South Africa, since its beginning as the small Cape of Good Hope Dutch colony in 1652, has been strongly under the influence of Calvinistic (Reformed) churches planted here by colonists from the Netherlands.
Calvinism became so firmly entrenched here that, for centuries, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), largest of the three Dutch-derived Reformed churches, functioned as a virtual state church. It was rare for candidates who did not belong to the DRC or one of its two sister churches to get senior positions in government. All churches outside these denominations were openly branded as sects.
For over 300 years, public opinion in South Africa on religious matters was shaped by Calvinistic dogma. Communication with God was formal and structured, and via liturgical rituals within the church establishment. The ordained ministers with their special titles and ecclesiastical robes were elevated above the laity and preached from imposing, raised pulpits that looked like thrones, which symbolised the absolute authority of God’s word. Church buildings were equally imposing (compare this with the simplicity of the early Christians, who met in each other’s homes, Acts 12:12; Rom 16:5). These cathedral-like structures with their high towers, monuments to human pride, still dominate the landscape of most towns and cities, where one of the main streets is usually called Church Street. A clear statement is thus made that the authority of the church is stamped on that community. Ministers are regarded as specially anointed dispensers of divine grace who have the sole right to administer the sacraments of infant baptism and Holy Communion, and also to preach God’s word.
They are strictly bound to Calvinistic confessions and resist anything to the contrary. The belief in predestination is so strong that all the baptised and confirmed members of the church are regarded as the elect of God. Their children are automatically among the elect, and once baptised (soon after birth) they are covenant children who can never be snatched from God’s hand. Mercifully, God’s word later enlightens some of those whom this powerful religious system has kept in spiritual bondage and darkness, and they discover they have been victims of a humanly-imposed form of godliness (the “traditions of men,” Mat 15:9). If they then surrender themselves to the Lord to be truly born again, the DRC establishment criticises them for alleged sectarian influence and warns them not to say anything that would reflect badly on the church and its dogma. Should they then take the next step, as the New Testament requires, and be baptised as believers (Mat 28:19; Mar 16:16; Act 2:38), they are almost always expelled from the church on the grounds that they have broken the covenant that was concluded between God and them at their “infant baptism” (a form of baptism found nowhere in the Bible).
They are not as harshly treated as the Anabaptists were at Calvin’s hands, but in principle the contempt and utter rejection meted out is the same. However, there were times when the gospel message was proclaimed from some of the Reformed pulpits in such a way that many people were saved. An appeal was made to church members to commit their lives to Christ for salvation, without assigning special significance to infant baptism other than a pledge by the parents to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. The preachers in this category were so-called one-point Calvinists (see below). Some of them, like Andrew Murray, admitted they were strongly influenced by John Wesley and other revival preachers on the subject of sanctification. Premillennial views were also advanced during the early part of the 20th century, but these were later questioned and rejected by a stronger group of amillennial theologians. The “better times” were those when the doctrines of Calvinism were not strongly adhered to. We are now living in postmodern times when former religious dogmas, political ideologies, and cultural traditions are questioned and openly abandoned by many people. Ours is a highly confusing phase of the world history, when conformity is a rapidly vanishing phenomenon. Tradition has lost its grip on society and everyone does as he or she pleases. Human freedom has wide parameters and very few people now follow biblical principles and conservative values.
Most churches in South Africa are struggling to survive and, in line with the prevailing postmodern trend, try hard to be less prescriptive, less offensive and more user-friendly. So far has the “mystery of lawlessness” (2The 2:7) advanced that what was unthinkable just 20 years ago has happened: the DRC has stopped condemning the sin of homosexuality and now embraces the Reformation’s mortal enemy, the Roman Catholic Church! What is more, the high pulpits have been replaced by platforms where modern bands can perform their loud music and be joined by hip preachers who appear in informal dress and present a watered-down gospel message. Biblical studies copy editor and former South African, Eldo Barkhuizen, who now lives in England, in a personal communication to me, comments on the present approach and less doctrinal style of preaching (widespread in the UK as well): “You don’t hear much teaching about hell or holiness anymore. But you never stop hearing about God’s love and grace, about how special we are to Him. Modern Christianity has quietly buried the cross, and now everything is peach blossoms and sunshine, with not a cloud in sight. Oh yes, and don’t forget – God wants us all to be wealthy as well! After all, we’re King’s Kids.” Despite all these changes and modern fads, theological dogmas are still observed by the older generation, although in a more tolerant and compromising way.
We still need to know what the errors and dangers of Calvinism, Roman Catholicism and other “commandments of men” are (Mat 15:8-9). We also have to be conscious of unbiblical identity movements such as British Israelism, which are gaining a large following in postmodern society where the boundaries of the old order are rapidly disappearing. If all options are open in a postmodern society, we certainly have the right to observe evangelical orthodoxy. Let us stand up for the truth and be counted. We now turn to Calvinism, the single most influential dogma in South Africa, which has captivated millions of our people in a theological worldview that has blinded them to the biblical gospel.
The errors of Calvinism is a false religious system that offers a spiritual foundation of sinking sand to the unsaved. Tragically, together with the related systems of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, it features prominently among the growing ranks of nominal Christians. Clearly an extension of the Old Testament concept of Israel as the chosen people of God, it sees its adherents as a people chosen, saved and eternally sustained by God. The “new Israel” is perceived to be the product of unilateral decisions and acts of God in which the free will of man plays no role. Calvin said that by His eternal providence God elected some people to salvation while dooming others to perpetual destruction. The following are the basic tenets of Calvinism’s doctrine of salvation (reflected by the acronym TULIP). They are exhaustively discussed in Dave Hunt’s book, What love is this? Calvinism’s misrepresentation of God (Sisters, Oregon: Loyal Publishing, 2002).
