Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Five Points of ...



It seems as though Christians often have a difficult time balancing grace and truth.  We seem to either deliver the truth with no love at all or compromise on the truth in the name of love.  Lovingly delivering the truth can be difficult.  While this extends to battles that we have with those outside the church (e.g. homosexuality, abortion), I believe that it is also true of battles that we have inside the church (e.g. age of the universe, Calvinism versus Arminianism).  I for one love spirited debate.  While I can be passionate about the points in a discussion, I don’t tend to get upset or emotional.  I merely seek the truth of the matter—I have to strive to remember to love.

In thinking along these lines, I considered a prayer that I had offered for my children’s salvation. I had asked that God would move in their hearts to bring them to a saving faith in His Son.  This prayer was offered in the presence of those whom I knew to be more of an Arminian persuasion.  While the prayer was genuinely from my heart, afterwards I reflected on this and wondered if my Calvinist leaning prayer would have caused any offense.  Upon reflection, it occurred to me that even when Arminians pray, they ask God to change circumstance and people, and this was all that I was asking.  This caused me to wonder what other areas of agreement that Calvinists and Arminians share.  The results are these Five Points of Agreement.

1. Dependence and Prayer for God’s Activity

The first point of contention is known as “Human Ability” in Arminianism and “Total Inability” in Calvinism.  Arminianism posits the freewill of man and his choice in salvation while Calvinism posits man’s sin nature as a preventative to salvation and God’s choice in salvation.  While there is certainly disagreement, both views hold to man’s sinfulness and God’s ability to work in lives.  As such, both the Calvinist and the Arminian should regularly beseech God’s activity in the lives of the lost, asking for Him to change the person’s heart and circumstances in ways that cause the unbeliever to come to a saving faith in God’s Son.

2. Thankfulness and Humility for God’s Grace

The second point of contention is known as “Conditional Election” in Arminianism and “Unconditional Election” in Calvinism.  Arminianism posits that God elects “from before the foundation of the Earth” those who He knows will choose Him.  Calvinism posits that God elects “from before the foundation of the Earth” those whom He chooses according to His good pleasure. Regardless of how we are elected, the scriptures are clear that salvation is by grace and through faith and not of works.  Therefore, believers of all stripes should have an attitude of thankfulness and humility before God in light of His grace towards us who deserve Hell.

3. Reverence and Praise for God’s Justice

Arminians name the third point “General Atonement” while Calvinists name it “Limited Atonement”.  According to Arminian doctrine, Christ's death made salvation possible for everyone but effectual for no one; the effect is made once man chooses Christ for salvation. Alternatively, Calvinists posit that Christ’s death was sufficient for everyone but effectual only for the elect; the effect was from eternity past according to God’s election and omniscience.  Even on these differing views, God the Father takes sin seriously—so seriously that God the Son was sacrificed to pay for it.  Those who do not have the cover of the Son’s blood will serve an eternal sentence in Hell as punishment for their crimes.  This should cultivate an attitude of reverence and praise for God’s justice.  This may seem odd at first.  This is simply because we are the criminals who deserve the punishment.  Think, for example, of when a heinous murderer on earth receives life in prison or capital punishment and we “praise” the judge and jury for serving justice.  In the same way, it would be good for us to go to Hell.  I use “good” to mean “just”, “holy”, or “conforming to a proper standard”.  I do not mean “good” as enjoyable.  Nevertheless, the triumph over evil is to be revered and praised.  Christ death serves as part of that triumph.  We should, therefore, have reverence and praise for God’s justice and defeat of evil.

 4. Zeal for the Lost

The forth point of disagreement is called “Irresistible Grace” by the Calvinists and “Resistible Grace” by the Arminians.  The Calvinist point of view is that the Father’s election is effectual and irresistible while the Arminian view holds that one can resist God’s calling.  Romans 10 makes it clear that faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God:

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

The pattern throughout the Bible (and explicitly stated for salvation) is that when God ordains an end He also ordains the means. For example, God ordained that Abraham would have an heir of his own flesh and blood.  God could have made a son just pop into existence, but instead, Abraham had his side of the equation to fulfill, namely lying with Sarah, in order for Isaac to be born.  So even if the Calvinist point of view is the correct one, we must all be about evangelism.  This is the method that God uses to bring the elect to Himself.  Therefore, for His glory, we must have a zeal for the lost.

5. Pursuit of Personal Holiness

The last and final point of distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism revolves around whether or not one can lose their salvation.  The Arminian point of view, known as “Fall from Grace”, declares that one may reject or lose their faith.  On the other hand, the Calvinist point of view, known as “Perseverance of the Saints”, states that once a person is regenerated and covered by Christ’s blood, then he is sealed by God eternally.  Pragmatically, however, both views will hold one position in common. Take for example the person who makes a profession of faith at an early age then lives a life completely contrary to the Word of God. Both the Arminian and the Calvinist would declare that this person is not regenerate.  The Arminian might state that he lost his salvation while the Calvinist would state that he never had salvation.  I tried to use a clear cut example.  In real life, of course, not everyone will fit into such a clear role.  And while the Bible commands us to discern and the judge a tree by its fruit, only God truly knows the salvation status of any individual.  All I mean to say is that both the Arminian and the Calvinist agree that the life of a believer should be marked by fruit that is the result of God’s sanctifying power in that believer’s life.  We should all be living sacrifices, daily carrying our cross (an instrument of execution) and putting to death the old sinful man.  This is our just service.  As such we should be vigilant about pursing our personal holiness.  Not as a means to salvation (both the Arminian and the Calvinist should agree that works do not save a person), but as a result of our salvation.

