Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is all of Calvin all of Calvinism?

Someone recently remarked something along these lines to me: "I don't gravitate toward Calvinism because I don't like some things believed or held to by John Calvin."

That got me thinking.

First, a little on Calvin.

While Calvin is respected as a mighty theologian even by those holding to differing theological persuasions, he was not an angel sent from heaven. Just a man. A man who God mightily used. Indeed, Calvin was a man bursting at the seams seeking to reclaim, and proclaim, the great and cardinal truths of Scripture long held in obscurity and violently opposed by those who for a pretense paraded themselves as the servants of the most High God. He saw through this or, more accurately, God enabled him to see the truth - and when he did, the errors leaped out, as did the truth, again and again as he poured over the Scriptures, being guided by the Spirit of God. And he fought this fight, by the Lord's grace, with what the Lord had given him: a mind capable of great things and molded by grace and purpose to the task of whole Biblical exposition. While one may not agree with every satellite position John Calvin held to, it's my belief that the cardinal things he held to are the cardinal things to hold to.

Second, a little on the term "Calvinism".

While many erroneously (and understandably so) think that John Calvin invented "Calvinism", Calvin the man had actually been dead 50 years before the 5 points of Calvinism were framed! The label "Calvinism" was at first a tag conjured up years after Calvin's death by opponents to the free sovereign grace of God in salvation. These opponents were called "Arminians" and followed the teachings of James Arminius, a Dutch professor who had died in 1610 (source: The Five Points of Calvinism, WJ Seaton). “The Five Points of Arminianism were presented to the State and a National Synod of the church was called to meet in Dort in 1618 to examine the teaching of Arminius in the light of the Scriptures. The Synod of Dort sat for 154 sessions over a period of seven months, but at the end could find no ground on which to reconcile the Arminian viewpoint with that expounded in the Word of God. Reaffirming the position so unmistakably put forth at the Reformation, and formulated by the French theologian John Calvin, the Synod of Dort formulated its Five Points of Calvinism to counter the Arminian system” (source: ibid).

The Cardinal things

It's true that John Calvin believed in the free sovereign grace of God in salvation (the essence of Calvinism). However, it's equally true that Calvinism does not speak of everything John Calvin taught. In other words, some things John Calvin taught were, as it were, satellites to the cardinal things and therefore things to which Christian charity and liberty must be exercised amongst brethren, even in our day (I am thinking, for example, of forms of government and baptism, etc). Thus, saying that one doesn't hold to Calvinism because they don't like some things held by John Calvin is a bit like saying, "I don't hold to driving a Ford because I don't like some things held by Henry Ford." To reiterate and emphasize, while one may not agree with every satellite position that John Calvin held to, the cardinal things he held to are the cardinal things to hold to -- and such things are encapsulated wonderfully in Calvinism. In short, Calvin was a mere man; gifted, and a gift as he was. The Doctrines of Grace (another and perhaps better name for Calvinism) reflect a vital part of Calvin's theological heartbeat, but not all of him. That is why C.H. Spurgeon, who was a credo-baptist (i.e. believer's baptism by emersion; Calvin was paedo-Baptist and believed in infant baptism, though not regenerative baptism), could say unhesitantly of The 5 Points of Calvinism that they are "surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus."

I submit that we ought not to dismiss "Calvinism" because of its label, a tag originally coined by its opponents 400 years ago. While I prefer the term “Doctrines of Grace”, the term Calvinism is a nickname that, when those using it are properly informed, holds no disconnect to the Biblically sound doctrine it contends for nor the cardinal and chief things most surely believed by Calvin the man.

For an overview of the Doctrines of Grace ("Calvinism"), please read WJ Seaton’s excellent little booklet prayerfully, now online.

Sola Scriptura

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Lord's Day: Part 2 of 2

The New Testament Application of the Lord's Day

To start at Part 1 of 2, click here.

