CCF Advisory Concerning Theological Systems

Introduction

In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of theological interest in CCF. We noticed many theological discussions have been taking place, often about issues related to the centuries-old debate between Calvinism (or Reformed Theology) and Arminianism.

In many ways the CCF leadership is glad to see so many of our members, especially among our younger leaders, who have a sincere desire to study the Word of God and deepen our love and knowledge of God. This is something to celebrate!

At the same time, we recognize that the way some have pursued their theological interest has crossed the line between fruitful inquiry and study to unnecessary, and at times divisive, debate and contention.

The reason for this advisory is to give input and to provide pastoral guidance to CCF members through a clearer and more complete understanding of CCF’s position on some of the theological and practical issues that are being raised. We will also give some guidelines about what behavior is acceptable in Dgroups and CCF-sponsored activities, and what resources we recommend for those who desire to study these and other issues more carefully.

 

Initial Perspectives

Our human limitations

God gave us the accounts of Scripture from which we seek to understand who He is and how He wants us to live. Yet even with His revelation, we must accept that as human beings our understanding of His Word, even under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is limited.

Within Scripture God reveals Himself so that, within our limited human capacity, we can understand who He is as “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But certain things about Him remain a “mystery.” He reveals things that are true (for instance, that Jesus is both human and divine) but does not always reveal everything (for instance, how can Jesus be both human and divine at the same time?). Some things are simply beyond our capacity as humans to fully grasp.

When we approach the study of theology, we must accept first that we cannot fully comprehend God. God did not choose to give us a book on systematic theology or an encyclopedia of theological knowledge. He gave us the Bible, so we have everything we need to have faith in Jesus and follow Him. But He did not, nor is He obligated to, answer every question we have about His nature and character.

For us to understand God comprehensively, we would have to be God. And herein lies one of the dangers of theological study: when we presume to know everything about God, we are in danger of Satan’s first temptation: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:4). We must guard against falling into the sin of pride as we seek to learn about God.

Our authority, the Bible

The Bible, not any theological system, or any human teacher or preacher, or any school or organization, is our final authority for what is true or right. For this reason, while we can learn from those other sources, we must always weigh their teaching against what is in the Bible (Acts 17:11).

When we hold up one system of theology, organization, or Bible teacher as being the one we follow, we are in danger of falling into the sin of the Corinthians: “… ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ and ‘I am of Cephas,’ and ‘I am of Christ.’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). In CCF we have intentionally avoided association with any particular theology, organization or Bible teacher(s) because we always want Scripture, and Scripture alone, to be the basis for our faith.

Our calling as a Church

Finally, we should be reminded that CCF seeks to be faithful to its calling: to accomplish the mission and vision He has given to us. Our primary mandate is “to honor God and make Christ-committed followers who make Christ-committed followers.” If our interest, study, and debate of theological issues distracts us from following our mission and vision, or worse hinders others from wanting to follow Christ, we must question whether those are worth pursuing.

 

What are the issues?

Theological systems

Most of the present theological debates and discussions are about two theological systems: Calvinism and Arminianism (see the Addendum for a brief background and comparison of the two systems). Before getting into a discussion of which is more biblical, we first must answer two questions: “What are theological systems?” and “Are they necessary?”

Theological systems are attempts by theologians to organize and explain everything that can be known about God in a systematic way. Their proponents usually argue that their system is the best way to understand the nature of God, His creation, man and salvation. There are many theological systems, including Dispensational Theology, Lutheran Theology, Catholic Theology, Liberation Theology, Natural Theology, Covenant Theology, and others. Calvinism and Arminianism are two such theological systems.

One way to understand how theological systems work is through the following diagram. Granted that this is not a perfect illustration, it does highlight some of their strengths and limitations. Let’s say that the large circle represents everything in the Bible. The three shaded areas (the square, the triangle and the oval) represent different theological systems. Each of the three theological systems seeks to account for as much of the information revealed in the Bible as possible.

None of the systems can account for everything because of the natural limitations we have as people trying to interpret all the mysteries revealed in God’s word. In most cases, the systems also introduce things that are not explicitly in the Bible to make the system more coherent.

