Dropping the name “Calvinism”

Mention the word “Calvinist” in any given church building and you have at least a 50/50 chance of inciting a riot. The mere mention of that word has the potential to spark such abject panic that church goers may flee into the streets rending their garments asunder — figuratively speaking, of course.

There are so many misunderstandings and false assumptions about the meaning of the word “Calvinism” that it is necessary to define the term thoroughly any time you use it. Even then you run the risk of the aforementioned panic. The most popular misunderstanding about “Calvinism” is that those who subscribe to the doctrines labeled as such are somehow followers of the Reformer John Calvin.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, regarded as one of the greatest Baptist preachers of all time, was himself a staunch Calvinist. Yet, he offered some sound advice with regard to the use of the term…

  • “That doctrine which is called “Calvinism” did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth.”
  • “Now, there are certain doctrines commonly called Calvinistic (but which ought never to have been called by such a name, for they are simply Christian doctrines) which I think commend themselves to the minds of all thoughtful persons, for this reason mainly, that they do ascribe to God everything.”
  • “I believe nothing merely because Calvin taught it, but because I have found his teaching in the Word of God.”

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Recently another highly respected preacher, John Piper, has offered similar advice. Rather than adopt the label “Calvinist” — which will almost certainly be misunderstood — simply tell people what you believe.

And support your beliefs from Scripture.

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No friend of the world

How many stories like this is it going to take before Christians realize this world is not our friend. Perhaps Jesus meant it when he said the world would hate us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. — John 15:18-20

How long before we realize this even applies to our own country, state, and town?

Just a thought.

The point of Bible study

As I’ve pointed out before, doctrinal disagreements between believers can become emotionally charged and that can lead to otherwise absurd statements — which would be rejected outright on their own merits — being accepted as valid in the heat of the moment. Consider the following statement (which I’ve heard on occasion)…

“Well, I’m not going to change my mind and you aren’t going to change your mind so there’s no point in continuing this conversation — let’s just move on.”

Now, in the midst of a heated doctrinal discussion this statement seems to make some sense. Put the matter aside before one party or the other becomes angry. After all, we won’t always agree on doctrine, but our discussions on such matters should always be conducted in a spirit of love for one another. And, if a discussion becomes too heated it probably is a good idea to put it aside for a time. However, the statement above, when pulled from the context of a heated discussion, becomes patently absurd.

Look at it. Look at how that statement begins.

“I’m not going to change my mind…”

Consider the implications of that statement. Does it accurately describe your approach to biblical doctrine? If it does then please answer one question…

Why do you study the Bible?

Think about it — by saying, “I’m not going to change my mind,” you are declaring one of two things:

  1. “I have God’s Word completely figured out,” or…
  2. “I don’t care what God’s Word says, I’m going to believe what I want to believe.”

So, if you have decided that you aren’t going to change your mind then you should just dispense with your Bible reading because the reasons for reading and studying Scripture presume the opposite of those statements to be true.

Concerning Statement 1: I have yet to meet the person who had the Bible completely figured out. And — it’s kind of ironic — those who have studied the Bible the most tend to be the ones who recognize just how much they don’t know. It is those who haven’t studied as much who tend to populate the “I’m not going to change my mind” camp.

Concerning Statement 2: If we recognize that we don’t have the entire Bible figured out, if we allow that we may hold to some beliefs that may not square with Scripture then guess what — we are the ones who need to change. In fact, this is the whole point of studying Scripture because…

God and His Word do not change.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” — 1 Peter 1:22-25

He is the same.

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” — Psalm 102:25-27

He does not change His mind.

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” — Numbers 23:19

WE are the ones who need to change. We need to change the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. We need to focus on God and not on ourselves. The whole point of reading and studying God’s Word is so that we may conform ourselves more and more to his likeness.

“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.” — Romans 8:29

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:2

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” — 2 Corinthians 5:17

The heart that resists change resists God, because God intends to change us. He saved us so that He could make us into something new. He loves us too much to leave us as we were.

There is a phrase that is associated with the Protestant Reformation, “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” Translated into English this Latin phrase reads, “the church reformed and always reforming.” The church was reformed during the Protestant Reformation, but it is always in need of further reformation — always in need to more completely conform to Scripture.

If we know we don’t have the Bible completely figured out yet (and we don’t) then we should approach Bible study prepared to change our minds — for surely we are to discover where we still differ from God.

This is why it is so important to study Scripture and to discuss the difficult and contentious passages. It is not to spark a controversy nor to divide the Body of Christ nor even to just increase in theological knowledge. We discuss these things so that with our deeper understanding of God and his grace we will be further broken, crushed and amazed at his incredible love for us.

A parable on compassion

Read Dan Phillips’ wonderful parable about compassion at Pyromaniacs. You won’t be disappointed.

“My” god…

People disagree — about everything. And, most of us, for whatever reason, love to argue (though the more sophisticated among us would say they like to “debate”). Once upon a time, I’m told, people would argue within certain parameters. They used logic and reason. They presented facts and evidence to support their point of view and considered the facts and evidence presented against them. I’m not convinced that was ever really the case, but if it was it certainly is not now.

Part of the problem is arguments have a tendency to become emotionally charged, and when they do people will grasp at any argument, however invalid or ridiculous, to defend their point of view. Again, I’m told, there once was a time when such arguments would have been dismissed as… well… invalid and ridiculous. But in today’s culture we have another problem — one that makes people consider once invalid arguments valid.

We live in a relativistic culture. A great many people have come to believe that all points of view have no absolute truth or validity and are, therefore, of equal value. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “Well, that may be true for you but it isn’t true for me.”

People will argue that truth is relative — defined by the individual. This is an invalid and ridiculous argument. Yet, today it is widely accepted as valid and reasonable.

But here’s the thing…

People who profess to be believers in Christ Jesus have been applying this absurd standard to Scripture.

Believers frequently disagree over doctrine. And these disagreements can become emotionally charged. But, despite our disagreements there is one thing we should agree on and it is this: Scripture is the final authority on the matter. Going to God’s Word and seeking the accurate interpretation on the subject should be our goal. However, more and more I hear people end the discussion with the following statement…

“My God isn’t like that.”

It’s been used on all manner of topics.

  • My God is a God of love and wouldn’t send anyone to hell.
  • My God does not pick and choose who is and is not saved.
  • My God doesn’t hate anyone.

The problem with all of these “arguments” is the word “my.”

“My” God.

We’ve come to a point where we actually believe attaching the possessive pronoun “my” to the front of a word gives us the ability to define that word. Sorry, but that is ridiculous. Just try doing that with… oh, I don’t know… gravity.

“My” gravity would never allow me to plummet to my death when I leap from the top of a 30-story building.

All right then, go leap from the top of a 30-story building and see what happens.

You get the point.

Some things are absolute. God is the ultimate absolute. Scripture tells us over and over again that God does not change.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” — Malachi 3:6

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” — James 1:17

Deuteronomy 32:4 compares God to a rock. Rocks are solid, firm, not easily moved. You get the idea.

We don’t get to define God. He has revealed Himself to us through Scripture, His Son and His Spirit and we need to take Him as He has revealed Himself. If the God we worship does not look like the God of the Bible then guess who is wrong.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist preacher, made a very wise observation about people who possess the “my” god brand of arrogance.

He said…

“See how they treat the Bible itself; when they open it, it is not that they may hear what God says in it, but that they may tell God what he ought to have said.”

If we worship “our” God the way we perceive Him to be in our own minds and not according to how He is revealed in Scripture, then we are worshipping an idol just as surely as if we were worshipping a calf made of gold.

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