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Word of Faith, Arminianism, and Calvinism

(Part Three)

This discussion is continued from: Word of Faith, Arminianism, and Calvinism - Part Two. My comments to which the e-mailer is responding to are in purple and enclosed in double "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. The e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


Exchange Four

>Gary,

Just want to take this opportunity to thank you for responding. I can only imagine how busy you must be in trying to provide solid biblical answers to the many e-mails you receive. It has helped me immensely to be able to sort of talk this out through e-mail with you. I have responded to your previous e-mail by points. Thanks again.<

Well, you caught me at a good time. I didn't have too many other e-mails coming in. But at other times I get deluged by e-mails and simply cannot respond in detail, if at all, to all of them. Plus, I'm always working on the ALT and other stuff for my site. So it does get difficult to know where to place my limited energies.

That said, you're welcome for the help. But once again, I'm rather busy. So I'll have to keep this one a lot briefer.

>>The hyper-Calvinist would say we shouldn't witness, try to do good for our fellow human being, do good works, etc., because if all "fore-ordained" what we do doesn't matter. But a true Calvinist would never acquiesce to such an attitude as it conflicts with Scripture.<<

> I understand. And when we really think about it, whether Arminian or Calvinist, we are still left with the same dilemma: If God is truly Sovereign, and knows the beginning and the end, and is truly in control, then why should we do anything? This dilemma is presented to both Arminian (if they TRULY believe that God is in fact SOVEREIGN) and Calvinist, with the difference being how we perceive the dilemma.

The Arminian perceives the dilemma first with a faulty view of the Sovereignty and Providence of God (which I have come to understand, really, as the "God-hood" of God). The attitude seems to be "Yes, God is Sovereign, BUT..." After the "BUT" the next things that usually follow are, in not so many words, "WE have the power to CHANGE things that God previously ordained." So, the focus is the power of the human will to "change" events, instead of trusting in the goodness of a Creator who really is in absolute control.

The Calvinist on the other hand, believing God to be absolutely in control, absolutely all of the time, simply stands on THAT truth, and realizes that God is using his prayers, preaching, teaching, etc., as a (or in some cases, THE) means by which God brings about His eternal purposes. So, it is a God-centered focus and perspective. And as you pointed out, the reason we do ANYTHING is simply because we are commanded to do so!

I believe that the Arminian view even holds the most potential for individuals making "ship-wreck" of their faith, because they have a flawed view of the Sovereignty of God, and therefore it can be overwhelming to ACCEPTING circumstances that come into our lives as events that do not fall outside of His control. In the final examination, the Arminian could just as easily be a fatalist.<

Once again, you've articulated the situation very well. I will simply add that a dilemma for the Arminian is reconciling God's foreknowledge with their claim of "free-will." If God already knows something is going to happen, then it is still in a sense "ordained" to happen. So there's still no place for "free-will" in the sense Arminians define it.

>> Well, John Calvin did refer to the reprobation part of predestination as the "horrible decree."<<

> That's amazing! I had basically stated the same thing.<

>>Third, is your statement about God "choosing" some for damnation. Be careful here: there are two different types of Calvinism. The first is known as "supralapsarian" Calvinism. The second is "sublapsarian" Calvinism.<<

> Here is where I am having the problem. I really do not want to fall into the supralapsarian camp, however, to say that God "God looked down the corridors of time at the mass of sinful humanity that would be born." and "God did not ordain anyone to damnation. It was the sin of the Fall and subsequent, personal sins, not the ordination of God, that is the reason people are damned" sounds very similar to an Arminian perspective (with the exception of God's choice being unconditional).<

The main difference between the "sub" and "supra" view is that in the former Adam did have "free-will" in the sense that He could have not sinned (as opposed to us today who, because of our inherited sinful nature, cannot not sin). Of course, as I said above, since God foreknew that Adam would sin, there is a sense in which his will was not totally "free."

>The sublapsarian view sounds as if we have gone back to square one in that something happened outside of His control or against His will. It would seem that God had to have ordained the fall, otherwise, how could the fall have happened? He had to have full knowledge of everything prior to it happening, and not just full knowledge, but even control.

His choice had to be prior to any act of creation, otherwise haven't we compromised God's sovereignty somehow?<

I don't think so. As I said, given God's foreknowledge, He was still in control. Adam's sin did not "surprise" Him. But you probably are correct that the "sub" view is somewhat like the Arminian view in regards to events prior to the Fall. But after the Fall, the "sub" and Arminian views completely differ while the "sub" and "supra" views are the same.