1. Total depravity. Most Christian doctrines recognise the moral and spiritual depravity of humanity due to the Fall. However, Calvinism contends that humans, who are all fallen, are so depraved that they will not turn to God and consequently cannot take a decision to this effect. God must first intervene by regenerating the hearts of His elect, after which faith will be bestowed upon them to enable them to repent. According to Calvin, regeneration occurs during infant baptism when an eternal covenant relationship is entered into with God. In the lives of the elect and born-again believers, repentance is not associated with the transition from darkness to light, but as an ongoing process. The sins of which believers have to repent are determined by the church, which is also the dispenser of God’s grace through its sacraments such as baptism and Holy Communion. Should the church decide that practices such as homosexuality, smoking, gambling and the use of alcohol are not inherently sinful, believers need not repent of them. Christ’s holiness is imputed to them without a clear personal obligation to sanctification. Comments: In the Old Testament, even the chosen people, Israel, had to use their free will to make decisions whether or not to obey and follow God (Jos 24:15; Isa 55:6-7). Most of them perished because they preferred a life of sin and thus made the wrong choice (1Cor 10:5). Although “covenant children,” they did not believe what was preached to them (Heb 4:1-2). It is true that depraved people do not search for God until they are spiritually awakened by His calling them to salvation (Isa 1:18; Mat 9:13; 11:28; Luk 19:10). An awakened sinner who has heard the call to salvation realises that he is lost and is also informed of the solution to this problem. He must now make a decision whether to resist God’s call or to yield to it by repenting and accepting the Lord Jesus as his Saviour (Heb 3:7-8; Eph 5:14). Although God commands the sinner, in his own interest, to be saved (Act 17:30) He forces nobody (Mat 23:37). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17 KJV; my emphasis).
2. Unconditional election. Calvinism tenaciously clings to the unbiblical premise that God has foreordained some people to heaven and others to hell. Before the foundation of the earth He, according to this view, compiled a “good luck list” for the elect and a “tough luck list” for the lost. Too bad if your name is on the latter list, because God will not regenerate your heart and bestow His grace upon you. You are a doomed soul and will suffer everlasting punishment because of your persistent sinning. This situation cannot be changed. According to the Bible, the overwhelming majority of people are among the lost (Mat 7:13-14), which, according to Calvinism, means God loves only a minority of humanity. Comments: God has foreknowledge of the choices all people have made (and will make), but He never foreordained anybody to heaven or hell. God is a God of love. He loves all people and “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Act 17:30). The next verse says, He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ (Act 17:31), which means the unsaved have wilfully decided to continue their rebellion against the God of infinite love by refusing to repent. How else could they be held accountable for their lack of repentance? If only the elect’s hearts are regenerated, and only the born-again can believe and repent, there is no point in judging those to whom the gift of salvation was purposely withheld. It is a gross insult to God to allege that He does not want all people to be saved (cf. 2Pet 3:9).
3. Limited atonement. In keeping with their view that God elected only certain people, Calvinists say Christ died only for this select group to make atonement for their sins. The rest of humanity are without God, without hope, and without the remotest possibility of salvation. To them, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8) was not a sacrifice for all the sinful and spiritually lost descendants of Adam – only for some. Comments: Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world (Joh 3:16; 2Cor 5:19), including those people who lived before His incarnation and crucifixion. They embraced the promise of the coming Messiah (Heb 11:13) but brought imperfect sacrifices for their sins, foreshadowing the once-for-all sacrifice of God’s perfect Lamb (Heb 10:1-10). Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh 1:29). He did not only die for the elect, but made atonement for the sins of all people on earth, thereby opening the way to anyone for forgiveness and eternal life: “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1Joh 2:2). Scripture explicitly states that God “desires all men to be saved” (1Tim 2:4), “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9). Those who are lost are in this position because they love darkness more than the light (Joh 3:19). The Jews who rejected the Messiah were among the elect, the chosen people, Israel. Jesus Christ “came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Joh 1:11). Only those who received Him in faith and repented of their sins were born again to become children of God (Joh 1:12). In the New Testament, all people are elected and called to salvation. Only a small group respond positively to the invitation to salvation, and in Christ Jesus they are indeed among the elect. Having had the foreknowledge of all who would receive Him as Saviour, the Lord Jesus ordained them to live holy, fruitful lives before Him and to serve Him in whatever way chosen by Him (Eph 1:4-5).
4. Irresistible grace. Calvinists say, God will, through His Holy Spirit, take hold of those people who are already in a covenant relationship with Him by virtue of their election and infant baptism. They are like robots manipulated by God, as they do not act of their own volition but only do what God has already worked in their hearts to do. His sovereign decisions and foreordaining are the critical factors in their salvation, and believers put their faith in them. Having always been among the elect, Calvinists believe it is wrong to testify of ever having been lost, under the judgements of God, and in need of salvation that will bring them out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. Comments: The very nature of God’s work of grace is that He does not use any coercion as He wishes to be freely loved by those who follow Him. That is the reason why the unsaved (whether of the chosen people or not) can harden their hearts and resist the Holy Spirit who wants to lead them to repentance (Act 7:51). There is no possibility of grace being irresistible. The Holy Spirit strives with people by convicting them of their sins and the righteousness of Christ (Joh 16:8), but leaves it up to them to react to these convictions. Even after salvation the saved can grieve the Holy Spirit if they do not follow His guidance (Eph 4:30). Paul warns the Thessalonians not to quench the Spirit (1The 5:19), thereby underscoring the fact that Christians still have a free will and should learn to know and obey the perfect will of God (Rom 12:1-2).
5. Perseverance of the saints. This principle also rests on the Calvinistic idea that humans have no free will: that if God has contemplated our salvation, provided for it and imputed it in an irresistible way, He will also keep us from ever being snatched from His hand. So, Christ will persevere on our behalf, thereby guaranteeing our eternal security. Calvinists absolutely reject the idea of backsliding and falling from grace, as they believe God unconditionally imputed the perfect life of His Son to Christians, thereby continuously atoning and nullifying any sins they may commit. Comments: The Bible teaches otherwise. All God’s blessings and works of grace are conditional. We must repent and confess our sins if we wish to be saved (1Joh 1:9). After our salvation we must abide in Christ and persevere in holiness and faith, thereby living under the blood (1Joh 1:7). What happens if we sever this relationship? Then, backsliding, even to the point of falling from grace, may occur. There are two parties in this relationship and we need to remain faithful if we wish to enjoy the benefits of God’s uninterrupted presence in our lives. We must “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb 3:6). If we wilfully reject it, we abandon our faith and end up in spiritual ruin. Paul admonished Timothy to hold a fast grip on faith and a good conscience, “which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1Tim 1:19). The Living Bible correctly paraphrases this verse as follows: “Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and always keep your conscience clear, doing what you know is right. For some people have disobeyed their consciences and have deliberately done what they knew was wrong. It isn’t surprising that soon they lost their faith in Christ after defying God like that.” The assurance given in Joh 10:28- 29 that no one will snatch the believers from Christ’s hand, confirms the fact that no person from outside (not even the devil) will be able to sever our relationship with Christ if we abide in Him. But the condition for these promises is stated in verse 27: we must persevere in hearing His voice and following Him. If we don’t abide in Him, we run the risk of becoming castaways: “Abide in Me and I in you… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (Joh 15:4,6).
