Brief Summary of the Series
The first book compares the doctrine of Christianity with the religion of secular humanism. To maximize effectiveness in communication, we follow an outline which consists of an introduction and four parts. Part One addresses the basics of belief, why a belief system is necessary for us. Part Two addresses how we each formulate a belief system to accommodate our own, personal needs. Part Three addresses the actual doctrines of the belief systems we discussed at our meetings. And Part Four addresses how we practice our respective belief systems. In general, the first three sections address the theory and the last section addresses the application of the theory.
The second book compares the doctrine of Christianity with Judaism and Islam and the third book compares various Christian denominations with each other and with the doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Excerpt of Book 3
Mormonism, Christianity, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists
Bobby: Well, I think we may be done with our discussion on Mormonism. What do we take up next?
Darrel: I think that we can finally begin to talk about the differences between our real Christian denominations and it is nice to have a Lutheran represented. And, a member of the Wisconsin Synod to boot. They are the most conservative, are they not?
Randy: The Wisconsin Synod adheres closest to Luther’s theology and we believe our doctrine is most biblically supported. If that is what you mean by conservative, I plead guilty as charged.
Dan: Well, there is the Missouri Synod which is moderate and the most liberal is the Evangelical Church in America and they are the most liberal. In fact, they just passed legislation that allowed practicing gay clergy to serve as pastors in its churches. Is that not correct?
Randy: This is true. It is indeed unfortunate that the ELCA include the name Lutheran in their title for that very reason. Martin Luther is rolling over in his grave. We Christians are to witness Scripture to the secular world and have an influence on them, not the other way around.
Darrel: You say that you follow the teachings and theology of Martin Luther. Isn’t there more to being a Lutheran than that?
Randy: There certainly is. First of all, let me say that Luther would be the last person on earth to want people to follow his teachings blindly. He did not invent a new religion. God did not reveal some new truths about Himself through Martin Luther. Instead, God merely used Luther to reacquaint His chosen people with the truths of His Word. These truths had been downplayed by the Roman Catholic traditions for centuries and God felt it necessary to focus once again on His Holy Word. Luther filled this designated role by teaching the Word of God. He focused on the truth revealed in Scripture that we are saved, not by our own goodness, merit, or obedience, but by God’s grace alone, through our faith alone. Lutherans, like Luther, understand how important God’s Word is to our salvation. We know that we are to read and study the Bible faithfully. We are to defend the gospel courageously and proclaim it boldly to others.
Bobby: Well, Randy, for the record, I was raised a Roman Catholic. But I do not take umbrage at what you just said about Catholics because I don’t practice the religion now.
Randy: I meant no disrespect, Bobby. I was just pointing out the reason for the Reformation. I hope that during the course of these weekly meetings, we can discuss the differences between protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine.
Bobby: What about you, Darrel?
Darrel: Also for the record, I am of the reformed faith. I subscribe to the beliefs of Herbert D. Armstrong but I am not a regular attendee of any church at this point in time.
Dan: And I am a member of the United Methodist Church.
Darrel: I am sure that you are more liberal than I am, Dan.
Dan: Yes, I probably am. In fact, I suspect that I may differ with all of you other Christians in some aspects of what constitutes the “right” Christian doctrine.
Darrel: Were you aware that the ELCA also voted to share ministers and resources with the United Methodist Church. The liberals are forming a coalition.
Peter: What a great way to start an intramural debate, eh? I just love to see you guys squabble over your little doctrines.
Dan: I wouldn’t gloat if I were you, Peter. It is easy to be in your position, where you have no doctrine to be accountable to, isn’t it? I don’t see any of us Christians squabbling over doctrine to the extent where we are at each other’s throats. We simply seem to differ on what the Bible is telling us and it is obvious to me that “thus says the Lord” is not always so crystal clear. Even though our God is not the God of confusion, what constitutes right doctrine to me may be different than your notion, John, and possibly yours as well, Darrel. Some verses in the Bible are ambiguous, particularly in some of Paul’s letters when he is discussing Christian doctrine. I think that I know my Bible well enough to believe that I have scriptural support for my opinion and you guys may both feel the same way about support for your opinions. Since we have professed to all be Bible believing Christians, the reason for any difference must be attributable to the way we interpret what God tells us in His Word.
John: Yes, you are so right, Dan. It is very important that we get a very clear concept of correct doctrine according to the Word of God as expressed in the Holy Bible. John Calvin once said that a true faith is an intelligent faith. And I firmly believe that the best way to gain a correct interpretation of what God’s Word is telling us is to only use scripture to interpret scripture. Only in this way can the more ambiguous verses of the Bible be understood and the whole counsel of God be revealed. So, I expect our Bibles will get a real workout in our weekly discussions.
Dan: Yes, it is time for us to take an in-depth look at our own faith. We can compare the Biblical theology of the Reformation with the theology of contemporary evangelism.
Randy: And, as we go through this exercise, we should remember that none of us should be so certain of our manner of understanding our faith that we close our ears and our minds to another’s opinion which may differ from our own.
John: But we don’t debate such matters with unbelievers. So our discussions now will be relevant only to our fellow Christians. This is why the contemporary theologian, R.C. Sproul calls them intramural debates.