If there is a Christian Sabbath today, it follows that its application will emerge - perhaps even blatantly - as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

It strikes me that if we go to the 4th command itself (i.e. having established we are not sabbatarians whom we take to mean someone who believes the Lord’s Day is on Saturday) there will be clues there to help us apply it to our lives. The Exodus 20:8-11 text (NKJV) reads as follows: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”


The first clue is the word “remember”. This is both a warning and a command. This word tells me I will likely forget it, which I have found to be true in experience, for it takes no effort on my part to quickly forget the Lord’s Day. I must remember this and challenge myself on it when I find myself forgetting the liberty, freedom, and benefits connected with remembering the Lord’s Day, for we can quickly become slaves to elective work, play, self, and the world around us and in so doing dishonour the Lord and forfeit blessings that are ours.


The second clue is the word ”Sabbath” or “rest” and the word attached to it, being “day”. This tells me the Lord’s Day is to be a day when I rest spiritually and physically. I believe it is a day, not just a morning or portion of Sunday, but a day. The Puritans were known for this and were careful to set-aside all legitimate worldly affairs so they could worship and gather throughout the entire day. I don’t believe we are meant to set a legal stopwatch on this; rather, if our hearts realize the Lord has set aside a day for our good and particular worship, we’ll organize our affairs around that. I suppose a lot of practical things could be mentioned about what spiritual and physical rest ought to involve, but I think a lot of it should center on the next word, “holy”.


Much has been spoken about the word holy and by extension the holiness of believers in Christ and practiced, if not struggled toward, as a result of being saved and in the process of sanctification. I think the word holy speaks about being clean, and separate and distinct from sin, etc. Therefore, part of keeping the day holy is the faithful assembling with believers in a true and Biblically based gospel preaching church, which is distinct from anything else we do in the week. It seems the same attitude of deliberate distinctiveness in keeping the day holy with respect to attending church should similarly carry through to the rest of the Lord’s Day. For this reason, while avoiding a “can and can’t do” list, if the impetus behind what we do on the Lord’s Day is rooted in a right understanding of keeping it holy out of love and obedience to the Lord (i.e. distinct, separate, sanctified, etc), then decisions regarding elective work, numerous activities legitimate at other times, shopping, sports, etc., are far easier to discern as being either honoring to the Lord, or not. Following a morning service, I believe keeping the day holy is punctuated and capped-off by attending church in the evening where God’s Word is preached and hymns and reverent music sung, all with the intent, at least in part, of resting up the believer in the context of worship for the week ahead... to be salt and light in the sphere of influence God has ordained for each believer (Matthew 5:13-16). As a sidebar, the Biblical argument for a Sunday evening service starts here, I know of no other reason, other than to have another meeting or just to get together, which you may as well do on any other day of the week.


Another clue is the word “labor” and “work”. Christ has finished the work and we are complete in Him. As we set aside our works, both materially and spiritually, we make a statement to the world around us that we are Christians and that this world is second place to us. Of course, works of necessity are necessary but, wherever possible, resting from employment is what the Lord desires of us on this special set-aside day so we can focus on our Saviour and our eternal future secured by Him. And, just as keeping the Sabbath in the OT was a sign (i.e. that is, a sign showing the Lord sanctifying/consecrating His people and proclaiming Him to be the orderly Creator, Exodus 31) so keeping the Lord’s Day in post-resurrection times is a sure sign to believers who are in need of spiritual and physical rest while being a powerful signpost and consistent witness to the lost in our communities who need the gospel.

The Progressive Application

Last, are the words relating to the fact that this rest we have spoken of above relates back to creation itself, something touched on earlier, where God rested, blessed and hallowed a day of particular rest. This makes expectant sense as the continuum of the moral creation mandate is anticipated for, as we established at the outset, the moral law is an expression of God’s moral image and nature - and is eternal (Matthew 5:18, Romans 2:14-16). This is not to suggest sabbatarianism. On the contrary, the change from Saturday Sabbath to the Lord’s Day (Sunday Rest) is not a change in any substance of the eternal and immutable moral law of God, but merely a progressive application. By this we mean that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday) sealing our redemption so we worship Him on this day according to the principals consistent with the moral command itself while excluding those OT observances that were ceremonial, not moral, these having passed away with the sacrificial system that prefigured Christ.