This diagram illustrates the benefits and limitations of theological systems. While each system organizes and systematizes a large part of the Bible, none of them covers everything. They exclude certain aspects of what the Bible says in order to try to better understand other parts of God’s revelation. In fact, as humanly derived systems, each of them goes beyond the borders of Scripture and introduces things that may not be explicitly taught in the Bible.

The problem is that all systems are developed by fallible people that are based on what seems to be logical. But they cannot account for things that go beyond our human capacity to understand. Nor can they fully account for everything revealed to us in God’s Word.

 

Why has CCF chosen not to adopt a specific theological system?

We acknowledge that studying theological systems may be helpful for those who are trying to deepen their understanding of certain theological issues. But in CCF we endeavor to understand what the Scripture says first before agreeing with a theological system. We believe we have no obligation to choose a “side” or commit to one theological system over another. While some may say that this approach is in itself a “system,” we feel it gives us the most freedom to read and study the Bible without preconceived biases or filters which are inevitable if we commit to one specific theological system.

It is our perspective that having a commitment to one theological system can lead a person to force certain perspectives on the Bible. It is like looking through a pair of colored glasses. When you look through pink-colored glasses, everything will look pink. If you look through green-colored glasses, things will look green. The tint of the glasses changes the way things look.

For example: If your theological system teaches that the most important aspect of God’s nature is His sovereignty, it is likely that this will influence the way you understand the meaning of many biblical passages.  So, if you see a passage that appears to teach that people have free will, it is likely that you would interpret the passage through the “lens” of God’s sovereignty. You may be tempted to think, “If God is completely sovereign, it is impossible for man to be completely free to make his own decisions. Logically that would cause God not to be fully sovereign.” So the passage might be reinterpreted based on the “fact” that God’s sovereignty is the most important aspect of His nature.

On the other hand, if your system teaches that God’s key attributes are His love and justice, you may conclude that, “If God is just and loving, He cannot rightly punish people for not believing something that they are incapable of believing.” Man must be able to choose to believe or God would be unjust and unloving to condemn a person for not believing. Applying the lens of your theological system, when faced with passages indicating that God is absolutely sovereign, and man has no ability to choose to believe in Christ and be saved, the temptation would be to interpret the passages in a way that would limit God’s sovereignty.

But what if the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty and His love and justice? It is in issues like this where even the best theological systems may introduce what is not explicitly in the Bible in order to resolve certain complex, and at times paradoxical, situations in Scripture.

In CCF, we prefer to read the Bible, as much as possible, in a way that minimizes the influence of “theological lenses.” In the above case, the reality is that there are passages that teach both: God is both absolutely sovereign and He is absolutely just and loving. The Bible does not resolve the tension. Therefore, we live with the tension.

We do not claim to be perfectly objective or superior in our approach to the Bible and theology. But it is our intention to try to understand the Bible as it is written even if that may leave certain issues without full resolution. After all, God is beyond our human comprehension.

We have heard some people imply that CCF does not take a strong stand in favor of a certain theological system because its leaders have not really studied theology deeply. The implication is, if we understood a particular theological system fully, we would commit to that system.

But this is simply not true. The reason CCF does not hold to one of the traditional theological systems is because many of our leaders, including Pastor Peter Tan-Chi, have studied the issues carefully, and have concluded that it is unwise to dogmatically adhere to one of those systems. We prefer to allow God’s Word to speak directly to us first, not through the filter of a theological system.

 

Biblical perspectives

The following categories and representative passages are how we see biblical teachings as they relate to some of the key issues between the main theological systems. They represent our best effort to see what the Bible says as a whole rather than what one system would emphasize.

a) On the character of God

The two theological systems emphasize two different aspects of the character of God, namely:

  • Calvinism – The absolute sovereignty of God in all things
  • Arminianism – The love and justice of God in giving man freedom to respond to Him

Although both aspects of God’s character are biblically true, the different emphasis of each system makes it difficult to find common ground. This has resulted, at times, in extremes and polarization between fellow believers. It is important to highlight that God’s attributes always work together in perfect harmony and no single attribute should be taken as primary or secondary.

