What Is Calvinism?
While this writing is critical in nature, its purpose is not to condemn Calvinists. Despite errors in the Calvinist framework, many Calvinists (in my opinion) are Christians and love Jesus Christ.
Calvinism is a branch within Christianity that is also called Reformed Theology, Covenant Theology, or Doctrines of Grace. It’s a theological system known for holding five points of doctrine called “TULIP.” Each letter of the word “Tulip” corresponds to a doctrine. Some Calvinists don’t hold to all five points or call themselves Calvinists. Calvinism is an entire theology that encompasses more than five points.
This is written with the belief that God’s Word is the only acceptable standard for church doctrine. Therefore, when Calvinism is investigated it should be performed under the search light of Scripture.
There are two primary methods of biblical interpretation. The exegetical method involves drawing out (in neutral) the author’s historical (intended) meaning. This includes a consideration of context, rules of genre, and grammar, etc. For more information on the exegetical method of interpretation, please, see Principles of Interpretation.
The second method of interpretation is called eisegesis. It involves assigning a different meaning than the author intended and is inconsistent with the context. Those who interpret Scripture within the compounds of a learned theology may practice this method. Because eisegesis uses Scripture, a wrong interpretation may appear genuine and thereby be deceiving.
If Calvinism is true, it will flow naturally out of a correct understanding of scripture. If Calvinism is untrue, it must be read into the pages of Scripture. If Calvinism is genuine, the pages of Scripture will sing its tune. If Calvinism is false, it’s a learned theology that can dominate the interpretation process.
A Short History of Calvinism
In its infancy, Calvinism began by Augustine of Hippo (345-430). He was influential scholar of the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine laid foundational doctrine that was refined by theologians that followed. Scholars called “Reformers,” further refined the teachings of Augustine. The most influential Calvinist personality after Augustine was probably John Calvin (1509-1564). His writings were so influential that his name is associated with this branch of Christianity.
Today’s Calvinism is not the Christianity of the New Testament church. The last book of the Bible (Revelation) was written around 90 A.D. The influential writings of Augustine were written around the year 400 (+-). Within this gap of approximately 300 years, Christian writings exist (ante-Nicene Fathers). These Fathers were not Calvinists; Calvinism was non-existent. The Calvinism of today is a refinement of what Augustine wrote hundreds of years after the book of Revelation was written.
Calvinism has grown tremendously in the last 50 years. Most recently, the Internet has benefited prolific authors and gifted theologians who have spread Calvinism throughout the world. Some of todays Calvinist theologians are John Piper, John MacArthur, Paul Washer, Michael Horton, R.C. Sproul, among many others.
Total depravity is the first of five important doctrines of Calvinism. This doctrine is foundational; without it, the other four pillars supporting Calvinism are unsupported and collapse. Because of this, total depravity will be analyzed in greater detail.
Total depravity teaches that because of Adam’s sin, all human beings are born sinners (doctrine of original sin). This sinfulness is acquired at conception. So at birth, every baby is guilty of sin without having sinned.
A second teaching of total depravity is that the unsaved are born and live incapable of seeking after God and believing the Gospel. The unsaved can believe and follow any religious teaching by faith, but they cannot believe in Jesus and follow Him by faith. The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (1991) says, “Total depravity refers to the extent and comprehensiveness of the effects of sin on all humans such that all are unable to do anything [including belief] to obtain salvation” (Logos Bible Software, electronic edition).
The Error of Total Depravity
The first error of total depravity is the doctrine known as original sin. There is no evidence that this doctrine existed in the early New Testament church. Augustine of Hippo, while not the architect, nevertheless succeeded in popularizing it. Augustine believed that upon baptism, infants are forgiven of their original sin. This doctrine today teaches that at conception, Adam’s sin is charged to every person.
The Apostle Paul didn’t believe this doctrine: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men [why] because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
According to this verse, “death spread to all men because all sinned.” Paul didn’t blame babies for inherited sin. He blamed the act of sinning.
Paul further taught that our sin committed after birth separates us from a Holy God: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The issue is that we have sinned, not that we were born sinners.
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities [not sin acquired at birth!] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). This passages it too clear to articulate any further.