Peter: Well, I hope you guys don’t mind if I continue to attend your meetings as your token unbeliever. I promise not to encourage dissension among all of you Christians. But I think my presence can at least serve to keep you all in line. Who knows, maybe I can help you people shed some light on the error of your ways.
Darrel: I do mind the presence of the enemy in our intramural discussions. Despite what you say about not encouraging dissension, I don’t trust you not to do that.
Peter: Are you people so insecure about your beliefs that you fear a contradictory opinion from time to time?
Darrel: Of course not. But I agree with C.S. Lewis when he once said in Mere Christianity that our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.
John: Oh, Darrel, I think we Christians are strong enough to tolerate Peter’s presence, don’t you think? After all, debate is healthy. I never wanted these weekly meetings to be just opportunities to preach to the choir, did you?
Darrel: We’ll see how it goes.
Dan: Your opposition is noted, Darrel. I myself look forward to discussing my denominational doctrine with an unbeliever as well as you other Christians. After all, he may be converted through our discussions. So I, for one, am glad you decided to stick around, Peter. We need a devil’s advocate to keep us on track. Christianity thrives on diversity and debate.
John: I agree. We Calvinists welcome questions and comments from unbelievers just as we do from other Christians who do not subscribe to our interpretation of the reformed faith. After all, this provides us with yet another opportunity to witness to the unbeliever.
Dan: But, as with the other debates in previous years, we should always remember to stay on track with the same goal, to know the true doctrine of our faith.
John: Our goal, as always, should be to know the truth. Since this is a discussion among Christians, we have one really big thing in common: we believe in the truth of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are some differences between the way Protestants and Roman Catholics see things and there are some differences of opinion among Protestant denominations. Lutherans have some different opinions of doctrine than Presbyterians, Baptists and particularly Methodists, whose doctrine most closely represents Arminianism. And, furthermore, do you recall when I distinguished essential and non essential differences in doctrines among Christian denominations. Well, the difference between the Arminianist interpretation of Scripture and the orthodox Christian interpretation is definitely an example of an essential doctrinal difference.
Bobby: What is Arminianism?
John: This is a great place to start in discussing our differences in the way we interpret Scripture. Arminianism is not actually a separate denomination but its precepts permeate all denominations. I mentioned that the Methodists most clearly represent the Arminian viewpoint in their interpretation of what Scripture is telling us than any of the other denominations.
So, let’s begin at the beginning with a recap of the history of Arminianism. The Arminian doctrine is named after Jacob Arminius, a 16th century Dutch theologian who opposed John Calvin’s interpretation of the reformed faith as summarized in his Doctrines of Grace which I introduced last week. As the title aptly suggests, Calvin’s emphasis was on God’s sovereign grace. Arminius emphasized the active role he believed man played in the order of salvation. For him, it was more about what man could do than what God had done. For this reason, his version of the Christian doctrine could be called the Doctrine of Works.
Arminius attempted to refute every one of the five points of the Doctrines of Grace. Theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul stated that historically there are three kinds of Christian theology: Augustinianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Pelagianism. Augustinianism hold that salvation rests on God’s grace alone; Semi-Pelagianism teaches that salvaton rests on human cooperation with God’s grace; and Pelagianism believes that salvation can be achieved without God’s grace. Virtually every church in history has fallen into one of these three categories.
Calvin was following Augustin’s lead but Arminius was basically following the lead of a man named Pelagius, a fifth century theologian who debated the some of the same issues with St. Augustine. The church rejected the Pelagius doctrine of Christianity and labeled him a heretic. Although Arminius didn’t go as far as Pelagius and would be classified as a Semi-Pelagian, his doctrine too was rejected at the Synod of Dort, a major theological meeting held among church leaders to discuss the Christian doctrine. The Roman Catholic version of the Christian doctrine could also be classified as Semi-Pelagian so we could say that the reformation wasn’t just about separating from Roman Catholicism, it was about separating from Pelagiansim.
For our reference in comparing Arminianism with Calvinism, I have taken the liberty of preparing a list of the points of the Arminian Doctrine, based on Nelson’s Christian Dictionary and the Doctrines of Grace which was taken from TULIP, The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture by Spencer. I have also included verses which each doctrine uses for its biblical support. I have a copy for each of you.
Bobby: I’ll take mine with me. My girlfriend is throwing me a party for my 67th birthday. I’ll see you next week.
John: Am I invited to the party?
Bobby: Did you get me a gift?
Bobby: Then forget it.
Dan: Hey, don’t run off just yet, Bobby, our hour isn’t up yet. I am looking at this Line of Sovereignty chart you have given me, John, and I see that you have included Arminians on the line and placed them just to the left of biblical Christians or what I call Calvinists.
John: You may recall me mentioning that the great Baptist theologian, Charles Spurgeon, was actually the first one to call Calvinism, biblical Christianity.
