The Five Points of Calvinism by Pastor John Samson
The raging fire of the Protestant Reformation was sparked into flame by Martin Luther. A number of notable men opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther did - men such as John Wycliffe (1329-1384), John Hus (1373-1415) and William Tyndale (c.1494 - 1536). Tyndale had a monumental role in translating the Bible for the English speaking world, and shared the same fate as Hus by being burnt at the stake. But certainly it was Luther who sparked the Reformation itself with his posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.
Following on from Luther, God raised up a Frenchman by the name of John Calvin to lead the growing Protestant movement. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin opposed the errors of the Roman Catholic Church concerning salvation, directing people to the truth of the Bible. Though definitely in agreement with the doctrine of justification by faith alone; John Calvin (based in Geneva, Switzerland) through both his preaching and his writings, systematically applied the message of the Bible to every aspect of life. Calvin's Institutes became the handbook of all the Reformers. Like Luther before him, Calvin believed in the Sovereignty of God. Concerning the doctrines of election and predestination, there was nothing in Calvin's writings and sermons that were not first found in Luther's. Yet Calvin also wanted society, as well as the church, to view the world through the lens of the Bible, so that the laws of the land were established upon biblical principles.
These men were not only concerned with what the Scriptures taught, but that the common people had access to read the Bible in their own language. It would be a fair appraisal to see these men's earlier efforts (under God) as foundational to the sweeping changes throughout Europe that Luther and Calvin would bring. Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale built the bonfire, so to speak, and Luther simply lit the match and held it to the wood! The result - most of Europe was set ablaze with the biblical doctrines of grace.
As time passed, controversy ensued as a man by the name of Jacob Arminius began to raise strong objections to the teachings accepted amongst the Reformers. Arminius studied under the Calvinist teacher Theodore Beza at Geneva and became a professor of theology at the University of Leyden in 1603. Over time, his objections became stronger and stronger until they became a prominent issue amongst all the Church in Holland. The followers of Arminius, known as the Arminians, drew up their creed in Five Articles and outlined them before the state authorities of Holland in the year of 1610 under the name Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers. (These Five Articles can be read in Philip Schaff's, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, pp. 545-547.)
The official Calvinistic response emerged from the Synod of Dort (Dort is short for Dortrecht, the town in Holland where the Synod was held) which convened to consider the Five Articles raised by the Arminians. The Synod of Dort met from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619 and wrote what has come to be known as the Canons of Dort. They stated the Five Points of Calvinism in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants. This is a very important point to make because the so-called Five Points of Calvinism were not chosen by the Calvinists as a summary of their teaching. Calvin never wrote down his theology under five main points. There was far more to Reformed Theology than these doctrines. These five points were simply a response to the five Arminian objections.
The Synod of Dort viewed the Arminian errors as extremely serious - a flat denial of the free grace of God in salvation, with God being robbed of His glory, and merely the first steps on a synergistic highway leading straight back to Rome. Therefore, the Synod classed the five Arminian doctrines as heretical, and many preachers in the Dutch Reformational Churches, holding to these ideas, were put out of the ministry.
Knowing something of the history of the debate is helpful but it is far more important to know these doctrines are in fact biblical and at the heart of our Christian faith. They are not mere historical novelties - something in which only theologians and church historians should have an interest. These are biblical doctrines and they matter deeply. To ask why these things should be of interest to us is to ask the question, "Why is it important to understand what is at the heart of our Christain faith?" Where each of us stands on these five doctrines deeply affects our view of God, man, regeneration, salvation, assurance, the nature of the atoning work of Christ, worship, evangelism and missions. Somewhere along the way, at least for the English speaking world, the five points of Calvinism came to be summarized by the acrostic TULIP.
T - Total depravity
U - Unconditional election
L - Limited atonement
I - Irresistible grace
P - Perseverance of the saints
I was recently sent the following overview of the five points in an e-mail. I found it to be a very helpful, accurate and concise statement of the doctrines. I am not sure who the author is - perhaps someone could let me know, and I will be happy to give them credit for it.
