Some time ago I purchased two DVD’s from Caryl Productions entitled “Wide is the Gate” volumes 1 and 2. They expose the New Age and Emerging Church Movements using various Christians who have been involved with them and who are therefore considered to be authorities. Much of what they say seems to be OK, but I was particularly interested in the section on “Reformed Theology” (i.e. Calvinism) because that is my theological and Christian background. I was amazed at the way Calvinism was misrepresented by them, their key speaker being a woman named Brenda Nickel who spent fourteen years in Reformed churches.
Throughout this article, I quote from various Reformed documents and from Calvin and other Reformed writers. However, I do not quote them as being the authority that ends all argument, and to which we all must submit. These are all writings of men, therefore they are fallible. Only Scripture is infallible and inerrant and authoritative. So when I quote from them I use them in order to clarify or illustrate what I’m trying to say, not as an authority which ends doctrinal argument. I also quote from them because the opponents of Calvinism on the DVD have not once quoted from any Reformed Confessions or from John Calvin, which is strange and unfair considering they are claiming various errors for Calvinism. So I use Calvin and other Reformed statements where appropriate so that Calvinism can speak for itself.
Spurgeon observes “We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold men to the vital truth, and therefore we are sorry to see any quitting it who have once accepted it” (“The Downgrade Controversy” by C. H. Spurgeon).
Calvinism Misunderstood and Misrepresented
The criticisms of Calvinism on the DVD are in the areas of Eschatology, Free Will, and Evangelism. Unfortunately, there is also an attempt to associate Calvinism and the Emerging Church, and Calvinism and Lutheranism. This is disappointing and, in my view, detracts from the integrity of the speakers, and distracts from the real issues. Brenda’s story, as found on the above link, shows her to be a very serious Christian who loves the bible and who seeks her answers from it – I have great respect for Christians such as her. But because she has come out against the Reformed Faith in the way that she has, I can’t let her unfounded criticism go uncorrected.
The other speakers on the DVD are Paul Wilkinson, Chris Quintana, Jason Carlson and the late Caryl Matrisciana. Between them all they present the standard misrepresentations and criticisms of the Reformed Faith.
I suspect that Brenda was also influenced either in person or through his teachings by Dave Hunt, an influential and prolific writer, who is well loved and respected by the people in Caryl Productions, the makers of the DVD. He opened my eyes to the extent of the New Age in his book on the New Age entitled “The Seduction of Christianity”, and I’m thankful for it. Unfortunately, he also wrote a book entitled “What Love is This?” which is a criticism of Calvinism. It is a very disappointing volume as his ignorance is revealed almost from the beginning when he states that Calvin was a Catholic and was not born again. This is an astonishing claim. If one read no other writing of Calvin’s except “The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life”, they would be drawn to Christ in love and adoration, as Calvin’s writing breathes the love and grace of a sovereign God who is willing and able to save all who come to him, and of our responsibility to serve him in holiness and obedience. And Calvin insists that we are not saved by any kind of works whatsoever, no matter how pious they may appear. He attributes the work of salvation entirely to God, while we were helpless sinners and hostile to him. How is all this the words of a graceless man?
Calvin has the reputation of being a very harsh man. Unfortunately, much of what people today think they know about him is probably gained from a vengeful monk who vilified Calvin in print. “But Calvin’s theological certitude withstood many challenges and conflicts, including the trial of Jerome Bolsec, a former Catholic monk who had become a Protestant physician. Bolsec vigorously countered Calvin’s doctrine of predestination – the very underpinning of his clerical and civil authority. (Bolsec was banished and later wrote a slanderous and historically destructive biography of Calvin.) In 1553, as public support for Calvin again ebbed lower, his supporters were once again galvanised by the arrest , trial, and execution of Miguel Servetus, the infamous author of a book that discounted the more universally accepted and fundamental doctrine of the Trinity. Servetus had been arrested when he travelled to Geneva, and was later burned at the stake, though Calvin appealed for a more humane execution” (Preface to “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” p. xiv).