  • Sovereignty of God – key passages: Job 42:2; Isaiah 45:9-10, 46:10; Romans 9:19-21; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Hebrews 1:8
  • Love and justice of God – key passages: Psalm 25:8-11, Psalm 145:8-9, 17-20; Psalm 9:7-10; John 3:16; Romans 3:24-26, 8:1-4

b) On man’s sinfulness

Key passages: Isaiah 64:6-7; John 6:44; Romans 1:17-32; Romans 3:9-20, 23; Ephesians 2:1-6; Colossians 2:13; James 2:10

Scripture is clear that every person is sinful because of the imputed sin of Adam, and also because each person has sinned in experience. Because of this, no one is able to alter one’s eternal destiny through any goodness, act of penance, or good work. People are seen as dead in sin, slaves of sin, and incapable of pleasing God in regard to their salvation.

c) On God’s sovereignty

Key passages: 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 46:10; Romans 9:19-21

There is no doubt from the Bible that God reigns, and He is able to ensure that His divine will is accomplished. He can do anything that He wills to do. His divine will is seen as operating in perfect harmony with His other attributes. We as His creatures cannot speak back to Him or question the justice or fairness of His will.

d) On Choosing, Election and Predestination

“Chosen” – key passages: Romans 8:33, 11:5; Ephesians 1:4, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9

“Elect” – key passages: Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 11:7; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Romans 9:11, 11:28; 2 Peter 1:10

“Predestined” – key passages: Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5, 1:11-12

Scripture teaches that there are people who are chosen (or elected) by God in various senses, including for salvation. In general, “the elect” or “the chosen” simply refers to God’s people, or His church – believers – or those who are called to serve Him. In other cases, it refers to believers being chosen for something other than salvation, such as to bear fruit (John 15:16), or to be His disciples (John 6:70, which also included Judas), or Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). The terminology indicates that, if there are those who are chosen or elect, there are also those who are not. While some passages do not indicate conditions for why a person would be chosen (Ephesians 1:4-5), other passages refer to the foreknowledge of God as part of the process of election (1 Peter 1:2).

There are fewer passages that use the term “predestined” to indicate that people are chosen for salvation in a way that excludes others. The word “predestined” as related to a person’s election by God for salvation is only found in two passages (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5, 1:11-12). So, while Scripture is clear about the fact that believers are elected or chosen, there is less clarity about the nature of divine predestination.

e) On the extent of the atonement of Christ

For the elect: key verses – Matthew 1:21, 20:28, 26:28; John 10:15, 15:13; Acts 13:48, 20:28; Ephesians 5:25; Hebrews 9:28

For all: key verses – John 1:29, 3:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2

There are many verses that state that Jesus died for the elect. There are also many passages that say He died for the sins of the whole world. Since the elect are a subset of all people, there is no contradiction. It is possible for the death of Christ to pay for the sins specifically of the elect, while at the same time also being for the sins of all people.

f) On the role of God’s grace in salvation

Key passages: Romans 5:15-17; Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-9; Colossians 2:13; Titus 2:11

We believe that no one can be saved apart from the grace of God. It is only through the drawing of the Holy Spirit in the exercise of His grace toward sinners like us that a person can be saved. While some would assert that His grace is irresistible, and others that His grace only brings a person to a point where he or she can respond to the gospel, we would simply affirm that “it is by grace that you have been saved through faith.”

g) On the extent of God’s offer of salvation

Key passages: John 1:12, 3:16; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-13; 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9

In a variety of passages Scripture indicates that the offer of salvation is to all people. We therefore believe that all people are in need of hearing the good news of Christ. While not all will respond (whether because they are not elect, or because they volitionally reject His offer), we believe it is our responsibility as believers to share Christ with all so that as many as possible may respond to the Spirit’s summons and be saved.

 

CCF’s perspective

In light of the above and related passages, CCF affirms and teaches the following:

a.) Man is sinful and utterly unable to save himself.

The Bible teaches that people are without the capacity to affect their eternal salvation through any goodness in themselves, through their good works or through acts of penance that would make them worthy of salvation. Because all people are both sinful by nature and have sinned in experience, all are accountable to God and deserving of eternal separation from Him in hell.

