Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Disagreements

We Are All Fallible

The Bible is clear that there are none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).  We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our minds and hearts are warped with sin when we come to Christ and the work of God in sanctifying us is to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29-30).  Yet even after we come to Christ, we bring years of sin, years of filling our minds with wordiness and compromise.  We also bring to the Lord all our culture, our thoughts, our upbringing, our traditions.  All of this must be laid before the Lord and we take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25; 14:25-35).

Of course, not all of that is sinful.  Our culture may or may not be sinful.  Our traditions may or may not be sinful.  We must take all of them and lay them before the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  The Word of God is the only infallible and inerrant guide in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We submit to the Word of God (John 8:31-32).

Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t bring our fallible presuppositions to the Bible.  We all do.  I appreciate those who come humbly to the Bible longing for the Holy Spirit to teach us as little children (Matthew 18:2-4).  I acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about the Bible and there are parts I have yet to grasp.  I suppose I never will.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t study the Bible or don’t read difficult passages but I don’t build doctrines on passages that are not clear.  Nor should you.

Furthermore, we can read a passage and bring different presuppositions to the text.  Take the controversy of Romans 9.  When Arminius begin to preach through the book of Romans, it was at Romans 7 that Arminius first differed with the Reformed pastors of his day.  Arminius argued that Romans 7 was not a Christian.  This was (and remains) not the view of the Calvinists.  Arminius, who at the time was himself likely a Calvinist or at least was trained by Calvinists, was willing to disagree with the theologians of his day over the sake of truth.  I happen to agree with much of what he wrote about Romans 7.  That said, I know that neither myself nor Arminius are infallible.  Arminius brought his presuppositions to the text and so did the Calvinists of his day.

Another text that is hotly debated is Romans 9.  We Arminians read Romans 9 and we see the concept of corporate election all though it.  We see God showing mercy to whom He desires to show mercy and hardening whom He wants to harden (Romans 9:18) but we don’t see this in the sense of individual unconditional election of people to salvation.  Calvinists do.  And why?  Can we both be right?  Could we both be wrong?  We both read Romans 9 and we both seek to be faithful to the text but we read Romans 9 totally different ways.

We read Romans 7 or Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 or John 6 in different ways because we are fallible.  Muslims point to the divisions in the Church as proof that Allah needed to send the final prophet to unite all people.  Of course, Islam is not united.  ISIS is proof of that.  Atheists point to John 17:20-23 as a text that shows God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since the Church is not one.  Other cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses harp on the same thing.  Where is the unity?  Where is the one true Church?  Who is correct in their doctrine?  Who is the one who is preaching the true gospel?

All this does is prove that men are sinful.  That is all.  We are fallible.  We are fallen creatures made in the image of God but sinful nonetheless.  Our thoughts are not infallible.  Only the Bible is infallible.

The answer I believe is humility.  I confess that I don’t know all things.  I confess I could be wrong about Romans 9.  That said, there are clear things taught in Scripture that I believe are essential and are vital to our salvation.  Seeing election unto salvation in Romans 9 is not one of them.  Seeing all the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 as operative today or not is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the book of Revelation as futurist is not essential to salvation.  The deity of Christ, His miracles, His teachings, His saving work on the cross, etc. are essential.  Faith is essential (Hebrews 11:6).  Repentance is essential (Acts 2:38).

My point here is not to be some postmodern in regards to Scripture.  I believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible truth of God given to us to reveal His salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).  I am not claiming that humility is greatest virtue and we should not be dogmatic over theology.  I believe theology is vital to our salvation (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).  I believe that without sound exegesis, you could be preaching or hearing about the wrong Jesus (Matthew 24:23-25).

