Some have never heard the name John Calvin (A.D. 1509-1564), but it is likely that they have heard of his doctrines. Widespread teachings such as babies inheriting sin and the impossibility of falling from grace became staples of many types of denominations because of Calvin’s influence. He caused people to believe that God “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” which implies that man has no free will to make his own choices. The main tenets of Calvinism can be summarized by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. (Total hereditary depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints). Let us briefly examine Calvinism and see if it passes the test of scriptural scrutiny.
Before examining TULIP, what about this idea that man has no free will? If that is the case, why did God say an Israelite could offer sacrifices “of his own voluntary will”? (Leviticus 1:3). Joshua told the Israelites to “choose” whom they would serve (Joshua 24:15), and Moses told them to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Some things God foretold did not come to pass, because they were conditioned upon the choices of men. For example, God told Jonah to preach, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” but that did not happen, because of Nineveh’s choice to repent (Jonah 3:2-4, 10; cf. 2 Kings 20:1-7). Some things God has ordained are conditional (each man’s salvation), and some are unconditional (Christ will return, regardless of what men choose to do).
What are the implications if God causes every event, and man has no control over anything he does? First, that would mean that every temptation is caused by God, but God said He does not tempt men to sin (James 1:12-15). Also, if God caused every event, even evil events, this would impugn God’s holiness and justice. If every action of man is caused by God, this would mean that a man who molests a child did so because God made him, and if that man then goes to prison for life and Hell for eternity, it is all God’s fault, who allegedly made the man molest the child! Calvinism turns God into an evil monster who punishes men for things over which they had no control. Friends, God is love, and the greatest command He gave to man is to love, but true love is impossible without free will (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 John 4:8). If love must be forced, it is not true love. God did not create robots with no free will, but spiritual beings made in the image of the Great Spirit Himself (Genesis 1:26, 27). God will therefore bless those who choose love and obedience, and punish those who choose hatred and sin (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; Romans 2:6-11). God is holy, compassionate, impartial, and, as will be shown, He is not the “God” of Calvinism. Let us examine the main tenets of Calvinism, T.U.L.I.P.
Total hereditary depravity is the belief that babies inherit sin from their ancestors, all the way back to Adam. If so, why does God say the following? “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20). Why did God say, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee”? (Ezekiel 28:15). The idea that babies are born in sin is why infant sprinkling has become so widespread, but there is no example of a baby being sprinkled in the Bible. First of all, Biblical baptism is immersion (Colossians 2:12), but babies do not need baptism for the remission of sins, because they are sinless, they cannot understand the Gospel, and they cannot repent (Matthew 18:3; 19:14; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38-40). David knew he could go to Paradise/Heaven to be with his infant who had died, because babies have no sins to condemn them (2 Samuel 12:23; cf. Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16). Contrary to what Calvinism implies, there will be no babies in Hell!
Many use Ephesians 2:8, 9 to try to defend the idea that man is so totally depraved that he can do nothing to be saved, and that God must do everything. It does say salvation is “not of yourselves,” but it means nobody can earn salvation. That, however, does not mean men do not have to obey God’s commands to obtain salvation (Matthew 7:21; Acts 10:34, 35; Romans 6:16-18; 1 Peter 1:22; Hebrews 5:9; James 2:14-26). Many miss the point Paul is making regarding those who tried to earn salvation through works of the Law of Moses, as is shown when one keeps reading past verse nine, and when comparing Ephesians 2 to other writings of Paul (Romans; Galatians, etc.; cf. Hebrews). People trying to keep the Law of Moses while living under the Law of Christ was a major problem in the early church, and many New Testament Scriptures were written to refute it. One’s interpretation of Ephesians 2 must harmonize with verses like Acts 2:40, in which Peter said, “Save yourselves” after he had told them to “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). If one’s interpretation of Ephesians 2 does not harmonize with passages such as Acts 2 or James 2 (“by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”), his interpretation is wrong. Though man cannot “save himself” without God, man is commanded to save himself, purify himself, and spiritually cleanse himself by obeying God and accessing Christ’s blood (Acts 2:38, 40; 2 Corinthians 7:1; James 4:8; 1 John 1:7-9; Jude 21, etc.).