John Calvin’s Conversion
Ellen G. White describes the events leading up to and including Calvin’s conversion to Christ and his repudiation of Rome and the Papacy. She shows how bigoted a Catholic Calvin was, and that when he “heard of the new doctrines with a shudder, nothing doubting that the heretics deserved the fire to which they were given”,she writes, “A cousin of Calvin’s, who had joined the Reformers, was in Paris. The two kinsmen often met and discussed together the matters that were disturbing Christendom. ‘There are but two religions in the world’, said Olivetan, the Protestant. ‘The one class of religions are those which men have invented, in all of which man saves himself by ceremonies and good works; the other is that one religion which is revealed in the Bible, and which teaches man to look for salvation solely from the free grace of God’. ‘I will have none of your new doctrines,’ exclaimed Calvin; ‘think you that I have lived in error all my days?’…….But thoughts had been awakened in his mind which he could not banish at will. Alone in his chamber he pondered upon his cousin’s words. Conviction of sin fastened upon him; he saw himself, without an intercessor, in the presence of a holy and just Judge. The mediation of saints, good works, the ceremonies of the church, all were powerless to atone for sin. He could see before him nothing but the blackness of eternal despair. In vain the doctors of the Church endeavoured to relieve his woe. Confession, penance, were resorted to in vain; they could not reconcile the soul with God. While still engaged in these fruitless struggles, Calvin, chancing one day to visit one of the public squares, witnessed there the burning of a heretic. He was filled with wonder at the expression of peace which rested on the martyr’s countenance. Amid the tortures of that dreadful death, and under the more terrible condemnation of the church, he manifested a faith and courage which the young student painfully contrasted with his own despair and darkness, while living in strictest obedience to the church. Upon the Bible, he knew, the heretics rested their faith. He determined to study it, and discover, if he could, the secret of their joy.
In the Bible he found Christ. ‘O Father,’ he cried, ‘His sacrifice has appeased thy wrath; His blood has washed away my impurities; His cross has borne my curse; His death has atoned for me. We had devised for ourselves many useless follies, but Thou hast placed Thy word before me like a torch, and Thou hast touched my heart, in order that I may hold in abomination all other merits save those of Jesus’…..” (“The Triumph of God’s Love” [originally titled “The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan] by Ellen G. White, p 130, pub Pacific Press Publishing Association 1950, 1957; with reference to Wylie bk. 13, ch 7, and Martyn, vol 3, ch. 13).
Brenda says or implies that Calvinism teaches baptismal regeneration; she also says that it teaches that the Eucharist is salvific. The DVD does this by showing a segment about Luther and his theology, calling it “Reformed”, and implies that he and Calvin had the same theology. I don’t know what kind of Reformed church she attended for fourteen years but these two ideas are certainly not the teaching of the Reformed Faith, or of my experience as a Calvinist Christian. She only had to look at the Confessions of Faith of any Reformed church, where she would see confessional statements such as these:
The Larger Catechism
“Q. 162 What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in His Church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of His mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion with one another; and to distinguish them from those that are without”
“Q. 165 What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into Himself, of remission of sins by His blood, and regeneration by His Spirit, of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s”
There is not even a hint of regeneration as a result of being baptized with water in this statement. Rather, baptism is specifically stated to be a sign and a seal of the benefits of salvation already received through faith and given through the grace of God.
“Q. 168 What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, His death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon His body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with Him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with the other, as members of the same mystical body”
Again, there is no hint of any kind of regeneration given or salvific activity by God, or in the believer, or in the elements of bread and wine themselves; rather, it is clear that those who partake of the Supper are believers, and therefore regenerate already; and that only those who are regenerate can receive the benefits of participating in it.
“What a sacrament is
A sacrament is an external sign by which the Lord depicts and bears witness to his good will towards us, in order to support the weakness of our faith. To put it more briefly and clearly, a sacrament is an expression of the grace of God declared by an external sign. The Christian Church makes use of only two sacraments: Baptism and the Supper” (“Truth for all Time” by John Calvin, p 113, trans. S. Olyott, publ Banner of Truth).
