Making Calvinists of All Nations - Part Three
Our foray into Calvinism over the past several months has sobered Peter and me. We have been grieved to see firsthand how the human Christian mind, after having been indoctrinated into the tenets of Calvinism, and after having believed a lie, becomes vehemently opposed to the truth. We realize that in speaking against this false doctrine, we have become aligned with an often-ridiculed and disparaged theological minority. Is not this road narrow, and were we not to expect that “the way of truth would be evil spoken of” (2 Pet. 2:2)?
It is our hope that in this final part of our study, those who desire to hear the word of Truth would exhibit the fear of God that lends itself to wisdom. Though neither my thoughts nor my pen are perfect, my spirit rejoices in the truth of the Lord, and in His indissoluble and undefiled character as it is revealed to us in Scripture. It is our prayer that you, too, will embrace the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who so loved the world that He died for everyone, so that anyone who believes on Him will have eternal life.
In this final part of “Making Calvinists of All Nations”, we will identify Calvinism as a false doctrine, and its followers as its victims. We will explain how the deceived mind resists truth, and how change agents infiltrate the church and disseminate the false teachings of Reformed theology.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
The content titles of this article are qualifications met by false doctrines. As you shall see, they are all met by Calvinism.
1. “Theological Term-Switching” and the “Semantic Maze”
2. “Dogmatism” and “Extremeness of Belief”
3. “New Insight’ and the “Supernatural”
4. The “Charismatic Leader” – founder John Calvin
5. Making Disciples
6. The “Hegelian Dialectic” and the “Change Agent”
7. Bitter Fruit
CALVINISM AS A FALSE DOCTRINE
I would rather call Calvinism a “false doctrine” than a cult. However, because I will be quoting Walter Martin, who has written extensively about Christian cults and is considered an expert in this area, the term may appear. Walter Martin was himself a Calvinist. Unbeknownst to him, his writing about Christian cults exposed his own belief system to be cultish. I have respect for the man’s work, and love him as much as I love all those who are created in God’s image for whom Christ died, but please keep in mind that although he was right about cults, he was wrong about Calvinism.
1. “Theological Term-Switching” and the “Semantic Maze”
Walter Martin, in The Kingdom of the Cults,[i] said that the key to understanding cultism is to understand the use of terminological deceptions (1985:20). He wrote, “On encountering a cultist then, always remember that you are dealing with a person who is familiar with Christian terminology, and who has carefully redefined it to fit the system of thought he or she now embraces” (1985:20). He continues, “We ought never to forget for one moment that things are what they are by definition” (1985:22).
As shown in Part One and Two of “Making Calvinists of All Nations”, Calvinists have taken theological terms, redefined them, and then presupposed them into the Biblical text. This is what Martin calls “theological term-switching”. Enter the semantic maze.
One of the things that impresses me about Ravi Zacharias is that he can access four or five different philosophical concepts, remember their entire thematic significance, and then utilize all of them in a single sentence with a single representative word. What impresses me even more are those who can hear him, understand him, and follow along unhesitatingly in their minds.
What this requires is layered terminological familiarity – thinking in conceptual layers, as it were. For example, take the term “Hegelian Dialectics”, which we will need to know for later. This term refers to a simple formula: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. However, the words in the formula each refer to a different concept, so one cannot use the term without having memorized the meanings of the words that define that term. Subsequently, each different concept relates to the other to produce a conclusion that is further dependent on how the concepts are used in relation to one another. So, in order to use the term “Hegelian Dialectics” effectively (to understand and be understood), both parties must know what each word in the formula means, how the words relate to one another, and how they are relevant to the intended meaning of the sentence as a whole – and they must come to this understanding in an instant.
Necessarily, one would expect that in a conversation that uses such terms, each term is factual, or true. However, the problem with false doctrines is that these terms are rarely true. Furthermore, as philosophical terms often represent unproven theories, Calvinistic terms represent false concepts. When speaking with a Calvinist, therefore, the Christian must not only know what the true definitions of Biblical words and doctrines are, but they must also know what the false definitions of those words and doctrines are. Walter Martin refers to this intellectual seesawing of terms as the “semantic maze”.
