Calvinism: The New Circumcision
I have convictional reasons to doubt, if not defy, the claims of Calvinists, that is, reformed theology. My convictions are, as Augustine said in his Confessions, like a strong voice in my inner ear.
There is nothing complicated about the Gospel – it flows from a fountain that is deep and wide, as we teach our children to sing. It is beautiful and simple enough that even they get it: Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and God raised Him on the third day, according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3-4). It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not John the Apostle’s, John the Baptizer’s, or John Calvin’s. Leave it to our children, again, to understand that it is a message for everyone.
When asked (or inferred for conversation) if I am reformed, I simply say that I am transformed, as is the more Biblical way of God doing things. I choose to not have my Biblical theology defined by a man, even if he has the same initials as Jesus Christ Himself. I know Jesus, the Man of men, who is my Brother. I know His Father, who is my Father. And I am filled and moved by His Spirit, who is that strong voice in my inner ear. I know not others these ways.
I don’t think through this lightly: There’s a connection with the 21st century’s reformation pushers and the 1st century’s foreskin cutters. Egads! Yes, I dare to say it. Calvinism is the new circumcision. If you are not either one, you are not in the kingdom. If you’re not reformed or Lawed up, too bad. That’s too close for comfort for me. The work of Christ on the cross is not a limited warranty; it is a lifetime guarantee.
Paul wrote about this in Galatians 5:1-15; not about reformed theology but about a deformed theology pushed by legalistic Judaizers (that’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one):
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
The requirement of circumcision for all believers was a yoke of bondage to Gentile converts, as were other matters of the Law that Paul had to sort out. I do not suggest that the words “Calvinism” or “reformed” be substituted for “circumcision” in the Scriptures, but just like circumcision was a burden to Gentile believers, so is Calvinism, today, an unnecessary entanglement, another hindrance, and a distracting persuasion for saving faith. To be just as sarcastic as Paul: I could wish that those who trouble us so would even “unelect” themselves!
According to the prophet Ezekiel, God claims that all souls are His (Ezekiel 18:4). Obviously, the prophet Ezekiel was speaking to the house of Israel; yet the prophet’s message from God extends to everyone, the Jew and the stranger among them (the Gentiles), the chosen and the unchosen (see Genesis 18:22 and its context). For there is neither and there is all, as Paul told the Galatians earlier (3:28). He gives each person – then and now – his own choice to repent and believe or reject Him and die; and as Ezekiel reported, He takes no pleasure in the death of the one who dies (v. 32). “Turn and live,” God says. Choose for yourselves (Joshua 24:15). Methinks He wants all the glory from every soul who faithfully walks with Him on the way to heaven. Certainly that’s better than souls dying all over the place and going to hell. There’s no glory in that. In truth, rejecting Christ is an attempt to rob God of His glory. (More on that in a minute.)
This is clear in Jesus’ parable of the talents where the Savior teaches an evangelistic lesson on how to populate the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 25:26 reads: …You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. In context, God the Master gave His servants the task of investing in and gaining souls. That’s our work, too, and it’s not ours to decide if a soul is worthy of Him. All souls belong to Him: those He’s sown or not, those He’s scattered or not (insert John 3:16 here). The parable admonishes those who, shall we say, bury their evangelistic eggs in Calvin’s theological basket. Jesus judges one like that to be wicked and lazy.
Knowing the whole truth that God reaps where He hasn’t sown and gathers where He hasn’t scattered, we must ask: Who are these unadopted, uncalled, unchosen, unelected, unpredestined seedlings? Who are these who are cultivated by the labor of His faithful followers (who just might be servants who are also equally un-anything)? Heeding Jesus’ warning, I personally don’t want to be known as a wicked and lazy servant. I see everyone as a candidate for the kingdom.
Yes, the words are used in Scripture: adopted, called, chosen, elect, and predestined. The compelling theology woven into these descriptors, though, is in God having sent His Seed to all seed. Perhaps He sends His chosen ones to those He did not choose (again, see Genesis 18:22)? Or His elect to the adoptable? Or those who are called after those who have not heard the call? Or those He predestined to those whose destiny brings Him no pleasure? If either or all of these, that means, of course, that His election is conditional, His atonement is unlimited, and His glory is unspeakable.
And that, unavoidably, brings me to His glory. God does not limit His glory. He does not share it (except with the real J.C.), nor does He confine it or ignore it. He always has it in view. He fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24), and still His glory cannot be contained. His glory never changes; it is always intact; it is fulfilled and displayed in the Man of men, Jesus Christ (see J.C. above). Yet mere men are His glory, too, His image and glory according to Paul (I Corinthians 11:7 and elsewhere). Because God’s glory cannot be limited, then election cannot be limited since man is His glory and since His glory is beyond measure.
God will not shoot holes in His glory (that’s not in the Bible but it sounds right to me). His glory is perfect. It cannot be made more perfect when men come to faith in Him yet that is glorious, too. Men may choose to unglorify Him but they shall perish in their unpardonable sin. That brings no glory to God but it does not lessen His glory. To His glory, it is only by the unlimited atonement of the blood of Jesus that His men, His image-bearers, glorify God. He glorifies Himself and is glorified through each saved soul in unrestrained, uncountable ways. The more the merrier (that’s not in the Bible either but it also sounds right to me).
Perhaps the next time someone infers that I engage in conversation about or asks if I’m reformed, I’ll ask him if he is circumcised or uncircumcised. That will either settle the matter then and there, or else start an entirely new discussion on the lack, length, or legitimacy of our foreskins. That seems to me to be an equally, if not more controversial, Biblical conversation (at least it was for Paul).
Or maybe I’ll just say that I’m a seed of the Seed of the Most High God, not a seed of a wilted tulip.