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Q&A Is Calvinism Heresy

(note: pages numbers refer to the 'Teaching Tool Notebook' which is a downloadable pdf document available here)

And, CAN A CALVINIST BE A DISPENSATIONALIST?

Recently, an inquirer who describes himself as "one of those dreaded 5-point Calvinist (AND a dispensationalist by the way)" took issue with the Calvinist teaching materials provided on this site. which were posted at the request of those in dialogue with Calvinists, and to explain Calvinism to our readers. 

While many use the term Calvinism interchangeably with Reformed Theology, Calvinism is the 'how to become saved' while Reformed Theology is the doctrinal framework of the belief system.  Calvinism is the foundation that Reformed Theology rests on, therefore it becomes confusing when Reformed scholars like John Gerstner (a Calvinist and anti-dispensationalist)  refer to the non-Reformed as Dispensationalists when actually both can be Calvinists.

Dispensationalism is a theology opposed to Reformed theology, but Gerstner uses the term (dispensationalism) negatively to describe non Calvinists. 
Classical
dispensationalism (p.39) teaches a distinction between Israel and the Church, the Church began at Pentecost, a pretribulational rapture (p.199) and a future kingdom (p.214) for national Israel where Jesus Christ will rule from Jerusalem. Many Reformed believers dismiss the pretribulational rapture as a recent theological invention of John Darby of the Brethren Movement, but it is a Biblical doctrine and explained in I and II Thessalonnians.  

John Gerstner, a 5 point Calvinist(synonomous with TULIP) ("What Is Calvinism' p.55)  claims that only Calvinism within the framework of traditional Reformed theology is "true Christianity" (i.e. extra non-biblical covenants, (p.52)  the church began perhaps as far back with Adam (p.272), the church has replaced Israel (p.230), the Tribulation is past (p.235), Kingdom Now theology (p.252), one final return of Christ at the end of time (p.277).  Gerstner insists that the teaching of classical dispensationalism is cultic and implies that those who believe in it are heretics and not saved Christians because they don't fully accept TULIP and Reformed Theology. He writes:

"What is indisputably, absolutely, and uncompromisingly essential to the Christian religion is its doctrine of salvation... If Dispensationalism has actually departed from the only way of salvation which the Christian religion teaches, then we must say it has departed from Christianity. No matter how many other important truths it proclaims, it cannot be called Christian if it empties Christianity of its essential message. We define a cult as a religion which claims to be Christian while emptying Christianity of that which is essential to it. If Dispensationalism does this, then Dispensationalism is a cult and not a branch of the Christian church. It is as serious as that. It is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation." 1

Heresy

The querier was particularly offended when, in Brenda's testimony she described Calvinism as "heresy."  He writes, "The document....describes anyone who holds Calvinist views as being a complete heretic." However, what was actually written was; "I (Brenda) was taken captive to the heresy of four point Calvinism....."  Apparently, the matter in question centers on the use of this word.

The label "heresy" is most commonly applied to the teachings of non-Christian cults, which significantly depart from the fundamentals of Christianity. However, the term "heresy" also describes any teaching or doctrine that deviates from truth. Notice how Noah Webster's Dictionary defines it:

A fundamental error in religion or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion.....In Scripture and primitive usage, heresy meant merely sect, party, or the doctrines of a sect, as we now use denomination or persuasion, implying no reproach.2

The NT uses the word heresy in several ways; heresies of divisions (1 Cor 11:19), destructive heresies (2 Pet 2:1), and heresies that keep one from the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:20). In the case of non-Christian cults, it is easy to apply the label "heretic" since their doctrine obviously departs from Christianity, but within the walls of the visible church, "heretic" would rarely be applied unless one egregiously departs from Christian tenets. Therefore the word "heresy" can be applied within the church since it applies to "sects, parties and denominations" without reproach.