For example, when Calvinists use the term “sovereign” to describe God, they are not talking about the Christian understanding of the term, which is that God is all-powerful and in authority over all. To the Calvinist, God’s “sovereignty” or “sovereign grace” negates human free will. It refers directly to the theory of “determinism”, which states that God’s will is determinate – His knowledge is inseparable from His will. The doctrinal extension of this erroneous definition is that He has chosen some people to be saved and others to be dammed before time regardless of what they might choose for themselves in time.
The semantic maze is most damaging when a Christian has a conversation with a Calvinist about the wonder of God’s sovereignty, for example, not realizing that they are talking about completely different concepts. On the surface, they seem to agree, but in reality, they DO NOT. Martin writes, “Christendom… is ill prepared for the subtleties and dangers of such psychological and theological deviations” (1985:37).
He is right. Christians need to get informed so that they will not be deceived.
2. “Dogmatism” and “Extremeness of Belief”
Martin writes, “all cultic belief systems manifest a type of institutional dogmatism and a pronounced intolerance for any position but their own” (1985:27); and “cults thrive on conformity, ambiguity and extremeness of belief” (1985:28).
Christopher Chapman, in “Calvinism’s Bold Accusation: The Making of a Calvinist”, writes, “the humble and hungry” Christian has a “sensitive conscience”, and is “willing to do anything to serve God, no matter what the cost”. [ii] This includes giving up her experiential certainty that she CHOSE to believe in God when she was converted. Because Calvinists adamantly claim that we do not choose to believe, but God chose US to believe, the “humble and hungry” would rather give up her notion of free will than risk taking any credit away from God for her own conversion. Since it is obvious to all of us that we have free will, the “humble and hungry” are left to wrestle with to what extent that free will exists. What part do we play in conversion, if any? How does that affect the way we evangelize? Further, how can our love for God give Him glory if He forced it on us?
The idea that God is a Grand Puppet Master who not only determines our eternal destiny before we’re born, but also condemns to hell those He didn’t choose, is difficult to accept because it is offensive to our God-given sense of justice. However, Chapman writes, “The assumption is, ‘If something is hard to accept, accepting it must prove a sincere devotion to God’”.[iii]
Enter the “conformity, ambiguity, and extremeness of belief” mentioned by Martin. It is extreme to believe that God sends to heaven those whom He has chosen even if they have never repented and even if they don’t want to go. It is equally extreme to believe that God sends to hell those whom He has NOT chosen even if they have never heard the gospel and even if the law has never convicted them of sin. Such notions are completely contrary to what Scripture teaches (see Part One and Two).
And yet, the ambiguities this presents along with the outright contradictions that Calvinists subsequently encounter in Scripture do not deter their fervent desire to fight against their own reason in order to accept the unacceptable. Martin calls this the “peaceful coexistence of beliefs that are beyond a question of a doubt logically contradictory” (1985:28).
Calvinists call these irreconcilable differences “mysteries” that cannot be known, when really they are blasphemies committed against the character of God that cannot be tolerated.
The result is astonishing.
Micah Coate, author of A Cultish Side of Calvinism[iv], writes, “Along with an ‘us vs. them’ approach, Calvinism can also instil a false sense of intellectualism as an outlet for spiritual fervency. This no doubt plays a big part in the prideful mindset of ardent Calvinists”.[v]
Calvinists have fought against their own reason and won. They have wrestled against their own conscience and submitted it. They have performed these acts of insanity as a sacrifice to the God they think they are serving by it. Tragically, the truth is that they are brainwashed, they are blind, and they are deceived. Nevertheless, their struggles have emboldened them to believe that they have reached a spiritual and intellectual echelon. They are proud of their accomplishment.
A former Calvinist wrote, “As I began my new life in Christ I was under the influence of not one but several Calvinistic teachers whose high intellect and conservative stance on Scripture sucked me in like a cheap vacuum”.[vi]
Another wrote, “I elevated above the rabble of non-Calvinists all writers and theologians who championed it. They were somehow more worthy of respect. They had an inherently greater demand on my attention and belief”.[vii]
Doctrinal elitism, or “dogmatism”, is a rigid adherence to a belief system that is often coupled with an elitist sense of intellectual superiority. Adherents often show an unwillingness to examine their doctrine critically or to follow that doctrine to its logical conclusion. A hostile response is often received by those who disagree with them (Martin 1985:26-27).
