The Calvinists are often divided over the controversial significance of the doctrine of predestination, particularly regarding the question of Free Will and whether atonement is a universal proposition or determined.
The reformation teachings of John Calvin have received a resurgence and is sweeping all over the U.S. and the UK as ‘New Calvinism.’ The followers are known as ‘New Calvinists.’ This movement is led by well-known evangelical pastors who belong to the ‘Gospel Coalition’.
“We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which He determined what He willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” (The Institutes)
Calvinism is identified after the 16th century reformer, John Calvin whose main theological teachings are contained in his famous work ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ published in 1559. Calvinism is also mentioned through other names such as ‘Augustinianism’ because Calvin adopted the teachings of Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in many fields of predetermination and the supreme sovereignty of God.
In the modern sense, Calvinism is nearly similar with ‘Reformed Protestantism’ or ‘Reformed theology’, broadly covering the whole doctrine instructed by the Reformed churches and exemplified in various Reformed Confessions such as the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).
◆ After the spread of reformation through Lutheranism, Calvinism is advocated as the second major revolution of the reformist ideals. This movement existed even before the single-handed influence of John Calvin and some major Protestant theologians preceded John Calvin in spreading it to the European nations.
◆ One such early reformer was Huldrych Zwingli known for his influence on church-state canton relations and Swiss Reformation. At very young age, he was elected parish priest of Glarus. He greatly admired the scholarly works of the ancient Greek writers & humanist Erasmus. He despised teachings of the Roman Catholic church and preached against it in most of his sermons. He reasoned out that papacy was baseless in its Church traditions & it did not match with Bible as the root of Christian truth.
◆ His preaching were so profound that he was immediately made vicar of Grossmünster in Zurich. He publicly denounced the celibacy of the Catholic clergy that earned him the wrath of the Bishop of Constance. In 1523, Zwingli laudably supported his perspective on this topic with 67 theses presented in front of the city council who supported him and chose to break away from the bishop’s jurisdiction, thus submerging Zurich with Reformation ideologies. Another one of his controversial doctrine was that Zwingli traversed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and asserted that the Host was not the repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, but only a reverential commemoration.
◆ During the Civil war of 1531, he entered the fray as chaplain siding Zurich during which he was killed at the battle of Kappel on 11th October, 1531. Most of his teachings were replaced by that of John Calvin. His legacy was continued by Heinrich Bullinger. Bullinger is known to have been on amicable terms with John Calvin. Hence historians always state that Huldrych Zwingli must be rightly termed as the founder of Calvinism.
◆ By the time Calvin turned into a Protestant theologian and established Geneva, the Protestant motility had already originated in Zurich by Zwingli and extended by Heinrich Bullinger.
◆ John Calvin was born on 10th July, 1509 in Noyon, France into a staunch Roman Catholic family. John’s father was an administrator in the town’s cathedral and wished that his son would eventually become a priest. At the age of 14, he went to College de Marche in Paris. By 1523, Calvin shifted to the famous college, Montaigu.
During this period he came in touch with reform-minded preachers, he dropped the idea of studying theology and took up civil law instead. In the year 1533, he completed his law education and published his first book a commentary on ‘De Clementia’ written by a Roman philosopher, Seneca.
◆ His increased opposition and radical thinking against the teachings of the Roman Catholic church made him flee Paris forever. The following three years were spent under various names and locations in France, Italy, and Switzerland. In 1536, he published the first edition of his revolutionary work ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ which clearly reflected his religious beliefs and teachings in Basel, Switzerland. During the same year, he was persuaded by a radical reformer named Guillaume Farel to stay and preach in Geneva.
◆ The reform wave swiftly swept over Geneva and three major changes took place. Catholic monasteries were closed, celebrating the Holy Mass was prohibited, and majority of the papal authority was denounced.
Geneva fell under the moral code laws of the reformists, sin became a punishable offense. Citizens indulging in immoral dressing, dancing, and singing faced excommunication from the church or were being banned from the city. Blasphemy became punishable by death. Libertines who staged a revolt were either executed or burned at the stake for heresy, the most famous being the burning at stake of Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian and physician for his alleged opposing doctrines on the Divine Trinity. During these moral code years, 58 people were put to death and 76 ostracized in order to uphold moral conduct and discipline.
