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Calvinism VS Arminianism: Why the battle continues

   Very few subjects ignite a heated conversation for as long as this subject I am writing about has. What I find odd about this debate is how it seems to be so furious, at a time when most mainstream evangelical churches just roll over to accommodate for each other on so many other theological issues. Being Calvinist, I have found very little that invites argument like my theological stance. And while the United States is a big place, so I am unable to speak of experiences others may have in their respected regions, It seems at times subscribing to reformed theology in small town Midwest America you are an oddity. But why? How did we get here? How did we get to a point where holding the word of God found in the Holy Scriptures as the authority in our lives and churches, where understanding that salvation is through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, and having full reliance on a sovereign God become so opposed by the small town middle American church. To understand this we first have to understand where this debate began, and it was not with John Calvin, and Jacobus Arminius.
    Early Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine, the bishop of Hippo Regius in north Africa held to the traditional view within the church of mans state of depravity. Adams sin had corrupted all of mankind, and now mankind was fallen and apart from God could do nothing as far as his own salvation and needed divine aid in performing any good works. British theologian Pelagius was an advocate for mans own free will and believed that Adam’s sin did not wound mankind, and humans were able to fulfill God’s law without divine aid. Pelagius is known as the father of free will. His views would come to be known as Pelagianism and were deemed heresy by the Council of Carthage in 418. Pelagius view that man could live a sinless life by power of his own will of course drew the ire of his contemporaries and especially Augustine of Hippo. While this is a very simplified history of these two men, this debate on the Sovereignty of God and His grace as it pertains to mans salvation and free will did not stop with them.
     For the sake of time and typing we can fast forward to the debated issue with the two figures most notable by their name sake in this debate; French theologian and pastor John Calvin and Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. Much has been written about these two men and the theologies that wear their names. Calvin held to the doctrines of Grace, which is most often today called “Calvinism” and Arminius while holding to the five solae of the reformation like Calvin, his teachings were very distinct from Martin Luther, Calvin, and other protestant reformers. There have been many books and great articles that cover these differences better than a blog post, so I would suggest if interest peaks you looking into more detailed coverage of those differences. But what seemed to be the most often debated aspect of these two belief systems was what part mans will, if any played into his salvation. Can man, on his own in his natural state apart from God, choose to be saved? Or is salvation solely an act of God’s sovereign grace, and by HIs will alone?  Can man come to saving faith in Jesus Christ on his own by his own will, or does God draw those whom He has elected for eternal salvation?
     Jesus, as you can imagine had quite a bit to say on this matter.
  John 6: 44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
     That would seem pretty clear cut, but Jesus would reiterate this point a few verses later
      John 6: 65: ‘And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
         By scripture it is apparent that the belief of the Apostles was that salvation was through Grace alone and in no way through mans own will
    John 1: 12-13 “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”
       Paul covers the topic of God’s sovereign grace better than anyone in the book of Romans chapter 9.
       Now these are a small example of the many scriptures which confirm mans salvation through God’s grace and by His sovereign choice and will. Again if the topic intrigues you an inductive biblical study would come in handy. But the larger question is how did the doctrines of Grace get pushed out of the American Church? The earliest settlers were dominantly subscribers to the reformed theology, Calvinist if you would. Johnathan Edwards, possibly the greatest American pastor himself subscribed to the doctrines of Grace and reformed theology. In the latter part of the 1800’s the “Prince of Pastors” Charles Spurgeon over in England had great influence in Churches all over the world, and he was a strong “Calvinist”. How did we get here? Well the answer is part study in cultural trends, and part study in man’s own desire.
     From about 1760 to 1840 the world experienced the industrial revolution. Industry transitioned from hand production to machines, increase in iron production, and the rise of the factory system. Prior to this it was easy to understand man’s need and reliance on a sovereign God, and in most protestant churches that was the clear message. There was clear teaching on the greatness of an almighty, perfectly Holy and righteous God in comparison to the condition of fallen depraved man. But suddenly man could now sit back and marvel at his creation. New buildings, grandiose cities, modern transportation, and then man did not look so small. Man like he has done since the very beginning of creation has desired to marvel at himself, and be in God’s position. To man after the industrial age, God as creator did not seem so big.
