"Calvinism" refers to five major doctrines of John Calvin.
Who was John Calvin?
John Calvin was one of the most prominent theologians of
the Protestant Reformation. He was born in France on July
10, 1509 and died in Geneva on May 27, 1564.
Calvin began studying to become a Catholic priest. But
being more interested in law and the humanities, he was
not ordained. On November 1, 1533, Calvin gave a speech
attacking the Catholic Church and calling for reforms. From
that time forward, he became the most influential Reformation
theologian. Today, many Protestant denominations adhere
to Calvin's doctrines to some degree (some adhere to one
of his doctrines, while others adhere to all five).
While Calvin was in Geneva, the Reformed Churches (Presbyterian)
accepted his doctrine as though they were infallible. Calvin
is, therefore, known as the founder of the Reformed Churches
Overview of Calvinism
John Calvin's five main doctrines were adopted as the foundation
of the Reformed system of doctrine. They are conveyed in
the acronym "TULIP", which was developed by adherents
of Calvinism after Calvin's death.
- Total inability (total hereditary depravity,
original sin): man is totally depraved, the guilt of sin
passes from generation to generation originating with
- Unconditional election (predestination): God
has predestined certain people to be saved.
- Limited atonement: Christ died only for the
people who had been predestined.
- Infallible grace (irresistible grace): the Holy
Spirit operates directly upon people, who have been predestined,
to convert them.
- Perseverance of the saints (once saved always
saved): it is impossible for the elect (the predestined)
to fall away once they have been converted.
Total Inability (Total Hereditary Depravity, Original
While John Calvin studied to become a Catholic priest, he
undoubtedly learned the Catholic doctrine of original sin.
Roman Catholics believe that babies are "born with a fallen
human nature and tainted by original sin" (rf. Catechism
of the Catholic Church). John Calvin's doctrine of original
sin and sprinkling babies is closely related to the Catholic
Church's doctrine (rf. Calvin's Institutes of the Christian
Religion, Book 4, Chapters 15 and 16).
Calvin is known as the founder of the Reformed Churches
(Presbyterian Church). He taught that each person's life
perished, "having been extinguished by the sin of Adam"
(Calvin's Commentary on 1 John 1:1), and that each person
has a depraved nature (rf. Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin). Therefore, Presbyterians believe that each
person inherits original sin from Adam and is born lost
in sin being hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants
to sin (rf. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Book of Confessions).
The doctrine of total inability (i.e., total hereditary
depravity, original sin) is not taught in the Bible. God
tells us that we do not inherit anyone's sin (Ezek. 18:20;
cf. 2 Ki. 14:6). We sin after being tempted when we are
carried away and enticed by our own lusts (Jas. 1:13-15).
Jesus teaches us that we must become as little children
to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3-4; Lk. 18:16-17)
-- we must be as infants regarding evil (1 Cor. 14:20).
Babies are not born as sinners (as Calvinists would have
us believe). If they die, they are safe, because they have
Unconditional Election (Predestination)
Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election (predestination)
contends that God has predestined some people to be saved
and some people to be lost. This doctrine maintains that
man does not have a free will.
Calvin taught that God did not elect (predestine) people
by just looking into the future to see who would and would
not obey. Calvin taught that God literally elected some
people to be saved and allows everyone else to be lost.
Commenting on Matt. 11:25-26, Calvin said, "This verse is
impressive in two respects. The fact that not all receive
the gospel is not due to the impotence of God, who could
readily make all creatures submit to his empire. Secondly,
that some arrive at faith, while others remain stupefied
and obstinate, is due to his free election. He draws some
to himself and passes others by; and in so doing, he himself
distinguishes among men, whose situation by nature is the
same" (Calvin Commentary VII: Election and Predestination).
Calvin harmonizes his doctrine of unconditional election
(predestination) teaching that:
- Everyone is born a sinner (total inability, original
- God elects (predestines) those who will be saved (unconditional
- Christ, therefore, just died for the people who had
been predestined to be saved (limited atonement).
- The Holy Spirit operates directly upon the people who
have been predestined to salvation and converts them (infallible
grace). He does not work on those who are not predestined
to salvation allowing them to be lost.
- It is impossible for the elect (the predestined) to
fall away once they are converted (perseverance of the
saints, once saved always saved).
Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election (predestination)
is not taught in the Bible. God desires all men to be saved
(1 Tim. 2:4) and does not wish for anyone to perish (2 Pet.
3:9; cf. Ezek. 18:23). God has not predestined anyone to
be lost or to perish.
Correspondingly, the Bible teaches that God has given us
a free will to either obey or disobey Him. Christians can
sin willfully (Heb. 10:26) and are commanded to work out
their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Christians
are not predestined to salvation. They can fall from grace
(Gal. 5:4; Heb. 12:15).
Five-point Calvinists believe that everyone is born in sin
(original sin) and that God has predestined (unconditional
election) some people to be saved and allows everyone else
to be lost. Since God predestined only some people to be
saved, they reason, Christ's blood only atoned (limited
atonement) for the sins of the people who were predestined.