Babies don’t inherit sin at conception. As further refutation—God allows every baby/child who dies before the age of accountability to enter His glorious presence. God is loving and just!
Calvinists (to include many non-Calvinists) use the following verse to teach that infants acquire the guilt of Adam at conception: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:5).
The Bible contains different styles of written language (genre). Some categories are narrative, prophecy, poetry, epistle, romance, law, etc. The book of Psalms is rich in poetry. Poetry is interlaid with figurative language not intended for the recipients to take literally. The Scholarly work, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (various authors, 2005, Baker Book House Company), describes the rich poetry of Psalms: “Fourth, Hebrew poetry—like all poetry—uses figures of speech as its stock in trade. Of course, prose often uses figures of speech, but poetry employs them more frequently than prose. Figures of speech include metaphor, imagery, symbol, apostrophe, irony, prosopopoeia, and even the anthropomorphisms so common in the Psalms” (page 595).
Calvinists agree that the book of Psalms contain figures of speech not to be taken literally, but make an exception for Psalm 51:5. To illustrate this error, some verses will be taken literally in the same chapter. Verse 2, states, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.” Calvinists would have to agree that David was not asking God to literally wash him from sin. In verse 7, David writes, “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Calvinists would also agree that David didn’t request that God literally rid his sin with hyssop (plant used in Jewish purification). In verse 8, David asks God, “Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” Of course God didn’t break His bones. You see, Calvinists agree that figurative language in Psalm 51 is not to be taken literally, but make an exception for verse five because they need biblical accreditation for their doctrine.
Another problem with the Calvinist interpretation of this passage is that the context of Psalm 51 is the guilt and confession of David’s sin (adultery and murder). The chapter context is clearly not about a sinful birth, but David’s sin committed after birth. David confessed: “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (v. 3).
So what does Psalm 51:5 mean? It’s unlikely that David identifies an affair by his mother (“in sin did my mother conceive me”). David could be describing a condition that many Christians believe that babies are born with called the sin nature. All babies are born into a world dominated by Satan, who is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Babies are not born with the Holy Spirit. They are born with a desire to gratify self (me first).
Calvinists have also used the following verse: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). David used poetic language to describe the wicked. Calvinists take the first half of the verse literally, “the wicked are estranged from the womb,” but have to throw out the second half, “they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Babies are born unable to speak. This poetic verse includes hyperbole (exaggerations made to make a point).
The second doctrinal error of total depravity is the teaching that the unregenerate (unsaved) are incapable of responding to the grace of God to be saved. Jesus believed the lost could be saved. He commanded them to repent (Matthew 6:33), seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14), be born again (John 3:5-7), take His yoke (Matthew 11:28-30), deny themselves (Luke 9:23-25), and love the Lord (Matthew 22:39-40). It is preposterous (in my opinion) that Jesus commanded actions from people that they were born unable to perform.
The primary passage used by Calvinists to teach that the unsaved cannot believe the Gospel begins here: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10). Paul’s main point is that Gentiles are “all under sin.”
This passage (Romans 3:9-18) includes a figure of speech called hyperbole taken from Psalms 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 53:1-3; 140:3; Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8; and Jeremiah 5:16. Hyperbole is an exaggeration to make a point. If someone claims they like pizza so much that they can smell it within a five-mile radius, this would be hyperbole. It would be unreasonable to take their statement literally when it’s clearly an exaggeration to make a point.
In the passage quoted, Paul is not stating that literally, “none is righteous, no, not one” (3:10b). This would mean that Paul and his audience (including us) were unrighteousness. In the context, Paul’s point is how Jews are “not better off” than Gentiles; both groups are “under sin” (vs. 9b). To understand this entire passage (Romans 3:9-12), one must understand this foundational truth.
Paul continues using hyperbole to further cement his case: “no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). Within context, Paul exaggerates to illustrate that very few Jews and Gentiles understand the Gospel and seek after God (vs. 9-10). Paul describes two conditions that these people turned into over time: “all have turned aside,” and “have become worthless.” These people were not born this way but over time had drifted into “worthlessness” and “aside.” Paul is not teaching here that all the unsaved are born incapable of understanding or believing the Gospel (Calvinist view).
