Thursday, November 01, 2007

HYPER-CALVINIST- Charles Woodruff

Hyper-Calvinist! More and more frequently I hear this term used. What does it mean? We must check the definition of some of the terms people use since everyone seems to have different ideas in regard to meanings of words. I remember distinctly a person once asking me, "Who is this fellow 'Hyper Calvin'?" This person seemed to think "Hyper" was John Calvin's brother! So, I say it is time to clarify some terms.

According to Webster, the prefix "hyper" is from Greek and means "over, above, in behalf of, it usually implies excess."(1) So we could say that a hyper-Calvinist is an excessive Calvinist just as a hyper­active child is excessively active or over and above normal in activity. Another theological use of "hyper" is found in "hyper-dispensationalist" or one who goes to extremes in marking off dispensations, or epochs, of time in God's dealing with man.

Calvinist, in some areas of the world is a particular religious denomination, but in most areas it is a general term meaning: “(1) a follower of Calvin; (2) one who embraces the theological doctrines of Calvin.” (2)

As for the first part of this definition I cannot find much sympathy, for I (as every true Christian must be) am a follower of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin! John Calvin did not die for my sins nor did his arch-rival Jacob Arminius! Jesus Christ died for my sins! (I Cor. 15:3). Blessed is that name, Jesus, above every name (Phil. 2:9, 10). It is the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). No, I do not follow Calvin — I follow Christ!

Now before I go any further let me state that John Calvin, like many before and after him, was a worthy theologian. I have gained much from reading his sermons and commentaries. His Institutes of the Christian Religion is a monumental work. In it you find the marrow of the great Reformer's theology. But scripturally I cannot follow Calvin. I can learn from him, as he was one whom God used to "speak the things which become sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). Martin Luther was also used of God in this way. This does not mean Luther or Calvin were infallible men. Luther never did really accept the book of James or the book of Revelation as divinely inspired. He had a "blind spot" here. Because he had come out of the ritualistic, works-religion of Catholicism, Luther could not grasp the meaning of James saying, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20).

Calvin also had come out of the Catholic Church and did not have absolute truth on all matters. Of course, none of us do! There were some errors in Calvin's teaching, so even the second part of our definition could not be embraced by a real Bible Christian without some reservation. Remember the definition? "One who embraces the theological doctrines of Calvin." Dear Christian reader, could you do that unequivocally?

Webster defines Calvinism as "the theological doctrines of Calvin....the distinguishing doctrines of this system are predestination, particular redemption, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the certain perseverance of the saints." (3) These were certainly things that Calvin believed. To summarize these teachings we often put all these so called five points of Calvinism under the general heading of God's sovereignty. Certainly, any grounded student of scripture must concede that God is Sovereign (the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Highest Authority). It is an issue today in the church because many fail to recognize this authority. (See two articles by the author, "What Jesus Christ Said about God's Sovereignty" and "The Issue of the Sovereignty of God Today" Write, or email me for online, or printed, copies.)

The teaching of God's Sovereignty is certainly not exclusive to John Calvin. All these related truths mentioned are, when rightly taught and understood, completely scriptural whether John Calvin taught them or not. Our criteria must be: Thus saith the Lord God! And beginning with man's total depravity, as God does in the biblical doctrine of salvation, it is clear that only a Supreme Ruler, a Sovereign God can save a vile, wretched sinner. Yes, God is in total control!

But of our subject, "Hyper-Calvinism", it can be said that some go beyond Bible truth in several areas, and could legitimately be termed hyper-Calvinists because they go far beyond what Calvin himself taught on some points. For instance, a popular misconception regarding what Calvinists believe concerns predestination. Some say that all Calvinists believe that God has predestined some for heaven, others He predestined to hell including the "non-elect" who die in infancy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth of scripture and, in all fairness, Calvin did not teach this and nothing could be further from the teaching of 99% of those called Calvinists. Partly to blame for this thinking is the poem, "The Day of Doom" by Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705).(4) In this poem infants are depicted as standing before God and being condemned to hell for sin which they would have committed had they lived. No doubt in Puritan Massachusetts in 1662, when this poem was written, there were some who totally agreed with its conclusion. Maybe there are some today who do. If so, they go beyond Calvin who never taught such a teaching. We could say that those who teach as scriptural truth the damnation of infants are definitely hyper-Calvinists.