Baptism has been given to us by God, to help, first, our faith in him, and then our confession of faith before men…….Baptism particularly represents two things: the cleansing we have obtained through Christ’s blood, and the putting to death of our flesh, which we have experienced through his death…..This does not mean that the water is the cause, or even the instrument, of cleansing and regeneration, but only that the knowledge of these gifts is received in the sacrament…….In the same way baptism helps our confession before men, for it is a mark by which we publicly declare our intention to be numbered among the people of God, so as to honour and serve him in one and the same religion as all believers” (“Truth for all Time” by John Calvin, p 113-115, trans. S. Olyott, publ Banner of Truth).
“The Lord’s Supper
……This mystery assures us that the Lord’s body was once given for us, in such a way that it is now ours and always will be. It assures us that his blood was once shed for us, in such a way that it will always be ours. The emblems of this mystery are the bread and wine through which the Lord holds out to us the true communication of his body and blood. We are talking of spiritual communion, which is effected by the Holy Spirit alone…….For although Christ, exalted in heaven, has left behind this earthly abode in which we are still pilgrims, yet no distance can dissolve his power by which he feeds his people with himself. Although they are very far from him, by this power he grants them to enjoy a communion with himself which is nonetheless very close……The power and efficacy of Christ are such that, in the Supper, he not only brings to our spirits an assured confidence of eternal life, but he also makes us certain of the immortality of our flesh. This is why the body and blood are represented to us by means of bread and wine, so that we learn not only that they are ours, but that they are life and nourishment for us” (“Truth for all Time” by John Calvin, p 116-119, trans. S. Olyott, publ Banner of Truth).
And from the “Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church” under the heading “Eucharist”, we read “At the Reformation there was much controversy on the subject. M. Luther defended a doctrine of consubstantiation, according to which after the consecration both the bread and the wine and the Body and Blood of Christ co-existed. U. Zwingli affirmed that the Lord’s Supper was primarily a memorial rite and that there was no change in the elements. J. Calvin and his followers held an intermediate position. They denied that any change in the elements took place, but maintained that the faithful received the power or virtue of the Body and Blood of Christ, a doctrine which became known as virtualism”.
Free will in fallen man is the sacred cow of all non-Calvinists; it is non-negotiable with them, and this was made clear in the DVD, in which Pastor Chris Quintana asks if man has the ability to accept or reject God. He believes that according to Calvinism, God sends people to heaven or hell based on his own sovereign will. The truth is that all mankind is already destined for hell because they are born in sin; God exercises his sovereign will in choosing some of the lost to have salvation and life through Jesus Christ. Because mankind is dead in trespasses and sins he is totally unable to come to God, therefore if any sinner is to be saved, God must do something on their behalf to enable them to come. Paul writes “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”(Rom 9:16). God doesn’t send anybody to hell or heaven based on his own sovereign will, but on the basis of whether they receive or reject the gospel. This is the clear teaching of scripture and of Calvinism.
The following is how the Westminster Confession of Faith states it. Free will has no chapter of its own in the Westminster Confession, so we can deduce that the framers of the document understood that there is no such thing as free will for fallen man.
“Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof
1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit (1). This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory (2).
2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God (3), and so became dead in sin (4), and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body (5).
3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed (6); and the same death in sin and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation (7).
4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good (8), and wholly inclined to all evil (9), do proceed all actual transgressions (10)”.
“(1) Gen 3:13; 2 Cor 11:3 (2) Rom 11:32 (3) Gen 3:6-8; Eccles 7:29; Rom 3:23 (4) Gen 2:17; Eph 2:1 (5) Tit 1:15; Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-18 (6) Gen 1:27-28; Gen 2:16-17; Acts 17:26; Rom 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45, 49 (7) Ps 51:5; Gen 5:3; Job 14:4; Job 15:15 (8) Rom 5:6; Rom 8:7; Rom 7:18: Col 1:21 (9) Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Rom 3:10-12 (10) James 1:14-15; Eph 2:2-3; Matt 15:19”
“Of Effectual Calling
1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed time, effectually to call (1), by his Word and Spirit (2), out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ (3); enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God (4), taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh (5); renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good(6), and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ (7); yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace (8).