In an effort to biblically authenticate Calvinism, their scholars frequently deploy “double talk.” This practice involves stating two contradictory theses as truth while only believing one.
Because the unsaved are born without a true free will (Calvinist view), they are incapable of believing the Gospel. This makes God unjust and hateful for creating them this way. Some Calvinist theologians have addressed this problem by claiming that the unsaved do have a free will to accept or reject Christ, while in reality denying it. This is deceptive double talk.
In the book, The Gospel’s Power and Message, Paul Washer writes, “Finally, total depravity does not mean that men do not posses the necessary faculties to obey God. Man is not a victim who desires to obey but is unable to because of factors beyond his control. God has endowed man with an intellect, a will, and a freedom to choose. Man is therefore responsible before God as a moral agent. Total depravity does not mean that man cannot submit himself to God because he will not, and he will not because of his own hostility towards God.” (Kindle edition; location 117).
Washer states that man has the ability to believe in Christ to be saved. This lets God off the hook by not being hateful since sinners have the ability to freely accept or reject Him. Washer unmistakably wrote, “God has endowed man with an intellect, a will, and a freedom to choose.” But Washer will take this back multiple times in the same chapter and throughout the book demonstrating that he doesn’t believe what he wrote.
In the same chapter, Washer writes the following subtitles: “Fallen man cannot know God” (location 120), “Fallen man cannot love God” (location 120), “Fallen man cannot seek God” (location 43), “Fallen man cannot obey or please God” (location 122).
While describing “moral inability,” Washer writes, “this doctrine teaches us that fallen man is unable to love, obey, or please God” (location 118). Notice that man who was fully capable earlier is now “unable” to believe the Gospel.
Calvinists teach that man has a free will on one hand, but deny it on the other. Because Calvinists don’t believe that the unsaved are capable of trusting in Christ unless God intervenes with irresistible grace, they don’t believe the unsaved have the freedom to choose Christ. The issue of disagreement centers on the definition of free will. For further clarification, some quotes are provided.
In the book, What is Reformed Theology (216), Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul describes the Calvinist view of free will. For proof, He refers his readers to the “Westminster Confession of Faith” (not the Bible!). If you read his quote carefully, you should detect the Calvinist “double talk:” “To be dead in sin is to be in a state of moral and spiritual bondage. By nature we are slaves to sin. This does not mean that the fall has destroyed or eradicated the human will. Fallen man still has all the faculties to make choices. We still have a mind and a will. The problem is not that we cannot make choices. Natural men make choices all the time. The problem is that, in our fallen condition, we make sinful choices. We make these choices freely. We sin precisely because we want to sin, and we are capable of choosing exactly what we want to choose. Where then is the focus of our inability? The confession says that natural man is unable ‘to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.’ If we still have a will, why are we unable to convert ourselves or even prepare ourselves for conversion? The simple answer is this: because we do not want to. We have no desire for the righteousness of God, and free choice, by definition, involves choosing what we desire” (location 1780).
Sproul’s definition of free will is half true. He correctly admits that “fallen man still has all the faculties to make choices.” But he goes on to deny it. While free will “involves choosing what we desire,” Sproul and Calvinists are incorrect that the unsaved are incapable of following Christ. The fall has not rendered the unsaved incapable of trusting in Christ.
Here is more “double talk: “How can a person have a free will and not have liberty? This must be a distinction without a difference. The distinction, however, is both real and important. Man still has the ability to make choices, and in this sense he is free. But he lacks the capacity to exercise what Scripture calls ‘royal freedom,’ a liberty for spiritual obedience” (location 1795). The phrase “royal freedom” is not found in the Bible. Sproul does not provide a footnote. There is no such teaching in the Bible.
There are many passages in Scripture that state the exact opposite. People can and do seek God; God desires the salvation of everyone. Here are just a few:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). A Calvinist would read this verse (and some to follow) under their theological lens and modify it to only include the elect. God’s Word should define what we believe; not one’s theology the Bible.
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Luke 34:16).