So here, at least from my perspective, are the Five Points of Agreement:

1. Dependence and Prayer for God’s Activity
2. Thankfulness and Humility for God’s Grace
3. Reverence and Praise for God’s Justice
4. Zeal for the Lost
5. Pursuit of Personal Holiness

Let me say in closing that I in no way wish to minimize the importance of the doctrinal issues about which Arminians and Calvinists disagree.  Nor do I think that the Word is silent about these issues.  I believe that the Word is clear and that a solid case can be made for each of the above issues.  Further, I believe that some damaging side effects can be brought about (especially in the area of security of the believer) if the correct doctrine is missed. But, I do want to find some common ground on which both sides can agree.

Throughout this blog I have used the terms “Arminianism” and “Calvinism” and their derivatives.  I use these terms simply because they are well known and widely used.  I actually prefer to say that I believe in Sovereign Grace rather than Calvinism as the latter can carry some baggage.  Nevertheless, I use these terms for the ease of my readers.

Finally, I have represented a very general take on both sides of the camp.  Doubtless, there are believers who would disagree with how I worded some points above or who fall on one side for one point and a differing side on others.  Overall, I believe that I have captured the general sense of both views.

3 comments:

Robert Yeske said...

I am not familiar with these differences in Protestant reformation theories, I have read and would like to note a few things I see.

Point 1: Both of those descriptions, thought minimal, are represented in the statement "the natural man is an enemy to god". While it might be simple to say that means we are all an enemy to god, it is interpreted in my religion to mean, that tendencies of man towards sin, that side of man stands against the desires god has for us. We are here to resist these temptations and bridal those desires; Bridal not destroy or ignore, but bridal. as in the item used to guild and direct a horse or other animal of burden.
I likely do not know enough about the depths or your particular sects, but offer this; Man us unable to save himself, he cannot possibly pat or ever have paid the price of sin, that was done by grace for us. Our new debtor is then free to ask any price he would of us for payment to him, and that price is to change our hearts and actions more to the model he set.

Point 2: Would not a man choosing to follow the word, provide or give pleasure to our God and father? I again do not see a true difference in these slight definitions, only differing perspectives of the same idea and truth...

Point #3: Our heavenly Father is truly Omniscient, would he not therefore have known the outcome of each decision we have made, are making and will ever make? Does that preclude freedom of choice; My answer, NO! I know my own children well and can with a great degree of accuracy divine the choices they might make as decisions are posed. Should I then prevent every decision I perceive as incorrect,? If I do, how then do these children learn and blossom into what they may become?
Again I refer to my earlier comment as all these topics appear to revolve around the Atonement of Christ. Our master paid a price freely, one we are unable to ever pay. We need not pay even a small token of the price, that was done by grace!
We are therefore to follow his guild lines and attempt to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect". While we are human and therefore incapable of perfection in this mortal realm, we must (or should if you prefer) always strive towards that goal...again our salvation is, was, and will be dependent upon the event of the atonement. While we will not achieve the goal given in this life -- we must ever head towards it!

Robert Yeske said...

Post part 2

Point #4 Does this stem from predestination vs preordination? Meaning ( in my mind) is or was everything set in stone before this word was born and therefore nothing can be changed by our own choices? -or- Are we truly free to accept or deny the items in our life that we were sent here to achieve and learn and do to assist others with seeing the hand of god in all things and hearing the word of god over the face of the earth?
Again, I come back to my thinking that the God of our fathers, is a perfected being with limitless knowledge and powers...The opportunity was presented that all of us could be saved if Satan was to be sent to direct everyone through our journey here and ensure we all accomplished everything needed to return to our father...that plan while interesting in sound ( fully 1/3 of the host of heaven fell for it) its greatest flaw was that the glory would be given to Satan rather than the father.
The other plan, the plan of salvation was presented by Jesus that we would be given choice, some would fail, some would fall, but all would have the choice to follow the path back to our father in heaven...that plan is the one we (the remaining 2/3s of the host) are currently on. In that plan, Jesus would come and pay the price for sin, to allow for the imperfection of ourselves to have the opportunity return, and the glory was to be given to the father.
Now, David was ordained to slay goliath, he succeeded...in being King, no so much. He was ordained, but chose path of carnal sin, rather then to follow what he knew to be right!
Yet, Our savior atoned even for this sin, so can he not be saved, even with having committed this sin after such a great calling and such a great failing?
Again I don't see a distinction, merely a difference in perspective.

Point #5 As I see this, it comes down to the one unpardonable sin: Denying Christ after attaining a perfect knowledge of him! Christ atoned for sin, Some... say murder, might take something for repentance that we are incapable of giving in life, others are simple to repent of and turn away from....our faith declares that there may still be saved except for from this one unforgivable sin...
An additional distinction that bridges the gap between your philosophies (I believe) exists in my religion: All men are granted immortality (we will live on forever) those that follow the prescribed path can enter into eternal life and even exaltation. Chist purchased our immortality for us, it is up to us to give the token to do more than simply live on forever...

I enjoyed as always reading your unique perspective...and hope I do not speak out of simplicity here.

Bob Yeske

Michael said...

Bob,

Thanks for your comments. As an LDS (if I got your number right), these doctrines should still be familiar to you as they are all from the Bible. If you want to get an in depth treatment of them, I recommend R. C. Sproul's book, What is Reformed Theology?.

My aim here wasn't to defend either of the points of view (Arminianism or Calvinism) but to point out what should be shared by both in spite of their differences.

There is so much here given the scope of the topic and our two differing backgrounds that I'm not sure I can do justice to all of your questions in this forum.

If you are truly interested, we could talk it over.