398 Years Ago Today – The Synod of Dort

On this day in 1618 the synod of Dort was convened. This event, though little known about, is of massive importance. In order to understand it better there’s some historical background to wade through.

In 1610, one year after the death of Jacob Arminius (a Dutch seminary professor) five articles of faith based on his teachings were drawn up by his followers. The Arminians, as his followers came to be called, presented these five doctrines to the State of Holland in the form of a “Remonstrance” (a protest). The Arminian party insisted that the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (the official expression of the doctrinal position of the Churches of Holland) be changed to conform to the doctrinal views contained in the Remonstrance. The Arminians objected to those doctrines upheld in both the Catechism and the Confession relating to divine sovereignty, human inability, unconditional election or predestination, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. It was in connection with these matters that they wanted the official standards of the Church of Holland revised.

Eight years later, in 1618, a national Synod was called to meet in Dort for the purpose of examining the views of the Arminians in the light of Scripture. The Synod was convened by the States-General of Holland on November 13, 1618. There were 102 men at this Synod. There were 154 sessions held during the seven months the Synod met to consider these matters, the last of which was on May 9, 1619. During these sessions the Synod deliberated and examined the five points given by the Remonstrance.

After comparing them with the testimony of Scripture, they failed to reconcile the Arminians teaching with the Word of God. Thus, the doctrines of the Remonstrance were rejected unanimously. But, the Synod felt that a simple rejection was not enough. They concluded that they ought to set forth five points of their own regarding the teachings that were previously called into question. This they did, and the five points they crafted became what we now call ‘the five points of Calvinism.’

The name Calvinism was derived from the French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), who had taught and defended these views. It is now commonly taught in the acrostic TULIP, standing for: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

It may seem strange to many in our day that the Synod of Dort rejected as heretical the five doctrines advanced by the Arminians, because these doctrines have gained wide acceptance in the modern Church. In fact, they are rarely questioned in our day while the vast majority of Protestant theologians of that day took a much different view of these matters. They maintained that the Bible set forth a system of doctrine quite different from that advocated by the Arminian party. Salvation was viewed by the members of the Synod as a work of grace from beginning to end.

On this 398th anniversary of the beginning of Dort, may you embrace what they put forth. Not because they were better or smarter than the Arminians, but because what they put forth is the essence of the biblical doctrine of salvation. Because of these things, in order to honor the pursuit of right doctrine, read through the Canons of Dort, and drink deeply of robust theology.

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Submerge Yourself in the Ocean of God’s Sovereign Election

‘In eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time and saw or knew in advance who would say yes to the offer of the gospel and who would say no. On the basis of this prior knowledge God predestined all those who chose to believe in His Son.’

Many people believe the sovereign election of God works this way, perhaps this is a reflection of what some of you believe. If it is, I’m glad you’re reading this because I’m going to try to persuade you that this is not the teaching presented to us in the Bible. Rather, the doctrine of election present in the Bible is God lovingly choosing all who will one day believe, before time began, apart from any foreseen faith or works in us, for our holiness, for our adoption, through Christ, for the praise of the glory of His grace.

I have 10 points to make today. The first 2 points are introductory remarks and the 8 subsequent points are from Ephesians 1:3-6.

1) Sovereign Election is Necessary

Earlier this week we looked at our radical corruption and found that from conception we by nature hate God, we are guilty, we are darkness, we are dead in sin, and we are blind to the beauty of the gospel. Just as a lion cannot change his nature to become a herbivore, so too we are unable to change our evil nature to become lovers of Christ. To say that God’s sovereign election is necessary is to say that without the sovereign election of God no one would be a Christian. If anyone is to know God in a saving sense, God must bring it about through His sovereign grace. John 3:16 is an open invitation for all to come, but why would a sinner come if that sinner hates the gospel? Because of John 6:44, where Jesus says only those who are drawn by the Father will come. So, if you fight against the doctrine of election it just may be that you have a deficient understanding of our own sin, because a right knowledge of our sinful state reveals to us the necessity of sovereign election.

2) Sovereign Election is Part of Scripture

It is often said that we shouldn’t be concerned about having a deep conviction about election or predestination because it’s something we can’t fully understand. To this I say yes and no. Yes, we will never understand any doctrine fully because God is infinite and we are finite, and it truly is impossible for finite creatures to plumb the depths of infinite realities. BUT, I also say ‘No’ because of Deut. 29:29 which says, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…’ There are many secret things that we’ll never know until glory, and we should never seek after those things. God’s sovereign election, though, is not a secret thing. It’s not only revealed in the Bible, it’s clear in the Bible. Therefore because Deut. 29:29 calls us to devote ourselves to what is revealed (the Bible), we should devote ourselves to learn as much as we can about everything in the Bible.

Let’s go to Ephesians 1:3-6 where we’ll see 8 essential points on sovereign election.

1) Election is a Spiritual Blessing

Ephesians 1:3 may be the most wonderful sentence in the whole book of Ephesians. In Christ God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Because of Jesus’ conquest over death He won for us a multitude of benefits that Paul calls ‘every spiritual blessing’ because of which Paul praises the Father. There is nothing the believer now lacks because of the work of Christ. If we were to make a list of these benefits it would have no end. If you were to think about this list and what benefit would come first what comes to mind? Salvation? Forgiveness? The Scripture? Assurance? Prayer? The fellowship of His Spirit? The Community of His Church? Notice in v4 what Paul (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) thinks of first. The Father ‘…has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…’ The first benefit we’ve received from the work of Christ Paul thinks of is the sovereign election of God. I wonder if you’ve ever thanked God for this? That God out of sheer grace ‘…chose you before the foundation of the world…’ If you today find yourself to be a Christian, be reminded that your salvation was accomplished, not by accident or random events, but by the eternal and unchangeable plan of God. This is an immense spiritual blessing.

2) Election is God’s Choice

Before any decision is made, before any choosing happens on our part, it is God’s choice that determines. v4 says, ‘…even as He chose us…’ This follows all that we’ve seen in the Old Testament. Deut. 7:7 says, ‘The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.’ Deut. 10:15 says, ‘The Lord set His heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.’ Just as God had a chosen people in the Old Testament, God now has a chosen people in the New Testament. John 1:12-13 says, ‘To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ After Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel Acts 13:48 says, ‘And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.’ We could also speak of Jacob and Esau described to us in Romans 9 as an example of how God elects. In v11-13 Paul says, ‘Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls – Rebekah was told ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’’ Then a few verses later anticipating/answering the question of injustice Paul says in v18, ‘So then God has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.’ Thus, it should not surprise us to read in our Bibles in Eph. 1:4 ‘…He chose us…’

3) Election is in Christ

Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him…’ and even later in v5 where he says that because God chose us we become sons of God ‘through Jesus Christ.’ Sovereign election does not happen apart from Christ. God intends to save His elect through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. So rather than having His elect people pop out of the birth canal with the word ‘elect’ tattooed on our foreheads, God sent His Son and had Him say, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’ You know what this means? If you believe in Jesus today, you’re the elect of God. A few more verses clarify the Christ-centered nature of sovereign election. In Matt. 11:27 Jesus says, ‘All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’ So Jesus chooses to reveal His Father to some and not others. In John 5:21 Jesus confirms this when He said, ‘For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will.’ Sovereign election happens in Christ and through Christ.

4) Election Took Place Before Time

Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…’ So God the Father chose us in His Son before God made the world and everything in it. That sovereign election took place in eternity past means God gave His elect grace in Jesus Christ before there was ever a need for grace. God elected people, millions and millions of people, before the fall in Genesis 3, which means when the fall happened, God was at work setting the stage of the redemption of His people through the work of His Son. Other places speak of this as well, 2 Tim. 1:9 says, ‘God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.’ Also Revelation 13:8 where John says, ‘All who dwell on earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.’ So before God made the world, He wrote a book called, ‘The Book of the Life of the Lamb who was Slain.’ In this book God wrote names, and everyone whose name is not in this book will one day worship the beast. A similar encouragement to the saints of their heavenly citizenship is found in Rev. 7, 17, 20, and 21. Church, there is such hope to be had in this, if you know and love Jesus right now be sure of this – God has known and loved you much longer.

5) Election is to Holiness

Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (why?) that we should be holy and blameless before Him.’ Sometimes I hear it said that if you believe in election it would make you lazy in living the Christian life. The Bible disagrees. The very reason God chose us in His Son before time began was that we would be (what?) holy and blameless people. God elected His people in eternity past, redeemed them through His Son in the present, and will keep them holy through the ministry of His Spirit so that we gain the future inheritance we’ve been promised. See here that God intends to bring His elect all the way from spiritual death in sin, to redemption from sin, and finally to the elimination of that sin in glory. According to Eph. 5:27 this is why Jesus came, ‘that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ So if you claim to be a Christian and you’re not living a holy life that is evidence that you not only don’t understand the doctrine of election but that you don’t understand the doctrine of the incarnation. Holiness is a fruit of election, just as it is a fruit of believing in the gospel.

6) Election is God’s Purposeful Love

One summer when I was in college, a group of guys and I were on our way up to North GA for a summer job. On the way we began discussing theology and one of the guys asked me, ‘Adam, I know you believe in predestination, can you explain it to me?’ Before I got a chance to answer another one of the guys jumped in and said, ‘I can answer that for Adam, it’s very simple – you see, we believe God is fair, Adam doesn’t.’ To which I responded, ‘If God were fair with us, no one would be saved, and we’d all receive the penalty our sin deserves.’ You see, many people feel that God’s election isn’t fair but see here in Ephesians 1:5, ‘In love He predestined us…’ In love God chose, in love God elected, in love He predestined. Later in v5 it says this loving predestination was according to the purpose of His will. It is no small encouragement to know the reason of how you came to be what you are today. Why am I a Christian today? Why do I love God today? How did all this come to be? Answer: God’s electing love has brought it all to pass. If God, before time and in Christ, was for you, no one in all history can be against you. Many people love speaking of the God’s love, but notice here in v5 that if you define God’s love apart from His sovereign election you don’t define God’s love as the Bible does. In 1836 the hymn writer Josiah Conder knew this and penned the words we just sang, ‘My heart knows one above You, for Your rich grace I thirst, I know that if I love You, You must have loved me first.’

