Calvinism is a system of theology developed by John Calvin (1509-1564) which has greatly influenced denominational teaching since the days of the Reformation. Actually, much of this doctrine finds its origin in the writings of Augustine (354-430) who lived during a period when religious leaders were debating the sovereignty of God and its relation to the free will of man. Pelagius (350-425) was a British monk who challenged the position held by Augustine. When the question was formally debated in Rome, the “church council” favored Augustine and condemned the teaching of Pelagius as heretical. All religious historians refer to this event as a crucial decision that changed the course of religion.
When the Protestant Reformation occurred 1100 years later, many of the doctrines of Catholicism were brought over to the new denominations being formed. Most of the early reformers were not trying to birth “new” churches. They were attempting to “reform” the Catholic Church by correcting errors which they believed had crept into the church. Such was true of the early work of John Calvin who made an attempt to bring Catholicism back to the old Augustinian principles emphasizing the sovereignty of God which he felt had been abandoned. Needless to say, he was rejected and had to flee for his life. Though his work was not received by the Catholic Church it has been indelibly stamped into the religious thought of the denominational world.
The most important facet for our study, however, is not the significance of this historical perspective but rather whether or not Calvinism correctly represents the teaching of the Bible. Calvin formulated five points in his system of theology which are commonly represented by the acrostic: TULIP. (l) Total Hereditary Depravity; (2) Unconditional Election; (3) Limited Atonement; (4) Irresistible Grace; and (5) Perseverance of the Saints.
“When Calvinists speak of man as being totally depraved, they mean that man’s nature is corrupt, perverse, and sinful throughout. The adjective ‘total’ does not mean that each sinner is as totally or completely corrupt in his actions and thought as it is possible for him to be. Instead, the word ‘total’ is used to indicate that the WHOLE of man’s being has been affected by sin. The corruption extends to EVERY PART of man, his body and soul; sin has affected all (the totality) of man’s faculties-his mind, his will, etc.” (THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM, by Steele & Thomas, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., p. 25)
“Man did not come from the hands of his Creator in this depraved, corrupt condition. God made Adam upright: there was no evil whatsoever in his nature. Originally, Adam’s will was free from the dominion of sin; he was under no natural compulsion to choose evil, but through his fall he brought spiritual death upon himself and all his posterity. He thereby plunged himself and the entire race into spiritual ruin and lost for himself and his descendants the ability to make right choices in the spiritual realm. His descendants are still free to choose-every man makes choices throughout his life-but inasmuch as Adam’s offspring are born with sinful natures, they do not have the ABILITY to choose spiritual good over evil. Consequently, man’s will is no longer free (i.e., free from the dominion of sin) as Adam’s will was free before the fall. Instead, man’s will, as the result of inherited depravity, is in bondage to his sinful nature.” (IBID.)
II. The Bible Teaches That Infants Are Sinless At Birth An Therefore “Safe” In God s Sight.
A. Otherwise, These Questions Must Be Answered In The Affirmative.
1. Was Christ born a sinner? He was born in the flesh, Gal. 4:4; “took part of the same,” Heb. 2:14-18; and was made “in the likeness of men,” Phil. 2:7. If inherited total depravity is true, how could it be so that Christ “knew no sin”? (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; I Pet. 2:22).
2. Is God depraved? We are the “offspring of God,” Acts 17:29; and He is the “Father of spirits,” Heb. 12:9; Eccl. 12:7.
3. Do children of Christians inherit a purified nature? If Adam’s posterity inherited the corrupt nature described after the fall, why do not the children of Christians inherit a purified nature after their conversion? (Acts 15:9; 1 Peter 1:22; Matt. 5:8).
B. An Infant Is Born Without Sin.
1. Ezek. 18:20 - A child inherits neither sin nor righteousness.
2. Matt. 19:14 - “To such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.” This shows the purity of a child. If one is totally depraved by inherited sin, then what could be the meaning of this passage?
3. Matt. 18:3 shows the attitude of a child is that which is essential to salvation. If children have a depraved nature this would make Jesus teach that one must become totally depraved to enter the kingdom! Absurd!
