Monday, October 26, 2009

Crazy Love Discipleship CLass

In chapter 6 we sought out our love for Jesus. We thought about what it's like to be "in love" and then compared that with the feeling we have for our savior. Are we "in love" with Jesus? You would think that would be an easy "yes", but then we were faced with a question from John Piper's book "God Is the Gospel". The question: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, all your friends, all your favorite food, your favorite activities, all of natures beauty, no human conflict or natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there? It's alarming for me to think that sometimes I might be OK with that. But thank God, that even the love I have for Him, comes from Him. The love that God provides produces the freedom in us to see with unveiled eyes the truly unconditional love He has displayed for us. The realization that God chose us to be His own and for absolutely nothing we did to deserve it, in fact we deserved the opposite, for Him to turn His back on us. To realize that of all the deserving attributes the Bible contributes to God: the Lord of lords, the King of kings, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the creator of all that is, of all that, Jesus said when we pray, say "our Father". Wow! This is the relationship that He wants with you and me. The awe inspiring humbleness that comes with that knowledge should draw us unto Himself and free us to love others as ourselves. It should free us from living in the bondage of sin. In Christ we are free, we are free indeed. There will always be troubles and hardships on this side of heaven, Jesus said we can count on it, but He has also given us all we need, so that we may endure. He's given us... Himself.
Pray with me that we would remember this awesome truth, in the midst of the trials.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism

I have briefly introduced each of these views over the last few days. I will now seek to offer you a chart to compare the two views on their main points. I will then begin to examine each point more clearly over the next weeks.

Free-Will or Human Ability
Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man's freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man's freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God's Spirit and be regenerated or resist God's grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man's act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner's gift to God; it is man's contribution to salvation.

Total Inability or Total Depravity
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not - indeed he cannot - choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance to bring a sinner to Christ - it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.

Conditional Election
God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man's will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Unconditional Election
God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God's choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Universal Redemption or General Atonement
Christ's redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone's sins. Christ's redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement
Christ's redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.

The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted
The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit's call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man's contribution) proceeds and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man's free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ's saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God's grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace
In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God's grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

Falling from Grace
Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc. All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ - that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost.

Perseverance of the Saints
All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

According to Arminianism:

Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) - man's response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, "choose" to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man's will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

According to Calvinism:

Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Arminian Theology

Arminianism was started by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). He was born slightly before John Calvin died and was actually taught by Calvin's son-in-law. He was a Calvinist until one day when forced to defend his beliefs and found that his opponent could more ably defend his views against Calvinism. This caused Arminius to reject his Calvinistic background and “sought to modify Calvinism so that ‘God might not be considered the author of sin, nor man an automation in the hands of God.’”

Arminius’s views stirred up controversy in Holland, his home. Arminius asked to speak to the government on the issue but it was never brought before them until 1618, nine years after his death. It was soundly rejected and his followers faced persecution from Calvinists; 200 pastors losing their posts, statesman John van Olden Barneveldt beheaded, Hugo Grotius imprisoned for life but escaping two years later.

By 1625 the persecution had waned and followers began to return to Holland once again. They spread a principle of toleration throughout the churches in Holland so that there was much more religious toleration.

England had been Arminian to some extent before Arminius was born but faced the struggles of the Purituan revolt, Oliver Cromwell, and the Glorious Revolution. This caused “Charles II, who despised the Presbyterians, to reinstitute Arminian doctrine in the Church of England.” This Arminianism wasn’t exactly the same as that taught by Arminius but was similar. John Wesley (1703-1791) later championed the Arminian beliefs, “traveling more than 250,000 miles and preaching 40,000 sermons.”

Arminians followers responded to the five points of Calvinism with five points of their own. The following explanation of the five points is as per the Moody Handbook of Theology.

