“What is the source and status of faith?...is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle A RETURN TO ROME (BECAUSE IN EFFECT IT TURNED FAITH INTO A MERITORIOUS WORK) AND A BETRAYAL OF THE REFORMATION (BECAUSE IT DENIED THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN SAVING SINNERS, WHICH WAS THE DEEPEST RELIGIOUS AND THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE OF THE REFORMERS’ THOUGHT)” [J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” trans. J. I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Cambridge: James Clarke/Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1957), pp. 57-58. Quoted by R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will” (fifth printing). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 24, caps mine).
Happy Reformation Day! I wanted to write this special post so as to commemorate a unique day in the lives of believers. It was on this day, October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was just the beginning of what would be a seemingly-endless journey from Luther as a proud son of the Catholic Church to a major departure from the Catholic Church and his fame as the father of the Protestant Reformation. We are forever in Luther’s debt; were it not for Luther’s stand against the tradition, we would not be Protestants today...nor would we have liberty of conscience (which involves freedom of worship). Most importantly, we praise God for Martin Luther’s life, and what he stood for. We all can learn from his example: it’s easy to conform to the norm, but it’s difficult to stand against it. Let us all be willing to take a stand in a world where conformity is the standard.
However, this post is about one of the principles the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) stood for during the Reformation--- that is, the concept of “priesthood of all believers.” This principle states that all believers have direct access to God, that mediators between God and men are no longer needed since Christ is the mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is this principle that I desire to focus on in this post.
The notion of “the priesthood of all believers” applied specifically to the area of the Scriptures---that is, that the masses (commoners) could read the Scriptures and understand them. The problem in Luther’s day was that “power” was the key word of the Catholic Church. In Luther’s day, the priests were over the laity, and only the priests were allowed to read Scripture. The laity were not allowed to read the Scriptures (the language of the Scriptures was written in Latin, a language only the clergy would understand). When Luther started his journey in the Reformation, he translated the Scriptures into German (which was the common language of the masses). It was his conviction that God intended every man, woman, boy, and girl to understand the Scriptures. The common folk would no longer need to go to the priests to understand the meaning of the Scriptures, because they would be enabled to read and understand for themselves.
It is out of this idea that the common masses should be able to read and understand the Scriptures that my theology of interpretation comes. What is my theology of interpretation, one may ask? My theology of interpretation starts with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His Incarnation was for two purposes: (1) to atone for the sins of all mankind, and (2) to reveal God the Father to His creation. It is out of this revelatory purpose that I believe the Scriptures are meant to be revelatory (since they are “The Word” and Christ is “The Word,” John 1:1). Because God desires to reveal Himself to us (both in Christ and the Scriptures), the Holy Bible should clearly tell us who God is and what He demands of us. God is a God of intelligence, so He reveals Himself in an intelligent manner, in a way that we can understand. Don’t forget---we were created to think in this manner(don’t forget Jesus’ parables in the Gospels!).
If this be the case, then why is it that Calvinism has gained so much ground in evangelicalism? If this is the case, why is it that it is “more intelligent” to circumvent the normal readings of Scripture to come to Calvinist interpretations, rather than just take the straightforward reading of Scripture?
For example, take John 3:16. How hard is it to understand that when John writes, “For God so loved the world,” that “the world” refers to “every person in the world”? How more obvious could Jesus’ words be in John 3:17 when He writes that “God did not send His Son into the world TO CONDEMN THE WORLD” (John 3:17, NKJV)? The Father sent His Son in order to save the world, “that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s desire was to save every single individual---and He demonstrated that desire in Christ. I ask, how hard is this straightforward reading of the text to understand? How is it that Calvinists can take something so plain and twist “the world” to mean “the elect in the world”? How then, can Calvinists hold to “unconditional election and unconditional reprobation” on the basis of John 3:16-17 alone?
Next, what about Romans 10:9? How hard is it to understand Paul’s words that on the conditions of confession and belief, one is saved? Is that not the plain reading of the text? If so, why then, does Calvinism espouse that one is regenerated (saved) “before” confession and belief? How can Calvinists also claim that faith is a work, when the Scriptures clearly argue against faith and works in Romans 4:1-5? How can one go against Jesus’ words that we are required to believe in Him (John 6:29)?
Even when it gets to the issue of perseverance, what about the warnings against believers? What about the words of Hebrews 6:4-6? Why do Calvinists (and four-point Arminians) reinterpret these words to refer to those who are “fake believers,” when the text clearly states that the Hebrews should be teachers of the doctrines of the faith (Heb. 5:12), and are called “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), as well as “sons” (Heb. 12:5-10)? Why are they warned about “falling short of the grace of God” (Heb. 12:15) if there are fake believers in the congregation? And why threaten believers with the words of judgment in Heb. 10:26-31, call the believers “His people” (Heb. 10:30), if such people are not believers? Why does the Apostle Peter warn the believers not to “fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked,” if such persons are not believers (2 Peter 3:17)? And what does the word “apostasy” mean if it does not refer to one who “goes (stasis) away from (apo)” God? How can we define apostasy if someone does not “go away from” God, but instead, was “never saved to begin with”?
The point of this post was to emphasize that, if we can really read and understand Scripture without the need of a priest, then why do we need a “Calvinist priesthood” standing over us, defining for us what common-sense reading is (reinterpreting the plain readings for us)? Why is it that the ordinary person cannot read the Scriptures and affirm Calvinism? Why is it that many individuals are “raised Arminians” but later “become Calvinists”? I suspect that Calvinism requires “training,” but Arminianism simply requires reading.
The quote above by R.C. Sproul accuses Arminians of returning to Rome. Calvinists, however, are the guilty ones---for if we listen to them, Rome will come to us. In Luther’s day, the priests dictated the Scriptures; in the future, it will be Calvinists. And what about the common people? Well, they’ll be at the mercy of what Calvinism teaches. And, once again, the truth of the Scriptures will be hidden from the laity. If we’re honest with ourselves, Arminianism is what the Protestant Reformation was all about; and it is really Calvinism that will return us to Rome.