We started the Academic Discussion series last Friday, and since then have examined issues like the age of the earth and the rapture. Up until now I have played the devil’s advocate so to speak and approached the arguments from both sides. This difference with this topic, predestination as defined by 5 point Calvinism, is that I take a position and feel very strongly about it. Although I have had a few heated discussions, I still believe the issue is ultimately academic.
This page at Calvinist Corner provides an excellent summation of Calvinism at a glance. Arminianism is generally considered to be the opposing view. A more extreme opposing viewpoint would be Pelagianism (which denies original sin and a host of biblical tenants). The reason I consider this argument to be purely academic is that each of these positions considers the nature of God’s salvation. At the heart of the debate is our understanding, or rather defining, of predestination. Did we choose God or did he choose us? Do we have the ability to choose God, or are we in our nature so depraved it is not a choice we could ever make? And why would I even stir this particular pot?
I am not a Calvinist. I take issue with Calvinists’ view of predestination and am offended by the notion of limited atonement. (There are historically a group of believers known as four point Calvinists, embracing all of the positions except limited atonement.) In my experience, it is easier to argue Jesus is Lord with a non-believer than predestination with a Calvinist. I have had more than a couple of Calvinist friends that made it a point to convert me to their belief system. For the record I don’t go around telling people that I’m an Arminian either, although my Calvinist friends would identify me as such. In their minds we must all be one or the other. I insist that taking a strict position, at least choosing between these two, is not necessary.
I am a Christian believer. I believe each of one of these statements, the shared beliefs of all Christians since the formation of the New Testament church. The reason the debate is academic is that my Calvinist brothers and sisters are also Christian believers. Calvinists, Arminians and those abstaining from voting have confessed their sins and asked God to save them. We may disagree over the specifics of how and why we believe, but agree that salvation comes through faith by grace. Calvinists believe that God elected me to salvation before the world began, and that I responded to the irresistible grace. I contend Jesus’s blood was shed for all mankind, and that I responded to the Gospel message, placing my faith in Christ to save me. I have friends on both sides of this issue that get really worked up about, as I have in the past and easily could again if not careful. But at the end of the day… does it really matter?
I have a church pastor friend who is outspoken when it comes to promoting Calvinism. But he also travels at least once a year to Haiti, carrying money and supplies to support local church pastors. He helps sort clothing and food donations, after leading his church in starting God’s Closet. In short, his work in ministry reminds me of these words: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (full text here) The arguments between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is about something God does; giving food and water to the least of his children is something we do. Preaching the Gospel to the nations and making disciples is what we are called to do. Whether he chose me, or I chose him, or some combination of both, it is God that saves sinners. It is the love of God the Father, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the calling of the Holy Spirit that brings salvation. Whatever happened that allowed us to be saved, we must focus on what is happening now. Salvation is not based on works, but our faith will result in works.
Academic discussions – I’m not saying they have no value. The discussions are worth having, but they are academic in that they do not affect our actions. My Calvinist friends, like all my Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian brothers and sisters, will wake up in the morning, read the Bible, pray, then go out and show Christ to others. We are called to unity, and must handle with care the issues that divide us. It is harmful to our witness the way unbelievers see us hacking it out with one another. We can discuss the age of the earth, end times prophesy, predestination, Obamacare and whether or not Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, but keep this appeal of the Apostle Paul close to heart:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17, ESV) emphasis added