After spending a few weeks in an effort to establish the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace over the myths of Arminianism, Pelagianism, Open Theism, Process Theology, and the like, one may ask the question, "Why?" What is the big deal? Why put forth such an effort to establish Calvinism as the biblically correct Doctrine of Salvation? The answer is that the debate between Calvinists and their opposition is not merely one over the doctrine of salvation (as important as that is), nor is it a debate over “five-points”. It is a debate over two opposing worldviews, dealing with God’s Sovereignty and Purpose in all things. The two sides hold to distinct differences between the fundamental natures of both God and man, and having incorrect views of these natures can have disastrous results. Let’s examine some of the ramifications of bad salvation doctrine.
I.) Calvinism - the True Gospel vs. Superficial Evangelism
“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. 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." My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.” - C.H SPURGEON
As a young Christian, I remember the excitement and emotionalism that surrounded a visitor coming to church and responding to an altar call1. (In fact, I once came forward to an altar call). However, over the years, I noticed that the same people kept coming to the altar week after week to “get saved” and I began to wonder when it would actually happen for good. I began to think of my own trip to the altar for salvation and wondered, “Why did I go forward?” What happened to me that caused me to go to the altar that didn’t happen to my unsaved friends, who didn’t go forward? Was I a better person than they were? No. What was it? When God Reformed my theology, I finally understood the truth. The altar call didn’t save me. It was the Holy Spirit alone that saved me, and He did so before I ever took that first step toward the altar.
Why is this so important? Because, in modern times, the altar call has become the work whereby a sinner can “get saved”. As a result, the church has manufactured a new gospel that is bent towards getting people to the altar rather than saving souls from the wrath of God. Let's look at an example of the modern day "gospel" message.
"We must reach out to the hurting soul. People are looking for answers to life's questions. They are strolling through life without Jesus Christ, struggling in their relationships, their jobs, their finances, and their families. They need an answer, and Jesus Christ is it. God made each one of us with a God-shaped void in our souls. The problem is too many people are trying to fill the void with the wrong things, like drugs, sex, and money. If that is you today, I want to tell you that Jesus is the answer you've been seeking. He is the key to a better life. He is a better high than any drug you can take. If you come to Him, He promises to meet you just where you are."
What's wrong with this message? Lots of things. First of all, this is not the gospel at all. (In fact, most of what is written above isn't even true). There is no mention of sin, God’s judgment, or a need for repentance. This type of message, however popular, is fundamentally flawed in a number of ways.
1.) Not all sinners are "hurting souls" who "are looking for answers to life's questions". In fact, most sinners today are quite satisfied with their sinful life. While this message may draw those who are actually "at their wit's end", and is helpful for "church growth", it rarely results in true conversion. (Although God, in His sovereignty, does sometimes bring forth fruit through this and similar messages.) What will the church offer to the sinner who is happy and well-off living in his sins? Is he in any less need of Christ? Can you imagine talking to Bill Gates or Donald Trump and telling these men, "If you just give your heart to Jesus, He'll give you a better life"?
2.) This message sells the sinner a false bill of goods. For it suggests that, once you become a Christian, you will have no more struggles in relationships, finances, etc. Just accept Jesus and everything will be wonderful. Not only is this a lie, but this kind of message cannot prepare a convert for what lies ahead, promises of "trials, tribulations, and persecution" (John 16:13). No one bothers to tell the sinner that Christians have to carry a cross. No one wants to hear a message that says, "if you become a Christian, you life may get tougher". These types of messages also sell the sinner vain promises of "a good feeling". It doesn't take long for the drug addict to discover that Jesus Christ does not make him "feel better" then drugs, and surprise, he's back on drugs.
"And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." (Mark 4:16-17)
This is not the "gospel"
I recently saw a bumper sticker in a Christian Bookstore that read "Try Jesus. If you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back.” The sad part is that those who have this sticker actually believe they are spreading the gospel message. The true gospel has to be centered on God’s judgment, and how it can be avoided. The “good news” is only good in light of the “bad news”. Churches today want to avoid teaching both, replacing them with pop-psychology and entertainment.