Perhaps "deception" would have created less confusion, but "heresy" is certainly within bounds. Few would deny the existence of strong divisions between the "persuasions" of Calvinism, Arminians and those who hold neither position. Divisions in Paul's day prompted his warnings against being deceived (1 Cor 15:30-34), warnings of being bewitched by bad teaching (Gal 3:1), public chastising of Peter for eating with the Judaizers (Gal 2:11-14) and the urging of Timothy to command men not to teach false doctrines (1 Tim 1:3-4). Believers are warned about false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), captivity through the philosophies of men (Col 2:8), deception (Jas 1:16), captivity to the devil's will (2 Tim 2:26), the devil's schemes (Eph 6:11) and idolatry (1 Jn 5:21). Certainly believers are warned to avoid "persuasions" that lead them away from truth and faith in Christ.

Who is Saved?

So the question becomes, "Can a person be saved and hold incorrect doctrine?"  That depends on the errors held.  Saving faith fully trusts that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world by His death on the cross (1 Jn 2:2). Incidentally, His death also paid for the sins of false teachers (2 Pet 2:1). Jesus paid for all sins except the sin of unbelief.  A person cannot be saved if they reject Christ, have the wrong Christ or offer the wrong payment for sin. Sins can only be removed through the perfect, sinless blood sacrifice of Christ.

Young believers are easy targets for falsehoods or heresies that can captivate them and side-step their walk with Christ (Gal 5:7). Their incomplete knowledge of The Word and all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27) often causes them to put their trust in leaders as they begin the process of working out their salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12). Once embedded, strongholds can take years to demolish. Thus Paul urges Timothy to, "with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2 Tim 2:25-26)  Therefore, it is quite possible for believers to be led away from truth for a time.

Salvation When?

The inquirer's differing position concerning the "order of salvation" is the crux of the issue. He says, "To label me a heretic based on this theological disagreement seems to me a "tad" extreme." This person (a 5 pt. Calvinist), is already labeled a heretic by those within the Reformed camp because of his dispensational views. That aside, he raises another important issue, "about WHEN it is in the order of salvation that God makes a person "Born Again."before the individual responds to the gospel, while non-Calvinists believe that a person is born again after making a personal free-will choice to embrace Christ's payment for the sins of the world.  Clearly the disagreement is concerning the order of salvation.

Brenda's testimonial would agree that this man is, "A man sovereignly saved by a kind and loving God," and that God must regenerate anyone who believes in Him. However, the question is whether regeneration is prompted by personal faith or sovereign election. God has promised to save and regenerate the person who places faith in the gospel, thereby "making" the believer born again. However, the Calvinist feels God's sovereignty is threatened unless God deliberately "makes" everything happen that comes to pass in history, as stated by R. C. Sproul's famous 'maverick molecule' quote (p.88). Calvinism claims God "makes", even forces, salvation by His sovereign predestination, thereby presuming God to be the author of everything, including evil. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that Satan is the originator of evil, iniquity, sin, deception, violence and corruption that was found in his heart (Ezek. 28:15-16).  The character of God is opposed to evil. It is a character of goodness, mercy and reconciliation toward man not wanting his destruction, in fact, God promises to overcome Satan's work of destruction on behalf of believers who place their faith and trust in Him. 

Our gentleman thinks that "soteriology and eschatology are difficult subjects," but these become simple and easy to understand once the presupposition of "election" and "reformed theology" are taken out of the mix. The Bible is a simple Book of God's simple Truth if taken simply at face value by the simple in faith.

Conclusion

To label Calvinists "heretics" was not the intent of Brenda's Teaching Tool who is not judging who is saved and who is not saved as that violates Scripture which commands man not to act as another man's judge (Ro 10:6-7).  God alone knows the heart of a man.  In actuality, Brenda's testimony explains that while she was saved she was led astray by the philosophical heresies (factions) of men. Unknown to her, men were redefining biblical words and doctrines according to the traditions of Reformed Catholicism. Once she realized that men had cut in on her walk of faith with Christ and kept her from obeying the truth (Gal. 5:7)  she fully repented and now trusts in the mercy of God who promises to accept the humble repentance of the contrite sinner.

References:
[1] John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 150. Source Cited:

[2] Noah Webster's First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, Republished in facsimile edition by the Foundation of American Christian Education, Chesapeake, VA, 2004, Pg 100. Calvinism believes a person is born again.



 
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