What is Calvinism?
By Jerry C. Brewer
John Calvin, born in Noyon, France, July 10, 1509, devoted his life to theological pursuits. In 1536 he published his views on man's redemption in a volume entitled the Institutes of the Christian Religion. As a leader in the Reformation, Calvin wielded a tremendous influence and his philosophy was warmly received by the Protestant world because it attacked many of the peculiarities of the Church of Rome. The enthusiasm with which his views were accepted by Protestants is paradoxical since many of them were borrowed from Augustine, the Catholic bishop of Hyppo (354-430).
Resting upon the premise of inherent total depravity, Calvinism is a system of error, derived from Catholicism, and woven into the fabric of almost every Protestant denomination in the 20th century. It has influenced false systems ranging from the Southern Baptist Church to Pentecostalism.
Calvinism was the driving force behind the religion of the Puritans, accepted by the Church of England, formed the basis for the Presbyterians in Scotland and finds devotees in America from the Assembly of God and Nazarene Churches to Promise Keepers and the 700 Club.
While Calvin's views aren't all accepted as he first propounded them, most are accepted by Protestant bodies in some form or another. Strict Calvinism, as we know it today, was defined by the Synod of Dort in 1618. Convened on November 13, the Synod crystallized Calvin's views into the form that is preached and practiced by much of the Protestant world.
Even among churches of Christ we are troubled by some tenets of Calvinism. Especially Calvin's teachings that one's daily activities are guided by the Holy Spirit. The basic error in all of this is that Calvinism, and all of its mutations, denies the free-will of man and the power of the gospel to save (Rom. 1:16-17).
Three points of error form the basis of Calvin's views. These "theological triplets" are so constituted that they must stand or fall together. If one is true, they are all true. If one is false, all are false.
Of Inherent Depravity:
All men are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, indisposed to all saving good, propense to evil, dead in sin, and the slaves of sin; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they neither are willing nor able to return to God.
Of Election and Irresistible Grace:
[E]lection is the immutable purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, he chose, out of the whole human race, fallen by their own fault from their primeval integrity into sin and destruction, according to the most free good pleasure of his own will, and of mere grace, a certain number of men, neither better nor worthier than others, but lying in the same misery with the rest; to salvation in Christ.... Moreover ... some are non-elect, or passed by, in the eternal election of God, whom truly God, from most free, just, irreprehensible, and immutable good pleasure decreed to leave in the common misery...to condemn and eternally punish them, to the manifestation of his own justice.
God ... does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls, nor does he permit them to glide down that they should fall from the grace of adoption and the state of justification; or commit the 'sin unto death,' or against the Holy Spirit; that, being deserted by him, they should cast themselves headlong into eternal destruction. So that not by their own merits or strength, but by the gratuitous mercy of God, they obtain it, that they neither fatally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their falls and perish (Calvinism, 'Doctrines of Dort,' McClintock & Sponges Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 11, pp. 39-46).
While Calvin achieved greater theological distinction in promoting his false theories, he wasn't the first to do so. With some modifications, he merely borrowed Augustine's error on the depravity of man and went beyond it (ibid. Vol. I, p. 547). Augustine had set forth his views on man's depravity and predestination a millennium before Calvin was born.
By Adam's sin, in whom all men jointly sinned together, sin and the other positive punishments of Adam's sin, came into the world.... Every man brings into the world with him a nature already so corrupt that he can do nothing but sin. The propagation of this quality of his nature is by concupiscence (ibid. Vol. 1, p. 546).
Because he believed man was born a reprobate, Augustine ascribed salvation "wholly" to God's irresistible grace, taught that God assigned a certain number of men to salvation and a certain number to perdition and that the grace of God "secured the perseverance of all upon whom it was bestowed" (ibid. Vol. I, p.543).
Thus, we understand the necessity that grows out of the premise of total hereditary depravity. Born totally depraved, man did nothing to reach that condition. Powerless in the commission of sin, he is therefore powerless in effecting his own salvation. Predestined to eternal life, he must therefore be regenerated by the direct converting power of the Holy Spirit (Irresistible Grace). Unable to do anything to reach a state of salvation, man is then powerless to depart from that state since "God ... does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls" (The Perseverance of the Saints).
In a booklet entitled What Baptists Believe and Why They Believe It, issued by The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tenn., J.G. Bow, DD, repeats Calvin's theological triplets as Baptist doctrine (pp.5, 7, 9, 18).
John Wesley, the father of Methodism also believed and taught inherent depravity (Nichol's Pocket Bible Encyclopedia, p. 83), and various opinions of Calvinism are set forth among churches of Christ by heretical teachers. Example: "It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation" (Rubel Shelly and Randall J. Harris, The Second Incarnation, Howard Publishing Company, 1992, p.207).
Standing on the theology of Augustine, Calvin and the Southern Baptists, Phil Ware says, "We are given the Spirit at baptism" (speech at Red River Family Encampment, June 25,1996).
Calvinism is an incubus in the body of Christ leading into apostasy. Believed, taught, and shoved down our throats by college professors and others among us, Calvinism must be excised before its poison corrupts the entire brotherhood. It's much later than we think. The schism is here and faithful brethren need to stand fast upon the Word of God as the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-22).
Published October 1996