Many Christians have an incorrect understanding of the Reformed view. This results from a misunderstanding of the fundamental principle driving it – God’s sovereignty. Many churches even break fellowship with others over this very issue, but should churches do so? Dr. Wayne Grudem wisely writes:
"In fact, this is really a question that probes into the inner counsels of the Trinity and does so in an area in which there is very little direct scriptural testimony – a fact that should cause us to be cautious. A balanced pastoral perspective would seem to be to say that this teaching of particular redemption seems to us to be true, that it gives logical consistency to our theological system, and that it can be helpful in assuring people of Christ’s love for them individually and of the completeness of his redemptive work for them; but that it also is a subject that almost inevitably leads to confusion, some misunderstanding, and often some wrongful argumentativeness and divisiveness among God’s people – all of which are negative pastoral considerations. Perhaps that is why the apostles such as John and Peter and Paul, in their wisdom, placed almost no emphasis on this question at all. And perhaps we would do well to ponder their example." (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 602)
Although Dr. Grudem is a Reformed theologian, he is gracious toward the popular Arminian because God calls us to unity. We too must stress the importance of unity over dissention just as Paul did (Ephesians 4:3, 1 Peter 3:8). Individual churches are members of a single body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) knit together under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). To Christ what really matters is love for one another (John 13:34-35), showing tolerance when there are differences and bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13). There are core doctrines that true Christian must embrace (Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Atonement, Resurrection, etc.), but as long as a church affirms these doctrinal positions, we are members of the same body – Reformed or not.
Below are doctrines unique to the Reformed Church:
God is sovereign
The entire Reformed view hinges upon God’s absolute sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is displayed through His directing and sustaining all things. These actions are called the providence of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence in question eleven:
"God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions."
God’s providence can be seen in verses such as Daniel 4:35:
'all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?"'
Ephesians 1:11 says
"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,"
Sovereignty is more than the idea that God has the ability do what He desires. Sovereignty is the fact that God actively directs all things according to His own good pleasure. God gets all that He desires and God alone receives the glory for His actions. Understanding that God directs all things gives us a starting point from which to examine the glory of God which is so important to the Reformed view. Finally, sovereignty does not mean that God is responsible for the sinful actions of man. The sovereignty of God both preserves the exclusive glory of God while holding mankind solely responsible for their sinful actions (more on that later).
With the idea that God controls all things Reformed Churches deduce the following points from Scripture:
Man is spiritually incapable of coming to God or desiring Him
When Adam sinned our natures were corrupted. This corruption was not partial but absolute. The Bible says we are not just sick (partially corrupt) in our sins but dead (fully corrupt).
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:1-3 emphasis added)
This deadness in sin means that we possess no ability to come to Christ unless God enables us. In John 6:44 Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them…"
Before we could freely choose God, it would require the ability to understand the offer of God. But God’s word says that we are completely corrupt we, in our sinful natures, without God’s intervention, cannot accept the things of God.
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14 emphasis added)
"They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart." (Ephesians 4:18)
God saves us unconditionally by grace and not by works
All Evangelical Christians agree that we are saved by grace and not by works. There is no merit in anything we do that earns our salvation. The difference for Reformed Churches is whether or not we are able to come to God in our own abilities. Reformed Churches believe that salvation is entirely God’s decision and does not depend upon us in any way. Romans 9:11-13 indicates that God chooses people simply because He wanted to, not because of anything good in them or any future profession of faith:
"though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, "The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."'
Acts 13:48 shows that people believed because God appointed the time of their faith:
"And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."
Reformed Churches count faith itself as a work. Both faith and salvation are gifts from God. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."
It is true that Christians choose God, but the Reformed Church teaches that God inclines the hearts of His people to choose whereas the Arminian Church teaches that people already possess the ability to desire and therefore choose God. Grace Christian Fellowship does not avoid saying, “You must choose God,” because we know that God will incline His people to do so.
God’s will is irresistible
God’s sovereignty means that all He chooses He accomplishes, including our salvation. God’s calling will be effective. God will not call someone and have that person refuse to come. He doesn’t force them to come against their will but softens their hearts to make them eager and willing to follow. Jesus demonstrates this principle when He said, "All that the Father gives to me will come to me…" (John 6:37) Every person the Father chooses to send to Christ will come to Him.
Once saved, we keep our salvation
Who would not want this to be the case? If we believe that Jesus died for all of our sins; past, present and future then how could we lose our salvation? Even our future sin of unbelief (if it existed) would be paid for. There are numerous verses supporting this assertion that we are eternally secure:
'For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."' (John 6:38-40)
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29)
"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
Although churches may take different positions on non-essential issues it is important that we strive to maintain unity in the church universal; in love tolerating those who do not agree with us; bearing with one another, and going about God’s business in unity while we patiently wait for Christ’s return.
We believe that the Reformed view provides the best explanation of how God saves man. However, if it were an open and shut case then the controversy would not exist. Although we believe that the Reformed view is correct; we refuse to divide.