7) Election is for Adoption

Ephesians 1:5, ‘In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…’ As if His love is not already great enough, it is revealed as greater when we finish v5 because we who born as slaves to sin, now because of God’s election, are His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. 1 John 3:1 enlarges this thought for us, ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ God speaks of this in Isaiah 43:6-7 saying, ‘I will say to the north ‘Give up!’ and to the south ‘Do not withhold!’ bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.’ His electing love has adopted us into His family, through Jesus Christ, and if we’re in the family we are heirs of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. Just as we cannot define holiness and God’s love apart from sovereign election we cannot define the doctrine of adoption apart from it as well.

8) Election is to the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace

To see the ultimate purpose of election let’s read all of Ephesians 1:3-6 once again, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will…’ why did He do this? Why sovereignly elect men and women from every tribe, language, people, and nation? Why choose people in Christ, before time began, for holiness, in love, and for adoption? See the ultimate reason in v6, ‘…to the praise of His glorious grace…’ See here the particular, the principal, and the primary purpose of election is not redemption, but that we (through the redemption of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit) would praise His grace, His glorious grace.

There is glory to be seen in God’s electing grace. So if you want to see the glory of grace, if you want to enjoy God’s grace, and if you want to glory in God’s grace…submerge yourself in the ocean of God’s sovereign election, and you’ll not only see His grace, you’ll savor it.

Sovereign Grace Reverses Radical Corruption

Picture before you a lion in a cage. And before this lion imagine a bowl of meat and a bowl of wheat. Tell me, which one do you think the lion will choose to eat?

If you chose the meat you’re correct. The lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, they’re meat eaters. Consider a deeper question now: what would have to happen to the lion for him to desire the wheat? Or to ask it in another way, what would have to happen to the lion so that he desired something He has no natural taste for? Answer: his nature would have to change, and that is something he cannot do himself.

My aim today is to persuade you that the salvation described in the Bible is just like this. You see, our radical corruption, our sinful nature will only choose what it desires, and a sinful nature only desires sin, so just as the lion only eats meat, sinners when put to a choice between Jesus Christ and sin, will choose sin every time. So, naturally a question than comes: what would have to happen to us so that we desire Jesus Christ, whose character and commands we have no natural taste for? Answer: because we’re unable to change our own nature, God would have to change our nature. Because of this, our only hope is the sovereign grace of God who can and does change the sinners heart.

You see, the Bible does not present a will in man that is neutral being able to choose one way or another way, but a will that’s dead in sin or in bondage to sin until God makes it new. The Bible speaks of our radical corruption in 5 ways:

1) Guilt

When our first parents were deceived in Genesis 3 and took a bite from the forbidden fruit, they plunged the entire human race into guilt and condemnation. Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 where he says, ‘…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned…’ As goes the head so goes the body. The relationship between Adam and us is so close that God includes that phrase at the end of 5:12 ‘…death spread to all men (not because Adam sinned, but) because all sinned…’ From his disobedience to God’s first command, Adam brought sin, and therefore guilt, and therefore death to all men because Adam, in Eden, was the representative head of all mankind. Because of this at the moment of our birth, we are born, not as innocent people who choose right or wrong, no, we are born guilty before God before we commit any sin. This is why God says earlier in Romans 3:23, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’ because though we were made in God’s image we have chosen to exchange the glory of God for our own glory, distorting God’s image in us. We had life, and life to the full, walking with God in the cool of the day, all was as it should be, but we rebelled. And our act of rebelling against the King of Kings, the Just Judge of all the universe, is nothing short of cosmic treason, thus all mankind is born under the death sentence, all mankind is born guilty.

2) Darkness

The Bible goes further and speaks of our darkness. John 3:19-20, ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ This sad reality John expresses is clear is it not? John 8:12 says Jesus is the Light of the world, and when He came John says light entered our dark world, and not surprisingly, we didn’t just prefer the darkness over the light, John says we ‘loved the darkness’ over the light. This is not a lifeless choice like we would make between staying home or going to a ballgame…this is a heart level emotionally loaded assessment. Our natural state when we’re born into this world is that we ‘love’ darkness and hate the light; we love sin, we hate Jesus. Why? Because our deeds are evil, and because we don’t want our wickedness to be broadcast to the world by coming to the light, thus we remain in the darkness we so love.

3) Hatred

Describing the difference between living with a mind set on the flesh with and a mind set on the things of the Holy Spirit Paul says, ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law, indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:5-8). What is the sinner’s natural posture toward God? Is it one of peace, or maybe indifference or neutrality? No, far from it. v7, ‘For the mind set on the flesh on hostile to God.’ That word ‘hostile’ literally means ‘hates’ or ‘is at enmity with.’ Natural man, or to put it another way, all those who have not been raised to life by the power of the Spirit hate God, are alienated from God, and are at odds with God. Paul even says in v8 that natural man is unable to submit to God. Not that natural man won’t submit to God as if they chose not to, v8 says they are not able to submit to God because of their sin.

4) Death

Ephesians 2:1-3, ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Many people speak of our sinful nature as if we were drowning in an ocean reaching up as hard as we can to grasp, maybe even with just one finger, a life preserver that’s been tossed to us by Jesus. Others speak of it as if we were on a hospital bed, on the brink of death, when Jesus walks in with the cure to save. These are pleasant images for sure, if we ignore what the Bible has to say. In the Bible we don’t find that we’re drowning we find that we lying cold and lifeless on the sea floor with our lungs filled with water. When we come to the Bible we don’t find that we’re on the brink of death in a hospital bed, we find that we’re six feet under, dead. ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…’ This is not an individual assessment either, it’s universal. We are by nature ‘…children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Yet ironically it says that we, though dead in sin, ‘walk according to the course of the world’ and that we ‘follow Satan, the prince of the power of the air.’ By birth we really are the walking dead.

5) Blindness

Lastly see our blindness. 2 Cor. 4:4, ‘…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Here we see Satan’s work, blinding all those who don’t believe, keeping them from seeing not just ‘the light’ and not just ‘the light of the gospel’ he blinds unbelievers from seeing ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ There is glory to be seen in the gospel, the glory of Christ, and if we see it, it will stun our souls and fill our bones with pleasure and exuberance beyond measure. Yet, see here that by birth we’re blind to this, and are unable to see this beauty.

If you embrace the reality of our radical corruption it paves the way to the best news in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me show you how this is true. When God does save, when He regenerates our hearts, and gives us the gift of the ‘new birth’ He does the impossible and changes our nature through His sovereign grace. This act of sovereign grace reverses each of the 5 things we’ve just gone over:

1) Not Guilt, but Pardon

When God saves, we no longer carry the burden of guilt, but have been pardoned by the blood of Christ, who stood in our place as our substitute on the cross. Romans 3:23-25, ‘or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…’

2) Not Darkness, but Light

When God saves, we no longer are darkness, but light in the Lord. John 1:4-5, ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Ephesians 5:7-8, ‘Do not become partakers with sons of disobedience for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light.’

3) Not Hatred, but Love

When God saves, we longer hate God, we love Him. 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because He first loved us.’

4) No Death, but Life

When God saves, we no longer are dead, but alive. Ephesians 2:3-5, ‘…we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

5) Not Blindness, but Sight

When God saves, we are no longer blind, we can see. 2 Cor. 4:6, ‘For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

Let’s end this post properly with a plea from Martin Luther. Hear it well:

“Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! Let man be man! Let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! Let them realize that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ, and cry for mercy.”

(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)

How Does the Christian Life Begin? The Effectual Call of God

When we come to the doctrine of the effectual call we encounter a paradox. Because of God’s predestining love, many people in the world are truly the ‘elect of God’ but still remain dead in sin and without hope. God has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, yet they live as unbelievers, apart from Christ, still rejecting the gospel. How is it then that God brings these chosen ones, how is it that God brings His elect to a saving knowledge of the truth? The answer according to Scripture is the effectual call.

Or we could say it another way: God’s sovereign election is not the end of the story, it’s merely the beginning. God will lead all of those He has elected in Christ to salvation through Christ and the first step in this process is the effectual call. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called…’ So first comes the election of God then comes the call of God. And not just any call, but a call that we say is ‘effectual’ because the call itself creates what is not there: life from death, light from darkness, faith from unbelief, salvation from condemnation, and adoption from alienation.

Two examples from Scripture:

a) Open Eyes to See the Wisdom and Power of God

1 Cor. 1:22-24, ‘For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’

In this passage we’re presented with three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and another group Paul refers to as ‘the called.’ Three groups with two very different responses to Christ. Jews demand signs/wonders and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be a stumbling block. Greeks (who are Gentiles) were seen as more cultured people than the Jews so rather than seeking powerful signs they sought after wisdom and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be folly. This response of unbelief does not surprise us because in the verses leading up to v22-24 we continually read that to the world the cross is foolishness (v18), that it pleased God the world through wisdom cannot find Him or know Him (v21a), but rather God saves those who believe a message which the world sees as foolishness (v21b).

Standing against the unbelief of Jews and Gentiles is the other group, ‘the called.’ We’re introduced to this group in v24 and when these people heard of Jesus Christ they did not think Him to be a stumbling block or folly, no, they held Him to be the very power and wisdom of God. A slow reflection of these three groups and their responses to the gospel prompts us to ask one question: what made the difference? How did the third group recognize Christ as God’s very wisdom and God’s very power while the Jews and Gentiles missed it? The Jews wanted their signs, the Gentiles wanted their wisdom, and ironically the very things that both of these groups were seeking are found together in Christ in the highest degree possible. He is the definition of the power of God…He is the definition of the wisdom of God. What made this last group embrace this and embrace the truth of the gospel while the others rejected it? Answer: they were called of God.