Numerous reports identify Calvinists as being arrogant, belligerent, and deprecatory.[viii] They feel intellectually entitled to teach – or speak down to – their “adversary”. Their writing is characterized by the use of denigrating terms and a big-brother-type condescension. They use “straw-man” arguments and the “bait-and switch” technique to confuse their opponents. For example, they will immediately and pejoratively identify a non-Calvinist as an “Arminian” or “Pelagian”, relegating them to an unintellectual belief system that is easy to dismantle. In this way, false dichotomies are created, making Calvinism appear to be, comparatively speaking, more tenable.
“Put them in mind to… speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men…” (Tit. 3:1a, 2).
3. “New Insight” and the “Supernatural”
Calvinists who have been converted from Christianity feel that they have “arrived” into intellectual elitism. They feel like they have “new insight” into the Bible that most Christians do not have. Why?
When a Calvinist sees a Biblical term such as “election”, his or her mind opens up into an entire paradigm of presupposed meaning that IS NOT APPARENT IN THE TEXT. This fuels her sense of theological superiority, in that she believes herself able to see what others cannot. It subsequently drives her passionate attempt to uproot further Calvinistic “proof texts”, where their presupposed definitions are superimposed into an otherwise unobtrusive text. She finds that this discovery of terms is invigorating and exciting, and then she commits the ultimate mistake: she attributes this “enlightenment” to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Martin writes, “the ground for their claims is almost always supernatural” (1985:27). As a result, the cultist will “build his theological system upon a preconditioned and artificially induced criterion of evaluation” (1985:37). In other words, if you don’t see in the text what THEY see in the text, you are clearly UNENLIGHTENED. You probably aren’t CHOSEN, and you probably are NOT INDWELT WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Because their false doctrine was so hard-won, in that they had to fight both their reason and their conscience in order to believe it, they feel that the only explanation for this amazing and daring feat is the Holy Spirit.
Enter Calvinist John MacArthur. He said, “There may not be a church in this area that I know of where the Holy Spirit has manifested Himself more powerfully than right here at Grace Church”.[ix] Previously, in the same sermon, he called John Calvin a “great source of Biblical wisdom [who] consulted every available source there was”. This is an unfounded, preposterous claim. Later, he said, “Does any man have the right or the learning innately on his own to bypass all the accumulated illumination of the Holy Spirit through the history of the church?”
What is the inference here? Without reading John Calvin, who represents the “history of the church”, Christians will miss out on the “illumination of the Holy Spirit” when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Rather than point to the Holy Spirit for spiritual understanding, MacArthur calls it “veiled egotism to say, ‘I don’t read human books, I go right to the Bible’”. MacArthur is effectively teaching that unless Christians consult the Calvinist writings of the church “fathers”,[x] and apply their Biblical understanding to God’s Word, we cannot properly interpret it.
What does the Bible say about that?
First, it says, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ” (Mt. 23:8-10).
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2).
What does God say about our ability to understand His Word?
“Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word” (Ps. 119:139).
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).
“Plead my cause, and ransom me: quicken me because of thy word. Salvation is far from sinners: for they have not searched out [thy Word]” (Ps. 119:154-155).
“Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Mt. 16:17).
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105).
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
“That in every thing ye are enriched by [Jesus Christ], in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5).
“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).
“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4).
“But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (I Jn. 2:20-21).
Who would say that the Word was insufficient? God does not, but MacArthur does.
A friend of mine told me that when she converted to Calvinism, proof texts started to leap off the pages at her. Rather than examine these verses in context according to their Biblical definitions, using Scripture to interpret Scripture, she claimed this new insight to be the undeniable work of the Holy Spirit who was miraculously expounding Scripture to her. In her mind, this “spiritual experience” proved that Calvinism was correct. Who can invalidate such strong – and misguided – feelings?
The Word can.
4. The “Charismatic Leader” – founder John Calvin
Martin writes, “The history of cultism generally begins with an authoritarian pronouncement on the part of the founder or founders. This in turn is institutionalized during their lifetime or after their death into a dogmatic system which requires absolute faith in the supernatural authority of those who received the initial revelation and whose writings and pronouncements are alleged to have transmitted it” (1985:28).
High-profile Calvinist preachers like MacArthur and R.C. Sproul consistently point to the “church fathers” for “wisdom” and “understanding”. One church “father” in particular has received their unremitting devotion.
In a recent “New Covenant” Reformed periodical, it was written that John Calvin “humbly submitted to the reforming truth of the Word and the reforming power of the Spirit”.[xi] Is this true?
