Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Traced in History

This article is to provide ample evidence that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. It is the first of many articles I have written in defense of Calvinism.

I do not assert that you must affirm Calvinism in order to be a Christian. I do not assert that you are incapable of logical thought if you reject Calvinism. My goal is simply but firmly to prove that Calvinism is not an heretical system of theology. Here, I mean to relay Calvinism’s historical roots.

I hope this proves helpful to you.

A Faith Traced in History

First, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were present in the early church.

Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, with love towards our gentle and compassionate Father because He made us an elect portion unto Himself…Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness…There was given a declaration of blessedness upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Jesus Christ is the hope of the elect… – Clement Of Rome (A.D. 69)

We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation. – Barnabas (A.D. 70)

[Christ speaking] I see that I shall thus offer My flesh for the sins of the new people. – Ibid.

To the predestined ones before all ages, that is, before the world began, united and elect in a true passion, by the eternal will of the Father… – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

In all these discourses I have brought all my proofs out of your own holy and prophetic writings, hoping that some of you may be found of the elect number which through the grace that comes from the Lord of Sabaoth, is left or reserved [set apart] for everlasting salvation – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

Christ died for the salvation of His people…for the church – Tertullian (A.D. 200)

The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed. – Eusebius (A.D. 330)

Faith itself is to be attributed to God…Faith is made a gift. These men, however, attribute faith to free will, so grace is rendered to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt…They must cease from saying this. – Augustine (A.D. 370)

Second, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were clarified at the appropriate time.

In church history we see the development of doctrine, but only in a certain sense. Doctrine does not develop in the sense that the truth changes nor that it becomes more complex. Truth remains the same, yet our articulation of it progresses. As various controversies have risen, the need for clarification on Biblical truth has likewise been present.

For example, Trinitarianism needed to be articulated in light of Arianism. Does that mean that no one believed in the Trinity prior to the 4th century? Of course not – it means that the Scriptural testimony of our Triune God was not meticulously articulated by church leaders until the 3rd and 4th centuries. The same truth applies to Calvinism. Prior to the 16th century, did anyone believe in Calvinism? Well, the term “Calvinism” did not exist, but of course the teachings of Calvinism were present.

The truths of Calvinism were clarified when the need for clarification arose. The true church separated from the Roman Catholic church under grave conviction of certain doctrines, some of which are expressed in the “Five Solas” of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. The motivation to split from Rome ran deeper than “justification through faith.” For the Reformers, the deeper issue was synergism (“with two energies”) versus monergism (“with one energy”). Namely: who accomplishes salvation? Does God accomplish salvation in its entirety (monergism) or do we accomplish something therein (synergism)?

The Reformers saw Roman Catholic doctrine as synergistic, thereby robbing God of glory and leaving no true hope for mankind who is truly dead in sin. When God’s monergistic work in salvation needed to be clarified, many rose to the task and articulated His sovereignty in salvation. Martin Luther was one such champion of monergism when he wrote his famous Bondage of the Will.

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.  – Luther ed. Dillenberger, pg. 199, “Bondage of the Will” in Martin Luther

Third, notice that the tenants of Calvinism have been clearly confessed since their articulation in the 16th century.

Confessions in which Calvinistic doctrines are present include but are not limited to the following: 1528 Ten Theses of Berne, 1530 Augsburg Confession, 1549 Zurich Consensus, 1561 Belgic Confession, 1566 Second Helvic Confession, 1599 Geneva Study Bible, 1619 Canons of Dort, 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1675 Helvetic Consensus, 1677 Baptist Catechism, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1801 39 Articles of Religion, 1858 Abstract of Principles, 1966 Baptist Affirmation of Faith.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are now deceased, have included but are not limited to the following: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Zacharias Ursinus, Roger Williams, John Owen, Benoit Turretin, Francis Turretin, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Gill, John Bunyan, Augustus Toplady, J.C. Ryle, William Carey, George Mueller, Charles Spurgeon, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, Geehardus Vox, Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield, A.T. Robertson, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Martyn Loyd Jones, James M. Boyce.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are still living, have included but are not limited to the following: Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, James White, Bruce Ware, David Platt, Albert Mohler, Jason Allen, Owen Strachen, Matt Chandler, Jared Wilson, Greg Gilbert, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, D. A. Carson, Paul Helm, Douglas Moo, G. K. Beale, Vern Poythress, John Frame, Timothy Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Alistair Begg, Douglas Wilson, Bryan Chappell, Ligon Duncan, Voddie Baccham.

Fourth, notice that Calvinism has played a foundational role in Baptist history.

Baptists sprung from the Puritans in England, who were entirely Calvinistic. From this body Baptists differentiated themselves in two main groups: Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists. In 1790, America boasted 979 Baptist churches, most of which were Calvinistic. The trend would continue until the mid-19th century split into Northern and Southern Baptists, to resurface in the 1980’s on the back of the Conservative Resurgence. H. Leon McBeth writes, “There can be no doubt that Calvinism has been a major part of Baptist heritage” (McBeth, pg. 699, The Baptist Heritage; all information in this paragraph was taken from McBeth).

In light of these four brief points, I submit to you that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. Labelling Calvinism “unchristian” is historically untenable. Though the assertions of Calvinism need not be confessed by a Christian, they cannot with any historical weight be considered heretical. Heresy is different than error. Orthodoxy grants you full liberty to say, “The Calvinist is in error,” yet historically no one can fairly claim, “The Calvinist is heretical.”

Baptists have always included those who are Calvinistic and shall continue to do so. Baptists claim Calvinistic believers as fellow believers and work hand in hand with them as they serve the Lord together. – David Allen and Steve Lemke, 9, Whosoever Will


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