What We Believe About Systematic Theology – Part Two
By Bruce Zachary
This post is shared from the VELO Church Leaders Page
A. What is the difference Calvinism vs. Arminianism? Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology that attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the matter of salvation.Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564. Arminianism is named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609. Both systems can be summarized with five points.
- Calvinism holds to the total depravity of man while Arminianism holds to partial depravity. Total depravity states that every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin; therefore, human beings are unable to come to God on their own accord. Partial depravity states that every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin, but not to the extent that human beings are unable to place faith in God of their own accord. Note: classical Arminianism rejects “partial depravity” and holds a view very close to Calvinistic “total depravity.
- Calvinism includes the belief in unconditional election, while Arminianism believes in conditional election. Unconditional election is the view that God elects individuals to salvation based entirely on His will, not on anything inherently worthy in the individual. Conditional election states that God elects individuals to salvation based on His foreknowledge of who will believe in Christ unto salvation, thereby on the condition that the individual chooses God.
- Calvinism sees limited atonement, while Arminianism sees it as unlimited. This is the most controversial of the five points. Limited atonement is the belief that Jesus only died for the elect. Unlimited atonement is the belief that Jesus died for all, but that His death is not effectual until a person receives Him by faith.
- Calvinism includes the belief in irresistible grace, while Arminianism says that an individual can resist the grace of God. Irresistible grace argues that when God calls a person to salvation, that person will inevitably come to salvation. Resistible grace states that God calls all to salvation, but that many people resist and reject this call.
- Calvinism holds to perseverance of the saints while Arminianism holds to conditional salvation. Perseverance of the saints refers to the concept that a person who is elected by God will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him. Conditional salvation is the view that a believer in Christ can, of his/her own free will, turn away from Christ and thereby lose salvation. Note: many Arminians deny “conditional salvation” and instead hold to “eternal security.”
Conclusion: So, in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, who is correct? It is interesting to note that in the diversity of the body of Christ, there are all sorts of mixtures of Calvinism and Arminianism. There are five-point Calvinists and five-point Arminians, and at the same time three-point Calvinists and two-point Arminians. Many believers arrive at some sort of mixture of the two views. Ultimately, it is our view that both systems fail in that they attempt to explain the unexplainable. Human beings are incapable of fully grasping a concept such as this. Yes, God is absolutely sovereign and knows all. Yes, human beings are called to make a genuine decision to place faith in Christ unto salvation. These two facts seem contradictory to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense. The Scriptures teach both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. If you take either of these positions to an extreme, to the denying of the other, you’re likely to have problems.
B. End times matters:
The dispensational system results in a pre-millennial interpretation of Christ’s second coming and usually a pre-tribulational interpretation of the rapture.
- Pre-Trib rapture: Jesus promised that He would come again for His disciples so that where He is we shall be also [Jn.14:1-3]. The concept of the rapture is described in 1Th.4:17 where the living church is “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air so that we shall ever be with the Jesus. In Jereome’s Latin translation, the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Greekharpazo is raptuse which yields our English rapture. While we recognize there are differing views regarding the timing we believe the best evidence supports a pre-trib rapture. In essence, the church is delivered prior to the seven year Great Tribulation described in Revelation 6-19. Keep in mind the Rapture is not the same as 2nd coming [Mt.24] at the end the Tribulation.
Date-setting: no one knows the day or the hour however Jesus urged us to know the “Season” [Mt. 24:32-35 parable of the fig tree] or prophetic signs leading to His return. Why do we hold the view of a pre-trib rapture:
a. The church is not appointed to wrath (God’s judgment) [1Th.1:10,5:1-9]. God will not judge the righteous with the wicked [2Pet.2:5].
b. Attitude of expectancy: The exhortations to watch and be ready for His imminent return. We are told that Jesus comes as a thief in the night – unexpected, imminent. In the Olivet discourse [Mt.25] Jesus told a series of parables. The moral of each is to watch and be ready for His return at any time. The theme is, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” [Mt.24:42]. Paul, echoes the theme to the church at Thessolonica [1Th.5:1-4]. If the Lord would not return until the middle or end of the Great Tribulation then His return would not be unexpected. It appears to be God’s plan that every generation live in constant expectation of His imminent return.
c. Revelation 4-6: Rev.4:4 the 24 elders as representatives of the church, are present in heaven before the Great Tribulation. In Rev.5 as Jesus receives the title deed to the earth the 24 elders sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; or You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Only the church can sing the song of redemption. The chronology shows the church in heaven before God’s throne prior to the Great tribulation beginning in Rev.6.
d. OT types: Lot was removed before judgment of Sodom [Gen.18:23-19:25; 2Pet.2:7-9]; Enoch [Gen.5:24] and Elijah [2Ki.2:1-11] were “raptured” before judgment, and Daniel was gone as 3 Hebrews were cast into fire [Dan.3].
e. Israel and prophecy: Most end times problems occur when we replace Israel and the Church in passages. God is not through with Israel [Dan. 9-12. Romans 9-11]. In 1948 the nation state of Israel was established and this appears to be a key event in Biblical prophecy. Israel [the Jewish people who have yet to receive Christ] goes through the Tribulation not the Church. Noah and Daniel’s 3 friends are a picture of Israel preserved.
f. Arguments used to support the view that the church is present during the Tribulation:
i. The Last Trumpet: Some assert the last trumpet in 1Cor.15:51-52 is related to the seven trumpet judgments of Revelation, however the trumpet of the Rapture is sounded by God [1Cor 15:51-52, 1Th.4:16], whereas the trumpets of judgment are sounded by angels [Rev.8:13].
ii. Martyrs Rev.20:4-5: The martyrs that John sees and describes in heaven are tribulation saints not the church [Rev.7:13-14].
iii. The gathering of the elect Mt.24:29-31: Immediately after the tribulation Jesus gathers His elect. Although the church is frequently referred to as God’s elect, the Jews/Israel are also described as the elect. Here, the promise relates to Israel, not the church [Is.11:12].
iv. Antichrist makes war against the saints Dan.7:21, Rev.13:7: Since the Antichrist prevails against them they are not the church [Mt.16:18] but are tribulation saints [i.e. those who come to Christ during the tribulation].
g. Practical implications of a pre-Trib perspective: First, the expectation that Jesus could come at any time creates anurgency for the work of ministry to reach the lost as quickly as possible. Second, It helps to create a proper perspective of material blessings. We won’t cling as tightly to the things of the world if we believe we can leave this world at any moment. Third, it helps to establish and maintain purity in out lives [Mt.24:46, 1Jn.3:2-3]. We believe that the Lord is coming soon, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed [Rom. 13:11].
C. General Systematic Theology Notes:
- Descriptive vs. prescriptive hermeneutic: There are some passages that describe how the church functioned but they do not necessarily prescribe how the church must function. For example the church at Troas [Ac. 20:7-12] met on Sunday and they broke bread [presumably the Lord’s Supper]. This describes what they did but does not necessarily mandate that the church must meet on Sunday, as opposed to Saturday or any other day. Nor does it require the church to partake of communion every Sunday when it gathers.
- The negative vs. positive hermeneutic: Simply because a practice isn’t mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean the early church didn’t do it or that the church today shouldn’t do it. As long as a practice doesn’t violate a clear biblical principle then God has given you freedom to do it or not.