Calvinism – Arminianism, Which?

A minister once visited a seasoned old farmer in a mountain community. Very soon the conversation turned to spiritual things. The wiry farmer surprised the minister with his knowledge of the Bible.

“I take it you’re a Christian?” queried the minister.

“No,” retorted the farmer. “God hasn’t saved me yet. He might save me when I’m plowing in the field or when I’m sleeping in bed. He won’t save me until He gets good and ready.”

In another community there was a man and wife who were very faithful church members. They wouldn’t miss a service if they could possibly help it. The man held a responsible office in his denomination for many years.

A member of the family suddenly became seriously ill. This man and his wife spent weeks taking care of the invalid. They took prescribed medicine to keep awake during those trying days. Both became addicted to the medicine. The husband, when he could no longer get a prescription, contacted drug pushers in a nearby city. His wife turned to alcohol in an attempt to satisfy her craving.

A concerned friend visited them sometime later inquiring into their relationship with the Lord. He was surprised to find both of them “praising the Lord” and claiming victory in their Christian experience! He cautiously inquired as to how they could be under drugs and alcohol and still be right with God.

The immediate response was, “I still remember the day I was saved way back in 1949. I just know God saved me, and what God does, He can’t undo. Once you’re saved you’re always saved.”

Both of these incidents actually took place. They could have been told about hundreds of other people in hundreds of other communities. Their religious beliefs are commonly accepted by many well-meaning people. Most of them do not realize how unscriptural and how dangerous these beliefs really are.

The two beliefs illustrated by these examples are part of a system of Bible interpretation called Calvinism.

What is Calvinism?

John Calvin, a Swiss reformer, first set down these ideas in a detailed way. Other men before him had taught the same ideas.

Calvin and his followers have held to five main ideas about salvation in Christ. These are the crux of the Calvinistic teaching:

  1. Unconditional Election. Calvinists believe that God decided before the world began who will be saved and who will be lost. According to unconditional election, your eternal destination has been decided. Nothing you may do will change that destiny!
  2. Limited Atonement. Calvin taught that Christ’s blood was shed for the elect only–those God planned to save or “elect” to salvation.
  3. Total Depravity. That man can, in himself, do nothing to respond to God or to come to Him. According to this idea, faith is all on God’s part–not on man’s part. The Calvinist will tell you, “God does it all.”
  4. Irresistible Grace. If God has decided to save you, He will do it regardless of what you do. You can’t resist the plan and power of God. His saving grace overpowers the free will of the elect.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints. Anyone who is saved or “elected” by God can never fall away from or lose that salvation–once you’re saved you’re always saved!

You’ll immediately notice that the farmer in the first example above believed strongly in these five points, especially the first four. The other man and his wife were taken up by the fifth point.

Most Calvinists of modern times seem to avoid at least the first two points of Calvinism. One Calvinistic minister, when questioned as to his belief in the five points of Calvinism admitted, “We believe them all, but we don’t talk about the first two.”

Like most other modern-day Calvinists, his main emphasis is on the fifth point.

Security or Permissiveness?

Though the Calvinists have certain “proof” verses from the Bible which supposedly teach unconditional election and limited atonement, the testimony of the rest of the scriptures is so strongly against them that they don’t say much about these points. They “run up against it” when they read such scriptures as, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17), and God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9.

We know that the scriptures do mention the “elect” or the “chosen” of God. From the Bible we learn that these chosen sheep of God are those who “hear” His voice and who “follow Him” (John 10:27-29). Only those who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour are chosen by God to receive that “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).

Most modern Calvinists then are embarrassed by the first few points of their dogma. But they tenaciously cling to the fifth point, namely the “once saved, always saved” idea. This is often called eternal security.
As with the other points of Calvinism, real problems arise for the supporter of unconditional eternal security. The teaching can be quite dangerous, for it directly influences the way the Christian lives. The case of the faithful church member turned dope addict aptly illustrates one of the dangers of this teaching. The man had a false feeling of security while living a very wicked life. Eternal security people will argue that such a person was never saved to start with. Simple answer. Or is it?

If everyone who was once faithful to God and to the church and who turns away and lives again in sin were never saved in the beginning, the scriptures would contradict themselves. The implication of such a statement would be that a true Christian cannot go back into sin. This is sinless perfection! Even the Calvinists emphatically teach that people can’t live perfect lives while on earth.

