Saturday, August 22, 2009

The History of Calvinism

In 1610, one year after the death of James Arminius, five articles of faith based on his teachings were drawn up by his followers. They were: free will, conditional election, universal atonement, resistible grace, and falling from grace. These were presented to the state of Holland in the form of a "Remonstrance" or "protest." The followers of James Arminius or commonly known as Armenians' insisted that the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism which was the official expression of the doctrinal position of the churches of Holland be changed to conform to the doctrinal views contained in the Remonstrance or protest. A national synod was called to meet in Dort in 1618 for the purpose of examining the views of Arminius in the light of Scripture. The Great Synod was convened by the State General of Holland on November 13, 1618 with 84 members and 18 secular commissioners. Included were 27 delegates from Germany, the Palatinate, Switzerland and England. There were 154 sessions held during the 7 months that the Synod met together to consider these matters, the last of which was on May 9, 1619. The five articles of faith presented by the Armenians' were unanimously rejected. As part of their rejection, they produced the five points of Calvinism.

Edwin H. Palmer, in his book The Five Points of Calvinism, says, “The title the five points of Calvinism can be misleading. For Calvinism does not have five points, and, neither is Calvin the author of the five points.

First of all, Calvinism is not restricted to five points: it has thousands of points. The first word that Calvinism suggests to most people is predestination; and if they have a modicum of theological knowledge, the other four points follow. But this is wrong. Calvinism is much broader than five points. It is not even primarily concerned with the five points. In the first catechism which Calvin drew up (1537), predestination is only briefly mentioned. In the Confession of Faith, drawn up in the same year, there is no mention of it at all. In another catechism and four confessions attributed to Calvin, the doctrine is mentioned only in passing. And in the first edition of his monumental work, The Institutes, it is given no important place even when he treats the matter of salvation. It was only in later editions, after attacks had been made on the grace of God, that he enlarged upon predestination.

Calvinism has an unlimited number of points: it is as broad as the Bible. Does the Bible teach about the Trinity? Then, Calvinism does. Does the Bible deal with the deity of Christ, the covenant of grace, justification by faith, sanctification, the second coming of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture and the world-and-life view? Then, Calvinism does, too. For John Calvin’s goal in his preaching, teaching, and writing was to expound all the Word of God—and the Word of God alone. Scriptura tota: Scriptura sola. Calvinism is an attempt to express all the Bible and only the Bible. To restrict it to five points is to misjudge and dishonor the man and movement that bears the name Calvin.

Not only can the word five be misleading in the name the Five Points of Calvinism, but also the word Calvinism. At first glance, many believe that Calvin is the author of the five points. Such a misconception ignores the fact that Calvinism simply expounded the Bible. Calvin did not invent a new teaching any more than Columbus invented America or newton the law of gravity. As Columbus and Newton merely discovered what had existed all along, so Calvin uncovered truths that had been in the Bible all the time. And Calvin was not the first nor the last to uncover these Biblical truths. Many others confessed them, too. From Augustine to Gottschalk to Spurgeon; from Lutherans to Baptists to Dominicans; from Dutch to Scottish to French; from individuals to associations to church confessions; from laymen to hymn-writers to theologians. The name Calvinism has often been used, not because Calvin was the first or sole teacher, but because after the long silence of the Middle Ages, he was the most eloquent and systematic expositor of these truths” (The Five Points of Calvinism, Foward).


Brenda Branch said...

Steve, are you a Calvinist?

Changed By Grace said...