In the following I will critique Martin's pamphlet on "The Practical Implications
of Calvinism" and consider some implications of Calvinism from an historic
point of view.
The Practical Implications of Calvinism
THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD
The example of Isaiah (Is 6)
Summary: Calvinistic thought results in humility.
1. it brought a deep experimental acquaintance with his own sinfuless.
2. it brought an experimental acquaintance with grace and forgiveness.
3. it tells us of a man who was brought to utter resignation before God.
THE POWER OF SAVING RELIGION
I. It should lead to honest scriptural self-examination.
II. These doctrines will lead pursuit of practical godliness.
1. A holy watchfulness and distrust of oneself.
2. A consistent prayerfulness.
3. A trustful dependence on God to fulfil all that he as puposed.
Does Calvinism has any applications to the exclusion of Arminian thought?
I've asked this a number of times with little or no response. Martin's
book is an example of a Calvinistic attempting to answer this. The book
is only 23 pages long, and even so he is still rather wordy, which itself
says something. Why is it that Calvinists can come up with volumes arm-chair
theology, but only a small phamphet when it comes to speaking of the practical
applicatons of their theology? Not that I completely disagree with the
theology of Calvinism, nor do I completely agree with Arminian thought.
Honest scriptural self-examination
To summarize my critique, I would say that Martin fails to show a logical
connection between Calvinist thought and practical applications. For example:
Martin points out an application of the 5th point of Calvinism - The Perseverance
of the Saints, which happens also to be the only point of Calvinism I agree
on. The idea is that it is inevitable that one's salvation status is revealed
by one's performance. Thus one can measure his salvation status by his
performance. I had come to this conclusion myself when I did a personal
study of the book of 1John, years before I even heard of Calvinism.
The problem is that since the Calvinists denies he has any choice in
being saved, what is the application if he evaluates his performance and
realizes that he is not redeemed? For an evangelical like myself, coming
to such a conclusion would lead me to make an effort to seek God. I would
reexamine where my faith was deficient and cooperate with God in correcting
it. And before you Calvinists accuse me of heresy, who is to say that such
a reaction would not be of God's doing?
A holy watchfulness and distrust of oneself
Marting argues that since we are Total Depraved, which is the first point
of Calvinist thought, therefore this should lead us to be even more watchful
of our behavior, knowing the power of our sinful nature.
The problem is, that since there is no free choice, what are you hoping
to accomplish by being "watchful"? Since God controls everything, and there
is no free choice, there is nothing you can do. If you find you are falling
into sin, God is in control of that, He will carry out his purpose no matter
what you attempt by your own will. At least that's the logical conclusion
to Calvinist thought. Here's a quote from a Reformed theological source
noting Zwingli's theology "Zwingli's
understanding of predestination as indistinguishable from providence, logically
inclines him to the conclusion that God is the cause of human sin."
So the Calvinist holds the illogical position that God is just even though
he is the cause of human sin. The puppet model of Calvinism just doesn't
fit what the Bible says.
There is no application here. Rather the Arminians have the advantage
on this point. For they have a purpose for being watchful. Choice is involved
both in salvation and sanctification. For why is faith in Christ preached
as a necessary condition for salvation if no choice is involved? And why
are there rewards for services rendered promised for the believers in the
kingdom if there is no choiced involved in their service to God? Repentance
from sin, by its very nature requires a person's will to be involved.
True that Calvinist can argue that they may think humans more depraved
than Arminians. But by doing so they effectively nullify any application
to their theology.
A consistent prayerfulness
Much the same argument for developing a prayful dependency upon God. If
God is going to do whatever He is going to do, according to Calvinist thought,
and there is no choice involved on our part in carrying out God's will,
then why pray at all? It seems to me that not only is the argument for
prayer weak on the Calvinist's part, but the Arminians have a much stronger
argument on this point, since from their perspective, choice is involved
and therefore prayer more essential. In the puppet theology of Calvinism,
God is logically presented as simply praying to himself.
A trustful dependence on God to fulfil all that he has purposed
Martin also proposes that Calvinism leads to a trustful dependence on God
to fulfil all that he as purposed. But once again this is not to the exclusion
of Arminianism. Rather both come to this same end from different perspectives.
Thus there is no application here exclusive of Arminian thought.
The Calvinist believes the God will fulfill his purpose because he is "sovereign"
in a Calvinist sense - meaning that God forces everything to happen and
that all creation is simply his puppet, having no will of its own.
The Arminian believes the God will fulfill his purpose because of his ability,
character and foreknowledge. His purposes take into account the gift he
has given his creatures - the ability to choose within limits. Calvinists
don't believe that God has the ability to create such a creature who can
actually choose things that God doesn't prefer him to do. And thus though
they accuse Arminians of devaluing God's sovereignty, they themselves do
by placing such limits on God. (And if we are nothing but puppets, then
when we sin, who is actually doing the sinning? And what would be the point
of judicial punishment?)
