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CALVINISM AND CHRISTIANITY

One of the earliest competing Protestant theologies was that devised by John Calvin, a Frenchman of the 16th century. Its followers call it "Reformed" theology, but given that it was only one of many products of what is generally termed "the Reformation", this label seems an attempt by its adherents simply to assert this belief-system's status as an authoritative norm and claim the high ground.

One thing that must be said of Calvin's system, as represented in his work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, is that it is one of the most extensive, coherent (self-consistent) and intelligently argued attempts to fully formulate the Christian faith that has been seen. However, its theology, especially in regard to salvation (how people are reunited to God) is in a number of respects opposed to the teaching of the ancient Church.

That is why Calvinism is clearly identified as heretical by the three largest Churches deriving from the ancient Church, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Churches. The fourth communion derived from the ancient Church, the Anglican, has doctrinal statements and liturgical elements incompatible with Calvinism, which is why Calvinists within it have attempted (unsuccessfully) to change or add to the Anglican formularies many times (e.g., 1572 in complaints to the English Parliament, 1595 in the "Lambeth Articles", 1604 in amendments proposed at the Hampton Court Conference, etc.). In earlier days, these Calvinists, known as Puritans, usually ended up leaving the Church of England, or, when they were for a period in the ascendency politically, driving it underground. These days, amusingly, Calvinists within Anglicanism instead claim their church's formularies are Calvinist and question the Anglican credentials of those who instead agree with the vast majority of Christians past and present!

What does Calvinism teach about salvation, and why is it heretical? What have been the costs of this heresy? Its distinguishing features are conveniently summarised in the acronym "TULIP". Below we will compare the TULIP teachings with those of the Scriptures and the Church.

This doctrinal system is not only unbiblical, as a complete entity it is contrary to what was taught by theologians of the Church in every age before the Reformation. And many Calvinists freely acknowledge this! Of course, they claim that "New Testament" Christians of the First Century were taught Calvinist theology by St Paul, but also believe Paul's distinctive insights were then largely lost for centuries, with the partial exception of St Augustine, only to be mostly regained with Luther and completely regained with Calvin. The fact is that, if Calvin and his followers are right, the vast majority of followers of Christ throughout history have been in fundamental doctrinal error, and the Church as a whole lost Gospel-truth for about one and a half millennia! (This belief is defended in under the heading The Church at Times Appears to be Extinct in Chapter 17 of The Second Helvetic Confession.) This thinking is difficult to distinguish from that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons or Christadelphians, who would just add a couple of centuries to how long "true" Christianity was lost.

The picture of God that Calvinism seems to portray is that of an arbitrary and heartless tyrant, with its image of Man giving the impression of a demon with flesh. It is these images that have been rejected by many people who thought they were rejecting Christianity. And this is sad. Terribly sad.

Note
Although the Thirty-Nine Articles have no particular authority in the Anglican Catholic Church, they are a useful indication of the historic refusal of Anglicanism to be bound by false Calvinist dogmas. Their deliberately ambiguous nature in a number of areas limits their generic usefulness. They were an attempt to allow the Church of England to take in all orthodox Christians of good will, excluding only those committed to Papal Supremacy, mediaeval corruptions or extreme Protestant positions.