In this summary, the TULIP acrostic does not survive. TULIP is now changed to RUPEP, which obviously fails miserably as a memory device. Yet perhaps these terms (below) are better ones to use than the historical ones because they (the terms used in the TULIP) tend to be misleading. For instance, the "L" in the TULIP, which stands for Limited Atonement, could give the very false impression that Calvinists believe that Christ's work on the cross has only a limited value. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I have met more than one person who struggled for years with the doctrine of Limited Atonement simply because they could not get past their understanding of what the term meant. However, once they did understand what was actually meant by the term, they began to see the concept was clearly demonstrated by the scripture. To avoid this kind of confusion, I believe that it is preferable to use a term which more precisely describes the doctrine concerned. Here then is the summary:
RADICAL CORRUPTION - "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately wicked." (Jer. 17:9)
Sinners are completely helpless to redeem themselves or to contribute anything meritorious toward their own salvation. Because of the Fall of man, the sinner is not morally neutral, but actually hostile towards God. He is, in fact, the sworn enemy of God. He is spiritually dead, and therefore blind and deaf to the things of God. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature; therefore, he will not, indeed he cannot choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. He cannot because he will not. Therefore it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance and wooing to bring a sinner to Christ - it takes a radical regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature - a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it. Since both repentance and faith are possible only because of the regenerating work of God, both are called the gift of God. Gen 2:15-17; Ps 51:5, Jer 17:9; Jn 6:44; 8:34, 47; 10: 26; Rom 3:10-18, 5:12, 8:7, 8; 1 Cor 2:14, Eph 2:1-9; Ph 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Heb. 12:2; 1 Jn 5:1
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION - "... in order that God's purpose of election might stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls..." (Rom. 9:11).
God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will, not being based on any foreseen response or obedience on man's part, such as repentance, faith, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God's choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. God brings His elect through the power of the Spirit, to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation. Jn 1:12, 13; Acts 11:18; 13:48; Rom 8:28-30; 9:6-21; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph 1:4-11; 2:1-10
PARTICULAR REDEMPTION - "...you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Mt 1:21).
"The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin." Canons of Dort - Second Head of Doctrine, Articles 3 and 4.
The doctrine of Particular Redemption speaks of God's design in the atonement, and who it was He was intending to save when Christ went to the cross. Christ died as a substitute who bore the full weight of God's wrath on behalf of His people, paying the penalty for their sin. Christ intended to save His sheep and actually secured everything necessary for their salvation. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, thereby guaranteeing their salvation. Is 53:5-11; Mt 1:21; 20:28; Eph 5:2, 25-27; Tit 3:5-6, Jn 10:14-16, 26-30; 17:6-12; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:21-26; 5:12-21; 8:28-30; Heb 10:10-14; Rev 5:9-10; 7:9, 10
EFFECTUAL CALLING - "...these whom He called, He also justified." (Rom. 8:30).
In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected; whereas the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected, it always results in conversion. By means of this special effectual call, the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. Mt 22:14; 23:37-39; Jn 1:12-13; 3:1-8; 3:16; 6:44; Rom 8:28-30; Eph 2:1-6
PRESERVATION OF THE SAINTS - "...these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom 8:30).
God's saving purpose cannot be thwarted - none of Christ's true sheep will ever be lost. Though the elect may for a time fall into radical sin (such as Peter's denial of Christ), God restores them to fellowship with Himself, and assures their eternal salvation. This salvation involves the work of the Trinity - All who are chosen by God the Father, redeemed by Christ the Son, and given faith by the Holy Spirit, are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end. They persevere in faith because He preserves them. Jn 3:16; 6:35-40; 6:44; 10:27-29; Rom 8:28-39; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; Eph 1:13-14; Jude 24-25
Let me close with a couple of quotes from the prince of preachers, C. H. Spurgeon:
"We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard these five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather, five bright emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrine of Jesus crucified."
"I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the Gospel and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the Gospel... unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah. Nor do I think we can preach the Gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of his elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend the Gospel which allows saints to fall away after they are called."