Church columnist: A lovely flower, but a lousy doctrine, part 2b

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2016

I have been studying, preaching, and teaching the Bible for a long time. I’ve preached in three countries and seven of the United States. I have written in journals and newspapers, hosted live call-in radio and TV programs and taught in a wide variety of mediums.

Please don’t take this as boasting. The only reason I say these things is to say this: I didn’t think there was much that someone could say in the realm of religion that would surprise me.

I remember one occasion when I had presented the biblical teaching on music in worship on a live call-in TV program. One caller asked me, “what about the little drummer boy?”

I replied, “excuse me? What little drummer boy are you talking about?”

The caller said, “you know, that little drummer boy that didn’t have a gift for baby Jesus and played his drum for him.”

Now, I have to admit that I was a little surprised that this caller actually thought the song, “Little Drummer Boy,” was a biblical account. She was so confused when I had to explain, on live TV, that what she was referring to was a popular Christmas song and had nothing at all to do with biblical teaching.

“Really?” she said.

It makes me feel bad that good, sincere, people are being left so biblically illiterate by their denominational doctrines. I was challenged to a debate to prove that Jesus was a Jew. Seriously!

There are those so confused by their man-made doctrines that they can’t even acknowledge that Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew.

So, with experiences like that, I didn’t think I could be surprised by much of anything anyone could say about their doctrinal beliefs. But I was wrong.

Since I started this series of Calvin’s TULIP, I have received some comments that are really surprising. People denying that their doctrine or church actually teaches something that it does, indeed, clearly teach.

That’s surprising to me. So, I’m supposed to believe that Calvin didn’t actually teach once-saved-always-saved and total depravity isn’t the outgrowth of “original sin”? Really? And those with the concept of original sin firmly ingrained in their core doctrine don’t really believe in original sin? Um, what? Surprising, to say the least.

In connection with such claims, I was charged with just reading what others say about Calvinism and not Calvin’s, or Calvinists’, own words.

Again, not at all trying to be boastful, but I have in my library over 20 books by John Calvin, including his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” — the full multi-volume version as well as the one volume summarized edition. It’s very interesting to me that one citing “Google” as a great resource for theological research would then turn around and charge me with not reading Calvin’s own words.

I typically don’t use Google much in my Bible study but tend to rely much more on the Bible itself and my personal theological library when I need additional research.

So, how did Calvin, himself, define “total depravity” and does it match up with the Bible?

Calvin said, “We thus see that the impurity of parents is transmitted to their children, so that all, without exception, are originally depraved. The commencement of this depravity will not be found until we ascend to the first parent of all as the fountain head. We must, therefore, hold it for certain, that, in regard to human nature, Adam was not merely a progenitor, but, as it were, a root, and that, accordingly, by his corruption, the whole human race was deservedly vitiated” (Calvin, Institutes 2:1:6).

That’s one, fairly concise, statement among many, many in Calvin’s writings. I chose this one because it clearly, and explicitly, states “the impurity of parents is transmitted to their children.” That is, the son bears the guilt of the father.

The Bible clearly states that “the son shall not bear the guilt of the father” (Ezek. 18:20). Interestingly, Calvin himself recognized his own inconsistency in light of Ezekiel 18 (Institutes, 2:8:19).

In response to Ezekiel 18:20, he said, “But still we meet more than once with a declaration as to the postponing of the punishment of the sins of fathers to future generations.”

His explanation of this seeming contradiction is very similar to what I wrote last week in response to using Exodus 20:5 as a proof text for “total depravity.” The difference is that where I said the third and fourth generations are punished because they choose to follow the example of their fathers, Calvin says they can’t help but follow in the same way as their fathers.

So, according to Calvin, Ezekiel said the son shall not bear the guilt of the father, but actually they will. That’s an example of the confusion man-made doctrines cause.

If you believe something that the Bible doesn’t actually teach, then it is going to cause you to contradict the Bible somewhere. When that happens, you have the option to honestly recognize that you believe something the Bible doesn’t teach — to drop it then and there — or to twist Scripture in the attempt to justify your man-made doctrine (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

Some like to use terms like, “it’s too intricate and mysterious to explain simply.”

Really? “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NKJV).

The Bible absolutely does not teach that Adam’s sin causes us all to be born sinful — with a sin nature. The Bible teaches that we were created by God in His own image (Genesis 1:26), that when Adam sinned it drastically changed the world in which we live (Romans 5:12; Heb. 2:5-8; Romans 8:18-23; et. al.).

Sin drastically changed everything about the world in which we live! Before sin there was no physical or spiritual death (Genesis 3:22-23). Now, because of sin’s introduction into our world, we know both physical and spiritual death.

Before sin, man walked in direct, personal interaction with God (Genesis 3:8-9). Not so now that sin is in the world. These are the consequences of Adam’s sin, not the guilt of Adam’s sin.

Before sin entered the world the only knowledge was the purity and innocence of fellowship with God. Now there is the competing knowledge of sin (Genesis 2:25; 3:7, 11, 22).

A consequence – not guilt – of Adam’s sin is that the knowledge of good and evil is in the world. We don’t have the divine omniscience of God to always make the right choices in the face of such knowledge.

So, there will come a time in the young life of every human being that they will ignorantly choose to do contrary to the will of God (Romans 3:23). We all die physically as a consequence of Adam’s expulsion from the Garden. We all die spiritually, requiring a spiritual new birth (cf. Romans 6:3, 4), because we personally choose to sin.

It may be that there are those who would want to study further on this subject, and I am happy to do that with you in person. However, I need to move on with the series to the further points of TULIP. I welcome your feedback.

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

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