We see this in the first few words of v24, ‘But to those who are called…’ That’s it. That’s the difference maker. ‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This means the call of God is the very thing which removes our John 3:3 blinders. Anybody recall John 3:3? ‘Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.’’ Because of our sinful nature we cannot see the kingdom of God, we’re blind to the beauty of the gospel by birth, but those who are called, those whom God gives the new birth (that’s what ‘born again’ means) can see power and wisdom in the gospel! They don’t think of the gospel as a small thing that doesn’t have meaning for their life, they think it is life. Do you? It was the call of God that made this third group in 1 Cor. 1:24 see the truth of who Jesus really is while the rest of the world was blind to it. Thus, the call of God is an effectual call or is efficacious because it brings about the desired effect.

b) Through the Gospel of Christ – For the Glory of Christ

2 Thess. 2:13-14, ‘But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Paul always gave thanks to God for the Church in Thessalonica, because they are beloved of the Lord. How does Paul know they are so loved by God? He says it here – because God chose them and is working in them by His Spirit so they would be sanctified in the truth. After electing them and choosing them before the foundation of the world how does God convert them and begin this work of Spirit sanctification in their hearts? Paul says it in v14, ‘To this (to what? To Salvation, to sanctification, to the Christian life) He called you (how did He call?) through our gospel (why did He call?) so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ So again it’s election first and then God brings that election to pass in their lives through calling them to Himself through the gospel.

This is where I want to point out the difference between the external call of God and the internal call of God. The external of God is when both the elect and the nonelect hear with their ears a preacher calling them to the gospel. This external call goes out from faithful pulpits all around the world, it’s heard on podcasts, radio, and even TV when you watch a Billy Graham crusade or something faithfully presenting the gospel. The internal call of God, on the other hand, is when God through His Spirit awakens you, grants you the new birth, removes your natural blinders, and because of this work of (which you can call regeneration) you can hear God calling to you within, in your heart. You feel God affirming within that what you’re hearing is good, is true, and is beautiful.

So we have 2 calls: the external call that goes out to all people indiscriminately and does not result in salvation, and the internal call that goes out only to the elect that does result in salvation. This internal call is the call we see in v14. It is the effectual call of God, the call that brings about the desired result. It’s a call that carries the power of creation and new creation. In Genesis 1 God called out into the dark void and all creation was made, in John 11 Jesus called out into the dark cave and Lazarus rose from the dead, and when God calls out into our dead hearts we awake…we’re born again, we become new creations, and in this awakened or quickened state we find ourselves feeling strangely warmed to the gospel and you know what we do then? We willingly choose to repent and believe. So hear me loud and clear: sinners really do choose to repent, sinners really do choose to believe…but no choosing and no believing will happen until God calls, because His call literally changes our hearts, His call gives us the ability repent and believe.

Now that we’ve seen that these two calls are different calls, see also that the internal call of God in the soul of man has an inseparable connection with the external call of God from the pulpit. In v14 Paul says, ‘To this He called you through our gospel…’ It is through the preaching of the gospel that God calls His elect to faith. Particularly it is the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel, which takes that gospel and makes it effective within the heart of man. Of course this means the external call of God in the preaching of the Word of God can be taking place while the internal call of God in the soul of man takes place. Or it can mean that the external call of God in preaching can linger in the soul of a man or woman for many days, weeks, or even years before God grants His saving internal call.

I recall reading (can’t remember where) of a certain farmer who went on a long journey to hear George Whitefield preach, and after hearing him he returned home to his work and nothing much changed for him spiritually. But one day weeks later while working on the farm he remembered something Whitefield said and in an instant the farmer fell to his knees in repentance, crying out for God to save him from his sins. In this farmer’s case the external call went out when he heard Whitefield preach, and weeks later God did what only He can do, He saved that farmer in the middle of his farm. This is the internal call, it works with and alongside the external call.

Just a brief side note here: since it is through the external call or the preaching of the gospel that God saves His own with His internal or effectual call, do you see how necessary the preaching of the gospel is? Without it no one gets saved, yet with it God powerfully works to save. In this light, St. Francis of Assisi’s comment ‘Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words’ is one of the most ridiculous and wrong comments known to man! Since God saves His people through preaching, WORDS are ALWAYS necessary to preach the gospel! Remember Romans 10:15? ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.’

In v14 Paul ends the sentence giving us the result of effectual calling saying, ‘To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This means, not that you and I receive any glory of our own upon God’s calling, but that from this calling we’re brought face to face with the most ultimate reality in the entire universe: the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So the effectual call of God is through the gospel of Christ, and for the Glory of Christ.

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Reformed Theology

Reformed theology carries a lot of stereotypes in our current day.  Some of them are earned while others are downright rude.  A friend of mine shared an article on Facebook yesterday dealing with this very thing and I thought it was so good that I’m re-posting it here for you.  It was written by Corrie Mitchell, here is the whole post below:

Reformed theology — or Calvinism — gets a bad rap. Calvinists are often seen as condescending, believing themselves to be part of God’s “elect.” It’s a cold, rigid theology that leaves no room for grace, oppresses women, and eliminates the need for evangelism. Or is it?

A number of people (see herehere, and here) have written of a Calvinist revival happening in Christianity. The theology’s main proponents are some of the most prolific, publicized (and polarizing) voices: Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Driscoll, to name a few. Though Calvinism and its counterpart, Arminianism, are roughly equal in numbers of adherents, Calvinists get most of the press — much of it misleading.

So, here are 10 things to know about Reformed theology:

1. Reformed and Calvinist are generally used interchangeably.

First, Calvinism is a system of theology, not a denomination. And it was one stream of theology to come out of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Lutheran, Anabaptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches all sprung up as a result of the teachings of the Reformers, who, in addition to Calvin, included theologians like Martin Luther, John Knox, and Ulrich Zwingli.

Broadly speaking, Calvinism encompasses the whole of Reformed theology and its doctrinal distinctives. Many more churches hold to Reformed teaching than just the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church. For example, some of today’s most outspoken Calvinists are Southern Baptist.

2. Reformed theology is more than the five points (or TULIP).

Calvinism is often distilled into the moniker TULIP — Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. But, this systematic packaging is reductive and doesn’t nearly represent all that Reformed Christians believe. It is not creed, nor was it chosen by Calvinists to summarize their beliefs. In fact, the teachings that later become TULIP were a response to the Arminian Five Articles of Remonstrance.

While the five points summarize well the Calvinist principles of faith, they don’t say much about how that faith is expressed. They don’t express the high role of the sacraments — baptism and the Lord’s Supper — as a means of grace, a physical portrayal of the promise of salvation that is the gospel. And while the five points are true, they are not the truth. Speaking on being a Calvinist, John Piper says, “We begin as Bible-believing Christians who want to put the Bible above all systems of thought.”

(Also of notable importance to Reformed theology are the five solas — scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, God’s glory alone. See the Westminster Confession of Faith for a more comprehensive exploration of the doctrines to which Calvinists ascribe.)

3. There is a broad spectrum of beliefs within Reformed Christianity.

Calvinism is a 500-year-old theology that people may think they’ve defined with an easy-to-remember acronym, but it’s still an ongoing point of contention. Not all Calvinists are five-pointers — some are seven-point Calvinists, as John Piper half-jokingly calls himself, and still others don’t necessarily “wave the Calvinist flag,” but hold to a Reformed understanding of the Bible.

There are New Calvinists (also called the Young, Restless, Reformed) and “Old” Calvinists, the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America — an eclectic mix of doctrines falls under the Reformed superstructure. There are Reformed Christians who believe human free will and divine predestination are binary, and those who find a way to reconcile the two. Some Calvinists hold to the idea of reprobation (or double predestination), and many more don’t. As divisions exist within Christianity, so too among its Reformed.

4. Reformed theology is humbling, but it’s also about ultimate joy.

God’s glory and our joy are inextricably linked. So, while the Reformed view of God’s ultimate sovereignty humbles the believer, who has nothing to do with his own salvation, it does not diminish his worth. Christians are carrying out an ultimate purpose that results in God’s glory and our satisfaction.

Reformed theology reorients the believer to a God-centered view of reality. As Michael Horton writes, “God is not a supporting actor in our life movie. We exist for his purposes, not the other way around.” The end purpose of human life is to glorify God. The reason this isn’t bleak for us is that God is glorified by our enjoying him eternally. In Desiring God John Piper explains it this way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Enjoying. Satisfied. These are good things for us.

5. The Reformed view of women is not oppressive.

To a lot of people (especially outside of the church), the Reformed view of specific gender roles seems retrograde. Yet, a number of modern, fully educated women accept as biblical the Reformed church’s view of complementarianism — essentially that man was made to reflect Christ’s sacrificial relationship to the church and woman to reflect the church’s submissive relationship to God.

What complementarianism really means has been twisted, not least by people inside the church. In no way does “submissive” mean a woman must be a silent, covered-up, stay-at-home housewife who shouldn’t be involved in ministry and whose only purpose in life is to marry, have children, and blindly follow her husband. Rather, Mary Kassian writes, “Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does.”

(For more, read Thabiti Anyabwile on how complementarianism is made clearer by the Great Commission.)

6. The Reformed view of the Bible as “inerrant” doesn’t mean “literal.”

While Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is the inerrant word of God — that it is true, accurate — that doesn’t necessitate a literal reading of every word in the Bible. Though inerrancy and literalism are often joined together, they need not be to still affirm the authority of the scripture. Says Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul, “The focus on the veracity of what Scripture actually affirms also allows us to take into account the use of poetic imagery.”

In the same vein, if Jesus spoke in parables, why should we not see in parts of scripture the God-intended use of metaphors, hyperboles, symbols, or any other literary device? Their use doesn’t make the scriptures any less accurate, any less inerrant.

7. Reformed theology is a celebration of God’s grace.

More than anything, Reformed theology exalts God’s grace by hinging entirely upon it. Total depravity means there is no way apart from God that any human would seek God on his own. We are completely “dead” in sin. Yet, the beauty of Reformed theology is that God came after us anyway and makes us alive through the gift of faith by his grace — a grace powerful enough to overcome our resistance to it. Here’s an analogy I heard recently that describes the Reformed view of grace:

You’re dead at the bottom of the sea, lungs full of water. God jumps in, pulls you up, and makes you alive again — and he does so because of his great love. We are entirely at the mercy of God’s grace to rescue us.

8. Reformed theology manifests in a variety of cultural expressions.

The stereotype of Reformed Christianity is that it’s full of old, stodgy white guys. While that certainly exists within Reformed Christianity, it’s not exclusively so. I go to a highly multicultural (largely Hispanic) nondenominational church that holds to Reformed theology and has members who bring tambourines that they shake from their seats during worship, others who clap and mumble “thank you, Jesus” throughout the sermon, and a pastor who performs communion and reads a benediction at the end of each service. All of that is to say, Calvinism is attracting many more than the “typical” players — further shown by its representation within Christian hip hop.