3.) There is no "God-shaped void" in the human soul. Humans, by nature, are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), at enmity against God (Romans 8:7), loving darkness and hating light (John 3:19). Furthermore, humans do not sin because we are "trying to fill the void with the wrong things". We sin because it is our nature (Psalm 58:3). Sin proceeds out of our hearts (Matthew 15:19), which are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). In misidentifying the root cause of sin, it is only natural that the solution will be misidentified as well. Why do modern evangelicals assume that sinners are seeking God when the Scriptures are adamantly clear that "there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11)? Rather it is God who does both the seeking and the saving (Luke 19:10). (This is why the "Seeker Sensitive" gospel is doomed to failure. There are really no "seekers" to be sensitive to.)
4.) This message is the result of "free will" theology. The church has lost confidence in the true power of the gospel to change lives, and thus has to resort to what Gene Edward Veith correctly refers to as "Stupid Church Tricks"2. Once the premise is set that man's salvation depends on man's will, then the message will naturally be suited to meet that end, (not to mention the stupid tricks to get them in the door). Therefore, we promise the sinner a "better life" or a "better high than drugs", while we avoid mentioning such things as Hell, judgment, sin, and repentance. Relying on human "free will", we are constantly being told that Christ death was purposed to "remove the obstacle between God and man". Thus Christ, by His death, gave the Father permission to have mercy on sinners, a right that He apparently didn't have before. The truth of the matter is that Christ’s death was purposed in order to satisfy the Father's justice, not to "remove the barrier", for God has no barriers.
5.) This theology is the root of the modern superficial evangelism of the "church growth" movement (and the marketing that surrounds it). Unfortunately, the measure of the success of a ministry today is numbers. The more people who walk the aisles of a church, the “more successful” that ministry is deemed to be. Churches from all over are claiming to be in Revival, but the numbers being claimed just don't add up. Having a “revival” is easy for modern churches. They simply schedule one. (Your church can experience a Brownsville Revival too, for $79 plus shipping and handling). The altar-call has become the "work" that obtains salvation. Meanwhile, the poor sinner is told that "God loves you just the way you are" and is never told about repentance. While all Christians want "church growth", it needs to be real church growth. Isaiah was told to preach the truth, and as a result, 90% of his church left (Isaiah 6:11-13).
The church is called to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20) as well as be light and salt to a dark world (Matthew 5:13-16). That doesn’t mean getting people to an altar to repeat a prayer, while leaving them unchanged as the church constantly attempts to widen the narrow gates. While we as believers are given the Great Commission, we must never forget who is in charge. Jesus said "...I will build my church..." (Matthew 16:18). It’s time for the church to take our salvation out of the hands of man, and put it back where it belongs, in the hand of Him who “is also able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25). Robert Reymond outlines the problem quite accurately"
“The problem in our day, which gives rise to highly questionable church growth methods, is twofold:
On the one hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in the message of the gospel. Even the evangelical church shows signs of losing confidence in the convincing and converting power of the gospel message. That is why increasing numbers of churches prefer sermons on family life and psychological health. We are being overtaken by what Os Guinness calls the managerial and therapeutic revolutions. The winning message, it seems, is the one that helps people to solve their temporal problems, improves their self-esteem and makes them feel good about themselves. In such a cultural climate, preaching on the law, sin and repentance, and the cross has all but disappeared, even in evangelical churches. The church has become "user friendly," "consumer oriented," and as a result evangelical churches are being inundated with "cheap grace" (Bonhoeffer). Today's "gospel" is all too often a gospel without cost, without repentance, without commitment, without discipleship, and thus "another gospel" and accordingly no gospel at all, all traceable to the fact that this is how too many people today have come to believe that the church must be grown.
On the other hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in preaching as the means by which the gospel is to be spread. As a result, preaching is giving way in evangelical churches to multimedia presentations, drama, dance, "sharing times," sermonettes, and "how to" devotionals. Preaching is being viewed increasingly as outdated and ineffective. Business techniques like telemarketing are now popular with the church growth movement. Churches so infected also look to the multiplication of programs to effect their growth. They sponsor conferences and seminars on every conceivable topic under the sun; they subdivide their congregations down into marrieds and singles, single parents and divorced, "thirty-something" and "twenty-something," teens, unemployed, the child-abused and the chemically dependent, attempting to arrange programs for them all. And once a person joins such a church, conventional wisdom has it, the church and the minister must meet his every felt need. Accordingly, ministers have become managers, facilitators, and motivators—everything but heralds of the whole counsel of God—and this all because they have lost confidence in the preaching of God's Word as the primary means for the growth of the church and the individual Christian.