Scripture teaches that all men without God are depraved sinners bound for hell. God in mercy has done for some men what they could not do. "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11). God must open blinded eyes or none see. "You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sin" (Ephesians 2:1). Dead sinners must be brought to life by the regenerating Holy Spirit! This is not just Calvinistic doctrine — this is the Word of God! So God doesn't have to predestine or elect these dead sinners to hell. They are condemned already because they have not believed (John 3:18). Conversely, God must elect or predestine some to heaven or all die. I do not in this article want to survey all the theology involved here, but merely point out that this is the Biblical truth of God's predestination. Some say this interferes with man's will. But man's whole being, including his will, is depraved and dead. "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Romans 9:16). As a matter of fact, reading the entire ninth chapter of Romans should forever shut men's mouths and shut them up to the Sovereignty of God! That God is in control of all things is not hyper-Calvinism, but solid Bible truth. "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11).
To sum up our little examination and to determine what and who is a hyper-Calvinist check the following points:
1. A hyper-Calvinist is one who follows Calvin rather than the teachings of the Bible even when the Bible and Calvin are not in harmony. Remember, the Bible, not any man, is the final authority and the Christian's only rule of faith and practice.
2. A hyper-Calvinist thinks more of converting men to the system of Calvinism than pointing men to Christ. There is nothing wrong per se with systematic theology if it is setting forth scripture. The Philadelphia Confession and Westminster Confession both are good to help crystallize our beliefs as long as they don't blindly become our "Bible." We must do the same as the noble Bereans~ and “search the scriptures" (Acts 17:11).
3. A hyper-Calvinist carries the teachings of God's Sovereignty to unscriptural extremes and has no vision for evangelism and teaches that the elect will be saved "anyhow." Here we are actually speaking of two great dangers from the unscriptural extremes. First, the belief that God will save His chosen "anyhow" leads us to do nothing to reach them, which is unscriptural. Secondly, it leads the untaught convert to believe that because he is elect he will go to heaven anyhow without a changed heart, which is also not a scriptural truth. "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).

John Calvin never taught such a doctrine. Here I quote Charles Spurgeon, who certainly was evangelistic in practice. "Oh I do not know of a more thoroughly damnable delusion than for a man to get a conceit in his head, that he is a child of God and yet live in sin — to talk to you about Sovereign Grace while he is living in sovereign lust."

And regarding Calvin he says: "A Calvinist I am, but John Calvin never taught immoral doctrine. A more consistent expositor of scripture than that great reformer I believe never lived, but his doctrine is not the Hyper-Calvinism of these modern times, but is as diametrically opposed to it as light to darkness. There is not one word in any of his writings that would justify any man going on in iniquity that grace might abound. If you do not hate sin it is all the same what doctrine you believe! You may go to perdition as rapidly with High Calvinistic doctrine as with any other" (emphasis mine).

So, as I have already pointed out some failures of this great reformer whose shoes I am not worthy to shine, let us not accuse him falsely. He believed that converted men were saved from their sin, not to live in them. A hyper-Calvinist teaches God’s Sovereignty which is scriptural, but is "lopsided" and does not balance this teaching with other teachings of the Word, which also must be taught. A hyper-Calvinist has a party spirit and will not fellowship with others who may not see the truths of Sovereignty. Oftentimes these brethren forget that they have not always seen these great truths themselves, and they also forget that God must reveal the truth to men or they will never see it. The Bible is so strong about this party spirit that we must be extremely careful not to unnecessarily divide good Bible-believing Christians. When you preach God's Sovereignty you will automatically alienate some, so there is no justification for rejecting those who do not reject us. Ironically, those who have such a party spirit often feel they are very spiritual, but what saith God? "For while one saith, I am of Paul and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (I Corinthians 3:4-6). It would be a blessing if we could totally lay aside denomination and doctrinal-system terms and just be Christians. This is the only thing God will look at anyhow! I realize, however, because of liberalism, we must say for identification that we are fundamentalists, or evangelicals. Because there are Catholics, we must identify ourselves as Protestants and Baptists. People want to know where we stand, but above all let us stand with the Word of the living God and whatever our doctrinal persuasion, be above all a Christian! cw

(1) Webster's Universal Dictionary (1937 edition; World Publishing; New York).
(2) ibid.
(3) ibid.
(4) found online at

(adapted from
Most Calvinists reject as deplorable the following hyper-Calvinistic and destructive beliefs:
- that God is the author of sin and of evil
- that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
- that the number of the elect at any time may be known by men
- that it is wrong to evangelize
- that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith
- that men who have once sincerely professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do
- that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others
- that the children of unbelievers dying in infancy are certainly damned
- that God does not command everyone to repent
- that the true church is only invisible, and salvation is not connected with the visible church
- that no government is to be obeyed which does not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord, or that Biblical Law is its source of authority
- that the grace of God does not work for the betterment of all men
- that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination
- that only Calvinists are Christians (Neo-gnostic Calvinism).

Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism were both among the historical errors battled by Charles Spurgeon, who was himself a five point Calvinist. He vigilantly fought these twin errors on both sides of the spectrum. One of Hyper-Calvinism's main errors is to declare that, because of God's sovereignty, we should not evangelize the lost. Spurgeon rejected such nonsense as do the large majority of people who would call themselves Calvinists today (such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg and many others) We believe the doctrine of election should be declared strongly because the Bible does and because man's affections are enslaved to sin. He cannot save himself but needs the effectual working of the Holy Spirit if he is to have ears to hear when we preach the gospel. The preacher casts forth the seed of the gospel (the command to believe) indiscriminately but the Holy Spirit germinates the Word (so to speak) in the hearts of those he intends to save; i.e. those given to the Son by the Father in the eternal covenant made before time (John 6:37, 39, Eph 1, 4). Many Christian missionaries whom most would consider heroes held to the five points of Calvinism: William Carey (he was opposed by a Hyper-Calvinist), Jonathan Edwards & David Brainard (missionaries to native Americans) just to name three.

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