Calvinism is a school of philosophy started during the Protestant Reformation by a prominent French theologian, John Calvin. He succeeded Martin Luther as the foremost Protestant theologian. Calvin was a radical and controversial writer whose writings always caused outcry in the public. He also wrote confessional documents, theological treatise, and commentaries on the various books of the Bible.
Origin of Calvinism
Calvin was born into the Roman Catholic Church. He was a staunch believer and adhered to the doctrines of his church. However, he soon became uncomfortable with some of the practices of his church. He questioned the excesses of the clergy, the corruption in the papacy, and why the Bible was hidden away from the laymen. As his disillusionment grew, he met people who had the same thoughts as him and were working towards a reformation. Finally in 1530, he officially broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and fled to Switzerland due to the deadly violence that the church meted towards its ex-members. It was from his base in Switzerland that he spent years propagating the message of Reformation around Europe. Calvin made a tremendous impact in developing the Protestant fundamental doctrines.
Calvinism is one of the major branches of the Protestant Church. It follows the teachings, practices, and theological traditions that were developed by John Calvin. We shall look at the beliefs of the doctrine of Calvinism in this article:
Five points of Calvinism
The entire theology of Calvinism is summarized by the five points of Calvinism which are also called the doctrines of grace. The central theme of these points is the belief that God saves every person whom he chooses to give his mercy. It also believes that the inability or unrighteousness of humans cannot frustrate or limit God’s efforts. The five points are best remembered by the mnemonic TULIP and they are given as follows:
- Total depravity: This point is also known as total inability. It believes that humanity became enslaved to sin as a result of the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Normally, people are not inclined to love God as their natures do not permit it. Rather, humanity is only prone to rejecting the rule of God and to serve its own interests. Based on this assumption, everyone cannot choose to serve God when they are left to their own devices. The reason for this reluctance and unwillingness to be saved is that their nature cannot allow them to do so. It also asserts that the gospel cannot be understood ordinarily by humans because they are spiritually helpless. Thus, it concludes that for a person to be saved, God must first take the decision to intervene in the form of his third personality, the Holy Spirit. If he decides not to intervene, the person will be lost forever.
- Unconditional election: This point believes that God has already selected from eternity certain persons that he will draw to himself. This selection is not based on merit, virtue, or faith in the chosen ones, rather his choice is based only on his unconditional mercy. This point is also the concept of predestination which states that God has divided humanity into two groups. The first group is known as the elect, and it contains people whom God has selected to reveal himself to them. The second group which is the damned will forever remain ignorant of the ways of God and his gospel. This group will go to hell and be tortured forever without any hope of mercy or forgiveness. And to the Calvinist, the pain inflicted on the damned is justified because it is the payment for the sins they committed while on earth.
- Limited atonement: This point is also called definite atonement or particular redemption. It believes that the atonement of Jesus on the cross was certain and definite in its purpose and what it wants to achieve. This point also states that it is only the sins of the chosen ones that were atoned for by the death of Jesus. It claims that the atonement work is limited because it is only intended for special people and not for all. The Calvinists believe that if God wanted to save every human being, he would have made the blood of Christ sufficient for all. This doctrine is centered on the concept of the sovereign God in giving salvation and the Calvinist understanding of what the atonement truly accomplishes. Therefore, according to the point of limited atonement, Jesus died to only save the specific sins of the saved elect. He did not die for the entire human race.
- Irresistible grace: This is also called efficacious grace. It states that God’s saving grace is only applied to the ones he is willing to save. This grace is applied to the chosen ones and overcomes any resistance they might have towards obeying the call of the gospel. And in the process, it brings them to a phase where their faith can be saved. In other words, this point means that no one is able to resist the call of God because when he decides that a person will be saved, it will happen. In addition, this point is based exclusively on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit who is seen as an influence of God that man cannot resist. It believes that the Holy Spirit is a gracious being that gently coerces the chosen sinner to listen, believe, repent, and come willingly to Jesus. However, this doctrine does not neglect the fact that the sinner can reject the outward call. Rather, it asserts that it is the inward call which the sinner cannot reject.
- Perseverance of the saints: The last point believes that since God’s will cannot be frustrated or limited by man or any other thing, and since he is sovereign over all, his chosen ones whom he selected by himself will always be in faith till the very end. It asserts that those who have backslidden never began their walk with God with genuine faith. It also believes that if the backslidden elects were not walking in the spirit even though they are saved, God will divinely chasten them and this will bring about genuine repentance. This doctrine is the basis of the “once saved, forever saved” belief which states that all those who have been saved will remain eternally in that state. And while they are still on earth, God will make them undergo a process of sanctification which will only stop when they get to heaven. In other words, it is virtually impossible for the elect to lose their salvation.
In this article, we have looked at the reasons why the doctrine of Calvinism was started. We have also looked at its beliefs and theology as its affects humanity. Finally, Calvinism should be thanked for laying the foundation for the propagation of reformed theology in the Christian community.
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