2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man (9), who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit (10), he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it (11)”.
“(1) Rom 8:30; Rom 11:7; Eph 1:10-11 (2) 2 Thess 2:13-14; 2 Cor 3:3, 6 (3) Rom 8:2; Eph 2:1-5; 2 Tim 1:9-10 (4) Acts 26:18; 1 Cor 2:10-12; Eph 1:17-18 (5) Ezek 36:26 (6) Ezek 11:19; Phil 2:13; Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:27 (7) Eph 1:19; John 6:44-45 (8) Song 1:4; Ps 110:3; John 6:37; Rom 6:16-18 (9) 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:4-5; Eph 2:4-5, 8-9; Rom 9:11 (10) 1 Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7; Eph 2:5 (11) John 6:37; Ezek 36:37; John 5:25”.
Another criticism that Brenda Nickel and Paul Wilkinson make of Calvinism is that it teaches what they term “Replacement Theology” i.e. that Old Testament Israel has been replaced by the New Testament Church, thus spiritualising the promises and prophecies given to Israel.
It is true that the major Confessions of Calvinism i.e. The Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms, The Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Confession, do not mention a millennial earthly reign of Jesus, Secret Rapture, Great Tribulation, or any of the ideas associated with Dispensational Premillennialism; so it is understandable that Brenda would conclude that Calvinism is Amillennial in its eschatology. However, Calvin did have somewhat to say. Of the Chiliasts, the early name for Dispensationalists, Calvin (2008, p 657) wrote “….shortly after the chiliasts arose, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. This fiction is too puerile to need or to deserve refutation. Nor do they receive any countenance from the Apocalypse, from which they extracted a gloss for their error (Rev 20:4), the thousand years there mentioned refer not to the eternal blessedness of the church, but only to the various troubles which await the church militant in this world” (Calvin, J. 2008, “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts).
But I would expect that after fourteen years of being a Calvinist, Brenda would have had some indication that not all Calvinist believers are Amillennial and believe Replacement Theology. I accept that Amillennialism is probably the position of the majority of Calvinists, but there are others who do not hold to this view. Calvinists can be found in all views of the millennium. Broadly speaking, the majority view among Calvinists from the Reformation until Word War 1 was Postmillennial; after the War disillusioned them that the world wasn’t getting better, the majority adopted the Amillennial view, a view closer to theirs than the Premillennial; and since then there has been an increasing number of Calvinists adopting either Classic/Historic Premillennialism, or Pre-tribulation Dispensational Premillennialism. So not all Calvinists are Amillennial and believe in Replacement Theology.
Eschatological Views in the Early Church
The doctrine of a premillennial return of Christ (earlier called ‘chiliasm’ or ‘millenarianism’) was not necessarily held universally, nor regarded as orthodox doctrine by all in the early centuries of the Christian church, as Brenda and others imply. The Church historian Eusebius writes about the views of an early Christian named Papias (70-155 AD). Papias wrote of himself that he received the truths of Christianity from those who were acquainted with the apostles. Eusebius (263-339 AD approx.) was one of those who did not hold a premillennial view; he says of Papias, that “he set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Saviour, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth” (“Ante-Nicene Fathers” vol 1, “Fragments of Papias” p 154, Hendrickson Publ).
And Justin Martyr (100-165 CE), in his dialogue with a Jew named Trypho, admitted that while he himself held to a millenarian view, not every Christian did. The discussion is as follows: “And Trypho to this replied, ‘I remarked to you sir, that you are very anxious to be safe in all respects, since you cling to the Scriptures. But tell me, do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs, and the prophets, both the men of our nation, and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came?’……..Then I answered ‘I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing, and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise’” (“Ante-Nicene Fathers” vol 1, “Dialogue with Trypho”, Justin Martyr, p 239, Hendrickson Publ).
Brenda Nickel says, without giving any proof, that Augustine drew his Amillennial eschatology from his former association with Manichaeism. However, as far as I can ascertain, neither Premillennialism nor Amillennialism had anything to do with Manichaeism. Augustine eventually rejected Premillennialism because of the Donatists who held to it; apparently because of them, he thought that it was earthly and sensual and consequently rejected it.
