Everything seems easier when you keep it simple, especially issues of faith. Disputes among believers seldom glorify God. In this post we’ll consider the centuries-long battle between Calvinists and Arminians by quoting the Apostle Paul’s response to divisions within the Corinth church just twenty years after Jesus’s resurrection.
Whenever theological differences threaten fellowship, remember Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The gospel is for everyone, not just theologians.
Some years ago, I asked the Calvinist pastor leading a weekly Bible study a question about the day’s text. He answered my question with one of his own, “Are you a Calvinist or Arminian?”
I answered, “Neither.”
To which he responded, “You must be one or the other.”
His question about my theology had nothing to do with what I’d asked him, but by stuffing me into a doctrinal pigeonhole he could frame a tactical response. He rejected my answer by insisting that I got my beliefs by listening to someone and that there were only two options, Calvinism or Arminianism. After affirming my original answer, the pastor suggested that I was ignorant if I didn’t admit to being one or the other.
My theology comes from the Bible and yes, I have a position on the whole Calvinist/Armenian divide. To be honest, the more I let the Holy Spirit inspire my theology through the Word, the less I identified with any faith label. Ask a hundred people what “Christian” means and you’ll get a dozen or more answers.
I read a variety of commentaries, heresies, and histories to grasp some of the infinite range of perspectives. By comparing them to God’s Word, I discover why some took root and others died on the vine.
I valued this pastor’s teaching and his sincerity. You can learn a lot from folks who agree with you, disagree with you, and know more than or less than you do. No one knows what they don’t know. Challenge is a critical part of learning and teaching.
Differences don’t always lead to division. Salvation isn’t by group, doctrine, or denomination. It is by grace through faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.—Ephesians 2:8-9
Apostle Paul and Factions
One of the primary arguments dividing John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius is “once saved, always saved,” the doctrinal clash between predestination and free will. Is salvation 100% of God or does mankind play a role? Most folks believe that you must choose one or the other.
Consider these words Paul wrote to the factionalized church in Corinth:
“Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”—1 Corinthians 1:12-13
Calvinist or Arminian?
Calvinism is the theology associated with John Calvin (1509-1564).
FYI: I am not of Calvin.
Arminianism is the theology associated with Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609).
FYI: I am not of Arminius.
In case you’re wondering, I am of Jesus Christ.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
Doctrines From Men
Curiously, if you study accepted doctrines other than these two you’ll discover that most are named after other men.
- Lutheranism—Martin Luther
- Molinism—Luis de Molina
- Thomism—Thomas Aquinas
God’s Primary Attribute
Calvinism and Arminianism both offer valid statements supported by God’s Word, yet appear to be on opposite sides of doctrinal battles on a few points. However, they aren’t oppositional once you consider a significant attribute of God:
God is. When Moses asked Him for a name the reply was, “I AM THAT I AM.”
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”—Exodus 3:14
God isn’t constrained by linear time or anything else, but exists in an eternal now. He is transcendent; before, after, and outside of the world. He no more becomes part of His creation as a rock or mammal than architects become a wall or window in a building they designed.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”—Revelation 4:11
Keep Disputes Simple and Friendly
NEWS FLASH: Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism have theological position or anything else because they have no spirit, soul, or ability to believe anything. “Isms” are inanimate ways men apply a set of principles regardless of truth. You’ll never catch two “isms” fighting with one another—it’s the folks who identify with the isms who argue or war.
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.—Romans 12:!8
Keep differences of opinions simple and friendly. No one knows what they don’t know. Keeping the lines of communication open blesses everyone and leaves room for truth.
Predestination and Free Will
Predestination is a human construct based upon linear time. Free will is something you exercise throughout your life. Let’s never forget that God is neither constrained by, nor within, the linear time He created in Genesis 1. We exist within time but God doesn’t.
Yes, there certainly is election. God’s word says so. There is also free will to choose or reject God..
The moment of your birth, the day you were saved, normal times of doubt, and the date you die are all the same to God. He doesn’t have to see into the future to know if you’ll be born again or not. There is no past or future for our God—it’s always now.
How does that work? I have no idea and haven’t an iota of angst about it. God’s word supports both election and free will. Part of our faith is believing what we can’t explain because we trust God.
No human understands the full mind, nature, or plans of God.
God knows, and that’s good enough for me.