Then too, what about the many warnings to Christians from the Bible about “falling away” and disobeying the truth? Why are there such warnings if there is no possibility of falling away?

Even if we assume for a moment that the unfaithful church member just mentioned were never saved to start with, his teaching got him to the place he would not admit his sinful condition. This “once saved, always saved” doctrine kept this man from ever making the first step toward salvation—to admit that he was a sinner. Whether he was ever saved to start with is not really the issue. His disobedience to God is the issue.

Many advocates of eternal security will insist that their teaching will not lead to unfaithfulness to God. They will teach very strongly that good works are important for the Christian—and they’re right! But if you pay careful attention to their sermons, the “musts” of the gospel get watered down to “it would be better if you would.”
Then according to this Calvinistic “security” teaching, good works for the Christian are not absolutely necessary for his continued security in Christ. The Christian who quits “working” only loses some, or perhaps, all of his reward in heaven. He still gets to heaven (supposedly!) by the “skin of his teeth.”

An old man once pronounced a telling commentary on this “skin of your teeth” religion: “I don’t want no rewards,” he quipped, “jest so I git to heaven, that’s all I want.”

Perhaps the hardest question eternal security advocates have to answer is, “What will this teaching lead to?”
You can press them on the point, and will usually get them to admit that they believe it’s possible for a person to live a life of sin and still get to heaven.

Maybe you’ve heard such statements as, “Smoking is a filthy habit no Christian should have, but some people just can’t break the habit. Surely cigarettes won’t keep a person out of heaven. After all, you’re saved by grace, not by what you do or don’t do.” Or maybe you’ve heard, “It doesn’t matter what a Christian wears as long as his heart’s right. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Dress doesn’t have anything to do with your salvation.” If a person thinks that once he is saved he is always saved–that nothing he can do will separate him from God–he could quite easily write off every command of the gospel with, “Surely that wouldn’t keep you from heaven” or “You aren’t saved by what you do.”

Friends, the Bible teaches that we are saved from sin, not in sin!

Misplaced Emphasis

The whole system of eternal security has been built on a faulty understanding of the Bible and of what God expects of the Christian. The eternal security teaching emphasizes the passages of encouragement to the Christian. It very obviously ignores the passages of warning and the conditions the scriptures constantly set forth for discipleship.
Eternal security teachers will magnify the promise in John 10 that no man will be able to “pluck” us out of the Father’s hand, but they seem to ignore the conditions for being sheep given just before–hearing His voice and following Him. They emphasize “eternal life” in John 3:16 while ignoring the condition–“whosoever believeth.”

The Alternative

We are convinced that Calvinism, with its current manifestation, eternal security, is a false teaching. There are serious implications and obvious dangers in taking that position.

We hold to the system of teaching called Arminianism. Arminianism stands in opposition to the errors of Calvinism.
Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch reformer, outlined a scriptural approach to the subject of salvation. He was concerned about the dangers of Calvinism and made an effort to answer them from the scriptures.

Arminianism teaches that:

  1. God created man with a free will so that he may choose to accept or reject God. “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” I Tim. 2:4. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure …” II Pet. 1:10a.
  2. Christ died for all. He was not willing that any should perish (II Pet. 3:9). He will save any repenting sinner who comes to Him through faith in His finished work at Calvary.
  3. Man can and must respond to Christ’s call to salvation before he can be saved. He must:
    • Hear God’s call–“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10:17.
    • Believe in Christ–“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Acts 16:31.
    • Seek–“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found …” Isa. 55:6.
    • Call–“Call ye upon him while he is near.” Isa. 55:6.
    • Repent–“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out …” Acts 3:19.
    • Confess–“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus … thou shalt be saved.” Rom. 10:9.
  4. We can never earn salvation by any works we can do.
    Salvation by God’s grace is a free gift, but man chooses to accept it or to reject it. “The goodness of God leadeth [not forceth] thee to repentance.” Romans 2:4.
    Satan planned the fall of man, but he needed man’s help to do it. God plans and provides for salvation, but He must have man’s will and cooperation to carry it out.
  5. We are secure as long as we remain in Christ. A life of obedience to the teaching of God’s Word—a life of “good works”—is necessary for the Christian to grow spiritually and to remain in the grace of God. “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Heb. 5:9.