9. The Reformed idea of “election” doesn’t negate evangelism.

It’s commonly assumed that if God has chosen from eternity who is saved, evangelism is rendered pointless. But Calvinists believe that God chooses to work through his people and through their preaching of his word to save those he has chosen. (See Romans 10.) God’s sovereignty over salvation, says Reformed theology, fuels the desire to evangelize. The pressure is off the Christian to persuade a person to believe — he trusts God to save even those who seem to him the furthest from faith. Because God chose to save independent of character or behavior, the Reformed preach to all, as no one is beyond the hope of salvation that was ordained from eternity.

Michael Horton, author of For Calvinism, says that election is what makes evangelism worthwhile. Without it, none would choose Christ, none would choose salvation — “we would all be left in our sins and there would be no point to evangelism.”

10. Reformed theology ≠ Jesus.

Often, Calvinists are accused of being cocky, arrogant, abrasive — usually toward those who don’t share the Reformed theology they believe to be exclusively accurate. The danger comes in elevating the theology, the doctrine above Christ. In the end, Reformed theology doesn’t perfectly answer or satisfy every question we have, for God is bigger and beyond any system or framework that we contrive.

I like the way pastor Art Azurdia reorients us to Jesus by saying, “The evidence of God’s mercy in your life isn’t determined by how much theology you know, by how many books you read, but by your active goodness to people in misery and in need.”

TODAY 1553: John Calvin & Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was a thinker who seems to have been the first to describe the “pulmonary transit” of blood through the lung from the heart’s right ventricle to the left auricle.  He didn’t, however, stick to anatomical studies, he ventured into theology.  By doing so, he embraced a heretical view by rejecting the Trinity and by advancing theories that seemed to many theologians to entail pantheism.  He published these ideas in his book The Restitution of Christianity.

In 1540 Servetus commenced a correspondence with John Calvin denying the Trinity and the divine sonship of Christ.  After authorities condemned Servetus to death for heresy, he showed up in Geneva, where he was soon recognized and imprisoned.  John Calvin visited him in prison many times, laboring with him to change his views, embrace orthodoxy, and avoid death but Servetus clung to his unorthodox views.

Today, October 26, 1553, Geneva’s city council condemned Servetus to death with the words, “Let him be condemned to be led to Champel, and there burned alive, and let him be executed tomorrow, and his books consumed.”  Calvin asked that the heretic be given a more humane death than burning.  The council refused.

J.I. Packer describes it like this:

The anti-Trinitarian campaigner Servetus was burned at Geneva in 1553, and this is often seen as a blot on Calvin’s reputation. But weigh these facts:

  1. The belief that denial of the Trinity and/or Incarnation should be viewed as a capital crime in a Christian state was part of Calvin’s and Geneva’s medieval inheritance; Calvin did not invent it.
  2. Anti-Trinitarian heretics were burned in other places beside Geneva in Calvin’s time, and indeed later–two in England, for instance, as late as 1612.
  3. The Roman Inquisition had already set a price on Servetus’ head.
  4. The decision to burn Servetus as a heretic was taken not only by Calvin personally but by Geneva’s Little Council of twenty-five, acting on unanimous advice from the pastors of several neighboring Reformed churches whom they had consulted.
  5. Calvin, whose role in Servetus’ trial had been that of expert witness managing the prosecution, wanted Servetus not to die but to recant, and spent hours with him during and after the trial seeking to change his views.
  6. When Servetus was sentenced to be burned alive, Calvin asked for beheading as a less painful alternative, but his request was denied.
  7. The chief Reformers outside Geneva, including Bucer and the gentle Melanchthon, fully approved the execution.

The burning should thus be seen as the fault of a culture and an age rather than of one particular child of that culture and age. Calvin, for the record, showed more pastoral concern for Servetus than anyone else connected with the episode. As regards the rights and wrongs of what was done, the root question concerns the propriety of political paternalism in Christianity (that is, whether the Christian state, as distinct from the Christian church, should outlaw heresy or tolerate it), and it was Calvin’s insistence that God alone is Lord of the conscience that was to begin displacing the medieval by the modern mind-set on this question soon after Servetus’ death.

What do you think?  Is this episode a detriment to Reformed Theology?  Or is this episode defensible?  I’m afraid that the answer isn’t quite clear.  I say that because Calvin’s Geneva existed in a vastly different time than we do now, and operated by vastly different laws/worldviews.  There was no separation of church/state, so someone could be imprisoned for theological offense as well as civil offense.  This was the norm.

It is not our norm.

Many people who reject Reformed Theology today use this episode as fuel for their fire, further prompting them toward a hatred of all things Calvinistic.  Some even go so far as saying Calvin killed Servetus himself.  Others, like myself, who hold the Reformed/Calvinistic worldview think of this episode, not as a blemish, but a historical lesson on the importance of love and theology.

Right theology is a life and death issue.  Love was displayed in Calvin’s repeated attempts to persuade Servetus of the truth.  Regardless of what cultural milieu we find ourselves in we must never forget these two important things: theology and love.

John Piper has a caution for us all:

So the times were harsh and immoral and barbaric, and had a contaminating effect on everyone, just as we are all contaminated today by the evils of our time. Their blind spots and evils may be different from ours. And it may be that the very things they saw clearly are the things we are blind to. It would be foolhardy to say that we would have never done what they did under their circumstances, and thus draw the conclusion that they have nothing to teach us. In fact, what we probably need to say is that some of our evils are such that we are blind to them, just as they were blind to many of theirs, and the virtues they manifested in those times are the very ones that we probably need in ours. There was in the life and ministry of John Calvin a grand God-centeredness, Bible-allegiance and iron constancy. Under the banner of God’s mercy to miserable sinners we would do well to listen and learn.

The Biblical Meaning of Foreknowledge

Many people deny the doctrine of predestination because of the word in Romans 8:29-30, “foreknew.”

Here is the passage, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Those who deny predestination based on this have one thing right, and one thing wrong.  The one thing they have correct is that predestination is indeed founded upon God’s foreknowing those whom He will choose.  What they have wrong is their definition of what it means to “foreknow.”  To “foreknow” can be defined in two ways: the philosophical way and the Biblical way.  The philosophical definition of foreknowledge or “foreknowing” is simple.  To foreknow means to know something beforehand.  Therefore when you bring this philosophical definition to Romans 8:29-30 it means this: God, before the world was made, looked down into the hallway of time and saw those people who would choose Him.  Based upon the foreknowledge of these people’s choice of Himself, God chose, or predestined them.  This manner of defining foreknowledge and predestination is not Biblical.

The Biblical definition of God’s foreknowledge is different.  Rather than meaning God’s prior knowledge of decisions man will make, it means a specific and intentional act of God loving certain people and setting His affection on them alone.  Confused?  Therefore when you bring the Biblical definition to Romans 8:29-30 it means this: God, based solely on His sovereign grace, chooses (elects) to set His affection on some men, regenerating them and thereby opening their heart to His truth.

Look at Amos 3:2 “You (Israel) only have I known among all the families of the earth…” Does God only know of Israel on the planet?  Is he ignorant of all other people?  Of course not.  God knows all people, there is nothing hidden from Him (Heb. 4:13).  So what does it mean when it says God only knew Israel out of all the families of the earth?  It means God chose to set His favor and affection only upon Israel out of the all the families of the earth.  This is portrayed for us in the word ‘know’ throughout the entire Bible.  To know someone is to set a very intimate affection on them.  This is why the Bible refers to Adam and Eve’s sexual intimacy as ‘knowing’ in Genesis 4:1.

So what does “foreknowledge” mean?  It does not refer to God’s actual knowledge of anything beforehand (though He in fact does have that knowledge).  Rather “foreknowledge” refers to God’s setting His affection upon His people before the world was made.  God intimately chose and knows His people, just as a husband intimately chose and knows his wife.  It is true that this foreknowing is the foundation of predestination, and the Biblical definition of it makes this so much clearer.

Thus, if we were to translate the Biblical meaning of foreknowledge into Romans 8:29 it would read like this, “For those whom God intimately set His affection upon beforehand, He also predestined…” This meaning is in sync with the rest of the Bible.

Labor to rid your mind of philosophical definitions for Biblical words.  Let the Bible define words for itself.

Why I Left ‘The Reformed Pubcast’ – Grow Up, Settle Down, Keep Reforming

 

The Reformed Pubcast consists of two guys who host a podcast on Reformed theology and beer.  I love Reformed theology and I like beer too.  The podcast begins with the two hosts discussing the beer they’re drinking while recording the podcast and then it moves onto theology afterwards.  The Reformed Pubcast grew in it’s scope very fast, gained a large audience, even making the top podcast list on iTunes, and has a Facebook group which is currently about 5,000 strong.

I used to listen to this podcast. I used to be in the Facebook group – I am no longer.

Why?  Let me explain.

Being reformed theologically puts one a very strange position as a pastor.  I pastor just outside of North Tampa Bay, Florida and it is NOT a reformed culture at all.  It is very charismatic, arminian, man-centered, and seeker sensitive.  Naturally I am one of the few reformed guys in my area and if I meet another pastor/theologian near me who is reformed I become very excited because there seems to be so few near me.  So as you can imagine when I first heard of this podcast from a close friend I became very excited.  I began listening to it weekly, and became a member of the Facebook group too.  From my vantage point it looked like I had found like-minded community, something pastors don’t always have.

But as I continued listening to the podcast and interacting with the Facebook group one thing became increasingly apparent to me.  It seemed that these guys really do love Christ, that they love theology, and that they love the historic reformed heritage – but two things kept popping into my mind that put me off a bit.

First, an over-emphasis on alcohol.  I know Les and Tanner (the hosts) begin the show with discussing beer, how it is made, good beer, bad beer, and overall beer 101 but it became to be a central topic on the show and in the Facebook group.  This bothered me, so I stopped listening to the podcast and only participated in the Facebook group.  Now, those of you who know me know that I am not against beer.  I like beer, I drink beer.  BUT I am very against Christians celebrating alcohol in any sense, the abuse of alcohol in drunkenness, the insane amount of money people spend to buy it, and the horrendous impact it has had on many lives.  The Pubcast’s emphasis on beer is too much for my liking.  I don’t think it takes the consequences of alcohol seriously, or the struggle certain people have with it.  It borders on sin, and has crossed the line at times by celebrating/flaunting our Christian liberty before God and others.

