Posted by: David
This is a response to this article: http://www.catalystresources.org/issues/351Walls.htm.
What do I think about Calvinism versus freewill? Jesus lays the answers to this issue in his parables. And there’s not a clear answer. Jesus uses parables because some things are only known through stories. Some things cannot be known through a true/false dichotomy.
In my opinion, one of the main early errors of Calvin was his interpretation of Romans 13. Calvin used Romans 13 to justify his actions against the Catholic Church at the time. It was clear that certain members of the Catholic Church at the time had strayed far away from Jesus, but his interpretation created many of the messes we see today. These messes were probably inevitable. We know how to create messes and some messes we don’t know how to clean up. Nuclear waste is a material example. Hate and contempt are non-material examples.
Here’s an excerpt from Romans 13. Read more to get a clearer picture.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
From my understanding, Calvin interprets this passage so that it is intended for only certain authorities. However, if you read the passage just before it in Romans 12, you see that Paul meant every authority and for good reason. Our authorities sometimes become our enemies and when they do you don’t revolt:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Now one of those messes that is in direct line from Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 13 is the re-development of the republic form of government in America. Because of discontent toward the Pope, Calvin and others revisited the Scriptures and remade church government into a form that is representative rather than one that dependent on a Pope. Some, not all, early Christians in America decided that it was okay to rise up against England, again based on Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 12 and his justification for the breakaway from the Pope. And when they won the war, America’s governmental structure was then based on the Presbyterian interpretation of church leadership, which has its root in Calvin. The warrior has to justify his acts, even if he does wish to follow Jesus to the cross.
However, the fact is, in my understanding, that neither Paul, Peter, James, nor Jesus (those who wrote or spoke on the topic of submission to rulers) said that it was okay to revolt against one’s leaders. In fact, they repeatedly said the opposite. And there’s good reason. Because when one submits in God’s love to an evil ruler, something amazing, transforming and miraculous happens. This is why Jesus went to the cross and didn’t summon all the angles in heaven to overthrow the Roman and Jewish establishment. He went to the Cross.
Calvin was angry at the Catholic Church, and understandably, but his misinterpretation of Romans was a result of his contempt towards the Pope and corrupt aspects of the establishment. He didn’t understand that God puts even the ugliest rulers over us, sometimes it is for our own humility and sometimes it is for the destruction and/or healing of that ruler which is placed above us, which is counterintuitively accomplished through submission. And the important point is that God places that ugly ruler above us. Sometimes the work that we do here on earth is far from pretty.
That ruler is sometimes a head of state. That ruler is sometimes a police officer. He is sometimes the one with the bigger gun, a parent, or a husband. Few people understand this today, no matter what church they go to or don’t go to.
The main issue brought up in the article was the difference between Calvin’s and Wesley’s interpretation of freewill. To this I say that God made us in his image not to be like robots. The special characteristic of being children of God is that we are creative like he is. We could not be truly creative or free without him. The irony (and this is where Calvin got it right) is that when we are apart from God we are slaves to sin. And being slaves we are not free, we do the bidding of our master, whether we know it or not. But when we are bound into God, through Christ, we can then be truly creative and free. And this freedom is transforming not only to ourselves. Our creativity transforms the material and non-material things around us. That’s what true creativity does: it transforms and manifests freely God’s plan for us upon our environment, communities and relationships.
With this freedom, only then can we invent songs and music that the universe has never heard before. We can then tell stories that talk of special people that have never set foot on this planet. We can then manifest truth and love upon the earth. And this is where our role as free and creative beings becomes most important of all. We are given the task to transform this world and we do it through our freedom in Christ. And sometimes it’s not a pretty painting. It can be no prettier than Jesus on the cross. But we do it through love, grace, mercy, and submission. We do it all our lives until we sleep. The one day we will awake into the transformed world and that world is beautiful.