John Calvin was one of the most prominent reformers and with his brilliant, logical writings he sought to prove that righteousness and salvation is by faith alone, not dependent on the initiative, efforts or good works of the sinner or of the priest. In his efforts to establish righteousness by faith Calvin developed a doctrinal system that unfortunately misrepresented the character of God, thus contributing to the “dead” condition of the Sardis Church.

In his famous Institutes Calvin developed five cardinal doctrines. An underlying assumption was the sovereignty of God, that He, being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, accomplishes all that He wills. While this is true from one point of view, a wrong understanding[1] leads to the erroneous conclusions that Calvin developed in his five cardinal doctrines.[2] Calvin insisted that no one can respond to God unless God calls him,[3] but since God is omnipotent His call will always be effective and the person will of necessity come to Christ.[4] Since not all come to Christ, this means that not all are called to salvation[5] and that Christ’s sacrifice was not intended for all people.[6] Since God wants those who have been called to be saved, they will of necessity continue in faith and cannot later lose their salvation. [7]

Although it is true that salvation is totally a gift of God’s grace, it is not a grace that takes away human freedom. God does not “flip a switch” or “pull strings” in people’s minds to get them to do what He wants.[8] The miracle of grace is that it enables totally depraved humans to make a choice for or against God, even as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. But the Calvinist doctrine denies that choice and makes man a puppet in the hands of an arbitrary God, excusing His apparently unjust behavior by insisting that we cannot understand Him.[9]

Worst of all, the Calvinists did not repudiate the Catholic doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the eternal torment of the wicked. According to Calvinist belief, God continues to bring creatures into existence who are unable to make any choices that would enable them to avoid eternal damnation, and He does nothing Himself to save those who are not a part of “the elect” from this terrible fate![10]

Despite its misrepresentation of the love and justice of God, this doctrinal system was highly effective against its opponents because of its logic, organization and clever use of proof texts, and so it became widely accepted in the Protestant Churches. Although Calvin’s vast influence provided a tremendous boost for the Protestant cause, his doctrine of predestination produced a fatal misconception of God’s character.

In England the “Protestant Reformation” was established on the false foundation of lust and political ambition. Henry VIII, desiring a new wife who could bear him a son to sit on his throne after him, was not able to win the approval of the Catholic establishment for a divorce. Exploiting the popular opposition to foreign influence, he set about through political maneuverings to make himself the head of the Church of England. “In November, 1534, Parliament passed the famous Supremacy Act, by which Henry and his successors were declared ‘the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England’…it practically put the King in the place of the Pope.”[11]

The leaders of the country used religion as a political tool. When they needed help against powerful Catholic forces such as France and Spain the “Ten Articles” were drafted which reflected Protestant sentiment in order to seek political support from German Protestants. Later when the Catholic powers had to be appeased, the “Six Articles” were formulated which affirmed Catholic doctrine. Whatever the prevailing sentiment, all who were in opposition were persecuted and there were many martyrs.

Continue to next section: PAPAL RESPONSE

[1] There are some things God cannot do—he cannot lie, for example (Titus 1:2) or do anything else contrary to His character. The question is, can God save humans (who have the freedom of choice) if they do not want to be saved? Although He wants to, He cannot without changing them into another kind of creature. But through His grace He can He give those who are spiritually dead the true freedom to choose life.

[2] For an examination of the tenets of Calvinism see Robert Shank, Elect in the Son (Bloomington, MI, Bethany House 1989)

[3] (1) Because of the fall, humans are totally depraved, and thus completely unable to respond affirmatively to God except by a divine dispensation of Grace.

While this is true, God also at the time of the fall put within mankind a “way of escape”—“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed” (Genesis 3:15). God has put within all people something which responds to Him—“That (Christ) was the true Light which gives light to every man” (John 1:9).

[4] (2) Since God is sovereign and accomplishes all that He wills, His grace, which is designed to bring man to repentance will of necessity bring all to repentance to whom it is extended—in other words, God’s grace, as reflected in His call to salvation, is irresistible.

Many scriptures show that humans can resist God. For example,“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God” (Luke 7: 30). God bids everyone, “come unto me,” but many refuse. See also Matthew 23:37, Romans 1:19, 13:2. God allows resistance because of the value He places on the freedom of the human will. The fall of man shows that man can resist God. He said “of the tree of the knowledge of god and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17)—a clear expression of His will, and in defiance Adam and Eve ate.

[5] (3) Since God’s call is irresistible and yet not all are saved, God obviously does not call everyone to salvation, but only those elected or predestined through God’s eternal purposes. Those not called, being totally depraved, are unable to positively respond to God and are thus consigned to eternal reprobation.

This doctrine of unconditional election requires radical redefinition of such plain texts as 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” See also 1 Timothy 2:4-6, Titus 2:11, John 3:14-17, 6:33, 51, 12:32, 1 John 2:2, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Romans 5:18. It also denies the fact that the offer of saving grace is just as extensive as the damaging effects of sin—“Therefore as through one man’s (Adam’s) offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18, see also vs. 12-21).

[6] (4) Since God’s sovereign acts accomplish their purpose, and not all men are saved, the atonement provided by Christ on the cross must be limited, efficient only for the elect.

This doctrine does not harmonize with such plain scriptures as 1 John 2:2, “ He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world”. Christ bought salvation through His sacrifice even for those who will be destroyed: “There shall be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1) See also 2 Corinthians 5:19, I Timothy 2:4-6, John 3:16, John 12:32, John 6:33, 51, John 1:29, Titus 2:11, I John 2:2, 4:14, Romans 5:18, Hebrews 2:9.

[7] (5) Since it is God’s sovereign will that calls individuals to salvation, they will of necessity persevere and cannot later lose their salvation.

This doctrine takes away the free will of man and ignores the many scriptures that clearly teach that those who have been saved by Christ can later abandon Him and be lost. Hebrews 6:4, 10:26, 35-38, 1 Timothy 1:19, 6:20,21, Matthew 18:23-35, Ezekiel 18:24, Romans 11:17-24, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 15:2, Colossians 1:2. Hebrews 6:4, 10:26, 35-38, 1 Timothy 1:19, 6:20,21, Matthew 18:23-35, Ezekiel 18:24, Romans 11:17-24, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 15:2, Colossians 1:22,23, 1 Thessalonians 3:8, 2 Peter 1:10, 2:20,21, 3:17, 1 John 5:12,13, Revelation 2:4,5.

[8] Many have been disappointed because God allowed someone to commit undesirable behavior. Others have prayed for someone to believe in God, or to do or stop doing something, and have been disappointed when their prayers did not seem to be answered. But God really has given humans true free will, including the freedom to choose what He doesn’t want, because only free-will beings can choose to love God.

[9] In the many areas where Calvinist doctrine is illogical or an affront to justice, appeal is made to the incomprehensibility of God, with reference to texts such as Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” But this favorite Calvinist text is balanced by the many affirmations that God makes His ways known through His Spirit, such as the parallel passage in I Cor. 2:16, which also quotes from Isaiah 40:13 “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But then adds, “ But we have the mind of Christ.” See also I Corinthians 2:9,10, Philippians 2:5.

[10] See chapter 20 for an examination of the scriptures related to the eternal fate of the impenitent.

[11] Walker, History of the Christian Church, p. 404