4. 2 Sam. 12:15-23 - David must have understood the eternal safety of an infant because when his child died, he ceased mourning and explained, “I shall go to him ...”
III. Under The Scope Of Divine Sovereignty God Has Granted Man A Free Will To Choose Whether To Obey Or Reject
A. As We Mature We Become Responsible For Our Own Actions.
1. Isa. 7:16 - At birth an infant is not morally responsible for his actions, but as one grows up he reaches an age wherein he is able “to refuse the evil and choose the good. “
2. The Greek verb “thelo” literally means “to will,” and it is used a number of times in the scriptures to describe the choice man has.
a. Luke 7:29-30: “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected ...” (i.e. Atheteo, “To thwart the efficacy of anything,” Thayer, p. 14). God desired that these men repent and be baptized, but they had the right not to comply, and they exercised it.
b. Matt. 23:37: The verb “thelo” is used twice in this passage:
(1) Jesus willed to save them: “ how oft would I have gathered ... “
(2) They voluntarily willed to reject: “and ye would not!”
B. Justice Demands That God Judge Each According To His Own Works.
1. The Jews understood this. They once accused God of being unjust because they thought He held them guilty for what their fathers had done. The Lord replied that He judged them according to their own deeds, Ezek. 18:25-32; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12.
2. Gal. 6:5: “For every man shall bear his own burden.”
C. Sinful Deeds, As Well As Repentance, Are Actions Performed By Responsible Choice.
1. Sin is the transgression of the law, 1 John 3:4. We “yield” ourselves to sin, Rom. 6:16,12-13.
2. James 1:13-15: Sin is the result of lust conceived and is not that which can be inherited. Only those who are of age and ability to be responsible for their choices (lust conceived) are held accountable as sinners. Only then does one become separated from God, Isa. 59:1-2.
3. Repentance likewise must be the choice of one who is brought back into relationship with God. Why would God command repentance if we do not have the ability to choose for ourselves?
a. Acts 17:30: He commands all men everywhere to repent!
b. Joel 2:12-13: Sinners are exhorted to turn unto the Lord, which implies they are of the age and ability to choose obedience, cf. Acts 2:38;8:12.
IV. The Scriptures Calvinist Use Do Not Teach Total Hereditary Depravity. (Examine Their Oft-Used Proof-texts.)
A. Romans 3:10-18
ANSWER: A careful reading bears out that this quotation does not apply to an inherited corruption of nature existing at birth, but to such as had corrupted themselves by wicked works.
1. Psalm 14 is quoted in this passage where David was talking about the condition existing m Israel. They had apostatized from God. Far from teaching inherited depravity, this shows that the Israelites had come to their sad state by having “done abominable works,” Psa. 14:1.
2. How could they have “gone aside and become filthy” (v. 3) if they were already born that way?
3. Could any of this be true of an infant?
a. “Throat is an open sepulchre”;
b. “Tongues used for deceit”;
c. “Mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
d. “Feet are swift to shed innocent blood.”
4. Not a single one of these descriptions fits a newborn infant, but all of these are applicable to adults who have turned from God and gone into sin.
B. Psalms 51:5
ANSWER: Whatever may be the meaning of this passage, nothing forces the conclusion that a baby is born with a soul already tainted by sin. Look at the dilemma if it does: (1) If depravity comes by inheritance through our father, then Psa. 51:5 is the wrong passage. (2) If depravity comes by inheritance through our mother, then Christ was depraved, Gal. 4:4! Two plausible answers may be given, but neither proves a child is born with inherited sin.
1. This verse may describe a sinful condition of his mother. If so, it would not prove the sin was imputed to the infant. Were the child to say, “In drunkenness my mother did conceive me,” no one would attribute drunkenness to the child.
2. This may describe the general condition of the world. If so, it would not necessarily mean the infant inherited this condition. Were the child to say, “In a world of cannibalism my mother did conceive me,” no one would conclude the child was automatically a cannibal at birth. He may later become one, but he must first be introduced to the practice.
C. Psalms 58:1-5
ANSWER: A careful reading shows this passage does not say they were born astray, but they “go astray as soon as born.”