Election Based on (fore)knowledge- God elected those whom He knew would of their own free will believe in Christ and persevere in the faith
Unlimited Atonement- In His atonement, Christ provided redemption for all mankind, making all mankind savable. Christ's atonement becomes effective only in those who believe
Natural Ability- Man cannot save himself; the Holy Spirit must effect the new birth
Prevenient Grace- Preparatory work of the Holy Spirit enables the believer to respond to the gospel and cooperate with God in salvation
Conditional Perseverance- Believers have been empowered to live a victorious life, but they are capable of turning from grace and losing their salvation

This begins to show us the basic beliefs of both of these systems. We now will begin to look at each belief and compare it more in depth over the next weeks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crazy Love Discipleship Class

In chapter 5 we were faced with the question of "Are we truly committed to Christ or are we just giving Him our leftovers?". We started out with where we left off in the previous chapter and determined that there is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. Lukewarm people, in fact, are not Christians at all. Although, as Christians many times we may be guilty of displaying lukewarm characteristics in our dedication to our savior and not giving Him the allegiance to which He deserves. Jesus calls for His followers to be fully committed and the evidence of that commitment is fruit bearing. Jesus didn't mince any words in the 16th chapter of Matthew when He said "If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me". Likewise, in the 14th chapter of Luke Jesus says " Anyone who does not give up all he has, cannot be My disciple". Jesus is saying that there should be nothing so important in our lives that it would come before Him. Jesus asks much of us, because He wants so much more for us. He understands we will fail, and that is where His matchless grace comes in. He loves us and longs for us to love others with His kind of passion. Oh, that we could live our lives following as a little child, unblinded by all the worries and cares of this life, so that we could see all that He longs for us to be.
Our challenge is to gaze upon the love that Jesus lavished upon us at Calvary, to the point that it draws us wholeheartedly to Himself. I pray that this realization moves us to give our Lord and Savior "the best of us", not "the rest of us".


Friday, October 16, 2009

New Ideas for Our Fall Festival!

Arminianism vs. Calvinism

This is the first in a series of blog post defining these two ideas of God's work in salvation. Today we will merely seek to define Calvinism and see some of it's historical roots. On Tuesday we will define Arminianism and see it's history. The following is an article from Dr. Joel Beeke entitled, "The Origins of Calvinism". It is much more clear and concise than I could ever be on this subject.

The Origins of Calvinism
by Joel Beeke

The spread of Calvinism was unusual. In contrast to Catholicism, which had been maintained by civil and military force, and Lutheranism, which survived in becoming a religion of politics, Calvinism had, for the most part, only its consistent logic and its fidelity to the Scriptures. Within a generation it spread across Europe. 1 —Charles Miller

Calvinism is rooted in the sixteenth-century religious renewal in Europe that we refer to as the Protestant Reformation. 2 But this great movement was not an isolated phenomenon. It did not simply begin with Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) act of posting his Ninety-five Theses on the church doors of Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, even though those theses were soon translated into numerous languages and distributed to the masses. In one sense, the Reformation originated in Luther’s so-called “tower experience,” which probably predated his theses by a few years. Through this experience, Luther came to grasp the definitive doctrine of the Reformation: justification by gracious faith alone. But in another sense, the Reformation flowed out of earlier attempts for renewal, the most notable of which were led by Peter Waldo (ca. 1140–ca. 1217) and his followers in the Alpine regions, 3 John Wycliffe (ca. 1324–1384) and the Lollards in England, 4 and John Hus (ca. 1372–1415) and his followers in Bohemia. 5 Lesser-known divines, such as Thomas Bradwardine (ca. 1300–1349) 6 and Gregory of Rimini (ca. 1300–1358), 7 came even closer to what would become known as Protestant theology. All these men are properly called forerunners of the Reformation rather than Reformers because, although they anticipated many of the emphases of the Reformation, they lacked a complete understanding of the critical doctrine of justification by gracious faith alone. 8

These forerunners of the Reformation were morally, doctrinally, and practically united in their opposition to medieval Roman Catholic abuses. This opposition is critical to note, since the Reformation began primarily as a reaction to the abuses of Roman Catholicism. Luther did not set out to destroy the Roman Catholic Church and to establish a new church. His initial intent was to purge the Roman Catholic Church of abuses.

Reformed theology thus cannot be fully understood apart from its reaction to problems in the church, such as:

Papal abuses. The medieval papacy was rife with abuses in theology and practice. Immoral conduct was lived out and condoned even by the popes, and grace became a cheap, commercialized religion throughout the church via a complex system of vows, fasts, pilgrimages, masses, relics, recitations, rosaries, and other works. The papal imperative was “do penance” (as translated in the Vulgate) rather than “be penitent,” or “repent,” as Jesus commanded.

