The members of two local churches shake off the dust from their clothes, look at each other with silly grins, and then laugh at themselves. It takes some work to even remember what the fight was all about—something about “predestination” they reckon. Now it all seems pretty silly. After all, we’re all decent people and we get along just fine in every other sphere of life. And with all the real problems in the world, we certainly don’t need to waste all our energy and resources over splitting theological hairs.
The reconciliation between two Lutheran congregations in Wisconsin was praised in the Wisconsin Journal as an example of how even those hot headed religious squabbles are really nothing worth fighting about, and we can all get along. Back in 1891 the local congregation was boiling with controversy over the doctrine of predestination, and the two sides built identical church buildings on opposite sides of the cemetery. After years of glowering at each other, even after the issue was “settled” in 1910 by allowing both theological positions to co-exist within the Lutheran church, the members voted to reunite.
The world sends us the message, “They’ve done it, why can’t you?” The churches that have found their reconciliation and peace call out to us, “It’s ok, you can do it too, your differences really are not as big as they once seemed by your forefathers. We all live, work, and play together; we can worship together too. We all worship the same God and believe in the same Bible.” Is there any reason to stand alone? How will you answer this question?
The members of the two churches described could not answer because most had forgotten what divided them in the first place. Those who did know, felt that the doctrine of predestination was simply one of many biblical interpretations of the Bible and our modern minds are able to deal with diversity. Forgetting history and thinking that each individual’s personal interpretation of Scripture is just as true as the other’s will leave us unable to answer the question: Is there any reason to stand alone? Ignorance and tolerance are the key to peaceful reunion. Such ignorance and toleration go hand in hand, because when each person proudly relies on his or her own ability, apart from the rest of the body of Christ, to mine the bottomless depths of God’s word, who are we to judge others?
John Calvin knew history, and he firmly believed that there was only one clear word of God. History made clear to him all the strategies and attacks Satan made earlier upon the church and the truth of God’s word. He was able to “connect all the dots” and see the pattern of attack. Not only could he see the pattern of attack, but he could see the victories of the church against those attacks. Even though the attacks came from various angles, they all aimed at one fundamental truth about God: his absolute sovereignty. And in one way or another, the devil tried to inject the lie about man: you are good, you can be like God. When you know your history, you have the advantage on the battlefield of standing on a hill and getting a much better view of the enemy. To those in the fog laden valleys, your wariness and attention to the details of God’s word are worthy of scorn.
Do you dare to be a Calvinist and dig into the history of the church’s former bloody battles? Are you afraid of what you will see or are your content to enjoy the peace of ignorance and avoid the ridicule of your “friends?”
The battles that were fought were very real. There are many today who believe that God allowed countless people to waste their lives and die fighting pointless battles. Church history only makes them depressed, and they are thankful to live in an “enlightened” age. Such history is best forgotten and buried. The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 are pitied. To John Calvin, history was his sovereign story of the very life and salvation of the church. A story he never tired of hearing, and a story he loved to tell.
Do you, like John Calvin, identify yourself with the heroes of Christian faith, or the heroes of ungodly fantasy? Do you dare to let others know that your hero is Noah standing up to preach God’s word to jeering crowds? Do you dare to make known that you are a Calvinist who finds his true heroes in church history?
As we confront the enemies of our salvation with our loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, and above all the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God; let us not despise the gift of the confessions and creeds of the church. These are the lessons and truths learned by previous warriors of the faith in former battles. Like strongholds, these confessions tightly seal off one more avenue of attack. These confessions are like pieces of one fortress that fit together to guard the truth of salvation by sovereign grace alone.
A Calvinist is unashamed to declare what God has said about man in himself: “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:10-11). He rejoices in the sovereign God of his salvation who says “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). He is not afraid to turn over every verse of his revelation to discover another facet of that beautiful covenant relationship he has in store for his beloved. Out of thanks, and a desire to glorify her maker, the Calvinist is eager to proclaim the gospel to every living creature and live it in every sphere of life.
Calvin does not stand out as a unique brand of theology—his theology is that of every saint before and after him. He stands out as one bestowed beyond most with gifts to organize and express what every believer learns in the life God gives to him or her. For that reason I am not ashamed to be a Calvinist. I cling to the salvation revealed by the one and only true God who is absolutely sovereign in his work of salvation. The truth of his sovereign grace which is repeated over and over again in the Bible comforts my soul. History, and my doctrinal heritage, is a long and continual story about the attacks of Satan upon this central truth and the victorious suffering of God’s people who cling by faith to it.
When we dare to be a Calvinist, we dare to be a John Huss, a Daniel, an Abraham, an Enoch, and an Adam who also clung to the promises of his God.