     In the mid 1800’s in New York an American Presbyterian minister named Charles Finney became a leading voice in the second great awakening. Known as the father of modern revivalism, he was teaching ‘Christian perfection’ or that one could achieve spiritual maturity and perfection along with the “second blessing” and baptism of the Holy Spirit”. Finney taught, like Pelagius and Arminius, that man had enough grace in himself to come to Christ and salvation on their own by their own will. Finney designed a very emotionally based evangelistic method to pressure the sinner emotionally to make “decisions” by their own will to come to Christ (Many of the charismatic cults came out of this movement and would adopt these same practices). Well this teaching that man himself could, by his own will and decision, be saved was tailor made for a culture coming off of a pride filled, ego centric high while marveling at their own creations. And it caught on. And suddenly the churches, or cults, that spawned from these teachings began growing in numbers. While more biblically based, traditional reformed churches were seen as no longer relevant in a culture where man himself was master of his own destiny. So many churches buckled to the pressure and began making concessions in their own theological stances to appear more attractive to this growing mindset. And merely two generations later the prevailing teaching within the American church  was the very heavy Pelagius and Arminian flavored theology, sprinkled with Finney’s more charismatic teachings.
     In 1900 a split in two very opposite directions seemed to have appeared within the American church. In one direction we saw Charles Parham, an evangelist and self proclaimed faith healer who was heavily influenced by the teachings that spawned from Charles Finney’s movement begin teaching that speaking in tongues was the evidence of spirit baptism, and with this saw a restoration of what he claimed were “spiritual gifts”. This led to the Pentecostal movement and saw William Seymour found and lead the Azuza Street revival in Los Angeles. This resulted in the mass spreading of the Pentecostal movement, and the “revival” movement which saw charismatic self proclaimed healers and prophets travel through the southwest and Midwest setting up tents and attracting huge crowds to the spectacle. More traditional churches by now had seen a great decline in their attendance, so many in effort to curb the mass exodus, began endorsing the more charismatic teachings through the early and mid 1900’s, even adopting may of their practices.
     The second line of the American mainstream church coming out of 1900 was a more
  intellectually based theology. It put more emphasis on scriptural authority with biblical study and less on emotional experience. This line could not have been anymore directly opposed to the charismatic fanatic approach. It was nothing new, merely a new take on the ideas of the reformation. The problem facing this theological view, which would grow to adopt the reformed theology, and adhere to the doctrines of grace, was the more animated and spectacle based practices of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement had penetrated deep into the Christian culture of many mainstream denominations. It would be the emotionally charged practices of that movement which would become the face of Christianity for the next several decades. The problem was not only did that theology not hold to scriptural authority, as it would grow to recognize modern apostles, and continued prophecy by self proclaimed new prophets of the age. But the secular culture in America in and of itself  was growing more and more distant from the Christian movement and it used the “Holy Roller” spectacle as an example of the nonsensical behaviors of the entire faith.
     When the very word and authority of God was challenged in both the legal courts and the courts of public opinion in the early and mid 1900’s, the more charismatic movement in effort to appease a growing secularized culture found it easy to make concessions to appease the worlds view. Since they had already relieved the scripture as authority in their own churches, making concessions to not have to take scripture as literal interpretation came easy.
     If we move forward to the later part of the century, by now several generations had grown up in churches influenced by the more charismatic mindset and been under the more widely accepted(in American churches) Arminian theology. Christian literature of the late seventies and throughout the eighties was flooded with tales of personal prophecy and new revealed revelation. People hearing the voice of God, seeing God, dying and going to meet God only to return with wild tales, and those who claimed to know all about the end times were some of the most popular. The emotionally driven movement was at an all time peak and this made the churches a wide open field for charlatans and hucksters to take advantage, preaching a slick prosperity message of how God desired everyone to be wealthy and healthy. The greatest benefactors of this false teaching was of course the teachers themselves as they began living like royalty. By the time the eighties had rolled around with the expansion of cable television, these flamboyant fast talking “healers” and “prophets” were tailor made to be on the television screen hocking phony prayer clothes, blessed water, and a wide array of products that continued to make them rich and make a mockery of God’s word.
     Early in the new millennium though, a new generation had emerged. A generation coming out of the postmodern period where truth was relative, and based on each individual. This new generation was looking for definitive truths, seeing the failures of the previous generations view. And they had become disillusioned with a church movement that spawned from the culturally friendly “youth group explosion” of the eighties, and what they saw as the disappointment of a unbiblical prosperity movement. This new generation was looking for something the mainstream churches and denominations caught up in the ‘seeker sensitive’ movement could not offer them, depth and truth.