(Isaiah 64:6-7; John 6:44; Romans 1:17-32; Romans 3:9-20, 23; Ephesians 2:1-6; Colossians 2:13; James 2:10)

b.) God is sovereign.

The Bible teaches clearly that whatever God determines to happen will happen. Nothing that He wills to happen can be thwarted. We also affirm that the exercise of His sovereign will is always in perfect accordance with the rest of His divine attributes, such as His love, justice, omniscience etc.

(1 Chronicles 29:11-12; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 46:10; Romans 9:19-21)

c.) Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient for all to be saved.

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sins of the elect. But it is also clear that Jesus’ death on the cross was for the sins of the whole world, not only for the sins of the elect. We reject the argument that if Jesus died for all, then God is obligated to save everyone. We believe that Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for the sins of the whole world ensures that all who come to Him in faith will be saved.

(For the elect: Matthew 1:21, 20:28, 26:28; John 10:15, 15:13; Acts 13:48, 20:28; Ephesians 5:25; Hebrews 9:28)

(For all: John 1:29, 3:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2)

d.) It is only because of God’s grace that people can be saved.

The Bible clearly states that it is God’s initiative to seek people out for salvation. It is only because of His grace that anyone is saved. Because of His grace, and through the drawing of the Holy Spirit, sinful man is able to be saved.

(Romans 5:15-17; Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-9; Colossians 2:13; Titus 2:11)

e.) God elects (chooses) people to be saved.

The Bible teaches that before the foundation of the world God has chosen to save those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.  We observe in Scripture that He does so according to His foreknowledge.

(Concerning those “Chosen” – Romans 8:33, 11:5; Ephesians 1:4, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9)

(Concerning the “Elect” – Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 11:7; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Romans 9:11, 11:28; 2 Peter 1:10)

f.) Everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation will be saved.

The offer of salvation is made to all. Salvation is given to everyone who places his or her faith in Christ. There is an interplay between the grace of God extended to unbelievers, the drawing of unbelievers to Christ through the Holy Spirit, their response to the proclamation of the gospel, and their decision to turn from sin and place their faith in Christ for salvation. How that happens is by His grace alone, and is a mystery that, in God’s infinite wisdom, balances the sovereignty of God and the volition of man.

(John 1:12, 3:16; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-13; 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9)

g.) Those who have received the gift of salvation will be saved for eternity.

The Bible teaches that those who are saved will be saved for eternity. They are sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit and experience the internal witness of the Holy Spirit that they are sons of God. However, those who show no evidence of repentance or genuine transformation should not be assured of salvation but should be cautioned to examine themselves to be sure they are truly in the faith.

(John 10:27-29; Romans 8:35-39; 1 John 5:11-13; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:3-5)

 

Order of Salvation

One final issue, although not technically one of the main points of the two systems, is the logical sequence of how a person is saved (the theological term is the “Ordo Salutis” – the order of salvation).

From a Calvinist perspective, unbelievers are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-5). Logically, if a person is spiritually dead, they are incapable of responding to the gospel. For this reason, a person must be regenerated prior to being saved. So a typical order of salvation for a Calvinist is this: God elects, He predestines, He calls, He regenerates, the one saved believes, repents, is justified, is sanctified, perseveres and is glorified. Romans 8:29-30 is often cited as a basis for this sequence. A Calvinist would teach that in terms of their temporal sequence, the call, regeneration, belief, repentance, and justification all take place simultaneously.

An Arminian would typically teach a different Ordo Salutis: God elects, God calls (He draws by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word), He gives sufficient grace (prevenient grace) for a person to respond, the person believes, repents, is regenerated, is justified, is sanctified, perseveres and is glorified. For the Arminian, these also take place in a temporal sequence, with prevenient grace, faith, repentance, regeneration and justification taking place simultaneously at the point a person is saved. Ephesians 1:13-14 is often cited as the basis for this sequence.

For all practical purposes, both systems teach that the various aspects of salvation take place simultaneously. CCF, therefore, affirms what Scripture teaches that we are all saved by grace alone, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We should preach the gospel to all people and implore them to be reconciled to God through Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:20).

