That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life...
Philippians 2:15-16a

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Calvinism or Arminianism....? Is this all there is?

I remember as a teenager my pastor at the time preaching about these two theological systems. Like most, he presented these as the only options for a Christian.  You're either a Calvinist or an Arminian.  Although it was several years ago, I still remember my reaction to his teaching.  When he went through the points of Arminianism I recognized the heresy of it right away.  I knew there was no way someone could work for their salvation.  I had memorized Ephesians 2:8-9.  Working for your salvation goes against Scripture just as much as the idea that someone can loose their salvation.  John 3:16 says we'll never perish and have everlasting life.  I'm not sure how "everlasting" can equal something that we can loose??  As he presented Arminianism I remember sitting in the pew HOPING that he didn't believe this!  I knew if he did we'd be out of that church in a flash!  Imagine my sigh of relief when he stated that he did not agree with the tenets of Arminianism.  Whew... we could stay a little longer (ironically, we did eventually leave that church because of doctrinal issues).

Then he moved on to Calvinism.  By this point I already knew Arminianism was complete baloney, so I must be a Calvinist.... right?  As the pastor discussed the doctrine of Calvinism I became more and more confused.  It sounded a lot more "right" than Arminianism, but there were some blatantly unbiblical ideas in this one too!  Was this possible?  If this is all I had to choose from, did the Bible lie?  How could God say things like For God so loved the world... and Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, but then only mean that certain "elect" people would be saved?  It just didn't make sense.  The pastor ended his sermon by affirming that he held the Calvinist point of view.  I knew there was unbiblical things about Calvinism, but at least he choose the "more biblical" of the two theologies.  That had to count for something right?  My own personal choice was to accept the points of Calvinism that made biblical sense, but as far as the whole election/predestination thing, there was no way I was going down that road.  I'll stick with John 3:16 meaning what it actually says!

I'm thankful that I didn't give up my faith in God and His Word because a pastor once said Christians are either Arminians or Calvinists.  True Bible believing Christians are neither.  Does that mean an Arminian is not saved?  No.  Does that mean a Calvinist is not a Bible believer? No.  I'm not about to judge the hearts of people who hold to either view as saved or unsaved.  Only God knows that.  I will not stoop to the lows of some Calvinists who label all who reject their teachings as not being true Bible believers.  The point of this article is not to debate either side of the equation.  Let it simply be said... NEITHER is biblical.  The point of this article is to explain my own journey through these two popular and often divisive theologies.  For an excellent resource  on this subject I would highly recommend reading this article.  It explains both viewpoints based on Scripture.

Sadly, I have seen and experienced the heart breaking results of believing these heresies.  How sad it is when a searching unbeliever will not come to the Lord because he thinks he is not elect.  How sad when those who have been saved struggle every day to "do good" out of fear of falling away from the Lord and loosing their salvation.  How sad it is to hear Christians declare that a fellow believer is not saved anymore because they are living in sin.  Habitual sin must mean they have lost their salvation right?  But when did God (or the Bible) ever say we would become super Christian overnight?  When did the Bible ever say we would become perfect?  I've been saved for nearly 24 years, and I still struggle with sin everyday!  Does that mean I'm constantly loosing and regaining my salvation?  Does God really want me to live in that kind of doubt and fear?  Somehow I don't picture a loving God wanting that.  Please know I'm not advocating grace as licence to sin.  That's just as wrong as saying one will loose their salvation if they sin. 

I've known people who have gone to Calvinistic leaning churches for years and never heard a clear presentation of the gospel.  No one has ever personally asked them if they've accepted Jesus as their Saviour.  I have to wonder if they really know what salvation is? Lack of evangelism is a direct result of believing that God elects those who are saved, and He's in charge of them coming to Him.  Why bother witnessing to a person if there's a good chance they may not be elect?  My experience in a Calvinistic leaning church was that very few people were ever saved.  I remember when I went to FaithWay I was shocked that people got saved every week in their ministry!  Wow... could that even be possible?  I don't even need one hand to count how many people got saved in my church in the 17 years before I went to Bible College.   My other experience with Calvinist Christians was their belief that one must make Jesus Lord of his/her life before he can be saved.  I had been witnessing to someone who was convinced that he could not be saved because he wasn't good enough.  I knew this error came from the church he was attending because he told me about what was being said and taught there.  It broke my heart!  Praise the Lord, I was able to have him speak to my pastor and he realized that salvation is accepting Christ by faith, not working to become good enough.  

The realization that I didn't have to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism kind of came as a progression in my Christian walk.  I never was one or the other.  I just lived by the Bible and what God said.  I heard people talk about both views and kind of wondered what I actually was, since I wasn't a Calvinist or Arminian.  I was very glad to find out that there are others who simply believe the Bible and reject both of these theologies too.   I'm not sure why Christians feel the need to fit into one of these categories.  Whatever happened to just being a "biblicist?"   As a final note, I find it interesting how John 3:16, the most popular verse in all the Bible, refutes both the Calvinist and Arminian heresies.

For God so loved the world (not just the elect), that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him (no works involved in that one) shall not perish, but have everlasting life (not temporary lasting life that can be lost if one sins).

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