Posted by: reformbama | May 31, 2009

Religious Excitement….

I still don’t know how people can just turn on and off their “Worship”. From going into service talking about everything but God or any other part of the Trinity. And through out the week they are whining about everything. It looks like a case “Look at me, Look at me”.

You hear things like “I am praying that God speaks to me today.” We need to realize that most of the stuff we want God to speak to us about is already found in Scripture.

I have come across an article today that touches on that.

Every time I try to get away from this subject, the subject keeps getting push to the front of my mind. Frankly I just can’t see how pastors, men with degrees in theology can’t see this.

I asked a question once and I will ask it again here. “What do you do when your level of personal holiness that you are trying to gain is above that of your church leaders?”

Go to your Elders? What is an Elder, that is old fashioned you might say. You hardly see Elders in churches anymore.

You can find that article here

Here is an excerpt from that post

Ecstasy and Idolatry

On Mars Hill, the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Emphasis mine, Acts 17:29). The word “device” is interesting. The word was formed from the preposition en, meaning in, and a noun thumos, meaning “strong feeling, passion.”[3] Literally, we should not liken God to be a graven image carved “in passion by man.” Evidently, as evidenced by the Exodus Israelites, Paul viewed that passion is integral to both idolatry and immorality. People feel strongly about their gods. All of which brings us to evaluate the relationship of religious excitements to genuine Christian spirituality.

Excitements can be manufactured. There are mechanisms that can be used to trigger states of self-transcendence. For example, drugs, drumming, and dancing can deliver participants out-of-themselves. These deliverances masquerade to be genuine encounters with the divine. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), a British expatriate who spent his adult life living in Los Angeles, and was obsessed by interests in psychedelics, mysticism, the paranormal, and the occult, once remarked of the power possessed by mechanical means of arousal. He wrote: “. . . all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages.”[4] As a manner of evangelistic speaking, the philosophers would be “converted”![5] Theologian Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) observed that, “Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sights.”[6]

Frequently, I hear persons announce that they are “really passionate” about this or that. What they mean is that they feel quite strongly about a particular issue, subject, or belief. Increasingly, Christians are determining the rightness or wrongness of their belief based upon how passionate it makes them feel. Bypassing revelation and reason, they feel their way to faith. Theirs is a religious epistemology by experience (The word epistemology concerns how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe.). I think of the person who declared, “I refuse to believe in a God I cannot feel!” As Dabney observed, “People are ever prone to think that they are feeling religiously because they have feelings . . . about religion.”[7]

So the pan-evangelical movement has and is continuing to develop spirituality not based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, but rather upon manufactured sights, sounds, signs, and sensations that generate religious feelings within them. Theirs has become a faith based upon desires, not doctrine.

The New Testament has much to say about desires and lusts (Greek, epithumia). True, they have their good side. Paul desired to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to again see the believers at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But desires also possess a dark side. Often they can lead us spiritually astray. Thus the New Testament employs the word to mean “evil desire” as frequently translated by the word “lust.”[8]



  1. “What do you do when your level of personal holiness that you are trying to gain is above that of your church leaders?”

    This is an excellent question. In the past, the only solution I have found is to change to a different church when the pastor and elders do not demonstrate an authentic relationship with our Holy God. Now that I live in a foreign city, I don’t attend church at all, which goes against the grain for some people; however, I am being fed by listening to sermon downloads, studying the Word and life lessons as I write my own blogs, and having godly friends and family who challenge me and keep me accountable. I think it’s a sign of the times that the “church” (ie, organized religion) is becoming more and more like the world.

    Thanks for listening!


  2. Thank you for your comment.

    People think just by going “To church” they are doing something. What metters is what they do when they scatter.
    I don’t go to church every time the doors are open. The mission field is not in there it is outside. I get snide remarks from people because I am not there every time the doors are open. They love this verse from Hebrews 10:
    23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

    The church back then did not meet as we do now.
    We need to define “assembling”. My wife and children are believers. When we are at home is that not an assembly of believers. All my coworkers are Christians. We talk about the things of Christ more than we do sports. There is more talk of that at work than church. Where I am from, college football rules the weekend. As people enter worship it is all “Auburn and Alabama” they flip a switch worship then goes back in football mode afterward.

    Go look at one my other posts there is a very relevant quote from Pastor Gibbs

    If you go here there has been a series on the qualifications of elders

    It is pretty good.

  3. Alo Alo

    “What do you do when your level of personal holiness that you are trying to gain is above that of your church leaders?”

    If I may quote [ ] : “Ah, but they are men, thus the teachers of the truth are sinners. I feel they should be more accountable, almost more perfect. Ah, but they are men.”

    I guess we’d do beta to spend less energy evaluating our leaders and use it on our own santification. But we need to let our leaders know if they are up to some mischief.

  4. Take a look at the requirements for Pastors , Elders and deacons in Scripture and you will find they are held at an higher level and should set the example.

    In a previous post where I first wrote “What do you do when your level of personal holiness that you are trying to gain is above that of your church leaders?” Had a little more to it.

    The higher level of holiness I try to achieve for myself I also try to instill that into my family.

    So when the pastor, from the pulpit, says he loves a certain tv show or movie that is flaunts pre-marital sex causes problems within my family.

