Calvinists versus Non-Calvinists

Title: Calvinists versus Non-Calvinists
Category: Theology
Subject: Calvinism


Someone forwarded a Journal to me that deals with the debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. I have not read a lot from the Journal from the Baptist Center at a Baptist Seminary. I like that. I did appreciate this statement from David L. Allen: “I hope my Calvinist friends will acknowledge that the reason I and other Traditionalists are not Calvinists is not because we do not understand Calvinism, but because we actually do understand it, and find aspects of it inconsistent with Scripture. Without a reciprocal acknowledgment of these and similar factors, dialogue and progress in the debate is ultimately an exercise in futility.”

All in all, a lot of the space in the parts of the Journal that I have read is given to mellowing out the debate so no one will be offended. If you have ever talked with a radical Calvinist you will soon be convinced that the only one who would want to debate him is a radical Baptist (deliver me from either one).

QUESTION: Have you ever known a Calvinist who did not think his children were among the elected?

QUESTION: Why is it that the Presbyterians are not forming committees to study why a growing number of their members are becoming convinced that the whosoevers in the Bible mean just what they say? “Whosoever surely meaneth...”

QUESTION: What about the Old Testament? I had the distinct privilege of listening to Dr. J. Hardee Kennedy review the Book of Isaiah for pastors who were preparing to teach Isaiah in our January Bible Study. Now, let me stress here that even Dr. H. Leo Eddleman was impressed with “Judge” Kennedy’s knowledge of Hebrew - and according to J. Edgar Hoover, Leo Eddleman had “the best working knowledge of Hebrew of any non-Jew in the United States” at the time.

Dr. Kennedy read Isaiah 1:18 and then made a comment that has stood out in my mind ever since.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ASV)

[We used the ASV for all our studies when I was at Mississippi and NOBTS, but Dr. Kennedy may have read from his Hebrew OT]. The Holman Christian Standard Bible has:

“Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, HCSB)

Dr. Kennedy stressed that “they shall” assumes a response on the part of the believer - it assumes faith on the part of the one who hears this promise. Let me stress that Frank Stagg was once in a faculty meeting when Dr. Kennedy made a statement that involved a very long sentence (a paragraph, as one described it) and in the final clause he used a verb tense that did not agree with the one he used at the beginning. Dr. Stagg began laughing out loud. He said, “That is the first time I have ever heard Dr. Kennedy make a grammatical mistake.” We didn’t call him Judge Kennedy for no reason.

I cannot see anyway I could ever accept Calvinism, but can most assuredly love and respect a Calvinist. Years ago, I accepted an invitation to attend a Bible study at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, LA. They prayed for me when I was in a local hospital following my heart attack and I wanted to thank them. I picked up my son John and we drove over for their Tuesday Bible Study. We parked just as another car pulled in to my left. I was surprised when an Outback (that's a hat) led a stranger out of that car and across to open my door. Underneath the Outback hat was a man with ten earned doctorates - no joke (including an MD and a JD, and a host of PhDs). Someone asked “How?” - I asked “Why?”

There was another Baptist pastor there and he asked, “Are you a Calvinist,” and I assured him I was not.

Do I believe in predestination? Absolutely! Look at Romans 8:29-30:

“For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, HCSB)

Whom the Lord foreknew (redemptively), He predestined to be conformed so that he or she would be like Jesus Christ. All those who are redeemed He “predestined” (?) To be glorified. That is eternal security. (See John 10:28)

The following is an excerpt from my Bible Notebook (somewhere in between a critical commentary and a devotional commentary). I wrote this some 25 years ago. I was rather young when I began writing!!!

Notes on Romans, Chapter 8:


2:37 - PIERCED TO THE HEART. “ When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: ‘Brothers, what must we do?” The idea is to be pricked, or pierced as by a sharp instrument. They were under deep conviction. Genuine conviction of sin must precede repentance. Many today who profess faith in Christ seldom attend a worship service. You cannot tell them from lost people in the community. Perhaps Leonard Ravenhill was right in his charge that part of the problem is that we no longer have tears in our services. Possibly there is a connection between the shallow commitment of many Christians and the fact that they “joined the church” about the same way they join a civic club. There are few signs of deep conviction and repentance.

I was saved when I was twelve, called when I was thirteen, licensed when I was nineteen. Everyone in my high school knew I “was going to be a preacher”, so many were on their best behavior around me. In the community, there were a few who loved to try to shock me with their language and conduct, so I was not blind to the sin that was going on around me. I was protected by my parents from influences within our own extended family. They focused our attention on our local church, the Word of God, and the need to minister to others. In time, I pieced together stories of sin, bootlegging, violence, and avarice that would shock a lot of church members today. I have one picture, given to me by my maternal grandfather that reminds me of what a difference Jesus Christ has made in my life. Copies of that picture of a moonshine still in full operation is a reminder of the effect of sin in the life of key figures in my family tree.

