Sunday, August 20, 2006

Accepting Calvinism

Romans 8:28-34, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." (KJV)

I’ve finally succumbed, and acknowledge myself a Calvinist. This though I have never read any more than a few scattered quotes from his (Calvin’s) works. Somehow the decision feels like betrayal. All of you who grew up in a family, or who were introduced to Christianity, in a strongly Calvinist environment have no idea what I mean, and are laughing right now.

For any of you who know me, you may have already determined I was a Calvinist in theology based on how I live, how I think. Let me just assure you that while I suspected that might be true, and while I was for a time in denial, I really didn’t know for sure. At least the prospect of being Calvinist for the rest of my life wasn’t definite yet. Now, I’m pretty sure, it is.

Of course I’ve never been an enemy of Calvinism, like an Arminian or anything. I never believed that God set the world in motion and let it go, or that God didn’t care what we do, or that He couldn’t help it if we made a mess of His plan. Nor would Arminians say that, I guess. Sometimes I wonder if the whole debate hasn’t just been terminology. That’s what I wonder now: now that it seems impossible to believe anything other than that God is in control of His whole world, down to the detail.

What I’m realizing since I made this remarkable accession, is that a lot of the Bible talks about things like God’s predestination, His grace, His might. Ok, yes, I knew those things. What I’m saying is that I had to shove them out of the forefront to keep from accepting the doctrine that I wasn’t sure was conventional in my family and church. They haven’t excommunicated me yet. (Don’t think they do that in Baptist churches.)

Reading Romans, for example, even the chapters before the infamous “predestined” chapter 8, was so wonderfully rich when I recognized God’s provision for His people.

For so long I’ve been arguing on both sides, definitely tending to defend (and admire) Calvinists, but also seeing how the doctrine of sovereignty could be taken too far. Certainly in history there have been those with that theology who have disregarded personal responsibility. Of course! Paul wrote about them in Romans. All through Romans, in fact, Paul was making the argument against license. He was presenting the doctrine of grace in a way that made me, this past month, fall on my face before its incredible love. His choice.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31, "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (KJV)

In Romans Paul presents our unworthiness from chapter one: and God’s grace, and His gifts, and His continued care for us, all through from one to sixteen. Finally He also reveals God’s reason: His glory, and how God’s choice in our unworthiness glorifies Him more. Since, as the creed tells us, that is our reason for being, and for being saved, it makes no sense to blaspheme the word of God by unholy conduct. Anyone who behaves like that is not really keeping the humbling grace of God in sight.

Ephesians 2:4-10, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (KJV)

Another theme of Paul’s epistles is that God didn’t just redeem our eternal soul. He quickened the spirit from the moment of salvation to fellowship with Him. He prepared good works for us since before time began. Calvinists should understand that not only did God predestine their salvation; He predestined the works of their life to bring Him glory as well. We are without excuse for not evangelizing, because God prepared that work for us. (Getting into the fully Calvinist view, He prepared the works He knew we would accomplish. But He commanded us to evangelize, which should be sufficient.) He may have predestined our witness as a way of bringing about salvation in another. That’s up to Him. And it is glorious – to Him.

John 16:13-14, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." (KJV)

Ephesians 3:14-21, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (KJV)

Thankfully, God doesn’t just prepare good works for us. He explains them. We have the entire New Testament to present not only Jesus’ own example, but also principles and commands by which He wants us to live. As Jesus said in John 16, He also sent the Holy Spirit to teach us. Paul prayed that we would be strengthened by the Spirit for service. From Him and to Him and through Him is everything.
To God be all glory.

Romans 11:36, "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (KJV)

1 comment:

Lacey said...

I am also a "Calvinist" by definition, though while my husband will unabashedly use the term, I shy away from labels! :) Like you, I really haven't much studied the man, Calvin, but what is important is the study of GOD's Word, as you have obviously endeavored to do faithfully.