Church History, Gnosticism and Calvinism

I know I irritate Calvinists on here from time to time. I do this for two reasons:

1) Calvinism is wrong
2) It’s my blog

I honestly think Calvinism is bad stuff and a view of church history shows I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’d encourage you to watch the following video. If you disagree, that’s fine, but it demonstrates one main reason why I don’t buy into Calvinism.

15 thoughts on “Church History, Gnosticism and Calvinism”

  1. “The early Church believed that man had free will by nature, and could choose between good and evil.” Rom 6:16-22 and (Gal 3:10 and Eph 2:3 and John 3:36) and (1 John 3:8–10 and John 8:44 and 1 John 5:19) and 1 Cor 2:14 beg to differ. Indeed, Evans & Coder put it beautifully in “The great doctrines of the Bible” as follows:

    [As a result of the Fall] … The understanding is darkened (Eph 4:18; 1 Cor 2:14); the heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer 17:9, 10); the mind and conscience are defiled (Gen 6:5; Titus 1:15); the flesh and spirit are defiled (2 Cor 7:5); the will is enfeebled (Rom 7:18); and we are utterly destitute of any Godlike qualities which meet the requirements of God’s holiness (Rom 7:18).
    What does all this mean? A H Strong, in his Systematic Theology, explains the matter somewhat as follows: It does not mean the entire absence of conscience (John 8:9); nor of all moral qualities (Mark 10:21); nor that men are prone to every kind of sin (for some sins exclude others). It does mean, however, that man is totally destitute of love to God which is the all absorbing commandment of the law (John 5:42); that the natural man has an aversion to God (Rom 8:7); that all that is stated under (6) above is true of man; that man is in possession of a nature that is constantly on the downgrade, and from the dominion of which he is totally unable to free himself (Rom. 7:18, 23).

    This guy draws some interesting conclusions from his historical studies, but for me it’s always going to be Sola Scriptura!

  2. “for me it’s always going to be Sola Scriptura!” he says after block quoting other people.

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist! Stay warm down under!

  3. Sola Scriptural is what we rely on. If you took all the men between now and then out of the picture we have only scripture. Scripture screams God’s sovereignty over all things. We are dead and out hearts desire nothing of God. People keep saying this one or that one corrupted everyone else. The truth is we are all corrupt! We are all dead! We all deserve hell! but God in His Grace saved some He gives us discernment to go to his Word and search the scriptures. If you want to debate with scripture please do.
    Sovereign grace is what you need to prove is false with scripture. Call it Calvinism or whatever you want but it is either grace alone or God plus man. Start taking out the word Calvinism and put in its place “Sovereign Grace” . This is where the debate should be.
    Man follows his heart. Man wants to be in control.He wants nothing to do with God, but God wants and does save His people.

  4. Thanks for this. I have struggled with this issue for many years, after seeing someone I love walk away from Christianity because of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. After a lot of study & thought I had rejected the notion of man’s lack of free will, but felt uneasy because I know my view does not agree with what is generally taught in most churches. However, I had decided it might be a mystery, not understandable to me in this life, because while there are many scriptures supporting free will, others are troublesome. Such as Rom. 9:10-22, Rom. 11:7-8, John 6:44. I would really like to understand how these fit in with the free will point of view. Also, what about losing one’s salvation? And what is original sin, then? I mean, we are born in sin, right? But the video seems to mainly address sins we commit, and there is a lot about obedience, but Christ is the one who saves us, right? Not to be argumentative, I really want to know.

  5. @ Jeff … LOL sir! Methinks you got my point nonetheless.
    @ Dustin … spot on!
    @ Heather … There is so much nobody is able to fathom about God and his ways. That you earnestly seek them is the key thing for me. We are all entitled to struggle with parts of Scripture, tradition, history, science, culture, etc and Jeff is very kind to acknowledge alternate ones whilst maintaining his own position with conviction. If I were to guess, I’d say that every single one of us will find we were a whole lot more wrong than right when we sit before the Lamb in Heaven, and also that what He desires is honest determination to hear the truth and apply it as best we can with the faculties and resources at our disposal.

    :o)

  6. Heather, your friend did not walk away because of Calvinism. They walked away because of Christ. If Christ calls you you will come to Him because you will want him. To say one looses their salvation is to say it was not much of a salvation in the first place. I came from a “free will” background, 32 to years to be exact. I came to believe in the Sovereign grace of God by trying to prove it wrong. Search the scriptures for yourself. This video is saying that we can’t trust the Word of God. It says that the Word of God is not right. Go back and look all through the Old Testament, God chose all throughout it, why would he change in the New Testament. This in fact is a very dangerous video, not because of Sovereignty but the infallibility of Scripture I just saw this video that has a little to do with this subject.

