05 November 2007

Calvinism in the SBC

What's all the hullabaloo in the SBC convention about Calvinism? Don't take the word “hullabaloo” and assume I don't know anything about Calvinism, or Armenianism for that matter. I've studied the two. But what I know for certain is this: These are non-essentials.

As for words like predestination, free-will, foreknowledge . . . these words are certainly in the Bible. We should study them and discuss them, and hopefully grow from our discussion of them. But let's also realize that these are non-essentials. There are in fact ramifications of both Calvinistic and Arminian positions that can be very hazardous to us as believers and to the perception of who God is. My plea is for us, as a family of believers, to stay focused on who God IS and engaged in culturally relevant ministry . . . careful to know God's Word and always keep it in context. Let's not waste time and effort on taking sides, drawing lines and adamantly defending positions against one another.

First, let's consider God. And let me start this with my favorite phrase: “God is God, and we are not.” Free will and election are His to give or not give to whatever extent He desires, and His sovereignty is not dependent on either. The same of His foreknowledge. All of these are His alone, and our hypothesis about any of it makes no difference. The Bible addresses both free will and election, and when an honest, contextual look is taken, good arguments can be made for both sides. For a Scripturally based glance of the two positions, go here. (This is from a church named Xenos up in Ohio somewhere that usually has some pretty good resources. This particular series of pages is very good in my opinion and worthwhile for review.)

To the Calvinist I would ask the following: If the Spirit prompts every heart (which, according to the Bible is true, ie:“all men are without excuse”Rom.1:20, “it is not God's will that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance”2 Peter 3:9; "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men to Myself." John 12:32) and it is up to the individual to accept or reject according to a God given free will, how does that diminish God's sovereignty? Just because free will in our minds limits God's sovereignty doesn't mean that it actually does. Catch my drift here? We are not God, and we cannot figure Him out. If we could, He certainly wouldn't be my God. Isn't God big enough to give us complete free will and remain completely sovereign at the same time? Really chew on that one for a while. It may be a bigger concept of God than you have ever considered!!

My concern also is that the position of Calvinism can lead to spiritual arrogance, self-centeredness and complacency. Bear with me here as I explain this. 1. Arrogance comes from the idea that I am chosen and “you” (whomever that may be) are not, to be God's child. Which would have to mean: the Bible says Christ died for all, but not really . . . He died for the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the rest. YIKES! 2. Complacency is also a real danger for this theology because “everyone God calls is going to heaven no matter what I do.” - - so why “do”? Although I do not see many signs of this one in the Calvinists that I know, it is still a logical concern. 3. Self-centeredness is a bedfellow to complacency because if the focus is not on reaching the lost, than individual, personal discipleship is what matters most, which would feed the consumer mentality already so prevalent in our churches. I see this just about everywhere I look. Let me be quick to say that our relationship with God and our spiritual growth should be paramount to each of us. But there has to be a fervent desire, ardent prayer life and impassioned sharing of our faith in hopes that ALL will come to know the Lord as Savior. Calvinism itself does not teach or promote
these ideals directly (arrogance, complacency & self-centeredness). But the logical following of this theology can have these results. I'm not making a presumption here. I have first hand knowledge of this. I also have Calvinist friends and acquaintances who are plagued by this in their spiritual lives as well as confessions I've read from former Calvinists.

Secondly there's the problem with double-predestination. If God appointed certain people to Heaven, then the natural following is that God has appointed certain people to hell as well. Ask yourself if this fits with the God of the New Testament and the dispensation of grace in which we are living.

Moving to the other side, there are problems with Arminianism as well. Total depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement and resistible grace are all biblical. However, the Arminian theology can sometimes lead to a diminished perception of God's sovereignty. This is tragic. However, as I addressed in my second paragraph, if someone has a correct view of God and an understanding that our finite and fallen wisdom cannot begin to grasp the extent of His sovereignty, then this wrong perception of God's sovereignty can be avoided. Gods granting freedom of choice in the area of salvation does not mean freedom of choice in all areas of life. The Bible clearly teaches God's sovereign choice of nations for specific roles (Ezek.38:4; Ps. 33:10; Ps. 2:1-6), and even of individuals for the roles they play in His national strategy (Isa. 45:1; Dan. 4:32,34-35). Other passages clearly teach that God sovereignly decides what spiritual gifts we get (1 Cor. 12:11), and our specific ministry callings (Gal. 1:15,16). (excerpt from the page I linked to above with the word "here")

Second, Arminians can easily put too much personal pressure on their act of service in witnessing to others . . . looking only to results and forgetting the important part that the Spirit has in the timing and drawing of the lost to Christ. The POWER is in the gospel message . . . not in the presentation of it. So the focus for all Arminians has to be sharing, not results. The results are in the realm of the person to whom the Gospel is presented to and God.

And last, the final point of Arminianism (present assurance of salvation) is neither biblical nor logical. Many Arminians, Arminius himself and even John Wesley did not believe in eternal security. However, eternal security is a biblical fact.

My conclusion is: Our theology does not determine God's sovereignty. He's perfectly sovereign no matter what we believe. Our finite minds will never comprehend the things that are in the the realm of God. I will state once again: God is God, and we are NOT! Deuteronomy 29:29 states "The secret things belong to the Lord our God: But those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law." We have enough to busy us for a lifetime with the things God has revealed to us!

My plea: Stop wasting time arguing over such issues. Concentrate your energy on sharing the Good News with the lost and in prayer. There's real spiritual warfare going on right on YOUR doorstep. Our enemy probably gets great satisfaction out of seeing Christians bickering over theology rather than engaging in service to the Lord.

Harsh words? Maybe. Necessary? You bet. Let's busy ourselves with the tasks that are most glorifying to the One who has given us so great a salvation.

Now, for the lighter side of things:

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