John Calvin, nicknamed the “Pope of Geneva”, persecuted, exterminated, banished, or jailed those who disagreed with his Bible doctrine, which was grossly erroneous.[xii] He instituted church governance over the city of Geneva from 1541 until his death in 1564.
“Humble”? “Gentle”? No. He was a tyrant. What did Martin say? “a dogmatic system which requires absolute faith…”
One need not read far into his Institutes of the Christian Religion to get a clear impression of how flimsy his supposedly “brilliant” exegesis was. On page 73, he wrote, “…all the children of the renovated Church ‘shall be taught of the Lord’ (Isaiah liv. 13). This singular privilege God bestows on his elect only, whom he separates from the rest of mankind. For what is the beginning of true doctrine but prompt alacrity to hear the word of God?” Calvin, of course, believed himself to be one of the enlightened elect, a partaker in the “renovated church”, and that Jesus taught him directly. He was wrong.
The “elect” referred to in Isaiah 54 are the Jews, not the Gentiles, and the “renovated church” is not a Biblical term, but it refers to the time when God will restore the Jews to their rightful place as His people (Is. 54:8, Hos. 1:9-10, Zech. 10:6, Mic. 2:11, Ps. 44:23). This will not occur until the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled (Lk. 21:24), when the Jews “shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt.23:39).
So John Calvin was not only a tyrant, but a heretic. The term “heretic” has been loosely defined outside the Biblical context because of people like him.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “heresy” as “A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion. But in countries where there is an established church, an opinion is deemed heresy when it differs from that of the church. The Scriptures being the standard of faith, any opinion that is repugnant to its doctrines, is heresy; but as men differ in the interpretation of Scripture, an opinion deemed heretical by one body of christians, may be deemed orthodox by another” (emphasis mine).
Enter the institutionalization of the leader’s false doctrine (1985:28). The Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) convened for the purpose of ending the debate between Calvinists and Arminians (both doctrines are incorrect, but Chuck Missler states this more generously by saying that “the truth lies somewhere in between”).
The Arminians “lost”, and the resulting Canons of Dordt institutionalized the doctrine of Calvinism. This means that from that point on, all those who disagreed with Calvinism were considered “heretics” and were subjected to church discipline. In the aftermath of the Synod of Dordt, Calvinist opponents were rooted out, censored, jailed, excommunicated, or ordered to “desist from the ministry”.[xiii] Take a minute to consider the ramifications.
Perhaps you will conclude as I did, that the Catholic tradition of persecuting “heretics” was a Reformed tradition, too. Thanks to John Calvin and his Pope-like absolutism.
The result? Our theological institutions exercise a de facto adherence to the Canons, which is why Calvinism remains alive and well within theological institutions including church synods, colleges, and seminaries. Calvinism will not go away because it is too deeply rooted within Protestant theology. For this reason, theologians today like Oliver Crisp make outlandish statements such as, “No one theologian, however important, can trump the voice of the church expressed in the creeds or confessions… that’s the framework that informs my book and my thinking….”[xiv]
Tragically, thinking such as this brings Walter Martin’s words home: “it is apparent that we are confronted with those whom the Apostle Paul described as victims of the master psychologist and propagandist of the ages, described by our Lord as ‘the prince of this world’…” (1985:29).
The mysteries that men like John Calvin claim to unravel and the doctrine that they have misinterpreted and disseminated have caused the worldwide spread of false doctrine. Calvin’s spiritual followers conveniently ignore his tyrannical rule and his doctrinal errors, elevating him as a Scriptural authority and “brilliant exegete” when he clearly did nothing to earn the title.[xv]
5. Making Disciples
George L. Bryson wrote, “Contemporary champions of Calvinism – men like R.C. Sproul, John Piper, James R. White, John MacArthur, and a host of others – are not simply promoting Reformed Theology among those new believers that they have led to Christ or that have come to them for spiritual guidance. Instead … Calvinists are zealously proselytizing for the Reformed faith” (quoted in Coate 2011:267, bold mine).
In 2006, Collin Hansen wrote an article in Christianity Today entitled “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is Making a Comeback – And Shaking Up the Church”.[xvi]
In 2010, Josh Burek wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Calvinism is Back”.[xvii] In the article, he called Calvinist leaders the “rock stars of Reformed theology”. He claimed that since the arrival of a Calvinist preacher to his church, it experienced a sevenfold increase in attendance.