Papal pretentiousness. Biblical and historical study by the Protestant forerunners led them to question papal claims to apostolic authority as head of the church. For example, the Reformers concluded that the rock on which the church was built (Matt. 16:18) was the content of Peter’s faith rather than Peter himself, which meant that the bishop of Rome possessed no more than a position of honor. Though the Protestants initially were willing to accept a Reformed papacy that would honorably serve the church, the cruel opposition of the popes to reform eventually persuaded many of them to regard the pope of Rome as Antichrist (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.6).

Captivity of the Word. Protestants taught that the Roman Catholic Church held Scripture captive, withholding it from the laypeople and thus keeping them in bondage to church councils, bishops, schoolmen, canonists, and allegorists for interpretation. The Protestants worked hard to deliver the Bible from this hierarchical captivity. As Malcolm Watts writes:

The Church of Rome degraded the Holy Scriptures by alloying the purity of the Canon with her apocryphal additions, by supplementing the inspired records with an enormous mass of spurious traditions, by admitting only that interpretation which is according to “the unanimous consent of the Fathers” and “the Holy Mother Church,” and, particularly by diminishing the role of preaching as their “priests” busied themselves with miraculous stories about Mary, the saints and the images, and magnified the importance of the Mass, with its elaborate and multiplied ceremonies and rituals. It was thus that preaching deteriorated and, in fact, almost disappeared. The Reformers vigorously protested against this and contended with all their might for the recovery of God’s Holy Word. 9

Elevation of monasticism. Protestants opposed the Roman Catholic concept of the superiority of the so-called religious life. They did not believe that monasticism was the only way to spirituality or even the best way. By stressing the priesthood of all believers, they worked hard to eliminate the Roman Catholic distinction between the “inferior” life of the Christian involved in a secular calling and the “higher” religious world of monks and nuns.

Usurped mediation. Protestants also rejected the Roman Catholic ideas of mediation by Mary and the intercession of saints, as well as the automatic transfusion of grace in the sacraments. They opposed all forms of mediation with God except through Christ. They reduced the sacraments to two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, thereby stripping priests and the church of mediating power and the sacramental dispensation of salvation.

The role of good works. Protestants rejected the ideas of Semi-Pelagianism, which says that both grace and works are necessary for salvation. This theological difference was at the heart of Protestant opposition to Roman Catholicism, though it was largely through moral and practical corruption that the issue came to the fore.

The Protestant response to Roman Catholic abuses gradually settled into five Reformation watchwords or battle cries, centered on the Latin word solus, meaning “alone.” These battle cries, expounded in chapter 10, served to contrast Protestant teaching with Roman Catholic tenets as follows:


Roman Catholic

Scripture alone (sola Scriptura)

Scripture and tradition

Faith alone (sola fide)

Faith and works

Grace alone (sola gratia)

Grace and merit

Christ alone (solus Christus)

Christ, Mary, and intercession of saints

Glory to God alone (soli Deo gloria)

God, saints, and church hierarchy

The first of these battle cries deals with the fundamental issue of authority, the middle three deal with the basics of salvation, and the final one addresses worship.

In early Protestantism, both Lutheran and Reformed believers embraced these five watchwords. Regrettably, Luther and Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), the early leader of the Swiss Reformation, parted ways in October 1529 during the infamous Marburg Colloquy, when they could not reach agreement on the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. 10 From that time on, Protestantism divided into two traditions, Lutheranism and Calvinism—the latter being the Reformed tradition as understood and expressed in the writings of John Calvin and his fellow Reformers.

The Spread of the Reformed (Calvinistic) Faith

The Reformed tradition has its earliest roots in Switzerland with Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575), who established and systematized it after Zwingli’s death. 11 Calvin (1509–1564), its greatest representative and most influential exponent, established Geneva as a model Reformed city. 12 In many respects, Geneva was the most important Protestant center in the sixteenth century. This was not only because of the presence of Calvin, but also because the seminary Calvin established sought to train and educate Reformers for all of Western Europe. Amazingly—somewhat to the chagrin of some of the Genevan populace—the town became the Protestant print capital of Europe, with more than thirty houses publishing literature in various languages. Because of Zwingli’s premature death on the battlefield, the fact that Bullinger’s works 13 were not as easily accessible by the later Calvinist tradition, and Calvin’s able work in systematizing Reformed Protestantism through his Institutes of the Christian Religion, commentaries, sermons, and leadership, the terms Reformed and Calvinism became virtually synonymous. Calvin himself preferred Reformed because he was opposed to having the movement called by his name.