1. This scripture uses strong, exaggerated language to describe the wickedness of the congregation and judges mentioned in the first verse.
2. How could these statements literally be true of infants?
a. “In heart ye work wickedness”: Children do not work wickedness at birth.
b. “They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies”: Infants cannot speak at all, which shows this is a hyperbole, i.e. a form of speech employing exaggeration.
c. Read David’s prayer for them in vv. 6-8: “Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth.” How could this refer to infants? Infants do not have teeth!
D. Ephesians 2:1-3
This is one of the favorite passages of those who teach inherited depravity. They lay down the premise that since man is “dead in sin” he can do nothing at all to remedy that condition. Being unable to do anything for himself, by reason of that death, man must be operated on by God in some miraculous way. The old Adamic nature, the carnal nature of man, must be broken up by a miracle, which they believe is the direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
ANSWER: The premise assumes too much. It equates spiritual death with physical death.
1. Paul told the Roman Christians that they had “died,” Rom. 6:2; and to the Colossians he wrote, “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,” Col. 3:3. Now if the dead are totally helpless and can do nothing at all, then the Christian finds himself in the same sad fix. He can “do nothing” either; he cannot even repent when he sins; he can do no works of righteousness! Obviously this reasoning is false.
2. The word “dead” simply indicates separation. Sinners are separated from God through their own sins and not the sin of Adam. Notice the ASV correctly translates the Greek text, “your transgressions ...” It does not say they were dead through Adam’s transgressions! This is set forth clearly in Isa. 59:1-2: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God ...”
3. Sin separates; the man who is dead in sin is separated from God. But the child of God has died to sin. So he is separated from sin and separated unto God. One is separated from God by sin; the other is separated unto God, having died to sin.
4. “Ye walked according to the course of this world...” (v. 2), and “were by nature the children of wrath” (v. 3). This means they lived according to the corrupt principles and practices which prevailed in the world at that time. “Nature” (phusis) may refer to that which is the result of physical law (Rom. 11:21,24; Gal. 2:15; Rom. 2:27), although neither “nature” nor the Bible tells us how sin can be so transmitted. Nature also refers to social customs and mores (1 Cor. 11:14). Sometimes “nature” is on God’s side as praise was given to the Gentiles who “do by nature the things contained in the law,” Rom. 2:14. The description in Eph. 2:3 represents a condition propagated by a continued way of life. Their usual practice (“by nature”) had come to be a condition wherein they lived as sinners (“children of wrath”).
E. Romans 5:12-19
ANSWER: Notice! “Death passed upon all men for that all have sinned.” It does not say, “for that Adam sinned.”
1. “Death reigned ... even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (v. 14). What an unexpected place to find proof we are not guilty of Adam’s sin. If we all sinned in Adam, then we would all be in “similitude” (likeness) of his sin.
2. “Life” in Christ is equated to “death” in Adam, Rom. 5:15-19.
a. Both came by “one” and abounded unto “many,” (v. 15),
b. “All men” are condemned as well as justified, (v. 18).
c. “Many” are made sinners as well as made righteous, (v. l9).
3. This passage supports universal salvation as much as it does universal inherited depravity, but actually neither one is taught. It does teach that spiritual death was introduced into the world by Adam just as spiritual life was brought into the world by Christ.
4. If Adam had introduced measles into the world, it would not necessarily mean that all his descendants would be born with measles. To say people are born subject to sin is far different from saying people are born sinners. By Adam’s sin conditions were brought about which make every person subject to temptation. By Christ’s resurrection He brought about conditions which made every person subject to righteousness-but each is by choice, not inheritance!
Calvinism stands or falls on the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity. If the claim be true that man does not have the ability to choose good over evil, then obviously no one could be righteous unless God makes him so. Such a doctrine not only denies the free will choice of man, it leaves God to blame if anyone is left lost and unchosen by Him, Acts 10:34-35; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-6. Therefore the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity is false not only because of its untenable consequences, but also because the doctrine itself contradicts plain scriptures which teach that each person is responsible for himself before God, Ezek. 18:20; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom 14:12.