The Impact Of Calvinism On The Church In This Century

By Herschel E. Patton

For years Calvinism had no impact upon New Testament Christianity at all, except as a heresy to be met by strenuous opposition.

Calvinism involves the underlying theme of salvation being wholly by grace and apart from any works or responsibility on the part of man. The theory contends that man is born totally depraved: God unconditionally elects or predestinates each one who is saved: The atonement was not for all but only the elect: Those elected will be irresistibly made new by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit; And those thus saved will persevere (can’t fall) by God’s grace unto the end. The obvious conclusion from all this is that man is passive, has no responsibility at all, but is made new and saved eternally solely by God’s grace and power. It is argued that if man has to do anything to be saved from sin and eternally his salvation would be by works and not grace.

Brethren connected with the Restoration Movement and “pioneer preachers” successfully met each tenet of the Calvinistic theory in preaching, writing, and debates. Even throughout the greater part of this twentieth century, gospel preachers have done the same, with the brotherhood resounding with a hearty “Amen.”

In some instances, the Calvinistic idea of foreordination – all that comes to pass has been unchangeably foreordained of God (what is to be will be), is seen to have had some impact on a few brethren’s thinking as they speak of tragedies in life as “God’s will,” “God sent for some purpose,” or “God’s chastening for some evil done” (cf. contentions of Job’s friends). This impact, however, has been small.

However, in the latter part of this century, charges of “Calvinism,” “Shades of Calvinism,” and “Neo-Calvinism” are being heard. Some advocating things provoking these charges have drawn away disciples after them and formed groups that are estranged from other brethren. Some congregations are filled with unrest and doubts, and even divisions have taken place.

What actions, sentiments, teaching has brought this rift about? Was what was being done and taught of sufficient magnitude to merit protests and opposition?

The New Unity Movement

Almost two decades ago Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, and others switched from an extremely conservative position and became greatly involved in what was called “The New Unity Movement.” They admit having been affected by the voice of “our religious neighbors in ecumenical circles.”

Ketcherside said “there may be children of God scattered among various sects today” (Mission Messenger, Feb., 1958, p. 12). “It does not at all disturb me to think that many pious individuals who love God and their fellow man within a denominational tradition will walk the golden streets” (Ibid., Aug. ’73, p. 111).

Leroy Garrett said, “Saints of God are scattered throughout the Christian world, belonging to all sorts of sects and denominations” (Restoration Review, Sept., 1964).

The reasoning by which these men justify their present beliefs and practices had a great impact on some brethren who were dismayed, disheartened, and discouraged by numerous divisions in the brotherhood (institutionalism, sponsoring church type of cooperation, social gospel, etc.), and wanted some means of justifying fellowship with all brethren regardless of these differences. Edward Fudge was one, among others, greatly influenced by the teaching of Ketcherside and Garrett, and was in the forefront of what came to be known as the “Grace-Fellowship” movement.

Ketcherside, Garrett, Fudge, and others made a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine,” saying that gospel only involves the things about Christ, His divinity, mission, death, burial, resurrection, and glorification. The conclusion drawn from this was that whoever believed in Christ – these facts of the gospel – accepting and acknowledging them, was saved by the gospel of His grace. It is denied that fully understanding and observing the teaching of Christ, involving details of worshiping, serving, and living “before God” are essential to eternal salvation. They tell us that as long as there is in one’s heart faith in Christ, resulting in a sincere effort to please God, even repenting of recognized, known sins, there is no reason to be concerned about detailed orders and instruction which we may not understand or observe. God’s grace takes care of all these failures.

This theory allows for limited obedience in becoming a Christian, in worshiping and serving God, and lessens one’s responsibility for faithfulness, making one’s security rest solely in the grace of God without concern for personal responsibility. Is it any wonder that the charge of “Calvinism” has been made concerning this teaching?

The teaching that there is a distinction between gospel and doctrine, one being important while the other is not, is completely false. Paul preached “gospel” to Rome (Rom. 1:15); they obeyed the “gospel” (10:16); obeyed the form of “doctrine” (6:17); hearing the “word of God” produced “faith” (10:17), and the apostles “ministered the gospel” (15:16). The thing that people obeyed, resulting in salvation, is called “doctrine” (Rom. 6:16-17), “faith” (Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5), “gospel” (Rom. 10: 16; 2 Thess. 1:8-9), “truth” (1 Pet. 1-22; Rom. 2:8; Gal. 3:1; 5:7), and “word” (1 Pet. 3:1).

Transgressing and abiding not in the doctrine (teaching) of Christ breaks fellowship with both the Father and the Son (2 Jn. 9). Instead of “the doctrine of Christ” being just the things about Christ (His divinity), it is actually what is elsewhere in this chapter referred to as “truth” (vv. 1-2, 4), “His commandments” (v. 6). Those who teach a distinction between gospel and doctrine teach a false doctrine which is designed to relieve one of the responsibility of complete obedience or faithfulness, which is the design of Calvinism.