◆ All signs of Catholic life were prohibited. Rosaries and relics were banned, gamblers and adulterers were penalized. These austere rules set by Calvin were becoming too severe for the majority of the citizens. On February 1538, there arose a revolt by the suppressed Catholics and the Libertines who captured the majority of the city council and banished Calvin and Farel. After this incident Calvin resided in Strasbourg and Farel in Neuchâtel. While in Strasbourg, he continued preaching to the small community of French Protestants. Meanwhile in Geneva, immorality prevailed and forced the council to revoke the ban of John Calvin and persuaded him to return to carry on his reform mission to which he agreed. The ban was lifted on 1st May, 1541 and Calvin returned to Geneva on 13th September, 1541.
◆ During his reform ministry in Geneva, Calvin advocated over two thousand sermons. He preached twice on Sunday and nearly every weekday for more than an hour. In 1559, he revised his The Institutes of the Christian Religion which was then translated into several languages and distributed throughout Europe. Geneva grew educationally under his guidance, he established schools and the University of Geneva. Charity was practiced with the help of civic administration which eliminated begging. Thus the lives of Geneva citizens fell under an unbending disciplined rule and a single reformist Church from which no digression was tolerated. Geneva soon came to be known as ‘Calvinist Rome’ for being the epic center of Calvinist activities.
◆ He passed away on 27th May, 1564, in Geneva, Switzerland due to his frail health. His legacy was carried on by his Calvinist followers who traveled to France, the Netherlands, and Germany to spread his mission. John Knox established Calvinism in Scotland, George Whitefield one of the Methodist leader and also a follower of Calvin spread Calvinism in the American colonies.
Theological Ideals of John Calvin
◆ The Institutes of the Christian Religion is considered to be his theological Protestant masterpiece, its first edition was published in 1536, the Latin edition in 1539, and the French edition in 1540. He continued to revise and revive his work until his death.
◆ The theological book is centered around the supremacy and majesty of God, it states that there is a wide gap between mankind and God which is unfathomable. The sins of man are so grave that it is unthinkable for him to obtain salvation. God is omnipotent and omniscient and he has foreordained everything on this universe according to his own wish. Man is incapacitated in the face of God’s will. He is predestined either to perpetual resplendence or perpetual damnation. Even if he has lived the life of a Saint, he cannot forgo the will of God. Calvin never flinched to preach the terrible consequences of God’s omniscience. It further emphasizes that God has chosen only a few elect to receive eternal salvation and these were saved by their immeasurable faith.
◆ Calvin’s doctrine was terrorizing, it projected God as a mean and impulsive being, but he supported his theory with the fact that human can never comprehend the works of his creator. The supreme decision by God on who shall be damned for eternity remains immutable. Hell does not exist for man to wash and repent for his sins, but he advocated simple prayer as a means to worship God even though this meant that mankind could not escape the wrath of God. He considered the Catholic Mass ritual of the Eucharist as blasphemous, because he believed that the priests had no special abilities to change the Eucharist into the body and blood of Christ and that this ritual lacked the Scriptural backing. He recommended and preached only two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
◆ He professed that the invisible Godly elect were the true church and rest of the religious precepts based on Catholicism, Anabaptism, or Lutheranism were false teachings. He believed that the Church and state were both appointed by God. The undertaking of the former is to instruct and dictate religious beliefs and maintain ethics, while the latter maintains rules of order and imposes the Church laws. They are not separate but work in concordance to uphold the word of God.
Five Points of Calvinism
The reformist theological teachings of John Calvin received approval by the Synod of Dort in 1619 for being the doctrine of salvation as per the scriptures. The Calvinist doctrine of salvation is summarized through the Five Points of Calvinism also known as the Doctrines of Grace and represented with the acronym TULIP.
◆ Total Depravity (Total Inability and Original Sin):
Due to Adam and Eve’s original sin mankind has fallen short of the God’s Grace and the whole nature of man has turned sinful including emotions, thoughts, actions, and deeds. No matter how well they chose to be good, they can never find favor in the eyes of God. Man can never understand the will of God or his supreme nature and hence he has no free will, but in fact his destiny lies in the hands of his Maker who has predestined his end.