Finally going back to Martin's first point concerning humility, I would
say that humility is the most essential characteristic one must have to
be saved and live the Christian life appropriately. Martin makes the Calvinistic
thought concerning the depravity of man should logically lead to humility.
If that were the case, then one would think that Calvinists would tend
to be humbled than Arminians. But I have not found that to be the case.
In my experience, I have found that the more zealous people are for Calvinism,
the more arrogant they are. Most Calvinists I've run into are simply interested
in arguing over issues of armchair theology, trying to figure out who they
can label a heretic. Did his humility stop John
Calvin from torturing a man to death? No. Nor did any repentance
follow. Did his revelation of his own depraved nature make him more cautious
doctrinally? Calvin was involved in persecuting and condemning Anabaptists
as being unbelievers simply because they didn't believe in infant baptism.
They insist upon forcing their theological assumptions into the scriptures,
relying more on the words of other Calvinists rather than honestly evaluating
the scriptures themselves.
To you Calvinists out there, I would recommend you take a few years
and put away your volumes on Calvinist theology and develop your own convictions
based upon your own personal Bible study. Now there's an application!
Theological Implications of Calvinism
A major theological problem I would have with Calvinism is with its implication
of holding people responsible for things they have no control over.
Implications of Calvinism
Calvinism implies Hyper-Calvinism. That is, if we really try to apply calvinistic
thought, we come up with hyper-calvinistic applications. Such applications
have dominated the history of Calvinist theology. While armchair Calvinists
sat around debating their theology, it was the hyper-Calvinists who actually
from an historic point of view
Lawless Christianity is one expression of HyperCalvinism. Simply put:
if there is no choice involved, then why not live a lifestyle of sin, doing
whatever we want. After all, if God is in control of everything, then whatever
I am doing must be God's will. And besides, I'm totally depraved, so why
make the effort? And furthermore, we're saved by grace, so why bother working.
Some even go to the extreme to say that those who are diligently making
a effort to live the Christian life are to be reckoned as unbelievers just
for that fact.
William Cary, one of the first modern missionaries, was told by his
Presbyterian minister that if God wanted to save those heathen in India,
that He could do so without his help. And thus for centuries, missions
were hindered by such philosophy. This also goes along with the concept
of "limited atonement".
III. Replacing God's Word with Man's
If God is in control, then who ever happens to be in positions of church
leadership are there by God's sovereign choice and as such their words
are to be taken as the Word of God. I've heard a similar argument about
the popularity of a theology. If a theology is "popular", then it is correct,
regardless of what the Bible says, for God is in control of what is popular.
However, both from my observations of history, and from examples in the
Bible itself, I have found that Popular Christianity is seldom synonomous
with Biblical Christianity.
IV. Infant Baptism
In Calvin's time most Calvinists did not become Christians through
faith in Christ, but rather they as children of Christians they were presumed
automatically saved and thus were baptized as infants. Faith was taken
out of the formula. "It is not necessary that faith and repentance should
always precede baptism." John Calvin Calvinist thinking, of
course, predated John Calvin himself. He rather crystallized the thought.
The Calvinist justification for infant baptism is two-fold. First it conveniently
fits into and expresses a "no choice on the part of man" scheme of salvation.
Secondly with the presumption that God choses people to be redeemed not
based on any foreknowledge of the decisions they will make, but rather
according to his own whimsical indeterminate will, then why not presume
that he elects children of Christians to salvation?
There are a number of problems with this latter idea, but mainly that
there is no scriptural basis for it. In fact it is contrary to the gospel.
Who are you to say that he does elect baptized infants? The Calvinists
hypocritically put themselves in the place of God by inventing means of
salvation that God has not spoken of nor made any promises concerning.
But this is consistent with my former point concerning HyperCalvinist applications.
Secondly, God choses the category of who will be redeemed. And he has revealed
that choice in the Bible. God has chosen those who put their faith in Christ,
with a quality of faith acceptable to God. Yes, there may be other categories
and exceptions that He has not spoken of. But who are we to presume what
those categories may or may not be.
The Bible teaches "For not all who are descended
from Israel are Israel." Rom 9:6 And "it
is not the natural children who are Godís children, but it is the children
of the promise who are regarded as Abrahamís offspring." Rom
9:8 Yet Calvinists, carrying on in the spirit of the group of the circumcision
with whom Paul disputed in Galatian, reckon righteousness to be a function
of the flesh. They reckoned that being born of the flesh of a Christians
makes one a Christian disregarding faith.
But not only does Calvin advocate infant baptism, but also condemns
those who don't. "We reprobate all fanatics who will not allow little
children to be baptized." John Calvin "We condemn the Anabaptists,who
deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized." The
Second Helvetic Confession by Bullinger (1561) But notice the consistency
with Galatians, "But as then, he who was born
according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit,
so also it is now." Gal 4:29 At that time it was
those who were merely Jews by birth but not by faith who persecuted the
true believers, so also throughout the history of post-Biblical Christianity
it has been those who zealously advocate the theology of infant baptism
who have persecuted legitimate believers.