The Reformed movement then spread to Germany. The city of Heidelberg, where the Heidelberg Catechism originated, became an influential center of Reformed thinking. Nonetheless, much of Germany remained staunchly Lutheran. A minority of Lutherans in Germany were affected by Calvin’s thinking, most notably Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), a close associate of Luther who was unkindly referred to by his peers as a crypto-Calvinist. 14 Eventually, a number of Melanchthon’s followers, estranged from the Lutherans after Luther’s death, joined the Reformed Church in Germany. 15

Calvinism also took hold in Hungary, 16 Poland , and the Low Countries, particularly the Netherlands, where it penetrated the southern regions about 1545 and the northern about 1560. 17 From the start, the Calvinist movement in the Netherlands was more influential than its number of adherents might suggest. But Dutch Calvinism did not flower profusely until the seventeenth century, cultivated by the famous international Synod of Dort in 1618–1619 and fortified by the Dutch Further Reformation (De Nadere Reformatie), a primarily seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century movement paralleling English Puritanism. 18 The Dutch Further Reformation dates from such early representatives as Jean Taffin (1528–1602) and Willem Teellinck (1579–1629), and extends to Alexander Comrie (1706–1774). 19

The Reformed movement also made substantial inroads into France. 20 By the time Calvin died in 1564, 20 percent of the French population—some two million people—confessed the Reformed faith. In fact, this 20 percent included half of the aristocracy and middle class in France. For a while, it seemed that France might officially embrace the Reformed faith. But Roman Catholic persecution and civil war halted the spread of Reformed teaching. In some ways, the French Reformed movement has never recovered from this blow of persecution and attack in the sixteenth century. On the other hand, God brought good out of evil—the Reformed believers who fled France, known as the Huguenots, injected fresh spiritual vitality and zeal into the Reformed movement everywhere they settled. 21

The Reformation spread rapidly to Scotland, largely under the leadership of John Knox (1513–1572), who served nineteen months as a galley slave before he went to England and then to Geneva. Knox brought the Reformation’s principles from Geneva to Scotland and became its most notable spokesman there. 22 In 1560, the Scottish Parliament rejected papal authority, and the following year, the Scottish Reformed “Kirk,” or church, was reorganized. In ensuing generations, many Scots became stalwart Calvinists, as did many of the Irish and the Welsh.

In England, Henry VIII (1491–1547) rebelled against papal rule so that he could legally divorce, remarry, and hopefully produce a male heir. He tolerated a mild reformation but established himself as the Church of England’s supreme head, even as he remained essentially Roman Catholic in his theology. 23 During the short reign of his young son Edward VI (1547–1553), who, together with his council, had a great heart for true reformation, some gains were made, especially by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) through his book Homilies, his Book of Common Prayer, and his Forty-Two Articles of Religion. All of this seemed to be reversed during the bloody reign of Mary Tudor (1553–1558), who reinstated the Latin Mass and enforced papal allegiance at the cost of nearly three hundred Protestant lives. But the blood of those martyrs, including Cranmer, was to be the seed of the Protestant cause in England.

When Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth (1533–1603) succeeded her, many Protestants harbored fervent hopes that the reforms begun under Edward VI would grow exponentially. Elizabeth, however, was content with the climate of British Protestantism and strove to subdue dissident voices. Those who fought too much for reform in matters of worship, godliness, politics, and culture were persecuted and deprived of their livings. Elizabeth’s cautious, moderate type of reform disappointed many and eventually gave rise to a more thorough and robust Calvinism that was derogatorily called Puritanism.

