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25 October, 2014

Calvinist & Reformed-Guidelines for Those Who Embrace the Doctrines of Grace - Part 2

J.C. Ryle, a favorite author among many Reformed people, was quite candid in stating:
Any religion, like that of Mahomet, who made converts with the sword, is not from above but from beneath. Any form of Christianity which burns men at the stake, in order to promote its own success, carries about it the stamp of an apostasy. That is the truest and best religion which does most to spread real, true peace (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Vol.4], pp.387-388).
In light of these statements, one wonders what Ryle, and even Reformed people today, would think of Calvin, who had Michael Servetus burned at the stake, or of Zwingli’s complicity in the drowning of the Anabaptists? These men, indeed, should have known better than to commit such evil deeds against other humans – particularly in the name of the Prince of Peace! But, as the old adage goes, "The best of men are men at best." For more on this, see Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1964); Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of A Hybrid (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1976); William R. Estep,The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans [Revised], 1996).

F. Rigid Clericalism/Unscriptural Ecclesiology. The Protestant Reformers as well as most Reformed churches today, have been unable to break with the strict clericalism which they have inherited from both Rome and Constantine. The Reformers were right in their soteriology (doctrine of salvation), but wrong in their ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). They rediscovered the Gospel, but were unable to fully recover the ecclesiology of the New Testament. Thus, in many respects, the Reformation was only a partial reformation. Not only did the Reformers fail to break with the rigid clericalism of their past (including the error of infant baptism), but church attendance in Protestant territories was compulsory. Thus, believers and unbelievers were forced to gather together under the same church membership:
It is one of the incredible paradoxes of history that the Reformers, who so boldly and effectively recaptured the Gospel of grace from its medieval distortion and restored the central message of justification by faith, should have retained the mass church of the mixed multitude, the territorial church of the Constantinian compromise, in which real faith was not a requirement for membership (H. Bender, These Are My People, p.70).
Unfortunately, much of the ecclesiology within our historic Reformed denominations is fraught with practices and cherished traditions which run counter to the New Testament. For further study, see Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1986); William A. Beckham, The Second Reformation(Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1995); Greg Ogden, The New Reformation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990); Frank A. Viola, Rethinking the Wineskin (Brandon, FL: Present Testimony Ministry, 1997); Alex R. Hay, The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary (Published by the New Testament Missionary Union, 1947).
 
III. Don’t View Any Period of Church History as Perfect (e.g., the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century), Nor Any Particular Group of Christians (e.g., the Reformers, Puritans, Anabaptists).
1. We must value the spiritual contributions of different men and different periods of time within church history, but never idolize them.

2. We must be willing to look at both the good as well as the faults of our spiritual and theological heroes.

3. We must seek to guard ourselves from the error of a party-spirit as well as from making a virtual pope out of Calvin or Luther – something which, by the way, the apostle Paul explicitly told us not to do (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-6; 4:1).

4. When we fail to realize the faults of our spiritual/theological heroes, or when we are guilty of idolizing the past, we end up:

A. Making man the measure or standard of righteousness, instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. We fail to see the progression of church history and end up chained to the past – not recognizing that each period of history has its own unique contribution and blessing (including ours in the twenty-first century).

C. Romanticizing the past ("the good-old days"). We end up viewing history from a romanticized perspective, rather than from reality, which includes both great achievements as well as great down-falls. If even the Bible records the failures and sins of the greatest saints (e.g., David, Peter, et al.), why should we then ignore the faults of lesser saints throughout church history (e.g., Calvin, Luther, et al.)? Perhaps one of the major reasons why God allowed the failures of various biblical characters to be recorded, is so that we would not idolize such persons nor form theological parties around them. For those willing to look at the faults of our Reformation and Puritan heroes – not for the purpose of discrediting them, but for the purpose of seeing a true picture – I recommend the following: Thomas N. Smith, "The Perils of Puritanism," Reformation & Revival [Journal]: Puritanism I (Spring – 1996, Vol.5/No.2), pp.83-99; Jon Zens, "What Can We Learn From Reformation History?" Baptist Reformation Review (Autumn – 1978, Vol.7/No.3), pp.1-13; Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1964).
 
IV. Because We Have Been Given Greater Scriptural Insight, Calvinists Should Be the Model of Humility and Love.

1. Consider the grace and blessings which God has lavished upon you: He could have chosen to create you into a mouse or even a cockroach but, instead, chose to make you into a member of the human race; He could have chosen to plant you in the most remote and harshest place on this planet but, instead, chose to plant you in the free and prosperous land of America; He could have left you in sin and darkness but, instead, chose to redeem you and adopt you as His child through Christ Jesus; And He could have left you in your Arminian confusion but, instead, chose to graciously reveal the Doctrines of Grace to you. Therefore, do you have any excuse for pride or arrogance toward others – particularly toward our Arminian brethren? As the apostle Paul says, "For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).

2. Because of the tendency to become prideful over the Doctrines of Grace (1 Corinthians 8:1), we must continually remind ourselves of the words of our Lord: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35; cf. John 15:12,17; Romans 12:3,10; 1 Corinthians 13:4,13; Ephesians 4:1-3,32; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 3:14-18; 4:11). For further study, I highly recommend: Jonathan Edwards, Charity and its Fruits (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust [Reprint], 1969).

3. Seek to cultivate and improve such spiritual characteristics as patience, kindness, and non-retaliation. Robert Chapman, whom Spurgeon considered to be the most saintliest man he ever knew, once said: "There are many who preach Christ, but not so many who live Christ. My great aim will be to live Christ" (Robert L. Peterson,Robert Chapman: A Biography [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1995] p.29). This, likewise, should be the goal of the Calvinist (or any believer for that matter).

4. The only way to reverse the common assumption that Calvinists are haughty and proud, is to simply not behave in this way.

5. Although those who adhere to the precious Doctrines of Grace should be ready always to articulate and explain their beliefs, we must be careful to not go looking for debates or disputes with our Arminian brethren – as Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:3, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Let us also remember that we do not always have to have the last word, nor is it necessary to always "win the debate" – as Spurgeon wisely warned his own students at The Pastor’s College:
In all probability, sensible conversation will sometimes drift into controversy, and here many a good man runs upon a snag. The sensible minister will be particularly gentle in argument. He, above all men, should not make the mistake of fancying that there is force in temper, and power in speaking angrily. A heathen who stood in a crowd in Calcutta, listening to a missionary disputing with a Brahmin, said he knew which was right though he did not understand the language – he knew that he was in the wrong who lost his temper first. For the most part, that is a very accurate way of judging. Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections (Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Reprint, 1977] Vol.1, p.188).