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Church columnist: TULIP — A lovely flower, but a lousy doctrine

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

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Last week I, again, enjoyed the privilege of being a panelist on the “Know Your Bible” TV program. The episodes we recorded will be airing on the Sunday mornings of June 19 and 26, 8:30 AM on TV38.

As I was studying through the questions submitted, to give the biblical response to those question, I found it striking that so many – nearly all – of the questions were influenced by the erroneous teachings of John Calvin. I have studied Calvinism extensively, for a long time, because I have known, for a long time, how pervasive it is in nearly all Protestant denominations.

It would be difficult to find a Protestant or Evangelical denomination that did not have elements of Calvinism in their “Church Doctrine” in some form. Again, I have known that for a long time, but the prevalence of obvious Calvinistic influence in the questions that had been sent in to “Know Your Bible” was, nonetheless, surprising.

For example, there was a question about “once-saved-always-saved.” The person asking the question used that exact term, “once-saved-always-saved.” While Calvin himself didn’t use that exact phrase, he certainly taught it.

The teachings of Calvin have been summarized with the acrostic TULIP. The question about “once-saved-always-saved” comes from the “P” in TULIP – “Perseverance of the Saints.” It is, basically, the idea that once a person has been saved by the grace of God there is nothing that they can ever do to lose that salvation. No sin or rebellion against God will result in them being lost.

What about when a faithful “church-goer” turns from their faithfulness and begins to live a sinful life? The Calvinist will respond to such questions by saying that such a person was never actually saved to begin with. If they were, they say, then they could not have turned from it.

However, the apostle Peter refers to those who “have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20). That sounds like a saved person to me, doesn’t it sound that way to you? But Peter says that this obviously saved person can become “again entangled [in the pollutions of the world] and overcome.”

He said that latter end, i.e. becoming lost after they had been saved, was worse than if they had never been saved to begin with (2 Peter 2:20-21). Of course, the difference in the two states, i.e. being lost after having known salvation and being lost never having been saved, is the same difference between someone who is poor because they have lost a great treasure and someone who is poor because they never had any treasure to begin with.

The one will be much more sorrowful in his poverty because he has known what it was like to have more. The other will still be in poverty but not know the added sorrow of having lost what they never had.

Clearly, Peter is talking about a person who was saved but forfeited their salvation by turning back to the world. There are numerous passages that show the idea of “once-saved-always-saved” to be absolutely false (cf. Heb. 3:12-4:1; Ezekiel 18:24; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Hebrews 10:26-31; et al).

If the Bible is so clear on the matter, how did Calvin wind up with such an obviously false doctrine? The answer to that is at the other end of the TULIP.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is where Calvin ended up after working through some other presuppositions. Another question that was submitted to “Know Your Bible” references the “T” of the TULIP – “Total Depravity.” The person made more of a statement than asking a question, but wanted their statement addressed by the panelists.

“I cannot see how God could rationally or justifiably hold someone in the year 2016 accountable to be punished for the sin committed by Adam and Eve.”

Here is someone struggling with the Calvinistic doctrine of “Total Depravity.” That teaching, basically, says that since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden (Genesis 3) man has been “totally depraved” perpetually. Every child is a born sinner, bearing the guilt of the sins of its fathers all the way back to Adam. That’s how Calvin ended up with “Perseverance of the Saints.”

It goes something like this: T) Man is totally depraved and unable to even think pure thoughts so as to even want to seek salvation (Total Depravity); U) Therefore, man’s salvation is completely conditioned upon God’s sovereign will and has nothing to do with the individual’s choice. Man is depraved and couldn’t choose even if he wanted to. So, a person’s salvation is “unconditional” on his part, it is completely up to God and has nothing to do with anything that person does (Unconditional Election); L) Because God chooses who will be saved – which means He also chooses who will be lost – the atoning work of Christ is “limited” to those that God chose (Limited Atonement); I) Again, because a person’s salvation is completely based on God’s choice of that individual, that person cannot resist God’s saving grace – it is irresistible (Irresistible Grace); P) And, because God’s grace is “irresistible,” meaning that a person chosen for salvation couldn’t be lost even if they wanted to, it naturally follows that they could never be lost (Perseverance of the Saints).

That’s a simple run down of Calvinism. So, because Calvin was starting with an erroneous hold-over from Catholicism, i.e. Total Depravity, the way he reasoned through the rest of his doctrine was, likewise, erroneous. One of the fundamental rules of logic is that if your starting premise is false then your conclusion is also going to be false.

Well, Calvin’s starting premise was Total Depravity – false! So, his conclusion of “once-saved-always-saved,” and everything in between, was also false.

I am out of space in this week’s article to show how the TULI of TULIP contradicts clear biblical teaching. The “P” has already been shown false from clear passages of Scripture. Please read those passages and see that “once-saved-always-saved” is simply not a biblical teaching. I will continue to show the fallacy of the remaining points in future articles.

As always, please let me know your questions, comments, and feedback. I am always willing to discuss any of these things as privately or publicly as you would like to have them discussed.

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or BibleQnA@NormFields.com.