Second, immaturity.  This is really the main issue at stake for me.  After listening to a few of the podcasts I noticed that there was immature coarse joking in it and when you over-emphasize the use of alcohol while cracking jokes and acting like adolescent boy you’ve simply gone too far to be helpful to anyone in the long term.  In my opinion, and it’s just that, the Pubcast is full of people who fall into the category of “Young, Restless, and Reformed.”  This is the “New Calvinism” of my generation, of which I am a part of.  This group is largely reformed in soteriology, but not in practice.  What I mean by that is they resemble their heroes like Mark Driscoll: reformed in doctrine while entrenched in modern day hip culture.

I once was proud to call myself part of the YRR (Young, Restless, & Reformed) group and interestingly enough during the days I was proud to use and promote that label I also was very keen in flaunting my use of Christian liberty before both the Church and the World.  Of course I didn’t think I was doing this at the time (hindsight is always 20/20 right?) but that is exactly what I was doing.  I was in my mid 20’s, I thought we YRR’s were the cutting edge of Christianity, the right ones, who not only had right doctrine but trendy living and solid reformed rap as well.  Why couldn’t everyone else see that this was the way to live the Christian life?  Why couldn’t they see that this is the way to reach the lost, to show them that they could be cool AND have Jesus as well?  During this time in my life I slowly began to think that we YRR’s had arrived.  We hadn’t,

Please don’t hear me saying 100% of the Reformed Pubcast Members fall into this category, they don’t.  I was squarely in the YRR at one time in my life and I can now spot those who are in similar trajectories easier because of my mistakes.  Not all that I did during those days was bad, but what I couldn’t see then and what I can see clearly now is that I wasn’t really trying to reach the lost around me, or impact the world, or even show the Church and the World how to live the Christian life.  What I was doing was being very selfish and masking it like it was the godly thing to do.  That was sin, and I have repented for such non-sense.

Now back to the Pubcast.  The self absorption and flaunting of my Christian liberty I got caught up with during my mid-20’s is by and large what I see plaguing the members of the ‘Reformed Pubcast.’  For this reason I have left the group.  Why?  Because though I am solidly within the reformed camp, I am no longer young or restless.  Should the other members of the pub cast leave as well?  Sure maybe, that’s for each of them to decide.  What they should do is grow up from boys to men and that is the point of why I’m writing this.

The point of writing this post is that the reformed young people of today (who are represented in the Pubcast) need to be called out to not only reform their doctrine in line with Scripture, but reform their lives as well.  What does this look like?  Simple.  It looks like boys growing into men, and owning the call to sacrificially give up ourselves in Christ-like obedience to others.  When we come to the end of ourselves, we find the beginning of life in Christ.

I leave you with John MacArthur’s words of advice to the YRR crowd: “Grow up, settle down, keep reforming.”

What Was Once Condemned is Now Embraced By Most

God is not only sovereign in creation and in providence, He is sovereign in salvation as well. I should warn you, this is the theology within the reformed tradition that brings forth the most debate, conversation, and controversy. So before I begin to tell you about this rich part of the reformed tradition I want to tell you something. Anytime you read the Bible you make conclusions about God and man, how you make those conclusions determines everything. I want you to come to conclusions about everything based on what the Bible says, not based on what you may think is true, and not based on what you want to be true, no matter what the cost to you. Now we can begin this section.

Jonah said it best. Inside the belly of the fish Jonah cried, “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9) One the key marks of reformed churches is that they believe in a system of doctrine in which salvation begins and ends with God alone. This system (which is usually called “The Five Points of Calvinism”) is described with the acronym T.U.L.I.P., which stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Now, these may be called the Five Points of Calvinism but you should know that John Calvin did not author them himself. Why are they named after him? Let me explain.

In 1610, one year after the death of Jacob Arminius (a Dutch seminary professor) five articles of faith based on his teachings were drawn up by his followers. The Arminians, as his followers came to be called, presented these five doctrines to the State of Holland in the form of a “Remonstrance” (a protest). The Arminian party insisted that the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (the official expression of the doctrinal position of the Churches of Holland) be changed to conform to the doctrinal views contained in the Remonstrance. The Arminians objected to those doctrines upheld in both the Catechism and the Confession relating to divine sovereignty, human inability, unconditional election or predestination, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. It was in connection with these matters that they wanted the official standards of the Church of Holland revised.

In 1618 a national Synod was called to meet in Dort for the purpose of examining the views of the Arminians in the light of Scripture. The Synod was convened by the States-General of Holland on November 13, 1618. There were 84 members and 18 secular commissioners. There were 154 sessions held during the seven months the Synod met to consider these matters, the last of which was on May 9, 1619. During these sessions the Synod deliberated and examined the five points given by the Remonstrance. After comparing them with the testimony of Scripture, they failed to reconcile the Arminians teaching with the Word of God. Thus, the doctrines of the Remonstrance were rejected unanimously. But, the Synod felt that a simple rejection was not enough. They concluded that they ought to set forth five points of their own regarding the teachings that were previously called into question.

This they did, and the five points they crafted became what we now call “the five points of Calvinism.” The name Calvinism was derived from the French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), who had taught and defended these views. It may seem strange to many in our day that the Synod of Dort rejected as heretical the five doctrines advanced by the Arminians, because these doctrines have gained wide acceptance in the modern Church. In fact, they are rarely questioned in our day while the vast majority of Protestant theologians of that day took a much different view of these matters. They maintained that the Bible set forth a system of doctrine quite different from that advocated by the Arminian party.

Salvation was viewed by the members of the Synod as a work of grace from beginning to end.

Divine Sovereignty is Divine Beauty

A massive distinctive in a reformed church is divine sovereignty. What does this mean?

In its simplest form, divine sovereignty means just that – God is sovereign.

God is sovereign (1 Timothy 6:15-16), nothing can stay His hand (Job 42:2), He is completely supreme in and over all things (Colossians 1:15-20), He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), and governs all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11b). God is sovereign in His creation, for He created all things and all things are sustained in Him (Genesis 1, Colossians 1:17).

After reading the creation account in Genesis 1 most people liken God to an artist who creates majestic works of wonder. This is true but not far enough. In order for an artist to make something they need materials to begin with: paint, charcoal, canvas, brushes, tools, drop cloths, lighting, instruments, pen, paper, steel, computers, etc. the list could go on forever couldn’t it? This is not so with God, for He created everything (visible and invisible) “ex nihilo” or out of nothing. God is the true artist, whose voice is so powerful and sovereign, when He speaks, creation appears.

God is sovereign in His providence, for He not only created all things from nothing, but continues to rule over all things now. The story of Joseph clearly portrays this (Genesis 37-50). In Genesis 50:19-20 Joseph said to his brothers, who faked his death and sold him into slavery, “Don’t be afraid, for I am in God’s place. As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. To bring it about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” What? God was behind (“meant”) Joseph’s bad circumstances in his life? Yes. It may be mysterious, but the Bible is clear that God is the One behind the scenes of history, driving, allowing, ordaining, and bringing about all events everywhere for His own purposes. History is “His story” indeed, because if “all things work according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11b), then nothing works according to the counsel of our will.

Before moving on further into God’s sovereignty I have to pause to make sure you know something about the responsibility of man. It may be very easy to talk of God’s sovereignty in a manner that obliterates man’s responsibility, but the Bible does no such thing. In the Bible, God is sovereign and man is responsible, at the same time. The Bible does not lean toward one side more than the other, by saying that “God is sovereign therefore man is not responsible” or “Man is responsible therefore God is not sovereign.” The Bible simply holds them both up, at the same time, and says “yes.” One example of this is Acts 2:23, which says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless men.” Notice that Peter, in this sermon, ascribes the death of Jesus to God’s predetermined plan while calling out the men who killed Him, clearly holding them responsible.

This is what I mean when I say the Bible holds both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility up in agreement. The reformed tradition has always been quick to let the Bible hold these two up at the same time, without giving much explanation as to how they fit together. (For other places that show this see: Philippians 2:12-13, Psalm 2, Isaiah 10:5-19, Acts 4:27-28)

Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses – the creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

Does Scripture really teach this? I believe the answer is yes. Here is just a tiny sampling: God Is Sovereign Over…

Seemingly random things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33) The heart of the most powerful person in the land: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

Our daily lives and plans: “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24) “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21) “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . . Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Salvation: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16) “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

Life and death: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39) “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” (1 Samuel 12:6)

Disabilities: “Then the LORD said to [Moses], “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11)

The death of God’s Son: “Jesus, [who was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23) “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28) “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief…” (Isaiah 53:10)

Evil things: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6) “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong… “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 1:21-22; 2:10) “[God] sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. . . . As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Psalm 105:17; Genesis 50:21)

All things: “[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11b) “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)

Reformed Theology Begins with Covenant Theology

Now we come to another distinctive of reformed churches, the covenant, or as others would call it, covenant theology.

Covenant theology means that God has always dealt with humanity in the same manner, through covenant.

From Genesis to Revelation God says repeatedly, “I will be your God and you shall be My people.” This is not a request, as if God were asking people permission to do this. It is a declaration of what God will do because by His nature He is gracious and kind, wanting to draw men to Himself for His glory. This may seem simple enough, but there are massive implications to the central theme of covenant throughout the Bible.

First, since covenant is God’s way of dealing with His people, covenant must be the lens through which we interpret all of Scripture. Thus, the Old and New Testaments are not to be looked upon as separate books, as if the Old were a Jewish Scripture and the New a Christian one. No, the reformed tradition has always been eager to see the Bible as a unified whole.

In Genesis we see what is called the covenant of works (Hosea 6:7 seems to imply that the Covenant of Grace was here with Adam and Eve as well) begin at creation between Adam and God (Genesis 1:28). Adam was commanded to not eat; he ate and failed to keep the covenant with His Creator. We see similar things with Noah. His son committed evil and failed to keep the covenant as well (Genesis 9:1-2). Then we see something different when Abraham comes into play (Genesis 12-17). Beforehand with Adam and Noah, men received commands from God, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” But Abraham receives a promise, not a command.