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The case is strong. The grace of God reaches down to sinners. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). No one would be saved if Jesus didn’t reach down and draw sinners to Himself. Thank you Jesus! Glory to God the Father!
The second pillar teaches that in eternity past, God in His sovereignty unconditionally chose most people to eternal damnation (Calvinist doctrine of reprobation) and a few to eternal glory. This eternal decree that supposedly God made in eternity past includes who would be saved. God selected certain people unconditionally (independent of people’s future choices). So God didn’t look ahead in time to determine who would believe. Because of this, Calvinism teaches that human beings don’t have a libertarian (true) free will. Those who get saved, get saved because God decreed it in eternity past. Those who don’t get saved, remain unsaved because God decreed their damnation.
The Error of Unconditional Election
Unconditional election is contrary to God’s Word. Please consider the inspired order of salvation: “For those whom he foreknew [to know in advance] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). The inspired order of this verse is that foreknowledge (foreknew”) proceeds (comes before) predestination (“predestined”). God knew all things in advance not because He pre-planned them (premeditated Calvinist view), but because He truly is omniscient (all knowing). A gracious, loving Father predestined those who would (future) accept His gracious offer. The God of the Bible gives people true choices to accept or reject Him. God is love; He’s not arbitrary & hateful.
Many Calvinists teach that God pre-ordained every future action in eternity past.
In the book, Does God Control Everything? (2012), author R.C. Sproul writes, “…you’re calling us atheists?’ I said: ‘that’s exactly what I am calling you. If you don’t believe that God ordains everything that comes to pass, you don’t believe in God” (page 35). On the next page, Sproul continues, “… if God is not sovereign, God is not God. If there is even one maverick molecule in the universe-one molecule running loose outside the scope of God’s sovereign ordination-we cannot have the slightest confidence that any promise that God has made about the future will come to pass” (page 36).
According to Calvinism, had God not determined in advance who would be saved and what actions they will take, man would be sovereign over God by deciding to accept or reject Him (libertarian free will). In the book, The Sovereignty of God (1929), A. W. Pink writes, “To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his maker, is to strip God of the attribute of omnipotence [all powerful]” (location 252; kindle edition).
Calvinists in essence believe in a two-foot God (an exaggeration to make a point). Had He not foreordained every detail in advance in eternity past, He would not be sovereign. But this is a low view of God. An all powerful, omniscient God didn’t decree who would be saved, because He already knew. God is awesome; He remains sovereign while concurrently giving us free, libertarian choices. Man’s free will decisions don’t threaten God’s awesome sovereignty.
There is no biblical basis for the teaching that God in eternity past condemned most people to hell independent of their future choices. This teaching makes God unjust.
John 3:16 could be changed to accurately reflect the Calvinist view of God: For God so loved the world of the elect that he gave his only Son, that the elect will have no choice but believe in him and will not perish but have eternal life.
The Westminster Confession has God taking pleasure in sending people to hell: “…and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, sec. 7).
How sad it is that so many sincere Christians have embraced a Calvinist view of God who takes pleasure in sending people to hell after not giving them a true, libertarian free will. The God of the Bible takes no pleasure in sending people to hell: “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).
Calvinism teaches that God sent His Son to the world to only die for the elect. So billions of unsaved people living today Jesus didn’t die for. Because a multitude of passages teach that Jesus died for everyone, some Calvinists have created a diversionary tactic that is nothing short of double talk. This deception will be exposed.
The Error of Limited Atonement
In the book, Five Points, prolific author John Piper writes, “We do not deny that Christ died to save all in some sense. Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:10 that in Christ God is ‘the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.’ What we deny is that the death of Christ is for all men in the same sense” (Kindle version; location 450). Can you spot the double talk? He admits that Christ died for all on one breath, but takes it back on the other.
Another Calvinist scholar uses the same tactic. In the book, What is Reformed Theology (2012), R.C. Sproul writes, “Reformed theologians do not question that the value of Christ’s atonement is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole fallen race. The value of his sacrifice is unlimited. His merit is sufficient to cover the demerits of all who sin. We also agree that the atonement is efficient only for some, an idea that is integral to the doctrine of limited atonement” (Kindle edition; location 2280). Sproul says on one side of his mouth that Christ’s payment is “unlimited.” But he backflips with “the atonement is efficient only for some…” This contradictory speech would not work in a criminal court of law. The prosecution would tear a defendant to shreds with this double talk.