There are many so-called evangelical or moderate Calvinists who reject the doctrines of predestination, limited atonement, irresistible grace and a form of depravity that precludes decision-making between good and evil; but such people nevertheless identify with point five, which teaches eternal security. Is a 20% Calvinist truly a Calvinist? No, but this is an anomalous situation. The five points of Calvin are interlinked and cannot rationally be separated. They are all based upon the notion of a disabled or completely distorted human will and its alleged substitution by God’s counsel for all people. Do people not have a faculty of a free will that would enable them to choose between good and evil – and are Christians restrained from taking wrong and even fatal decisions after salvation? Certainly not! As mortals we have a human body with the possibility of being tempted to do immoral things, we have limited knowledge and can be deceived to depart from the truth, and during this dispensation we have a very dangerous and shrewd spiritual enemy to contend with (Eph 6:11-12). Only when we have new bodies in heaven, and have perfect knowledge (1Cor 13:12), when even the remembrance of sin and suffering is blotted out from our minds (Rev 21:4), and Satan, our arch enemy, is forever held in the lake of fire, will we be free from the possibility of sinning against God. Despite these facts, many people still uphold point five of Calvin.
Even Dave Hunt, who masterfully refutes Calvinism’s first four points, faltered when he got to point five by denying that Christians can act in ways which can cause their falling from grace. In his book he says he always regarded himself as a one-point Calvinist until he discovered that he has different reasons for believing in eternal security (ibid, p. 377). He explains that, according to him, eternal security lies in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and He gives eternal life to those who believe in Him. It is indeed eternal salvation imputed to us when we receive Christ, but we have it only as long as we abide in Him. Eternal life is not vested in us but in Jesus Christ, who ever calls His disciples to faithfulness. What happens if we backslide into a life of wilful sinning, no longer walking in the light and turning back to a life of unbelief? What about those who “have forsaken the right way and gone astray” (2Pet 2:15), having again become entangled in the pollutions of the world after their salvation? (2Pet 2:20). What they lose is not temporal but eternal salvation. The problem with the doctrine of eternal security is that it undermines counting the cost of discipleship and weakens the urgency of sanctification as a means to remaining true to Christ and averting backsliding. We must “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us… You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb 12:1,4).
The Dallas Theological Seminary also subscribes to Calvin’s fifth point. However, in their commentary (Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by Profs. Walvoord & Zuck) they allowed Zane C. Hodges the liberty of being led by the facts at hand and to come to a contradictory conclusion in the exegesis of the following passage: “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently less anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up should cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there by any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birth right. For you know that afterwards, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Heb 12:14-17).
Zane Hodges comments as follows on this passage, in which it is concluded that the lives of Christians who do what Esau did may end in a state of apostasy, thereby denying Calvin’s fifth point: “Peace with all men as well as personal holiness must be vigorously sought since without holiness no one will see the Lord. Since no sin can stand in God’s presence, Christians must – and will be – sinless when they see the Lord (cf. 1Joh 3:2). That realisation offers motivation for pursuing holiness here and now. But the author may also have had in mind the thought that one’s perception of God even now is conditioned by his real measure of holiness (Mat 5:8). As a grim reminder of what can happen among believers, the writer warned that one who misses the grace of God may become like a bitter root whose infidelity to God affects others. Here the author had in mind Deu 29:18 where an Old Covenant apostate was called a root that produces bitter poison: ‘so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness.’
Such a person would be godless (profane, unhallowed, desecrated) like Esau, Jacob’s brother, whose loose and profane character led him to sell his inheritance rights as the oldest son for the temporary gratification of a single meal. He warned the readers not to yield to transitory pressures and forfeit their inheritances. If some did, they would ultimately regret the foolish step and might find their inheritance privileges irrevocably lost as were Esau’s. This would of course be true of one who ended his Christian experience in a state of apostasy, which the writer had continually warned against.” The most common reason for serious backsliding is wilful sinning: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily… lest one of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb 3:12-14). The prodigal son was lured away from his father’s house by the sins and pleasures of the world. During the time of his wanderings he was spiritually dead and lost (Luk 15:32) but he was again restored to his father’s favour after repenting and humbling himself. Christians also fall from grace when they accept doctrinal errors. Paul said to defectors in Galatia, “You have become estranged from Christ… you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4; cf. 1:8).
There were also people in Corinth whose minds were corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2Cor 11:3-4)
. The Holy Spirit warns us this will be common in the end-time (1Tim. 4:1
). There will be preachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2Pet 2:1
). Many former evangelical preachers now openly deny the deity and virgin birth of the Lord Jesus and preach fables instead of the truth (2Tim 4:3-4
). They brazenly change the Word of God, either through using corrupt Bible versions or by their heretical preaching. Although such were once saved, the Lord Jesus will remove their names from the book of life (Rev 22:19
). But this will never happen to the “overcomers”: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:5
). But who are these overcomers? Simply put, Christians victorious in the spiritual battlefield – who conquer the enemy, prevail over their own fleshly desires, and master all difficulties. In short, those who remain true to the Lord Jesus, even to the point of death. To this end we have the power of the Holy Spirit in the form of various spiritual weapons: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:10-11
). To overcome, therefore, means to obey the rules of the Christian race (1Cor 9:24
), to use all the means at our disposal (2Tim 3:16-17
), to refrain from sinning (1Joh 2:1
) and to endure to the end (Heb. 12:1). Paul says, “Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside” (1Cor 9:27
LB). The KJV says that such a person may become a “castaway”. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Cor 10:12
). However, the Lord is always there to protect, motivate and empower us to fight the good fight of faith (1Tim 6:12
), but we must remain faithful and thereby become spiritually strong (Eph 4:13-14
). “You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Pet 3:17-18
). Calvin’s fifth point cannot stand the scriptural test and, like the preceding four, is not worthy of serious consideration and support – not even in a revised form.
The real father of Calvinism
When considering the fallacious doctrines of Calvin we should keep in mind that he merely reproduced and further refined doctrines advanced more than a millennium earlier by the church father Augustine (354-430). He has the dubious honour of being regarded as the highest theological authority by both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Reformers such as Calvin and Luther. Dave Hunt rightly says that Calvin’s brand of Christianity “was without a doubt an expansion upon Augustinianism… A basic foundation of this new religious system… was an extremist view of God’s sovereignty which denied the human will, and considered the church to be God’s kingdom on earth – both views inspired by Augustine’s writings” (ibid, pp. 38,40).