     So this new generation discovered the classic reformed theology. They were dubbed the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” and they were a new type of Calvinist. As a matter of fact there theology was called “new Calvinism”,  And while there were some stark differences from the classic reformed view (In full disclosure being a traditional Calvinist and adhering to the doctrines of Grace myself, I at times struggle with some of the “new” camps views), the emphasis on scriptural authority was placed paramount, and the preaching of a Christ centered gospel was coming from the pulpits. The movement grew, even in the face of the very liberal, culturally friendly emergent church movement, which faded into near obscurity.
     Today we see a continued resurgence in reformed churches, gospel centered preaching and a call to biblical authority. It only seems fitting in this the 500th anniversary of the reformation. We must remember, the reformation was not a one time event, but an ongoing process to continually reform the church from culturally friendly teaching which waters down the gospel message to appear relevant. We must never allow the gospel to be hijacked by those whom would elevate man and attempt to lower God, so we must be constantly referencing back to God’s word, and God’s word alone. It is by the scripture alone that we read how we are saved by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone for the Glory of God alone.


Unity & Peace: A biblical view

Unity & Peace: a biblical view
   It would seem that the current age we are living in for our nation is as about as tumultuous as anyone has seen. Rarely can a night go by of watching the national news without scenes of riots, violence, protest, and turmoil. At the end of a controversial political season in 2016 we saw a swelling of vocal protest against the election result, some passing the mere gathering stage and becoming violent riots. The same can be said for protest that were directed at police forces in recent years. A mere two weeks ago our nation watched as the city of Charlottesville, Virginia was torn apart by white supremacist groups clashing with what has become known as antifa protesters and groups attempting to protest the racially charged groups. In the wake of these events we hear more and more of a call for unity and peace. And we see many in the media and the culture around left in shock at how humans can behave in this manner. Churches have become involved even, attempting to bring about “unity” and “peace”. But what is the correct response to this? How should a follower of Christ view these events?
 First lets look at how we got to this point. While the world since the fall has progressively moved away from God, rejecting His law. The United States has appeared to pick up incredible speed over the last few decades in it’s secularization.  This has been the result of the breakdown in three God ordained authority structures:
1. The Family: The make up of which is by design Husband-Wife-Children. God placed husbands with the role of leader in the family unit. He is to love his wife as Christ loved the church(Eph. 5: 25-33). A wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord(Eph. 5: 22-24) Both parents are responsible for bringing their children up in the ways of the Lord and children are to honor and obey their parents(Eph. 6: 1-4). But no God ordained institution has come under attack more than the family unit. Our culture for decades has attempted to redefine what family is. The role of father was usurped by the feminist movement, an ever growing divorce rate(even among those who claim Christianity) has taken the father out of the home all together. We have seen the state become more and more responsible for the rearing and educating of the children. And a culture that has attempted to redefine God ordained marriage altogether. So with family units turned upside down or completely built in defiance of Gods design, we see the third generation now of children coming out of homes with the cultures definition of family, and with little to no respect for the authority of parents.
2. Government: National leaders and local officials. God ordains our leaders. Good or bad. (Romans 13:1) Being in defiance of those leaders, rather we like them or not, is being in defiance of God. Scripture tells us as Christians to respect and obey government authorities and we are to live honorably in our communities. National and local officials are given authority by God to punish those whom break the law, and honor those who keep it(1 Peter 2:13-17 & Romans 13:1-5). Unfortunately when the early form of authority in the home is broken down, the natural result is for that disregard to extend out into the local and national authority. We see a generation who have been brought up to see their local officials as enemies and national leaders as crooks. When this type of lack of authority goes unchecked with little to no consequence we see results like those in Charlottesville, and other areas around our nation.
3. Church: Church leaders and members. Leadership within a church body; pastor, elders, and teachers is so important for the health of the church. As believers we are to respect and honor our church leaders, and submit to each other in humility.(Eph. 4:11-16, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-11) When leaders fail their congregations by allowing wolves into the flock to devour, or by attempting to appease the culture for relevancy sake, they are not honoring the position they hold and place that position in a poor light to the body. On the other side, when members of the body do not honor their church leaders, they not only show little regard for direction from the word of God, they teach their children that the people in view of authority in the body of Christ do not have to be respected, and in that, teaching them to question the very word of God.