Here are some verses that clearly indicate that Jesus died and/or came to save everyone equally:
“For God so loved the world [everyone], that he gave his only Son, that whoever [open ended] believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9)
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Many more verses could be provided that refute the doctrine of limited atonement.
This doctrine teaches that God irresistible draws the elect to himself to be saved. Because God made the unsaved without a free will capacity to believe the Gospel, He intervenes to save the elect. Because the elect are born dead in sin, without the capacity to believe, God (at some point in their life) regenerates them to life. At the new birth, they are irresistible drawn to God with a love they are incapable of resisting. The salvation package from start to finish is a work and gift of God.
The Error of Irresistible Grace
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
The interpretation of this verse by Calvinists is that before salvation, “we were dead in our trespasses,” unable to respond or believe, thereby, requiring irresistible grace. In the book, The Truth About Man (Paul Washer, 2012, Kindle edition, location 621), writes for this verse, “Just as man is declared dead the moment he ceases to respond to all forms of stimuli, so also fallen men is declared spiritually dead because of his absolute inability to respond to God.“
While we were formerly “dead” (spiritually), the verse doesn’t say that we had “inability to respond to God” to be saved (location 621). The word “dead” in this verse doesn’t contextually describe biological death that Washer imports, but spiritual death; a former spiritual state, void of life. While being in spiritual darkness, their intellect was alive. The unsaved are able to reason and make decisions. Our decision to be saved was possible because God made us as free agents. God has a free will and made man in His image with this capacity.
In the previous chapter, Paul wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). These believers were saved not because God regenerated their hearts first making them able to believe, but because they “believed in Him.” There are over 100 verses in the Bible that pinpoint belief (“believe”) with the “point in time” when one passes from death to life. Without belief in Christ (and repentance) there is no regeneration.
Calvinists hold that faith to believe is a gift from God to the elect. This teaching is supported primarily from one verse that doesn’t say this gift is only available to the elect: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
While salvation is a gift from God, the ability to believe in Christ is available to everyone: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Most unsaved don’t come to God because they enjoy living in darkness. In a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explained why most reject the Gospel: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). The reason given isn’t total depravity, or the necessity of irresistible grace, but because “their works were evil.“
The passage continues: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Most of the unsaved reject Christ because they hate the light that illuminates their darkness. Once again, the lost remain unsaved not because they are spiritually incapacitated, but because they are too in love with their sin to repent before a Holy God.
The passage continues: “But whoever [open ended] does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). Salvation is available to anyone (“whoever“). A few do believe unto salvation.
In the book, Five Points, John Piper defines irresistible grace: “‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ In other words, we know intuitively that God’s grace was decisive in our conversion. That is what we mean by irresistible grace” (location 252). Piper believes that because Christians credit the grace of God with their salvation, this is evidence that God draws the elect irresistibly to Himself.
But Jesus draws all to Himself: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The issue isn’t that God provides a higher concentration of grace to the elect, but that the elect respond. The penalty of the world’s sin has been paid. Belief activates God’s gift of grace. Calvinism makes God causative of the eternal damnation of the non-elect.
Piper continues in the same chapter, “The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can conquer all resistance when He wills” (location 261). Piper affirms a Calvinist God who decides who is saved by conquering their will. The Bible identifies a sovereign God who gives people free will choices to accept or reject Him.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37)!
Jesus would have “gathered your children.” The reason given is not Calvinist dogma (“fallen men is declared spiritually dead because of his absolute inability to respond to God,” location 621). It states, “and you were not willing!” These people had a will. Because the unsaved have libertarian free will, God is just to send them to hell.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
This is the fifth and final doctrine that defines Calvinism. This teaches that all genuinely saved are guaranteed to persevere until the end. This preservation happens because God does the work of saving and keeping them. So no true child of God will ever commit apostasy and depart the faith. If someone does, without exception, they were never saved.