Augustine lived when the western Roman Empire was breaking up. It was the fall of the western empire with its seat in Rome that led him to write his famous book The City of God. Here he expressed the view that the Church, as the City of God, is destined to rule the world and that it will never collapse. To him, the period between the first and second coming of Christ is the kingdom dispensation when the church will effectively rule the world. He also formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of sacraments such as infant baptism. His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity.
Edmunt Broadbent quotes Augustine as follows: “The Lord Himself said, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in’ (Luk 14:23). Wherefore is the power which the church has received by divine appointment in its due season, through the religious character and faith of kings, be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges – that is, in heresies and schisms – are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled” (The Pilgrim Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio Press,1999 p. 49). Broadbent comments on this statement: “Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections… departing from the principles of Scripture… became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution” (ibid, pp. 49-50). Calvin followed suit, established a state church and persecuted those who would not abide by his doctrines and refused to accept the authority of the church.
He even had many people executed who, in terms of his own preconceived ideas, were heretics, and he justified these acts until his death. Being an amillennialist who equated the church dispensation with the future kingdom dispensation, Augustine was a replacement theologian who spiritualised various biblical concepts by ascribing other meanings to them to fit them into his own frame of reference. The Church replaced Israel, and was assigned a mission to conquer and rule the world, which would be completely taken over under the leadership of dynamic spiritual leaders (dominionism or reconstructionism). Prophecies on end-time apostasy, a great tribulation and the revelation of the Antichrist were interpreted historically by confining their fulfilment to first-century events under the rule of Nero.
Dominionism Augustine and Calvin were grossly in error by assuming that Christ’s kingdom must be visibly established on earth before His Second Coming, even if it calls for very harsh forms of coercion. The ecclesiastical dominionism that typified their kingdom theology was a direct assault on the spiritual nature of our relationship with Christ, being completely in opposition to evangelical Christianity. They foiled the demands of the gospel which leads us to repentance and a new birth that alone renders us members of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. Instead, they baptise infants who cannot believe and repent, so as to become members of the visible church. Infants are not sanctified by baptism but by the faith of either or both of their parents (1Cor 7:14) until such time when they can understand the gospel and give their hearts to Christ in faith. Only then is the time for baptism.
No coercion of any form can be justified from Scripture. Furthermore, the church has no command to establish dominion over the nations by compelling them to become part of the Kingdom of God on earth. Sarah Leslie (on www.discernment-ministries.org) defines kingdom theology as follows: “The gospel of salvation is achieved by setting up the ‘Kingdom of God’ as a literal and physical kingdom to be ‘advanced’ on Earth in the present age. Some dominionists liken the New Testament Kingdom to the Old Testament Israel in ways that justify taking up the sword, or other methods of punitive judgement, to war against enemies of their kingdom. Dominionists teach that men can be coerced or compelled to enter the Kingdom. They assign to the Church duties and rights that belong Scripturally only to Jesus Christ” (emphasis by the author).
According to Sarah Leslie, the correct gospel perspective is as follows:
“The gospel of salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ and His shed blood on the cross. The emphasis is placed upon repentance and conversion of individual souls. The kingdom of God in this age is spiritual and grows through efforts of evangelism based on teaching the Bible. It is ‘not of this world’ (Joh 18:36), but spiritual rule in the hearts of men (Luk 17:20-21). Furthermore, the Kingdom of God is only finally realised upon Christ’s Second Coming to Earth, where He Himself establishes His literal and physical reign” (emphasis by the author).
The dark side of Calvinism’s hero
Calvin willingly perpetuated Augustine’s distorted, humanly conceived dogma and used the kingdom-type powers assigned to the church as the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth. Many of his adversaries paid with their lives for opposing him and his state church. The “vast and ruthless system of persecution” Augustine’s theology provided was not only used as justification for the “holy wars” waged by the Catholic Church but also for the oppression, torture and murder of countless evangelical Christians who dared to order their spiritual lives in ways that brought them into conflict with Calvin and his accomplices.
The most notorious murder was the execution of the saintly Michael Servetus: “Michael Servetus, Spanish physician and theologian whose unorthodox teachings led to his condemnation as a heretic by both Protestants and Roman Catholics and to his execution by Calvinists from Geneva… In [his] book, Servetus argued that both God the Father and Christ His Son had been dishonoured by the Constantinian promulgation of the Nicene Creed, thus obscuring the redemptive role of Christ and bringing about the fall of the church. Servetus felt he could restore the church by separating it from the state and by using only those theological formulations that could be proved from Scripture and the pre-Constantinian fathers… [Servetus was] tried for heresy from August 14 to October 25, 1553. Calvin played a prominent part in the trial and pressed for execution.
Despite his intense biblicism and his wholly Christocentric view of the universe, Servetus was found guilty of heresy, mainly on his views of the Trinity and baptism. He was burned alive at Champel on October 27. His execution produced a Protestant controversy on imposing the death penalty for heresy [and] drew severe criticism upon John Calvin…” (Servetus, Michael, in: The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1990. Volume 10, p. 654). “Michael Servetus… found that the expression of his opinions, which finally came to include a denial of infant baptism and of original sin, was as obnoxious to the Protestants as to the Catholics… On August 13, 1553, he was arrested in Geneva by the magistrates on a charge of blasphemy and heresy.
Calvin being especially urgent and emphatic on the necessity for putting Servetus to death. Indeed, Calvin had indicated earlier that if Servetus came to Geneva, he would do his best to prevent him from leaving alive” (Servetus, Michael, in: The Encyclopedia Americana: International Edition, 1992. Volume 24 p. 584). “Let it be noted that the Calvinists of Geneva put half-green wood around the feet of Servetus and a wreath strewn with sulphur on his head. It took over thirty minutes to render him lifeless in such a fire, while the people of Geneva stood around to watch him suffer and slowly die!
‘Mercy, mercy! Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me!’ the tormented man cried in the midst of the flames” (www.evangelicaloutreach.org/ashes.htm) It is astonishing and almost unthinkable how deceived and heretical people can become after deviating from biblical truth and becoming followers of men. Christ said: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mar 7:9). It is not surprising that such people justify violent means of establishing and extending God’s kingdom. Matthew Henry said, “Christ never intended that His gospel should be propagated by fire and sword or His righteousness wrought by the wrath of man… Christ’s victories are by the power of His gospel and grace over spiritual enemies.”
