Reformed Theology

ElderDad's picture

There may have previously been a thread on this subject, but I don't find it high enough in the list to see it. Therefore, I will start a thread and let it take its course. The purpose of this topic is to provide a place other than the Study of the Gospel of John, where it has become a side issue with considerable activity. Unfortunately, it is off-track there, so here it is in the open forum. The purpose is to give a place to post items dealing with traditional Reformed Theology. Because CCEL comes out of the Reformed community, there are many books dealing with Reformed Theology and Preaching in the CCEL library. However, in keeping with the ecumenical effort of the founders and supporters of this site, there are also books in the CCEL library that disagree with Reformed Theology. Sooooo, let me remind all participants in this forum, "Keep it loving, or keep it at home."

bwarddvm's picture

Reformed Ramblings

I have been giving much thought to our discussions of Reformed Theology. Randy has eluded to its truly being a broad and rather complex topic encompassing so much more than the 5 Points of Calvinism or the conclusions of any single theologian. I could not agree more. However, I have decided to, in a rather rambling format, touch on a few of the concepts that have been mentioned in other posts in an effort to perhaps tie some loose ends together. Feel free to read as little or as much as you like depending on your time and interest. As always, I truly welcome corrections, expansions or opposing messages in response. I, too, still have far more questions than answers regarding the mind of God.

Calvinism vs Arminianism

From my perspective the 5 Points (the TULIP acronym) are the primary distinctive by which one identifies one's self as a Calvinist. These 5 points deal rather exclusively with the means by which God reckons the persons identified as the 'elect' to be justified (saved) eternally. This, of course, requires a doctrine of sovereign election. However, it is obvious on further examinations of Scripture that all Bible believing Christian musts have some sort of doctrine of election as it is clearly taught there, especially, I would say, in Romans. So predestination and election are not the exclusive domain of Calvinist (Reformed) believers. But we must define ourselves clearly as understandings obviously differ. Thus we must boil the issues down to exactly what means God employs to grant salvation to the elect. As has been pointed out by others, this specific issue was dealt with in early Protestantism at the Synod of Dortd (1618-19) held in the Netherlands, hosted by the Dutch Reformed Church but involved representative Protestants from 8 different nations.

Actually the Arminians (followers of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius who had died a year or two earlier) 'fired the first shot' with their document called the Remonstrance in which they officially protested the doctrines founded by Calvin which the Dutch church affirmed as official doctrine. The Remonstrance consisted of 5 primary points which were directly contrary to the the prevailing doctrines of Calvinism. Calvin had died in 1564, thus the responses given in these hearings, termed the Counter-remonstrance, were composed by his followers. I will not, for the sake of space give specific details of the 5 points but anyone interested can certain look them up. The conclusions of the Synod was that the understandings of the Calvinists were biblically correct and those of Arminianists incorrect. Albeit Calvinism prevailed at the Synod, but those who followed Arminius' doctrines did not truly forsake them and Arminianism did not fade away but indeed continue to flourish on an international scale. I would say in retrospect it was merely a symbolic win for Calvinism. Thus the disagreement persists to this day with Arminianism now being the majority report within Protestantism.

Refinements in Calvinism that caused 'Calvinistic' and 'Reformed' to Differ

As has been also noted there have been in certain Reformed churches alterations in the original doctrines of Calvin. For example, Reformed Baptist churches, which began springing up in the mid 1600's affirm the doctrines of TULIP (or Calvinist soteriology, soteriology being the study of the nuts and bolts of justification and sanctification of sinners), however, Baptists reject baptism of infants and small children, and hold to the doctrine of 'believer's baptism only. In 1889 they wrote their own Baptist Confession of Faith to note their differences with Calvinism in that particular regard. Thus the term 'Reformed' in a church or denominational title does not tell one to what extent their doctrines agree totally with Calvin's. However, I think that when the term Reformed is used, one can reasonably expect that church professes to agree with Calvinist soteriology. There is also a rather popular designation by which many Christians identify their personal theology as 'Calminian', which to me equates to as a rather confused Christian, but then aren't we all in some way or other. So this paragraph is to point out the necessity of not placing too much emphasis on labels. They can be so misleading.

Reformed Christians Must Admit Mysteries

I will readily admit that the Reformed position brings up Mysteries that the Arminian does not have to deal with. A great example, I think, is to attempt to explain a passage such as 1 Timothy 2:3 'For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' The obvious question for a Reformed guy like me is 'If God truly desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, then why did He declare such a severe curse on all men that renders them so spiritually lifeless that He must perform a regenerating rebirth on them before they will even be able to understand respond to the truth? After all it was only one simple little act of disobedience; a mere peccadillo! If sovereign unconditional election is the only way to save a lost sinner, why does He not elect all? Wouldn't that be much more consistent with His desire?' Tough questions!! I begin my reasoning by asking myself is this Timothy passage contradictory to unconditional election or any of the other points of Calvinism? No, it is not contradictory. Obviously God has a 'greater desire' for His justice to be served than He does to save all. However, I consider it to be certain evidence that He takes no delight in the loss of any souls. Beyond that I have to say it is truly a mystery and 'I just don't have the complete answer'. Is that unjust of God not to give me an answer? No, it is not. But it certainly is frustrating that He does not. You can probably come up with other questions that are equally mysterious, but I challenge you to find one in Scripture that is clearly contradictory to the 5 Points of Calvinism. We simply must keep reminding ourselves of Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." Some of the things we desire most to have explained to us, God has reserved for Himself. I suspect we will have the answers in Heaven, or when we are glorified all of those questions just won't matter anymore.

I suppose that's enough rambling for now. Keep the discussion going though; this is good stuff. I am always seeking to grow in my understanding of the Reformed faith and I find this comes through receiving sound teaching or by being posed with tough questions with which I must wrestle. The former is much easier. 8)