But I am arguing to humility toward our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with us over non-essentials.  I am calling for love (John 13:34-35) and charity.  2 Timothy 2:24-26 is clear (NIV):

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

The Lord’s slave should reflect their Lord who is humble (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:5).  Our Lord Jesus gave us the perfect example for us to follow in His steps (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21).  Jesus Himself was not quarrelsome even with the Pharisees.  Yes He rebuked them in Matthew 23 but He also warned them, loved them, and ultimately (here is my Arminianism coming out) died for them (Luke 23:34; John 11:49-52).  Jesus was kind to all and He taught all who would hear Him.  He handled His opponents with much grace (Matthew 22:23-46).  Jesus always answered His opponents with Scripture.  He didn’t make it a personal issue.  Jesus wanted them to repent and come to the truth.  Many of them did repent after His death and resurrection including a Jew named Saul of Tarsus.

While we are often willing to grant grace toward sinners, we are not willing to grant it toward our fellow disciples.  This should not be.  We should be humble and willing to love even that brother who disagrees with our end times view or our mode of baptism.  We should be willing to preach the gospel with our Calvinists friends who disagree with us over many issues but who preach the same saving Jesus as we preach in Arminianism.  Let us unite over the essentials, defend the gospel at all costs (1 Peter 3:15-16) but love each other over non-essentials and personal preferences (Romans 14:1-4).

And those are the thoughts of a slave of Christ.  May Jesus be glorified (John 3:30).

Regarding Our Presuppositions in Bible Reading

There is no doubt that we all bring our culture, our experiences, our presuppositions to the biblical text.  The goal of our Bible study should be to examine the text allowing for proper biblical hermeneutics to guide us but I confess that we all have our presuppositions when it comes to Bible reading and study.

This is why you can find an Arminian reading Romans 9 and he sees something there that a Calvinist does not see and vise versa.  The Calvinist takes Romans 9 and interprets it based on their presupposition which is Calvinism.  The Arminian reads Romans 9 with his Arminian presupposition and thus you have two people disagreeing over Romans 9 while both reading it and interpreting it.

The argument then often goes that they both can’t be right.  Some say they might both be wrong.  Before we label them, let me state that they both are right on many issues.  For example, an Arminian would agree with a Calvinist over the gospel, over the person and work of the Lord Jesus,  over the doctrine of the Trinity, over justification by faith.  Both clearly would agree (or should) that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  Both agree in the existence and nature of God, that He is sovereign (though disagreeing over exactly what that means in terms of His sovereignty versus divine determinism).  Yet both acknowledge that they disagree over the issue of Calvinism.  Therefore, while both could be wrong on Romans 9, both are not wrong on many issues.  This is why this debate among Arminians and Calvinists is an “in-house” debate.  I know some Calvinists (and perhaps Arminians though I know of none) believe that Arminians are lost, most regard us as brothers and sisters.  We are united in Christ (Galatians 3:27-28).  We are both baptized into His Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

So then back to our issue.  How can a person read John 6, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, etc. and not be a Calvinist?  Surely the Calvinist strength is that they deal with the text (this is the argument of some)?  In some cases, non-Calvinists point out the context is unique.  For instance, John 6 is Jesus speaking to the Jews.  A partial hardening was taking place within Israel (Romans 11:7-10).  Jesus was intentionally provoking the Jews to bring about this hardening for the purpose of redemption (John 1:11-13).  Some others point out in Ephesians 1 that Paul often changes from we (Jews) to them (Gentiles) and thus Ephesians 1 is focused on God’s first choosing of the Jews and then the Gentiles were included when they believed the gospel (Ephesians 1:13).

Is the Arminian then right and the Calvinist wrong?  Depends on your point of view.  The Calvinist reads John 6, Romans 9, and the entire Bible with TULIP in mind.  I have often heard Calvinists say that they see Calvinism all through the Bible.  Books have even been written supporting this view.  Others say that before they became a Calvinist, they struggled with Romans 9 but once they became a Calvinist, Romans 9 became precious to them.

On the other side, I have read former Calvinists say they once they rejected Calvinism, they begin to see the goodness of God and His love for the world all through the Bible.  They also begin to see free will despite rejecting it beforehand.

