See J. T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (1954, repr. 1967); B. G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (1969); M. Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 1541-1715 (1987).
In Protestantism, the theology developed and advanced by John Calvin. It was further developed by his followers and became the foundation of the Reformed church and Presbyterianism. As shaped by Calvin's successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza (1519–1605), Calvinism emphasizes the doctrine of predestination, holding that God extends grace and grants salvation only to the chosen, or elect. It stresses the literal truth of the Bible, and it views the church as a Christian community in which Christ is head and all members are equal under him. It therefore rejects the episcopal form of church government in favor of an organization in which church officers are elected. Calvinism was the basis of theocracies in Geneva and Puritan New England (see Puritanism), and it strongly influenced the Presbyterian church in Scotland.
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John Calvin's international influence on the development of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation began at the age of 25, when he started work on his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1534 (published 1536). This work underwent a number of revisions in his lifetime, including an impressive French vernacular translation. The Institutes together with Calvin's polemical and pastoral works, his contributions to confessional documents for use in churches, and his massive out-pouring of commentary on the Bible, Calvin had a direct personal influence on Protestantism. He is only one of many to influence the doctrines of the Reformed churches, though he eventually became the most prominent.
The rising importance of the Reformed churches, and of Calvin, belongs to the second phase of the Protestant Reformation, when evangelical churches began to form after Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Calvin was a French exile in Geneva. He had signed the Lutheran Augsburg Confession as it was revised by Melancthon in 1540, but his influence was first felt in the Swiss Reformation, which was not Lutheran, but rather followed Huldrych Zwingli. It became evident early on that doctrine in the Reformed churches was developing in a direction independent of Luther's, under the influence of numerous writers and reformers, among whom Calvin eventually became pre-eminent. Much later, when his fame was attached to the Reformed churches, their whole body of doctrine came to be called "Calvinism".
Most settlers in the American Mid-Atlantic and New England were Calvinists, including the Puritans and French Huguenot and Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). Dutch Calvinist settlers were also the first successful European colonizers of South Africa, beginning in the 17th century, who became known as Boers or Afrikaners.
Sierra Leone was largely colonized by Calvinist settlers from Nova Scotia, who were largely Black Loyalists, blacks who had fought for the British during the American War of Independence. John Marrant had organized a congregation there under the auspices of the Huntingdon Connection.
Given that its present form has multiple main tributaries, the name "Calvinism" is somewhat misleading if taken to imply that every major feature of the doctrine of the "Calvinist churches", or of all Calvinist movements, can be found in the writings of Calvin. Others are often credited with as much of a final formative influence on what is now called "Calvinism" as Calvin himself is – for example Calvin's successor Theodore Beza, the Dutch theologian Franciscus Gomarus, the founder of the Presbyterian church, John Knox, and any number of later figures such as the English Baptist John Bunyan and the American preacher Jonathan Edwards.
Despite the various contributing streams of thought, a distinctive issue in Calvinist theology that is often used to represent the whole is the system's particular soteriology (doctrine of salvation), which emphasizes that humans are incapable of adding anything to obtain salvation and that God alone is the initiator at every stage of salvation, including the formation of faith and every decision to follow Christ. This doctrine was definitively formulated and codified during the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which rejected an alternative system known as Arminianism.
Calvinism is sometimes identified with "Augustinianism" because the central issues of Calvinistic soteriology were articulated by St. Augustine in his dispute with the British monk Pelagius. In contrast to the free-will position advocated by Charles Finney and other dissenters, Calvinism places strong emphasis, not only on the abiding goodness of the original creation, but also on the total ruin of human accomplishments and the frustration of the whole creation caused by sin, and it therefore views salvation as a new work of creation by God rather than an achievement of those who are saved from sin and death.
More broadly, "Calvinism" is virtually synonymous with "Reformed Protestantism", encompassing the whole body of doctrine taught by Reformed churches. The Reformers did not dwell on predestination as if it were a central dogma, but advocated the preaching of "the whole counsel of the Word of God." In addition to maintaining a Calvinist soteriology, covenant theology is the architectural structure of the whole system incorporating all loci of doctrine. In piety and practice, a primary distinction is the regulative principle of worship, which rejects any form of worship not instituted for the church in the Bible and which sets Reformed theology apart from Lutheranism, which holds to the normative principle of worship.