    My son says he wants to see a certain movie, I say no with explaination of why and then he says “Well brother _____ saw the movie and liked it”

    You can see where this leads.

    Thank you for the comment.

  5. Wow, your response is so clear. What about humanity? You cannot control The World your family percieves by placing embargos on it. Too many rules will lead to dishonesty in your family but that is another song.

    Clear mischief must be addressed and if your brother is falling help him up. You know the process, start in private etc.
    B4 the process, do logs b4 splinters.

    Take your perception of Elders/ Deacons and change it like you have probably done with the Pope. Stive to be like Jesus not like man. Teach your family the same.
    Your Pastor is a spreader of the word, not the perfect example of it. Sure it is scripted he should be wada wada, He is firstly a man that will get it wrong.


    • What about humanity? Are you talking about people in general about us being human?

      I have no intention of controlling the world. Just to be a witness.

      Romans 12

      1. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
      2. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

      We are not part of this world

      1 Peter 2-11. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

      I teach my family by the standards of Scripture.
      Too many rules do not lead to dishonsesty when you have taught your children well.
      As long as you do not exasperate them.

      Duet 6-7. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

      Prov 22-6 6. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

      I can run the gambit here on verses but for the sake of time I will not. I take it you have an bible and a concordance. And go into the ones that talk about edifying and being holy etc…

      It would take more typing than I am willing to do to explain the whole situation and how many of the churches around here are like clones.

      I understand helping a falling brother and know about planks and specks. And church discipline, which does not do any good if the leadership does practice it. Or have a one sided view of God, as in only proclaiming one attribute and that being “God is good!”

      I guess you can call it a semi-rhetorical question.

      Down to elders and deacons. I will let the Scripture talk here.

      This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

      Frank Turk over at pyromanics has been doing a series on elders being blameless.

      Enjoying your comments, Are you from South Africa like Mark Penrith?

  6. Wow, u r very impressive, using scripts all the time, impressed. KJV a man after my own heart.

    I can see from your reply you smelled my flavour on reducing Elders to men and seeing them as so first. Haha.

    The scripts on Elders are futile, if you desire: I’ll find all those attributes are true for u and I as well in the scripts and paste them here. Anyhow I realise u r not a pedistal man.

    “I teach my family by the standards of Scripture.”

    You teach your family your interpretation of Scripture [Which you are refining] as best you can.

    Man was given freewill by Yahweh. Do we give free will to our kids and train them in the truth or do we just chain them up coz we are too busy getting bacon or sharpening our own swords to train them in the scripted Truth.
    I’m guilty are you?

    Calling to mind the Gr8 commandment we must strive to embrace humanity with God’s Love and stray away from concerning ourselves with becoming Jewish without becoming All is Good Love and Peace for all Fairy People. Ha ha.

    If I told ya where I lived would you visit me?
    Thankyou for helping me ask these Questions of myself.
    All the blessings

  7. My interpretation is right there along with alot of good theologians. Most of them dead some of them alive. 🙂
    I have that Helper Christ promised we would get.

    Free will smeewill. That gets used way to much as an excuse for tolerating sin in our lives. I think my view of free will may differ from yours some what.

    Scripture is the infallible Word of God given to man and is the only truth. That is my unchanging stance on Scripture.

    We are to embrace the world with the Truth of Scripture, not become part of the world.

    You sound a bit like the emergent church side.

    The reason to where you live, regionally, is to understand your speech a little better. I found when I was in Scotland and Ireland some slang words had a very different meaning there than they do in the USA.

    Thank again..

  8. Apologise I must, I believed you to be desiring to box me and do so by asking where I live firstly. Crystal clear it is, that you were sincerely striving to understand me better so that our interaction be more fruitful. You’re just behind Slater now in Hero Status!

    Hmmmn, Freewill. You suggest we see this differently well let me come at ya like cleopatra:

    Freedom of Choice?
    Is God Sovereign? [Supreme Ruler] Yes.
    Is God Just? Yes
    If God wanted to set up freedom of choice in the system of life for humans, could he? Yes.

    Does God give Freedom of Choice to man? Please follow my train here…

    Adam and Eve are given freedom of choice to eat of the tree of knowledge or not, they do and thus “The Fall” thereby original sin, not all agreed here anyhow this is my interpretation. This sin we are born into. I view that in the same way we are born into “Original freedom of Choice” ha ha.
    New Testament: The Man-God, Jesus Appears. Through him Salvation is now attainable, This He did from of His Love for us, In fact this is a major theme in his teaching:

    This Passage I affectionately call The Law of Love as per Craig Juta:

    LK 10:22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
    LK 10:23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:
    LK 10:24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
    LK 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
    LK 10:26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
    LK 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
    LK 10:28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
    LK 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
    LK 10:30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
    LK 10:31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
    LK 10:32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
    LK 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
    LK 10:34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
    LK 10:35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
    LK 10:36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
    LK 10:37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

    Well, well, what’s Love got to do with Freedom of choice you may ask? Value:
    And so and so, a man returns home from work in the mood for a little nookie. He makes advances on his wife with this intent. She does not reciprocate and so he drives his idea a little harder. He is met again with a negativity. He continues driving his idea hoping she’ll warm to it, and long story shortened he has his way with her, a somewhat unwilling partner. If not rape, this must surely fall, just short of it.