Motivation for Evangelism
I’m astonished when people accuse Calvinism of not preaching the gospel or taking it to the lost; this is yet another misconception people have of them. Calvinists are accused of not having a heart for the lost because of their doctrine of predestination and limited atonement. However, this is the very opposite of the truth. Calvinism understands correctly the relationship between the gospel and predestination. Predestination is the doctrine that God chose a people for himself out of the mass of unsaved humanity; he chose them from before the foundation of the world before they had done either good or evil, to become partakers of the shed blood and righteousness of Christ, and thus to be adopted into his family as his children. Limited Atonement is the doctrine that Jesus only died for these elect people, and no others.
Most importantly, however, the means that God ordained to bring his elect to salvation is through the preaching of the gospel. The gospel must be preached to everybody because nobody knows who the elect are; and it must be offered sincerely and all the promises of God made known to the hearers. People must be urged, persuaded, pleaded with, to come to Christ in repentance and faith so that they might be saved; and that “whosoever will may come”. The elect are recognised when they demonstrate repentance and faith in the gospel.
Jesus himself stated this when he said “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me [this is predestination]; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out [this is the promise of salvation to the elect]” (Jn 6:37). Jesus continues: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day [this is limited atonement]. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day [this is faith in the gospel]” (Jn 6:39-40).
Further, see how Paul links election and the gospel. He first shows how the Ephesian Christians, along with every other Christian, were chosen by God to be saved: “…he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…..having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will….In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Eph 1:4-5, 11).
He then shows how we are saved through the gospel: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13). He puts it more succinctly in another letter when he writes “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:4-5).
This is the bible teaching; it is also the teaching of Calvinism. But did John Calvin and the Calvinist leaders agree with the importance of gospel preaching and missions?
John Calvin: Church planter and trainer of missionaries
In the 1550’s, while Calvin was at Geneva he received many refugees fleeing Catholic persecution; while they were there, sitting under his preaching and pastoral care, many of them began feeling burdened for their homeland and wanted to take the gospel to them. So Calvin taught them theology and how to preach, and he assessed their moral character before sending them out. And once they were involved with their work he prayed for them constantly and corresponded with them frequently to support, advise, and encourage them as much as he could.
By 1559 the church at Geneva had planted 100 churches in France and by 1562 there were more than 2000 churches there. Some of these churches were so successful that they had to conduct three services every Sunday to cater for the many thousands who attended them. He also sent missionaries to Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, the Rhineland and Brazil. Calvin’s heart was for the preaching of the gospel and during the last ten years of his life, missions were his “absolute preoccupation”. For example, in a sermon on 2 Timothy 1:8-9, Calvin said “If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine….let us here observe that St Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unthankful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it”.
William Carey: Father of modern missions
It is well known that the man who began the modern missionary movement was a Baptist Christian named William Carey. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well known, or at least acknowledged, that Carey was a Calvinist in the Particular Baptist (Calvinist) churches; and he and some of his Calvinist friends founded the Baptist Missionary Society in order to take the gospel to the heathen. So the first modern missionary and the first mission society and the impetus for all missions since then came, humanly speaking, from within Calvinism. Obviously, these Calvinists understood the essential link between predestination and the gospel.
Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses….
Ever since William Carey there has been a stream of Calvinist missionaries. In fact, many of the most famous and well known missionaries were Calvinists. For example:
- John Eliot – first missionary to the American (Algonquian speaking) Indians (1600’s).
- David Brainerd – missionary to the Mohawk Indians in 1700’s.
- Jonathan Edwards preached during the First Great Awakening and he recorded what God was doing during that revival. His sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” caused many to turn to Christ. He was a missionary to the Housatonic American Indians.
- William Tennent, founder of the Log College, a theological training college where many preachers were trained; these men preached during the First Great Awakening.
- Samuel Davies preached the gospel to the slaves in Virginia, and many hundreds were saved.