There is one great-uncle in that picture who would never have used profane or vulgar language in the presence of a lady or a child. In fact, if he had heard some of the language used by church members today in mixed company used in the presence of a lady in his day, the offender would have been in serious danger. Some of those men came to know the Lord in time. My own grandfather, the most unforgettable character I have ever known, often told humorous stories about things that happened to friends and neighbors during Prohibition, but he was saved at some point and he was the first person to explain Isaiah 53 to me.

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta after World War II, I was protected, but not blind. When I read recently that many people outside the church fifty years ago lived a cleaner life than many people in the church today, the report resonated with me. A lot of people consumed alcoholic beverages in our dry state. They were not held up as good examples to us. There were those who used language as vile then as today, but seldom in the presence of ladies and children. I did not hear the references to body parts and body functions from lost neighbors, in mixed company, that I hear kids in the church use today.

People are not confronted with sin and its consequences from the pulpit. One popular television preacher says that he does not preach on sin or hell, and he does not talk about repentance because he just wants people to feel good! One church asked to see the songs a choir would sing when they came to their church on a tour. They didn’t want to hear anything “about blood or anything else that was gory that might offend these people out here.” If the preaching of he Gospel does not bring conviction of sin there is something wrong with that preaching. The preacher cannot create the conviction, but if he will preach the Word faithfully the Holy Spirit will take care of the conviction of sin.

WHAT MUST WE DO? This was the right question. They had just heard that they had crucified the Son of God and that God had raised Him from the dead. The Holy Spirit had convicted them of the fact that they were guilty.

2:38 - REPENT. “Repent,’ Peter said to them, ‘and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is a critical verse and we must understand what Peter says to those who have asked what they must do. The word “repent”denotes a change of mind and will which involves a change of conduct. The Greek shows that God demands an immediate and complete renunciation of sin. Peter is saying, “You need to change your heart and mind and do it now!”

This is important. There are no punctuation marks in the Greek, but the change in the grammatical construction demands a break in action. The Word “repent” is the second person, plural, imperative, active: You must (all) take this action.

BE BAPTIZED. There is a break here. This verb is third person, singular, imperative, passive. Let each person who does repent submit for baptism. Those who repent, and only those who repent, are to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Those who try to find a contradiction between this verse and the Great Commission fail to understand that no one can dissect the Godhead. We are to be baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but listing only one Name here does not violate the Great Commission.

Baptism is a transliteration of the word which can only mean to immerse, or dip. This was the only mode of baptism which adequately portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and it is the only mode that portrays what has taken place in the believer’s heart. It is a symbol of the death and burial of the old life which was dead in sin, and the new life in Christ. Paul wrote, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4, KJV).

LET ME REPEAT: It is very important that we understand something about the two verbs and they way they were used. As we have seen, REPENT is second person imperative plural active. What we have here is a Christian absolute, both doctrinally and experientially. They asked what they should do and he answered, “Repent, every one of you!” The imperative means they must take action. They would also understand that he meant do it now.

Now, the verb BE BAPTIZED is third person imperative singular passive. There is a break in the thought between “repent” and “let each of you be baptized” that is not indicated by our punctuation. All are commanded to repent. When the first command is obeyed, then each one (who obeys) should be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ. Baptismal regeneration is not taught in this passage. Peter is clear about that in 3:19 where baptism is not mentioned. This explanation is consistent with the rest of the NT.

FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS. This might well be translated “upon” the forgiveness of sins or “because of” the remission of your sins. We are baptized after repenting and receiving forgiveness of our sins.

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is promised to all those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He is not received through some second blessing at a later time. At the point of salvation the Holy Spirit indwells the heart of the believer - once for all time. This is the baptism in, or by the Holy Spirit. It does not have to be repeated. A distinction should be made between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Christians need to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily. We must confess our sins (1 John 1:9) and ask God to fill us with His Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

NOTE: This verse (1) rejects baptismal regeneration; (2) it rejects a second blessing by which the believer receives the Holy Spirit; and (3) it creates serious problems for hyper- Calvinism. [Does this not create a serious problem for strict Calvinists? Second person, plural, imperative, active - that means that everyone is commanded to repent, not just a select few! Why would Jesus command all to repent if only a select few could possibly obey Him?

2:39 - THE PROMISE. “For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” God has pledged to give this gift to as many as receive Him. God cannot break His promise. Every believer will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

YOUR CHILDREN. The same promise is made to your posterity. They must repent, whereupon they will be born again and receive the Holy Spirit, and then they must be baptized.

ALL WHO ARE FAR OFF. The same promise is made to all nations and races. Those who heard Peter that day could hardly have imagined the significance of those words. For that matter, Peter himself had a lot to learn and it would take a special revelation to prepare him to take the Gospel to the home of the Gentile, Cornelius. We can hardly read this without thinking of the conversion and call of Saul of Tarsus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

2:40 - MANY OTHER WORDS. “And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” Peter did what preachers are still doing when people are responding to the invitation to trust Jesus Christ. He kept on exhorting they to trust Him.