The people who are not predestined to be saved have no way
of being saved and are eternally lost from birth.
Calvinism's doctrine of limited atonement is not taught
in the Bible. God has not predestined some people to be
saved and some people to be lost. God desires all men to
be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and all men to come to repentance
(2 Pet. 3:9). The Bible says that:
- Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
- Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6).
- Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners (Rom.
- Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).
- Christ died for sins, for the unjust (1 Pet. 3:18).
Jesus did not die for a limited number of people, He died
for all (2 Cor. 5:14-15). He is the author (source) of eternal
salvation to those who obey Him (Heb. 5:9), and invites
everyone to come and be saved (Rev. 22:17). Jesus has not
excluded anyone from obeying Him and being saved.
The doctrine of infallible grace (irresistible grace) asserts
that the Holy Spirit operates directly upon people who were
predestined, to convert them. Conversely, the Holy Spirit
allegedly does not work upon the people who have not been
predestined; therefore, God allows them to be lost. As a
result, some denominations require people to have an esoteric
spiritual experience to be saved. And, some have developed
a doctrine of "praying through" to be saved.
Calvin's doctrine of infallible grace (irresistible grace)
is not taught in the Bible.
First, we must remember that God desires all men to be
saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; cf. Ezek. 18:23). God has
not predestined some people to be saved allowing everyone
else to be lost. So, Calvin's doctrine of infallible grace
is based upon a false assumption.
Second, we must realize that God works through His word
to convert people (Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Th. 2:13). The Holy Spirit
does not work in some mysterious way to just convert a predestined
group of people, but He speaks through the word (Acts 1:16-18;
Eph. 6:17; Heb. 3:7; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). The Bible teaches
that we are born of the Spirit through God's word (Jn. 3:5-8;
1 Pet. 1:22- 23). So, the Scriptures tell us that:
- The Spirit gives life and the word gives life (Jn.
6:63; Ps. 119:50, 93).
- God saves through the Spirit and the word (Tit. 3:5;
Jas. 1:21; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22-23).
- We are washed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit and
the word (1 Cor. 6:11; Jn. 17:17; Eph. 5:26; cf. Tit.
3:5; 1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Lastly, we must realize that every example of conversion
is ascribed to the word.
- Jews gladly received Peter's word and were baptized
- Samaritans were baptized when they believed Philip's
preaching (Acts 8:12-13).
- Philip preached from the Scriptures and the eunuch
was baptized (Acts 8:35-39).
- Saul was told what to do and was baptized to wash away
his sins (Acts 9:6, 18; 22:16).
- Peter spoke the words by which Cornelius would be saved
and he was baptized (Acts 10:22, 33-48; 11:14).
- Lydia heard the things spoken by Paul and was baptized
- The jailer heard the word of the Lord and was baptized
- The Corinthians heard, believed, and were baptized
(Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 15:1-2).
- Men in Ephesus were baptized after Paul taught them
Not only is Calvin's doctrine of infallible grace (irresistible
grace) a false doctrine, but it is a doctrine of hopelessness.
It erroneously asserts that God only helps a predestined
group of people. Fortunately, our God is a God of love and
wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
Perseverance of the Saints
The doctrine of perseverance of the saints (once saved,
always saved) asserts that it's impossible for the elect
(the predestined) to fall away once the Holy Spirit works
to convert them. This doctrine is not taught in the Bible.
Perseverance of the saints may be the most popular of Calvin's
doctrines. Yet, the Scriptures clearly teach that once someone
is saved, he can be lost.
- Christians can fall from grace (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 12:15).
- Christians can stray from the truth (Jas. 5:19).
- Some Christians will depart from the faith (1 Tim.
4:1-3; cf. Col. 2:16-23; 1 Tim. 6:21; Jas. 5:19-20).
- Christians can fall away from God (1 Cor. 10:12; Heb.
3:12; 6:4-8 ).
- The branches in Jesus that do not bear fruit are taken
away, cast into the fire, and burned (Jn. 15:1-6). Because,
they do not keep Jesus' commandments (Jn. 15:10).
- The apostle Paul knew that he could be lost after being
saved (1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:12-14).
- Some Christians had already turned aside after Satan
(i.e., fell away) during the first century (1 Tim. 5:15;
- False prophets and false teachers lead some Christians
away from God by exploiting them with deceptive words
(2 Pet. 2:1-22; 3:16; cf. Act 20:28-30).
Therefore, Christians are admonished to:
- Obey, and work out their own salvation with fear and
trembling (Phil. 2:12).
- Take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
- Endure, not throwing away their confidence and shrinking
back to destruction (Heb. 10:35-39).
- Be nourished in the words of faith and in the sound
doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6-10).
- Take care that they are not hardened by the deceitfulness
of sin having an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away
from the living God (Heb. 3:6-15).
- Be diligent to enter heaven, lest they fall away (Heb.
- Be diligent to make their calling and election sure
(2 Pet. 1:10).
- Exercise their senses to discern good and evil by becoming
skilled in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:12-14).
A result of this doctrine (perseverance of the saints)
is that many people believe they can do anything and still
be saved. Unfortunately, the eternal result is damnation.