Why the change?

This is what theologians call the move from the covenant of works (which men cannot keep) to the covenant of grace (which men do not have to keep). Abraham is told that one of his descendants will bless the nations. We then see Abraham’s descendants (Israel) come into covenant with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus). Though Israel has godly men, women, and prophets within it they too prove unfaithful to the covenant with God (Judges – Esther). As you follow along throughout the Old Testament you find yourself yearning for someone to come and be faithful to God. That’s when Jesus comes on the scene.

Jesus, unlike Adam and unlike Israel, is faithful to the covenant, and perfectly obeys every part of it. Jesus is the blessed One, the Descendant of Abraham through whom the world will be blessed. When God’s people were faithless, God was faithful to them through His Son Jesus. This reveals to us that Jesus did not begin a new religion or start over from scratch when He came to earth. Jesus brought the Old Covenant to fulfillment in Himself (Matthew 5:17). Much more Jesus was the fulfillment of all that was previously established in the Old Covenant. Adam failed and tried to grasp equality with God by grasping for the fruit (Genesis 3), while Jesus obeyed and did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but willingly emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, to die on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).

Israel , God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22) failed to be obedient to God, but Jesus, the true Israel (Son) of God was fully and perfectly obedient to God. Jesus Christ is announced in Hebrews as the mediator of the covenant relationship (Heb. 7:22, 8:6). The gospel offers Christ, and through being united to Christ by faith we enter into a covenant relationship with God. If you do not look at the Bible through the lens of covenant you lose the unity of the Scripture, and thus, redemptive history as a whole. Thus, the gospel cannot be rightly understood outside “covenant.”

This then makes the Church the covenant community.

The preaching of the Word, the practice of shepherding and discipline, the participation in worship together, the sacraments/ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all signs, seals, expressions, and instruments of the covenant, through which the covenantal benefits and blessings of God pour out onto those who within the covenant community.

The backbone of the Bible is the revelation in space and time of God’s unchanging purpose of having a people on earth to whom He would relate to covenantally for His glory and for their joy – “I will be your God and you will be my people” implies all of this. John Wesley was often heard saying, “Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to everyone who belongs to Jesus.” We are part of a covenant people that is not isolated to our church, our denomination, our country, or even our time. By being bound to God in covenant we are bound to Christians forever in a mystical and beautiful way that we can never fully understand.

The 5 Battle Cries of the Reformation

The “five sola’s” soon became the battle cry of the Reformation. They are: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God Alone). These five themes are the five foundations that fueled the protestant reformation, and they still fuel anyone claiming the name of “reformed” today.

These “five sola’s” were developed in response to specific perversions of the truth that were taught by the corrupt Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church taught that the foundation for faith and practice was a combination of the scriptures, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the pope; but the Reformers said, “No, our foundation is sola scriptura”.

The Catholic Church taught that we are saved through a combination of God’s grace, the merits that we accumulate through penance and good works, and the superfluity of merits that the saints before us accumulated; the reformers responded, “sola gratia”.

The Catholic Church taught that we are justified by faith and the works that we produce. The reformers responded, “No, we are justified by faith alone, which lays hold of the alien righteousness of Christ that God freely credits to the account of
those who believe.”

The Catholic Church taught that we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and that we approach God through Christ, the saints, and Mary, who all pray and intercede for us. The Reformers responded, “No, we are saved by the merits of Christ Alone, and we come to God through Christ Alone.”

The Catholic Church believed a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.”

It is sad to see that today, the Catholic Church still teaches the same essential errors; and much of Protestantism has seen a regress to many of the same corruptions, in many circles and denominations. It is a pressing need for Christians everywhere to reaffirm and champion anew the “five solas” which underlay and gave impetus to the Protestant Reformation.

All of this history is great, and a study of the major figures of the Protestant Reformation would truly do one’s soul good, but do not miss the point of the Reformation. I mention it within the section on Scripture because the main goal driving these men to do what they did was getting back to the Bible itself. This is just as relevant today as it was back then. With issues in the Church today such as relativism, re-defining sexuality, re-defining marriage, “green” environmentalism, gender neutralizing, emergent conversations, prosperity preaching, man- centeredness, humanism, naturalism, philosophies of all kinds, evolution, liberal theology, abortion, not to mention all the questions that rise out of the new inventions in the medical field and the moral ethics involved with them, economic pressures, etc. we must be grounded in the Word of God if we are going to make it through. If we leave our commitment to be a people centered on the Word of God, we will no doubt slowly slide into similar abuses as the RCC did. If we leave the firm foundation of God’s Word we lose our ground to stand firm and without that, we will fall.

This is why the first distinctive of the reformed tradition, and thus every reformed church, is Scripture. All the other distinctives in reformed theology flow out of this one.

Where did You Think the Reformed Tradition Came From?

The Reformed tradition begins with the Bible, if it didn’t, I’d hate it.

Why? Because God is the Author of Scripture, not man. God is Definer, we are defined. The Bible has authority over all of life because it is inspired by God Himself. We must submit to it because when the Bible speaks, God speaks. We should not or cannot presume to set out for ourselves the principles to govern our lives. For God has done it already in giving us His Word which in its principles, touches on every area of our lives from worldview to how we ought to drink orange juice. A good summary of this mindset is: God has said it, I believe it, that settles it. Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in chapter 1.2, “…all the books of the Old and New Testaments…are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.” The reformed tradition believes the Bible to be inspired, inerrant, and infallible (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). This means that the Holy Spirit inspired the Biblical authors to write down what they did, not in a robotic manner, but in such a way where the personalities of the authors were not destroyed but used in the process. Reformed churches believe that because God revealed Himself to us in a book, we ought to labor all our lives to know that book as well as we possibly can. The Bible should be not only known, but studied, dug into, examined, and treasured because in it we meet God face to face. The more we know God’s Word, the more we know God Himself.

Because the reformed tradition believes that the Bible ought to be studied vigorously, they have often found it good and necessary to state what they believe about God and His Word through creeds and confessions. Thus, you may hear any of the following creeds recited within a reformed church: the Apostles Creed (325), the Nicene Creed (391), the Chalcedonian Creed (431), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Belgic Confession (1566), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and the London Baptist Confession (1689). Do you notice that most of the creeds and confessions either come from the 4th and 5th centuries or the 16th and 17th centuries? This was due to what is called the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was led by people, such as Jon Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and John Calvin (and many others), who desired not to start a new church but to reform the existing church of their day, the Roman Catholic Church.

What was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church? From around the 4th century up into the 16 century the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) had set up a system of church government, with good intentions, to govern the Church. After a time, this system began to be abused and withhold many things from the common people. They believed the Bible was too advanced for the common man to understand. The RCC’s power grew too great, and the abuses could no longer be tolerated.

The reformers wanted to stop the abuses of the RCC and give the Bible into the hands of the common man. Many of them gave their lives for such a task. For example,

-John Wycliffe was persecuted and killed by the RCC for translating the Bible into the common man’s English in 1384.

-John Hus was killed in July of 1415 for translating the New Testament into the common man’s Czech and teaching against the abuses of the RCC.

-Martin Luther, the Catholic monk turned reformer, stood against the abuses of the RCC and translated the Bible into German around 1520 so the German people could read the Bible for themselves in their own language.

-John Calvin, a Frenchman who lived in Geneva, Switzerland had a large influence on the Church through his life and theological writings. Calvin’s influence proved to be so large that the word “reformed” is now synonymous with the word “Calvinism.”

Although these men did not want to start a new church, they were forced to leave the RCC and begin what came to be known as Protestantism. From the Protestant Reformation came a large amount of new denominations – Lutherans in Germany from Luther’s influence, Presbyterians in Scotland and Ireland from the influence of John Calvin and John Knox, Puritans in England through the influence of John Owen, and eventually the some other groups (Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal) came in also.

Their desire ought to be ours as well – getting the Bible back into the hands of the common man.

Was Luther a Calvinist?

Douglas Sweeney:

During the years I’ve taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I’ve frequently been asked whether Luther was a Calvinist. The answer, of course, is no. Calvinism didn’t emerge until the end of Luther’s life. Arminianism emerged long after Luther had passed away. So Luther himself never engaged the controversy that divided Reformed Protestantism after the Reformation.

It’s true: Calvin was called a Lutheran in the early years of his ministry. And there are notable similarities between the two. But as the Reformed movement grew, it grew apart from Lutheranism in some noteworthy ways. And as Lutheran thought developed during and after the Reformation, Lutherans leaned toward Arminians more than Calvinists on a few of the doctrinal issues that divided the latter groups.

So perhaps it’s worth a minute or two to walk through the ways in which Lutherans came down on the five “points” of Calvinism. We should all understand by now that there’s far more to Calvinism than five simple points, that the five points themselves were sharpened after Calvin’s death, and that some think that Calvin himself did not affirm them all. So Calvinist friends, hold your fire. The goal here is not to oversimplify your faith, but to scan the ways that leading early Lutherans addressed the matters fought about most fiercely at the Reformed Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), and in the subsequent debates between Calvinists and Arminians.

Four Branches

Before we attack this matter directly, let me take just a minute to remind us that, technically speaking, the debate between Calvinists and Arminians really divided but a minority of the early Protestant world.

Despite the tendency of some to assume that all evangelicals fall somewhere on the continuum between Calvinism and Arminianism, it is important to remember that there were four main branches of the Protestant Reformation—Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Church of England—and that Calvinists and Arminians were on the same branch (though their controversy would captivate the Church of England as well, and was foreshadowed by developments in the doctrine of the English Reformation).

These branches parted gradually over the course of the 16th century. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 16th century, for example, that the lines between the Lutherans and the Reformed were drawn clearly. And it wasn’t until the late 16th and early 17th centuries that the lines were drawn starkly between the Calvinists and Arminians.

Arminianism emerged on the Reformed branch of Protestantism. Arminius and his followers considered themselves to be Reformed. They said they wanted to reform Reformed Protestant theology in response to what they deemed unhealthy Calvinist extremes.