Continual Cleansing

Concern about the situation of the dedicated Christian who sins unknowingly, inadvertently, or through momentary weakness has lead some to teach an automatic, continuous cleansing by the blood of Christ, based, not on repentance, but on one’s relationship and dedication to Christ. This is very much akin to the Calvinistic theory of “The Security of the Believer” (God does not charge the believer with sin), so has brought forth the charge of “Neo-Calvinism.”

One brother wrote, “While it is possible for a Christian to leave God’s grace, I do not believe it is probable. As a matter of fact, I believe that many, if not most, Christians never lose their relationship with God from the day they are baptized into Christ until they finally enter heaven itself. Christians who are in the light of God are continually saved (1 Jn. 1:7). When they sin their sins aren’t even charged to them but rather to their Lord Jesus who is paying their debt (Rom. 4:8, 23-25). That means that as long4s they are in the light they are forgiven immediately when a sin is committed. Because of their sensitivity and commitment they will pray about their sins but the sin is forgiven even before they ask. It is forgiven because that is one of the benefits of being in the light (1 Jn. 1:7)” (J.B., The Highland Announcer, Vol. 11, No. 17, May, ’82).

Other brethren have publicly declared that a sincere brother who is “in the light” is cleansed “even as he sins.”

Such declarations are based upon the Calvinistic belief of “imputed righteousness”; as the brother quoted above said, “Their sins aren’t even charged to them but rather to their Lord Jesus who is paying their debt.” While some deny believing the doctrine of “imputed righteousness,” they view 66 walking in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7) as a protective realm rather than a course of action, which coincides with the Calvinistic theory of “The Security of the Believer.” It provides for a cleansing apart from the responsibility of complying with conditions (repentance and prayer), and this is Calvinism.

Some contending for “continuous cleansing,” not from the standpoint of being always available, but actual “even as one sins,” contend that the cleansing is conditioned on repentance. But, the repentance they have in mind is actually a penitent attitude which causes one to regularly pray to “forgive us our sins.” Unless such general repentance avails for sins of ignorance, inadvertence, and weakness, we are told that there can be no confidence – feeling of security -for a believer. It is argued that if each sin must be confessed and repented of, then the Christian, knowing that he often sins inadvertently and ignorantly, can never have confidence, unless he dies immediately after repentance. The same thing is true with those who contend that general repentance (“Lord, forgive our sins”) is necessary for continual cleansing. Unless one believes this general repentance takes care of sins to be committed in the future, there could be no confidence unless this prayer is prayed just before one dies. But, how can one repent of a sin not yet committed.

This teaching involves a cleansing by the blood of Christ apart from repentance. The continual cleansing envisioned is actually based upon a penitent attitude (disposition) and because one is in a protective realm, rather than meeting the conditions – repentance, confession, and prayer. Thus, this view of continual cleansing does involve “shades of Calvinism” . . . a cleansing, security, apart from compliance with conditions.

Confidence In Clear Bible Teaching

If brethren would quit trying to justify (excuse) wrong doing and emphasizing God’s grace in “overlooking” wrong doing, or theorizing on what God will do with certain ones under certain circumstances (“whittling on God’s end of the stick,” as brother Robert Turner says), and just follow what is plainly revealed, Christians could press on toward the eternal goal with knowledge, safety, joy, and confidence.

The Bible clearly teaches that all do sin and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:8, 10). But, it is comforting for Christians to know that when they sin, they are not without hope (1 Jn. 2:1-2). Christ is our advocate with the Father, our, propitiation, and through, Him we find forgiveness “if we confess our sins” (1 Jn. 1:9).This is the “walking in the light” – action – of 1:7 that results in cleansing by the blood of Christ.

The Bible clearly teaches that sin (any sin) separates from God (Isa. 59:2). It just as clearly teaches that this separation does not have to be permanent (1 Jn. 1:9; Acts 8:22). Repentance, confession, and prayer results in forgiveness – a return to God.

These plain facts trouble some, causing them to wonder if “every sin” separates from God, and if so, conclude that throughout life one is frequently “in grace” and “out of grace. . . an apostate.” This is what the apostle John is explaining in 1 John. A man is not without hope, even though he sins. He has an advocate with God through Christ, as he complies with the conditions laid down.

The word “apostate” is often misunderstood in the way it is used. It simply means a departure from the commandments of God (translated “to forsake” in Acts 21:21 and “falling away” in 2 Thess. 2:3). Often the word is used with reference to one who has completely abandoned the faith and is doomed with little, if any, hope of recovery. This latter use of the term certainly does not describe one who sins but will repent, confess, and pray and again have fellowship with God. Galatians 6:1 describes one who sins, is separated from God, in need of restoration, but is not an apostate in the sense of one who has abandoned the faith with no hope of restoration. It is not, therefore, a matter of “in grace” or “an apostate” in every case.

The Bible, in revealing to us God’s mercy in dealing with His children’s frailties in matters of growth and service, and grace in providing an ever abiding means for forgiveness, gives the Christian all the assurance he needs to live “under the sun” with confidence, joy, and hope. The false doctrines of Calvinism can add nothing, other than false hope, to this.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 25-26
January 2, 1986