The legacy lives on
A dominating and virtually unmodified Augustinian heritage is reflected in the creeds of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. They have so much in common that one can rightfully question much of the theological rationale for the Reformation. It is evident that the corrupt practices of the Vatican, rather than purely theological issues, were among the major motivating factors for the Reformation.
From a theological point of view, the Reformation was halfbaked, incomplete and quite unacceptable to many evangelical believers. Dave Hunt says: “While condemning Romanism as false, [Calvin] carried over into Protestantism much of her structure and false views, such as infant baptism, a clergy with special powers and efficacy of sacraments performed only by such clergy” (ibid, p. 37). You always encounter two major problems when daring to oppose Calvinism. The first is that your misgivings call into question not only Calvin’s integrity, but also that of the mighty church establishment that once ruled nations, governments and multitudes of their citizens. Your probing questions also provoke the dignity of the learned clergy.
How dare you as a tiny “lay person” be as presumptuous as to attack this giant with all its might and influence? The other problem is that the basic tenets of Calvinism’s doctrine of salvation (the TULIP scheme) are so closely interlinked that if just one of them falls, the whole house of cards collapses! Man is completely stripped of his faculty of a free will, and everything that happens to him is related to God’s sovereign counsel before the foundation of the world. No compromise is made on this position, and all else is described as heresy and human works.
Efforts to reform Calvinism are always vehemently opposed. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was one of the theologians who had to leave the Calvinistic establishment after discovering its errors as an insider. Broadbent says: “Brought up under the influence of Calvin’s teaching, Arminius – acknowledged by all as a man of spotless character, in ability and learning unexcelled – was chosen to write in defense of Calvinism of the less extreme kind, which was felt to be endangered by the attacks made upon it. Studying the subject, however, he came to see that much that he had held was indefensible; that it made God the author of sin, set limits to His saving grace, left the majority of mankind without hope or possibility of salvation.
He saw from the Scriptures that the atoning work of Christ was for all, and that man’s freedom of choice is a part of the divine decree… His statement of what he had come to believe involved him personally in conflicts which so affected his spirit as to shorten his life. His teaching took a vivid and evangelical form later, in the Methodist revival” (ibid, p. 255). To Arminius, it was impossible to reconcile Calvinism with the true gospel message. God used his testimony in a mighty way and his legacy lives on.
Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?
There are many true believers in Calvinist churches but this phenomenon cannot in the least be attributed to the truth of Calvinism’s doctrine of salvation. These believers have either discovered the truth during their own Bible study, in the reading of evangelical literature or in sermons of Calvinist preachers who do not subscribe to covenant theology and its reliance on infant baptism. Such preachers are not true Calvinists. One of the great 19th century evangelical preachers in England, Charles Spurgeon, wrongly described himself as a Calvinist and is still mentioned by Calvinists as an example of the evangelical fervour their doctrine can produce. The following quotes highlight Spurgeon’s position: “I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism” (Spurgeon’s Sovereign Grace Sermons, Still Waters Revival Books, p. 170).
“Jesus died only for His elect” (New Park Street Pulpit, 1856). “He who in his soul believes that man of his own free will turns to God, cannot have been taught of God” (Free will a slave, 1855). “I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ… I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, ‘You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself’” (Sermons, Vol. 3, p. 130). “The human will is so desperately depraved, so inclined to everything that is evil… that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained toward Christ” (Sermons, Vol. 4, p.139). However, ironically, Spurgeon’s efforts to reconcile the gospel message with Calvinism were completely unconvincing and at variance with his preaching:
• He was a Baptist who only baptised believers. He completely rejected covenant theology and its associated practice of infant baptism. If he had lived in Switzerland during the time of Calvin he might have been executed as a heretic.
• He was a premillennialist, who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Bible. He rejected the idea that we are presently in the kingdom dispensation in which God intends to rule the world through the church. He clearly stated that, after the Second Coming, the saints will rule the world for one thousand years with Christ.
• He consistently made an appeal to people’s will to receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and never even vaguely implied that their justification could be related to any sacraments of the church. Although he formally denied the notion of a free will, he always pleaded with sinners to consider their awful fate and turn to Christ for salvation.
• He often reminded sinners that their negligence might lead to their eternal damnation. Why then did he not tell them they were not among the elect if they refuse to be saved, that God excluded them from His plan of salvation, that He predestined their sinful acts by deciding not to save them, that He will condemn them to the lake of fire in accordance with His eternal counsel, and that He will accept the responsibility for their lost state?
• He was often confronted with the hard reality of man’s free will and implicitly admitted it by saying, “A man is not saved against his will, but he is made willing by the operation of the Holy Ghost” (Sermons, Vol. 10, p. 309). That is no proof of Calvin’s belief in irresistible grace, but man making a free choice in response to God’s call which is extended to all people.
A foundational concept of Spurgeon’s eschatology was his belief in a literal and physical resurrection of believers and unbelievers. Throughout his ministry he presented the truth that there would be separate resurrections of the just and unjust – the resurrection of the just before the millennium and the unjust after the millennium.
He took issue with amillennialists who spiritualised the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth: “We expect a reigning Christ on earth; that seems to us to be very plain, and put so literally that we dare not spiritualise it” (Things to Come, 15:329). He also stated the fact clearly that Israel would be restored to their land, and he therefore did not practise the now-common replacement theology of Calvin (The Harvest and Vintage, 50:553). The following excerpt from Spurgeon’s sermon on the second resurrection clearly emphasises his strong appeal to the lost by holding them accountable for their own destiny (New Park Street Chapel, 17.2.1856).
God did not foreordain their downfall – they must decide for themselves where they want to spend eternity: “Oh! poor sinner, if I saw thee going into the inquisitor’s den to be tormented, would I not beg of thee to stop ere thou shouldst put thy foot upon the threshold? And now I am talking to you of things that are real. I tell thee sinner, that those eyes that now look on lust shall look on miseries that shall vex and torment thee. Those ears which now thou lendest to hear the song of blasphemy, shall hear moans, and groans, and horrid sounds, such as only the damned know. That very throat down which thou pourest drink shall be filled with fire. Those very lips and arms of thine will be tortured all at once.
How wilt thou bear thyself when thou shalt be loathsome with every kind of disease, leprous, palsied, black, rotten, thy bones aching, thy marrow quivering, every limb thou hast filled with pain; thy body a temple of demons, and a channel of miseries. And will ye march blindly on? As the ox goeth to the slaughter, and the sheep licketh the butcher’s knife, so is it with many of you. Sirs, you are living without Christ, many of you; you are selfrighteous and ungodly. One of you is going out this afternoon to take his day’s pleasure; another is a fornicator in secret; another can cheat his neighbour; another can now and then curse God; another comes to this chapel, but in secret he is a drunkard; another prates about godliness, and God knows he is a wretched hypocrite. What will ye do in that day when ye stand before your Maker?