Nevertheless, the Synod of Dordt changed the equation once and for all—and eventually affected people all over the Protestant world. So without any further ado, here’s where the Lutherans came down on the poorly named five points of Calvinism.

Lutherans and the Five Points of Calvinism

I’ll take this question point by point, offering evidence from reliable and accessible translations of classic Lutheran texts and confessions: the American edition of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut T. Lehmann et al. (Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1957); the latest English edition of the Lutheran Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Fortress Press, 2000), which contains all the authoritative Lutheran confessions, such as the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord; and Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3d ed., trans. Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs (Augsburg Publishing House, 1899), a compendium of Lutheran scholastic theology. These are exceptionally important Protestant theological sources, which should be read and used frequently by evangelical leaders.

Bear in mind that we are barely scratching the surface in this article. This is a skeletal presentation based on selected representatives of early Lutheran thought. Most Lutherans use the Lutheran confessions when interpreting Bible doctrines such as these. But there is diversity of opinion on the relative weight and authority of the other materials I quote below.

Total Depravity

Yes, but let’s be careful to articulate this point carefully:

Augsburg Confession (1530), Art. 2: “since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this same innate disease and original sin is truly sin and condemns to God’s eternal wrath all who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit.”

Formula of Concord (1577), Epitome, Art. 1: “original sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but rather a corruption so deep that there is nothing sound or uncorrupted left in the human body or soul”

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. I: “we . . . reject and condemn those who teach that human nature has indeed been greatly weakened and corrupted through the fall but has not completely lost all good that pertains to divine, spiritual matters.”

The Lutherans continued to distinguish between human nature itself (as created) and human nature as fallen and harmed by devastating sinful qualities. After a debate surrounding the quirky views of Lutheran Matthias Flacius, they concluded that original sin should not be described as the formal/forming substance of fallen human souls, but as an accidental quality of them (most Calvinists agreed): “as far as the Latin words substantia and accidens are concerned, the churches should best be spared these terms in public preaching to the uninstructed, because such words are unfamiliar to the common people.” Nevertheless, “when someone asks whether original sin is a substance (that is, the kind of thing that exists in and of itself and not in another thing) or an accidens (that is, the kind of thing which does not exist in and of itself but exists in something else and cannot exist or be simply in and of itself), necessity compels us to confess clearly that original sin is not a substance but an accidens.”

Again, though, the 16th-century Lutherans insisted that original sin has tragically distorted our souls: “the use of the word accidens, when explained on the basis of God’s Word, does not minimize original sin. . . . Luther used the word accidens and also the word qualitas, and he did not reject them. But with the use of these words he very carefully explained and clarified in as many ways as possible what a horrible quality and accidens it is that not only made human nature impure but also so deeply corrupted it that nothing pure and uncorrupted remained in it.”

Unconditional Election

Yes and no (and not double predestination).

Luther, Bondage of the Will (1525), 7.18: “I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my ‘free-will’ . . .; but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether he required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of his, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to his own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and that he is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break him or pluck me from him. . . . Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of ‘free-will’ none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. 11: “Our election to eternal life does not rest upon our righteousness or virtues but solely on Christ’s merit and the gracious will of his Father, who cannot deny himself . . . . Therefore, it is false and incorrect to teach that not only the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ but also something in us is a cause of God’s election, and for this reason God chose us for eternal life.” However, the Formula continues, “this teaching gives no one cause either for faintheartedness or for a brazen, dissolute life. For this teaching excludes no repentant sinners. Instead, it calls and draws all poor, burdened, and troubled sinners to repentance, to the recognition of their sins, and to faith in Christ. . . . Accordingly, whoever conveys this teaching concerning the gracious election of God in such a way that troubled Christians gain no comfort from it but are thrown into despair by it, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their impudence, then it is undoubtedly certain and true that this teaching in not being presented according to God’s Word and will.”

Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art. 11: “A Christian should only think about the article of God’s eternal election to the extent that it is revealed in God’s Word. . . . In Christ we are to seek the Father’s eternal election. He has decreed in his eternal, divine counsel that he will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him.”

As we move from Luther himself and the Lutheran confessions toward more modern Lutheran thinkers, some teach that election is conditioned on foreseen faith.

David Hollaz (1646-1713, of Jacobshagen and Colberg), as quoted in Heinrich Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, p. 272: “Predestination is the eternal decree of God to bestow eternal salvation upon all of whom God foresaw that they would finally believe in Christ.”

Johann Quenstedt (1617-1688, of Wittenberg), as quoted in Schmid, pp. 288-89:

Faith, and that, too, as persevering or final faith, enters into the sphere of eternal election, not as already afforded, but as foreknown. For we are elected to eternal life from faith divinely foreseen, apprehending, to the end, the merit of Christ; (b) Faith enters into election not by reason of any meritorious worth, but with respect to its correlate, or so far as it is the only means of apprehending the merit of Christ; or, in other words, faith is not a meritorious cause of election, but only a prerequisite condition, or a part of the entire order divinely appointed in election.

Early Lutheran disagreements on the doctrine of election were debated famously in late 19th- and 20th-century America, where Lutherans divided from one another over whether God elects “unto” faith or “in view of” faith. This American debate usually revolved around the questions whether and how God elects intuitu fidei (in view of faith, or in view of the faith that God himself grants to those he saves). Lutherans of the Ohio Synod, led by F. A. Schmidt of the Ohio Synod Seminary in Columbus, maintained the teaching of many 17th-century Lutheran scholastic theologians that God elects in view of the faith that he foresees in the repentant. Lutherans of the Missouri Synod, led by C. F. W. Walther and Franz Pieper, argued that election is not based on or conditioned by anything that we do, nor any merit of our own. The Ohioans blamed the Missourians of crypto-Calvinism, and of teaching that God does not desire the salvation of all or even seriously/effectively offer his saving grace to the lost. The Missourians accused the Ohioans of works righteousness.

Limited Atonement

No (though Luther himself was inconsistent).

Luther and other early Lutherans usually taught a general doctrine of the atonement (a view codified in the Book of Concord).

Early in his life, during his lectures on Romans (1516), Luther made a famous statement affirming a limited atonement, one that Calvinists like Timothy George have used to argue that Luther was with Calvin on this issue. As we have seen above, moreover, Luther believed in unconditional, particular election. He believed that the elect alone would be saved on the basis of the atoning work of Christ. But his usual tendency, especially later in his life, was to stress the Scripture promise that whosoever repents and believes will be saved, that it is not salutary to seek the hidden decrees of God, and that the atoning work of Christ was broad and powerful enough to cover the sins of the whole world. He worried far more often about biblical consistency and pastoral utility than about logical precision. Modern Calvinists have often charged him with logical inconsistency (though he was certainly not the first to favor an asymmetrical layout of these issues).

Here’s the famous early affirmation of limited atonement:

Luther, Lectures on Romans (1515-1516), from the scholia at Rom. 15:33 (“Now the God of peace be with you all,” LW 25:375–76): “The second argument [against predestination] is that ‘God desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4). . . . these verses must always be understood as pertaining to the elect only, as the apostle says in 2 Tim. 2:10 ‘everything for the sake of the elect.’ For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because he says: ‘This is my blood which is poured out for you’ and ‘for many’—he does not say: for all—‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 14:24Matt. 26:28).”

Here are some later, more definitive statements of Luther:

Luther, Bondage of the Will (1525), 4.12: “We say, as we have said before, that the secret will of the Divine Majesty is not a matter for debate, and the human temerity which with continual perversity is always neglecting necessary things in its eagerness to probe this one, must be called off and restrained from busying itself with the investigation of these secrets of God’s majesty, which it is impossible to penetrate because he dwells in light inaccessible, as Paul testifies [1 Tim. 6:16]. Let it occupy itself instead with God incarnate, or as Paul puts it, with Jesus crucified, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, though in a hidden manner [Col. 2:3]; for through him it is furnished abundantly with what it ought to know and ought not to know. It is God incarnate, moreover, who is speaking here: “I would . . . you would not”—God incarnate, I say, who has been sent into the world for the very purpose of willing, speaking, doing, suffering, and offering to all men everything necessary for salvation. . . . It is likewise the part of this incarnate God to weep, wail, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, when the will of the Divine Majesty purposely abandons and reprobates some to perish. And it is not for us to ask why he does so, but to stand in awe of God who both can do and wills to do such things.”

Luther, “Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, 1533,” in Day by Day We Magnify You: Daily Readings for the Entire Year Selected from the Writings of Martin Luther, rev. ed., p. 10: “[Christ] helps not against one sin only but against all my sin; and not against my sin only, but against the whole world’s sin. He comes to take away not sickness only, but death; and not my death only, but the whole world’s death.”

Luther and Melanchthon to the Council of the City of Nürnberg, April 18, 1533, a letter that speaks into the controversy in  Nürnberg over private vs. public confession of sins in the church,  in LW 50:76-77:

Even if not all believe [the word of absolution], that is not reason to reject [public] absolution, for each absolution, whether administered publicly or privately, has to be understood as demanding faith and as being an aid to those who believe in it, just as the gospel itself also proclaims forgiveness to all men in the  whole world and exempts no one from this universal context. Nevertheless the gospel certainly demands our faith and does not aid those who do not believe it; and yet the universal context of the gospel has to remain [valid].

Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John (1537), at John 1:29, in LW 22:169: “There is nothing missing from the Lamb. He bears all the sins of the world from its inception; this implies that He also bears yours, and offers you grace.”

Now the Lutheran doctrine as codified later on:

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art.11: “if we want to consider our eternal election to salvation profitably, we must always firmly and rigidly insist that, like the proclamation of repentance, so the promise of the gospel is universalis, that is, it pertains to all people (Luke 24:47). Therefore, Christ commanded preaching ‘repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.’ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ for it (John 3:16). Christ has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29); his flesh was given ‘for the life of the world’ (John 6:51); his blood is ‘the atoning sacrifice for . . . the whole world’ (1 John 1:72:2). Christ said, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). ‘God has imprisoned all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all’ (Rom. 11:32). ‘The Lord does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). He is ‘Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him’ (Rom. 10:21). ‘Righteousness’ comes ‘through faith in Christ’ to all and ‘for all who believe’ (Rom. 3:22).’This is the will of the Father, that all who . . . believe in Christ shall have eternal life’ (John 6:3940). . . . We should never regard this call from God, which takes place through the preaching of the Word, as some kind of deception. Instead, we should know that God reveals his will through it, namely, that he wills to work through his Word in those whom he has called, so that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved.”