Arminianism teaches a day by day walk with Christ. It emphasizes a life of holiness in obedience to Christ.

Hans Denck, an Anabaptist reformer, summed up this life of obedience to Christ like this: “He who would know Christ truly must follow Him daily in life.”

Satan still tries to bluff men by making them feel safe in their sins. He tells people today, as he told Eve, “Ye shall not surely die.” God’s plain warning still stands: “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Rom. 8:13. God, who cannot tolerate sin before salvation, certainly will not tolerate it after a person becomes saved. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” Jn. 8:31.


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8 thoughts on “Calvinism – Arminianism, Which?”

  1. Question: I go to the Church Of God—-Our Pastor doesn’t really give an invitation.
    After sermon is over he goes down and sits with his wife. Music team takes over
    with a so called invitational song. Preacher gets up after a few verses and
    tells everyone to have a good week.
    Is he a Calvinist or an Arminian? Hard to figure out because he talks about
    Salvation by grace through faith.
    Thanks for your help.

  2. Greetings, I would like to respond to this article not for the sake of defending John Calvin, the folk you mention in the article or myself (who believes the 5 points are Biblical).
    I have never heard Calvinism portrayed in the manner you have described and have known about since my conversion in 2008. What you are describing is licentious false Christendom (some of which maybe ‘Calvinists’ but the majority would fall into the category of ‘Arminian’). Also you quoted a ‘Calvinist Minister’ as saying “We believe them all but we don’t talk about the first two”. Before God I would challenge the authenticity of such a quote, and ask you why no reference was given? Put away deceit, and speak the truth. The proper order of the points are T-U-L-I-P, meaning the minister would not want to mention the Total Depravity of Man (his deadness in sin) and unconditional election (God chooses to save based on grace (unmerited favor)? If you have any heard any Man of God who was a Calvinist preach they harp of these two things perhaps the most, as a reference I would direct you to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, George Whitfield, Martyn Lloyd Jones, and G. Campbell Morgan. So again I challenge the authenticity and integrity of such a quote, and if it be authentic you should prove it, and allow your readers to test all things and hold fast that which is good.
    The last thing I would like to say is ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ and ‘Eternal Security’ are not the same thing nor should they be understood to be interchangeable terms.
    The idea of ‘perseverance’ is persevering in faith and repentance and holiness without which no man will see the Lord. Again what you are describing is what carnal American ‘church’ doctrine teaches but not what is meant by ‘Perseverance of the Saints’.
    Am I saying everyone that says they are Calvinist’s have sound doctrine? No. Am I saying they are all converted? No. But I desire your article to be honest with the facts and to represent the landscape accurately and currently it does not. Your blamelessness is tarnished as a result. Please feel free to respond.

  3. Calvin’s 5 point on his TULIP – Perseverance or once saved always saved. The Hebrew Epistle clearly answers the teaching. 6:4-6, once you taste of the heavens gift (Holy Ghost)and have tasted of the powers to come, if they fall away, the cannot be renewed unto repentance. It is as if Christ sacrifice never took place for them. Chapter 10:26For if we sinn willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth (again the Holy Ghost), there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.

    I notice in Arminius’ third point of what a man must do in response to Christ’s call, nothing is mentioned about the need for baptism. Peter made it very clear on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptize for the remission (far more then forgiveness) of sin and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that area fat off( both in time and place), even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Additional verses Mark 16:15-16, John 3:1-8 Romans 6:1-6,17 1Peter 4:21 any many more. To be truly save we must confess with our mouth and believe in our heart, Romans 10, we must endure unto the end Matthew 10, saved by hope Romans 8, must have faith to please God Hebrews 11 (how can one be saved if they don’t please God), saved by grace Ephesian 2, saved by faith and works (not the works of the law of Moses but of righteousness) James 2 (faith or belief is a work John 6:28-29). All of these points, of which baptism is one must be part of salvation, we cannot isolate one or two and expect to meet the mandated of the Savior.

