Why Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) can unite for religious liberty
    June 7 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

    NASHVILLE – Next week my denomination will meet, days after a special committee tasked with seeking unity between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention issued a report to SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. The report concludes what I’ve long suspected: We have much more uniting us across these questions than dividing us, and most of us are ready to love one another and work together. 

    I think it’s important, though, to consider how both the Calvinist and Arminian streams in Christian life bring important emphases together when it comes to one of the most important questions of our time: religious liberty.

    James Leland was a Baptist evangelist in the revolutionary era, who agitated Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to include constitutional guarantees of religious liberty. He railed against the Anglican state churches, with their restrictions on gospel preaching. He did so for theological reasons. At one time, he defined his theology as one that preaches “the doctrines of sovereign grace with a little of what is called Arminianism.”

    I think both traditions, and the in-between place, have some things to contribute to our defense of a free church in a free state.

    Many of our early Baptist forebears were thoroughgoing Arminians, defining the freedom of the human will in libertarian terms. These include such heroes as Thomas Helwys, who fought against the government’s mistaken belief that it could overrule the conscience.

    Sometimes people caricature Arminians, and those who share some convictions with them. The Arminian tradition doesn’t believe that the human will is naturally free in this fallen era. They believe that God graciously empowers human beings with the freedom to choose. In fact, much of what some Christians call “Arminianism” is instead the sort of manipulative, emotional revivalism they’ve seen or heard about somewhere. Arminians are, above all people, opposed to manipulation.

    They believe, after all, that the human will must make a free decision to follow Jesus or to walk away. That means a clear presentation of what the gospel entails, with all the “cost-counting” that Jesus tells us about. This must be a personal, free decision, and can’t be outsourced to or vetoed by some emperor or bishop or bureaucrat.

    The Arminian tradition in Baptist life is committed to religious liberty because of their commitment to free decision. Because God has created every conscience free, they say, no church or no state can compel someone to act contrary to conscience. This is an important point that ought to serve as a reminder even for those who don’t agree on the theological details.

    After all, all Christians, whatever our theological system, affirm that all of us will stand in judgment. We will have no government agency, no denominational entity, standing there with us. We will stand with our consciences, and we can stand only with one Advocate, one Mediator. With that the case, no government has the authority to impede God’s purposes in readying us to give an account on that day.

    The Calvinist tradition also has much to contribute to religious liberty. While many in the Reformed tradition have had an awful record when it comes to soul freedom, from Geneva to the Puritan colonies of New England, the same is not true in the Calvinistic wing of the Baptist tradition. Many, including the English Particular Baptists and American Calvinist Baptists such as Isaac Backus were stalwart defenders of religious liberty. Why?

    Well, like the Arminians, Calvinists are easy to caricature. Some assume they believe the will is like a computer program operated by God, or that the gospel isn’t freely offered to all people. Evangelical Calvinists believe in the free offer of the gospel to all people, just as they believe in the universal command of the law of God. They believe that, left to ourselves, we will all run away from the law and we will all run away from the gospel. We see the light of Christ, and we hide because, in our sin, we don’t want to meet our God.

    The Calvinist doctrine of effectual calling means that the Spirit works through preaching to overturn the power of the devil, to liberate our wills so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t overpower our wills; he frees us from occupation by the deceiving demonic powers.

    This, too, has religious liberty implications, that again all Christians, even those who disagree on the theological details, should affirm. The Spirit convicts of sin; Caesar doesn’t. That means one can’t coerce faith into being or out of being with the threat of punishment, regardless of whether one is an Islamic ayatollah or a secularist parliament.

    Some Baptists and other Christians agree with the Arminians more on the “how” questions of salvation. Some Baptists and other Christians agree more with the Calvinists. Lots of others are somewhere in the middle. We all agree on the “what” questions of salvation and the “why” questions of salvation. Most importantly we all agree on the “who” question of salvation: Jesus Christ crucified.

    We will seek to search the scriptures on everything God has told us. But we’re not that far apart. And even when we disagree, we can listen to the important emphases that each tradition brings, emphases that are grounded in God’s word and God’s gospel.

    We all believe in God’s sovereignty and we all believe in human freedom, though we differ on the qualifications of both. But when the government tries to be the ultimate sovereign, or to coerce free consciences, we know to stand against that, and for another Kingdom, together.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This first appeared on his website, RussellMoore.com.)
    6/7/2013 11:13:36 AM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 1 comments
    Filed under: Arminians, Calvinists, Moore, religious liberty




Comments
dr. james willingham
The first instance of religious liberty established in law and practice is to be found in the efforts of two note Calvinistic Baptist men, Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke. The former was a Baptist in practice for a few months, but he was a Baptist in principle for most of his life as a he indicated in a letter to the folks of Newport Church where Dr. John Clarke was the pastor. Williams and Clarke worked together for the adoption of a charter from the King of England and then from the Commonwealth under Cromwell that set forth religious liberty. As a result the first synagogue built in the New World was built in Rhode Island and still stands at the last account I had that institution several years ago.

As to religious liberty in Virginia, while Leland would work out the arrangement with Madison, Jefferson would draw up the religious liberty statute due to the refusal of Baptists to compromise, when they were offered the opportunity to become along with other Protestants the state church. The initial beginning of the struggle was when Elijah Craig the chairman of the Committee of the General Association and the committee met with the colonial legislators and made an agreement that in exchange for their freedom practice to practice their faith, the Baptists would encourage their young men to enlist in the patriots' cause (read enlist in a civil war against a duly constituted government). The results we all know.
There is also the fact that Calvinism played a much greater role in the founding of American than is generally known today. For example, in the first great history of the United States by the eminent historian of the fiirst part of the 19th century, Dr. George Bancroft, reference is made to the United States as a Calvinistic Republic. In fact, it was stated by some one, I think it was King George III himself, that his colonies had run off with a Presbyterian parson. Actually, the biblicism of the Reformation and, in particular, Calvinism which predominated in the Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Congregationalists, tended to produce those institutions that made for a checks and balances system of government. The Bible has a built in truth corrective procedure for those willing to follow its teachings.
6/9/2013 9:07:01 PM