In early 1500’s many individuals set out to establish a revised set of Christian principals. Those principles were to have the effect of restoring the church in it’s totality from what was viewed as the defective practice of Christianity found within the Roman Catholic church and to reject the idea that simply following “tradition” was sufficient for matters of faith and belief.
The reformers, as they would become known, would insist that the written “Word of God” be held as the ultimate source of appeal in all matters of faith, and that all other sources of knowledge, including church tradition and personal experience, had to appeal to this central source for validation. As a result of the demand for the preeminence of the written “Word of God” 5 Solas or affirmations were created accepted:
Sola Scriptura ~ by the Scriptures alone, our only foundation in reference to authority.
Solus Christus ~ by Christ alone, as our sole mediator and intercessor before God.
Sola Gratia ~ by grace alone, our only method in reference to salvation.
In this writing we will point out many of the principals that Dr. Calvin set forth and that many within the reformed tradition hold dear today. We will make assertions and also ask certain questions to challenge the logic of many reformed beliefs as it pertains to God and the Bible.
General & Brief Reformed History:
At the Council of the Synod of Dordt in (1618-1619), the Syndics, after much discussion, created a 5 point mnemonic with the abbreviation of TULIP
T~ Total Depravity
U~ Unconditional election
L~ Limited atonement (Questionably endorsed by Dr. Calvin)
I~ Irresistible grace
P~ Perseverance of the saints
This affirmation of reformed and Calvinistic dogma was adopted primarily in opposition to the 5 Articles Of The Remonstrance (an expression of opposition or protest) originally created by a theologian name Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). The Remonstrance, which also contained 5 points, was actually submitted to the church of Holland in 1610 by the followers of Dr. Arminius after his death in 1609. Dr. Arminius opposed the ideas of election and predestination as set forth by Dr. Calvin and as promoted by most reformed theologians and ideologues of the era.
The doctrine of predestination was and is currently a major focus of reformed doctrine. It is interesting to note that Dr. Calvin warned against delving too deeply into the subject of predestination in his writings (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, section 1). Unfortunately, predestination became the controlling principle in reformed theology, expressed by the Synod of Dort, and yet remains a topic of much controversy within reformed theology and the Christian community today.
Although other reformed and Calvinistic confessions arose such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, whose Assembly at Westminster (1643-1652) met in defiance of the English King, the confession adopted by the Synod of Dort seems to be one of the most common and widespread throughout the United States. This is partially due to the preaching and ministry of Puritan Reformist, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) whose ministry became widely accepted during the First Great Awakening (1730’s – 1740’s)
Understanding The Reformed Message. The Basics
One is hard pressed to define an exact “Reformed Doctrine” due to variations and mixing and matching within the tradition itself, there are however certain components that are generally accepted by most if not all adherents to reformed doctrine. The summation of reformed doctrine is called monergism– primarily meaning “the work of one”. We will lay out some of the rather more common aspects of monergistic doctrine at this point.
1- The Sovereignty Of God ~ God is sovereign and has decreed certain things for HIS own purpose, will and pleasure, without any explanation to any of his creation. This is the starting point for most reformed theology today. A proof text for this could be:
(Isa. 46:10,11)“…My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please… What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”
2- Total Depravity ~ As a result of Adam’s sin, everyone is born in a “depraved” state or condition. This means that although people do good things from time to time, they are yet constitutionally unable to submit themselves to the gospel and turn in any way to truth. Proof texts for this could be:
(Rom. 3:11,12) “.. . there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless . . .”
(John 6:44, 65) “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day…..And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.”.
3- Unconditional Election ~ This teaching is best summed up like this; because of total depravity, salvation is completely dependent on God’s choice (Sovereignty) to bestow it. In this construct, for his own good reasons, God sovereignly chooses which individuals he will save. “Unconditional” is to mean that there are no conditions that humans must meet, including faith. Faith is a purely a gift of God, and if human-generated faith plays a part in salvation, salvation is not entirely by grace. Proof texts for this belief would be:
(Eph. 1:4,5) “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . ..”
(1 Pet. 2:8) “they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”
(ROM 9:16,18,22-24) “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy . . . (18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires . . . (22) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. . . .”
4- Double Predestination ~ Also known as reprobation means that God predestines the elect to heaven, and that he predestines the non-elect to hell
(II Thess. 2:13) “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:”
(I Peter 2:8)“And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
(Jude 4)– “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(John Calvin stated) “…(God) does not create everyone in the same condition, but ordains eternal life for some and eternal damnation for others.” (Cited in Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, p. 396) Please note: Not all Calvinists believe in double predestination. Instead, they follow Saint Augustine’s teaching that God is active only in the salvation of the elect, while he is passive with regard to the non-elect.
4- Limited Atonement ~ Christ died for the purpose of saving only the elect. Calvinists infer this from the passages that say that Christ died “for his people” Since God sovereignly elected some to salvation, he sent Christ to die only for them. Not all Calvinists hold to limited atonement
5- Irresistible Grace ~ God’s grace in salvation includes imparting saving faith to the elect. This grace is irresistible since it does not depend on human will God causes the elect to believe the gospel (Acts 13:48), even though they may not be aware of this fact. Proof texts for this belief may include:
(Jn. 6:37)-“All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”
(Acts 13:48)-“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
6- Perseverance Of The Saints ~ Because election depends on God, those who are elected cannot lose their salvation (i.e., eternal security). However, the elect will show evidence of their election by continuing to believe in Christ and manifesting good works consistent with salvation This teaching was the origin of “Lordship Theology”.
- (2 Pet. 1:10) “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
(Heb. 3:6,14) “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end . . . For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”
In This Part 1 I have taken the time to outline the basics of Reformed or Evangelical Theology. I hope that I have not been disengenuous to the rich history and traditions of faith in any measure. If so, you may comment or correct me as you are able.
In part 2, I will outline more specifically the problems associated with Reform Theology outlining 7 critical points that in our opinion effect the validity of Reformed Theology. My critique should not be understood in the light of denying or claiming to deny salvation for the millions of believers who practice and have practiced Reformed Doctrine at some point in history. Our effort is to shed light on some of the more flawed assertions that Reformed Theology presents in general along with providing more poignant, biblical alternatives to such beliefs.