What is known in the world as Christendom today is divided theologically into various schools of thought, e.g., Catholics and Protestants (historic Baptists are not Protestant Reformers), liberals and fundamentalists, Calvinists and Arminians. To be more exact, Calvinism and Arminianism are historic terms used to designate two opposing soteriological viewpoints, not religious sects which follow either John Calvin or Jacob Arminius. Although these differing doctrinal systems wear the names of these two famous men, neither of them originated the doctrines that compose their systems; instead, they as teachers of those doctrines, systematized them as we know them today.
Many modern Baptists ignorantly insist they are neither Calvinists nor Arminians, but are between what they consider to be two extreme positions theologically. Their claim is erroneous because there is no position between true Calvinism and Arminianism. One may go beyond historic Calvinism and teach more than the Scriptures set forth, or below Arminianism and deny what the Scriptures teach as do the Socinians.
THE HISTORY OF
CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM
To trace the origins of both Calvinism and Arminianism, one must go back to the beginning of human history. Abel believed God’s revelation and worshiped God accordingly. Cain adhered to his own natural ideas and developed a system of worship based on a humanistic view. Thus, two drastically opposing doctrinal positions began among men. Paul and the other apostles held to the doctrines of grace (a term synonymous with Calvinism), while first century Gnostics sought to amalgamate the Scriptures with pagan philosophies and religions, and Judaisers attempted to merge Christianity with Judaism. From the very beginning the conflict has been between God’s Word and men’s ideas. This controversy resurfaced in history in the Fourth Century when Augustine opposed Pelagius. In the Sixteenth Century, this issue contributed to the Reformation as Martin Luther espoused the doctrines of grace in opposition to the Church of Rome, as did all of the Reformers before Calvin. As a matter of fact, the Waldenses (ancient Baptists) believed the doctrines of grace or Calvinism long before Martin Luther, to say nothing of John Calvin.
However, the doctrines of grace were popularized in modern history by John Calvin, and thus, his name has been forever attached to this system of Biblical teaching. Since Jacob Arminius opposed Calvin’s teachings, his name has come to be associated with the system of doctrines which stands in opposition to Calvinism. Ironically, it was the followers of Arminius, the Remonstrants, who took issue with the doctrinal system of Calvin on five strategic points. Their views were systematically repudiated by the Synod of Dort on these five points. Hence, the five points of Calvinism were born as such.
THE DIFFERENCES IN
CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM
Calvinists believe man is totally depraved in all his faculties, dead in trespasses and sins, and completely unable to turn to God apart from regenerating grace. Arminians, on the other hand, contend that man’s depravity has not rendered him incapable of savingly exercising his will in trusting Christ for salvation. Arminians, therefore, emphasize the so-called free will of man while Calvinists stress the free grace of God.
Calvinists maintain that election is unconditional, arising from God’s free and sovereign grace. In opposition to this truth, the main body of Arminians affirm election to be conditional, issuing forth from God’s foreknowledge of faith in some whom He then designates as His elect. “Some Arminians contend God does not [even] know the free actions of men, not because He cannot know them, but because He chooses not to do so.” (ABSTRACT OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Boyce, p. 120, brackets mine, R.S.)
Calvinists avow the atonement was specifically made for God’s elect only. Hence, they hold to particular redemption or definite atonement. Because of this position, they are wrongly accused by Arminians of believing in a limited atonement. In reality it is the Arminians, not the Calvinists, who limit the atonement, for, in their system of belief, Christ died for all men equally, rendering all men savable, but securing the salvation of no one. Is it not this belief that actually limits the atonement?
Calvinists affirm that God’s grace is always effectual in saving the elect for whom Christ made an atonement. This truth is sometimes referred to as irresistible grace. Although saving grace is irresistible, it is so, not because the sinner is saved against his will, but because he is made willing to be saved through the change of his nature, and thus, his will in the new birth (Psalm 110:3). Many Calvinists prefer to call this truth the effectual call or efficacious grace. Arminians, on the other hand, believe that the sinner can effectively resist the grace of God until he ultimately thwarts God’s purpose to save him. Is it not evident, therefore, whom Arminians regard to be sovereign? They make man to be the sovereign and God to be bound by man’s choice.
Finally, Calvinists maintain the elect who have been born again will persevere in their faith and never fall away so as to be lost forever. This is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. While they do believe in the eternal security of the born-again believer, Calvinists do not teach that every person who professes faith in Christ is thereby saved and eternally secure. Arminians are divided on this issue. Some Arminians believe in the security of the professed believer, e.g., the General Baptists of England, most modern Baptists, and some others. Indeed, it is because of their belief in the security of the believer that they deny they are Arminians. Other Arminians contend that believers can fall away from Christ so as to be finally lost in hell, e.g., Free Will Baptists, Wesleyans, Campbellites, and Pentecostals.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF
CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM
The soteriological (salvational) concepts of Calvinists are always consistent with the sovereignty of God. Indeed, God’s sovereignty, along with the Biblical revelation of His nature and attributes, is the foundational truth on which all other aspects of soteriology are founded.
In contrast, Arminian soteriology rests upon the so called free will of man as did Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism from whose roots Arminianism has developed. Instead of pointing men to a sovereign God whose grace alone can save, Arminianism relies on the supposed sufficiency of the human will to choose to be saved when influenced by the gospel. Thus, the foundational doctrine of Arminianism is man’s alleged free will, not God’s free grace; its chief emphasis is human merit, not divine sovereignty; it worships at the altar of choice not mercy; it stresses what is fair, not just; and it elevates humanity, not deity.
THE FRUITS OF
CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM
Said Jesus, “Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). As with true and false prophets, so both true and false theological systems are known by their fruits.
The doctrines known as Calvinism when proclaimed by Martin Luther and others brought about the Reformation. The Great Awakening and other great revivals resulted from the preaching of the doctrines of grace. The men God greatly used in the Great Awakening, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards were Calvinists. The modern foreign missionary movements were initiated by Calvinists. William Carey and Adoniram Judson were Calvinists. The early printers and distributors of religious literature were Calvinists. To this day Calvinists are still zealous in promoting the truth through publishing houses and bookstores.
The doctrines known as Arminianism have produced so-called decisional salvation with its anxious seats, mourners benches, counseling rooms, and the modern invitation which is nothing less than a psychological tool to coerce people into professing faith in Christ. With its emphasis on fairness and God’s owing every person the same opportunity to be saved, it has given rise to contemporary humanism and the whole modern-day rights movement. Because human choice is the high doctrine of this system, to which every other teaching must be adjusted, many sinful and abominable practices based on the so-called right of choice have developed wherever Arminianism has prevailed. Consequently, the abominations of abortion and sodomy have their roots in Arminianism, and their fruit may be laid at the feet of every Arminian preacher who insists on the sovereignty of human choice.
The doctrines of grace, commonly called Calvinism, are the revealed truths of Scripture and have been held by the prophets, our Lord, the apostles, church fathers, martyrs, ancient churches, the Reformers, the Puritans, the English and early American Baptists, and men of God today. I gladly avow them as the theme to be the “faith once delivered to the saints.”
Arminianism, being humanistic in content, must have originated with the great deceiver himself and must be repudiated with holy zeal. Let us, in denouncing this false system, nevertheless be loving and sensitive to those brethren who hold it simply because they have never seen the truth of the grace of God or have been biased against it. They may yet be won to the truth. Those who are willful enemies of the truth, however, must be exposed as the false prophets they are for the sake of truth and lost souls. Let us not shrink back from this unpleasant work, but be true to Him who saved us and called us with a holy calling (II Timothy 1:9).