> Also, even if sub is true, we are still right back at the fact that God did in fact choose, predestine, and ordain some to salvation, and in essence others to be damned. Whether they are reprobate before the fall or after fall seems to be insignificant, because the bottom line is that they are reprobate. The point seems to be that people are reprobate, and are predestined to be so. In the final analysis it doesn't really matter when or for what reason. Plus, remember the Scripture that says (paraphrasing) before Jacob and Esau had done anything, good or bad, God made his choice. I would like to believe sub, but again, it really doesn't seem to matter.<

I would say the main difference between the two views is one of perception. In the "supra" view you have God creating the reprobate specifically for the purpose of damning them. Whereas, in the "sub" the reprobate were not created to be damned but damned themselves by their sin (although God knew before creating them that they would sin and thus deserve damnation). So the "sub" view "softens" things a bit.

>> Yes, Calvinism can be difficult to accept at first. But the issue for me was, is it Scriptural? Once I was convinced that it was, I had no choice but to accept it. It was difficult at first; but now, I simply cannot see it any other way. Now, to me, Arminianism is so obviously wrong I cannot see how I ever accepted it!<<

> I agree 100%! I look at the issues now, and the logical inconsistencies with the Armenian position, and I am amazed. I kind of feel like I have to start all over again and learn the basics! I am blessed however in the sense that I had been heavily influenced by people like D. James Kennedy and R.C. Sproul. Like I said before, I "talked" like a Calvinist, I just wasn't ready to deal with the truth of it all.<

Kennedy and Sproul are two good influences! Kennedy is about the only TV preacher I think is worthwhile. I have been watching him on Sunday nights. And Sproul is probably one of the best modern-day authors. I have read many of his books. I consider his book The Holiness of God to be one of the best books I have every read. I would highly recommend it to anyone!

>> But it has never been a major problem for me. As I look at it, I am responsible to God because He says so! I am responsible for trying to do good for my fellow human being because God says so. I should do good works because God says so. I should pray because God says so. I should witness because God says so. I simply see no reason to try to understand why I should. God's telling me that I should is enough for me.<<

> AMEN! When we boil it all down, that's the bottom line.

Gary, thanks again. Just being able to talk (or write!) about these things has been a great comfort.

God Bless,
John
5/17/1999<

I am thankful I have been able to be of help!


Exchange Five

>Dear Gary,

Thanks for the input. My brain is finally "de-cramping!" Just being able to discuss the issues with someone is a great help (I passed the "cramp" to my poor wife! But she, too, has come to the inevitable conclusions).<

Glad to help; and glad to hear your wife's also coming along!

>As you are well aware, people who hold to the Reformed view are most definitely in the minority.<

True, very true.

> One of the things God has shown me through all of this is that if you are willing to accept His truth concerning His Providence, it ultimately FORCES you to place trust in His goodness and wisdom ALONE. Our human nature recoils at the doctrine because we realize that we really aren't in control of anything, and we must completely abandon ourselves to the mercy of God. It's almost as if God is saying, "Don't try to figure it out (his Providence vs. human responsibility, etc.), just receive it and TRUST ME."<

He's Got It Under Control is the title to a Christian song. I don't know if the members of the group are Calvinists or not; but only a Calvinist can truly sing the song! And the lyrics to that song (which really do little more than repeat the title over and over!) have helped me through some hard times. I just keep reminding myself, "He's got it under control." If a person can truly believe that then he can have peace in even the worse circumstances.

>The dilemma I have now is that not only do I attend a Church which is thoroughly Arminian (and Pentecostal) in its teaching, but I am also an Elder in the Church, and I preach and teach frequently. Like I stated before, I have pretty much "walked and talked" like a Calvinist all the time, but now...I think you get the picture! :-)

Of course, it's a wonderful opportunity for people to hear about the Sovereignty of God and other aspects of Reformed theology, but I must be careful. But a big part of me feels like I am behind the power curve so to speak, and I just want to find a place that is thoroughly Reformed in its theology where I can learn and grow.

Guess I'll just settle for teaching series by Sproul, etc.! (that's not too bad!). The bigger issue is how long can I support a Church that I don't line up doctrinally with. They are solid on the basics and essentials, but what I have come to discover is that if the foundation is flawed, then so will the understanding of the essentials be flawed to some degree, if not altogether.

Take care Gary, and thanks again,
John
6/1/1999<

You are correct that a Calvinist will have a hard time "fitting in" at an Arminian/ Pentecostal church! And I doubt you'll find that the church will help you to "learn and grow" very much. You will probably find yourself disagreeing more and more with what is being taught than being helped in your own Christian walk.