Johann Quenstedt, as quoted by Schmid, p. 363:  “The personal object [of Christ’s satisfaction for sin] comprises . . . each and every sinful man, without any exception whatever. For he suffered and died for all, according to the serious and sincere good pleasure and kind intention of himself and God the Father, according to which he truly wills the salvation of each and every soul, even of those who fail of salvation.”

Johann Gerhard (1582-1637, of Jena), as quoted in Schmid, p. 363: “If the reprobate are condemned because they do not believe in the Son of God, it follows that to them also the passion and death of Christ pertain. For otherwise, they could not be condemned for their contempt of that which, according to the divine decree, does not pertain to them.”

Bear in mind that, as shown in recent work by Jonathan Moore, Richard Muller, and other scholars (who disagree amongst themselves regarding the finer points at issue), early Reformed understandings of the scope of the atonement were more complicated than many people assume. There were so-called hyper-Calvinists and, later, some promoters of what in the United States was called “Gethsemane doctrine” (because of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane “not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me,” John 17:9) who denied that Christ intended to die for any but the elect. But most early Calvinists tried to affirm at least the “sufficiency” of Christ’s atoning work to cover the sins of the whole world. Many others were hypothetical universalists who taught unconditional election and unlimited atonement simultaneously. See Jonathan D. Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology (Eerdmans, 2007); Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Baker Academic, 2012); and Douglas A. Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 107.

Irresistible Grace 

In Bondage of the Will, 2.8, Luther denies that God compels or forces people to convert: “When God works in us, the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God. . . . it desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination.” But, of course, the most famous (or notorious) thing about his Bondage of the Will is Luther’s denial that we initiate this change:  “our salvation is not of our own strength or counsel, but depends on the working of God alone.” Further, “man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills . . . . If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it” (2.8).

Toward the end of his life, Luther tried to clarify a misunderstanding regarding language such as this in his Bondage of the Will. Early in 1542, while lecturing on Genesis 26:9, he digressed from the verse itself in the following manner:

I hear that here and there among the nobles and persons of importance vicious statements are being spread abroad concerning predestination or God’s foreknowledge. For this is what they say: “If I am predestined, I shall be saved, whether I do good or evil. If I am not predestined, I shall be condemned regardless of my works.” I would be glad to debate in detail against these wicked statements if the uncertain state of my health made it possible for me to do so. For if the statements are true, as they, of course, think, then the incarnation of the Son of God, his suffering and resurrection, and all that he did for the salvation of the world are done away with completely. What will the prophets and all Holy Scripture help? What will the sacraments help? Therefore let us reject all this and tread it underfoot.

Luther went on to say that people should stop attempting—arrogantly—to plumb the depths of the mind of God, and should focus instead on the way of salvation God has graciously revealed. He warned that the devil often leads us to despair of our salvation by prompting us to ponder predestination. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, he said (Is. 55). His ways are not our ways. So we should trust and obey the things that he has condescended to give us. “God reveals his will to us through Christ and the gospel. But we loathe it and, in accordance with Adam’s example, take delight in the forbidden tree above all the others.”

Beginning in the last year of Luther’s life (1546), a similar caveat was added to the Bondage of the Will, although we don’t know for sure if Luther authorized it:

I could wish indeed that another and a better word had been introduced into our discussion than this usual one, “necessity,” which is not rightly applied either to the divine or the human will. It has too harsh and incongruous a meaning for this purpose, for it suggests a kind of compulsion, and the very opposite of willingness, although the subject under discussion implies no such thing. For neither the divine nor the human will does what it does, whether good or evil, under any compulsion, but from sheer pleasure or desire, as with true freedom. . . . The reader’s intelligence must therefore supply what the word “necessity” does not express, by understanding it to mean what you might call the immutability of the will of God and the impotence of our evil will, or what some have called the necessity of immutability though this is not very  good either grammatically or theologically.

The best book in English on this thorny set of issues in early Lutheran dogmatics is Robert Kolb, Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord (Eerdmans, 2005).

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. 2: “people resist God the Lord with their will until they are converted. . . . they resist the Word and will of God until God awakens them from the death of sin and enlightens and renews them. Although God does not force human beings in such a way that they must become godly (for those who persistently resist the Holy Spirit and stubbornly struggle against what is recognized truth, as Stephen said of the obdurate Jews in Acts 7:51, will not be converted), nonetheless God the Lord draws those people whom he wants to convert and does so in such a way that an enlightened understanding is fashioned out of a darkened understanding and an obedient will is fashioned out of a rebellious will. Scripture calls this creating a new heart. . . . God makes willing people out of rebellious and unwilling people through the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, and . . . after this conversion of the human being the reborn will is not idle in the daily practice of repentance but cooperates in all the works of the Holy Spirit that he accomplishes through us.”

Leonhard Hutter (1563-1616, of Wittenberg), as quoted in Schmid, p. 475:

There have been those who asserted that the will of unregenerate man in conversion is in a hostile attitude, so that the Holy Spirit effects conversion by violent drawings, or by a kind of force, in those who are unwilling and resisting. This opinion has elements of both truth and falsehood in it. For it is true that the natural man can do nothing of himself but resist the Holy Spirit. . . . Thus it is also true, that some have been converted when they were violently raging against God. But what is hence inferred is most false, viz., that they were converted while repugnant and reluctant. For it is most certain that they in whom this resistance does not cease never are converted to God. . . . Others answer, that man in conversion not only does nothing, but is converted while unconcerned and not knowing what is being done with him. This opinion manifestly savors of Enthusiasm. . . . For, although unregenerate man cannot know of himself and of his own powers what is being done with him, yet the Holy Spirit removes this stupor and illuminates his mind, so that now he knows what is being done with him and yields his consent to the Holy Spirit.

Perseverance of the Saints

No, not in the way that many assume.

Luther, Smalcald Articles (1537), 3.3: “it is necessary to know and teach that when holy people—aside from the fact that they still have and feel original sin and also daily repent of it and struggle against it—somehow fall into a public sin (such as David, who fell into adultery, murder, and blasphemy against god), at that point faith and the Spirit have departed.”

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. II:  “if the baptized act against their conscience, permit sin to reign in them, and thus grieve the Holy Spirit in themselves and lose him, then, although they may not be rebaptized, they must be converted again”

David Hollaz, as quoted in Schmid, p. 465: “The grace of regeneration is lost when sins subversive of conscience are deliberately committed (1 Tim. 1:19). But regeneration lost may be recovered by the penitent (Gal. 4:19). Men regenerate, aided by the preserving grace of God, should be carefully on their guard, lest, by the malicious repetition of sin, they do injury to conscience; but if, nevertheless, they are overcome by the machinations of the devil, the enticements of the world, and the suggestions of the flesh, and fall three or four times, or oftener, into mortal sin, they need not at all doubt of the converting and regenerating grace of God.”

For Lutherans, the elect will certainly persevere in faith. God is not impotent to carry out his decrees respecting salvation. But not everyone who is born again is among God’s elect. It is possible for regenerated people to apostatize. So perseverance is largely a matter of walking in step with the Spirit, persevering, and encouraging other people to do the same.

Conclusion

The wrong thing to conclude from this evidence is that Lutherans are hesitant Calvinists, or two-and-a-half-point Calvinists, or imperfect Arminians. Lutherans are Lutherans. Their theological frame of reference is not closely related to the Calvinist-Arminian continuum. Lutherans have their own theological history, one that has contributed in major ways to the evangelical movement. In fact, the Lutheran tradition, even more than the Reformed, is the one from which groups like the Evangelical Free Church and the Covenant Church have come—though few would guess this anymore, as even leaders in these groups pay more attention to the history of Reformed Protestantism than the kind of Lutheran Pietism from which they first came.

I hope this article can play a role in connecting evangelical Protestants to the Lutheran Reformation once again.

Douglas A. Sweeney is professor of church history and the history of Christian thought and director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace

9781781912522mOn my shelf Monday, today, has become “wish it was on my shelf Monday.”  I do not yet have this recent John Piper book, and though I have listened to his 9 part series on TULIP (the five points of Calvinism) I am eager to get and read this one.  Here is some info for you:

Grace is the heart of God to do you good when you deserve it least.  But do we really know how deeply we don’t deserve it? Only God can reveal that to us. He does it through the Bible. And when he does, the wonders of his grace explode with brightness as never before.

These Five Points are about how Christians come into being, and how we are kept forever by his grace.

  • It reaches back into times past where we were freely chosen.
  • It reaches forward into the future when we will be safe and happy forever.
  • It reaches down into the mysteries of the work of Christ, purchasing the gift of faith for all God’s children.
  • And it reaches into the human soul, glimpsing the mysteries of the Spirit’s work as he conquers all our rebellion and makes us willing captives of King Jesus.

Piper believes that our experience of grace grows with our grasp of God’s gracious work. He invites us to come with him in this quest.

Listen to a 9-part seminar by John Piper entitled TULIP.
Source: Desiring God

About the Author:

John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis Minnesota. For 33 years, he served as pastor of vision and preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He is the author of more than 50 books.

Endorsements:

“I love this new book by John Piper. I don’t know of any other brief book on this subject that so manifestly takes us down into the Scriptures and then so wonderfully lifts us up to see the glory of God. Many people will be encouraged, and not a few will have their faith jolted in the best way possible.”
– Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor, University Reformed Church. East Lansing, MI

“Nothing has changed my perspective and made more sense of God, life, and the world than the doctrines of grace. John Piper makes a complex theology understandable. Five Points will assist you to see how big and good our gracious God actually is.”
– Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, MO

“Imagine being able to chat over a meal with John Piper about the five points of Calvinism. That’s pretty much what you get in this book: a clear statement of these life-changing truths delivered with warm pastoral sensitivity in a conversational style. You won’t find yourself being browbeaten. Instead, you’ll find yourself invited to marvel at God’s wonderful grace. The only thing missing is the meal.”
– Tim Chester, Co-Director of the Porterbrook Network; Pastor, The Crowded House, Sheffield