 This brings us back to the topic at hand “unity” and “peace”. This breakdown of authority institutions is a result of sin. Acts in defiance of Gods very order. This is the result of the fall. Man in his natural state does not want God, nor to be under Gods authority. Man in his natural state has a wickedly depraved heart.
            “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
Paul lets us know in Romans 3 that “no one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands……no one does good, no not even one” So while we no one should ever excuse racism, white supremacy, violence, or rioting, and we should condemn it in all its forms, we also as Christians we should be surprised by it, and understand that it is the result of wicked hearts.  These groups do not have a race problem, or a violence problem, or even a hate problem. They have a heart issue. Their hearts are completely separated from God. In this they hate God. They have enmity for God, His creation, and His authority. In Matthew 22 Jesus tells His followers they will be hated for His names sake. The world hates Christ and those who follow Him. There can be no peace and no unity between a fallen depraved sinful world and those whom have Christ dwelling within them.
  So what about “peace” and “unity”. The peace and unity we see in the Bible is the Unity that happens when fallen sinful hearts are reconciled and brought into unity with a Holy and Righteous God through Jesus Christ. Those hearts will know peace with God through His Son whom died for their sins. That’s the gospel. And their is peace when we are part of the body of Christ. Romans 14:19 tells when we are to pursue these things and build one another up. There is peace amongst true believers in Christ.
  So how are we then to view those in the world whom display racist views, hatred, anger, violence and so forth? We view them not as the enemy but as what they are, the mission field. These are people who have hearts that desperately need to be reconciled to God. We pray for them, and we take Christ to them. They may have anger and rage and hatred. But we have the gospel and it sets men free. Only when they are brought to saving faith in Christ Jesus can they know unity and peace.


Denying self: less of me

I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing  you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.     Romans 12:1-2
Far too often today it seems as if those whom claim to live a life devoted to Christ are attempting to have one foot in the church and the other well into the world. They want to speak about the teachings of Christ, yet allow the cultural view to be the moral compass they adhere to. We must understand that no two views can more directly opposed to each other than the Law of the Lord and the cultures view on anything. The first is based on a perfectly righteous, Holy, and sovereign God, The other is based on the view of fallen, depraved, unregenerate man, So why would anyone whom claims to have faith in Jesus Christ ever allow what the culture around claims is right or wrong be their moral guide? They have allowed themselves to be conformed by this world. And they do this to feed their own desires which are fueled by pride, arrogance, pretentiousness, greed, lust, gluttony, and cowardice. All are born out of self-love.
 The love for ones own self runs deep in the heart of fallen men. The thought of having to do without what those around us have, or to not have the same view as those around us have out of fear of not being relevant, rears its head regularly in our lives. And because those desires to be seen as relevant, successful by the worlds standards, or even the desire to not be seen as different from those around us, we conform to the world. We desire what the world wants. This mindset is then often carried into our churches. ‘I want to go to church and be seen and feel spiritual on Sunday, yet I agree whole heartedly with the worlds  view on most everything, and still want to participate in all the same functions and events as those living in the world do.’ This mindset, when left unchecked, in the church has often made its way into leadership and given birth to the culturally friendly ‘anything goes’ church which uses the current social and political climate of the day to be their authority rather than holding to the Word of God.
  As Christians we must understand it is not about us. Let me repeat that it is not about us. We will always be left feeling empty, and lost, and unfulfilled by chasing acceptance or accolades from anyone or thing in this world. We must understand that we, the world, and all of creation is by its very nature created to be a celebration of another. That being God. But men have corrupted it and made it about themselves. Yet those whom are called to saving faith in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God must no longer live in conformity with the culture around us. We have been called out and set apart. We must deny our selfish desires that are influenced by the culture around us. We should no longer seek our own interests but rather those that are the Lord’s, promoting His glory.
 The first step in no longer living conformed to this world is to abandon ourselves that we may then use all our strength in obedience to God. To be obedient to God, we must know God. Know His law, understand His will. The only way we can do this is by renewing our mind through the scriptures. Weighing everything against God’s word. Not allowing the world or culture to tell us what is acceptable or right, but rather having the direct word of God found in the scriptures as our authority. No one can serve two masters. A Christian cannot bring glory to God while still desiring the world, or seeking to have acceptance in it. Those whom are called to Christ are to have both feet firmly planted and concreted in the Word of God which is a lamp upon our feet. Let our desire not be for this world, but rather to see the full Glory of God.