The point here is that we all read the Bible with our “keys” in our minds.  We have a key by which we judge Scripture.  I confess that we should read the Bible and seek to exegete it based on sound principles of biblical interpretation but we often read the Bible with our presuppositions in mind.  Is it possible to lay aside those presuppositions to truly read the Bible?  I think it is and I think we often do it but we fail to apply it to our lives nor to our theology.

What we need in this case is grace.  God does not save us because of our perfect theological construct.  God saves us by His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is not a debatable doctrine.  To reject Jesus is to reject God’s salvation (John 14:6).  Others want to argue how we get into Christ.  They argue that we have to be baptized in their church or in their mode to be saved.  I believe the Bible is clear on this point:  salvation is in Christ Jesus and in Him alone (Titus 3:5-7).  Our works cannot save us (John 6:29) because our works are often tainted by our sins (Isaiah 64:6).  Our moral goodness cannot save us.  Our church membership cannot save us.  Keeping the Law of Moses cannot save us (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  Being a Jew cannot save us (Romans 2:1-7).  Being a kind person cannot save us.  Jesus alone saves us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  We have no mediator before a holy God besides Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Jesus unites His people (John 13:34-35) under the banner of His love.  I confess our presuppositions but I confess that Jesus alone is Lord (Romans 10:9-10).  When we stand before Him when we die (Hebrews 9:27-28), we will be judged through Jesus.  Our salvation, if we truly repented of our sins, will be done but the Lord will judge us based on our works done in Christ (Ephesians 2:10; Revelation 2:19).  The Lord does know our works yet we are not saved by our works but will be judged for our works (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).  The Lord remembers our deeds (Hebrews 6:10).  What I don’t believe He will judge us for will be whether we had perfect understanding of theology.  While sound doctrine is vital (Titus 2:1) and sound doctrine can save us (1 Timothy 4:16), none of us have perfect theological understanding.

In conclusion, let me state that this is not an excuse for bad theology.  The goal of the faithful Bible student and teacher is the same: to be made in the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Titus 1:15-16 is a good start for those who love Jesus:

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

I also read Titus 2:11-14 and I think of what I am writing here:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

My exhortation is simple: Christ alone saves, Christ alone is the One that we adorn and love, and He works in His people for good works which He alone will judge when we stand before Him.  Let us then have grace and mercy toward those whom we disagree recognizing that we read the Bible with our presuppositions in mind but also confessing that Jesus Christ alone saves and not another person, movement, or thing.

How Should Arminians Respond to Attacks?

It is not uncommon for me to be attacked for my Arminianism.  I have been called a liberal, to holding man-centered theology, to not loving God, to not loving God’s grace, to denying God’s sovereignty, to believing that I earn my salvation, to hating God, to denying the gospel.  Often these attacks come from Calvinists and many of them are perhaps in their “cage stage” but they honestly believe that Calvinism is the pure gospel, that Calvinism is just what Jesus and His Apostles preached (I am not kidding there).  They love all things Calvinistic and any attacks on Calvinism are viewed as attacks on God Himself.

Now to be fair, this is not the case with all Calvinists.  I know many godly Calvinists who love the Lord and know that Calvinism is not the gospel nor the major issue.  I have sat with many Calvinist brethren in great fellowship.  One only needs to think of the great friendship of John Wesley and George Whitefield to know that people can be Arminians and Calvinists while being brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Nothing in the New Testament suggests that we have to be nothing more than disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35) to love one another.  Love is one of the greatest evidences of our salvation (1 John 4:19-20).

So how do we respond to those who attack us?  Here is my response in brief.

1.  Answer With Love and Grace.

While I have had some say that I am lost because of my Arminianism, we should answer all people with love.  While they may despise me, I don’t despise them.  Love should flow from the disciple who has been forgiven (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).  Proverbs 15:1 reads, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  We should heed these wise words and answer with love and grace.  None of us are perfect in our knowledge and we all are seeking to know God through this glass (1 Corinthians 13:12).

