Monday, December 27, 2010

Would Calvin Have Burned Sproul Alive?

William Birch provided an interesting examination of the Neo-Reformed charges against Non-Calvinistic believers regarding the order of faith and regeneration on his website recently. He, with irenic grace seemed lacking in our opponents, points out the attitude and opinion of men such as R.C. Sproul who hold Arminians and others in low regard for adhering to the orthodox understanding of faith preceding the regeneration of believers unto salvation. From the beginnings of the Christian era to the present, faith has been the stated condition of salvation, the means through which the grace of God brings souls into a proper relationship with Him. It is taught in scripture. It has been believed by the church throughout the centuries and millennia. It defines the Christian evangelical call and commission of Christ. It is through faith that we have new life. There is no new life preceding faith or the belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ. For Sproul and others to state we are "barely saved" as Arminians because we adhere to orthodoxy is foolhardiness. It is also evidence of an inexcusable ignorance of the teachings of their own tradition's founders. I am astounded that Sproul and his likeminded fellows lack sufficient knowledge of John Calvin's teachings as to spend such energy chasing after imaginary enemies in the Body of Christ. In their denigration of non-Calvinists, they have failed to include their namesake who, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, taught specifically that faith precedes regeneration and defined regeneration as synonymous with initial repentance (Institututes, Book III, ch 3, ix). Was John Calvin on a road to Rome when he wrote "… In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration (spiritual regeneration) , the only aim of which is to form in us anew the image of God, which was sullied, and all but effaced by the transgression of Adam"? Do Sproul and others consider Calvin and every preceding theologian of worthy note prior to have been "semi-Pelagian"? In the same passage of his Institutes, Calvin affirmed the orthodox teaching of faith preceding regeneration. The following passage is important to and in some measure directed at the musings of men such as Sproul who seem to not understand the tradition they claim as a mantle.

That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy. For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance. Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds. (Institutes, Book III, ch 3, i)

From the previous quotation regarding regeneration from the same source, it is fairly clear that Calvin would have considered Sproul and other Neo-Reformed to be in error. Now, how he might have regarded their charges of semi-Pelagianism and being back on the road to Rome can only be speculative. However, I ask the pertinent question. Would Geneva have burned Sproul and his fellow accusers alive at the stake with the same green wood that ignited Servetus? Granted, Sproul might consider Calvin to have been "barely saved" and thus speculatively avoided the stern hand of Geneva justice, it is clear he would have made himself an enemy of the founder and namesake of his own religious persuasion.