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Why I don’t claim Calvinism or Arminianism

Those who attend evangelical seminaries and Bible schools or take courses on church history are often taught that Protestant churches fall into two camps–Calvinism or Arminianism. Calvinism is named after the French Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) while Arminianism is named after Dutch Reformer Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609).

John Calvin grew up Catholic, but converted as an adult into Protestantism by embracing the doctrines of Martin Luther. Calvin claimed he was determined to adhere to God’s word, but actually formed doctrines that mixed Augustine’s teachings with Luther’s and he ended up forming some false doctrines. When he wrote his famous work Institutes (written in 1535 & published in 1536), he was new to the faith, having claimed faith in Christ in 1533. Therefore, it’s easy to see how he got off track, being a neophyte.

One of Calvin’s doctrines was the denial of human will because of God’s complete sovereignty, which was a doctrine taught by Augustine.  He believed, like Augustine, that God had from eternity determined that he would only save a small part of humanity and willed the rest to be damned to hell. This determination by God was his foreknowledge and predestination and had nothing to do with man’s choice. God knew the future because he willed every detail ahead of time, according to Calvin’s doctrine which he got from Luther and Augustine.

Another doctrine Calvin taught was that the church was supposed to be God’s kingdom on earth. Therefore, it was the church’s role to run governments and to be run by the government  (i.e. the church & state must be one) and anyone who did not comply with the government-run church must be punished, coerced into compliance, or put to death for non-compliance.

After his death, his staunch followers drafted the Five Points of Calvinism (also called TULIP) at the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands (1618-19) in response to the Five Points of Arminianism. Calvinism’s Five Points are the following:

  1. Total Depravity: mankind, having a dead spirit, cannot respond in any way to the gospel, but he does have the ability to make moral choices that don’t pertain to the gospel.
  2. Unconditional Election: it is entirely God’s will to save the elect and send others to hell even though he could save all humanity if he wanted to.
  3. Limited Atonement: Jesus Christ only died for the sins of the elect and not for anyone else.
  4. Irresistible Grace: those who are the elect cannot resist God’s will to save them and they could not accept the gospel without the God-given ability to accept. His grace is not extended to those who aren’t the elect.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: God does not allow the elect to lose their salvation because they have it by his sovereignty alone.

Jacobus Arminius was raised Protestant in Holland. He started out as a Calvinist, but upon further study of God’s word forsook Calvinism and rejected Calvin’s Augustinian foundation. He also refused the Apocrypha and the notion that religious man-made traditions were equal with God’s word. Arminius was a true evangelical, believing that salvation was only by grace through faith, that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, and that the same three-in-one God was in both the Old Testament and New Testament.

Because he stood for the truth of God’s word, he was often falsely accused of things he didn’t agree with, such as the doctrine that believers can lose their salvation. It was only after his death that theologians claiming to follow Arminius met in Gouda, Holland in 1610 to draw up a doctrinal protest against Calvinism known as the Five Points of Arminianism. They are summarized as follows:

  1. God established before Creation that he would save everyone who believes in Jesus and that the unbelieving would be left in sin and under his wrath.
  2. Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice for all, to redeem all, and to forgive all for their sins, but such benefits only occur for believers in Christ.
  3. Man is incapable of true goodness in his thoughts, or will, or actions, including saving faith, so he has to be regenerated.
  4. God’s grace is totally necessary for salvation, and his grace can be resisted.
  5. Genuine believers in Christ have the ability to resist sin by the power of the Holy Spirit; but if it’s possible to fall away from faith in Christ “must be … determined out of the Holy Scriptures, before we ourselves can teach it with full persuasion of our minds.”

However, the “Arminianists” later went on to detail their beliefs which included their false doctrine that “True believers can through their own fault … finally fall away and go lost.”

This is why I would never call myself a Calvinist or an Arminianist. Both sides subscribe to false doctrines. Additionally, Paul so eloquently told us to avoid calling ourselves followers of a particular person. He went so far as to say it was “carnal” to do so–

11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?                   1 Corinthians 1

3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 1 Corinthians 3

Source: Dave Hunt. What Love is This?: Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. Loyal Publishing, Inc. ©2002. pages 75-90.

–Harry A. Gaylord–

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8 thoughts on “Why I don’t claim Calvinism or Arminianism

  1. Amen, we are just in Christ and Christ is not divided. We should put off these things that divide us and keep the centrality and supremacy of Christ, our Head.

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  2. I appreciate your sentiment, but I don’t know if you are totally fair to Calvin. As you say he rehashed much of Augustine’s teaching which wasn’t really controversial at the time. Maybe he took it to the extreme, but that was not a major pillar of his theology. He was much more focused on the Spirit and sanctification. Also, the whole church state thing is sad, but it was also almost universally accepted by Protestants and Catholics alike. But again, I appreciate what your saying.

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  3. Good article! I’ve recently been studying and putting together my opinions on this and I think we’re in pretty much the same place…some sort of middle ground that one of my close friends calls ‘Biblist’, as in, we follow the Bible’s teachings, not a human’s.

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  4. A chemist with a periodic table can accurately determine the interaction of different elements. Yet, how is it that Christians, reading the same “source material” (the Bible), can arrive at diametrically opposed perspectives i.e. Calvinism/Arminianism even when contemplating the same verses? Calvinists argue that Romans chapter nine affirms individual election while Arminians would argue that the chapter is dealing with corporate election. Do we get to “choose” (free will – Arminianism) what to believe? Or, is that “chosen” (determinism – Calvinism) for us?

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  5. Bob – Won’t delve into it completely, but do you think it odd that so much of calvinistic theology relies on one chapter of the Bible?

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    1. Greg – Certainly Reformed doctrine draws deeply from Romans chapter nine but I’m well aware that Calvinist use literally hundreds of verses and passages with which to draw their conclusions. I sense a significant differential between Calvinists and non-Calvinists to be that of pre-determined definitions. That is, I believe Calvinists interpret the Bible from their, if I may, “pre-approved” definitions. To be fair, I am no doubt guilty as well. However, I am hard-pressed to believe that a new believer (or non-believer, too) reading through the Bible for the first time would have any inkling of Reformed doctrine. They would never come up with TULIP. To that end, how else can one ascribe the “whoever” in John 3:16 or the “none should perish” in 2 Pet 3:9 to only a select few – the elect? That said, Calvinists will put forth strong, and often quite convincing, arguments to justify, say, unconditional election or limited atonement et al. But, I believe, they do so only because of predetermined definitions. And at least to me there is significant tension with Calvinist interpretations of passages (because of their definitions) that i generally don’t sense when the passage is read as is – without those pre-approved definitions. // Bob

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  6. “However, I am hard-pressed to believe that a new believer or (non-believer, too) reading through the bible for the first time would have any inkling of Reformed doctrine.”

    Well said, I have said the same many times when debating with calvinists.

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