Eyes That See

“I Once Was Blind”

Is Calvin vs. Arminius a Rerun of Paul vs. Apollos?

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. -1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Apparently the Corinthian church was divided because Paul and Apollos (and Cephas/Peter) did things differently.  So, instead of being united for Christ, they were divided because some said, “I follow Paul,” while others said, “I follow Apollos.”

Today, many Christians are divided into either the Arminian camp or the Calvinist camp.  So, is Calvin vs. Arminius a rerun of Paul vs. Apollos, and an issue that we need to dismiss in the name of unity under Christ alone? 

I would say yes and no.

Arminius and Calvin

The last four years of John Calvin’s life coincided with James/Jacob Arminius’ first four years.  So although their names mark the debate over interpretation of the Bible almost five hundred years later, they were not contemporaries. 

The ‘five points’ of Calvinism, known as ‘TULIP,’ are as follows:
Total Depravity– Humans are both unable and unwilling to save themselves, and are born into sin and curse as the result of the “fall,” when Adam and Eve first sinned against God (See “The Sinner Neither Able Nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability” by John MacArthur and “The Curse Motif of the Atonement” by R.C. Sproul at this year’s Together 4 the Gospel conference).
Unconditional Election– God has predestined and appointed all things, including who will and who will not receive the salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Those who have been elected to salvation have had their name written in “a book,” “before the foundation of the world” (See Isaiah 46:9-10; Daniel 12:1; John 1:12-13; John 6:22-71; Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Peter 1:1-3; Revelation 13:8 to name a few).
Limited Atonement– Salvation afforded by the death of Jesus on the cross as the substitute for all who would believe in him is available to all who receive it.  However, it is ‘limited’ in that only those who have saving faith in Jesus receive it.  (I think this is one where Calvinists and Arminians simply talk past each other:  Calvinists say it is limited to those who receive it, Arminians say it is universally accessible.  I think both would agree that salvation is available to all who receive it, but effective only for those who do receive it.  I think those who oppose Limited Atonement in the name of Arminianism have a problem with the Unconditional Election that Calvinists ascribe to the Limited Atonement- that God chooses/appoints/elects who will believe, and therefore it is limited to those God chooses- rather than with Limited Atonement itself)
Irresistible Grace– That the grace of God in Christ Jesus is irresistible to those whose eyes, ears, and hearts God blesses to see, hear, and understand.  That unconditional election is effectual, not because God forces anyone to believe, but because all who see, hear, and understand are compelled to believe (See John 6:45; John 10:16, 27-29)
Perseverance of the Saints– Those who, although totally depraved by nature, have been unconditionally elected by God to salvation by Christ’s atonement, which is limited to those who receive Christ as Lord and Savior, who have been drawn by the Father to the Son (John 6:44) by irresistible grace will prove to be of the elect by persevering until the end, whether that is their death or Christ’s return.

The “five articles of the Remonstrants,” the Arminian ‘five points’ which correspond to those of Calvinism, are as follows:

  • that the divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute;
  • that the Atonement is in intention universal;
  • that man cannot of himself exercise a saving faith;
  • that though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort it does not act irresistibly in man and
  • that believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.
  • As I said before, I think that the answer to the question raised in the title here is both yes and no.  Yes in the sense that, just as Paul was not crucified for our sins, neither Arminius nor Calvin were crucified for our sins.  Just as (hopefully) none were or are baptized in the name of Paul, so (hopefully) none were or are baptized in the name of either Arminius or Calvin.  As long as we agree that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, by the mercy of God and the power of the Spirit alone, and that the Holy Bible is the Word of God, as relevant today as it was nearly 2,000 years ago, inerrant and sufficient, then we are playing on the same team.  As long as we believe that salvation is contingent on the mercy of God, and desire to see sinners saved, and desire to be faithful to the Bible and faithfully proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ and Him crucified, then we should be unified in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

    However, I also believe that the answer is no- Calvin vs. Arminius is not a rerun of Paul vs. Apollos.  First of all, I do not like the label of “Calvinist.”  I believe that my agreement with Calvin is limited to my agreement with his understanding of the Scriptures.  However, I do not see myself as a Calvinist (reformed Baptist, etc.); I see myself as a Christian, saved by Christ’s crucifixion and baptized in His name.  But I do believe that a “Calvinist” reading of the Bible is correct (in case you couldn’t tell by a cursory glance at the treatment of the two lists of five above).

    I have a great friend who finds himself in the “Arminian camp.”  I have no doubt that he is a brother in the Lord, and although we often disagree on these issues, I would absolutely disagree to any suggestion that he must ‘convert’ to ‘Calvanism’- either to be saved or continue our friendship.

    However, I would at least not prefer, if not opposed to, an Arminian in leadership of a church that I either attend or, if the Lord blesses me with a ministry in a church, minister in.  This is also the reason for the ‘no,’ in the ‘yes and no’ answer that I have given this question.

    Admittedly, ‘Calvinist’ beliefs can lead to what is known as ‘hyper-Calvinism.’  Some combination of this temptation and my personal tendency toward laziness and procrastination leads my practice of Christianity more toward the ‘hyper’ end of the spectrum than my theories would have you believe.  However, I think that belief in the ‘five points’ of Calvinism, when rightly understood and applied, leads us to faithfully preach and study the Bible and proclaim the Gospel as we ought in our preaching, evangelism, apologetics, and missions.

    Conversely, I think that Arminianism inevitably leads to many of the problems in the church today.  When predestination is seen as ‘contingent’ on the decision of the sinner, it is only logical that man-centered, decision-driven ‘gospels’ arise.  Now, a person does not have to have a certain understanding of predestination in order to have saving faith in Jesus.  However, I think a minister who takes a ‘Calvinist’ belief of predestination is more likely than his ‘Arminian’ counterpart to faithfully preach all of God’s Word and proclaim the Gospel, as defined by the Bible.  It is perfectly understandable and logical, if we believe that salvation (and predestination) is contingent on a decision, that we would do everything in our power to get sinners to make decisions for Jesus.  Sadly, for our Arminian brethren, this too often leads to using the Bible to say what the preacher really wants to say, focusing on the more ‘palatable’ aspects of God and passages of the Bible, etc.  I believe that the roots of the prosperity ‘gospel’ and the emergent movement could most likely be traced to Arminian beliefs.  And because both flee from the topic of sin, neither give people an accurate fear of God, which is the only means to truly loving God as we ought.  Only by fearing God and His righteous anger toward our sin, and by seeing that, unless we are in Christ Jesus, we are “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath,” can we see the wonder of the Cross as we ought.  And only then can we love our Savior as we ought, and stand in awe of the amazing love- not ours for the Supremely Lovable, but His for the supremely unlovable.

    So, inasmuch as The Calvin vs. Arminius thing divides us and distracts us from being united in building Christ’s church and taking His Gospel to every “tribe and language and people and nation,” we should heed Paul’s exhoration for there to be no divisions among us.  However, inasmuch as either Arminianism or Calvinism leads to false teaching (man-centered, unbiblical false teaching on the Arminian side; hyper-Calvinism, unbiblical false teaching on the Calvinist side), we should, by division if necessary, defend the Bible and its Gospel.


    August 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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