In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on them. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners. Views of predestination to damnation (the doctrine of reprobation) are less uniform than is the view of predestination to salvation (the doctrine of election) among self-described Calvinists (see Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism).
In practice, Calvinists teach sovereign grace primarily for the encouragement of the church because they believe the doctrine demonstrates the extent of God's love in saving those who could not and would not follow him, as well as squelching pride and self-reliance and emphasizing the Christian's total dependence on the grace of God. In the same way, sanctification in the Calvinist view requires a continual reliance on God to purge the Christian's depraved heart from the power of sin and to further the Christian's joy.
The points therefore function as a summary of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, but not as a complete summation of Calvin's writings or of the theology of the Reformed churches in general. In English, the points are sometimes referred to by the acronym TULIP (see below), though this puts the points in a different order than the Canons of Dort.
The central assertion of these canons is that God is able to save every person upon whom he has mercy and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of humans.
The doctrine of unconditional election is sometimes made to stand for all Reformed doctrine, sometimes even by its adherents, as the chief article of Reformed Christianity. However, according to the doctrinal statements of these churches, it is not a balanced view to single out this doctrine to stand on its own as representative of all that is taught. Unconditional election, and its corollary in the doctrine of predestination are never properly taught, according to Calvinists, except as an assurance to those who seek forgiveness and salvation through Christ, that their faith is not in vain, because God is able to bring to completion all whom He intends to save. Nevertheless, non-Calvinists object that these doctrines discourage the world from seeking salvation.
Moreover, since in this scheme God knows precisely who the elect are and since only the elect will be saved, there is no requirement that Christ atone for sins in general, only for those of the elect. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power (in other words, God could have elected everyone and used it to atone for them all), but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is designed for some and not all.
The doctrine does not hold that every influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit is able to overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible and effective. Thus, when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved.
This doctrine is slightly different from the Free Grace or "once saved, always saved" view advocated by some evangelicals in which, despite apostasy or unrepentant and habitual sin, the individual is truly saved if they accepted Christ at any point in the past; in traditional Calvinist teaching, apostasy by such a person may prove that they were never saved.
Although the doctrines of grace have generally received the greater focus in contemporary Calvinism, covenant theology is the historic superstructure that unifies the entire system of doctrine.
Calvinists take God's transcendence to mean that the relationship between God and his creation must be by voluntary condescension on God's part. This relationship he establishes is covenantal: the terms of the relationship are unchangeably decreed by God alone.
Reformed writings commonly refer to an intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption. The greater focus is the relationship between God and man, which in historic Calvinism is seen as bi-covenantal, reflecting the early Reformation distinction between Law and Gospel. The covenant of works encompasses the moral and natural law, dictating the terms of creation. By its terms, man would enjoy eternal life and blessedness based on his continued personal and perfect righteousness. With the fall of man, this covenant continues to operate, but only to condemn sinful man. The covenant of grace is instituted at the fall, and administered through successive historic covenants seen in Scripture for the purpose of redemption. By its terms, salvation comes not by any personal performance, but by promise. Peace with God comes only through a mediator, the fulfillment of which is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is seen as the federal head of his elect people, and thus the covenant is the basis of the doctrines of the substitutionary atonement and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.
According to this viewpoint, the plan of God is worked out in every event. God as Creator sovereignly rules over all things, and as Redeemer over those he has saved. The utter dependence on Christ is not limited to the sacred (merely in the church or explicit acts of piety such as prayer), but also to every mundane task and secular vocation. For the Calvinist, while Christ's redemptive kingdom in the church remains distinct from areas of common activity with those who are not Christian, no part of life is truly autonomous from the lordship of Christ.
The regulative principle regarding worship, which distinguishes the Calvinist approach to the public worship of God from other views, is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example in the New Testament are permissible in worship. In other words, the regulative principle maintains that God institutes in the scriptures what he requires for worship in the church, and everything else is prohibited. As the regulative principle is reflected in Calvin's own thought, it is driven by his evident antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church and her worship, and it associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments' prohibition of graven images.