2.  Answer Biblically.  

I have read many debates and they often turn to philosophy instead of Scripture.  Scripture is the final authority (and I pray that all agree on that fact).  Scripture alone speaks the truth for God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Scripture is what sanctifies us (John 17:17).  Scripture is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) but let us use our swords not out of hatred but love and grace.  Again, we are not perfect in our knowledge and all can learn from one another.  I would be the first to admit to a Calvinist that I don’t know all things perfectly but I love Jesus Christ and long to know Him truthfully (Philippians 3:8-11).  I pray that all of us would love the Word of God and long to know the truth of God from His holy Word.

3.  Be Godly.

It’s better to be godly than to be right (Hebrews 12:14-15).

4.  Never View Your Attacker As A Vile Enemy.

See the person as a person.  They may despise you, they may hate you, they may desire to kill you but see them as people made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Recently I heard the story of a family being attacked by Muslims for their faith.  The mother told the children that if men ever came to their home to always answer them with, “God loves you and we forgive you.”  This family did face their Muslim attackers and had to endure their own beheadings but they did so with those words, “God loves you and we forgive you.”

While Calvinists are not our vile enemies, all people need to see that we are full of love. We love because of the love of God (John 3:16).  Our theology flows from the love of God (Romans 5:8-9).  We read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and we see the heart of God all in the text.  This same love should flow from us toward others.  We love people because they are people.  We long to see them saved because they are made in the image of God.

5.  Be Christ-centered In Your Talking.

Christ is the center of all things.  Christ is the center of the Bible.  Christ is the center of all creation (Colossians 1:15-20).  Christ should be the center of our biblical interpretation.  In other words, election doesn’t begin with man but with Christ.  Salvation doesn’t begin with man but with Christ.  Christ is the focus and He is the One that we should worship and adore (Revelation 5:9-10, 12).

The focus should not then be on our favorite preachers or Bible teachers.  The focus is not on Arminius or Calvin or Wesley or Spurgeon.  The focus should be on Christ and remain on Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5).  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that we preach Christ and Him crucified.  I pray I would do that.  I don’t want anyone (including me) to receive the glory that is due to Christ alone.

Conclusion

I pray that God would grant us peace among brethren.  We are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27) and not into men.  Arminius nor Calvin will ever save a sinner.  Only Christ saves (Acts 4:12).  The focus of our theology must not be on Arminius or Calvin but Christ.  Christ is the only one who is worthy to be praised and adored and imitated.

May the Lord help both Arminians and Calvinists be godly in our talking.  May the Lord be the One that we worship and serve.

Must We Draw A Line In the Sand for Evangelism?

I was listening to a podcast of a few Calvinist evangelists talking and one of them said they he was going to draw a line in the sand and demand that all Arminians and non-Calvinists must either repent of their false theology or he will not allow them to be part of his evangelism ministry.  He is a committed Reformed Calvinist and he is likewise convinced that Calvinism is the gospel.  Therefore, if anyone is not proclaiming Calvinism, they are not proclaiming the gospel.  He went on to lament that many ministries have both Calvinists and Arminians working alongside of each other in evangelism.  He believes this is not only unbiblical but that it waters down the gospel.

My question is can Arminians and Calvinists work together for the gospel?  Must we draw a line in the sand and say that only these or those are truly preaching the gospel?  Must we ignore the fact that God blessed both John Wesley (Arminian) and George Whitefield (Calvinist) despite their disagreements and that they remained friends until the end?

I often go out witnessing with Calvinists.  I enjoy them.  We laugh a lot about our disagreements and we both make jokes toward each other but we are committed brothers in the Lord.  We understand that Jesus saves sinners and not Arminians or Calvinists.  We are both committed to preaching that Jesus alone is the way to salvation (John 14:6) and that only those in Christ Jesus are the elect (1 Timothy 4:10).  We are committed to preaching faith and repentance toward the Lord Jesus Christ and we both believe that these are works of the Spirit (John 6:44).  We don’t know whom God is going to save nor perfectly how He saves but we trust His Word to save the lost (Ephesians 1:3-14).  We both acknowledge that the preaching of the gospel is necessary for eternal salvation (Romans 10:14-17).