I've been asked before by newly "converted" Calvinists what church they should now attend. My answer has been they have two options: first, you could try finding a church that specifically teaches Calvinist doctrine. These would include conservative Presbyterian or Reformed churches. But the key word here is "conservative."

But that I mean churches that still accept the Bible as the inerrant (i.e. without error) Word of God. Unfortunately, many mainline churches have abandoned this and other essentials of the faith. Many church "splits" have occurred in Presbyterian and Reformed churches as a result of this debate. And off-hand, I can't say which are conservative and which are liberal.

But the quickest way to find out is to ask if the church ascribes to the Westminster Confession. This is the historic, Calvinistic confession of such churches. If they do then they would be conservative.

There are also some Baptist churches that are specifically Reformed in doctrine. Historically they were known as "particular Baptist" churches. The word "particular" refers to the belief that Jesus died for those "particular" people He intended to save. This would be opposed to "general Baptist" churches which believe Jesus died for all people in "general."

Initially, the Baptist movement was mainly "particular" in nature. But since the early 1800s, the "general" Baptist churches, at least in the USA, have become the most common. So today, it is rather difficult to find a true "particular" Baptist church.

And you would also have to watch out for the conservative-liberal problems when checking out Baptist churches. But again, the quickest way to find out is to ask for a confession of faith. In fact, many particular Baptist churches simply use the a modified versions of the Westminster Confession; the modifications involving changing the sections on Baptism and church government to more specific Baptist viewpoints.

The second route to go would be to look for a church that is "neutral" in regards to the Arminian/ Calvinist debate. The "Evangelical Free Church of America" (EFCA) is one such example. Officially, the EFCA's confession of faith simply lists the "essentials" of the faith and leaves it "open" when it comes to secondary (but important) questions like Arminianism vs. Calvinism.

Of course, EFCA churches will vary, with some being more and some less Calvinistic. It would mainly depend on the views of the head preacher. So you would need to talk to the preacher to find out the attitude of a particular EFCA church. The pastor of the EFCA church I attend says he's a "4 1/2 point Calvinist" (with some hesitancy with the "L"); but that's close enough for me!

Otherwise, I would suggest checking out my short article, Choosing a Church for more suggestions in this regard.

Now all of that said, your situation is a little more complicated given that you are an elder at your church. I would suggest talking to your head pastor and/ or elder board to find out how "open" your church is to your new-found, Calvinist views.

I'm not sure of course; but I got a feeling they would say they are fine as long as you keep your views to yourself. But given that you "preach and teach" frequently you might find that difficult. And as you already seem to realize, it would be difficult to continue to be associated with and to support a church which you have a very important theological difference with.

So, IMHO, you would probably be better off in the long run if you found a new church where you could freely express your views. But, I do suggest at least talking to the board of your current church so they understand why you are thinking of leaving. Maybe something can be worked out so that you could stay. As an elder, it simply wouldn't be right to walk away without an explanation.


Exchange Six

>Gary,

Great advice!

The week of 12 - 18 June I will be going to Florida to preach in different prisons with the ministry my father and I have called Fishers of Men Ministries. After I return, I will sit down with my Pastor and discuss the issues with him. Out Pastor is a fantastic, Godly man, so I know he will listen intently. I feel like I'm to just stay put for the time being. Like I've mentioned, I have basically preached, taught and talked like a Calvinist anyway. But I do believe that the time for me to move on will come. But the timing just doesn't seem right now, not to mention the fact that the fellowship in the Church is tremendous.<

May God bless you in your ministry and be with you as you talk with your pastor. And I can understand "tremendous fellowship" being difficult to leave.

>As for my wife's embracing Reformed doctrine, she is embracing it, but is really struggling with the issue of the Providence of God. She actually had tears in her eyes last night as she contemplated the issues. It can be difficult. But I told her that this doctrine basically DRIVES us and FORCES us to truly trust in the goodness of God. And ultimately, it is much like the doctrine of the Trinity: We can't fully COMPREHEND it but we can APPREHEND it with some degree of understanding. You know, trying to explain the infinite to the finite is like trying to explain quantum physics to a clam. How much more the deep things of God to us.<

Good advice yourself!

>God Bless you Gary!

And thanks for all of your help,
John

P.S. HE'S GOT IT UNDER CONTROL! Hallelujah!
6/7/1999<

AMEN!

For a follow-up to this discussion, see Starting a Reformed Church.

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Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.

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