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Calvinism is a system of Christian theology and an approach to Christian life and thought, articulated by John Calvin, a Protestant Reformer in the 16th century, and subsequently by successors, associates, followers and admirers of Calvin and his interpretation of Scripture. The Reformed tradition is referred to by the roughly equivalent term Calvinism.

The Reformed tradition was originally advanced by stalwarts such as Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli, and also influenced English reformers such as Thomas Cranmer and John Jewel. However, because of Calvin's great influence and role in the confessional and ecclesiastical debates throughout the seventeenth century, this Reformed movement generally became known as Calvinism. Today, this term also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches, of which Calvin was an early leader. Though it is often over-emphasized by its detractors, Calvinism is perhaps best known for its doctrines of predestination and election.

Historical backgroundEdit

John Calvin's international influence on the development of the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation began at the age of 25, when he started work on his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1534 (published 1536). This work underwent a number of revisions in his lifetime, including an impressive French vernacular translation. Through it and together with his polemical and pastoral works, his contributions to confessional documents for use in churches, and a massive collection of commentaries on the Bible, Calvin had a direct personal influence on Protestantism. But he is only one of many, although eventually the most prominent influence, on the doctrine of the Reformed churches.

The rising importance of the Reformed churches, and of Calvin, belongs to the second phase of the Protestant Reformation, when evangelical churches began to form after Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin was a French exile in Geneva. He had signed the Lutheran Augsburg confession in 1540 but his influence was first felt in the Swiss Reformation, which was not Lutheran, but rather followed Huldrych Zwingli. It became evident early on that doctrine in the Reformed churches was developing in a direction independent of Luther's, under the influence of numerous writers and reformers, among whom Calvin eventually became pre-eminent. Much later, when his fame was attached to the Reformed churches, their whole body of doctrine came to be called Calvinism.

The spreading of CalvinismEdit

Although much of Calvin's practice was in Geneva, his publications spread his ideas of a correctly reformed church to many parts of Europe. Calvinism became the theological system of the majority in Scotland (see John Knox), the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and was influential in France, Hungary (especially in Transylvania) and Poland.

Most settlers in the American Mid-Atlantic and New England were Calvinists, including the Puritans and Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). Dutch Calvinist settlers were also the first successful European colonizers of South Africa, beginning in the 17th century, who became known as Boers or Afrikaners.

Sierra Leone was largely colonised by Calvinist settlers from Nova Scotia, who were largely Black Loyalists, blacks who had fought for the British during the American War of Independence. John Marrant had organized a congregation there under the auspices of the Huntingdon Connection.

Some of the largest Calvinist communions were started by 19th and 20th century missionaries; especially large are those in Korea and Nigeria.

General descriptionEdit

Interior of a Calvinist church
Calvinism has been known at times for its simple, unadorned churches and lifestyles, as depicted in this painting by Emmanuel de Witte where the 17th century congregation stands to hear a sermon.

Given that its present form has multiple main tributaries, the name "Calvinism" is somewhat misleading if taken to imply that every major feature of the doctrine of the "Calvinist churches", or of all Calvinist movements, can be found in the writings of Calvin. Others are often credited with as much of a final formative influence on what is now called Calvinism as Calvin himself did – for example Calvin's successor Theodore Beza, the Dutch theologian Franciscus Gomarus, the founder of the Presbyterian church, John Knox, and any number of later figures such as the English Baptist John Bunyan, the American preacher Jonathan Edwards, and Neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth.

Despite the various contributing streams of thought, the central issue in Calvinist theology that is often used to represent the whole is the system's particular soteriology (doctrine of salvation), which emphasizes that man is incapable of adding anything from himself to obtain salvation and that God alone is the initiator at every stage of salvation, including the formation of faith and every decision to follow Christ. This doctrine was definitively formulated and codified during the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which rejected an alternate system known as Arminianism.

Calvinism is sometimes called "Augustinianism" because the central issues of Calvinistic soteriology were articulated by St. Augustine in his dispute with the British monk Pelagius. In contrast to the free-will position advocated by Jakob Hermann and other dissenters (often labeled Pelagians, Semipelagians or Arminians), Calvinism places strong emphasis, not only on the abiding goodness of the original creation, but also on the total ruin of man's accomplishments and the frustration of the whole creation caused by sin, and it therefore views salvation as a new work of creation by God rather than a reward to, or an achievement of, those who are saved from sin and death.

