By Mark Mayberry
“Calvinism” refers to the doctrines and teachings of John Calvin, a 16th century Swiss theologian who became a leader in the Protestant Reformation. Many of these concepts existed before his time. For example the doctrine of total hereditary depravity originated with Augustine, a Roman Catholic philosopher who lived in the fifth century A.D. However, the five major points of Calvinism were crystallized by John Calvin. Over time, Calvinistic theology has gained widespread acceptance. It found formal expression in many denominational creeds of the early seventeenth century, It still permeates the thinking of many modern denominations. Certainly it is worthwhile to examine this doctrine to see if it is in harmony with God’s word.
A. Total Hereditary Depravity
Defined: This concept is associated with the doctrine of original sin. Many religious leaders teach that the guilt of Adam’s original sin is inherited by each individual at birth. Thus, they say, we are born with a completely corrupt nature. Unregenerate mankind is positively inclined to do evil and totally unable to do anything good.
Exposed: Many plain Bible passages refute this doctrine. Although we suffer the consequences of Adam’s fall, we do not inherit a corrupt nature (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 5:12). Sinners stand condemned because of their own transgressions (Rom. 7:9-11), not because of the wrongs of their forbearers (Ezek. 18:20). Far from being depraved from birth, children are models of purity and holiness (Matt. 18:1-3).
B. Unconditional Election
Defined: Calvin affirmed the doctrine of “predestination.” According to his theology, God foreordained that certain specific individuals would be saved, while others would be lost. This choice was not based on any foreseen obedience or virtue on man’s part; it rested solely on God’s sovereign will. Thus the number of the redeemed is fixed and cannot be increased or diminished.
Exposed: Calvin misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on predestination. Whereas the Scriptures speak of group election (Eph. 1:3-5), Calvin thought in terms of individual election. However, this would negate the impartiality of God (Rom. 2:11). It also would nullify the effect of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). If Calvin’s view of election is true, preaching the gospel is a waste of time!
C. Limited Atonement
Defined: The atoning work of Christ was limited in scope to only those specific individuals who were unconditionally elected. Since this number cannot be increased or diminished, if you were not foreordained to salvation, then the atonement made possible through the death of Christ is of no benefit to you.
Exposed: Many plain Bible passages refute this doctrine. To begin with, it ignores the fact that Christ died for all mankind (Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:1-2). Moreover, God has not set a limit on those who can be saved; he wants all to respond in obedience to the gospel (2 Pet. 3:9).
D. Irresistible Grace
Defined: Calvin taught that the “elect” person is saved “in prospect” in the mind of God by predestination and then saved “in fact” when God sends the Spirit into his heart. At God’s chosen time, the sinner is irresistibly drawn into his grace. This call cannot be rejected, but always results in conversion.
Exposed: There are many errors associated with this doctrine. First of all, it destroys the concept of man’s free moral agency and would make us nothing more than puppets (Deut. 11:26-28; Josh. 24:15). Moreover, it denies the true nature of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10). The Bible plainly teaches that we will be held accountable for how we respond to God’s word (Jn. 12:47-48).
E. Perseverance of Saints
Defined.- This doctrine is also known as the “Impossibility of Apostasy.” It affirms that a child of God cannot sin so as to fall from the grace of God and be lost in eternity. Calvin reasoned that all who are chosen by God are kept by his power. If God elected certain individuals to be saved, his will cannot be overthrown by man (not even by those elected). As a result, they will assuredly persevere to the end and be eternally saved. In fact, they must be saved.
Exposed.- Many plain Bible passages refute this doctrine. The New Testament warns against the danger of apostasy (Gal. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 2:20-21). The Hebrew writer clearly teaches that it is possible to fall from a saved condition (Heb. 6:4-6). Moreover, the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” eliminated the necessity of faithfulness and godliness (Matt. 7:21).
It is entirely appropriate that we examine the teachings of men in light of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). From beginning to end, Calvinism is a false system. Let us diligently strive to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where it is silent.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 21, pp. 650-651
November 5, 1992