Dan: Well, my point here is that I was raised in the Methodist church. I know that Methodists embrace some of the basic tenets of the Arminian doctrine and I guess that I consider myself to be more of an Arminian than a Calvinist. So I am curious as to why you placed Arminianism to the left of Calvinism. Is Calvinism supposed to be more righteous, or what? Personally, I guess that I could be one of those people who see Calvinism as a narrow minded, judgmental concept of the Christian faith so maybe I am being a little too sensitive about this.
Bobby: Yeah, I guess that many folks look at Calvinism the same way they view “religious” with a negative connotation. And their emphasis on predestination and these references to Calvinists being the “frozen chosen”, these convey a negative connotation, do they not?
John: Yes, of course they do and they are totally unwarranted. They are based on prejudice and misinformation. This wrong impression of Calvinism is undeserved and unfortunate. First of all, even though predestination is typically associated with Calvinism or Reformed theology, all Christians affirm divine election because the Bible clearly refers to God’s choice of a people for Himself. I include Reformed theology with Calvinism because people who really understand Calvinism see Calvin’s commitment to biblical truth and believe his doctrine to be most closely affiliated with biblical theology which is Reformed theology. In fact, the late, great Baptist theologian, Charles Spurgeon said that Calvinism was a ”nickname for biblical Christianity”.
Dan: I have always respected the opinion of Charles Spurgeon.
John: Well, to illustrate how biblical a doctrine Calvinism really is, I just happen to have prepared a little handout here which lists very specific biblical verses in support of each of the Doctrines of Grace and the Order of Salvation. Knowledge is power, gentlemen. A basic understanding of what Calvinism and Arminianism are really all about and what the great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin really believed is critical to our discussion. This is why I look forward to really digging into the differences in our doctrines.
Bobby: Is there any difference between the doctrines of Luther and Calvin?
John: Martin Luther and John Calvin were certainly two very different personalities. Their temperament undoubtedly affected the way they approached reformed theology. They also had different spiritual gifts. Psychologists today might say that Luther was a left brained kind of person and Calvin was a right brained guy. Or maybe it was the other way around. I always get left brain, right brain mixed up. Anyway, my point is that their temperaments were very different. Calvin was a scholar. He was known in his day to be the theologian’s theologian. After all, he did write the monumental work, Institutes of the Christian Religion in his twenties. Luther, on the other hand, was a very passionate man with a great deal of courage of his convictions. After all, he faced off against the most powerful religious force at the time, the Papacy and held his ground. He was at one time even scheduled for execution. He downplayed the position reason played in a belief system and confessed to an extreme dislike for the opinions of Aristotle, a philosopher who is often called the father of philosophers and the man who first emphasized the role reason plays in our beliefs. Although I don’t believe Calvin ever expressed an opinion of Aristotle or any other particular philosopher, from his teachings and what he has written, I would say he definitely believed that reason played a pivotal role in any belief system. So, I would certainly expect Martin Luther and John Calvin to differ on their doctrines to some extent. The real question is, are their differences considered to be essential differences and, in my opinion, they would not be.
Randy: I am not as familiar with Calvinism as John is but I would agree with him that there are most definitely some differences in how Lutherans and Calvinists interpret scripture and how we define reform theology. And the difference in their personalities, spiritual gifts and backgrounds would certainly influence their opinion about doctrinal issues. Luther focused on the more sensitive, compassionate, loving characteristics of God, His grace and mercy, in his approach to reformed theology whereas Calvin’s major focus was on the power of God, His sovereignty and how this related to His glory. Luther classified himself as an anti-rationalist because he distrusted human reason and thought reason was the greatest enemy of faith. This does not mean that Luther was anti-intellectual. He advocated an intellectual approach to understanding doctrine. But his main emphasis was on faith over reason. It even seemed as though he believed that they were somehow linked because he once said that faith is in the intellect.
John: As I said, John Calvin was a scholar and believed that the power of human reason should be applied in our understanding of our doctrine. He once said, “a true faith is an intelligent faith”. And, of course, if you have read Institutes, you know how organized he was in presenting the most complete description of the reformed doctrine ever written. Although Luther did say that faith is in the intellect, it would seem that, due to his statements about his distrust of reason, he was not as convinced as Calvin was as to the importance of the role of reason in our religion. For this reason, Luther never developed a complete systematic theology for the instruction of the church as Calvin did and so the Calvinist doctrine is acknowledged to be most closely related to what we understand the Bible to be saying to us.
Randy: Calvin was also twenty five years younger than Luther so his perspective and his scholarly temperament afforded him the opportunity to take Luther’s new ideas and construct them into a system.
John: Well, the way I see it is that it is obvious how God used the best spiritual gifts of these unique leaders in establishing the reformed church.
Randy: And they both exhibited one major concept: They both stressed the purity of worship. They took the teaching in Romans 1:18-32 very seriously. They focused on honoring God and thanking Him for all the blessings He has bestowed on us.
John: Yes, they were in agreement on this essential aspect of our religion. We are challenged to focus on honoring and thus glorifying God every moment of our existence here on earth. This is what really separates us from the secular mindset.
Randy: Yes, instead of the focus being where it should be, we humans have the tendency to suppress knowledge of God and bow down to the lesser Gods of pride, ambition, materialism and so forth.
Dan: We must remember to remain separate from this world, not emulate its ways.