So must we draw a line in the sand?  I know some Arminians complain about Calvinist evangelists preaching that Jesus loves sinners (when they believe He only loves the elect) or they complain that Calvinist evangelists preach a universal gospel call when they deny that God will save whoever comes but His elect.  I understand all this but I believe that God uses us imperfect people to preach His perfect gospel.  I am not perfect in my theological understanding nor do I believe that Arminianism is the gospel.  I believe that Jesus alone saves (Acts 4:12) and He alone is our mediator before a holy God (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  God uses us weak humans to preach His gospel and by His grace He saves sinners (Ephesians 2:8-9).  That is a mystery to me.

I am sorry to hear this brother doing this.  I have much respect for this brother.  He is a true evangelist with a burning heart for the lost.  He stated that he knows he will lose support and many will question his motives in drawing this line but he is convinced that Calvinism is the gospel and he must draw this line.  I am sorry to hear this.  I am sorry whenever I hear Calvinists (or anyone else) declaring their ism is the gospel.  Christ alone is the gospel and He alone saves.  There will be both Calvinists and Arminians in hell.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/02/2014 at 2:09 PM

Posted in Evangelism

Tagged with , ,

Theological Cyber Bullies

Social media is both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing as I get to meet disciples from all over the world and to be encouraged by what I read and see the Lord doing around the world.  For that, I am thankful for social media.

Yet the dark side of social media is the theological cyber bullies that I have met online.  These cyber bullies are relentless.  If you want to see this in action then go to Twitter and simply post something like “Calvinism does not save” and hash tag it with #Calvinism and watch what happens.  There are a group of Calvinists on Twitter who love this and will send you dozens upon dozens of replies.  They will not stop.  You will eventually just say, “I disagree” but they will continue to publish and publish and publish defenses of Calvinism along with attacks on you and your theology.  It doesn’t matter if you are an Arminian or not.  If you are not a Calvinist, you are wrong and they will not stop until you admit this or just stop posting on Twitter altogether (which is what I have done but not just for that reason alone).  

Recently, a notable internet Calvinist defender apologized for his attacks on a man whom he disagreed with.  This Calvinist had become so engrossed with personal attacks on the man that he begin to attack the son of the man.  Sadly, the son committed suicide just a few weeks later though the cyber bullying did not play a part in that.  I do wonder if something could have stopped this boy from killing himself had the Calvinist been praying for the family instead of attacking them relentlessly online?  What if the Calvinist was offering words of encouragement instead of criticism for everything the family did?  

Whether you are an Arminian or a Calvinist, please take to heart John 13:34-35.  I know that the guys on Twitter do not consider Arminians as Christians and this is how they justify their relentless attacks.  I know that the man above did not regard the man whom he was attacking as a brother in the Lord.  I have heard prominent Calvinist evangelists said that other non-Calvnist evangelists were not saved because they rejected Calvinism.  Even if you don’t believe that other people are Christians, 2 Timothy 2:24-26 should be taken to heart.  

My prayer is that I am not a cyber bully.  I don’t write much on any social sites.  For me, its such a waste of time to sit and debate online with people I can’t see or talk to in person.  I would gladly sit down with a Calvinist brother in a coffee shop and discuss theology but I will not waste my time going back and forth with 140 characters on Twitter or making a mockery of the name of Jesus in social media sites toward an unbelieving world who loves to watch Christians argue.  The world is gong to hell while we sit and argue over points that have been debated for 500 years.  While there is good that can come from good theological discussions, arguing does not produce these results.  

Frankly, I would rather go out and preach the gospel to the lost, read a good book, listen to some solid preaching, or just spend time with my family than to sit and have online debates.  Godly conversations seem to be lacking today.  May the Lord help us to be godly toward each other.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/13/2014 at 3:00 PM

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