What is the answer? A restored confidence in the Reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation!”3
II.) Calvinism and Inerrancy
How was the Bible written? All would agree that the pages of the Holy Writ were scribed by the hands of men. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that these men wrote of their own “free will”, i.e. no one forced them to write. Whether or not God Sovereignly works in the “free will” of man has a direct bearing on the Inerrancy of Scripture. If, in fact, God is a “gentleman” who never violates man’s “free will”, then what of the men who wrote the Bible? Did God just give them a little “inspiration” and then turn the construction of the Canon over the man’s will, or did God sovereignly and meticulously oversee every letter written? Since all true Christians believe the latter, we can be assured that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
III.) Calvinism and Politics
It has been said that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Well, that’s not exactly true. The person in power, according to Scripture, was corrupted long before that person ever obtained any power. It may be only after the power is attained that the wickedness of some men is shown forth, but the power itself didn’t cause the corruption. Calvinism was the basis for the system of limited government in the United States, due to the belief that man is basically evil. Because of this, the founders believed it dangerous to giving any man too much power, for his “heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, they held the idea that a proper civil government requires a system of checks and balances. Our Democratic Republic form of government is actually Presbyterianism applied to the state. Our government has historically been limited in power and subject to accountability to two other branches. In all, civil government is accountable to God Almighty, and must be subject to His laws. Sadly, we are moving away from this.
The Arminian churches that I’ve been associated with are politically conservative in moral areas, but are “wishy-washy” when it comes to finances. (My former denomination has adopted the writings of Ronald Sider4 into much of its curriculum). Arminians want to have it both ways. They acknowledge that man is fallen, but believe that he still retains some inherent goodness. Liberal theology, on the other hand, deny man’s fallen nature altogether. It is no wonder that liberal churches tend to lean toward socialism. Socialism takes many different forms, but they are all rooted in the false assumption that man is basically good. If we just give men enough money, education, etc. they will behave and be good citizens. Give the government, run by good men, authority over businesses, etc. everything will be Utopian. Thus, socialism tends to deify the state (man). When the Jews rejected God’s Son in favor of King Caesar (John 19:15), they gave up true freedom for a false security in the state. Little did they know that, 40 years later, that same state would utterly destroy them (See Matthew 24:1-34). Like Nimrod’s tower or Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Statism is doomed to failure (while killing millions), due to man’s inherent wickedness. “A bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:18).
For further study, I would recommend:
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond
Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? By Walter Chantry
The Greatness of the Great Commission by Kenneth Gentry
Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators by David Chilton
God and Government by Gary DeMar
1 It was the Pelagian Charles Finney who invented the “altar call”. During the Great Awakening, there was no such thing.
2 This article is a must-read. In fairness, there are some Arminian Churches that do preach a sound message of sin, judgment, and repentance without resorting to "Stupid Church Tricks". However, I have seen, in my lifetime, many churches that were once solid take a turn down the road toward the seeker-sensitive movement. This is the logical end of free-will theology. Man must be entertained and amused so that he might catch a small blurb of a scripture being taught and use his "free-will" to come to Christ. The Holy Spirit becomes merely a bystander. In order to have a real Revival, such as The Great Awakening, we need to return to the theology of the preachers of the Great Awakening, such a Solomon Stoddard, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. These great men believed in the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. Let us pray that the church of Jesus Christ will cease with its silly games and return to its theological roots, and may we see a true revival in our lifetimes.
3 Robert L. Reymond, in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
4 Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, the original version which called for “national (state) food policy, (state to state) foreign aid, a guaranteed national income, international taxation, land reform, bureaucratically determined "just prices," national health care, population control, and the right of developing nations to nationalize foreign holdings”. Thankfully, even Sider himself has recanted on most of this nonsense, though he still has a long way to go to obtain a biblical worldview. (See “RON SIDER HAS MOVED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION” by Gary North)