What Is Calvinism?

The Gospel Of The Reformation

Canons of Dort

Approximately 100 years after the start of the Reformation a religious controversy broke out in Holland. At stake was the Protestant-Reformation definition of the gospel. The results of that controversy were published as the Canons of Dort and are commonly known as the so-called Five Points of Calvinism.

Approximately 50 years after the death of John Calvin (he died in 1564), a man in Holland named Arminius began to challenge the reformed doctrine of salvation. While claiming to be reformed, he and his followers raised five questions concerning the gospel: the effect of sin upon man, the timing and effectiveness of grace, the purpose of the death of Christ, and the perseverance of the saints.

An international meeting of church leaders met in Dordrecht, Holland from November 1618 - May 1619 to find biblical answers to the five questions of Arminius and his followers. Attendees included leaders from Holland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and beyond.

The following is a very brief summary of their answers.

Question #1 - Human Corruption

The Bible teaches that God offered Adam life and death in the garden of Eden. Life was promised upon the condition of perfect obedience; death was promised upon the first sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, they lost their original righteousness. Their corruption put them under the sentence of death (Genesis 2:17) and God's wrath (Romans 1:18). This corruption of sin touched every part of their being, hence the phrase "total depravity."

Since all men have sinned in Adam and are under the curse and deserve eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if He left the whole human race in sin and under the curse of condemnation (Romans 5:12-19; 3:19, 23; 6:23).

Question #2 - Unmerited Grace

Because of sin's corruptive effect on every part of man\'s person (mind, body, and emotions), no one is able to earn salvation.

God is just in keeping His word to punish all who have sinned in Adam, but He has also graciously provided a way of salvation in Christ (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22). All who truly believe are freed from their sins and saved from eternal punishment by the death of Jesus Christ. They receive these benefits only through God's grace, given to them from eternity in Christ. God owes this grace to no one (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:4).

Question #3 - The Death of Christ

For what purpose did Christ die? Did Jesus die to make sinful mankind savable if they now would do the right thing? Or, did Jesus die to actually save sinners from the just judgment of God? Jesus says in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." In Hebrews 9:12 it is written that Christ "obtained eternal redemption" through His own blood. And the angel told Joseph in Matthew 1:21 "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."

These verses teach that Christ's life and death were not merely to make salvation possible if sinners would begin to do their part. On the contrary, Christ lived and died to actually save sinful man from the consequences of his own sin and God\'s holy judgment.

As Charles Spurgeon once said, "We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved."

Question #4 - Effectual Grace

The Bible tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus, the eternal living word of God is the one Who in the beginning created all things (John 1:1-4). The Word became flesh (John 1:14) in order to save sinners. With the same authority and power that the Word of God created the heavens and the earth, God now recreates sinful man in order that he will believe the gospel unto salvation. When Christ effectually calls a sinner out of the tomb of sin, His work of regeneration is not inferior to His power in the original creation or the raising of the dead. Just as Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb, so He is now calling sinners through the preaching of the gospel (John 11:40-44; 6:65; Romans 8:30).

Question #5 - Perseverance of the Saints

Once God effectually saves a sinner by His unmerited grace, He doesn't then leave it up to the believer to remain saved by his own works. As Paul says to the Galatians, "Having begun by faith are you now being perfected by works?" The apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." The same power of God that saves us and raises us from the dead also protects us for the day of glory (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Common Questions About Calvinism

Does Calvinism deny man has a free will?

No. Calvinism teaches the Bible's doctrine that man's will is free to choose according to its own nature. Because fallen man has a sinful nature he freely chooses sin over obedience to God's law (John 3:19).

Do Calvinists believe in missions and evangelism?

Absolutely! Repentance and faith ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Matthew 28:19).

If someone wants to be saved but is not elect, will that person go to hell anyway?

The Bible teaches that all who believe will be saved (John 3:16). It also teaches no one seeks for God, because all have turned aside, and have no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18). Left to ourselves, no one would ever believe God. Therefore, even saving faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29).

Isn't the Calvinist gospel unfair?

No. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It also teaches that the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). If God fairly gives to everyone what they deserve He will have to give eternal death. The Bible says in Psalm 130:3, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" Our hope is not in God's fairness, but His unmerited grace and mercy toward us in the obedience of Christ on behalf of sinners.