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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Basics: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs

Don Stewart :: What Are the Major Protestant Theological Systems: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism?

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What Are the Major Protestant Theological Systems: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism?

Bible Basics – Question 20

As we close our book on the introduction to the study of Christian doctrine, it is important to understand some basic facts about the major Protestant theological systems: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. In other books, we will go into greater detail about some of the specific beliefs that are held within these systems. As for now, it is enough that we have a basic grasp of what they are and what they teach.

Calvinism Defined

Calvinism is the name given to a system of theology that was developed from the writings of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Calvin, who lived in the sixteenth century, developed the teachings of the ancient church theologian Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 353-430).

Calvinism attempts to base its total belief system on the teaching of the Word of God alone. It emphasizes the total sovereignty or control of God. Human obedience to God’s commands can only come to those whom God has chosen and bestowed grace upon. Human beings have no capacity in and of themselves to respond to God’s call. Only those whom God has elected are redeemed or forgiven for their sins.

The Five Points of Calvinism

Calvinism has been simplified to five major points—called “the five points of Calvinism.” To make it easier to remember, the acronym TULIP is often used. As an acronym, TULIP represents the essence of the theological system known as Calvinism.

TULIP is also an acrostic in the sense that each letter stands for the first letter of a particular doctrine or theological truth of the Calvinistic system of belief.

The five points of Calvinism can be simply stated as follows:

1. T: Total Depravity of Humanity

Calvinism teaches the total depravity of human beings. This means there is absolutely nothing in any of us that can merit or gain salvation for ourselves. This includes exercising faith. God must give each of us the faith to believe. Total depravity is better defined as “total inability.”

What it amounts to is this: sinners are dead, deaf, and blind to the things of God. The human heart is deceitful and the human will is under the bondage of sin. Since the human will is not free, none of us have the ability to choose good over evil in the realm of the spirit.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit must regenerate a person to make them spiritually alive and to provide them with a new nature. Faith, from human beings, when it is directed toward God, comes after a person is regenerated; not before. It is the gift from God to the lost, depraved sinner.

Humans, therefore, are totally unable to convert themselves or to do anything that contributes to the salvation process. Consequently, there is no such thing as “free will” among humans.

2. U: Unconditional Election

Since human beings cannot do anything to save themselves, God, without any conditions, elected certain people to salvation. This occurred in eternity past. His choice was not determined by anything to do with foreseen human belief or behavior. It was a sovereign choice of God without any conditions.

3. L: Limited Atonement

Jesus Christ came to die for sins. According to Calvinism, He died only for the elect or those whom He specifically chose to believe in Him. Therefore, His death, or atonement, is limited to only those whom He had chosen. This is also known as, “definite atonement.”

4. I: Irresistible Grace

Since humans have no capacity to respond to the call of God, He must draw them to Himself for salvation. Therefore, He sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate them. This work of the Holy Spirit is irresistible in the sense that the elect will always respond to the call. They have no choice in the matter.

5. P: Perseverance of the Saints

Those whom He has chosen and died for, He will also keep until the end. The elect cannot lose their salvation simply because it is God who saves them, and God who keeps them saved. It is not a human effort.

Calvinism Summed Up

To sum up, “T” stands for the total depravity or total inability of the human race. It involves the implications of the original sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden on Adam himself as well as all of his physical descendants born with his fallen image.

“U” is unconditional election. It asserts that God has chosen, in eternity, certain human beings for salvation. This selection was based on His sovereign choice; it was not anything good or any good work which He foresaw in humans.

“L,” or limited atonement, teaches that the death of Jesus Christ was intended to save only those whom God has unconditionally elected out of the depraved human race.

“I” is the irresistible grace that is aimed at those particular humans whom God has chosen for salvation. They are not able to resist His call to faith in Christ.

And finally, “P” is the perseverance of the saints. Those whom God has sovereignly elected out of fallen humanity, and whom Christ specifically died for, and who must respond to the call of the Holy Spirit will remain in faith, or be faithful to Christ until the end of their lives. This sums up the essence of Calvinism.

Calvinism sees ordinances such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism as divine institutions. Presbyterian, Congregational, and Reformed churches embrace the theology of Calvinism.

Arminianism Defined

Arminianism is a theological system that is derived from the Dutch theologian James Harmensen (1566-1609). The Latin form of his name is what he is most remembered by today—Jacob Arminius. Arminius opposed the form of Calvinism that was prevalent at the end of the 16th century. He believed that Calvinism contained two great errors.

First, he reckoned that Calvinism made God the author of sin. Second, he believed that Calvinism rejected the idea that human beings were genuinely free to make choices.

Arminius rejected the first four points of Calvinism, but left open the possibility that the fifth point—the perseverance of the saints, may be true.

The Arminian Response to the Five Points of Calvinism

We can compare Arminius’ teachings to the five points of Calvinism in the following way:

1. Humans Beings Are Not Totally Depraved in the Calvinistic Sense

It is not possible for human beings to save themselves from sin. They are totally dependent upon God and God alone. However, this lack of ability to save oneself is not understood in the same way as Calvinists. People are able to exercise faith toward God.

2. God’s Election Is Based upon Something Foreseen in People

God’s election of certain believers and rejection of unbelievers is based upon some foreseen faith or unbelief in these people. It is not a totally sovereign act of God. Humans do participate in some sense in God’s decision concerning whom to elect.

3. Jesus Died for Believers and Unbelievers Alike - Unlimited Atonement

The death of Jesus Christ was for all humanity—believers and unbelievers. Atonement was unlimited; not definite, or limited, as taught by Calvinism.

4. Divine Grace Can Be Resisted

The divine grace can be resisted by sinful humanity. Humans can willfully reject the prompting of the Holy Spirit to respond to the call of God.

5. The Perseverance of the Saints Is an Unsettled Matter

The perseverance of the saints was not a settled issue for Arminius. Later Arminians, however, rejected this doctrine. They taught that there was the possibility of believers falling from grace. They, like Roman Catholics, rejected the idea that anyone could be certain of their salvation in this life.

Lutheranism Defined

Lutheranism is a theological system which developed from the writings of the German reformer Martin Luther. Lutherans accept the three great ancient creeds of the church—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicean Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

The beliefs of Lutheranism were set out in the Augsburg Confession in 1530. They also subscribe to the Formula of Concord; another confession of faith.

Lutherans differ from Calvinists in that they believe water baptism is a necessary component for salvation. Lutherans also believe in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s Supper. It is “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine.

Lutherans differ from Arminians in that they accept the doctrine of the total depravity of human beings. Lutherans also accept the unconditional predestination of believers.

Anglicanism Defined

The Anglican Church, though Protestant in name, is somewhere between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics in its beliefs. It preserves much of old English Catholicism while rejecting some of the errors and abuses that the Roman Church has practiced. The doctrinal position of Anglicanism was set out in the Thirty-Nine Articles (1571).

This brief sketch of these major Protestant theological systems can give us a basic idea as to what Protestant, or non-Roman Catholic, believers have in common, and where they differ. In later books, we will look at the strengths and weaknesses of each system.

Summary – Question 20
What Are the Major Protestant Theological Systems: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism?

It is crucial that we understand what the Bible has to say about any theological topic since it is the final Word on the subject.

However, it is important that we understand something about theological systems that have developed over time. These systems attempt to put the teaching of Scripture into some systematic order.

The four major systems: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism have each gained millions of adherents in their attempt to put the teachings of Scripture into a logical and consistent system. Therefore, it is valuable if we know certain things about them.

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