 

Some Pastoral Guidance

Regarding Evangelism

Some have taken the extreme position that, since some people are elect and others are not, it is not right when sharing the gospel to tell an unbeliever that they can choose to believe and follow Christ. This perspective may have merit if Christ did not die for everyone. But as seen above, we in CCF believe that Christ died for the sins of all people (John 3:14-16). Therefore, anyone who responds to the gospel in faith will be saved. So we encourage all CCF members to take the initiative to passionately share the gospel to everyone in our spheres of influence (2 Corinthians 5:20).

a) Evangelistic Tools

Another objection to CCF’s approach to evangelism is that using tools like The Best Decision, God’s Way to Heaven, The Four Spiritual Laws, or other evangelistic tools to lead a person to Christ is not biblical.

Actually, there are many things that are not in the Bible but are useful to help people grow in their faith. Video blogs (vlogs) are not in the Bible. Nor are church buildings, Bible Schools, evangelistic retreats or many other methods that we practice to help people come to faith and grow.

Our position on the use of evangelistic tools is that they are methods which may be helpful to communicate the truth of the gospel so that people can come to faith in Christ. Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit drawing people to Himself that causes a person to come to faith. But if a tool is useful to Him and to us to help people understand the gospel, then we will continue to use it. If it is no longer useful, we will look for other ways to communicate the gospel.

b) Revelation 3:20

There are also objections to the use of Revelation 3:20 as an invitation for an unbeliever to ask Christ to come into his/her life to receive the gift of salvation. The common objection is that the passage is written to believers in the church of Laodicea, so it does not apply to evangelism.

Yet many of the Reformed teachers who teach that the passage is not intended for non-Christians also believe that if Christ is not Lord in the life of a person professing faith in Christ, they are not true believers. If this is the case, then it would appear that the church in Laodicea was made up primarily of non-believers. They are described as “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Jesus said He would “spit you out of my mouth.” By the standard of their view of Lordship Salvation, most Reformed teachers would have to say these are not even Christians. Therefore, to be consistent, it would appear they would have to agree that this was indeed written to unbelievers.

While many Reformed Bible teachers disagree with the use of Revelation 3:20 for evangelism, many other scholars recognize that the application of Jesus’ invitation to open the door to Christ does indeed apply to non-believers who are invited to enjoy fellowship with Christ.

CCF recognizes that Revelation 3:20 was written to the church in Laodicea. But according to the description of the spiritual health of the church, it would seem very likely that many if not most of its members were apostate – most likely many were not even believers. The invitation of Jesus seems to have application to those who are not yet believers.

c) Prayer of Acceptance

Similarly, according to some strict Calvinists, there is no “prayer of acceptance” in the Bible, so we should not use a prayer of acceptance as a way to lead a person to Christ.

CCF’s position is that, while it is not necessary for a person to pray a prayer of acceptance to be saved, a prayer of acceptance can be a valid way for a person to express their faith in Jesus. Even the terminology we often use to encourage people to pray a prayer of acceptance reflects a biblical perspective: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). While John was probably not thinking of an acceptance prayer when describing those who receive Christ, he certainly was expressing a heart attitude of accepting and welcoming Him into our lives.

However, we recognize that each person’s experience of coming to faith may be different. Some who come to faith in Christ do not pray a prayer of acceptance, but realize at some point that they have come to believe and have been saved. Others pray an acceptance prayer multiple times, but never are certain of their salvation – they may not be saved at all. Others can point to the time when they prayed a prayer of acceptance as the starting point of their Christian life. And still others prayed a prayer of acceptance, but it was later that they understood the significance of making Christ the Lord of their lives – that was when they began growing in their faith.

In CCF we recognize that God works differently with different people. The common thread is that at some point each person must repent and believe and come into a relationship with Jesus through faith.

 

Regarding Theological Study and Discussion

a) Major on the Majors

If you find yourself spending more time discussing and debating your theological perspective, you may be getting off track. Evaluate your focus and see if it is aligned with the priorities of Scripture.

