"One says, 'I follow Paul, 'another says, 'I follow Apollos,' another says, 'I follow Cephas,' and still another, 'I follow Christ.'" (1 Corinthians 1:12).
Calvinism is a religious belief system based upon the teachings of the 16th century French "Reformer" John Calvin. Calvinists are people who follow the teachings of John Calvin in some way or another. The belief system originated in Geneva, Switzerland in the 16th century and soon spread to include believers in Scotland, Holland, France, Germany and England. You may also see Calvinism referred to as "Reformed doctrine." Its distinctiveness is marked by a heavy emphasis on their own doctrines of election and predestination as the Calvinists themselves interpret and define these concepts. These particular doctrines are often used by Calvinists as a controlling hingepoint for all their other beliefs. Calvinists are found among "Reformed" churches, Presbyterians, some Baptists, and others. Many of their beliefs are outlined in the "Westminster Confession of Faith" (1646). Although there are many strains of Calvinism, the belief system is most often expressed in simple terms by a 5 point system under the acronym "TULIP" with each letter standing for a certain precept:
- T - Total Depravity
- U - Unconditional Election
- L - Limited Atonement
- I - Irresistable Grace
- P - Perserverance of the Saints
Calvinists believe that before the creation of the world, God predetermined which specific individuals would ultimately be saved apart from any virtue in those individuals themselves. This group is called "the Elect" (the Chosen) and God's predetermining of the Elect is called Unconditional Election since there is no condition in the person which caused God to choose that person. Calvinists also believe that those who were NOT chosen to be saved by God before the creation of the world will ever be saved. Indeed, because these unfortunate individuals were not chosen by God to be saved, they cannot ever be saved from eternal torment in hell and there is absolutely nothing they can do to about it. According to Calvinism, the Elect/Chosen are predestined to be saved to eternal life in heaven and there is nothing they can do about it either. The Elect are just like the non-elect in the sense that they can do nothing about changing their eternal destiny which was determined by God before he even created the universe. According to Calvinism, whom God elected and predestined to be saved to eternal life will certainly be saved and whom God did not elect and predestine to be saved will certainly not be saved. Calvinist doctrines teach that all this was predetermined before God created the world and everything that happens was preordained by God to happen and therefore there is nothing the elect or non-elect can do to change their ultimate destinies in either heaven or hell.
Some Calvinists believe God predetermined not only who would be saved but also which people would spend eternity in hell before he created the world. This is called "double predesination" because it means God, before the creation of the world, not only predetermined which people would be saved, but he also predetermined which people would be damned to eternal torment. Thus, God predetermined who would go to hell and there is nothing these people can do to change their destinies. However, most Calvinists simply believe God chose who would be saved and "passed over" those who would be damned and therefore he did not actively choose them to be damned. Suffice it to say that it is quite obvious to any rational thinking person, that if God chose which persons would be saved, he also then implicitly chose which persons would be damned by not choosing not to choose the others for salvation fully knowing that by not choosing them they would be consigned to eternal torment and there is nothing they would ever be able to do to change that destiny. This is one area Calvinists often do not want to discuss very much.
The problem further leads into the destiny of babies who died in infancy. Concerning this problem you will find all kinds of wild variations in Calvinism including everything from "all babies who died in infancy were God's elect" to "Yes, some infants are/were indeed preordained by God to eternal damnation and torment." The opinions of Calvinist may vary widely concerning this issue. Usually however, Calvinists themselves seem to be confident their own children are elected by God to be saved even though John Calvin and Calvinism teach that no one can know for sure the identity of the elect.
Since God predetermined everything that will ever happen, then everything that ever happens was ordained by God, including sin, Hitler and his work and Osama bin Laden and his work and every heinous thing you could ever imagine. This is illustrated clearly in the Westminster Confession."God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:(a) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(b) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established" (Of God's Eternal Decree, III.1).However, when confronted with this problem, Calvinists say that such heinous acts are man's fault, not God's and therefore God is not the author of sin (even though God preordained it to happen and it could not happen any other way). Calvinists often do not want to get into this discussion for obvious reasons.
Calvinists also do not like to be accused of believing in Fatalism which by definition is "the philosophical doctrine holding that all events are predestined to happen and that human beings cannot therefore change their destinies" even though they themselves believe that all events are predestined to happen and that human beings cannot therefore change their destinies. This is also indicated in Chapter III of the Westminster Confession, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."
