Are Old School Baptists Calvinists? If not, why not?
Calvinism derives its name from the famous reformer, (so-called) John Calvin, who lived from 1509-1564. Most of his adult life was spent in Geneva, where he was a highly successful, and beloved pastor; and generally ruled the affairs of the city with a terribly firm, but honest hand Many commentators have sharply condemned Calvin for his treatment of religious heretics, and the openly profane. It should be pointed out, however, that under his control Geneva went from an extremely immoral city, to a community known for its prudence. Calvin was obviously brilliant, and well taught in the Bible doctrines of grace and depravity. His writings were extensive, and are generally regarded as some of the finest theological works ever produced, despite the flaws common to non-Baptists. He is, along with Martin Luther, credited with the distinction of being the most hated man ever to withdraw from the Roman Catholic Church in opposition to their priestcraft; and he suffered much for his stand.
Calvin did not, as some suppose, come up with previously unknown, or lost doctrines, but rather formulated the Bible truths already well known by the Saints of God since the days of the Lord and His Apostles. The Bible doctrines known today as Calvinism were held by many, even in the Roman Catholic movement; the most notable expounder of them being Augustine. The doctrine which Calvin preached and wrote is today summed up in the position known as "The Five Points of Calvinism." There are many in various religious orders today that to some degree or another embrace his five points. It is needful however, to say that there are very few who embrace them with the same intellectual, or spiritual fervor that Calvin did; at least from what we can tell from their pronouncements.
The five points of doctrine as held by Calvinists are as follows:
1: Total Depravity.
2: Unconditional Election.
3: Limited Atonement.
4: Irresistible Grace.
5: Preservation of the Saints.
We do not know of a true Old School, or Primitive Baptist who has ever lived that would disagree with these five articles, or doctrines, taken separately. We say true, because there are many carrying the name Primitive, or Old School Baptist who are weak as fly-soup in their exposition of the same, and there are some that outright pervert them. These doctrines are to the children of the Heavenly King sweet and precious. They are truths that many of the saints have been persecuted for, and some even died because of them. They have been the basis for endless controversies in the congregations of the saints when the opponents of free grace have crept in among the sheep. But, most of all, these are the doctrines that are so clearly set forth in God's word that none with eyes to see would dare controvert them.
So then, are we Old School Baptists also Calvinists? Since we believe the things Calvin did, does not that make us followers of his system? By no means!! Holy-Rollers believe in the Trinity. That does not make us Holy-Rollers too, since we believe in the Trinity, does it? Campbellites believe in immersion as the true mode of baptism, but that does not mean we are Campbellites because we too immerse. We might supply many other comparisons, but the reader will no doubt get our drift with the two above. Our design is not to link Calvinism with the likes of Holy-Rollers and Campbellites, but rather to establish a reason for our disdain in being called Calvinists simply because we hold to kindred views.
"And," one may well ask, "Why then do you disdain the nomenclature Calvinist, or Calvinism?" We reply, for the best of all reasons. Calvinism, for all the truth it contains, is a vehicle for error of the gravest sort; that being a perversion of the harmonious Decrees of God. A word of explanation, then. Calvinists parade their doctrine around with the acronym T.U.L.I.P. and assert in the strongest language that this represents the order of God's everlasting decrees regarding the salvation of sinners. In their view, T.U.L.I.P. unfolds the mind of God as He arranged the everlasting covenant. Many of these Calvinists however, are little better than Universalists, contending that God has elected most, if not all of the human family. Few of them truly believe in their first article, Total Depravity, for, among other things, they content for "gospel regeneration;" a position that cannot possibly be true if the sinner is totally depraved, or dead in sin. Furthermore, they generally deny the Limited Atonement with their "altar calls," "invitations" to sinners to be saved, and a "gospel offer." This is nothing less than repugnant to the Old School's understanding. By far, the worst of all errors is their notion that God has chosen His people out of Adam's fallen race. True Predestinarians hold that we were chosen in Christ, not Adam. See Eph. 1:4. Total depravity, to them is the first of God's decrees, and Unconditional Election follows. They content that God saw the fall, and thus He made provision for it in election. True predestinarians believe God first chose His people in Christ, and then ordained the fall in Adam. If the Calvinist position is true then we are in error for believing in the eternal union of Christ and His saints. Both systems cannot be true.
On and on we might go, but this should be sufficient for the time being. We are verily thankful there are those in other movements that hold these sweet and comforting doctrines, but we cannot walk with them in their muddling and twisting the sacred doctrines once delivered to the saints.
Volume 5, No. 1
January - February, 1991