The Lord's Day Biblically Chiseled Out

I think the London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689 sums up my humbly submitted thoughts and conscience far better than I might attempt:
  • “Under the Gospel neither prayer nor any other part of religious worship is tied to, or made more acceptable by, any place in which it is performed or towards which it is directed. God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth, whether in private families daily, in secret by each individual, or solemnly in the public assemblies. These are not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken, when God by His Word and providence calls us to them.
  • As it is the law of nature that in general a proportion of time, by God's appointment, should be set apart for the worship of God, so He has given in His Word a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding upon all men, in all ages to this effect. He has particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy for Him. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ this was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ it was changed to the first day of the week and called the Lord's Day. This is to be continued until the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week having been abolished.
  • The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.”

The Lord’s Day: Concluding Thoughts

I confess, often I have sought to keep the Lord’s Day out of duty and a subconscious list of conduct, rather than obedient love to the Lord and for my own spiritual and physical well-being as well as that of my fellow believer... and the unsaved who watch, listen, and silently observe.

Yet, in spite of my abuse thereof, there is something very significant and important about this wonderful doctrine often forgotten or altogether neglected in the present day.

There seems to be historic precedent that when the Church is at low ebb, the Lord’s Day is least important. The opposite appears true in times of revival and persecution, when a full day of Christ-orientated rest brings to worshipful remembrance our heavenly home and Lord and the reason behind why we must toil and work in the first place, for now. In such times, the Lord’s Day seems to take on dramatic new and practical application even though the promises and moral commands of God apply in all seasons.

Closing Note: Professional Sport & Sunday - A Fresh Testimony. Euan M, is a rugby star who plays for Scotland. Like his fellow countryman and fellow Christian Eric Liddell (i.e. famous Olympic champion 1924 and focus of the Oscar film, Chariots of Fire), Euan has seen the importance of remembering the Christian Sabbath. Recently he wrote me and said he had signed a new contract to play for Scotland which included a unique clause that allowed him not to play on the Lord's Day. You can read about this in the UK press... it's interesting to see a few of the comments under this article that betrays a general lack of understanding of the 10 commandments and the Christian Sabbath in particular (Part 1 of this article addresses this). Please pray for Euan that the Lord might keep him as he seeks to honour the Lord with all his life.

Go to > The Lord’s Day, Part 1 of 2

The Lord's Day: Part 1 of 2


For the Christian, Sunday should be the most glorious, blessed, and liberating day of the entire week! But what are we to make of the Lord’s Day today? Does it even apply to us as post-resurrection believers? Wasn’t Sabbath observance just for Old Testament believers? And, if Sunday is specially relevant for the Christian today, where’s “the list” (is there a list?) of things we can and cannot do?It should not surprise us that there is much confusion around keeping a day when Christians ought to assemble together to reverently, earnestly, and joyfully worship the Triune God of eternity and the redeemer of their souls, according as the scriptures have taught us. The enemy of our souls is relentless is his attacks against God receiving worship from those He has purchased with His blood. But this should not deter us, but rather validate the pursuit.

Where Do We Start?

To structure-up a basis of understanding on the subject and application of the Lord’s Day it seems inevitable that we must start with something fixed and authoritative, something devoid of opinion, and based rather on objective and sound Biblical pillars. This means we must start at the beginning and work consistently out. And for that we must start with God which means we must start with what God says as specially revealed to us in His Word.

A Creation Mandate

Unlike the pagan gods who neither see nor hear, yet supposedly berate and whip, the one true God graciously gives his people rest, much needful rest. Think about that. Rest is a wonderful thing, a refreshing balm, a needful replenishing condition. And rest is as old as the earth itself, mandated by God at Creation (Genesis 2:1-3). The rest we will speak about below commenced at Creation and relates back to where God rested, blessed and hallowed a day of particular rest. That expression of rest does not end at some point, nor should we expect it to. And it should likewise come as no surprise that rest has inherent physical and spiritual relevance, for the continuum of this Creation mandate is scripturally entrenched as an expression of God’s moral image and nature – which is eternal (Matthew 5:18, Romans 2:14-16).

An Expression of God's Moral Image

The moral law (i.e. the 10 Commandments) is an expression of God’s moral image and nature and, importantly, is therefore eternal just as He is (Matthew 5:18, Psalm 111: 7-8 & 119: 89, Romans 2:14-16). If we establish that the moral law is eternal and unchangeable and that morality is not relative, then we can say that ten of the Ten Commandments apply today (Romans 6:15). If all ten apply, then the 4th commandment applies as well. This is not the same as saying that the law can save you or that by “doing the law” God will love you more, for to believe that is to deny the gospel and fall prey to legalism. That said, we must similarly be careful to not make the other error; namely, of saying the law is irrelevant and “anything goes as long as you love God”. The law is an expression of God’s moral image and is eternal, it doesn’t go away.