    Now should he have got home and his wife not only reciprocated but also drove the same ideas with her own initiative or flavour. A willing partner. This husband would have felt “ The Love”.

    Now should he have got home and his wife not reciprocated and he chose not to continue his idea but in turn to show respect to his wife’s position. A willing partner, willing to backoff. Then this wife would have felt “ The Love”.

    You see, I believe that in the story that “The Love” and free will are linked. ”The Love” has no value if forced upon, or taken, but when given as a free gift by two willing partners this adds value. Dare it be said that free will be the spine of “The Love” without which it becomes tasteless.

    Note that in my Story I do Not Try Define Love as it is To Big to Box in this story, that said I do analyze an aspect of it here. Hence I call it “The Love”.

    Well now that’s some nice fairylike ideas how does that tie in with Scriptures on Election etc. Hmmn you’ll push me to Addendum A, A note I don’t fully understand yet but worth a scan, Will read it again. Lemme know if your mind is taking you in this direction and I’ll get the Add. A.

    Last Fairy point: If this is false then the converse must be true, Thereby God has predetermined, predestined certain men for hell. Now that doesn’t tie in with Love. For God so Loved the World….. etc.

    Did Adam Chose to eat of the tree? Yes
    Did God know he would chose that? Yes
    Did God chose for Adam to eat of the tree?

    God Does not choose Sin for man, Tis not his will, Man chooses sin. I still have no Position on the Strong Delusion Scripture less to say: God Does not choose Sin for man, Tis not his will, Man chooses sin.

    A part of me almost thinks God has a plan A, B, C for our lives dependant on our choices, and he knows which one we choose!!!

    This is copied from an old note and ruffly still pins my thoughts here.

    Thus if we see Freewill the same now? Lets get back too:
    Freewill Vs Rules with our kids in mind.

    From your note: “We are to embrace the world with the Truth of Scripture” I deduce from this we won’t become Amish, and I’m in.

    Lets use your movie example:
    In my life I had a friend Ian who was not allowed to watch Robocop till he was 16. So he started watching movies on the sly. He was so isolated from such things that when he saw them he valued them so Highly coz they FORBIDDEN. I guess that experience lead me to desire a honest loving relationship with my children[ in which lust and violence exist and are scriptually understood] rather than the risk of dishonesty. Sure the risk is minimised or nullified inside a loving relationship.

    Thankyou 4 Your Time


    • What’s wrong with the Amish? 🙂

      Our kids do not live in a vacuum. They do know about violence and lust in a academic way, so that they know what to stay away from.

      That forbidden fruit looks very tasty to the kids if you exasperate them.

      1 John 4:19: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

      I’ll be back with more when I have more time. Busy time in the automation world.

  9. Not sure I follow you here:

    1 John 4:19: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

    I assume u realise we are FREE to chose this Love.

    1JN 4:15-19 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
    And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
    Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
    We love him, because he first loved us.

    Whosoever shall.

    “that they know what to stay away from.”
    Was gonna tackle this but I’d be splinter picking, seems our lines here are somewhat aligned.


  10. Being a lazy a bit using some of Phil Johnson’s stuff.

    Look at our verse again: “We love Him because He first loved us.” John is saying that God’s love for us is the cause—the effectual cause—of our love for Him. Once again, he is not saying merely that God’s love is a motive or an incentive for our love. Rather, John’s point is that God’s love is the actual productive cause of our love.

    Remember that it is impossible for an unregenerate person to love God. The heart of fallen flesh is by definition an enemy of God. It has no power to change itself, any more than a leopard can change its spots. It is the nature of a sinner to love sin, and nothing is more contrary to a sinful heart than love for God. So it is morally impossible for the sinner to love God.

    “Who then can be saved?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer to that question? “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He does the impossible. His own love for us is such that He purchases us and pursues us and persuades us lovingly to love Him. And in order to make that love possible, He even graciously gives us new hearts that are capable of loving. That’s the promise He makes to His people in Ezekiel 36:

    25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

    26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

    27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.

    That speaks of God’s regenerating work, whereby He resurrects us to a state of vibrant spiritual life, enlightens our minds to understand His truth, and makes the glories of His love so attractive to us that we find them absolutely irresistible.

    In fact, that is exactly the expression we sometimes use to speak of this truth: irresistible grace.

    Some people misunderstand that term and imagine that there is some type of violent force or coercion involved in God’s drawing us to Christ. But irresistible grace isn’t something that pushes us against our wills toward Christ; it is something that draws us willingly to Him.

    (As to your nookie illustration)

    It is similar to my love for my wife. I find her irresistible. But she doesn’t force my love for her. She doesn’t employ any constraint other than the sheer attractiveness of her charms to draw me to her. But she is irresistible to me.

    God’s saving grace is irresistible to the elect in the very same sense. We speak of it as “effectual grace,” because it always secures its object. God always procures a reciprocal love from those upon whom He has set His redemptive love. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “the love of Christ constraineth us.” He died for us, so we cannot henceforth live unto ourselves.

    Think about what this means: We cannot take personal credit for loving God. Our love for God is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22. It is the work of God in us. “We love Him, because He first loved us”—our love for Him is the natural fruit of His great love for us. So you see the power of His loving deliverance.

