John Calvin was born in Noyon, France, in 1509 and was from a devout Roman Catholic family. He was placed on the Church payroll at the age of twelve and remained there for thirteen years. In 1528 Calvin's father, Gerald, and his brother, a Catholic priest, were both excommunicated from the church. Calvin's father then ordered John, who had been expected to enter the priesthood, to the study of law. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1531.

Some of Martin Luther's sermons reached Calvin and stirred him to vocal support of Luther's ideas. Because of this he was forced to flee Paris during a crackdown on dissenters. In 1534 he returned to Noyon to resign from the Bishop's employ, was arrested and imprisoned but managed to escape.
By the age of 26 Calvin finished his first work called the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Influenced by Augustine, a fourth century Catholic bishop, and the Latin Vulgate Bible, he masterfully developed his own brand of Christianity. Although it was later enlarged to five times the size of the original, he never made any radical departures from any of the doctrines in the first edition. A basic foundation of this new religious system was a view of God's sovereignty which denied the human will and considered the church to be God's kingdom on earth--both views inspired by Augustine's writings. 

Calvin determined to establish a beachhead for the kingdom of God on earth in Geneva, Switzerland, which ended with his expulsion from the city. However, three years later, faced with the threat of armed intervention by Roman Catholics, Geneva's city council invited him back. This time he succeeded in imposing his religion upon the citizens of Geneva with an iron hand. He returned in 1541 and his Ecclesiastical Ordinances were adopted. 

These ordinances included such things as the color and quantity of clothing, the number of dishes permissible at a meal and even the arranging of a woman's hair. Censorship of the press was taken over from the Catholics. To speak disrespectfully of Calvin or the clergy was a crime. Calvin imposed his brand of Christianity upon the citizens of Geneva with floggings, imprisonments, banishments and burnings at the stake. Between 1542 and 1564 there were 76 banishments and 58 executions out of a total population of 20,000.

In a letter written in 1561 Calvin wrote, ". . . do not fail to rid the country of those zealous scoundrels who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard."

In spite of these facts and the fact that he despised Anabaptists, some Baptists proudly wear the name "Calvinist." Please do not call me a Calvinist, I do not want to be associated with John Calvin.
People have asked me, "Are you a Calvinist or an Armenian?" I would like to know exactly who it was that determined I had to be one or the other. I am neither. I am a Baptist. That leads us into a short study of what today is called "Calvinism."

Calvinists do not agree among themselves but the basics are the same: God at some time in the past, for no particular reason, predestinated, predetermined or elected some people to be saved and the rest to be lost. Those elected to salvation are unable and incapable of trusting Christ so they must, by God's irresistible grace, be regenerated so that they can believe. The elect have no choice in the matter, they cannot resist. There is absolutely no way for a person who was not elected to be saved. Because the number of saved was already determined, Christ died only for the elect.

An extreme view of Calvinism is that God predestinated every thought, deed, action and occurrence. That includes the fall of Satan and the fall of Adam, making God the author of sin, evil and disaster. Man has no will of his own and is simply a puppet in God's huge play. 

Some Calvinists, as the Primitive Baptists, have reached the logical conclusion that if some people are elected to salvation and will be saved regardless of any human circumstances, then mission work is a waste of time and money. 

Most Calvinists adhere to the five points of Calvinism, which is expressed with the acronym TULIP.
        T stands for total depravity
        U stands for unconditional election
        L stands for limited atonement
        I stands for irresistible grace
        P stands for perseverance of the saints

The foundation of this system is what is called "total depravity" but actually means "total inability." That is, man in his sinful condition is not able to believe. Scriptures such as Ephesians 2:1 ("And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;") are quoted to show that man is spiritually dead. Then the point is made that a dead man cannot exercise faith and therefore a man must be made alive before he can believe. The problem with this reasoning is equating physical death with spiritual death. A dead man cannot believe but neither can he sin or do anything else, for that matter. 
"Unconditional election" means that God, for no particular reason, picked some people to be saved and left the rest to go to hell. The reasoning is that since all men are going to hell anyway, God is just in selecting a relatively few of them to save. For example, if ten people were drowning in the ocean and I arrived with a boat and selected two of them to save, I could reason that, even though I had the ability to save all ten, I was just in saving the two since all of them were going to drown anyway. 

Since God determined those he would save, Jesus died on the cross for only those elected. It is reasoned that the payment for the sins of those not elected would be wasted. This is called "limited atonement."
Since a man had absolutely nothing to do with his salvation and is incapable of believing, God must first regenerate him and then give him faith. The man has no choice in the matter. This is "irresistible grace."
Those elected will remain faithful to the end. If a person does not remain faithful, it is proof that he was not one of the elect.

I personally find Calvinism to be of little practical value. I find it difficult to understand God's predestination, foreknowledge and election. What I find very easy to understand are such Scriptures as, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), "And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17), "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2) and, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30).

Because of John Calvin and Calvinism, please do not call me a Calvinist.


by Raymond McAlister
July 2005