❝Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.❞ – Romans 5: 12
❝For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.❞ – Mark 7: 21-23
◆ Unconditional Election:
God has already chosen his superior elect before he lay the foundation of the universe to attain his mercy and salvation from sin. The rest of the humans who do not belong to the elect group will face damnation in hell till eternity. He has chosen the lucky ones not through their good deeds but by his own holy will and thus this is the base of the Calvinist concept of predestination.
❝For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.❞ – Romans 9: 15
❝According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;❞ – Ephesians 1: 4-8
◆ Limited Atonement (Particular Atonement):
There are only a limited few who have received the grace of Christ dying for their sins. Calvinism believes that Jesus died on the cross not to save the whole humanity, but only for the predestined people who were chosen by God and who are known to be the invisible true Christians.
❝I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.❞ – John 17: 9
◆ Irresistible Grace:
Only the elect receive the calling through the Holy Spirit to accept God and his salvation. The Gospel is preached to many but it is only a few who respond to live their lives like the Gospel. The Spirit of God leads these chosen few to repentance whereby they willingly and freely respond to the divine call.
❝No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.❞ – John 6: 44
❝For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.❞ – Romans 8: 14
❝But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.❞ – 1 Peter 5: 10
◆ Perseverance of the Saints (Once Saved Always Saved):
The elect are never lost they are eternally saved and God continues to sanctify their beliefs from time to time until they reach their spiritual destination. Christ assures his Father that he will never let go of the elect and they will be glorified on the judgment day.
❝That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.❞ – Philippians 1: 6
❝And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestine, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified….Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.❞ – Romans 8: 28-39
❝And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.❞ – John 6: 39
Beliefs & Practices
◆ Calvinists believe on the Trinity as God is One, eternally existing through three separate entities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church promotes to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a decent way. Heaven and hell are genuine places where the ones who are saved and who seek Christ for mercy and redemption of sins will spend eternity in heaven whereas those that reject Christ will eternally spend time in hell away from the God’s eternal grace.
◆ Apart from the Doctrines of Grace, the Calvinists believe that Christians cannot be demon possessed as both the Holy Spirit and the demon cannot reside in the human body at one time. They believe that Christians should not pray to God only to gain material benefits. They reject human prophecy and believe only in the scriptures.
◆ They celebrate only two principal: Sacraments which are the Holy Baptism which is administered to an individual old enough to understand the Church and its teachings through water immersion. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is consecrated during the worship service and varies according to the Church, people receive bread and grape wine as part of the Communion.
◆ The worship service is not very elaborate but it consists of praise and worship, greeting, sermon, and time for prayer. The attire during the service is supposed to be formal.
◆ Calvinism grew rapidly in France during the late 1550s and engulfed many of the noble families. It spread through Scotland and Germany converting many of the elite into the reformist beliefs. Calvinists constituted the greatest single religious group in the Polish Senate. It occupied much deeper roots in the kingdom of Hungary. By 1600, the Reformed church submerged almost half of Hungary’s population under its spiritual influence.
◆ However, in the seventeenth century it saw a major decline in Europe through the widespread efforts of the Roman Catholic Church, it disappeared completely from Poland and Lithuania. Even in France, where the Reformed church appeared secure by The Edict of Nantes after 1598, it followed a decline after the persecutions by the Catholic Church and later it was officially abolished by the tyrannic and sovereign ruler, Louis XIV in 1685.
◆ Lately the teachings have been on a revival of sorts by a group of Evangelical pastors led by Dr Tim Keller, Pastor John Piper, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Dr Albert Mohler and is currently known as New Calvinism. It seeks to blend evangelism with social activism. This movement is spreading rapidly throughout the U.S.
The dynamic doctrines of John Calvin still continue to mesmerize its followers. This belief system based on the scriptures alone is described well by theologian, Benjamin Warfield:
‘‘The Calvinist is the [person] who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God…’who makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer the permanent attitude…’ and who casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of salvation.’‘