  11. Alo Alo

    Look at our verse again: “We love Him because He first loved us.” John is saying that God’s love for us is the cause—the effectual cause—of our love for Him. Once again, he is not saying merely that God’s love is a motive or an incentive for our love. Rather, John’s point is that God’s love is the actual productive cause of our love. Agreed
    Remember that it is impossible for an unregenerate person to love God. Agreed
    The heart of fallen flesh is by definition an enemy of God. It has no power to change itself, any more than a leopard can change its spots. Agreed The heart needs to change and accept God’s working in it, too His glory.
    It is the nature of a sinner to love sin, and nothing is more contrary to a sinful heart than love for God. Less the sinner is reborn, it’s semantics.
    So it is morally impossible for the sinner to love God. I sin and I Love God? Tis probably semantics again or context.
    “Who then can be saved?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer to that question? “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) We know from Romans this is confirmed. ROM 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; ROM 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    He does the impossible. Agreed, he paid for our sins
    His own love for us is such that He purchases us and pursues us and persuades us lovingly to love Him. And in order to make that love possible, He even graciously gives us new hearts that are capable of loving. Agreed he paid for the sins of all, the unborn, those that today refuse to open their hearts too him, you and I, He paid for us all! The whole world.
    JN 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
    JN 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    That’s the promise He makes to His people in Ezekiel 36:
    25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
    26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
    27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. Agreed
    That speaks of God’s regenerating work, whereby He resurrects us to a state of vibrant spiritual life, enlightens our minds to understand His truth, and makes the glories of His love so attractive to us that we find them absolutely irresistible. I disagree here
    In fact, that is exactly the expression we sometimes use to speak of this truth: irresistible grace.
    Copied this from Wikipedia:
    Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism, which teaches that 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. According to Calvinism, those who obtain salvation do so, not by their own “free” will, but because of the sovereign discriminating grace of God.
    If Calvin said that, well I disagree.
    Some people misunderstand that term and imagine that there is some type of violent force or coercion involved in God’s drawing us to Christ. But irresistible grace isn’t something that pushes us against our wills toward Christ; it is something that draws us willingly to Him.I agree somewhat, mostly coz you chose to put in conditions of: “isn’t something that pushes us against our wills” and “draws us willingly”
    I hope my nookie illustration will challenge your construct as much as you stretch mine. For this I will be praying.
    Think about what this means: We cannot take personal credit for loving God. Our love for God is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22. It is the work of God in us. “We love Him, because He first loved us”—our love for Him is the natural fruit of His great love for us. So you see the power of His loving deliverance. I’m in resounding Agreement.
    I believe that every human being gets a shot to choose or not to, less on an island, hahaha! I believe that free will is the spine of The Love as I understand it. From my simple singlemindedness, Yahweh the Creator, would not create a man tomorrow predestined for hell, with no choice in the matter. Why create him tomorrow then? Who did Jesus die for then? The World?
    Some scripts that support our Freedom to Accept Christ or not:
    MT 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
    JN 3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
    JN 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    JN 11:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
    ACTS 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    ROM 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    May you be bathed in Light

    Addendum A.

    PREDESTINATION means many things to many people. All Christian churches believe in some form of predestination, because the Bible uses the term, [See Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:5, 11. For the Catholic Church’s teaching on predestination see Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 242-244, and William G. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, 114-122], but what predestination is and how it works are in dispute.

    In Protestant circles there are two major camps when it comes to predestination: Calvinism and Arminianism. [Calvinists are followers of John Calvin (1509-1564). Arminians are followers of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), not people from the Republic of Armenia]. Calvinism is common in Presbyterian, Reformed, and a few Baptist churches. Arminianism is common in Methodist, Pentecostal, and most Baptist churches.[ In Catholic circles, the two major groups discussing predestination are the Thomists and the Molinists, the followers of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Luis de Molina (1536-1600). Thomists emphasize the role of grace, while Molinists emphasize free will. Neither school ignores grace or free will].

    Even though Calvinists are a minority among Protestants today, their view has had enormous influence, especially in this country. This is partly because the Puritans and the Baptists who helped found America were Calvinists, but it is also because Calvinism traditionally has been found among the more intellectual Protestants, giving it a special influence.

    Calvinists claim God predestines people by choosing which individuals will accept his offer of salvation. These people are known as “the elect.”[From the Greek word eklektos, which means “chosen.”]. They are not saved against their will. It is because God has chosen them that they will desire to come to him in the first place. Those who are not among the elect, “the reprobate,” will not desire to come to God, will not do so, and thus will not be saved.[Calvinists are sometimes wrongly criticized as teaching that a person can be unconcerned about his salvation since he is already either among the elect or the reprobate. According to a Calvinist it would be a mistake for a person to say, “Well, if God chooses me, I’ll be saved, and if he doesn’t, I won’t, so I can sit back and do nothing.” A person who said this until his death would show he was not one of the elect because he never did the things, such as repenting and trusting God, which are necessary for salvation].

    Arminians claim God predestines people by pronouncing (but not deciding) who will accept salvation. He makes this pro nouncement using his foreknowledge, which enables him to see what people will do in the future. He sees who will choose to accept his offer of salvation. The people who God knows will repent are those he regards as his “elect” or “chosen” people.