More broadly, "Calvinism" is virtually synonymous with "Reformed Protestantism", encompassing the whole body of doctrine taught by Reformed churches. In addition to maintaining a Calvinist soteriology, one of the more important and distinctive features of this system is the regulative principle of worship, which in principle rejects any form of worship not explicitly instituted for the church in the Bible and which sets Reformed theology apart from Lutheranism, which holds to the normative principle of worship.

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Summaries of Calvinist theologyEdit

Sovereign graceEdit

Calvinism stresses the complete ruin of man's ethical nature against a backdrop of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It teaches that people are utterly unable to follow God or escape their condemnation before him and that only by drastic divine intervention in which God must overrule their unwilling hearts can people be turned from rebellion to willing obedience.

In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins but has chosen to be merciful to some in order to bring glory to his own name. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a willingness, a faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him. Although the person must act in order to believe and to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift according to Calvinism, and thus God accomplishes the salvation of sinners.

In practice, Calvinists teach these doctrines of grace primarily for the encouragement of the church because they believe the doctrines demonstrate the extent of God's love in saving those who could not and would not follow him, as well as squelching pride and self-reliance and falling into the kind arms of the true, Sovereign Lord. Sanctification is pursued as a continual trusting in God to purge the Christian's depraved heart from the power of canceled sin and further the Christian's joy. [1]

"Life is religion"Edit

The theological system and practical theories of church, family, and political life, all ambiguously called "Calvinism", are the outgrowth of a fundamental religious consciousness that centers on "the sovereignty of God". In principle, the doctrine of God has pre-eminent place in every category of theology, including the Calvinist understanding of how a person ought to live. Calvinism presupposes that the goodness and power of God have a free, unlimited range of activity, and this works out as a conviction that God is at work in all realms of existence, including the spiritual, physical, and intellectual realms, whether secular or sacred, public or private, on earth or in heaven.

According to this viewpoint, the plan of God is worked out in every event. God is seen as the creator, preserver, and governor of each and every thing. This produces an attitude of absolute dependence on God, which is not identified only with temporary acts of piety (for example, prayer); rather, it is an all-encompassing pattern of life that, in principle, applies to any mundane task just as it also applies to taking communion. For the Calvinist Christian, all of life is the Christian religion.

The five points of CalvinismEdit

Main article: Five points of Calvinism


Calvinist theology is often identified in the popular mind as the so-called "five points of Calvinism," which are a summation of the judgments (or canons) rendered by the Synod of Dort and which were published as a point-by-point response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance (see History of Calvinist-Arminian debate). Calvin himself never used such a model, and never combated Arminianism directly. They therefore function as a summary of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism but not as a complete summation of Calvin's writings or of the theology of the Reformed churches in general. The central assertion of these canons is that God is able to save every person upon whom he has mercy and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of men.

The five points of Calvinism, which can be remembered by the English acronym TULIP are:

  • Total depravity (or total inability): As a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. According to the view, people are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are unable to choose to follow God and be saved.
  • Unconditional election: God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy.
  • Limited atonement (or particular redemption or definite atonement): The death of Christ actually takes away the penalty of sins of those on whom God has chosen to have mercy. It is "limited" to taking away the sins of the elect, not of all humanity, and it is "definite" and "particular" because atonement is certain for those particular persons.
  • Irresistible grace (or efficacious grace): The saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith in Christ.
  • Perseverance of the saints (or preservation of the saints): Any person who has once been truly saved from damnation must necessarily persevere and cannot later be condemned. The word saints is used in the sense in which it is used in the Bible to refer to all who are set apart by God, not in the technical sense of one who is exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven (see Saint).

Calvinism is often further reduced in the popular mind to one or another of the five points of TULIP. The doctrine of unconditional election is sometimes made to stand for all Reformed doctrine, sometimes even by its adherents, as the chief article of Reformed Christianity. However, according to the doctrinal statements of these churches, it is not a balanced view to single out this doctrine to stand on its own as representative of all that is taught. The doctrine of unconditional election, and its corollary in the doctrine of predestination are never properly taught, according to Calvinists, except as an assurance to those who seek forgiveness and salvation through Christ, that their faith is not in vain, because God is able to bring to completion all whom He intends to save. Nevertheless, non-Calvinists object that these doctrines discourage the world from seeking salvation.