Puritanism lasted from the 1560s to the early 1700s. The Puritans believed the Church of England had not gone far enough in its reformation, because its worship and government did not agree fully with the pattern found in Scripture. They called for the pure preaching of God’s Word; for purity of worship as God commands in Scripture; and for purity of church government, replacing the rule of bishops with Presbyterianism. Above all, they called for greater purity or holiness of life among Christians. As J. I. Packer has said, “Puritanism was an evangelical holiness movement seeking to implement its vision of spiritual renewal, national and personal, in the church, the state, and the home; in education, evangelism, and economics; in individual discipleship and devotion, and in pastoral care and competence.” 24 Doctrinally, Puritanism was a kind of vigorous Calvinism; experientially, it was warm and contagious; evangelistically, it was aggressive, yet tender; ecclesiastically, it was theocentric and worshipful; and politically, it sought to make the relations between king, Parliament, and subjects scriptural, balanced, and bound by conscience. 25

Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists were all part of the Calvinist movement. Some Puritans seceded from the Church of England during the reign of King James I (1603–1625). They became known as separatists or dissenters and usually formed Congregationalist churches. Puritan conformists remained within the Anglican fold.

Eventually, Calvinism crossed the Atlantic to the British colonies in North America, where the New England Puritans took the lead in expounding Reformed theology and in founding ecclesiastical, educational, and political institutions. 26 The Puritans who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to sanction the Church of England to some degree, whereas the Pilgrims who sailed to America in the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth (1620) were separatists. 27 Despite these differences, all Puritans were zealous Calvinists. As John Gerstner observes, “ New England, from the founding of Plymouth in 1620 to the end of the 18th century, was predominantly Calvinistic.” 28

Four more streams of immigrants brought Calvinism to America. Dutch Reformed believers, from the 1620s, were responsible for the settlement of New Netherlands, later called New York. The French Huguenots arrived by the thousands in New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas in the late seventeenth century. From 1690 to 1777, more than two hundred thousand Germans, many of whom were Reformed, settled mostly in the Middle Colonies. The final stream was the Scots and the Scotch-Irish, all Presbyterians. Some settled in New England, but many more poured into New York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. “As a consequence of this extensive immigration and internal growth it is estimated that of the total population of three million in this country in 1776, two-thirds of them were at least nominally Calvinistic,” John Bratt concludes. “At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the largest denominations were, in order: Congregationalists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, German Reformed, and Dutch Reformed. Roman Catholicism was tenth and Methodism was twelfth in size.” 29

With the exception of the migrations to America, all of this spreading of the Reformed faith happened by the end of the sixteenth century. 30 The most extensive and enduring strongholds of the Reformed movement became the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Great Britain, and North America.

It is noteworthy that all of these Reformed bodies shared the conviction that Christianity in many parts of Europe prior to the Reformation was little more than a veneer. As these Reformed believers surveyed Europe, they saw what they could regard only as large swaths of paganism. The planting of solidly biblical churches was desperately needed. This explains in large measure the Reformers’ missionary focus on Europe.

In time, the Reformed movement developed into two very similar systems of theology: the Continental Reformed, represented primarily in the Netherlands by its Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort; and British-American Presbyterianism, expressed in the Westminster standards—the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism. 31 These two systems were not opposed to or entirely separate from each other, however. For example, British Puritans profoundly influenced the Dutch Further Reformation in the seventeenth century. Likewise, the Italian-Swiss Francis Turretin (1623–1687) profoundly affected American Presbyterianism. 32 Turretin’s systematic theology was taught at Princeton Seminary until the 1870s, when it was replaced by that of Charles Hodge.

Calvinism and the Lutherans

Both systems of Reformed theology parted ways with Lutheranism. By the end of the sixteenth century, Calvinism differed from Lutheranism in the following areas:

• Approach to the Lord’s Supper . Lutherans maintained the doctrine of consubstantiation, which holds that Christ is physically present in, with, and under the elements in the Lord’s Supper. They resisted any attempt to explain Jesus’ statement “this is my body” as a metaphor, saying that such efforts opened the door to allegorizing away the gospel itself. Furthermore, they said, if all that is offered in Communion is a spiritual Christ, the sacrament presents a truncated gospel that offers no comfort to believers whose bodies eventually will die. Lutherans would be satisfied only with a concrete, historical Christ.

The Reformed leaders said that the incarnate, historical Christ is now risen and ascended, and therefore is not present in the Supper in the way He was prior to His ascension. Furthermore, the concept of Christ’s spiritual presence does not mean something less than complete; rather, it refers to His ongoing work through His Spirit. The Reformed believed they were affirming all that the Lutherans wanted to protect, but in a clearer, more biblical manner.