The bad news is that we have all broken God’s perfect law (Romans 3:10) and are deserving of Hell (Romans 6:23). The good news is that Christ came and lived under the law perfectly in the believers place (something we could never do) and then exhausted (not deflected) the wrath of God in our place on the cross so that His righteousness could be imputed (accounted) to the believer (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our unrighteousness could be accounted to Him. This is the gospel. The moral law does not disappear because Christ fulfilled it (Matthew 5:18). Because He fulfilled it, I am righteous. Because I am righteous in Christ, I now have a new heart (John 3 and 15). If I am truly born-again, I will long, though often fail (1 John 1 and 2), to obey God’s law and standards. In so doing, I am able reflect what God has done in my life through Christ, thus bearing a measure of fruit (Galatians 5:22-26) which in part graciously bears out to the believer that sanctifying changes are occurring which are the product of Christ’s work of conformity in the truly saved person (Romans 8). By extension, this is what Christ meant when he spoke of the believer being salt and light (Matthew 5: 13-16) in a world antagonistic to the morality of God.

A few summary Biblical observations thus far:

  • All laws in the scriptures are based on the Ten Commandments including all past ceremonial and civil laws. The latter two laws passed away when Christ died and rose from the dead, for they foreshadowed Him, the eternal Word; however, the moral law of God, being an expression of God’s image and nature, is not a foreshadow but was actually and particularly fulfilled in Christ and therefore not subject to practical dismissal as a type as are the foreshadows. The moral law of God is immutable, it has to be, because God is likewise unchanging. The foreshadows only passed because of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, the legal life of Christ, His death, and His resurrection.
  • Examples of the three “kinds” of laws are shown in the following passages: Exodus 31:18, Exodus 29:5-7, Exodus 22:10-12.
  • Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer justifies the sinner just as if he had kept all the moral law (Romans 3:23-27); hence, justification by faith alone.
  • Though the Christian has remaining sin, by God’s power and grace, we are to seek to obey God’s unchanging law in joyful obedience (Matthew 22: 37-40, John 14:15) and so become more conformed, as true believers, to the image of God (Romans 8: 29).

How does this apply to the New Testament & the Lord’s Day?

If, as noted, we establish that the moral law is eternal and unchangeable and that morality is not relative, then we can say that ten of the Ten Commandments apply today and if all ten apply, then the 4th commandment applies as well. This should then be borne out in the New Testament, and indeed it is.There are numerous times in the New Testament where Christ appeared to the church gathered for Sabbath (rest) worship on Sunday (Matt. 28:1, Mark 16:2,9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1,19, 1 Cor.16:1-2) and instructions were provided for Sunday gathering that underscore the command to not forsake God’s house (Hebrews 10:25), the ekklesia (i.e. Strongs: a calling out…especially a religious congregation). The early Church Fathers and Church history show that the Christian church, as a matter of factual account, met on Sunday as the day of congregational worship which included, from time-to-time, administration of the ordinances (i.e. baptism and communion). The church historically has, and when not in times of persecution or apostasy, also set aside the entire day as the Lord’s Day. I believe this consistent witness (Hebrews 12:1) is significant and bears weight because it gives us clues about two important things that were already prior established under scriptural authority; namely: (a) what day the NT church is to formally gather for corporate worship and (b) in what manner believers are to hold the day.

But what day, Saturday or Sunday?

As Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday) having purchased and sealed our redemption and, as Christ is the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), believers gather on the first day of the week in anticipation of that great rest now purchased, but not yet attained as we are still on earth. The text of Hebrews 4:9 is of use here for the “rest” in the Greek evidently speaks of “a keeping of Sabbath” which is a different Greek “rest” used throughout Hebrews 3 and 4. This tells us that there is still a Sabbath for the people of God – one purchased by Christ (and to be fully attained by the believer in glory) and one anticipated (and to be remembered while on earth in the assembly of believers on a day of rest, being Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead purchasing our eternal rest).

Go to > The Lord’s Day, Part 2 of 2.