We should make Christlikeness, leading people to Christ, and making disciples a higher priority than debating theology. We hope that the desire for deeper study of the Word would lead to deeper love for God, for one another, and compassion for the lost.

b) Take advantage of GLC

Some people have chosen to skip the regular curriculum of CCF to pursue “deeper” theological questions. We would advise such persons, if they have not finished GLC, to complete GLC first. Through doing so, they may find that many of their questions will already be addressed. We encourage you to do GLC before looking for other materials, Bible teaching or online classes.

There are many valuable lessons in GLC, and more are on their way. We have introduced more book studies and a series on apologetics and other issues that we believe will be valuable to help them grow in their love, knowledge and obedience to God.

c) Take advantage of Right Now Media

We have subscribed to Right Now Media, which has an extensive collection of video resource materials for Christians to grow in their faith. While we do not endorse or agree with all the resources found in Right Now Media, we believe it offers a wealth of courses and topics from some of the finest Bible teachers. We are now able to offer this free of charge to all those who are registered in CCF Dgroups.

Part of Right Now Media will be a list of CCF-recommended videos and classes for various topics, including Bible and Theology. We encourage CCFers to take advantage of the resources in Right Now Media.

d) Materials for Dgroups and other Bible studies

To make sure we are aligned as a movement, we ask that all Dgroup leaders get the approval of their Area Pastors before using other materials for Dgroups or other Bible studies. Likewise, if you desire to sign up for an online Bible course that is not part of CCF’s curriculum, please seek the counsel of your Area Pastor. While we do not want to block people from seeking biblical answers to their questions, the leaders of CCF are accountable for the health of the flock (Hebrews 13:17).

 

Other Church Issues

Some popular Reformed speakers and vloggers espouse perspectives on certain practical issues that have also become points of critique with regard to CCF. These include church government and authority, worship and preaching style, and so on.

In CCF we seek to follow what the Bible says in all we do. But the Bible leaves much unsaid about how a church is to be structured, or how worship services are to be conducted. Many of the critiques that have been raised about CCF’s practices are about issues where the Bible is silent. The manner of worship, the type of music used, the type of preaching, the order of service, etc. are not specified in Scripture. In fact, there is no clear evidence that there even were “worship services” as we know them in the New Testament!

One example can be cited to highlight this. Some argue that our weekend messages are not “biblical.” By this they mean that we do not preach “expository” messages (preaching verse by verse, expounding primarily about the meaning of the text, and referring often to the original languages for support). Interestingly, this method of preaching was not used by Jesus or any of the apostles in the New Testament. The “expository” style of preaching is a relatively recent invention now being taught by Western seminaries and Bible teachers.

In contrast, CCF emphasizes the application of God’s Word in our messages more than preaching to simply increase knowledge. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive – we must understand the Word to apply it properly. But it is simply not true that our messages are not biblical. In fact, according to the Bible, it is not hearers of the Word who are commended, but doers. Therefore, we believe our messages are actually more aligned with the intent of Scripture – to produce doers – than messages that simply explain the meaning of the Bible.

Others argue that worship services should be solemn, and that contemporary worship music should be replaced by hymns. Or that worship services should only be for believers, not pre-believers. Others say that only ordained ministers have the authority to oversee the exercise of the Lord’s supper and baptism.

Actually, these practices are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible but are the product of traditions born out of the experience of churches and denominations as they have sought to minister to people. While they are not necessarily right or wrong, they are certainly not mandated explicitly in Scripture. And in some cases (e.g., ordination of ministers, infant baptism), the practices of some Reformed denominations go against what we see as the clear teaching of the Bible and the experience of the New Testament church.

Our position is that we seek to follow Scripture as closely as possible in all we do, and where Scripture is not clear, to adopt practices that will help believers grow to become more like Christ and attract unbelievers to follow Christ. Everything we do is aimed to fulfill our mission: to honor God and make Christ-committed followers who make Christ-committed followers.

 

A Final Thought About “Deeper Study” and the Quest to Understand God

One theme that has been repeated by many involved in these issues is the desire for “deeper” biblical study. While more knowledge and understanding of the Bible is an admirable desire, the Bible itself defines what is “deep” differently than we do. Deep, according to Scripture (Hebrews 5:14), is greater obedience, not greater knowledge. The deeper we go, the more like Christ we should become, not just the more knowledgeable we will be.