    The debate between Calvinists and Arminians is often fierce. These groups frequently accuse each other of teaching a false gospel, at least on a theoretical level, although on a practical level there is little difference between the two since both groups command people to have “faith alone” in order to be saved.[Among Catholics the discussion has been much more peaceful. Since the controversy over grace in the late 1500s and early 1600s, Thomists and Molinists have been forbidden to accuse each other of heresy. In 1748 the Church declared Thomism, Molinism, and a third view known as Augustinianism to be acceptable Catholic teachings].

    The debate is centered on the well-known formula TULIP. Each letter of this acronym stands for a different doctrine held by classical Calvinists [There are some Calvinists, known as Amyraldians or “four-point Calvinists,” who hold all of TULIP except for ” L “] but rejected by Arminians. The doctrines are:

    Total depravity,
    Unconditional election,
    Limited atonement,
    Irresistible grace, and
    Perseverance of the saints.

    It is important for Catholics to know about these subjects: First, Catholics are often attacked by Calvinists who misunderstand the Catholic position on these issues. Second, Catholics often misunderstand the teaching of their own Church on predestination. Third, in recent years there has been a large number of Calvinists who have become Catholics [Including Scott Hahn, Gerry Matatics, Steve Wood, myself, and numerous others]. By understanding Calvinism better, Catholics can help more Calvinists make the jump.

    Total depravity

    Despite its name, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean men are always and only sinful. Calvinists do not think we are as sinful as we possibly could be. They claim our free will has been injured by original sin to the point that, unless God gives us special grace, we cannot free ourselves from sin and choose to serve God in love. We might choose to serve him out of fear, but not out of unselfish love.[There is nothing wrong with serving out of godly fear. The Bible often uses fear of divine chastisement as a motivator. Love and a certain kind of fear do not exclude each other; a child may both love his parents and have a healthy fear of his parents’ discipline. But service based on fear only, being self-interested, does not please God in a supernatural way and does not receive a supernatural reward. Love is necessary to please God and receive rewards].

    What would a Catholic think of this teaching? While he would not use the term “total depravity” to describe the doctrine,[That term is badly misleading, as even Calvinists acknowledge. For example, Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul proposes the alternative term “radical corruption,” although this is not much better. Author Lorraine Boettner uses the much better term “total inability.”] he would actually agree with it. The accepted Catholic teaching is that, because of the fall of Adam, man cannot do anything out of supernatural love unless God gives him special grace to do so.[In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Ludwig Ott gives the following as a defined article of faith: “For every salutary act internal supernatural grace of God (gratia elevans) is absolutely necessary” (Ott, 229). He goes on to cite the second Council of Orange, which stated that “as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate” (canon 9) and that “man does no good except that which God brings about” (canon 20). The Council of Trent solemnly condemned the proposition that “without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him” (Decree on Justification, canon 3). The Church teaches God’s grace is necessary to enable man to be lifted out of sin, display genuine supernatural virtues, and please God].

    Thomas Aquinas declared that special grace is necessary for man to do any supernaturally good act, to love God, to fulfill God’s commandments, to gain eternal life, to prepare for salvation, to rise from sin, to avoid sin, and to persevere.[Summa Theologiae (hereafter ST) I:II:109:2-10].

    Unconditional election

    The doctrine of unconditional election means God does not base his choice (election) of certain individuals on anything other than his own good will.[The Arminians, one will recall, said God bases it on his knowledge of what individuals will do in the future]. God chooses whomever he pleases and passes over the rest. The ones God chooses will desire to come to him, will accept his offer of salvation, and will do so precisely because he has chosen them.

    To show that God positively chooses, rather than merely foresees, those who will come to him, Calvinists cite passages such as Romans 9:15-18, which says, “[The Lord] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy . . . . So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.”[Catholics understand this hardening in terms of Romans 1:20-32, where Paul repeatedly states God gave pagans up to their sinful desires after they refused to acknowledge him. See also James 1:13.].

    What would a Catholic say about this? He certainly is free to disagree with the Calvinist interpretation, but he also is free to agree. All Thomists and even some Molinists (such as Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez) taught unconditional election.

    Thomas Aquinas wrote, “God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others. . . . Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, ‘Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'”[ST I:23:5, citing Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2.].

    Although a Catholic may agree with unconditional election, he may not affirm “double-predestination,” a doctrine Calvinists often infer from it. This teaching claims that in addition to electing some people to salvation God also sends others to damnation.

    The alternative to double-predestination is to say that while God predestines some people, he simply passes over the remainder. They will not come to God, but it is because of their inherent sin, not because God damns them. This is the doctrine of passive reprobation, which Aquinas taught.[ST I:23:3].

    The Council of Trent stated, “If anyone says that it is not in the power of man to make his ways evil, but that God produces the evil as well as the good works, not only by permission, but also properly and of himself, so that the betrayal of Judas is no less his own proper work than the vocation of Paul, let him be anathema. . . . If anyone shall say that the grace of justification is attained by those only who are predestined unto life, but that all others, who are called, are called indeed, but do not receive grace, as if they are by divine power predestined to evil, let him be anathema.”[Decree on Justification, canons 6 and 17. The same points were taught by the second Council of Orange (531), the Council of Quiersy (853), and the third Council of Valencia (855), although none of these were ecumenical councils].