- Robert Moffat took the gospel to “darkest Africa”
- David Livingstone also took the gospel to Africa
- Robert Morrison, missionary to China
- Peter Parker, missionary to China
- Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, bible translator, and church planter
- John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu)
- Charles Simeon, Church of England minister and founder of the Church Missionary Society.
- Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia
- Samuel Zwemer, missionary to Bahrain, Egypt, Arabia and Asia Minor – known as “The Apostle to Islam”
This is only a partial list. Over the centuries there have been many hundreds of unknown Calvinist Christians from Reformed churches who have taken the gospel to the lost all over the world, and they are still doing it today. So let’s not hear any more of this ill-informed misinformation that Calvinism doesn’t believe in or practice evangelism.
The real reason for lack of evangelistic zeal in some Christians and churches is not wrong doctrine, as some perceive it, but fear, weakness, worldliness, and lack of the Holy Spirit; this is the case in both Calvinistic and Arminian churches.
The Shoe is on the Other Foot
First, it is interesting to me that many well-known Premillennial Dispensationalist leaders, among them John Hagee and Billy Graham, as well as Pope Francis, refuse to preach the gospel to the Jews because they say that the Jews are the people of God and therefore do not need the gospel. Fortunately, this is not the majority view among Premillennialists but it is growing, and it is an alarming trend – it is nothing but a false gospel and Christians need to denounce and reject it.
Second, in his book entitled “The Downgrade Controversy”, author C. H. Spurgeon detailed the downward progress of corruption and apostasy in the Baptist churches because of false doctrine. Chapter two of the book, a chapter written by another author, Robert Schindler for the “Sword and Trowel” magazine, describes the progress of the downgrade. He tells us the 19th century was a time of quiet from persecution and strife, and there began in the churches a spiritual lethargy. He writes “True religion languished; and, but for a small remnant of earnest and faithful men, the decay and death would have been complete. It was a fitting time for the propagation of the Pelagian and Socinian heresies. Arminianism, which is only Pelagianism under another name, had, to a large extent, eaten out the life of the Church of England, and Arianism followed to further and complete the destruction……Arminianism among the dissenters (i.e. non–Church of England churches) has, in general been a cold, dry and lifeless system, and its effects upon the heart have been commonly weak and spiritless. With the General Baptists, who have avowed it to be their creed, this was remarkably the effect, and their congregations did not increase. Besides, from facts too stubborn to be bent, and too numerous to be contradicted, Arminianism has been among them the common road to Arianism and Socinianism. Their ministers and congregations were the first who openly professed these opinions” (I’m unable to give page numbers as my Kindle reader doesn’t provide it).
In other words, Calvinism, which is so confidently and ignorantly criticised by Brenda and her friends on the DVD, had been the life, soul, and energy of the churches in England. As lethargy set in, people began to accept Arminianism (the central doctrine of those on the DVD), and this led to apostasy and corruption of the Church and the denial of the deity of Christ and efficacy of the gospel.
It should be obvious by now that Brenda’s repeated claim that Calvinism via Augustinianism is just restored Roman Catholicism is ridiculous. As Spurgeon (a Premillennialist) so eloquently put it “The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again” (A Defence of Calvinism” by C. H. Spurgeon).
The Sum and Substance of Calvinism
The late lamented Mr Denham has put, at the foot of his portrait, a most admirable text, “Salvation is of the Lord”. That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it. If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says ‘Salvation is of the Lord’. I cannot find in scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation”. Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, “God is my rock and my salvation”. What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ – the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.
“A Defence of Calvinism” by C. H. Spurgeon
- Pelagian i.e. people can take the initial steps towards salvation by their own efforts, apart from divine grace.
- Socinian i.e.Jesus was just a man, though called ‘God’ in scripture; his mission was to teach the efficacy of repentance without any atonement for sin; his mediation is rejected and pardon of sin is due to man’s personal virtue; and the Holy Spirit is a figure denoting the power or energy of God.
- Arminianism i.e. a doctrinal system diametrically opposed to Calvinism, with the doctrine of free will at its centre.
- Arianism i.e. Jesus was a created being, higher than man but less than God.
Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Preface to the Hendrickson Edition”, 2008, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Peabody, Massachusetts