Why I am not a Calvinist

Calvinism

I am not a Calvinist. This may be a shock to some of you who know me, and those who don’t know me, well I doubt you worry as much!  Before there is total uproar at my statement, let me explain myself in this post.

Firstly being a ‘Calvinist’ means that you are labeling yourself a follower of Calvin. This has many problems, one of which is that Calvin was of course was just a man, a sinner, who should be looked at critically as with all reformers, so we can distance ourselves from treating them as ‘special’. Calvin, for example, was involved in the burning of a few Protestants at the stake for heresy, through hazy circumstances.  Something that has worrying connotations!  We should not be followers of a man who has a set of ideas; instead we should strive to class ourselves as followers of Christ, of the Way.  Therefore I am not a Calvinist, but instead a Christian, who focuses on the word of God before any works of man.  In 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, we see Paul’s appeal to the church not to follow men

11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas[b]’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? 

Christians shouldn’t be going round labelling themselves as a Calvinist, Lutheran, Arminian or such like because it can be a massive stumbling block. These are man-made traditions, and terms that smack of pride and smugness.   I’ve known scenarios when people have gone and said straight away “oh, I’m a Calvinist by the way”, it can be an immediate obstacle, if the other person in  this conversation didn’t believe in the ideas set forth by Calvin, it could cause division and even argument.  Such labelling detracts from the fact that, first and foremost we are followers of Christ and not of Calvin, Arminius or any other man.

So I recommend to all those who think that John Calvin was right with his ideas on the doctrines of Grace, to focus on the gospels. Don’t follow Calvin; instead centre your focus on Christ. If other Christians believe in the ideas set forth by Luther then cool, that’s fine, it is not something that should divide the church, and even when any fundamentals are compromised (as is sometimes tragically the case in the extreme wings of these theological positions), let us tackle the issue in love and prayer.

Secondly, Calvin’s ideas are somewhat problematic for me (and many others). These set of ideas are often referred to as the five points of Calvinism, otherwise known as ‘TULIP’.   The points can be huge stumbling blocks and should never really be preached from the pulpit on their own.  I personally disagree with the way Limited atonement and Irresistible Grace are set forth, by so-called ‘Calvinists’. They seem to contradict essential Gospel truths. I do think that they are red herrings, as it’s a debate that can split churches, families even.  Yet they do not change our attitude towards Christ.  The doctrines of Calvinism do not bring salvation and definitely should not be the main focus of our lives.  The point is: let us focus on the fundamentals, on the fact that Christ died for us and that we must be sent into the world to evangelise and do his will.  Josh would say he accepts the teachings of the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ and that is cool, personally I think it’s a better way of going around this whole subject of ‘Calvinism’!

This post isn’t meant to be long, full of lengthy paragraphs about who Calvin was as a man and explore deeply his theology. It is meant to be simply stating that we should not call ourselves ‘Calvinists’, that we shouldn’t follow a man, and that some people such as myself have a few problems with the term often called TULIP.  It is often said that the Doctrines of Grace or TULIP bring the assurance needed, and it might do.  In further study it may help, but remember the simple truth, that we know we are saved as God is love and thanks to the Spirit, we know his truth.  Knowing we have been accepted by God and can’t be let go is wonderful.  For quite a few Christians, being a so called ‘Calvinist’ leads them to smugness and puts themselves, puts man before God, before Christ.  We shouldn’t focus on what men teach, or on what they say is good for you, but on the cross and on what God has given us, his spirit and his love.  At the same time, I do not mean to offend any Calvinists or those who call them the doctrines of grace.  I love you brothers and sisters, and I accept most of what you say.  Being in a wide church means that we can disagree on these secondary issues, let us work together for Christ, whatever our secondary or tertiary thoughts are!

Let us therefore focus on the Cross, on Jesus, and give him our full attention. May we long for the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts and when we do disagree on issues such as those mentioned in this post, that we do with a brotherly love and listen to others and respect their views on the Bible.  I doubt any of us are 100% right, and we shall find out in heaven!

Author: Michael Sewell

Michael is a graduate from Winchester university with a BA and MA in history; he is now studying for his PhD. He loves football, music, history, games, books, movies, and above all Christ! He considers himself a social democrat and likes to be involved in politics. Michael is also a hopeless romantic, and is known for being crazy!

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