Daily Archives: February 22, 2012

Answering an Arminian’s Charges: Part One on Limited Atonement

I had a recent exchange with a former member of the church and his position against Calvinism. Since he was public in his point of view and a former elder, I have no problems answering him publicly and do so for the benefit of the flock entrusted to me. He shall go nameless, and will remain so unless he chooses to respond. I really wanted to leave this be, but given that the effects of those who think and teach this way are so pervasive among the flock entrusted to me and the other elders by Our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ, I feel compelled to answer.

Allow me to say upfront that when I say the word Calvinist, I do not mean by it that I get up on the morning and read from John Calvin’s work for my quiet time. I do not mean by the term that I follow John Calvin and that he is any way my LORD and Savior. He is not. He is a fallen man that I believed was simply used by God during his time to express clearly what the gospel was and is according to Scripture. This form of theology is only held to where Scripture confirms it, and where Scripture does not confirm it, we distance ourselves from such things. The Bible is our guide and God’s glory is our goal in understanding how we view the world in which we live.

The opposing view to Calvinist doctrine is Arminianism, which was started by Jacob Arminius. He was a Dutch theologian who lived in the 1600s and he opposed Calvinism with his views. If you are a protestant living today, you fall into either one or the others camp.

My antagonist here will say that he is neither Arminian nor Calvinist, but that he is a biblicist. This is nothing more than an arrogant attempt to sound pious by saying that he holds only to what the Bible says. Let me be clear, both sides hold to what the Bible says, in that we appeal to the Bible for our views. However, I must confess than when I see what the Arminians are saying… it seems they do a lot of disregarding what the Bible actually says. They also do a lot of reinterpretation. For instance, the latest that I have heard is that when it comes to the word “elect,” they are actually saying that God elects “everyone.” This view is unsupportable as I hope you will see.

To the letter:

My position was stated as clearly as possible to the congregation in writing, but those writings seem to have been suppressed as I stated in my resignation letter. Please consider this my position as delineated to the elders of First Christian regarding Calvinism:

The theory which is today commonly known by the name Calvinism was first introduced by Augustine in the fourth century.

Yes, both men agreed on a lot of things because they were drawing their beliefs from Scripture. When the Bible is the place of our beliefs, we tend to agree on a lot of points. John Calvin appealed to Augustine to help show that he (Calvin) was not out of line with Christian orthodoxy, but that it was the Roman Catholic Church that was in error. He was using Augustine, one whom the RCC claimed as a pope, to show their error.

Calvin did not agree on all points with Augustine. But on the main issues, they were in agreement, as are those in the Reformed camp today. The reason this is so, is because these truths that both Calvin, Augustine, and those who are Reformed hold to, are biblical truths (Please note that I was accused of being a Calvinist before I knew what a Calvinist was. Why? Because I was preaching and teaching what Ephesians and the Gospel of John taught us.)

He taught that Christ did not die for all men, but for a chosen few whom God had chosen and predestinated to become His children.

This really is one of those questions that separate Calvinists and Arminians. Who does Jesus truly die for? Most in evangelical circles will start screaming John 3:16!, John 3:16! But those of you who know me know that I reject using John 3:16 for the answer to every Arminian affirmation. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world, not that Jesus died for every single soul to walk the earth. As was recently pointed out by Stan in the comments section, the “so” in that verse is qualitative, not quantitative. In other worlds, God loves the world in a certain way, that He gave His Son. Not that He loved everyone without exception.

This topic is really under the heading of limited atonement, or, what many like to call as particular redemption. The atonement is not limited in its ability, but limited to those whom it is applied to. The Arminians want to say that the atonement applies to all, and it is our responsibility to make it apply to us. Calvinists are saying that it only applies to the elect. In other words, we believe that Christ’s atonement is complete and not faulty at all. He doesn’t need our help in saving us. What He did on the cross was completely sufficient for all who believe and there is nothing that needs to be done by us in order to be saved.

The Arminians, on the other hand, believe that Christ’s atoning work made it possible for all to be saved and only those who really work hard enough will actually be saved. This is basically works theology and human-centered theology. That is the crux of the difference when it comes to our view. Arminians want to say it is about us and our choices, while Calvinist declare that it is God and His Sovereign will.

