Monday, August 2, 2010

Calvinistic vs. Arminian Gospel

by Robert Fraire

A couple of weeks ago at Lakeside Chapel we had a Q & A with the elders. One of the questions that was asked and answered was: "Is there (or should there be) a marked difference in the way a Calvinist evangelizes the lost as opposed to an Arminian?"
First I will give the briefest of descriptions of some important issues that bear on this question. Both groups understand that all men have sinned and are guilty before God. They also believe that Jesus paid the price for sin and that a person's true faith in the payment of Christ is sufficient for salvation.
Where the differences come to bear in the area of evangelism is first and formost a difference in understanding of the spiritual state of man. The Arminian believes that all men have something within themselves that is able to hear, understand, and respond positively to the gospel message. The Calvinist believes that when Ephesians 2 says that men are dead in their sins, it means that men DO NOT posses the ability to understand and respond positively to the gospel.
This doctrinal difference has many practical ramifications. For the Arminian, the goal of Evangelism is to convince a person of the truth of the gospel. To present the gospel in a way that appeals to a man and causes him to exercise his ability to place his faith in Christ. This has lead to the honing of particular methods to persuade people of their need for Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Calvinist believes that the main purpose of Evangelism is to speak the truth of the gospel as clearly as possible. The Calvinist believes that no man is able to believe the gospel on his own. Instead, the Holy Spirit must do the work of regeneration in the heart of a man in order for that man to believe. And everyone whom the Spirit regenerates WILL believe the gospel message.
A couple of specific areas where we see this difference in belief in action is in the area of altar calls and the grounds of assurance of salvation.
The altar call is a common practice of many/most Arminian churches. I grew up believing that this was "The Way" evangelism was done. After a gospel message was preached, the evangelist would call, and goad, and exhort and persuade as many people as possible to come forward in a service. They would repeat after the evangelist then were told that they had become Christians. At Lakeside we do not do altar calls. The reason is because our understanding that the Spirit will regenerate those whom He has called and they will believe. We are called to plead with men to come but not to attempt to manipulate emotions to gain a "decision".
The second area I will address is the ground of assurance of salvation. Arminian teaching is that when someone prays a prayer of salvation he must write down the date is his Bible, so that whenever he doubted he could look at that date and be sure. I remember a pastor preaching that when he had a rough stretch he would go out to his garden where he had a rock engraved with the date he prayed to receive Christ. At Lakeside we call people to examine their lives to see if the Spirit of God is changing them. Do they love God, love believers and strive to obey Him? These are the tests of 1 John that is the ground for the assurance of salvation.
Finally let me say that another practical ramification of our doctrinal beliefs is in the responsibility of the Christian in evangelism. I read a book from an Arminian author that argued that churches must do everything with professional quality. Why? Because if the unbeliever got a bad impression of Jesus from the church, he may be forever turned off from the gospel. By extension, each believer could be the reason someone spends eternity in hell or heaven. But we believe that since the Spirit regenerates who He wills, our responsibility is to faithfully proclaim the gospel, but understand that salvation is exclusively the work of God.
This is a brief note and much more can be said about this topic. Please let me know if you would like me to continue on this topic.


Bruce Mills said...

I agree that the foundational beliefs of the Arminian in regard to man's ability to exercise faith on his own may change the approach and methodology the Arminian uses to try to convince his target of the truth of the gospel. But the content of the gospel should be the same by both the Arminian and the Calvinist. There should be no difference in that sense.

Robert Fraire said...

Bruce, I certainly agree with you and Steve and Ben covered that essential aspect of this question in church. I thought I would focus on another important area.