    Limited atonement

    Calvinists believe the atonement is limited, that Christ offered it for some men but not for all. They claim Christ died only for the elect. To prove this they cite verses which say Christ died for his sheep (John 10:11), for his friends (John 15:13-14a), and for the Church (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25). [Calvinists view these groups as identical with the elect. This assumption is false. Not all who are at one time Christ’s sheep or Christ’s friends remain so (see below on perseverance of the saints). Similarly, not all who are in the Church are among the elect].

    One cannot use these verses to prove Christ died only for the elect. A person may be said to have given himself for one person or group without denying that he gave himself for others as well. [Suppose a father sacrifices his life in order to save an endangered group of people that includes his family plus two friends. He might be said to have given himself for his family, even though the group he saved also included other people]. Biblical proof of this principle is found in Galatians 2:20, where Paul says that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me,” not at all implying that Christ did not also give himself for other people. That Christ is said to have given himself in a special way for his sheep, his friends, or the Church cannot be used to prove Christ did not also give himself for all men in a different way.

    The Bible maintains that there is a sense in which Christ died for all men. John 4:42 describes Christ as “the Savior of the world,” and 1 John 2:2 states that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 Timothy 4:10 describes God as “the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” These passages, as well as the official teaching of the Church, [See Ott, 188f], require the Catholic to affirm that Christ died to atone for all men.

    Aquinas stated, “Christ’s passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.'” [ST III:48:2].

    This is not to say there is no sense in which limitation may be ascribed to the atonement. While the grace it provided is sufficient to pay for the sins of all men, this grace is not made efficacious (put into effect) in the case of everyone. One may say that although the sufficiency of the atonement is not limited, its efficiency is limited. This is something everyone who believes in hell must acknowledge because, if the atonement was made efficacious for everyone, then no one would end up in hell.

    The difference between the atonement’s sufficiency and its efficiency accounts for Paul’s statement that God is “the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” [1 Timothy 4:10]. God is the Savior of all men because he arranged a sacrifice sufficient for all men. He is the Savior of those who believe in a special and superior sense because these have the sacrifice made efficacious for them. According to Aquinas, “[Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, efficaciously for some, but sufficiently for all, because the price of his blood is sufficient for the salvation of all; but it has its effect only in the elect.” [Commentary on Titus, I, 2:6.].

    A Catholic also may say that, in going to the cross, Christ intended to make salvation possible for all men, but he did not intend to make salvation actual for all men–otherwise we would have to say that Christ went to the cross intending that all men would end up in heaven. This is clearly not the case. [Matthew 18:7-9, 22:13, 24:40f, 51, 25:30, Mark 9:48, Luke 3:17, 16:19-31, and especially Matthew 7:13f, 26:24, Luke 13:23ff, and Acts 1:25.]. A Catholic therefore may say that the atonement is limited in efficacy, if not in sufficiency, and that God intended it to be this way. [Although one must be sure to maintain that God desires the salvation of all men, as the Catholic Church teaches. 1 Timothy 2:4 states God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” See also Ezekiel 33:11. This does not conflict with God’s intent to save only some, since a person may desire one thing but intend another. A father may desire to not punish his son, but he may intend to do so nonetheless]. While a Catholic could not say that the atonement was limited in that it was made only for the elect, he could say that the atonement was limited in that God only intended it to be efficacious for the elect (although he intended it to be sufficient for all). [Some Calvinists are unhappy with the statement that the atonement is limited. They prefer saying that Christ made a “particular redemption” rather than a “limited atonement.” These mean the same thing, but the former destroys the TULIP acrostic, so the latter is normally used].

    Irresistible grace

    Calvinists teach that when God gives a person the grace that enables him to come to salvation, the person always responds and never rejects this grace. For this reason many have called this the doctrine of irresistible grace.

    This designation has the drawback of making it sound as though God forces people against their will to come to him (like a policeman shouting, “Resistance is useless! Throw down your weapons and surrender!”). The designation also sounds unbiblical, since Scripture indicates grace can be resisted. In Acts 7:51 Stephen tells the Sanhedrin, “You always resist the Holy Spirit!” [See also Sirach 15:11-20, Matthew 23:37].

    For this reason many Calvinists are displeased with the phrase “irresistible grace.” Some have proposed alternatives. Loraine Boettner, perhaps best known to readers of This Rock as the author of Roman Catholicism, prefers “efficacious grace.” [Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932), ch. 8, “Efficacious Grace.”]. The idea is that God’s enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious, so it always produces salvation.

    This is the principal issue between Thomists and Molinists. [Some Molinists, such as Bellarmine and Suarez, almost have been Thomists. They agreed with almost all that Thomism says, such as its affirmation of unconditional election, but they resisted the idea that grace is intrinsically efficacious]. Thomists claim this enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious; by its very nature, because of the kind of grace it is, it always produces the effect of salvation. Molinists claim God’s enabling grace is only sufficient and is made efficacious by man’s free choice rather than by the nature of the grace itself. For this reason Molinists say that enabling grace is extrinsically efficacious rather than intrinsically efficacious. [One should note Thomists do believe in free will, although not the sort Molinists believe in. They claim God’s grace establishes what will be freely chosen, but in a way that does not disturb the will’s freedom. Aquinas said, “God changes the will without forcing it. But he can change the will from the fact that he himself operates in the will as he does in nature,” De Veritatis 22:9.].