• The primary function of the law . Luther generally regarded the law as something negative and closely allied with sin, death, or the Devil. He believed that the dominant function of the law is to abase the sinner by convicting him of sin and driving him to Christ for deliverance. Calvin regarded the law more as a guide for the believer, a tool to encourage him to cling to God and to obey Him more fervently. The believer must try to follow God’s law not as an act of compulsory duty, but as a response of grateful obedience. With the help of the Spirit, the law provides a way for a believer to express his gratitude.

• Approach to salvation. Both Lutherans and Calvinists answered the question “What must I do to be saved?” by saying that Spirit-worked repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His substitutionary work of atonement are necessary. But Lutherans had a tendency to remain focused on the doctrine of justification, whereas Calvinists, without minimizing justification, pressed more than Lutherans toward sanctification, which asks, “Having been justified by God’s grace, how shall I live to the glory of God?” Calvinism thus became more comprehensive than Lutheranism in explaining how salvation works itself out in the life of a believer.

• Understanding of predestination . In the late sixteenth century, most Lutherans moved away from Luther and the Calvinists, who asserted the predestination of both the elect and the reprobate rather than the predestination of the elect only. Reformed theologians believed this shift in thinking was at odds with the content of Romans 9 and similar passages, as well as with the comprehensive sovereignty of God.

The Calvinists were convinced that election is sovereign and gracious, and that reprobation is sovereign and just. No one who enters heaven deserves to be there; no one who enters hell deserves anything different. As Calvin said, “The praise of salvation is claimed for God, whereas the blame of perdition is thrown upon those who of their own accord bring it upon themselves.” 33

• Understanding of worship . Luther’s reform was more moderate than Calvin’s, retaining more medieval liturgy. Following their leaders, the Lutherans and Calvinists differed in their views of how Scripture regulates worship. The Lutherans taught that we may include in worship what is not forbidden in Scripture; the Calvinists maintained that we may not include in worship what the New Testament does not command.

Calvinism Today

Calvinism has stood the test of time. Most Protestant denominations that originated in the Reformation were founded on Calvinistic confessions of faith, such as the Thirty-nine Articles (Anglicanism), the Canons of Dort (Reformed), the Westminster Standards (Presbyterianism), the Savoy Declaration (Congregationalism), and the Baptist Confession of 1689 (Baptist). All of these confessions essentially agree, with the major point of disagreement being the doctrine of infant baptism.

Reformation theology prevailed, for the most part, in Protestant evangelicalism for many decades, but was diluted in the nineteenth century because of several influences, such as the Enlightenment in Europe and Finneyism in America. By the mid-twentieth century, Calvinistic theology had declined dramatically in the Western world, having been assaulted by nineteenth-century liberal theology and revived Arminianism.

About two centuries ago, William Ellery Channing, the father of American Unitarianism, wrote: “Calvinism, we are persuaded, is giving place to better views. It has passed its meridian, and is sinking to rise no more. It has to contend with foes more powerful than theologians; with foes from whom it cannot shield itself in mystery and metaphysical subtleties—we mean the progress of the human mind, and the progress of the spirit of the gospel. Society is going forward in intelligence and charity, and of course is leaving the theology of the sixteenth century behind it.” 34

Channing was a false prophet. Today, even though the world in general is becoming more anti-God and wicked than ever, Calvinism is being revived, although, sadly, it is still a minority position. A fresh hunger for Calvinism’s biblical doctrine and spirituality is causing the roots of Reformed theology to spread throughout the entire world. In recent decades, a significant number of Calvinistic churches and denominations have been birthed around the world. Today, Reformed churches exist in the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, the United Kingdom, North America, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, China, the Philippines, Russia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Israel, and various additional African and Asian countries. Also, since the 1960s, there has been a resurgence of interest in Calvinistic literature. Calvinistic conferences are being offered in numerous countries; in many of these nations, the number of Calvinists is steadily growing in our new millennium.

