Baby, Bathwater and Bathtub (I Thought I Was a Calvinist!)

As a teenager, I recall an incident in the Pentecostal church where I grew up. The young pastor was expounding Scripture and taught that once saved, salvation was unassailable. In other words, “once saved always saved”. That seemed eminently reasonable to me but one man walked out of the study, offended by this doctrine which was opposed to the general Pentecostal view. A number of us debated the issue and most were convinced by the argument and we became Calvinists as against the general Arminian view, where salvation was maintained by continuing to believe, or by not falling into some serious sin. Of course, what we did not know was that the Calvinist position included the belief that salvation was administered through a duly ordained man using sacred water and, in particular, it applied to infants who were unable to repent and believe. Furthermore, Calvin had a view of the Kingdom which allowed him to persecute other Christians holding different ideas regarding baptism. On occasion, even the death penalty was used. It has been argued that he was simply a man of his times. That argument troubles me. What if the times changed again; I wonder if those using the same argument would have me burnt at the stake? From God’s Kingdom we are called to be counter culture; the times that we live in are not to determine how we react. Apart from the moral dilemma that this causes, there is the question of foundations. We have already concluded that without correct foundations it is impossible to build true. Why would anybody wish to call themselves Calvinist when the whole system was built on false kingdom principles and legalized murder? If this is too difficult to swallow, then take hold of  a simple instruction given by Paul to the church at Corinth. This is how he expressed it,

“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1Cor.1:12-13).

The principle is that we must not identify ourselves with the name of any individual. Let me clarify what Paul was saying about Christ because, of course, we do follow Him. There are always those believers who see no value in recognizing the leadership of gifted men in the Church. These are the ones who are unteachable, who are unwilling to make themselves accountable to the body. They exist in isolation, they are proud and will not submit to godly authority.

I am not a Calvinist. I do believe in the security of salvation. Then, there are those who believe in the security of salvation on the basis of the verse in Proverbs that says,

“Train a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not turn from it”. (Prov.22:6)

The verse has nothing to do with salvation; rather it addresses the issue of leading a successful life. It gives advice on child rearing. My purpose is not to prove my belief. In fact, whether I believe that I can or cannot lose my salvation, will not make any difference to the end result. Here is my point; both parties are convinced that they are secure but what if they are making a conclusion on the basis of a wrong belief system? The hope of security is based on a wrong assumption and is a hindrance to truth and real faith. The belief system is what I call “The Bathtub”; the container in which the belief is held. Belief systems modify truth. In fact, a belief system can completely nullify the conclusion. Paul warns us,

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principle of this world rather than on Christ”. (Col. 2:8).

It is very possible that we can filter truth by world views that have been compromised by the fallen world. That is dangerous. Vigilance is called for.

In our pluralistic world, excuse is made and it is presumed that it is fine to have a Church in which various views are acceptable. There is rarely an expectation or need to embrace the principle that we must all seek to embrace the whole truth; to be devoted to being truth seekers, as we follow Christ. It is often remarked that a given church, denomination or group has some of the truth and that to expect the abandonment of “little” errors is to be unreasonable. The fear is that we “throw out the baby with the bathwater”.  I have never been quite sure what is the baby and what is the bathwater. I am less concerned, for example, whether a position is taken on eternal security than the container in which it is held. Some bathtubs need smashing so that we can freely discern what is truth or not. It is not only groups of Christians that fall foul of deceptive and hollow philosophies. Each one of us is a philosopher. The man who sits at home, watching television and swilling beer all day, is a philosopher. His philosophy of life is: “the world owes me a living”. My philosophy of life is: “maximum results from minimum effort”. I believe in excellence and am prepared to work hard when required. We filter our approach to truth through our personal philosophies. My approach works well with the Biblical principle of grace; I know that unless what I do for the Kingdom of God is through grace (God’s empowering presence) it will count for nothing. I also need to remember to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling”. (Phil. 2:12). Personal philosophies are modified by what we could call spin. My spin is that I am a risk taker. That sounds a lot like faith and sometimes it is. It can also be the willingness to take chances without regard to the consequences. However, true faith is not a risk at all but is a response to what God has already said or done, so it is the most reasonable and secure thing to do.

The question remains: where do I get my own, personal philosophy of life from? Some of it is simply a matter of heredity. Some of it is a part of my unique gift from God. Much of it, if not all, is affected by my upbringing and life experience. We are fallen creatures living in a fallen world. The pressure of that and our response fashions who we are and the way we respond. Perhaps our parents had unrealistic expectations for us, or no expectations at all. The culture that we grow up in gives us a framework in which we determine our ethical approach to life and the way in which we learn to interact with society at large. Many of our values are developed through the education system or at work and for those brought up in the subculture of a church, its belief system tells us what is acceptable. Belief systems received in these ways are subjective and unreliable. The only reliable source is the Word of God; but then we need to know how to understand accurately.