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Calvinism (also called Reformed tradition, the Reformed faith, or Reformed theology) is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life. The Reformed tradition was advanced by several theologians such as Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Huldrych Zwingli, but this branch of Christianity bears the name of the French reformer John Calvin (Jean Cauvin in Old French) because of his prominent influence on it and because of his role in the confessional and ecclesiastical debates throughout the 16th century. Today, this term also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches of which Calvin was an early leader. Less commonly, it can refer to the individual, biblical teachings of Calvin himself. The system is often summarized in the Five Points of Calvinism and is best known for its doctrines of predestination and total depravity, stressing the absolute sovereignty of God.
- 1 Historical background
- 2 Theology
- 3 Variants
- 4 Social and Religious Influences of Calvinism
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
John Calvin's international influence and eventual development of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation began in 1534 when Calvin was 25. That marks his start on the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion (published 1536). He revised this work several times, and produced a French vernacular translation. The Institutes, together with Calvin's polemical and pastoral works, his contributions to confessional documents for use in churches, and his massive outpouring of commentary on the Bible, meant that Calvin had a direct personal influence on Protestantism. Along with Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Huldrych Zwingli, Calvin influenced the doctrines of the Reformed churches. He eventually became the most prominent of those reformers.
The rising importance of the Reformed churches and of Calvin belongs to the second phase of the Protestant Reformation. Evangelical churches began to form after Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Calvin was a French exile in Geneva. He had signed the Lutheran Augsburg Confession as it was revised by Melancthon in 1540. However, his influence was first felt in the Swiss Reformation whose leader was Huldrych Zwingli. It soon became evident that doctrine in the Reformed churches was developing in a direction independent of Martin Luther's, under the influence of numerous writers and reformers among whom Calvin eventually became preeminent. Much later, when his fame was attached to the Reformed churches, their whole body of doctrine came to be called "Calvinism".
The particulars of Calvinist theology may be stated in a number of ways. Perhaps the best known summary is contained in the five points of Calvinism, though these points identify the Calvinist view on soteriology rather than summarizing the system as a whole. Broadly speaking, Calvinism stresses the sovereignty or rule of God in all things – in salvation but also in all of life.
Calvinism stresses the total depravity or total inability of humanity's ethical nature against a backdrop of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It teaches that fallen people are morally and spiritually unable to follow God or escape their condemnation before him. It is seen as the work of God (divine intervention) in which God changes their unwilling hearts from rebellion to willing obedience.
In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. Thus, one person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners. Views of predestination to damnation (the doctrine of reprobation) are less uniform than is the view of predestination to salvation (the doctrine of election) among self-described Calvinists (see Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism).
In practice, Calvinists teach sovereign grace primarily for the encouragement of the church because they believe the doctrine demonstrates the extent of God's love in saving those who could not and would not follow him, as well as quashing pride and self-reliance and emphasizing the Christian's total dependence on the grace of God. In the same way, sanctification in the Calvinist view requires a continual reliance on God to purge the Christian's depraved heart from the power of sin and to further the Christian's joy.
Five points of Calvinism
The Five Points
Total depravity Unconditional election Limited atonement Irresistible grace Perseverance of the saints