On this basis, many early Calvinists also eschewed musical instruments and advocated exclusive psalmody in worship, though Calvin himself allowed other scriptural songs as well as psalms, and this practice typified presbyterian worship and the worship of other Reformed churches for some time. While music is the central issue in worship debates, other matters have been contentious as well, including doxologies, benedictions, corporate confession of sin, prayer and the readings of creeds or portions of scripture. The presence of any one of these, their order and priority have ranged over various denominations.
Since the 1800s, however, most of the Reformed churches have modified their understanding of the regulative principle and make use of musical instruments, believing that Calvin and his early followers went beyond the biblical requirements and that such things are circumstances of worship requiring biblically rooted wisdom, rather than an explicit command. Despite the protestations of those few who hold to a strict view of the regulative principle, today hymns and musical instruments are in common use, as are contemporary worship music styles and worship bands.
Many efforts have been undertaken to reform or expand on Calvinism, and these variations appear to a greater or lesser degree throughout the history of Calvinism.
Within scholastic Calvinist theology, there are two schools of thought over when and whom God predestined: supralapsarianism (from the Latin: supra, "before" + lapsare, "to fall") and infralapsarianism (from the Latin: infra, "after"). The former view, sometimes called "high Calvinism," argues that the Fall occurred partly to facilitate God's purpose to choose some individuals for salvation and some for damnation. Infralapsarianism, sometimes called "low Calvinism," is the position that, while the Fall was indeed planned, it was not planned with reference to who would be saved.
Supralapsarians believe that God chose which individuals to save before he decided to allow the race to fall and that the Fall serves as the means of realization of that prior decision to send some individuals to hell and others to heaven (that is, it provides the grounds of condemnation in the reprobate and the need for salvation in the elect). In contrast, infralapsarians hold that God planned the race to fall logically prior to the decision to save or damn any individuals because, it is argued, in order to be "saved," one must first need to be saved from something and therefore the decree of the Fall must precede predestination to salvation or damnation.
These two views vied with each other at the Synod of Dort (1618), an international body representing Calvinist Christian churches from around Europe, and the judgments that came out of that council sided with infralapsarianism (Canons of Dort, First Point of Doctrine, Article 7). The influential Westminster Confession of Faith also teaches the infralapsarian view, but is sensitive to those holding to supralapsarianism. The Lapsarian controversy has a few vocal proponents on each side today, but overall it does not receive much attention among modern Calvinists.
The Remonstrants' doctrine was condemned at the Protestant Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland, in 1618/1619, and followers of either Arminius or the Remonstrants are not generally considered "Reformed" by most Calvinists. Many Evangelical Christians adopted the position advocated by the Remonstrants, and Arminius's system was revived by evangelist John Wesley and is common today, particularly in Methodism.
Another revision of Calvinism is called "Amyraldism", "hypothetical universalism", or "four-point Calvinism", which drops the limited atonement in favor of an unlimited atonement saying that God has provided Christ's atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elects those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.
This doctrine was most thoroughly systematized by the French Reformed theologian at the University of Saumur, Moses Amyraut, for whom it is named. His formulation was an attempt to bring Calvinism more nearly alongside the Lutheran view. It was popularized in England by the Reformed pastor Richard Baxter and gained strong adherence among the Congregationalists and some Presbyterians in the American colonies, during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Amyraldism can be found among various evangelical groups in the United States and within the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. "Five point" Calvinism is prevalent in conservative and moderate groups among Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, Reformed Baptists and some non-denominational churches, and is not uncommon among evangelical members of the Church of England.
Hyper-Calvinism first referred to an eccentric view that appeared among the early English Particular Baptists in the 1700s. Their system denied that the call of the gospel to "repent and believe" is directed to every single person and that it is the duty of every person to trust in Christ for salvation. While this doctrine has always been a minority view, it has not been relegated to the past and may still be found in some small denominations and church communities today. The term also occasionally appears in both theological and secular controversial contexts, where it usually connotes a negative opinion about some variety of theological determinism, predestination, or a version of Evangelical Christianity or Calvinism that is deemed by the critic to be unenlightened, harsh, or extreme.