It is a little thing to have your minister upbraid you now; it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment; what will ye do when God shall thunder out not your accusation, but your condemnation, ‘Depart ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?’ … You listen to me now unmoved; it will be harder work when death gets hold of you and you lie roasting in the fire. Now you despise Christ; you will not despise Him then… O my hearers! the wrath to come! the wrath to come! the wrath to come. Who among you can dwell with devouring fire? Who among you can dwell with everlasting burnings? Can you, sir? Can you? Can you abide the flame for ever? ‘Oh, no,’ sayest thou, ‘what can I do to be saved?’ Hear thou what Christ hath to say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’
‘He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.’ ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” Wilful sinning and unbelief are the causes of people’s damnation – not predestination of one or other kind.
The debate continues
The debate on Calvinism continues unabated. After the publishing of Dave Hunt’s book on Calvinism in 2002, new impetus was given to this debate. Since that time many questions asked by Calvinists were poignantly and honestly answered in Dave’s magazine, The Berean Call (TBC). The following are some of his most recent reponses (TBC kindly granted permission to reproduce these excerpts from Dave’s answers): In The Berean Call of September 2005, Dave responded to the following question: “Is it possible for someone who believes only in the soteriology of Calvinism to be saved? Specifically, that God has to first change a person’s heart.” He said: “…there are many shades and colours of Calvinists. Like Lutherans, many but not all Calvinists have been baptised as babies.
They believe, and did many of their parents, that infant baptism saves. Calvin even declared that the children of the elect are themselves automatically among the elect – and whether one’s parents were elected or not, if one was baptised as a baby, even by an unsaved Catholic priest, that act made one a child of God. ‘Confirmation’ only confirms this delusion. Obviously, anyone believing such a false ‘gospel’ is not saved. “Rejection of infant baptism for salvation was one of the two charges brought by Calvin as the prosecuting attorney and for which Servetus (only one of dozens executed for alleged heresy in Geneva under Calvin) was convicted and burned at the stake. Calvin was never baptised as a believer after his separation from the Catholic Church but opposed such baptism as ‘heresy worthy of death.’ Surely a multitude of Calvinists have been led into hell by following Calvin’s teaching that infant baptism marks one as among the ‘elect,’ just as circumcision marked male Israelites as among God’s chosen people.
“One can easily see the relationship between ‘infant baptism saves without believing the gospel,’ later to be ‘confirmed,’ and the teaching that the elect are regenerated by God without even knowing it and then given faith to believe the gospel as a sovereign gift in order to be saved without any act of their own will. Is this a false gospel? Of course it is! The Bible repeatedly emphasises that salvation is for ‘whosoever will’ (Deu 18:19; Ezr 7:26; Mar 8:34; Luk 9:5,24; Rev 22:17, etc.). Man must come to God of his own free will and offer himself willingly… “We are regenerated by believing in Christ. But Calvinism insists upon regeneration before one believes – a ‘regeneration’ that gives life without believing the gospel! Are we regenerated twice? Without believing the gospel, there is no new birth, no life in Christ, so Calvinism’s ‘regeneration’ as a prerequisite for receiving the gift of faith from God in order to believe the gospel is unquestionably heresy.
“Ah, but we are ‘dead in trespasses and in sins,’ quotes the Calvinist to justify this doctrine… If the spiritually dead cannot hear, understand and believe the gospel, but first must be regenerated, then the entire Bible becomes nonsense. God’s countless appeals to mankind to repent and come to Him are a mockery if those to whom He speaks are dead and cannot hear – if they are totally depraved and cannot repent and turn to Him without the grace He withholds while blaming them for not repenting. The dozens of verses in which God commands all mankind to seek Him and in which He promises that all who seek Him with all their hearts will find Him – these become a mockery if the unsaved cannot seek God and if He only extends the grace to seek Him to an ‘elect.’ God pleads endlessly through His prophets not only for Israel to repent but declares, ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ (Isa 45:22).
“All [people] sin and are condemned, and all need salvation. According to Calvinism, God could save everyone if He so desired, but chooses to save only some, i.e., whoever is save and whoever is lost is because God willed it, not because they chose. [Calvinists] believe in a God who deliberately damns millions (perhaps billions) whom He could save if He so desired. This is the issue. Calvinism maligns God’s character, making Him less loving than He requires us to be! “We are clearly told that He ‘will have all men to be saved’ (1Tim 2:4). Commenting upon this passage, John MacArthur attempts to justify Calvinism by saying (in his study Bible) that God has two wills in conflict, a will of desire and a will of decree: He wills for all to be saved but doesn’t decree it! So God frustrates His own will? Amazing!”
A gospel that cannot save
In The Berean Call of Dec. 05, Dave Hunt received the following question: “Do you really believe what you said in TBC of September 2005 that those who only believe the false gospel of Calvinism are not saved?” His answer was as follows: “The original question was, ‘Is it possible for someone who believes only in the soteriology of Calvin to be saved?’ As I said in my response, there are many Calvinists who were saved before they became Calvinists or who have believed the true gospel in spite of their Calvinism – but those who only know the false gospel of Calvinism are not saved. If all one believes is that infant baptism saves, as Calvin taught (and which is the case with many Calvinists) one is certainly not saved.
If a person believes that he was saved through infant baptism, how is it possible for him, without relinquishing that false belief, to truly be saved by believing the gospel? He has no need of the true gospel, having already been forgiven his sins and made a child of God through infant baptism. He may affirm at his confirmation that Christ died for his sins, but he still believes that the benefit of that sacrifice came to him through infant baptism long before his ‘confirmation’ of this lie. “How could that false faith save? If it does, then the many former Catholics, Lutherans, and Presbyterians who realised they weren’t saved through their infant baptism, and who put their faith in Christ, were born again, and then baptised as believers, have been deluded. But they would vehemently deny that they were saved all the time in spite of their faith in infant baptism! And they would reject Calvin himself as an ‘ex-Catholic’ because he continued to rely upon his infant baptism for salvation, he declared that being baptised as a baby was the sure way of knowing one was among the elect, he opposed those who got saved and were then baptised, he banned the Anabaptists from Geneva in 1537, and he even had some burned at the stake for this belief.