But back to particular redemption. Why is it that Calvinists hold to this position? We do so because we believe that God’s sovereign and declare will is that there are a certain number of elect and Christ will save everyone completely who is elect. I know, this idea of election causes many to bluster at the thought, but is is Scriptural. We get the idea from verses like Deuteronomy 7:6-8; John 13:18; Romans 9:11-24; 11:5-6; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Timothy 2:19; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2, 15, 2:4, 9, 21; 2 Peter 1:10, just to name a few verses.)

The idea of particular redemption stems from this concept of election. Not only did God choose those whom He planned to save before the foundations of the world were laid, but He also guaranteed that they would be saved by Christ’s work on the cross. In other words, His atonement is certain because it doesn’t rest or reside in the one being saved, but in the One who is doing the saving.

Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. The appointment stems from His election of us. This isn’t based upon anything in us, but because of His own free, immutable and contingent-free will. Before Adam had sinned, God had already decreed whom He would save and whom He would leave to their sin. In this election, He determined that we would be free from His wrath because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Christ died for us, the elect. He didn’t die for those who are not the elect. To do so would mean that His death was powerless, otherwise if He died for all, all would be saved. However, we know this not to be true.

This last statement ruffles the feathers of those who seek to let their entire theological view be informed by John 3:16. Their argument is that Christ died for everyone in the world without exception. But… the text doesn’t say that. It said that God so loved the world that He gave His Son that WHOSOEVER believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.

Only those who believe in Him will benefit from His death. Those who do not believe in Him will not benefit from His death, for they were not destined to believe or benefit from the cross. Who is Christ’s atoning work effectual for? Those who believe AND those who don’t believe, or just those who believe? Calvinist believe that His death is completely effectual for the elect, because this is who Jesus died for.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. Notice who Christ gave Himself for. It was not the world, but the church, those who believe in Him. His purpose is to take the elect, cleanse them and make the ready for the great marriage feast to come. In fact, the Father predestined those who believe to be blameless, holy and spotless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). His death accomplishes this decision by the Father completely. His death on the cross was the specific means for bringing His elect into this holy condition and to make those who are His elect His sons. How? By Jesus Christ Himself (Ephesians 1:5).

This act of grace is not for the world or the non-elect, but for those who are His and have been predetermined to be His. Let me state it again, Christ gave Himself for the church, not for the world.

Paul will say this again in Galatians 1:3-5 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Again, who did He die for? The text says that He gave Himself for our sins, so that we would be delivered from this present again, according to the will of God our Father, and not our wills (John 1:12-13).

Do you see a constant reoccurring theme here? Over and over again, I appeal to Scripture to make my case. I don’t just appeal to ONE verse, but many. I don’t just rest on twisting one verse, like John 3:16, but let Scripture support what I believe.

OK, let’s look as some more verses on this topic. Look at what Christ says about His own people and His own death. John 10:14-15 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. Notice who Jesus say He lays His life down for… His sheep, who know His voice. He doesn’t lay His life down for the goats, but those who belong to Him.

Jesus also goes on to rebuke those who do not believe in 10:26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. It is very simple, those who believe in Him for salvation are His elect. He died for His elect. He rejects those who do not believe because they are not His sheep.

One final verse. Jesus also says that those who are His sheep, not only believe, but also follow Him as well. John 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. We see that intimate knowledge by Our Lord. He knows them. He doesn’t just die for us, call us, and redeem us, but He knows us. Those of us who belong to Him, listen to His words and believe as He has taught us.

This is why Calvinists believe in particular redemption. This is why we say that Jesus died for those who are His. We say it and believe it because He said it, and both Peter and Paul said it. This is not a doctrine that we have come up with on our own, but one in which our very LORD gave us. If you do not believe it, perhaps you should ask the question: “Am I really one of HIS?”

Now, let us go back to the words of my antagonist. He writes:

He taught that Christ did not die for all men, but for a chosen few whom God had chosen and predestinated to become His children.

It is true, Calvin did teach these things. He taught these things because Jesus taught these things, so did Paul, and so did Peter. Our antagonist doesn’t offer any proof against this position, he just blasts it and move on. This is the case for so many who rail against Calvinism. They just accept whatever sounds good without looking at the biblical reasons we hold to the positions we do. They think in attack us they are doing the gospel a favor. But they are not. It is better to believe in the truth given to us by God, than try to water it down and make it acceptable to men. I admit, these truths are difficult. But they are the truths of Scripture and we need to try our best to understand them and teach them.