In Hebrews 5, the writer of the book of Hebrews was explaining about Jesus’ heritage as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. For many of us, this could be described as “deeper theology.” How many of us have extensively studied the priestly role of Melchizedek in relationship to the priestly office of Christ? Yet the writer then criticizes the readers for their lack of maturity and chides them for needing milk and not solid food. Why? Because maturity, according to Hebrews 5:14, is measured not by knowledge, but by having their conscience trained through practice to discern good and evil. Knowing about Melchizedek is not “deep.” Knowing and practicing following Christ is.

Returning to the starting point of this paper, we would echo the writer of Hebrews. We would hope that the result of our deeper study would be deeper obedience to God’s Word. Our study should also result in deepening humility regarding our comprehension of the mysteries of salvation, and greater appreciation of God’s grace and inscrutability. Rather than becoming more deeply entrenched in our own perspectives, we should endeavor to have greater unity and love for one another (Ephesians 4:1-6).

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Romans 11:33

 

Addendum: A Brief Overview of Calvinism and Arminianism

The two theological systems that have been the object of discussion recently are Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism and Arminianism are systems of theology that were developed in Europe during the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are coined after the names of their chief proponents, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. Over the centuries there have been ongoing debates regarding the theological perspectives they hold, as well as new developments and formulations of the systems.

The primary issues that divide followers of Calvinism and those of Arminianism pertain to how one is saved, and especially questions about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in salvation. The following is a simplified summary of the two systems. We recognize that no short summary will do justice to either system, but for simplicity we present this for those who may not be aware of the issues involved.

 

Calvinism (Reformed Theology)

As mentioned above, Calvinism (or Reformed Theology) is a system of theology that emphasizes God’s sovereignty as His defining attribute. Calvinism is the theology that was a product of the Protestant Reformation and was largely defined by John Calvin (1509-1564). Historically, the ranks of well-known Calvinists include George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon.

Calvinism is associated organizationally with the Presbyterian denomination as well as the Christian Reformed Church. Some Baptist churches also are associated with Reformed Theology. Today, many popular vloggers and theologians in the US, such as R. C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, David Platt, and Paul Washer, are identified with Reformed Theology.

The simplest way to characterize Reformed Theology is through the acronym “TULIP”:

  • Total Depravity – As a result of the fall, people are sinful by nature. As such, every aspect of their being is tainted by sin, rendering them totally unable to please God or contribute in any way to their salvation.
  • Unconditional Election – Certain people (the elect) are chosen by God before the creation of the world for salvation. God’s choice is not based on anything, including His foreknowledge.
  • Limited Atonement – Christ’s death atones only for sins of the elect, not for the sins of all people.
  • Irresistible Grace – God’s grace ensures that the elect will be saved.
  • Perseverance of the Saints – Those who are elect will persevere to the end (will not fall away) and will be saved for eternity.

 

Arminian Theology

Arminian Theology is a system of theology that gives greater emphasis to the love and justice of God in giving people the opportunity to be saved. Arminians would disagree with many of the points of TULIP. Their perspective was first called “The Remonstrance” by followers[1] of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609).

Arminius taught that God has given humans free will, and humans are able to freely choose or reject salvation. Well-known Arminians include John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Graham.

  • Total Depravity – As a result of the fall, people are sinful by nature. As such, every aspect of their being is tainted by sin, rendering them totally unable to do anything that would contribute to their own salvation.
  • Conditional Election – The elect are chosen by God to be saved in accordance with God’s foreknowledge.
  • Unlimited Atonement – Christ died for the sins of all people, but His atonement is efficacious for the elect.
  • Prevenient Grace – God’s prevenient grace is sufficient for people to respond to the call to place their faith in Christ for salvation.
  • Conditional Preservation – Salvation is maintained by God in cooperation with those who persevere in the faith but may be lost by those who fall away. (Note that Jacob Arminius himself felt that the issue of the eternal preservation of the believer needed further study, so did not make a definitive conclusion on the issue).

 

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[1] The Remonstrance actually was conceived prior to TULIP, and the principles that later were described by “TULIP” were developed to oppose what Calvin’s followers felt were errors in Arminian theology.