“Am I denying that Calvin was saved? No, only God knew his heart. But if all he believed was (as he taught) that Christ died only for the elect, and that his infant baptism into the Roman Catholic Church proved that he was one of the elect, then he never got saved no matter how eloquently he wrote about Christ’s sufferings on the Cross for our sins. “If all one believes is that one has no choice – that it is God who causes some to believe and not others, and that one must be unwittingly regenerated by Him and only then faith to believe the gospel – how can such a person make a genuine choice to believe in Christ? How could that person, consistent with this Calvinist belief, ever have the assurance offered in 1Joh 5:13? No matter how simple and strong his faith in Christ may seem to be, how could he be certain that such ‘faith in Christ’ was truly given to him by God after He had regenerated him? “If all one believes is that Christ died only for the elect but not for all – how can that person be certain that Christ died for him and that his faith in Christ is not presumption? How can he believe the true gospel that “if any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink… let him that is athirst come.
And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Joh 7:37; Rev 22:17), if he really believes that he is totally depraved and unable either to hear the invitation or respond to it? Calvin even said that God gives a false sense of assurance to the non-elect the better to damn them. If one’s most basic belief denies the very assurance Scripture offers, how can it be said that one believes the gospel promise of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Act 16:31)? “That a person may believe the true gospel and thus be truly saved in spite of believing the false gospel of Calvinism may be possible. But I don’t see how one could sort out the fact that contradictory beliefs were being held. What does one really believe?”
Dave Hunt (TBC, Dec. 05) was also asked, “How can a non-Calvinist explain 2The 2:13? Isn’t it quite conclusive that those to whom Paul wrote had been ‘chosen [unto] salvation’ – i.e., predestined to heaven?” He replied: “That scripture states, ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’ Does that mean that they had been predestined for heaven? Absolutely not. “The clear message of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is that all mankind have been ‘chosen to salvation’ by the God who would ‘have all men saved…’ (1Tim 2:4), who is ‘the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe’ (4:10), and whose Son ‘gave Himself a ransom for all’ (2:6). The fact that one has been chosen to salvation does not mean that one has been predestined for heaven, but that one is a sinner, and all sinners have the opportunity to believe the gospel – which most refuse to do. “Christ said to His disciples, ‘Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas that should betray Him’ (Joh 6:70-71).
Clearly, the fact that Judas was one of those chosen to be a disciple did not guarantee that he would fulfil that calling. He was morally responsible to follow Christ by faith. Through his own choice he did not do so and is now in hell. “The same biblical truth is demonstrated also in Israel: ‘The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself…’ (Deu 7:6). That ‘choosing’ did not automatically assure that every physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would necessarily live the part. Unfortunately, Israel as a whole did not fulfil that calling but went into sin, and God had to cast her out of the land [cf. 1Cor 10:1-12 – ed.]. “From these and other scriptures, it is clear that being ‘chosen’ to salvation does not bring salvation: one must still believe the gospel in order to be saved. That fact is further made clear by the rest of the verse: ‘through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’ Though ‘chosen to salvation,’ the means of salvation is not the choosing by God, but it is the individual’s belief of the truth.”
Distortion of God’s love
Dave Hunt (ibid, bl. 414) makes the following concluding remarks in his book:
“My heart has been broken by Calvinism’s misrepresentation of the God of the Bible whom I love, and for the excuse this has given atheists not to believe in Him. My sincere and earnest desire in writing this book has been to defend God’s character against the libel that denies His love for all and insists that He does not make salvation available to all because He does want all to be saved. It is my prayer that readers will recognize that Christian authors and leaders, ancient or modern and no matter how well respected, are all fallible and that God’s Word is our only authority. God’s Word declares that the gospel, which is ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’ Rom 1:16), is ‘good tidings of great joy,’ not just to certain elect, but ‘to all people’ (Luk 2:10).
Sadly, the insistence that only a select few have been elected to salvation is not ‘good tidings of great joy to all people’! How can such a doctrine be biblical?” Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind Series, comments as follows on Dave Hunt’s book: “To suggest that the merciful, longsuffering, gracious and loving God of the Bible would invent a dreadful doctrine like Calvinism, which would have us believe it is an act of ‘grace’ to select only certain people for heaven and, by exclusion, others for hell, comes perilously close to blasphemy. And that is why I congratulate Dave Hunt for writing this excellent clarification of the doctrine that has its roots more in Greek humanism, from where it originated, than is does in Scripture. This book could well be the most important book written in the twenty-first century for all evangelical Christians to read.
It will help you know and love the real God of the Bible who clearly says of Himself, ‘It is not My will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.’ Calvinism is a far cry from the Bible who loves mankind so much that He sent His only Son to save whosoever calls on Him for mercy in the name of His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. Every evangelical minister should read this book. If they did, we would see a mighty revival of soul-winning passion that would turn this world upside down as multitudes saw the real God of the Bible, not the false God of Augustinianism and Calvinism.”
The truth will make you free
God’s Word is the truth and we must search it to find the truth pertaining to all matters related to our faith. “There is no one righteous, no, not one… there is no one who does good, no, not one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:10,12,23,24). All the members of the entire human race are sinners who urgently need God’s saving grace. “For God so loved the [entire inhabited] world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Act 17:30). Why does He make this strong appeal of repentance to “all men everywhere”? “For there is no partiality with God” (Rom 2:11).
Peter, who initially thought that salvation is a gift of God only to the elect (Israel), soon changed his mind on this subject: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Act 10:34-35). Please note that it is not those that were already accepted by God through election who repented and feared Him. He accepts any people from Israel and the Gentile world who diligently seek Him. That only means one thing: God calls all people everywhere to repentance and faith in His Son, thereby giving them the choice between life and death.
Those who wilfully reject the offer of salvation will be punished in hell and have only themselves to blame. “If you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity” (Eze 33:9). The wicked will not die because they were not among the elect but because they refused the offer of salvation. “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil” (A.W. Tozer: The Knowledge of the Holy). When we are saved, we become disciples of the Lord Jesus alone, who is our Saviour and faithful High Priest. We should not blindly follow fallible human ‘priests’ with their denominational creeds and unbiblical teachings, no matter how famous and popular they are. Many of them are “blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Mat 15:14).
Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” (Joh 14:6). He said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Joh 8:12). Everybody in the whole world is invited to this new and living way.