In the mainline Reformed churches, Calvinism has undergone expansion and revision through the influence of Karl Barth and neo-orthodox theology. Barth was an important Swiss Reformed theologian who began writing early in the 20th century, whose chief accomplishment was to counter-act the influence of the Enlightenment in the churches, especially as this had led to the toleration of Nazism in Germany. The Barmen declaration is an expression of the Barthian reform of Calvinism. Conservative Calvinists (as well as some liberal reformers) regard it as confusing to use the name "Calvinism" to refer to neo-orthodoxy or other liberal revisions stemming from Calvinist churches due to their differing theological views.
Besides the traditional movements within the conservative Reformed churches, several trends have arisen through the attempt to provide a contemporary, but theologically conservative approach to the world.
A version of Calvinism that has been adopted by both theological conservatives and liberals gained influence in the Dutch Reformed churches, late in the 19th century, dubbed "neo-Calvinism", which developed along lines of the theories of Dutch theologian, statesman and journalist, Abraham Kuyper. More traditional Calvinist critics of the movement characterize it as a revision of Calvinism, although a conservative one in comparison to modernist Christianity or neo-orthodoxy. Neo-Calvinism, "Calvinianism", or the "reformational movement", is a response to the influences of the Enlightenment, but generally speaking it does not touch directly on the articles of salvation. Neo-Calvinists intend their work to be understood as an update of the Calvinist worldview in response to modern circumstances, which is an extension of the Calvinist understanding of salvation to scientific, social and political issues. To show their consistency with the historic Reformed movement, supporters may cite Calvin's Institutes, book 1, chapters 1-3, and other works. In the United States, Kuyperian neo-Calvinism is represented among others, by the Center for Public Justice, a faith-based political think-tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Neo-Calvinism branched off in more theologically conservative movements in the United States. The first of these to rise to prominence became apparent through the writings of Francis Schaeffer, who had gathered around himself a group of scholars, and propagated their ideas in writing and through L'Abri, a Calvinist study center in Switzerland. This movement generated a reawakened social consciousness among Evangelicals.
A neo-Calvinist movement called "Christian Reconstructionism" is much smaller, more radical, and theocratic, but by some believed to be widely influential in American family and political life. Reconstructionism is a distinct revision of Kuyper's approach, which sharply departs from that root influence through the complete rejection of pluralism, and by formulating suggested applications of the sanctions of Biblical Law for modern civil governments. These distinctives are the least influential aspects of the movement. Its intellectual founder, the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, based much of his understanding on the apologetical insights of Cornelius Van Til, father of presuppositionalism and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (although Van Til himself did not hold to such a view). It has some influence in the conservative Reformed churches in which it was born, and in Calvinistic Baptist and Charismatic churches mostly in the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent in the UK
Reconstructionism aims toward the complete rebuilding of the structures of society on Christian and Biblical presuppositions, not, according to its promoters, in terms of "top down" structural changes, but through the steady advance of the Gospel of Christ as men and women are converted, who then live out their obedience to God in the areas for which they are responsible. In keeping with the Theonomic Principle, it seeks to establish laws and structures that will best instantiate the ethical principles of the Bible, including the Old Testament as expounded in the case laws and summarized in the Decalogue. Not a political movement, strictly speaking, Reconstructionism has nonetheless been influential in the development of aspects of the Christian Right that some critics have called "Dominionism." Reconstructionism assumes that God institutes in the Scriptures everything he requires for the ordering of self and society, extending the regulative principle of worship to all areas of life.
Calvin expressed himself on usury in a letter to a friend, Oecolampadius, in which he criticized the use of certain passages of scripture invoked by people opposed to the charging of interest. He reinterpreted some of these passages, and suggested that others of them had been rendered irrelevant by changed conditions. He also dismissed the argument (based upon the writings of Aristotle) that it is wrong to charge interest for money because money itself is barren. He said that the walls and the roof of a house are barren, too, but it is permissible to charge someone for allowing him to use them. In the same way, money can be made fruitful.
He qualified his view, however, by saying that money should be lent to people in dire need without hope of interest.
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