    A Catholic can agree with the idea that enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious and, consequently, that all who receive this grace will repent and come to God. Aquinas taught, “God’s intention cannot fail …. Hence if God intends, while moving it, that the one whose heart he moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it, according to John 6:45, ‘Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.'” [ST I:II:112:3.]. Catholics must say that, while God may give efficacious grace only to some, he gives sufficient grace to all. This is presupposed by the fact that he intended the atonement to be sufficient for all. Vatican II stated, “[S]ince Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate calling of man is in fact one and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” [Gaudium et Spes 22; “being associated with this paschal mystery” means being saved].

    Perseverance of the saints

    Calvinists teach that if a person enters a state of grace he never will leave it but will persevere to the end of life. This doctrine is normally called the perseverance of the saints. [Many Calvinists prefer the phrase “preservation of the saints” since it puts emphasis on God’s preservation of the saints rather than on the saints’ efforts in persevering (which is thought to smack of “works-salvation”). This often results in a “holier-than-thou” attitude (“Look how holy I am; I place the emphasis on God’s action, not man’s”). But Scripture normally uses a human point of view. It calls men to repent, have faith, convert, and persevere. When one insists on preservation-language over perseverance-language, one is actually taking a holier-than-thou attitude, because the one who wrote Scripture used perseverance-language more than preservation-language. In effect one is playing spiritual one-upmanship with Scripture and the one who wrote Scripture]. All those who are at any time saints (in a state of sanctifying grace, to use Catholic terminology) will remain so forever. No matter what trials they face, they will always persevere, so their salvation is eternally secure. [This differs from the “once saved, always saved” teaching common in Baptist circles. According to that theory, a person never can lose his salvation, no matter what he does. Even if he leaves the faith and renounces Christ he will be saved. Perseverance of the saints states that, while a person will lose his salvation if he fails to persevere in faith and holiness, all who do come to God will persevere. If a person does not persevere, it shows he did not come to God in the first place. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, which say a person will not inherit the kingdom if he commits certain sins, are understood to mean that, if one habitually commits these sins, he was never a true Christian, no matter how sincere he appeared. Both “once saved, always saved” and perseverance of the saints teach “eternal security,” but they are not the same. Calvinism admits there are mortal sins, such as failure to persevere, but says that no one who is saved commits these sins. “Once saved, always saved” says no sins would be mortal for a Christian, even in principle].

    Analogies are used to support this teaching. Calvinists point out that when we become Christians we become God’s children. They infer that, just as a child’s position in the family is secure, our position in God’s family is secure. A father would not kick his son out, so God will not kick us out.

    This reasoning is faulty. The analogy does not prove what it is supposed to. Children do not have “eternal security” in their families. First, they can be disowned. Second, even if a father would not kick anyone out, a child can leave the house on his own, disown his parents, and sever all ties with the family. Third, children can die; we, as God’s children, can die spiritual deaths after we have been spiritually “born again.” [Elements of these responses are brought together in Luke 15, where the prodigal son begins as a son, then leaves the family and is spoken of by the father as “dead,” only to return to the family and be spoken of as being “alive again” (Luke 15:24, 32). Christ teaches we can be sons, die spiritually by severing our ties to the family, then come back and be alive again–spiritually resurrected].

    Calvinists also use Bible passages to teach perseverance of the saints. The chief ones are John 6:37-39, 10:27-29, and Romans 8:35-39. The Calvinist interpretation of these passages takes them out of context, [John 6:37-38 and 10:27-29 are taken out of context with John 15:1-6, which states Christians are branches in the vine which is Christ (v. 5), that God removes every branch from Christ which does not bear fruit (v. 2), and that the destiny of these branches is to be burned (v. 6). Romans 8:35-39 is taken out of context with Romans 11:20-24, where Paul compares spiritual Israel to an olive tree and states that since certain branches of spiritual Israel were broken off because of unbelief in Christ (v. 20), Christians will not be spared if they fall into unbelief (v. 21), but will be cut off (v. 22). The branches which had been broken off may be grafted in again (vv. 23-24). Romans 8:35-39 is also taken out of context with Romans 8:12f, 17, and 14:15, 20.], and there are numerous other exegetical problems with their interpretation [For further discussion see Robert Shank, Life in the Son (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989) and Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 348ff. Both authors are Baptists who believe in conditional security, not eternal security].

    Calvinists assume perseverance of the saints is entailed by the idea of predestination. If one is predestined to be saved, does it not follow he must persevere to the end? This involves a confusion about what people are predestined to: Is it predestination to initial salvation or to final salvation? The two are not the same. A person might be predestined to one, but this does not mean he is predestined necessarily to the other. [For example, if a person was predestined to enter my living room, it would not mean he was predestined to remain forever in my living room]. One must define which kind of predestination is being discussed.