Theologian Oliver D. Crisp has recently published what is essentially a book that offers a Calvinist apologetic, called Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. Crisp’s book was promoted by Christianity Today writer Kevin P. Emmert, who headlines the article as follows: “Reformed theology is more irenic and diverse than you think, says theologian Oliver D. Crisp”.[xviii] Irenic? Irenic means conciliatory. Emmert’s article was entitled, “A Softer Face of Calvinism”. Soft? What is “soft”, what is “irenic” about a doctrine that teaches that the arbitrarily “unchosen” are condemned to hell?
There are several similar articles written, all of which give the impression that Reformed theology is “increasing interest and devotees”.[xix] The spin is always positive. Why?
Prior to an election, polls show which candidate is ahead of “the race”. Studies suggest that this influences voters’ choices.[xx] People who are fence-sitters will vote for the candidate that appears to be winning. Why? They feel validated in knowing and saying that they voted for the one that got in.
Something similar happens when mainstream Christian media report an increase in Calvinist popularity. According to them, Calvinism is “reviving”; it is “hip and hot”; Calvinist public figures such as Josh Harris and preacher Mark Driscoll make it “macho”, appealing to the youth.[xxi] For many Christians, this is enough to motivate their interest, with the possible outcome of securing their conversion and devotion to Calvinism.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that one Baptist preacher estimates that 90-95% of Bible teachers and seminary professors are Calvinists,[xxii] polls show that Calvinist congregants remain at a sceptical 40%.[xxiii] And so they should. Most congregants are not seminary graduates. They have not been subjected to authoritarian intellectuals who, in the spirit of John Calvin, would indoctrinate them into believing a lie.
Reformed theology does not exist in any one denomination, but exists among various denominations, cloaked in terms like “Covenant Theology”, “The Doctrines of Grace”, “Reformism”, “The New Covenant”, “The Sovereignty of God”, “The Agency of Grace”, “Determinism”, “particular redemption”, etc.
Know the catch phrase and you’ll know the Calvinist.
Micah Coate wrote, “the fact that Calvinism sets its sights more on the Christian world than the world itself speaks volumes and, again, seems too cultish to ignore” (2011:267). Indeed it is.
James Smith wrote, “Many Calvinists are spending time and energy trying to win the already saved to Calvinism. What this means is that Calvinists want other Christians to believe in their convoluted theology, which if fully understood, destroys the gospel to every creature” (quoted in Coate 2011:266).
Mark Cahill wrote, “I got an unsolicited call one day from Tony Miano with Living Waters. He was trying to convince me of Calvinism. Let’s just say it did not work!”[xxiv] It was a similar attempt on the part of a church friend that prompted both Peter and I to research the doctrine. We were not convinced, either!
How are people convinced?
6. The “Hegelian Dialectic” and the “Change Agent”
First of all, the failings of today’s entertainment-saturated, wishy-washy, emotionally-needy church has left many Christians desperate for a doctrine with back-bone.
Calvinists are intellectually strong, passionately in love with Bible study and the Word, unapologetic for the rightful rule and Sovereignty of God, unwilling to live a life devoid of God’s grace, favour, and glory. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), Calvinists know their Scripture better than most Christians; they are zealous and loyal. They hold each other accountable; they would rather lose a friend than enable that friend’s sin. They make no excuses for the character and choices of the god they serve. They are strong-willed, relentless, and unwavering.
As with the JWs, I admire their character, their boldness, and their candour. Some of them are my friends and family. One of them was almost me.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).
As mentioned earlier, the Hegelian Dialectic is comprised of the formula: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. This formula is commonly used in conflict resolution even though Hegel himself taught that there cannot be a marriage between two contradicting truths. In fact, the essence of dialectics is that meaning is derived by the study of opposites. For example, we know what light is because we know what dark is. Our understanding of good is informed by our understanding of evil. Truth, according to Hegel, must therefore be the negation of falsehood. However, today this formula is used in communication to mediate opposing viewpoints. It is about compromise.
In reference to false doctrine, the formula is applied as follows: truth + lie = compromise.
Here is an example of how this formula plays out in a church Bible study. A Biblical truth is introduced. For example, “We are saved by grace”. A lie is introduced. “Grace cannot be received until we are regenerated”. “Proof texts” follow: for the truth, “For by grace ye are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8); for the lie, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). A debate ensues. Are the debaters on equal ground? Who will be forced to give in?
