Tag Archives: church history

What Is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the main branch of the historic Reformed movement. The Reformed movement had numerous leaders, including Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), Martin Bucer (1491–1551), and Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575). The name Calvinism is derived from John Calvin (1509–1564), the theological giant whose thought came to dominate the Reformed movement, both through his writing and the influence of his adopted home town, Geneva, as an international hub of Reformed education and evangelism.

The Reformed movement held three foundational theological principles in common with other Protestants: Sola Scriptura (Scripture is the primary authority for the Christian), Sola Fide/Gratia (justification is entirely by faith, through grace), and the priesthood of the believer.

Each branch of the Protestant Reformation viewed Scripture through a distinctive philosophical and interpretative grid. Martin Luther’s influence made the primary focus of Lutheranism the justification of the believer by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Anabaptists were especially concerned with freedom of conscience, personal commitment to discipleship, and the essentially non-Christian nature of secular society. Calvinism’s organizing principle was the sovereignty and glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria.

Like many of the other Reformers, Calvin was deeply influenced by Augustine’s philosophical approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Calvin was one of the most systematic in developing the implications of predestination in the terms of the philosophy of his era. He also followed Augustine’s example in aspiring to develop a comprehensive Christian worldview that encompassed church and government within one rational system. At the young age of 28, he attempted to set up a government in Geneva involving unprecedented supervision of the private lives of its citizens. Although there was resistance at first, he eventually established a Reformed government that offered a civic example for Reformed leaders all over Europe.

Calvinists didn’t call for radical separation from the world and nonparticipation in government. Nor did they establish a spiritual hierarchy like that in Roman Catholicism. Unlike Lutherans, Calvinists were reluctant to cede princes and other secular rulers power over church officials. They placed a great priority on theological, intellectual, and moral training, and their church leaders tended to be the best educated and equipped of their membership. Calvin’s view of vocation and the sanctity of secular occupations was profoundly democratic, resisting the tendency to view clergy on a higher spiritual plane than those in secular roles. In addition, the Reformed movement had little tolerance for elaborate ceremony in worship and abhorred the use of images.

All Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, acknowledge human depravity, divine predestination, the need for prevenient grace, and the mysterious interaction of divine authority and human freedom. Calvinism places a radical emphasis on predestination and attempts to work out its implications to a much greater extent than other Christian groups consider biblically appropriate or justifiable.

The principles of Calvinism were officially established at the Synod of Dort in 1618–1619 in response to the Remonstrants, a group that followed the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacob Arminius. The basic principles of Calvinism have since become associated with the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity: Humans are spiritually dead to the extent that they must be supernaturally regenerated through the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit before they can accept God’s gracious gift of salvation.

Unconditional election: In eternity past, God chose a distinct group of human individuals to be saved and consigned the rest to be objects of His wrath. His choices were not in any way based on His foreknowledge of human actions.

Limited atonement: Christ died only for the elect, not for those God has selected for condemnation.

Irresistible grace: Those God has chosen cannot reject the gospel or resist the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work of regeneration and sanctification.

Perseverance of the saints: Because the elect are chosen by God and their faith is irresistibly enabled, they cannot depart from the faith and lose their salvation.

Not everyone agrees that the “Five Points of Calvinism” can be reconciled with Scripture. Many Christians believe that by normal rules of biblical interpretation, the “Five Points” can’t be reconciled with many passages that affirm human freedom (Isaiah 6:8; Isaiah 53:5-6; Matthew 23:37; John 3:16; John 21:17;1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 Timothy 4:9-10; Hebrews 12:14-15; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; etc.).

From its original home in Switzerland and France, Calvinist (Reformed) theology spread throughout Europe, taking root in such disparate places as England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany (especially the Palatinate), Bohemia, Hungary, and Transylvania. Puritans and other English groups transported Calvinism to North America. Calvinism has profoundly influenced European and American cultural development.

Today, many influential denominations hold Calvinist doctrinal positions, including the Presbyterian, the Reformed, and the United Church of Christ. Other denominations, including Anglicans and Baptists, have been strongly influenced by Calvinist thought.

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What are the Apocryphal Books Included in Some Versions of the Bible?

The Apocrypha were a subset of a larger group of popular religious writings that the Jews of the first century called “outside books.” They were written between 200 BC and 100 AD, and while not canonical, they were widely read and considered writings “that do not defile the hands.”

Because the Jews never accepted these “outside books” as canonical, they aren’t in the Hebrew Bible. Many of them were apocalyptic works that encouraged the revolutionary spirit that led up to the disastrous Jewish-Roman War of 70 AD, so Jewish leadership that survived that war repudiated them.

Although not in the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, included a number of these “outside books” as an addendum. The Septuagint was the Old Testament used by the early church. First-generation Jewish converts to Christianity would already have been familiar with the apocryphal books, and later generations of Christians often read them and quoted them. This doesn’t mean that they were viewed as highly as the New Testament Scriptures or the older portions of the Old Testament. Many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom didn’t include them in their lists of canonical Scripture. Even Jerome, the renowned translator of the Latin Bible, opposed its inclusion in the canon of Scripture, although he yielded to popular pressure to include it in the Vulgate. Augustine of Hippo, who couldn’t read Hebrew and therefore lacked sensitivity to Jerome’s reasons for excluding it, backed the decision by the North African council of Carthage (397 AD) that it be included in the Scripture suitable for reading in the churches. However, Augustine later acknowledged that the Apocrypha shouldn’t be viewed as equal in authority to the books in the Hebrew canon.

With the passing of more than a thousand years and the rise of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the question of which Scriptures are truly inspired became a crucial issue. The Protestant Reformation viewed them as valuable but noncanonical. The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1548 AD) officially declared that the Apocrypha is as sacred and canonical as the rest of Scripture, and anathematized anyone who disagreed.

Today, scholars especially value the Apocrypha as historical and religious sources of information about the intertestamental period. The names and order of the books of the Apocrypha are as follows:

I Esdras                                          Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah

II Esdras                                        The Song of the Three Holy Children

Tobit                                               The History of Susanna

Judith                                             Bel and the Dragon

The Rest of Esther                       The Prayer of Mannasse

The Wisdom of Solomon            I Maccabees

Ecclesiasticus                                II Maccabees

The Apocrypha contain popular narrative, religious history and philosophy, morality stories, poetic and didactic lyrics, wisdom and apocalyptic literature.

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Can We Know What Jesus Actually Taught?

The New Testament is the best documented literary work from ancient times. Over 5,000 manuscripts have survived. Fragments now available date back to the beginning of the second century. Even liberal scholars acknowledge the early dates of many New Testament books. Consequently, there is no reasonable basis for believing that Christ’s teachings were distorted by the apostolic church. To the contrary, it is only logical that the apostles would be the ones most likely to remain faithful to the teaching of their Lord, and that they, in turn, would select documents on the basis of their reliability.

It’s one thing to deny the authority of the New Testament, but quite another to be able to justify one’s denial. The following books offer a good overview of early church history:

  • A History Of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette
  • A History Of The Christian Church by Williston Walker
  • New Testament History by F.F. Bruce

Each of these books is a “classic” in its own right, and can be ordered through most bookstores.

Also visit our 10 Reasons To Believe In The Bible site.

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