The Error Perseverance of the Saints
Calvinism correctly teaches the necessity of perseverance while incorrectly teaching that every true child of God will persevere. Calvinism is correct that some who depart the faith were never saved, but incorrect that all who depart the faith were never saved. Calvinism is correct that God begins to work in some people’s lives, but incorrect that He will finish every work He begins.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who were contemplating a return to Judaism. It contains multiple warnings that falling away is possible. Why the warnings one may ask, if apostasy is impossible?
Not once in Hebrews is the Calvinist teaching that God finishes every work. God began many unfinished works. God split the water of the Dead Sea so that the believing Israelites who offered lamb sacrifices could cross on dry land. God miraculously provided drinking water in the desert, protection from their enemies, and food to eat.
A sovereign God didn’t violate free will choices of the children of Israel after performing many works in their lives. The author of Hebrews warned: “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ’they shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God [a possibility]. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if [conditional] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:8-14; see also 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossians 1:23).
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This passage is used by Calvinists to teach that every genuine believer “is sealed” and guaranteed a future salvation. But a closer look doesn’t establish this teaching.
In Ephesians 1:1b, Paul writes, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1b). The recipients of Paul’s letter are not those who have departed the church and turned their back on God. So in verses 13-14, Paul is writing (contextually) to faithful believers to assure them that they have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (1:13b). This is a beautiful promise. As believers in ongoing faith we can rest assured that we are secure. Active faith believers have assurance that should they die today, God will keep His promise!
A few chapters later, Paul writes a similar verse, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The word “for” (“for the day of redemption”) indicates why they were sealed. Please consider that the verse doesn’t say until “the day of redemption.”
In the book, Five Points, John Piper provides this passage for the necessity to persevere: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Then he writes, “This ‘if you hold fast’ shows that there is a false start in the Christian life” (location 766).
Piper interprets within the parameters of Calvinism. Since Calvinism doesn’t permit a genuine believer to have “believed in vain” (to be subsequently lost) Piper replaced a literal, contextual interpretation which one that is compatible with Calvinism. Piper’s “false start” interpretation is built on eisegesis. Paul says that salvation is conditional (“if you [believers] hold fast”).
Another passage used by Calvinists to teach that every true believer is guaranteed to persevere, is the following: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). The argument made is that when people leave our churches, this demonstrates that they were never saved. But this is not a correct interpretation.
If Calvinists are correct, every believer must remain in the same church their entire life to be saved. But this teaching is not exegetically established. No core doctrine should be based on one verse.
In the parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), Jesus illustrates well that some unsaved will mix with the saved in churches until the end of the age. Jesus said, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
Calvinists use 1 John 2:19 only (to my knowledge) for proof of the doctrine of perseverance, but don’t apply it to their own churches. They know that the unsaved are not guaranteed to leave their churches.
The account in 1 John 2:19 is written to a church that knew additional details related to this church that we don’t know. In this particular instance the unsaved left so “that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19b). While God may drive some unbelievers out of our churches that we may know “that they all are not of us” some may remain.
Calvinism is a new branch within Christianity that began after some concepts of Augustine (354-430) were refined and incorporated over time into a pre-packaged theological arrangement. The five pillars of Calvinism are not found in the New Testament and there is no record of their existence before Augustine.
Calvinism uses eisegesis to weave their five primary doctrines into the Scripture.
The first pillar is that God made every human being a sinner before birth. God made people without the mental capacity to believe in His Son and be saved.
The second pillar is unconditional election. God in eternity past unconditionally determined that most human beings would go to hell and a few would go to heaven. There is nothing that one can do to change God’s decree.
The third pillar is limited atonement. Calvinists believe that God sent His Son to earth to only die in full for the elect.
The fourth doctrine is Irresistible grace. God irresistibly draws the elect to Himself to be saved.
The fifth doctrine is that God guarantees every genuine believer will persevere.
Calvinism can be summarized as God in eternity past decided that most people will go to hell and a few will go to heaven and God’s decrees are unchangeable. Calvinism is a theological system that frames God with everything that happens (including evil) because if not, God would not be sovereign.
In closing, please know (again) that many Calvinists are godly Christians. While this writing was critical at times, it’s not intended to question their sincerity or faith.
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