  4. Thank you for your perspective on this topic of Calvinism. I find that most Calvinists cling to their belief in eternal security, regardless of what kind of life they’re living. It’s as though they refuse to depart from sinful ways and behaviors, and fall back on the excuse that man is depraved and cannot help but sin.
    I believe we all sin, but to claim to be spirit filled while living purposely in sin is upsetting to me. I just don’t understand why they cannot see that we are new creatures and that we can turn from sin, rebuke it, and if we do fall, we repent and turn away, we don’t proudly wallow in it…
    Thanks again!

  5. In love I would point out that calvinism is here misrepresented. The version of calvinism portrayed in this article is really just licentiousness /antinomianism /hypocrisy. It has virtually nothing to do with reformed theology, and the reformed beliefs of the likes of Spurgeon, the puritans – and indeed, the morning time apostles.
    Ironically, the 5 points in this article under arminianism describe reformed theology much better than the attempt given at describing TULIP!
    For lack of space, I will try to be brief in explaining a few important points of Reformed theology /calvinism – what it really is, and not the passive, easy believism which false believers today advocate and which this article describes:
    ~ Firstly, reformed theology by no means and in no way dismisses man’s responsibility to repent, to believe unto Salvation, and to persevere. Rather, it’s that “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are twin truths” (John MacArthur). Man MUST respond to the gospel. However, it’s to acknowledge that for such to happen, God must make the first move. The article states, “He will save any repenting sinner who comes to Him through faith in His finished work at Calvary.” -Amen! The calvinistic view states no one who comes to Him shall be refused, and that no one in Hell will be able to complain their fate.
    ~ We do not know WHO are part of God’s elect. Therefore, we sound out God’s invitation to all men everywhere, knowing that the elect will respond, ie. that Christ’s sheep will hear Christ’s voice calling them out.
    Spurgeon: “If the Lord had put a yellow stripe down the backs of the elect, I’d go up and down the street lifting up shirt tails, finding out who had the yellow stripe, and then I’d give them the gospel. But God didn’t do it that way. He told me to preach the gospel to every creature that ‘whosoever will may come.'”
    ~ In the arminian view, man has whereof to glory. 《Consider this scenario: 2 men hear the gospel. The 1st repents unto salvation, the 2nd doesn’t. Does the 1st then have reason to boast against the 2nd for having the wisdom /discernment, etc. to come to God? Or does he acknowledge that it was all of God, that left to himself he would never have repented.》Does man have whereof he may glory? Calvinism says no, for all men alike are under sin, dead in trespasses, and if these dead bones are to live, GOD must quicken them. -Only then in light of God’s quickening of the sinner can he repent and believe. That is, regeneration precedes faith, and not vice-versa.
    ~The essence of reformed understanding is that GOD IS GOD, and that GOD IS GLORIFIED! God is God, He does everything for HIS glory; He’s sovereign and He does as He alone pleases. He does not wait for man’s approval or opinion of what He does. Yea, He opens and no man shuts, and He shuts and no man opens.
    Spurgeon: ‘The angels were no arminians – they sang “Glory to God in the Highest!”‘
    ~ Christ’s salvation is a perfect salvation. He is a perfect saviour. He came for those the Father had given Him, and He is able to save them to the uttermost. He successfully saves and keeps all that the Father gave Him. The arminian view portrays a weak, incapable saviour. It elevates man’s moral capacity and denigrates God’s salvation. The reformed understanding puts man in his proper place and gives all glory to God, in His sovereignty, in His character, and in His great salvation.
    ~Finally, as someone has said, “The calvinist says ‘Here’s what the Bible says.’ While the arminian says ‘Here’s what I think.'”
    And, “Calvinists are the exegetes, while arminians are the logic workers.”

    At any rate, may the Lord bless you.

  6. The arminian view mistakenly views the 5 points as separate theological issues. In fact, there is a simple way to understand the central teachings of the Bible. The 5 points can be viewed as 1) The state of man after the fall, 2) The will of God the Father in redemption, 3) The actions of God the Son in purchasing redemption, 4) The work of God the Spirit in applying redemption and 5) The condition of man after the Father, Son and Spirit has accomplished redemption.

    The Calvinist has no problem explaining each of the 5 points however, there are many passages the arminian simply refuses to address – for example:

    Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
    22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

    The fact is that God has created some for destruction and not for salvation.


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