What is Calvinism? How does Calvinism relate to Scriptures and the practical doctrinal teachings of the Christian faith? These are relevant and important questions which we hope to answer in this series of articles.
The word “Calvinism” refers to the theology and practices derived from Calvin’s works that characterise the Reformed faith. John Calvin (1509 - 1564) was a great 16th Century French reformer and theologian. He was mightily used of God in Geneva, Switzerland where he pastored a church and started a Bible College.
Credited as one of the first to systematise the fundamental doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, Calvin published his most famous treatise, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” in 1536.
Calvin’s “Institutes” stands as one of the most important literary works of the Reformation era. Regarded as the masterpiece of Protestantism, this theological classic has been translated into many languages. Libraries throughout the world carry it as a useful theological reference work in the study of fundamental Christianity.
C H Spurgeon aptly commented: “It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching no new doctrine. I love to proclaim those strong old doctrines that are nicknamed Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus.”
Many theologians are of the view that, apart from German reformer, Martin Luther, no man has had a greater influence on Protestant theology than John Calvin. C H Spurgeon paid him the following tribute: “Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin. No age before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance with nothing like his glory or his permanence.”
Our Far Eastern Bible College runs a regular course each semester based upon Calvin’s Systematic Theology. According to the late Rev (Dr) Timothy Tow, “Calvinism is Paulinism systematised”, as it has its roots in the Scriptures, especially in the doctrines of the apostle Paul. His epistles, particularly to the Romans and Ephesians, are full of Calvinistic doctrines.
Though Calvin is the author of many Bible commentaries and theological classics, his most well-known teachings, as set forth in his “Institutes” are the Five Points of Calvinism. Using the acronym, “T-U-L-I-P”, the foundational doctrines of the Reformed faith are:
1. Total depravity
Man is totally depraved and cannot help nor save himself: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3: 10 cf v 23).
2. Unconditional election
Because man cannot save himself, his salvation is the work and gift of God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2: 8-9).
3. Limited atonement
The power of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary is all sufficient, even to save the whole wide world. However, it is wrought effectively only upon the elect: “And he (Christ) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2: 2). Augustine rightly commented: “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.”
4. Irresistible grace
None can resist the drawing power of divine grace: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out … 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6: 37, 44).
5. Perseverance or Preservation of the saints
God’s elect will never lose their salvation because of His preserving grace: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10: 29).
The Five Points of Calvinism focus “on God’s sovereignty, stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, to do whatever He desires with His creation. It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual where he is then able and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation” (https://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm) (… to be continued)