V. A Ravenous Hatred for Non-Calvinists
"Anyone who hates his brother is
a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."1
"Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and
blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt."John
Few today can deny that Calvinists have been involved in the murdered
of tens of thousands of legitimate Christians over the issue of infant
baptism. This has been rather baffling to me. But nonetheless I can't deny
this is has also been a characteristic of many Calvinists today and in
the past, including John Calvin himself. It reminds me of the Jews in Jesus
time who thought themselves so holy and doctrinally correct, but ended
up crucifying Christ. And while thinking themselves wise, they seem incapable
of being reasoned with. But why is this? Shouldn't their theology result
in love for other Christians and humility?
Let me give you an example, there was man Michael
Servetus, who Calvin had burned alive at the stake because he wasn't
a trinitarian and didn't support the idea of infant baptism. 7 years before
the incident: "If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let
him go out alive if my authority has weight." John Calvin. I
don't agree with his non-trinitarian position, but I don't go around torturing
people to death for it. For an account by someone sympathetic to Calvin
in this matter, I refer to the article "The
Burning of Servetus: The Scarring of Calvin" I was dumbfounded by some
of the comments made by the supporter of calvin, who says:
"In his final torment, he uttered the words, "Jesus, thou son
of the eternal God, have pity on me." This phrase epitomizes the essence
of his Trinitarian error since to the end he maintained that Jesus's existence
began only with His earthly conception and birth -- to him God alone, not
Jesus, was eternal."
So this man, burning alive calls on Jesus as the Son of God to have pity
on him. How heretical? Is this Calvin's idea of persuading a person? Is
this his idea of evangelism? The commentor goes on to say:
"If we treated people today for their Trinitarian heresy comparably
to the manner in which Geneva treated Servetus, we would need to strap
some preachers to a launching space shuttle by comparison. Servetus' error
was closer by far to orthodoxy, and more carefully articulated, than much
of what passes as acceptable in many old-line, liberal, and even charismatic
or pentecostal churches today. May we regain the love of truth, mercy,
and pastoral compassion that typified the life of John Calvin."
So if Calvin murdered this man, who was relatively orthodox by today's
standards, what do you think he would do with a modern Charismatic! Yet
Calvinists consider Calvin's example one of love, mercy and pastoral compassion!
And so Calvinists tend to take on a similar attitude as the one they identify
of the "father" of their theology. (See also "The
Murder of Michael Servetus")
And also by calling themselves "Calvinists", they set themselves into
a special category. They have a special revelation from God that other
Christians don't. And then many will simply redefine the gospel so that
it only includes "Calvinists". Thus non-Calvinists are simply reckoned
at non-elect unbelievers simply because they don't believe in Calvinism.
But worst than unbelievers, these non-Calvinists are viewed as heretics,
false brethren, wolves in sheep clothing out to devour the flock with their
false non-Calvinist gospel. In Calvin's time, when it was legal to do so,
such people were often put to death.
Furthermore, the historic popularity of Calvinism has resulted (in some
cases literally) in a lynch-mob mentality. But now with the depopularization
of Calvinism, Calvinists are challenged to give a reason behind their thinking,
and they are doing a rather poor job replying. They still revert to foolish
threats of declaring others "heretics" but by doing so they reveal the
shallowness of their own theology and end up huddling together behind closed
doors in an ever shrinking community.
These are not strictly speaking "Calvinism", but rather implications
of Calvinism which people do in the name of "Calvinism". Calvinism has
little direct application, while Arminian thought does have much direct
application. Why are these not called "HyperArminianism"? Because they
have little to do with Arminian thought. They are Calvinistic in nature.
I wrote this article in response to a request by a Calvinist. I had asked
him if there were any applications to Calvinism, and he was unable to give
me an answer but asked me to read Martin's book. If you ask someone a question
and they can't answer it, but points you to someone else who they think
may have the answer, then they have neither come to understand nor believe
such an answer. For if they had understood it and believed it, they would
have told you. If we cannot express the things we claim to believe, then
we haven't actually come to believe them.
I say this simply because I'm tired of people who pretend to have convictions
in areas in which they really don't have convictions; people who pretend
to understand, but are incapable of expressing their supposed "beliefs".
A person of conviction is never caught by surprise by questions or issues,
for such a one has already asked themselves the essential and logical questions.
Such a one has already gone through the battle, having wrestled within
oneself these ideas in mind and spirit, and thus is ready for ministry
as Paul writes: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets
itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought
to make it obedient to Christ." 2Co 10:5
Simply put, in trying to convince someone else what you supposedly
believed, rather than telling someone else to read a book or listen to
a preacher, why don't you do so instead, and then tell them what
understanding you have gained and what convictions you have developed as
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources
The Berean Christian Bible Study