    Also check out http://www.ligonier.org/
    I ask you to weigh both views against scripture, I do not hate the Free will view, I just disagree with it. Don’t just stay on a certain web site watch both sides, that is why I am on this site in the first place :-) Know what you believe and why you believe it. Don’t believe anything just because some one told you something! If you have questions you can email me at casey329@hotmail.com

  7. Hi Jeff,
    This is a very interesting video. I have read a bit of Jesse Morrell’s writing online but I hadn’t watched any of his videos before. He does a very good job of presenting the history of free will in the ancient church. In the past I have been accused of being a semi-Pelagian because I believe that any person can recognize their need for a personal savior and believe. In some circles the mere accusation of such “heresy” is enough to close the discussion. Once the label has been applied no more thought is required.

  8. Hi Heather,

    It is sad to hear about your loved one who walked away from Christianity because of predestination (actually it is better called the Doctrine of Double Predestination). If you are still in contact with them you could mention that not all Christianity is tied to that belief. Under the Calvinist rendering of that doctrine it does make God responsible for all of the evil in the world (did God not “decree” everything in eternity past including good and evil?). If your friend is open to looking at the issue give him this link to “Calvinism: A Closer Look” by Daniel Gracely. Dan started out as a Calvinist and left it, but not Christianity, for the same reasons as your loved one.

  9. Hi Heather,

    A quick clarification. The Divine Decrees and double predestination are not one and the same and some of the Calvinists may point that out. However the Divine Decrees are behind all Calvinist doctrines. Everything happens because God decreed them to happen. This applies to faith and anything else you can think of. If God doesn’t decree everything then He is not absolutely sovereign and the whole system starts to break down (theirs not God’s).

  10. Glenn , Here are a few question
    Why does one come to Christ and others don’t?
    I am guessing that you believe in God’s foreknowledge, not His Sovereign will. Ultimately, when this view is subject to scrutiny, it logically undermines the very position it is seeking to assert.
    Here is a statement by John Hendryx on this subject, If God knew someone would choose hell even before He created them, then this was a fixed certainty (even before creation), so why would God go ahead and create them? It was obviously, in there view, still within His providence that these people be lost…..or if God already foreknew who would be saved then how can they continue to argue that God is trying to save every man? Certainly God already knows who the persons will be, so why would He send the Holy Spirit to those who He knows will reject Him?
    The ones who God saves, their names are written in the book of life before the foundation of the world(Rev. 13:8)
    For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Rom. 9:15
    So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy Rom. 9:16
    Has the potter no right over the clay? Romans 9:21
    Man will always choose against Christ because of his disposition to God. Man is dead spiritually and needs his heart of stone to be removed and a heart of flesh put in before he has any interest in seeking the God of the Bible. (Rom 3:11; Rom. 8: 7, 8; 1 Cor. 2:14)
    I always like to ask this question to people that argue with Sovereign Grace;
    If there is a room of 50 people and, lets say 4 come to believe and trust in Christ, why did the other 46 people not?
    Heather, we could send you back and forth to this and that video but it will just get more confusing! I would ask you to stick to scripture and ask yourself on each subject matter “Can this be if God is not Sovereign over all?”
    When bad things happen did the devil get the best of God or is God working out His sovereign plan out for good? Rom. 8:28-30

    This morning I was reading Luke 15:4-7 Christ will not loose one sheep. He will save all his sheep and the heavens will rejoice.
    Sheep are the only animal that cant survive in the wild, they need a Shepard. Why do you think Jesus used them as example for his people. I am a weak sheep, protected by a great Shepard!
    God Bless

  11. Hi Dustin,

    I will answer a few of your questions but I am sure that none of my answers will be to your satisfaction. I have been involved in discussions like this before and they have always generated more heat than light.

    You ask “Why does one come to Christ and others don’t?” and then anticipate my answer with your next statement. When you say that “I am guessing that you believe in God’s foreknowledge, not His Sovereign will” you are half right. I actually believe in both God’s sovereignty and his omniscience which all orthodox Christians agree to. What I don’t believe in is the Calvinist doctrine of God’s “absolute sovereignty” where God allowing any creature to make a true choice (the ability to accept or reject) violates God’s very essence. I also don’t believe that the Calvinist definition of foreknowledge is correct. The usual Calvinist definition of foreknowledge is that God knows everything because He decreed it all in eternity past. I believe that God knows everything that will happen but that He also knows what would happen if we made different decisions. This is a much broader definition of knowledge.

    William Lane Craig has dealt at length with objections like the one John Hendryx raises. As you know the arguments get complex but the short answer is that it isn’t God’s foreknowledge that makes the outcome a fixed certainty. The person who chooses to reject the Gospel does so of his own free will. If that person were to choose differently then God’s foreknowledge would be different (from eternity past). The fact that every event is fixed after it happens doesn’t mean it is fixed before it happens.

    I am quite familiar the passages of scripture that Calvinist theology uses to support their understanding of man’s inability. Rather than counter with a list of my own scripture passages I would like to suggest a series of blog posts written by Kevin Lane called “The Debaters Potter.” The Debaters Potter is a chapter by chapter review of Dr. James R. White’s “The Potter’s Freedom.” Kevin deals with each of the passages you mention at length.

