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24 October, 2014

Practical & Theological Guidelines for Those Who Embrace the Doctrines of Grace

I. Recognize that Salvation is Broader than the Calvinist Camp.
1. All of us, at one time or another, were Arminian in our thinking. A professing Arminian may be just as unregenerate as a professing Calvinist, but one’s adherence to Arminian theology does not necessarily exclude them from the kingdom of God. It is disturbing to hear some Calvinists assign all Arminians to the lowest abyss while conveniently forgetting that they too, at one time, were Arminians. Although the great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield, had his differences with the staunch Arminian John Wesley, he was able to see the hand of God in Wesley’s ministry and count him as a brother in Christ. Thus, we must be patient with our brethren and recognize that both ethical and theological maturity takes time. In fact, there are some truths that, for whatever reason, we may not yet be ready to receive – as Jesus told His own disciples, "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12).
2. God commands us to accept one another in Christ, in spite of our differences (Romans 14:1; 15:7). If Christ has accepted our Arminian brethren, who are we to reject them? The 19th century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, once said:
We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians – not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus (New Park Street Pulpit [London: Passmore & Alabaster, Vol.6] p.303).
In another place, he also said:
Far be it from me to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views (cited in Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966] p.65).
3. Most Arminians reject the Doctrines of Grace out of gross ignorance, misunderstanding, or misrepresentation on the part of sincere, but misinformed Calvinist’s. Thus, often they are not rejecting genuine Calvinism, but distortions of it. One’s heart may be right, while one’s head may be wrong.
4. Calvinism is not the Gospel. One is not saved by a proper understanding of election, Divine sovereignty, or the extent of the atonement. These issues, no doubt, are important, but they are not the core of the Gospel; they indirectly relate to the Gospel (as do many other Biblical teachings), but are not the essence of it. The puritan, John Bradford, stated: "Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination." In the same way that it is wrong to detract from the Gospel message, so it is wrong to add to the Gospel message one’s particular theology. Once again, this is not to deny that the five-points of Calvinism are not important matters; but simply to point out that the minute one makes mandatory for salvation a correct understanding of election, effectual calling, or the extent of the atonement (regardless of how true they might be), they are guilty of adding to the Gospel. This is usually the error of young, zealous Calvinists (although not always), but to use the words of James, "My brethren, these things ought not to be this way" (James 3:10).
 
II. Don’t Make the Mistake of Accepting Everything "Reformed" or "Calvinistic."
1. Scripture alone is the final standard of authority for doctrine and practice (Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21), not Luther, Calvin, Owen, or any other great Reformed theologian. This is not to deny that these men – and men from other theological traditions – have made great spiritual contributions to the church, but only that they are not the final arbiters of truth. I know that many Reformed people would assent to this, but how many truly practice it? If we accept everything under the banner of "Reformed" or "Calvinistic," without serious scriptural investigation, are we truly practicing "Sola Scriptura"? Let us not make a pope out of Calvin, Luther, or any other mere mortal (Jeremiah 17:5).
2. Be very careful about accepting entire systems of theology (e.g., Covenant theology, Dispensationalism). Most often, the truth is found somewhere in the middle – and usually, a system of theology contains a part of the truth, but not the whole of it. It appears that God has spread His truth throughout various theological traditions (Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) so that we might not put our trust in men or institutions, but in the testimony of God’s Word.
3. The truth is, some aspects of Reformed theology are erroneous.
A. Infant Baptism. For a thorough evaluation and refutation of this doctrine, see Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism & The Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1978); T.E. Watson, Baptism Not For Infants (Worthing, England: Henry E. Walter, 1962); Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications [Reprint]); Greg Welty, A Critical Evaluation of Infant Baptism (Fullerton, CA: Reformed Baptist Publications, n.d.).
B. The Covenant of Grace. For a critique of this view, see Jon Zens, "Is There A ‘Covenant of Grace’?" Baptist Reformation Review (Autumn – 1977, Vol.6/No.3), pp.43-53; Richard L. Mayhue, "Hebrews 13:20: Covenant of Grace or New Covenant: An Exegetical Note," The Master’s Seminary Journal (Fall – 1996, Vol.7/No.2), pp.251-257.
C. The Reformed View of the Law. For an evaluation and critique of the traditional view of the Law and its relationship to the believer under the New Covenant, see Douglas J. Moo, "The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View," [Chapter 5] in The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993); "‘This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!’: The Foundation for New Covenant Ethics and Ecclesiology," [ed. Jon Zens] Searching Together (Summer – Winter, 1997, Vol.25/1,2,3); Fred G. Zaspel, "Divine Law: A New Covenant Perspective," Reformation & Revivial [Journal] (Summer – 1997, Vol.6/No.3); Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1988); John G. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1989).
D. Theonomy. In fairness, not everyone who is Reformed accepts Theonomy or Christian Reconstructionism. I have noticed, however, that many who embrace the Doctrines of Grace, make the unfortunate mistake of accepting Theonomy. For a critique of this unscriptural system, see Jon Zens, "Moses in the Millennium: An Appraisal of Christian Reconstructionism," Searching Together (Vol. 17:2,3,4 – 1988); [eds. William S. Barker & W.R. Godfrey] Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
E. The Protestant Reformers Persecuted the Anabaptists and Catholics as Well as Sanctioned the Use of the Sword Against their Opponents. The Reformers had no scriptural authority to malign, persecute, and even kill such groups as the Anabaptists and Roman Catholics. While this is no longer a practice among those who are Reformed, there were many prominent Reformation theologians who thought it was perfectly acceptable – even to the point of citing Scripture for its justification (e.g., Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, et al.). This, once again, demonstrates how important it is to not accept everything that comes from the pen of our Reformation heroes since, not only did they err in their interpretation of Scripture at points, but they sometimes engaged in great acts of sin. The late historian, William Warren Sweet, was correct when he said:

There is a widespread notion among Protestant groups that the separation of church and state, and thus religious liberty, was one of the immediate products of the Reformation, that the early Protestants were advocates of a large tolerance, and that religious liberty was but the logical development of the principles held by all the Reformers. Just where this notion arose is difficult to say, and no reputable historian of our times would endorse it. The fact is that the rise of Protestantism was accompanied by an unprecedented outburst of intolerance (Religion in Colonial America, p.320).