Reformation in the Church begins in the pulpit. Once we recover our priorities in preaching, we will return to the basics of the gospel, and it is not possible to do this without addressing the issues that have been nicknamed Calvinism. Now, it is our solemn duty to preach Christ and not Calvin. But mark it down—if someone preaches Christ correctly, he will be accused of preaching Calvin. And as W.G.T. Shedd once said, “If they are going to hang you for a thief then you might as well steal something.”
So we must therefore answer the question posed by the serpent in Eden, which is, “Hath God said?” If God has not spoken on these things, we must remain silent ourselves. And if He has spoken, then there is no possible reason for attributing the invention of these doctrines to a certain Frenchman.
If it is on account of grace and the cross, then it is an honor to be slandered as a “Calvinist.” Christ said it was an honor when men speak evil of us, and it certainly is evil for the followers of Christ to be identified as the followers of a mere man, however godly that man was. But just because we rejoice in the slander ourselves, it is not necessary that we join in the slander. We are to rejoice in the slander; we are not to do our best to make the slander true. Christ did say to go the second mile, but I don’t think this is what He had in mind.
In contrast, if it is on account of an obnoxious and churlish presentation, then there is no honor at all in being called a “Calvinist.” Some who call themselves by this name do have a reputation for an approach which is not characterized by Christian charity. As John Newton pointed out, self-righteousness can feed on doctrines as well as works.
Should “Calvinists” seek unity of fellowship with Christians who differ with them on that issue? Absolutely. Why? Because election depends upon the good pleasure of the Father. And if He has bestowed His unmerited pleasure on Arminians (which He most certainly does), then it makes no sense for a Calvinist to magnify the prerogatives of divine sovereignty by telling God He is not allowed to fellowship with any Arminians, and that furthermore the Calvinist is going to try to set a good example for God through restricting his fellowship. Some view of divine sovereignty! Some Calvinism! Woe to the pot who strives with the Potter. Woe to the Calvinist who objects to the loose fellowship standards of God Almighty!
Is this to minimize the seriousness of the Arminian error? Not at all—it is a grievous error, and it leads to worse. Is it to minimize the truths contained in Calvinism? Not at all. As mentioned before, Calvinism is nothing more than a nickname for a thorough and right understanding of the gospel. The point is simply to say God’s grace is greater than all human error and sin. Even ours. And that grace is most apparent when Christians love one another.
But suppose an Arminian says that we cannot really love our brother if we say that he is mistaken about the gospel. We would paraphrase Paul and ask, “How are we an enemy simply because we speak the truth?” True Christians may be mistaken in their theology of the cross, our duty is therefore twofold. We must love all Christians as brothers, and we must graciously dissent from all such mistakes about the cross. And at other points of doctrine or practice, where God uses Arminians to correct us, our duty is to receive it humbly.
If an Arminian is elect and chosen, then his election is not imperiled thought his failure to understand the ninth chapter of Romans. Paul did not say, at the end of the eight chapter, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ except for shoddy exegesis. And if a Calvinist is reprobate, then he cannot earn his way into the approval of God though a self-righteous mouthing of the doctrines of grace. Unsaved Calvinists are like Solomon’s beautiful woman without discretion—a gold ring in a pig’s snout. But when both share in a common election, their duty is to maintain a unity of love, and strive for a unity of mind which is only possible through diligent study and application of the Scriptures.
Now there are some who take the name “Calvinist,” not out of a fractious party spirit, but because they don’t want to seem uncharitable. “Mine is the biblical position. What’s yours?” But however well-intentioned, it is still not within our authority to act as though something revealed in the first century was invented in the sixteenth. Keeping the peace is not an absolute priority. And for those doctrinally-oriented Calvinists who are very concerned for the claims of truth, there is important instruction in the early chapters of Revelation. It is good to be concerned for thrush; the ancient Ephesian church was not rebuked for that, but rather for abandoning its first love. We must proclaim the truth, and we must love the brethren. If we sacrifice the truth for the sake of love, it is not really love; if we sacrifice love for the sake of truth, it is not really truth. The Bible requires unswerving allegiance to both.
So it is not possible to put the issue to one side even to keep peace between Christians. We are commanded to preach the gospel, and all presentations of the gospel must presuppose the truth of one position or the other. So there is no neutrality; there is no third way.
The Bible reveals truth; it does not conceal it. A Calvinist is simply one who believes the revealed truth about foreordination as it was revealed to us. He does not seek to mix the plain statements of Scripture with fallen reasoning or logical extrapolation. Therefore the label he uses must match what he is doing—the last thing a label should do is mislead. It would be helpful if we would avoid the label “Calvinist” in every honest way we can. But in no way are we seeking to minimize any biblical truths about the cross. Rather, we are trying to detach a human name from God’s truth. At the same time, the reader should know that whenever we refer to grace, faith, justification, the cross, election, etc., we are referring to what others call “Calvinism,” and what the Bible calls grace.