    Glenn

  12. Glenn,
    You are right about the heated part, which is a wrong reaction to have because it shows our true selves coming to the surface from the heart. It becomes a pride issue instead of seeking the truth through scripture. You are also right about the back and forth with scripture. We must always make sure that the scripture we are using goes with the rest of the Bible and make sure it is in context.
    This may surprise you, but I along with every sovereign grace believer that I know believes every man has a free will. Man will always choose from his heart what he wants. In Romans 3 we see where Paul describes our deep down condition. How can a heart such as this seek a Holy and Righteous God? God allows man to be man and man sins. He decreed the fall but Satan and Adam sinned, not God. You and I sin not God. God doesn’t make us sin, he allow us to. Just as God allowed Josephs brothers to do the things they did but he used it for good. (Gen 50: 20) As for you, you meant evil against me, but God “meant it” for good. God uses all things for good. (Romans 8:28)

    We see all throughout scripture were God keeps a “remnant” out of the world for Himself, why is this? He has to, man will not come to Him, they have a choice but they never will choose Him. Man deserves everything he gets except grace.
    Again, I ask the question why do some come to know Christ and others do not? They hear the same message as others that come do. Were the ones that believed better off? Were they smarter? Did they try harder? I Don’t think this is the case. Why, we would have to say that they were called by a Sovereign Savior. Once He opens our eyes, ears, and heart we want nothing else. You have the right to reject Him but no one ever has that He has called. He has never lost one sheep.
    You don’t have to believe this to be saved but it is a comfort to know that this world and salvation is in the hands of a Sovereign God. To say one believes in a Sovereign God but not Sovereign grace is an impossibility. We must believe in a Sovereign God over all or we have put something else above God. Nothing surprises God, He wrote the book. To say anything else is to say something else wrote the book and He only read it. This is not my God. This is not the God of the Bible. Good discussion, it makes me did into the Word even more.
    God Bless

  13. Well I’m no Calvinist but appealing to the so-called “Church Fathers” is risky business. Of course if you’ve never read anything by these men, the few sentences that are quoted in the video might sound impressive, but let’s look at some of their “other stuff” which nobody quotes. Here’s a few excerpts. In this passage, “Clement” proves the resurrection:

    “Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays, a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sunm, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed. Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird he shows us the mightiness of his pwoer to fulfill his promise? – Clement of Rome, Epistle 1, chap. 24, 25, 26.

    Bear in mind that according to Neander’s church history, this epistle was “read in the first centuries aloud at divine service in many churches, even with the writings of the New Testament.” Now that you’re pondering that one, let’s look at Justin Martyr, who reveals to us the “real” reason why the armies of Israel had victory while Moses interceded:

    “…Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten…but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed, prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross.” – Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 90

    So you see, Israel prevailed, not because Moses prayed, but because he stretched out his hands in the form of a cross! Isn’t this what Protestants believe…? Okay, one last gem from Tertullian on baptism and church customs:

    “To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the gospel. [That is to say, three times as large.] Then, when we are taken up (as new-born children), we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honors. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign, namely, of the cross.”

    A pity there’s no space to quote from Tertullian’s “Treatise on the Soul”…it would be entertaining. But this is only a tip of the iceberg of the kind of gems you will find in the writings of the so-called Church Fathers, and little wonder that the church departed so quickly from the primitive faith when men like these were their leaders.

  14. His point was not so much to appeal to church fathers as it was to show that Augustine invented much of what calvinism now holds, it wasn’t around before him, except in gnostic philosophy.

  15. I’m not an expert on Augustine either, but I’m sure both views (or maybe there are many views) can find support in the Bible. Therefore, quoting the church fathers doesn’t mean much, especially since they also taught such strange things by mixing philosophy with the Scriptures.

    For myself, I believe God did set man’s will partly free again, so that he is can choose Christ as his Saviour, and therefore is morally accountable for NOT choosing Christ! (and therefore they are morally accountable for all their evil deeds which they did not need to commit, since Christ was available to them as a Saviour). And so God is right in making a judgment day for all men.

    Yet fallen man has no goodness within him, so cannot produce real righteousness with all his ability to choose.

    The point of God asking Cain to choose the right is simply because God knows that the Law is a schoolmaster to lead to Christ. Therefore, He encourages all men, even the unsaved, to do righteousness. This is the first step in salvation. Then when they try, and fail (as the man in Romans 7 did), they are ready for the next step, which is to come to Christ and receive that righteousness which the Law describes.

    The video (and the quotes from the church fathers) were not clear on this point. They left the impression that you could do good works without the new birth.

    But after trying and failing to do the righteousness which the Law commands, the first choice a sinner must make is to choose Christ. As far as real right-doing is concerned, this is really the only choice, but sin fools us, and makes us think we can get on pretty good with a bit of help from God.

    After the new birth, the person can then choose to do righteous deeds or not, since he has a source of goodness (the life of Christ) within himself again.

    So I don’t think the Reformers were wrong in emphasizing the utter fallen-ness of man’s nature. Perhaps they argued about it too much…that is a weakness we have inherited from them.

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