BE SAVED. Terms like “saved” and “salvation” may seem strange to lost people and to some who profess to be Christians, but it is Scriptural. Sinners still need to be saved. There are arrogant unbelievers who say, “I don’t need to be saved, I am not lost!” They clearly do not know the Scripture: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Paul also wrote, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

THIS CORRUPT GENERATION. History reveals that to have been a crooked and evil generation. The first chapter of Romans gives us an idea as to the sinfulness of the Gentile world of that day. The unregenerate world is always crooked and ungodly. Is the world any better today?

2:41 - THOSE WHO HAD RECEIVED HIS WORDS. “ So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them.” Not all who heard the Gospel received Christ as Savior. Those who did receive Him were baptized, by immersion, in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ABOUT THREE THOUSAND SOULS. Here we have the first OF MANY PROGRESS REPORTS in the Book of Acts. There will be many more. Luke reports that 3,000 people were saved and baptized that day. “Thus the ‘firstfruits’ were gathered in and presented to the Lord on this great day of ‘firstfruits” [WALKER: 57]. In addition to the phenomenal manifestations of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that day, we now add a phenomenal response to the first sermon preached in the power of the indwelling and empowering Spirit of God.

2:42 - CONTINUALLY DEVOTING THEMSELVES. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.” They “devoted themselves”! These were not fair weather Christians; they were not Sunday morning saints. They had found something more important than Monday night football, or a Saturday night movie. Most church members can only use these words in reference to work, recreation, or their social life. But when believers continually devote themselves to the Lord, they will find that the power of the Holy Spirit has not diminished, and His presence and influence in the life of Christians are just as wonderful today as they were then.

One man talked with me about his church, a mega-church that mushroomed almost overnight, as a former pastor reached out with his church growth plan, which included “marketing” his church in such a way as to make it a “regional church”. Many smaller churches in the area paid the price for it, as young adults left churches in which they had grown up in the area. My friend talked of visions the new pastor had of revival. It is interesting that any church that shows a great increase in members is “having a revival”. There has been no significant revival in America in decades, and there will be no revival until members of our churches repent and take the Gospel outside the walls of the sanctuary and transform their communities. There will be no revival in America comparable to the Great Awakening until Christians truly become the salt of the earth, and a light to a dark world. There will be no revival until church members take the Gospel home with them and apply it where it counts most - in the home. There is no sign of revival when church members seek vile, profane, evil entertainment, or when they permit their children to watch immorality portrayed humorously on television night after night.

Deeply committed parents are often shocked to discover that members of their Sunday School class allow their children to watch television programs or DVDs which are filled with profanity, obscenities, near nudity, disrespect for parents, and other things that should shock a Christian parent. It becomes a problem when children beg to spend the night with each other.

THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING. These people continually devoted themselves to divine truth, to the study of the Word of God. They wanted to know God in a personal and fulfilling relationship. When the Holy Spirit is permitted to direct one’s life there will be a commitment to a study of the Word of God. When I told my brother Mike that I was getting ready to go to a meeting of the board of trustees for LifeWay Christian Resources (2001), he asked me to “tell them to stop dumbing down our literature.” I asked him to write down what he wanted me to tell them. He wrote a four page letter, which I gave to then Vice President of LifeWay Church Resources Gene Mims. Gene turned it over to John Kramp, the man who would replace him as Vice President over this very important division which prints a vast assortment literature for 100, 000 churches. John Kramp and his assistants spent a lot of time with Mike’s appeal to give us some “hard core Bible study.” John called Mike and wrote to tell him that he made a valid point and that he was making a commitment to do just that. There is now a new undated curriculum that will take one through the Bible in seven years of serious Bible study.

It may have been at a later meeting in Glorieta, New Mexico that then President and CEO Jimmy Draper shared his list of BAPTIST ESSENTIALS with trustees (noting that Morris Chapman had a similar list). Dr. Draper gave me permission to use his list. He stated that “There are many Baptist distinctives (Baptism by immersion), but there are seven Baptist essentials every Baptist should know.

1. Salvation by grace, through faith, plus nothing (which demands security of believers).
2. Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
3. The Lordship of Jesus Christ
4. Autonomy of the local church
5. Religious Liberty
6. Trinitarian view of God
7. The Great Commission

It would be interesting to know how many Baptists actually know these “essentials”, or for that matter, can distinguish between the essentials and the distinctives. Baptists have been called the people of the Book, but most pastors are keenly aware of the fact that the people of the Book know very little about the Book. Some are highly offended if you try to get them into a study of the Bible. They had rather be entertained that hear expository sermons. As the late Vance Havner used to say, “They may sing, ‘I Stand Amazed’, but they had rather sit amused.”

Johnny L. Sanders