The person who introduces the lie (the Calvinist) has been indoctrinated. Although she has the characteristics stated above, and is well-liked and knowledgeable, her ability to see truth has been disabled. As a result, no matter how convincing and logical the truth-teller is, the Calvinist will not reconsider her position. The semantic maze is engaged, and both parties end up talking in circles. The Calvinist holds fast to her indoctrination. The more it is challenged, the more vehemently she convinces herself that it is true. In effect, her ability to reason has been extinguished (Martin 1985:21).
Hypnotists refer to this phenomenon as the work of the “critical faculty”. It is the “goal tender” of the mind. It blocks whatever the subconscious mind deems to be untrue. The process of being indoctrinated is similar to the process of being hypnotized. In both cases, the critical faculty must be distracted, subdued, or redirected, so that a lie can be accepted. What methods work best to distract the goal tender?
He is thwarted by indirect suggestions, stimulated emotions, engaged interest, accessed imagination, mind-bending language, illusory choice, presuppositions, and nominalisations (among others).[xxv] All of these devices are utilized every day in the various forms of media that we expose ourselves to (much of it unwillingly). Consider the persuasive effect of commercials, charismatic speakers, salesmen, or billboards. Consider the persuasive effect of Calvinism when introduced by these methods. Consider your own susceptibility to indoctrination if you forget to “set your affection on things above” (Col 3:2), or to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet. 1:13).
The truth-teller differs from the Calvinist in that she has not been indoctrinated. She can think clearly and reason based on the plain reading of scripture (i.e., “all” means all, “whosoever” means whosoever, etc.). She follows the ultimate standard of truth, which is the Bible, and tests all things against it. Her critical faculty is empowered by her knowledge of the Truth, which is God’s Holy Word. In other words, she is not deceived by the extra-biblical opinions of others. Jesus said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (Jn. 16:13a).
Unfortunately, the truth-teller is genuinely nonplussed at the apparent inability of the Calvinist to follow her reasonable argument. This is because the Calvinist believes that she is the reasonable one. She is mistaken, but she is far more relentless than the truth-teller because her emotional state is engaged, her critical faculty is fighting hard, and she believes that to give God glory, she must prevail. Far too often she does prevail, the truth-teller is wracked with doubt, and a compromise is made against the truth and for the lie.
The Calvinist in this scenario has effectively played the part of a “change agent”.
Change agents are “Deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). The change agent’s goal is to subvert souls (Acts 15:24), subvert the hearer of the gospel (2 Tim. 2:14), and/or subvert an entire household (Tit. 1:11). A change agent can be a preacher, teacher, or church member.
If the truth + lie = compromise, and a Calvinist introduces a lie to the church body, what does the ensuing compromise bring?
It brings the devil to your church.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
“And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26).
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
A change agent will promote Calvinism in a church and call its opponent a “bully” or “divisive” if she resists it. Because the Christian is “humble and hungry“, with a “sensitive conscience”, she doesn’t want to be divisive and thwart the unity of the church. She would rather compromise than risk being disagreeable. She takes verses like Romans 12:18, or 1 Peter 3:8 to heart, verses which the Calvinist is quick to quote at her: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
Do you bless someone by allowing them to be deceived? Are you showing compassion by tolerating unbiblical views? Should your pursuit of peace be achieved by compromising the truth for it?
It is better to be labeled “divisive” and vilified than to be unfaithful to the Word of God. Think about that. You don’t have to engage in a heated debate, or be at all upset by the actions of a change agent. You must meekly and calmly use your SWORD. It cuts so you don’t have to.
But know this: the change agent is not herself a devil – she is being used by the devil.
Like JWs, change agents are often sincere and otherwise decent people, unwittingly in opposition to God’s will. Have love for her, be patient, but recognize the disservice you do for her and the Lord if you allow her to continue believing a lie.
7. Bitter Fruit
In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Mt. 7:15-19).
Let’s take a look at the fruit that Calvinism bears.
Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, was raised a Calvinist. Perhaps you’ve heard of his relentless attacks against Christianity, his ad hominem debates against creationists, and his death-bed insolence against the God he loved to hate. His understanding of “Christianity” follows in his own words:
Long ago, it was written which souls would be chosen or “elected” when the time came to divide the sheep from the goats. No appeal against this primordial sentence is possible, and no good works or professions of faith can save one who has not been fortunate enough to be picked. Calvin’s Geneva was a prototypical totalitarian state, and Calvin himself a sadist and torturer and killer, who burned Servetus (one of the great thinkers and questioners of the day) while the man was still alive. The lesser wretchedness induced in Calvin’s followers, compelled to waste their lives worrying if they had been “elected” or not, is well caught in George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and in an old English plebeian satire against the other sects, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Plymouth Brethren, who dare to claim that they are of the elect, and that they alone know the exact number of those who will be plucked from the burning:
“We are the pure and chosen few, and all the rest are damned. There’s room enough in hell for you – we don’t want heaven crammed.”
I had an innocuous but weak-spirited uncle whose life was ruined and made miserable in just this way. Calvin may seem like a far-off figure to us, but those who used to grab and use power in his name are still among us and go by the softer names of Presbyterians and Baptists. The urge to ban and censor books, silence dissenters, condemn outsiders, invade the private sphere, and invoke an exclusive salvation is the very essence of the totalitarian. The fatalism of Islam, which believes that all is arranged by Allah in advance, has some points of resemblance in its utter denial of human autonomy and liberty, as well as in its arrogant and insufferable belief that its faith already contains everything that anyone might ever need to know.[xxvi]
My own experience is also relevant. Growing up in the Dutch CRC (Christian Reformed Church), I heard about more suicides from the pulpit than gospel calls to salvation. After all, what “good news” can Christ’s sacrifice on the cross possibly bring to the determinedly condemned?
“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
There is only one condition that must be met for false doctrine to infiltrate the church. Good men must do nothing.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, false doctrine enters the church unannounced, with subtlety, stealth, and deception. It makes its way amongst the fold until all the sheep are comfortable, off-guard, or asleep.
Then the wolf attacks. The sheep, true to their nature, don’t seem to realize or care that they are about to die. They continue to stand, lethargic and witless, as the wolf rends them to pieces – one by one, relentless and sure.
It only takes one watcher to warn the entire flock. It only takes one watcher to remain silent for all the flock to perish.
Raise the cry.
Thanks for reading.
[i] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1985).
[ii] Christopher Chapman, “Calvinism’s Bold Accusation: The Making of a Calvinist” from www.christopherchapmanblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/calvinisms-bold-accusation-making-a-calvinist
[iv] Micah Coate, A Cutlish Side of Calvinism (USA:Innovo Publishing, 2011).
[v] Micah Coate, ibid, p250.
[vi] Dan F., “Testimony of a Former 5 Point Calvinist” from www.evangelicaloutreach.org/df-testimony.htm visited Oct. 11, 2014
[vii] Steve Jones, “Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist” from www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/openhse/calvinism.html visited Oct. 11, 2014
[viii] Micah Coate, ibid.
[ix] John MacArthur, “How Should We Interpret the Bible” sermon transcript (Aug. 2013) from www.gtycanada.org/resources/sermons/90-463 visited Oct. 11, 2014
[x] Apparently, the majority of the Puritans were Calvinists, whose books and teachings are made readily available today through Calvinist publishing companies.
[xi] Burk Parsons, “The True Reformers” in Tabletalk (November 2014), R.C. Sproul (ed.), p2.
[xii] Dave Hunt, What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (Bend, OR:The Berean Call, 2013).
[xiii] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod_of_Dort, Also see The Act of Cessation visited Oct. 31, 2014
[xiv] Kevin P. Emmert, “The Softer Face of Calvinism” from Christianity Today vol. 50, no. 9 (September 2006) available at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/september/web/only/softer-face-of-calvinism.html?utm_source=ctweekly-htm visited Oct. 23, 2014
[xv] Micah Coate, ibid, p19-20.
[xviii] Kevin P. Emmert, ibid
[xix] Micah Coate, ibid, p48-50.
[xx] See “Effect on Voters” from www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_poll visited Oct. 31, 2014
[xxii] Pastor Ralph “Yankee” Arnold, www.biblelineministries.org
[xxiv] Tony Miano, “Mark Cahill” from http://carm.org/mark-cahill visited Oct. 31, 2014
[xxv] Available at www.uncommonknowledge.co.uk visited Sept. 10, 2014
[xxvi] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (NY: Twelve Hachette Book Group, 2007), p233-234.