Centuries of discussion over what John Calvin taught or did not teach is a wonder to behold. Any attempt to defend or disprove John Calvin is a waste of time. Besides, he was a man who originated nothing; he merely took what other believers had held for centuries before him, added some ideas of his own and put it in his “Institutes”. Due to the hotbed reformation time in which he lived and the fact that printing and publishing was available to him, he put in print what others already agreed or disagreed upon, and got the credit or the blame.
The issues Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Arminius (plus scores of others) dealt with are the same everybody had to deal with after God called “the apostle to the Gentiles”, Paul. His ministry brought the relationship of Law and Grace and the difference between Israel and the Body of Christ to the test.
A consideration that is totally absent from Calvinism is that of the differences between the dispensations of Law and Grace. To my knowledge there has been no consideration by Calvin or anyone else of what effect “rightly dividing the word of truth” has upon the doctrines of election and predestination.
My study that follows takes the mainstream approach of Calvinism under examination in the light of right division and the difference Paul’s revelation of the Grace of God makes on the argument.
Those who read passages like “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) argue that a man is not eternally secure and must do certain work to be saved or remain saved.
On the other hand, passages like Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.” are quoted by those who believe work by man does not save or keep you saved.
It is from there the battle of words begin. One group calls the other “Arminians” and that group calls the other “Calvinists”. Each one begins to set forth doctrines to prove their position.
We should know that just because a person believes “once saved, always saved” he does not necessarily accept all the points of Calvinism ; the same is true of those who believe “you can lose it.” The big camps are Arminians and Calvinists but there are numerous other smaller groups within both and many disagree with the others.
Extreme Calvinism (T-U-L-I-P) has five petals or legs. It is the fifth leg that reveals the true nature of the whole system. Four finely tuned principles of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace are meticulously constructed. The last petal was added to cover the first four doctrines and in this one, Perseverance of the Saints, is the flaw of Five Point Calvinism.
This major problem with the whole system of Calvinism remains to be answered. What about those who turn away, apostatize and deny or fail to live up to their profession? After all, when a man was so depraved (Total Depravity) that God arbitrarily selected him out of millions of others just like him (Unconditional Election), died only for him and not for others (Limited Atonement)—then passed by millions or billions of others just like him, and MADE him turn from his sins and accept Christ (Irresistible Grace)—for this “elect” man to throw it all away—that is a BIG problem in the system!
What’s to be done with the rouge hombre? Simple. Make another doctrine that says, “He was never ‘elect’ to begin with!” This dignified answer is found in the fifth petal “P” and stands for “Perseverance of the Saints,” It simply means that if he doesn’t faithfully endure to the end, he was a faker all along.
To those who believe “What saith the scripture?” and use even a small amount of reasoning, this is a problem. If good behavior is required to claim all the foregoing election, atonement, grace, etc., is this not a mere “paper” election? The system actually becomes a salvation by works.
After all, we do read, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6). In this present age,Grace plus works for salvation can not exist. Each excludes the other.
Another small but sticky problem for Calvinism is not the “Depravity” “Election” “Atonement” “Grace” nouns; the problem is in the descriptive adjectives. The first four are so obviously decisive, definitive, absolute, final, qualitative and even quantitative: “Total” “Unconditional” “Limited” “Irresistible” are so remarkable that the absence of a descriptive for the last petal stands out like a sore thumb. It is just “Perseverance”. Is it “total perseverance” “partial perseverance” ? How much? How long? What kind? What happened? Does missing church services one time disqualify the title,”elect”? Two times? How about ‘cussing’? Beating the wife? Drinking coffee? It just seems like doctrine that is so definite on four points could at least make an effort to describe the fifth one. The absence of definitive Perseverance makes the whole of none effect.
Those who would fall into the class of Arminians have a similar problem. If you can lose salvation, what effects the loss? Just how much sin or how long in it makes a saved person a lost person? A definite answer is not given. And, the application of the doctrine is sometimes so ridiculous it would make the comic section of the Sunday newspaper. For example, the Church of Christ (USA) says water baptism is essential for salvation. They also claim persistent sin can make you lose salvation. (never knowing how much sin) but they do not require water baptism to be saved again! If water is necessary for salvation and that salvation is lost, how can it be that water is not required to regain it? The Seventh Day Adventists are just as illogical with their “Mark of the Beast” Sabbath requirement. A person who observes Sunday worship and denies a Saturday Sabbath has received the “Mark of the Beast” and cannot be saved. They get the idea of the Mark of the Beast from the Book of the Revelation and leaving the Revelation definition of that mark, they construct their own definition of it! This is like a man who buys a Ford car and then uses a Westinghouse clothes dryer manual to do an oil change and brake job. Otherwise reasonable, intellectual, moral, tax paying people do some of the most ridiculous and insane things in church.
Now we’ve had some entertainment with the inconsistency and if it was not such a serious matter we might continue, but it is serious. John Calvin was serious enough to exact blood over it. Modern extremists are not. The times have changed and men can hold some of the strangest ideas with no real convictions.
Doctrines are taught and received with little logic and no Bible basis. I suppose we should not wonder that Bible doctrine is so. The times are such that a great majority of preachers stand in the pulpit, hold up a Bible and proclaim, “I believe the Bible is the word of God.” Within a few sentences you hear the same man say “Unfortunately, this verse is not translated correctly…” (Thereby, in one small leap, elevating himself over other men, centuries of proof, and even over God) With this attitude towards the Bible, it is no surprise that exact adherence to the context of the related terms, salvation, election, foreknowledge, predestination is rare.