    If one is talking about predestination to initial salvation, then the fact that a person will come to God does not of itself mean he will stay with God. If one is talking about predestination to final salvation, then a predestined person will stay with God, but this does not mean the predestined are the only ones who experience initial salvation. Some might genuinely come to God (because they were predestined to initial salvation) and then genuinely leave (because they were not predestined to final salvation). [Catholic theology has defined “predestined” to mean “predestined to final salvation.” Thus those who will end up with God in heaven are spoken of as “the predestined” or “the elect.” That a person experiences salvation at some point does not mean he is among the predestined (those God has chosen to persevere to the end)]. Either way, predestination to initial salvation does not entail predestination to final salvation. [Once the philosophical issue is cleared up, we can evaluate the teaching of Scripture objectively. When we do so, it is clear there are numerous indications in the Bible that a person can lose salvation. We already have mentioned John 15:1-6, Romans 8:12f, 17, 11:20-24, and 14:15, 20. There are many more. Robert Shank gives a list of eighty-five passages he believes will, if carefully interpreted in context, show that loss of salvation is possible; see Shank, 333-337]. There is no reason why a person cannot be predestined to “believe for a while” but “in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). [I recognized this fact even when I was an ardent Protestant].

    A Catholic must affirm that there are people who experience initial salvation and who do not go on to final salvation, but he is free to hold to a form of perseverance of the saints. The question is how one defines the term “saints”–in the Calvinist way, as all those who ever enter a state of sanctifying grace, or in a more Catholic way, as those who will go on to have their sanctification (their “saintification”) completed. [“Sanctification” and “saintification” are the same word in Greek. When one has been completely sanctified (made holy), one has become a saint in the fullest sense of the word. Since this happens only in heaven, it corresponds to the common Catholic usage of the term “saint.”]. If one defines “saint” in the latter sense, a Catholic may believe in perseverance of the saints, since a person predestined to final salvation must by definition persevere to the end. Catholics even have a special name for the grace God gives these people: “the gift of final perseverance.”

    The Church formally teaches that there is a gift of final perseverance. [Trent’s Decree on Justification, canon 16, speaks of “that great and special gift of final perseverance,” and chapter 13 of the decree speaks of “the gift of perseverance of which it is written: ‘He who perseveres to the end shall be saved [Matt. 10:22, 24:13],’ which cannot be obtained from anyone except from him who is able to make him who stands to stand [Rom. 14:4].”]. Aquinas (and even Molina) said this grace always ensures that a person will persevere. [Aquinas said it always saves a person because of the kind of grace it is; Molina said it always saves a person because God only gives it to those whom he knows will respond to it. But the effect is the same: The gift of final perseverance always works]. Aquinas said, “Predestination [to final salvation] most certainly and infallibly takes effect.” [ST I:23:6.]. But not all who come to God receive this grace.

    Aquinas said the gift of final perseverance is “the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . [A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance, that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.” [ST I:II:109:10].

    The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther. Calvinists frequently cite these men as “Calvinists before Calvin.” While they did hold high views of predestination, they did not draw Calvin’s inference that all who are ever saved are predestined to remain in grace. [The fact Calvinists are not aware of this shows a lack of scholarship. Presbyterian theologian R. C. Sproul attempts to redefine Calvinism as the “Augustinian” view. While Calvin’s view of predestination might be a variation of Augustine’s view, the two are not the same. Augustine did not believe in Calvin’s understanding of the “perseverance of the saints,” and neither did the broadly Augustinian tradition. That understanding was new with Calvin. For an accurate historical discussion of perseverance of the saints, see J. J. Davis’s article “Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine,” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 34/2 (June 1991), 213-228. Davis is himself a Calvinist, and it is fitting a Calvinist help correct the errors of other Calvinists on the history of their doctrine]. Instead, their faith was informed by the biblical teaching that some who enter the sphere of grace go on to leave it.

    If one defines “saint” as one who will have his “saintification” completed, a Catholic can say he believes in a “perseverance of the saints” (all and only the people predestined to be saints will persevere). But because of the historic associations of the phrase it is advisable to make some change in it to avoid confusing the Thomist and Calvinist understandings of perseverance. Since in Catholic theology those who will persevere are called “the predestined” or “the elect,” one might replace “perseverance of the saints” with “perseverance of the predestined” or, better, with “perseverance of the elect.”

    In view of this, we might propose a Thomist version of TULIP

    T = total inability (to please God without special grace);
    U = unconditional election;
    L = limited intent (for the atonement’s efficacy);
    I = intrinsically efficacious grace (for salvation);
    P = perseverance of the elect (until the end of life).

    There are other ways to construct a Thomist version of TULIP of course, but the fact there is even one way demonstrates that a Calvinist would not have to repudiate his understanding of predestination and grace to become Catholic. He simply would have to do greater justice to the teaching of Scripture and would have to refine his understanding of perseverance. [This has important implications for Calvinists who are thinking about entering the Church, and it has implications for Catholics who want to know what the Church requires them to believe and how they might defend the Church against anti-Catholic Calvinists. For an example of how Thomism can be used to refute Calvinist attacks on the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences, see my article “Fatally Flawed Thinking” (This Rock, July 1993). The article critiques The Fatal Flaw, a book by James White, a Calvinist and a professional anti-Catholic. For further reading on Catholic teaching in this area, see Predestination by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (St. Louis: Herder, 1939). Pope John Paul II studied and wrote his dissertation under Garrigou-Lagrange].

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