Unconditional election is the belief that in eternal past God unchangeably and unconditionally foreordained who would be saved and who would be lost. God will allegedly save certain people whom He chooses, without any conditions to be met on their part. Some apparently believe this because God knows who will be saved and who will be lost, but there is a difference between God knowing what will happen and causing what will happen. A person could see two trains approaching another at full speed on the same track. As they get too close to be able to stop, the observer knows what is about to happen, but that does not mean he caused it to happen. Knowing and causing are two different things, and God can know what man will choose without forcing man to choose. God has given conditions that must be met to get to Heaven, and if man chooses to believe in God and submit to God’s conditions, man will be saved. The elect are the ones God has chosen to be saved, but phrases such as “unconditionally elected” are not in the Bible. God wants all men to be saved, but only chooses those who choose Him (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9). Listen to the Lord: “…As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die…?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The Holy Spirit surely meant what He said when He said, “whosoever:” “…whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Calvinism attempts to turn God into a capricious respecter of persons, but God repeatedly assures man that He will judge man by the choices man makes, and that He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, 35; Romans 2:6-11; Galatians 6:7-9; 1 Peter 1:17).
Limited atonement is the belief that Christ only died for the elect. If that is the case, why did God say that “Jesus…should taste death for every man”? (Hebrews 2:9). Why did John say, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”? (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:14; John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42; 12:32). Was the love of Christ only for “the elect,” or did He die to give “all” men the opportunity to live forever in Heaven? “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; cf. 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6).
Irresistible grace is the belief that if God has unconditionally chosen a person to be saved, that person cannot resist the overwhelming influence of God. This goes back to the idea that man has no free will of his own, but does this harmonize with the Bible? Can men resist the power of God, who wants to save them? Stephen said so: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). How did those of Stephen’s day and their father resist the Holy Ghost? They resisted the words being preached to them by the power of the Spirit. In the next verse, Stephen explained this: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?…” (Acts 7:52; cf. 13:46; Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5). A similar example is John 6:44, which sounds mysterious if one does not read the surrounding context: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” (John 6:44). Does this mean that God mysteriously draws men to Him in some overpowering way? The next verse reveals that the Father draws people to Him through hearing and learning His Word: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6:45). The Gospel of Christ is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and God calls people to Him and into His grace through the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14; cf. Nehemiah 9:30; Proverbs 1:23-25; Acts 20:32; James 1:18, 21; 1 Peter 1:22-25).
When people refused to be baptized for the forgiveness of theirs sins, why did Luke say they had “rejected the counsel of God against themselves”? (Luke 7:30). Obviously, God wanted them to be saved and “counseled” them to be baptized, but they did not want to be saved. This proves that God’s grace can be resisted and that they had free will. God’s grace teaches men to obey God if they want salvation (Acts 2:40; Titus 2:11, 12), and that is surely why His Word is called “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32).
Perseverance of the saints is the belief that if a person is ever truly saved, he can never become lost. It is sometimes called “once saved, always saved,” or “the impossibility of apostasy.” A common verse used to defend that doctrine is John 10:28: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). As in the examples above, the surrounding context refutes the erroneous interpretation. Jesus explained that the sheep who will never perish are those who listen to Jesus’ Words and faithfully follow His words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27; cf. Revelation 2:10). If a sheep wanders off into sin, Jesus said the church must try to restore him to salvation, but if the sheep refuses to return, “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,” because he is no longer in fellowship with God or the church (Matthew 18:12-17; cf. 1 Cor. 5; James 5:19, 20; 1 John 1:3-7). The fact that sheep can wander away and be lost refutes the idea that the saved cannot become lost.
No man can pluck a Christian from Jesus’ hand, but a child of God can remove himself from Jesus, else verses like this would make no sense: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Those lost Galatians could not have fallen from grace if they had never been in God’s grace (saved), but the fact that they had now fallen from grace meant that they had become lost. Christ had become of no effect to them, because they had removed themselves from the Shepherd’s hand when they tried to mix the Law of Moses with the Law of Christ.
Another clear teaching is that those whose names are in the Book of Life on the Judgment Day will go to Heaven, and others will go to Hell. The simple fact that men’s names can be blotted out of the Book of Life is crystal clear proof that the saved can become lost! (Exodus 32:32, 33; Psalm 69:28; Revelation 3:5; 22:19).
The New Testament is filled with warnings for Christians to remain faithful, or else there is a punishment that is much worse than being stoned to death like people under the Law of Moses. Notice the grim warning written to Christians, described as “holy brethren” in Hebrews 3:1:
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31; cf. 3:7-19; 4:1-13; 6:4-6; 10:35-39; 12:15, 25, 28, 29; Acts 8:22-24; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 1 John 1:6—2:6; Revelation 2, 3, etc.).
Friends, will you follow Calvin or Christ? Calvinism is not Christianity, but an unbiblical and deadly doctrine that has permeated almost every denomination in one form or another. You are lovingly encouraged to seek the Lord’s church, the church that teaches pure doctrine and worships according to the pure New Testament pattern (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Romans 16:16, 17; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:15-18; 2 John 9-11). “The churches of Christ salute you” (Romans 16:16).