An additional point of disagreement with Arminianism implicit in the five points is the Calvinist understanding of the doctrine of Jesus' substitutionary atonement as a punishment for the sins of the elect, which was elaborated by St. Augustine and especially St. Anselm. Calvinists argue that if Christ takes the punishment in the place of a particular sinner, that person must be saved since it would be unjust for him then to be condemned for the same sins. The definitive and binding nature of this "satisfaction model" has led Arminians to subscribe instead to the governmental theory of the atonement in which no particular sins or sinners are in view.

Attempts to reform CalvinismEdit

Many efforts have been undertaken to reform Calvinism and especially the doctrine of the Reformed churches. The most notable and earliest of these was the theological and political movement called Arminianism, already mentioned in connection with the Synod of Dort.

"Four-point Calvinism"Edit

Main article: Amyraldism


Another revision of Calvinism is called Amyraldism, "hypothetical universalism", or "four-point Calvinism", which drops the point on Limited Atonement in favor of an unlimited atonement saying that God has provided Christ's atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elects those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

This doctrine was most thoroughly systematized by the French Reformed theologian at the University of Saumur, Moses Amyraut, for whom it is named. His formulation was an attempt to bring Calvinism more nearly alongside the Lutheran view. It was popularized in England by the Reformed pastor Richard Baxter and gained strong adherence among the Congregationalists and some Presbyterians in the American colonies, during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the United States, Amyraldism can be found among various evangelical groups, but "five point" Calvinism is prevalent especially in conservative and moderate groups among the Reformed churches, Reformed Baptists, and some non-denominational churches.

Neo-OrthodoxyEdit

Main article: Neo-orthodoxy


In the mainline Reformed churches, Calvinism has undergone expansion and revision through the influence of Karl Barth and neo-orthodox theology. Barth was an important Swiss Reformed theologian who began writing early in the 20th century, whose chief accomplishment was to counter-act the influence of the Enlightenment in the churches, especially as this had led to the toleration of Nazism in the Germanic countries of Western Europe. The Barmen declaration is an expression of the Barthian reform of Calvinism. Conservative Calvinists (as well as some liberal reformers) regard it as confusing to use the name "Calvinism" to refer to neo-orthodoxy or other liberal revisions stemming from Calvinist churches.

Other variations in CalvinismEdit

Besides the traditional movements within the conservative Reformed churches, several trends have arisen through the attempt to provide a contemporary, but theologically conservative approach to the world.

Neo-CalvinismEdit

A version of Calvinism that has been adopted by both theological conservatives and liberals gained influence in the Dutch Reformed churches, late in the 19th century, dubbed "neo-Calvinism", which developed along lines of the theories of Dutch theologian, statesman and journalist, Abraham Kuyper. More traditional Calvinist critics of the movement characterize it as a revision of Calvinism, although a conservative one in comparison to modernist Christianity or neo-orthodoxy. Neo-calvinism, "calvinianism", or the "reformational movement", is a response to the influences of the Enlightenment, but generally speaking it does not touch directly on the articles of salvation. Neo-Calvinists intend their work to be understood as an update of the Calvinist worldview in response to modern circumstances, which is an extension of the Calvinist understanding of salvation to scientific, social and political issues. To show their consistency with the historic Reformed movement, supporters may cite Calvin's Institutes, book 1, chapters 1-3, and other works. In the United States, Kuyperian neo-Calvinism is represented among others, by the Center for Public Justice, a faith-based political think-tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Neo-Calvinism branched off in more theologically conservative movements in the United States. The first of these to rise to prominence became apparent through the writings of Francis Schaeffer, who had gathered around himself a group of scholars, and propagated their ideas in writing and through a Calvinist study center in Switzerland, called L'Abri. This movement generated a reawakened social consciousness among Evangelicals, especially in response to abortion, and was one of the formative influences which brought about the "Moral Majority" phenomenon in the United States, in the early 1980s.

