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Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church

John Calvin is considered to be the father of the Presbyterian Church. Soon after Martin Luther in 1517 protested some of the practices of the Catholic Church, John Calvin and other reformers followed in Luther’s steps with more protests.  Martin Luther and John Calvin along others were leaders in the Protestant Reformation, which spread like wildfire across Europe and the British Isles.

John Calvin believed that Luther had not gone far enough in breaking from the traditions of the Catholic Church. He and John Knox led protests that resulted in the formation of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, which settled in Switzerland, Holland, France and Scotland with some groups settling in England and Germany. Many of Martin Luther’s followers established Lutheran churches in Northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The Presbyterians take their name from the way they are organized.  The word “presbuteros” is the Greek New Testament word for “elders”.  The Presbyterian form of church organization does not include bishops as leaders.  Instead elders or presbyters lead each local congregation.  When elders run the business of the church, this really emphasizes the responsibility of the ordinary church member.. The Presbyterian Church is run democratically.

Since the Presbyterians take their doctrines and traditions from John Calvin, we will focus here on John Calvin’s beliefs.  John Calvin was born in 1509 and when he was a young man he had a conversion experience in Paris where he was studying law.  He left Paris for Basel, Switzerland where he studied the Scriptures and wrote a book titled “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” This book was the most important book published during the Protestant Reformation and influenced many to become Protestant. 

John Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God and that is a hallmark of Presbyterian and reformed theology.  The phrase “sovereignty of God” means that God is the absolute ruler, reigning over all of creation. John Calvin and his followers emphasized the intellect and Bible study. And today Presbyterians are known for debating religious ideas and have theological discussions; meditating and studying the creeds of the faith.  Presbyterians encounter God through His Word.  Calvin introduced five theological points known by the name TULIP.

 Some Presbyterians today do not believe these five points of TULIP but some still hold fast to these beliefs. These five points taught by John Calvin are strictly Presbyterian beliefs. The Catholic Church and most other Protestant churches do not agree with this TULIP theology of Calvin’s.  Here copied below is Calvin’s contradictory TULIP theology:

T – Total depravity.  This means that we humans are utterly sinful.  We are so depraved and lost and broken by original sin that we cannot even turn to God. 

U- Unconditional election   This is Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.  He believed that God chose who would be saved and who would be damned from the foundation of the world.  Those who God chose for salvation were chosen by God and didn’t do any good deeds to merit this election.

L – Limited atonement   This belief of Calvin’s offends many Christians because it teaches that Christ’s death brought salvation to a limited number of people and it was not for all. Calvin believed that Christ’s death was only for the elect, or for those who God chose and predestined to be saved.  The whole Bible teaches that it isn’t God’s will that any should perish but all should have eternal life. (2 Peter 3:9) This doctrine of Christ not dying for the everyone is certainly not Biblical in my view! 

I -  Irresistible grace This doctrine of Calvin’s says that if you are among God’s chosen ones and are predestined to receive salvation you cannot refuse God’s salvation.  You can do nothing and  God does everything to bring you into His kingdom.

P – Perseverance This doctrine of Calvin’s means that if you are saved you cannot lose your salvation. Once saved, always saved. You cannot slip away and you will persevere or keep on in your faith until the Day of Judgment.  If you do slip away from God, then you weren’t one of the elect in the first place.

The doctrine of predestination and all that goes with it has been the major difference between Presbyterians and many other Protestant groups over the last three hundred years.  Many Presbyterian churches today downplay these beliefs.  There are many Scriptures that speak of the sovereignty of God. But nowhere do the Scriptures say that God chooses who will be damned and plans it that way! If God only chose those who would be saved then He would also choose those who would be damned.  And God would be responsible for creating a person who He made for damnation! That is certainly not the God I love and serve!! I am glad that many Presbyterians do not hold to these beliefs of Calvin.  But I am glad that our Presbyterian brothers and sisters remind us that God rules.  And that “All things work together for good, to them that love Him, to them who are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)  

Truly we cannot save ourselves and our sovereign God must do all the saving. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot do anything. We have the freedom to open ourselves to God’s leading or to reject His grace. Many passages in the Scriptures teach us that we are made in the image of God and we have free will as He does.  Even though most other Christians do not believe Calvin’s TULIP teachings, we do need to be reminded that God is sovereign. And that no matter how awful things can become in our lives or in our world, God is always at work.  God’s purposes are being worked out in our lives even if we cannot see them now. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Adam Hamilton asked Dr. Tom Are, Senior Pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas if he believed that God has caused Hurricane Katrina.  The Presbyterian pastor said that he did not believe that God had caused the hurricane Then he added these words: “Nothing, not even Katrina, not even our death, is beyond the redemptive grace of God: and in that sense God is sovereign.  All the evil we see in the world would seem to bear witness that God is not powerful, but the doctrine of sovereignty says that God is more powerful than these signs of evil and that God will ultimately fold these into His purposes.  …God will not let evil and destruction be the last word.” 

We read in Scripture that when Job lost his children and his home and his wealth and his health he said that no matter what happened to him that he would continue to trust in God.  He said:” Though He(God) kills me, yet will I trust Him.”  (Job 13:15) Job trusted in the sovereignty of God, - that he would ultimately triumph over evil with God’s help.  Job also said: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last Day He will stand upon the earth: and after my skin has been thus destroyed (after Job dies), then in my flesh I shall see God.  Whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a)

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas responded this way when asked about how he felt about the sovereignty of God.  “When I think of the sovereignty of God, I think of God’s ultimate reign over the cosmos – that He does have “the whole world in His hands.”  I know that one day this world will end: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the kingdom of God will consume the kingdoms of this world.  This brings me great comfort. …… In my illness or health, in my poverty or wealth, I belong to God.  If I am to die tomorrow, or forty years from now, I will never be outside of God’s grasp, I know that He is always with me, and knowing that brings me great peace.” 

Adam Hamilton appreciates our Presbyterian brothers and sisters for emphasizing the sovereignty of God because of the great peace and comfort it brings all Christians.  And I agree with him.  When I feel like my life, or the lives of my family members are out of control, I also find great comfort in giving it all to God and knowing that He can take care of everything.

 Scripture says that through Christ we have overcome the world and all the problems of this world.  I have problems that are too big for me to handle and I can become depressed and fearful and I surely don’t feel like an overcomer.  But I have a sovereign God as my heavenly Father and He makes me an overcomer. And you too.  This is one of the Scriptures that comforts me: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This (Christ) is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world.  Only he or she who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  (1 John 5:4-5)   It doesn’t get any better than that!

This blog was taken from the chapter on Presbyterianism in Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.     

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