Calvinism has a bright future, for it offers much to people who seek to believe and practice the whole counsel of God. Calvinism aims to do so with both clearheaded faith and warm-hearted spirituality, which, when conjoined, produce vibrant living in the home, the church, and the marketplace to the glory of God. It confesses with Paul, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (Rom. 11:36). That, after all, is what Scripture, Calvinism, and life itself are all about.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New BLOG Series

Beginning tomorrow I will begin a new blog series discussing the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. This series has been prompted by great discussion I have had with the Thursday morning men's study group concerning John Piper's book "Finally Alive". For many this book has been somewhat of an intro into Calvinist thinking about election and salvation and has raised many good questions. Therefore, I feel it would be beneficial to readers of this blog to get a general overview of both positions and then explore in detail the main points of each position. I will post Tuesday-Friday every week and begin tomorrow with an overview of the positions. I pray that this strengthens us and leads us to further study.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Crazy Love Discipleship CLass

Chapter 4 was an eye opening, true test of our commitment to Christ. I think we've often thought of "luke warm" people as those who are morally good people but have no relationship with Jesus. In other words, people who are straddling the fence. But, what do we see when we examine our day to day walk with Christ? Is it full steam ahead or apprehensive? Is it on fire or halfhearted? Is it focused or distracted? Is it... luke warm? We learned that the ugly truth of the matter is that much of our Christian walk doesn't differ very much from nonbelievers. That our Christ likeness is not very Christ like. The Bible says that Jesus is the standard in which we are to live, yet we are content with comparing ourselves to others. The Bible says to take up our cross and follow Jesus, but we're more concerned with playing it safe. The Bible says to give to those in need, but far too often we ask "How much do I have to give?" instead of "How much can I give?" The Bible says to love God with all your heart, sole, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself, but we limit how far we'll go and how much time, money and energy we're willing to spend. 
I'm afraid this "luke warmness" has become epidemic in our churches, but it doesn't have to be. It would do us all good to remember, especially myself, that God is for us and we are never out of His reach. He is in control and has only our best interest at heart. We can trust that if God brings us to it, He will bring us through it. Let us be bold!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Millennium

John Piper moderates while Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, and Jim Hamilton share an evening (just over two hours) in discussion mainly on the Millennium spoken of in Revelation 20. Together the three represent three historic views of the millennium…Storms (Amillennialism), Wilson (Postmillennialism), and Hamilton (Premillennialism).

Hear the audio or watch the video here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Matters of Prayer

I am blessed to pastor such a wonderful flock. I long to be the shepherd God has called me to be and I ask that you would pray for me and for our church in the following ways:
1. Pray for our outreach. Proclaim team 1 went out Sunday afternoon and I was very encouraged to see many stepping out of their comfort zones and boldly declaring the gospel. Pray for Proclaim tonight that we would see much of the same and we would have the heart of God when it comes to outreach.
2. Pray for those who will follow in believer's baptism this Sunday. So far their are six, I know there are more who need to make this public proclamation of their faith, pray for them as well.
3. Pray for me this week. I am getting back into Genesis chapter 9 this week and desire your prayers for understanding and clarity in proclamation. I am also preparing a message to preach at the Association's annual meeting in a few weeks. All messages are important, but I feel a special urgency for this message, pray for me and those who will hear it who represent the 62 churches in Sevier county.
4. Pray for a continued hunger for God for both yourself and this church body. We have really been challenging one another over the last months, and I know we are all prone to wear down and burn out, may God keep the white hot fire of our love for the gospel burning within us.

I love you all, may God bless you mightily in Him.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crazy Love Discipleship CLass

Chapter 3 is the title chapter, "Crazy Love".  In this chapter we were faced with the question of: Do we really know Gods love in our heart or just in our head? We remembered Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, crying out to his father with such emotion that His sweat was like great drops of blood, "please father if there's any other way to save humanity, let this burden pass from me". We can only imagine the suffering Jesus and His Father endured as Jesus took on our sin and represented before His Father, Holy God, what God detests to the point He can't even look upon. All for the love of me and you. We came to understand that the love between parent and child is only a small echo of Gods great love for us. Why is it then do we have such a hard time even fitting God into our day? God doesn't need us, yet He still wants us. We desperately need God, but many times we don't want Him. Yet, in spite of our self centeredness, Gods one goal for us, is Himself. How could this be? Why would the creator of all that is, long so much for you and I? It doesn't make any sense, it's ridiculously insane, it's crazy... it's love.
The cross is not just a piece of jewelry and the Lords supper is not just something we do as Baptists. My prayer for you and I is that these will be constant reminders of Gods enormously compassionate love for us and that we respond with the intense, God honoring worship that Jesus deserves.