Christian ReconstructionismEdit

Main article: Christian Reconstructionism


Another Calvinist movement called Christian Reconstructionism is much smaller, more radical, and theocratic, but by some believed to be widely influential in American family and political life. Reconstructionism is a distinct revision of Kuyper's approach, which sharply departs from that root influence through the complete rejection of pluralism, and by formulating suggested applications of the sanctions of Biblical Law for modern civil governments. These distinctives are the least influential aspects of the movement. Its intellectual founder, the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, based much of his understanding on the apologetical insights of Cornelius Van Til, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. It has some influence in the conservative Reformed churches in which it was born, and in Calvinistic Baptist and Charismatic churches mostly in the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent in the U.K.

Reconstructionism aims toward the complete rebuilding of the structures of society on Christian and Biblical presuppositions, not, according to its promoters, in terms of "top down" structural changes, but through the steady advance of the Gospel of Christ as men and women are converted, who then live out their obedience to God in the areas for which they are responsible. In keeping with the Theonomic Principle, it seeks to establish laws and structures that will best instantiate the ethical principles of the Bible, including the Old Testament as expounded in the case laws and summarized in the Decalogue. Not a political movement, strictly speaking, Reconstructionism has nonetheless been influential in the development of the Christian Right and what some critics have called, "Dominionism".

LapsarianismEdit

Within scholastic Calvinist theology, there are two schools of thought over when and whom God predestined: supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. The former view, sometimes called "high Calvinism," argues that before time began God chose people to be saved or condemned before (Latin: supra) the decree to allow man to fall (Latin: lapsare) from perfection into sin. This view suggests a "double predestination" where some are ordained to salvation and others to damnation.

Infralapsarianism, sometimes called "low Calvinism," refers to the view that before time began God chose ("elected") people to be saved in the context of or after (Latin: infra) the decision to allow man to fall. In this view, God chose to save some people while allowing (rather than actively ordaining) others to remain in the sin and misery into which they had fallen. As such, Infralapsarianism avoids the idea that God created some people to be condemned.

These two views vied with each other at the Synod of Dort (1618), an international body representing Calvinist Christian churches from around Europe, and the judgments that came out of that council sided with infralapsarianism (Canons of Dort, First Point of Doctrine, Article 7). To most modern Calvinists, however, the Lapsarian controversy seems like "splitting hairs," and it doesn't get much attention today.

Hyper-CalvinismEdit

Main article: Hyper-Calvinism


Hyper-Calvinism first referred to a heretical view that appeared among the early English Particular Baptists in the 1700s. Their system denied that the call of the gospel to "repent and believe" is directed to every single person and that it is the duty of every person to trust in Christ for salvation. While this doctrine has always been a minority view, it has not been relegated to the past and may still be found in some small denominations and church communities today. Among notable groups holding to what may be considered a hyper-Calvinistic view is the notorious Westboro Baptist Church; however, Westboro goes beyond this to state that "the elect" can be found only among Westboro members.

The term also occasionally appears in both theological and secular controversial contexts, where it usually connotes a negative opinion about some variety of determinism, predestination, or a version of Evangelical Christianity or Calvinism that is deemed by the critic to be unenlightened, harsh, or extreme.

Usury and capitalismEdit

One school of thought about Calvinism long has been that it represented a revolt against the medieval condemnation of usury and, implicitly, of profit in general, helping to set the stage for the development of capitalism in northern Europe. Such a connection was advanced in influential works by R. H. Tawney and by Max Weber.

Calvin expressed himself on usury in a letter to a friend, Oecolampadius, in which he criticized the use of certain passages of scripture invoked by people opposed to the charging of interest. He reinterpreted some of these passages, and suggested that others of them had been rendered irrelevant by changed conditions. He also dismissed the argument (based upon the writings of Aristotle) that it is wrong to charge interest for money because money itself is barren. He said that the walls and the roof of a house are barren, too, but it is permissible to charge someone for allowing him to use them. In the same way, money can be made fruitful.

He qualified his view, however, by saying that money should be lent to people in dire need without hope of interest.

See alsoEdit

HistoryEdit

DoctrineEdit

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External linksEdit

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 27, 2006

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