Calvinists believe that man is Totally Depraved. One must be very careful here because Calvinists are not the only Christian group to use this term. To the Calvinist the term means something more than it does to these other Christians who also use this term. To other groups it means that man is born in a condition of sin and cannot get out of this condition on his own and he needs Christ to deliver him out of the dilemma. But the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity means something more than just needing the salvation of Christ. Hence, you must be careful concerning this term since Calvinists use the same term but define it differently.
First, when Calvinists use the term "Total Depravity" they do not intend to mean that a man is as bad or evil as he can possibly be. It means he is totally in bondage to his sinful condition and has no hope of escape apart from Christ. Up to this point he is in agreement with other groups who also use the term "Total Depravity." However, to the Calvinist, Total Depravity means that he is also totally unable to believe the gospel message. The Calvinist does not believe that a man has the capacity to choose to believe the gospel message before he is born again. Therefore, Calvinists sometimes refer to Total Depravity as "Total Inability" which implies man is totally unable to believe the gospel message. In Calvinism, one does not believe to become born again because they reason he simply cannot believe unto salvation. Rather one must first become born again before he is able to believe the gospel message.
Since God elected who will be saved, Calvinists also believe that when the right time comes for them to be saved they will be saved by the power of God and there is nothing they can do to resist God's saving act of regenerating them to new birth salvation. This is called Irresistable Grace or Effectual Calling or Efficacious Grace. God's call to believe the gospel is irresistable and effectual unto salvation. In short, this means that God makes those he previously chose to be born again at a certain predetermined time and place and then that person is able to believe the gospel message and necessarily will believe the gospel message because God predetermined that he would and he can do absolutely nothing to resist God's call. Put another way, it means that since God predetermined everything that will ever happen then he also predetermined certain people to be saved at a certain point in time and space and he causes them to be born again apart from their own will and in so doing they can and then will believe the gospel. Calvinists like to quote John 6:44 where they translate it as "No one can come to Me unless the Father drags him."
Since Calvinists have difficulty finding any Biblical evidence which they can claim supports their doctrine of Irresistable Grace, any conversation about this doctrine will not last long and often quickly ends up turning into a discussion on Total Depravity. Since the Calvinist believes that a man is unable to believe the gospel message, he seeks to demonstrate that the only way he can believe the gospel message is if God forces a change in that person so that he can believe the gospel message by first regenerating him (making him born again) so that he is able to believe. Thus, God needs to Irresistably make a man born again because he is Totally Depraved. This of course would make sense if were only true that an unregenerate man was unable to believe the gospel.
Since God elected who will be saved, Calvinists further believe that Jesus died only for the those who will be eventually saved ("the elect" as they define it which also certainly includes those who are now Calvinists) and the sins of these elect (as Calvinists define the elect), but not for the sins of anyone else. This is called Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. They think that if Christ died for everyone then it would mean that everyone would necessarily be saved and since not everyone will be saved then they conclude that Christ did not die for all the people of the world but only for those people God predetermined who would be saved. This doctrine of Calvinism answers the question, "For whom did Christ die?," and means that Jesus did not die on the cross for every human being. Rather he died only for the people God had chose to be saved. Since Christ did not die for everyone, then those for whom he did not die must and will go to hell and there is nothing they can do about it since God did not elect and predestine them for salvation.
Since God elected who will be saved in a conversion event, then the Calvinist also concludes that God will make sure that person will be saved at the end of the age at the final judgment. Those who God chose to become Christians cannot fall away and fall short of salvation at the final judgment since God chose them to be saved. Thus all who have been born again will ultimately end up in heaven and nothing between their new birth event and judgment day can change this destiny. Calvinists variously call this Perseverance of the Saints, Preservation of the Saints, Once Saved Always Saved, or Eternal Security, or more loosely Assurance [of Salvation].
This is a brief review of Calvinistic doctrine. Calvinists often charge others of misrepresenting their beliefs. For this reason, I urge you to examine their doctrines for yourself to make sure that what is written here is indeed accurate and true. You will also find links to Calvinist web sites on the main page where you can find Calvinists themselves describing their beliefs.
- T otal Depravity - non-born again people cannot believe the gospel message to salvation
- U nconditional Election - God has already chosen which people will be saved
- L imited Atonement - Christ died only for the people he has already chosen to save
- I rresistable Grace - When God calls the elect to salvation, they cannot choose to reject the call
- P erseverance of the Saints - Those already saved cannot fall short of salvation on the last day
"Be sure of all things"