Having grown up under Calvinism now for about 50 years and having studied it for most of that time, I observe and study what they say with my Bible in hand. I find problems that I cannot accept in their statements, conclusions, and presumptions. One of these things is their use of the concept of “covenant”.
Basically all Calvinists, Reformed, and Presbyterians highly use the concept of the covenant. The Presbyterian side of things really make a great deal of the fact that “entering into the coventant with God”, you and your children are saved. How is that entering into this coventant “begun”? According to Calvinism, it is in eternity past in election, and you have nothing at all to do with it.
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My Rub with Calvinistic Theology
What I perceive as a drastically heretical and satanic element and force within Calvinism is this tendency to want to arrest any spiritual activity on the part of man. Man is incapable and unable to “do” anything that pleases God. The Bible teaches that we have no spiritual merit whereby we can negotiate or bargan or “buy” salvation, this is true. All of our righteousness is as filthy rags. But this is not the same thing though.
God tells us to “do” things in order to please God, and God’s consistent presentation throughout Scripture is that if we obey God, we become pleasing in God’s sight. This commandment-obedience is not works of righteousness with which we “purchase” our salvation, but rather faith which works to change our life from sin to holiness.
Although Calvinism from its inception has always had this “bent” towards debilitating man, and making him realize and stop spiritual activity because of his inability, modern Calvinism is hell-bent on pushing this element in every way they can.
To simplify, God says “be” therefore “do” (faith in action), and Calvinism says “you are not” therefore “stop”.
The Importance of “Covenant” in Calvinist-Reformed Theology
The essential core of “hope” for Reformed-Calvinistic theology is because “we are elect” therefore nothing more matters. Our salvation hangs on only one thing, our election. Having that election, nothing more matters.
Here we need to separate two concepts that Calvinism doesn’t keep straight. One thing is God’s provision of salvation to ALL of mankind, and each individual person’s procurement of that salvation. In Calvinist theology, they have “bleed” the eternal provision of salvation into the individual procurement, and this is there basic problem. For them, a person is saved when they are elected, therefore now, in our day, there is nothing for anybody to do, because the “die are cast”, and “our lot is unchangeable”. But is this really the way the Bible presents things? Does not God say “Today is the day of salvation”? How can God in present tense present salvation as a decision which we “DO” in order to be saved? Doesn’t thing fly directly in the face of election?
The covenant concept is where the Calvinist drags everything. We are in a pact or covenant with God, therefore this covenant is “inherited” for us via election. Just as the Jew in NT times rested his faith on his being of Abraham’s seed, the Calvinist rests his faith on his election. How do you know that you are elect to heaven and not to hell?
The problem with the covenant concept as Calvinism sees it is that it arrests faith. Faith in election is NEVER A PRESENTATION OF HOW ONE IS SAVED! Salvation is by having faith in Jesus Christ, and this is both a belief (moral spiritual activity) and it HAS TO BE SEEN in actual acts. A changed life (regeneration) is an absolute required result (after salvation, or in the same moment of salvation) of true faith. Calvinism wants to make it before salvation.
When we try to place our trust, confidence, and faith in something other than Christ’s work on the cross, we are not saved. This is the essential error of the Jew. Because he is in a covenant, he is saved, and really, as a son of Abraham, he really SHOULD be like his father in Abraham’s faith, but the bottom line is, having Abraham’s faith is not what saves (because it is not emphasized as essential and life bringing in its character), but the Jew sees his covenant with Abraham as what makes him saved. The Jew sees this covenant established in one of two ways: 1) genetically before he was born in the actions of Abraham which to the Jew caused all Jews to be saved, or 2) by some actions like circuncision and entering into the covenant actively by sacraments.
Note, a sacrament is something that causes on to have the grace or favor of God. As a Baptist, I don’t believe these commandments of communion and baptism can bring salvation. To use the term “sacrament” is to declare that you believe that these activities bring salvation in some way. Within the Roman Catholican and Anglican churches, a sacrament is clearly understood this way, and it very disturbing to me to hear Calvinists, Reformed, and especially Presbyterians talking about the “sacraments.” It turns my stomach to hear Baptists use the term favorably. Presbyterians baptize babies of their members as an act of bringing the child into the covenant, and if it dies before reaching the age of accountability, then it is saved. Exactly how is somebody saved without having faith in the work of Jesus Christ? Because of the covenant relationship of their parents. Straight Roman Catholic works doctrine. Many Reformed Baptists also baptize babies of their members with like beliefs.
Sorry for being blunt, BUT NOBODY CAN BE SAVED WITHOUT BELIEVING JESUS’ WORK ON THE CROSS AS THEIR SALVATION.
