian. Though they do not know Jacob, the founder of their thought! In fairness, they too wish to trace their beginnings to the Bible.
Don’t we all?
The Five Points of Calvinism
As we said, Calvin died in 1564.But his teachings did not. The Reformation adopted much of what he said, formed it into a system, a system which was “reaffirmed by the Synod of Dordt in 1619 as the doctrine of salvation contained in the Holy Scriptures.”
And at the same time, 1619, the system was put into a more manageable order by creating five points of its own, as an answer to the Arminians.
According to Calvinism: (Per reformed.org)
“Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the Gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.”
Some very creative brother or sister came up with a way of remembering Calvinism’s five points: An acrostic using the word “tulip.”
T is for Total Depravity (or better, Total Inability)
At the outset, a problem in vocabulary. Depravity in modern vernacular is corruption, even perversion. One thinks even of insanity, or craven corruption. Well, it can be all of that. All that was originally meant though, is that sin has extended to every part of the personality. Thoughts. Emotions. Will. Sin is a pervasive disease, and some have the sickness worse than others, but all are affected. All. From birth. Nay, from conception.
Again, from reformed.org, “The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called “Total Inability.” The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God’s making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).”
U: Unconditional Election
God chose the ones whom He would later call to Himself, based on His own will, not anything man decided. This means He has also chosen others for damnation (Romans 9:-15-21). He did all this before there was a world (Ephesians 1:4-8)
Still, man has the responsibility of believing the Gospel. To deny this leads to what is called “hyper-Calvinism”. To deny God’s sovereign choices, however, is to affirm Arminianism, that it is man who chooses to “accept” Christ.
In this system, good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation (Ephesians 2:10).
Reformed.org: “This is what Peter means when he admonishes the Christian reader to make his “calling” and “election” sure (2 Peter 1:10). Bearing the fruit of good works is an indication that God has sown seeds of grace in fertile soil.”
L: Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption)
For whom did Jesus die? Whose sins were forgiven at the cross? All men? Or all that God gave to Jesus (John 17:9)? (Matthew 26:28). Though some fear this doctrine kills motivation behind evangelism, but the command of Jesus to go and preach is not affected by us not knowing who will come and who will not. The fact is, the preaching of the Gospel will call the elect, and we must keep preaching for their sakes.
We all agree that all men will not be saved, so in fact Jesus’ death did not affect all men, but only the saved. The Arminian wants to have a potential salvation for all, a phenomenon the Calvinist sees unnecessary.
I: Irresistible Grace
When the Holy Spirit calls a man by the Word of God, he will respond. There may be a struggle, but God will win that struggle in His elect. John 6:37 makes this clear. See also John 6:44, and Romans 8:14. The most unlikely of surprises have demonstrated this awesome fact through the years!
P: Perseverance of the Saints
We trivialize this concept into “once saved, always saved,” then write it off as ridiculous in the light of all the people we know who were “saved” then fell away. But Romans 8:28-39, coupled with John 6:39 speak of a God who is able to keep us to the end, if we truly were His to begin with.
This description of the Five Points of Calvinism was written originally by Jonathan Barlow but totally revised and edited by the author. It could be denied in some parts by various adherents of the Calvin-dom Empire. Yes, Calvinism has splintered much, even as has Arminianism. People have division in their belly, and seem to love a good fight. Others are truly searching but have only found a certain measure of the truth.
Now let’s take a closer look at the five huge issues, with their sub-issues, before us, and see whether any preliminary conclusions can be made.
Before we go on, though, we must address again the importance of this study. “Does it really matter?” one might ask. Do I need this information to get to Heaven? Will being on the right side assure my place in Heaven?
Well, yes, it really matters, but no, your salvation does not depend on your knowledge of this portion of theology. Probably. I say “probably” for this reason:
If one is still drinking at the Pelagian well, and thinking that he is indeed the one responsible for his salvation, that he must work to save himself, that the blood of Jesus makes no real difference, and likewise the Spirit of Jesus, this study is extremely important! The salvation-by-works dogma is damning, and read a certain way in Arminian teaching, can destroy a man’s soul.
But if one is drinking only Christ, and His revealed Word, being filled with the one Spirit of God, growing in the grace of God, fruit will begin to be produced regardless of the presence of some imperfect teachings.
So why? A right understanding can bring confidence in one’s position in Christ. A right understanding can bring huge appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice and a resultant praise life that is enhanced. A right understanding can bring a humility of soul and an awareness of self that is the true mark of a child of God. Pursue this study. It is not going away any time soon. The church has nearly always had to struggle with this teaching. Rest not in intellectual acumen but in the simple words of Scripture. You may be surprised at what emerges.
Very importantly, it may be necessary to put aside the shouting that has come from both sides. It is hard to concentrate, reflect, listen to the still small Voice, when someone is shouting. Hear Jesus, not above, but far below all the shouts. Your soul will be refreshed.
Source by Bob Faulkner