We should persevere on the way of the Lord. When we do it we will never have any doubts on our spiritual lives, nor any fear that we would consciously resist or quench the Holy Spirit (1The 5:19). Why must we take such a strong stand against Calvin’s fifth point, which teaches that believers can never fall from grace? Firstly, because we should ensure that we make progress on the way of sanctification (Phil 3:10-12; Eph 4:13) by observing the principle that there is no room for spiritual deception and other sins in our lives (1Joh 2:1; Eph 4:27). Secondly, we must be able to realise the full extent of backsliders’ problems and guard against giving them false hopes on salvation when they may be in an advanced stage of apostatising.
The Calvinist, Arthur Pink, made the following sober remarks on the promise in Joh 10:27-28, which is taken by many of his fellow Calvinists as an assurance of unconditional eternal security: “There is a deadly and damnable heresy being widely propagated today to the effect that, if a sinner accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, no matter how he lives afterwards, he cannot perish. That is a satanic lie, for it is at direct variance with the teaching of the Word of Truth. Something more than believing in Christ is necessary to ensure the soul’s reaching heaven. ‘If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed’ (Joh 8:31).
The Amplified Bible says: ‘If you abide in My Word – hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them – you are truly My disciples.’ “’My sheep,’ said Christ, ‘hear [heed, obey] My voice… and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they [those who plainly evidence themselves to be of His sheep by yielding to His authority and following the example which He has left them – and none others] shall never perish’ (Joh 10:27-28). It is not honest to generalise the promise of verse 28, as it must be restricted to the characters described in verse 27!
These conditions are confirmed by other Scriptures. Paul says that through His death Christ will present us holy, blameless and irreproachable in His sight, ‘if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col 1:22-23). ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised it is faithful’ (Heb 10:23). There is a very real need to pray for persevering grace, both for ourselves and for our brethren.” Arthur Pink was severely criticised by other Calvinists for defining perseverance of the saints in such a way that it places a responsibility on believers to diligently keep on following the Lord to the end.
According to them, a Christian will go to heaven even if he backslides and falls into sin. According to their unbiblical teaching, imputed righteousness relieves you from all human efforts to live a holy and worthy life. However, Paul said that although he, as a Christian, competed in the spiritual race, that did not guarantee him a victorious finish. He held out the possibility that even he might be disqualified (1Cor 9:27). The eternal security that the Lord Jesus offers us is conditional. We need to repent, confess our sins and accept the Lord Jesus as our Saviour to become born again children of God. After our salvation we must live holy, dedicated lives by always remaining faithful to Christ. If we don’t persevere on the way of holiness and true discipleship there is a very real danger of being deceived by Satan and ending up as backsliders. Please consider the following examples:
• Corinth: Paul was deeply disappointed by the carnal members of the congregation in Corinth (1Cor 3:1-3), who had no discernment and easily fell prey to Satan’s deception: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you put up with it well” (2Cor 11:2-4). False teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ were presented under the influence of deceiving spirits, and most of the church members naively accepted it.
• Ephesus: The Ephesians received stern warnings from Paul, but evidently did not heed them: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Act 20:29-30). A generation later, the entire congregation has apostatised and were called to repentance by Christ (Rev 2:4-5).
• Galatia: The Galatians have backslidden into a legalistic form of religion in which Christ’s work of atonement was not regarded to be sufficient for salvation. Paul strongly reprimanded them for going backwards (Gal 3:1- 3). They ended up as backslidden, carnal believers who were at risk of falling from grace (Gal 5:4).
• Hebrew believers: Many of the Hebrew Christians lost their faith because of unbelief and sin (Heb 3:12-13). Others stagnated and apostatised due to their lack of spiritual growth (Heb 5:12-13). Because of this they remained unsure of their salvation, repenting time and again without growing up to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1).
• Pergamos: The compromise that the church in Pergamos made with the secular world has inevitably given rise to disloyalty and infidelity among members (Rev 2:14). Many of the modern churches have also been lured into various practices of fornication with the non-Christian religions, as well as moral impurity.
• Thyatira: The church in Thyatira was characterised by false teachings and sexual immorality. Many of the modern churches are equally guilty of these sins as false teachings are proliferating, while sexual immorality, including homosexuality, is openly tolerated and even accepted. Churches who share these characteristics have backslidden so far that they have fallen from grace. They will miss the rapture and end up in the tribulation period as worshippers of the Antichrist (Rev 2:20-22). A number of modern churches may have made a good start but are now standing in front of the gates of Sodom while transforming themselves according to the principles of the antichristian new world order.
The Lord Jesus issued the following warnings to nominal and backslidden churches:
• The lampstand of churches that only have a form of godliness will be removed by Him, which means that His Holy Spirit will depart from them (Rev 2:5).
• Churches that compromised with the world will be judged by the Word of God because they were untrue to the living Word, Jesus Christ (Rev 2:16).
• Backslidden churches that accepted doctrines of demons will end up in the great tribulation unless they repent of their deeds (Rev. 2:22).
• The Lord Jesus says that He withdraws Himself completely from churches that are characterised by spiritual lukewarmness because of materialism and self-justification (Rev 3:16-17
True Christians must fulfill their commission on earth while enduring relentless attacks from a world that lies under the sway of the Wicked One, and also from false churches that only have a form of godliness. This is a superhuman assignment that cannot be executed without the gracious and enabling power of the Holy Spirit and also not without a clear disposition of perseverance on the narrow way of the Lord until He comes again. In spite of their little strength in this dispensation (Rev 3:8), true disciples of Jesus Christ will be fed with heavenly manna and be strengthened for the struggle.
We should never give up because of fierce opposition by withdrawing from “the good fight of faith” (1Tim 6:12). Observe the example of Jesus: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb 12:3-4). “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb 10:36-39). Are you an overcomer who perseveres on the way of the Lord? Jesus Christ said: “Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev 3:11). In the light of His sudden coming, we are exhorted to hold fast what we have, lest our crown be robbed from us by the enemy.
Everyone who overcomes will be a pillar in the temple of God (Rev 3:12), which is symbolic of the permanent place in heaven of true believers who overcame. Before being exiled to Patmos, John warned the believers against backsliding and losing their reward in heaven: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2Joh v.8). We effectively have to resist false doctrines and moral corruption if we wish to remain true to the doctrine of Christ. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2Joh v.9). Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following on this Scripture: “These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it.
The word ‘continue’ (Greek meno) has been used 23 times in 1Joh in reference to the ‘abiding’ life. A person who does not continue in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned about it, particularly in the book Hebrews. John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward (v.8). They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were, and to abide (continue) in the teaching on Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God.”
by: Prof. Johan Malan, University of Limpopo, South Africa (January 2006)