Anybody tells you different, it is heresy. Don’t listen to them, and all their elaborate explanations result in the same, they overturn clear, basic, Bible doctrine on salvation.
But this point just reenforces my observation that Calvinists believe their covenant relationship is what saves them, not their faith. This brings me to a doubt. Can a true died in the wool Calvinist really be saved? His trust is not in the form and mold the Bible presents (believing in Jesus’ work on the cross for his salvation). Salvation is not anything outside of a personal one-on-one relationship between us and God, fomented upon or started by our 1) repentance, and 2) our faith, trust, and confidence in Jesus and his person and work on the cross.
What is a Covenant?
A covenant is an agreement between two people. This covenant was well establish in the OT, and for something to be a covenant, it has to have all the elements. One person can give a gift to another, and this is not a covenant. It doesn’t meet the requirements. What is a covenant then?
First, there has to be two parties. The two parties have to hear terms, one parties offering a condition or conditions, and then a promise or result of the second party agreeing to those conditions. Next the second party has to agree to the condition(s) of the covenant. The two enter into a relationship, and one (the second party) acts on the condition, and the first party has to comply with the promise promised.
Why don’t Calvnists attack the total inability of us to enter into a covenant? This hasn’t surfaced in the foolishness of Calvnism yet.
The entire crux of a covenant is the action of the second party. He must agree (good faith) and he must act. Action is at the heart of the covenant. But if this is the simple understanding of a covenant or pact, why do Calvinists insist on focusing on the inability of the second party to fulfill in any way any condition?
In other words, Calvinism destroys the base concept of “covenant” making God having to do all the activity and actions. God is who saves, God is who makes a person holy, God is who makes each Christian what he is to be, and Calvinism seeks to remove all moral activity and initiative from the human side and loads it all on the divine side of the equation.
Covenants don’t work that way. A covenant is an agreement in good faith, whereby both parties hold faith in the other to complete their duties in the covenant (man has to comply with God’s conditions, which means the entire covenant hinges on man’s actions, and God’s promises come as a consequence of man’s completion of his part of the covenant).
Calvinism totally destroys the base concept of “covenant” on the one hand, while on the other, believes personally and individually in the promise of God towards them while they don’t “DO” anything.
We are not talking about “good works” of justice or righteousness in order to be saved, but we are talking about repentance and faith. These are God’s conditions to man. God will help man by providing the forceful examples of morality (Christ, other Christians), as well as other Christians praying, and as well as providing a miraculous spiritual power, the Word of God. But in the end, the trigger of all this is not election, but the will of man. Each man must decide and act, and this focus is clearly at the forefront of God’s exhortation to man. Repent and believe, leave off sin, turn from sin and turn to God. These are the “bread and butter” of the gospel offer.
This is also not any kind of secret behind-the-scenes “God flipping the salvation switch” on according to election. If this were true, then God is deceptive in His simple offer. “Call upon the Lord and thou shalt be saved.” God’s presentation of the salvation to us, i.e. the gospel, is an action on our part WILL DEFINITELY CAUSE SALVATION FOR US, and there is no reference to a celestial master list (i.e. election).
What is the practical results of covenant theology?
All Calvinism and Reformed doctrine pushes their followers towards a single objective, inactivity. I know many Calvinists will get hot and bothered by this statement, but it is true.
If election has predetermined every man’s fate, nothing anybody can do will change anything, so why try? This is the point of Calvinism, spiritual inactivity.
Morally inactivity is also a target. Calvinists have a haughtiness about them that in essence says, “No matter what ‘little sins’ I indulge in, I am elect and will still go to heaven.” This is Jewish thinking all over again. The NT destroys this thinking left and right, and if you change Jew to Calvinist, the arguments are almost the same throughout.
We should not go to the other extreme of thinking we lose our salvation at any sin either. But true salvation is a relationship directly with God, not via geneology nor inheritance. We are saved without any option or say so by us. God conditions our salvation on our declaration and the reality of our faith in Jesus Christ. This includes his person (who he is), his work (especially on the cross), and his moral example (what he is morally). Without embracing all of these, one is not saved.
A declared faith is worthless without a lifestyle to back up what you propose you believe in. The two go hand in hand. You cannot boast of your election and surety in God without seeing the actual proof in a holiness life. Where the beginning of salvation starts, or where the beginning of desire and power (iniative) for holiness is not the question. The point is YOU must put forth of your own desire and effort.
Never more true was the statement, “Work as though everything depended on you, and believe as though everything depended on God.”