Calvinism and Arminianism 4

One of the greatest differences between the evangelical Calvinists and those they deride as “Hyper-calvinists,” is the evangelical Calvinists believe Arminians and Pelagians are otherwise sound “Christians,” and refer to them as their brothers and sisters. The Hyper-calvinists believe that as long as one is unconverted from his natural freewill state by the operation of the Spirit of God, and converted to the free grace of God by the Gospel of the grace of God, there is insufficient evidence to consider such as a “Christian,” or a “brother or sister.” This is not to say that they consign them to hell–that is not their desire, for by their own experience they understand that before that gracious divine call out of darkness, they, too, were “vessels of wrath even as others.” Arminians and Pelagians are as much in need for the gospel as any “heathen” or pagan. Calvinists would do well to “evangelize” their Arminian or Pelagian “brothers and sisters.”

Luther taught that the heart of the issue of the Reformation was the doctrine of the enslaved will. He said that it was worth standing for even if it disturbed the whole world. On the other hand, in the modern day we have those who are not willing to cause a disturbance in a denomination to teach this doctrine. They are willing to hold hands and to build bridges with those who deny and hate this doctrine. The enslaved will is at the very heart of the Gospel and the Gospel has two twin truths that the enslaved will supports. 1) The helplessness of man in his sin and 2) the sovereignty of the grace of God. Apart from those twin truths there is no justification by faith alone.

It is vital to go back to some degree and try to grasp what the magisterial Reformers taught on this issue (the will). While it is true that the Bible trumps any and all people, once doctrines or systems of doctrines begin to be used it is necessary to understand what the origins of those are. It has been said that Luther was a Calvinist and Calvin was a Lutheran on these issues. The greatest of the Reformers were not divided on this issue. It was not just a side issue, but instead it was thought to be at the heart of the Gospel. At the time of the Reformation the doctrine of the will was seen to be at the heart of the Gospel, yet today it is greatly ignored and not thought to be important as long as a person preaches Christ. I would argue that for the Reformers it was not possible to preach Christ alone and grace alone apart from teaching the bondage of the will and the enslavement of man in sin. It may be the case that those who are modern Calvinists (in a large majority) are the ones that are not in accordance with the Reformers and some (not all) of those they deride as “Hyper-Calvinists” are in line with the Reformers.

The subject of free-will is, as it were, the connecting link between the doctrines of original sin and of divine grace—between man’s natural condition as fallen, involved in guilt and depravity, and the way in which they are restored to favor, to holiness, and happiness.   William Cunningham

The above statement is vital to understanding what true Reformed theology is and what is at the heart of the Gospel itself. If the statement by Cunningham (just above) is representative of what the Reformers taught and what they taught was in line with Scripture, then the whole of theological thought in the modern day needs to be awakened. Those who are evangelical or modern Calvinists are in fact not in line with historical Calvinism and their wholesale acceptance of Arminians as brothers and sisters is also not in line with the Reformers. One may deride a desire for consistency as being small-minded, but that may be something that comes from a small mind itself. The doctrine of original sin and the doctrine of divine grace meet somewhere and in some way. One cannot be understood to a great degree apart from understanding the other. To the degree we view man as being in sin is the degree we view divine grace as saving man.

The true doctrine of the depravity of man cannot and will not stand with the doctrine of free-will. The true doctrine of free-grace cannot and will not stand with the doctrine of free-will. The true doctrines of man’s depravity and of sovereign grace stand squarely with justification by grace alone through faith alone. If we throw out our doctrines of depravity to the degree that we think of the doctrine of free-will as being of little importance, we have also thrown out the real doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone. One can be gracious and winsome and at the same time be one who is throwing out the essential teachings of the Gospel in the name of Calvinism or in the name of Arminianism. We can smile and be as nice as a person can be while sinners drop into hell trusting in their free-wills. That is far worse than Nero fiddling while Rome burned (whether that story is true or not).

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