Rules of Engagement vs. Calvinism

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John Wesley, in a short written exhortation entitled, “What is an Arminian?” Answered by a Lover of Free Grace, ended with his twelfth and final point below.

12. One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? — a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example!

There are at least three reasons why this might be important for us today when engaging the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.

  1. The chief and arguably only command of Jesus was to love one another as he has loved us.
  2. More emphatically, he at one point said this would be the way others would know we were his followers—by the way we loved one another.
  3. In his own intercession he prayed that his followers would be unified in the same way the Father and the Son are unified and that in fact that we would share in their one-ness. This is not to the end of creating a nice guy club, but so that the world might believe that he was the sent one from God. The corollary is also true.
  4. We are on the same team!

Bottom line: no matter how much we believe the other’s position is wrong or just plain bad theology, it is not OK to attack one another or to disdain the deceased progenitor of the theological position. Nothing stands to undermine our mission more than this kind of bearing toward one another.

So let us debate and write books and dig deeper into the truth as we understand it, but let us do so with the holy love of God for one another.

Sola Sanctus Caritas!

4 COMMENTS

  1. As a United Methodist who went to Gordon-Conwell and it’s reformed theology, there were times when it was clear that both sides were just trying to win the argument, instead of finding a way to be on the same team! There is much for us to follow in Wesley’s quote. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Hmm. I don’t think that pointing out differences in our traditions means that we are innately hurting our witness, or alienating and insulting those with whom we disagree. When you deal day in and day out in pastoral ministry with the fallout of theological differences – such as when people think that God has caused a tragedy – then for me, personally, it is from a foundation of love and concern that I respectfully differ with my sisters and brothers of a non-Wesleyan perspective. So far, in my pastoral experience, I have found different perceptions of the nature of God a bigger issue to seekers than disagreements among Christians is. Time and time again I’ve discovered that the best pastoral care comes from solid theology. I have friends who are Calvinists, friends who are “liberal,” friends who are agnostics. I’d give a kidney to any of them who needed it. They know that, and we are free to disagree – profoundly, sometimes – without harming our friendship. To do anything else would be disingenuous. Are we called to be winsome? Yes. But I’ll take poor style over poor substance any day, because I’m most committed to truth wherever it is found, not to truth well-dressed.

    • Thanks Elizabeth for your comment. So did you read the post as suggesting that to point out differences in our theological traditions means we are hurting our witness? That was not the point of the post. My intent here and I think the thrust of the Wesley quote is to simply call us to be real Christians in the midst of our differences. Though I generally agree with your point about substance over style, I don’t think we can equate sin with “poor style.” So up with robust debate and down with mean spirited personal attacks. That’s all.

      Appreciate your engagement here with Seedbed. jdw

  3. Out of curiosity, what do you mean by “only command” from Jesus? He clearly commanded other things. Do you mean that this is the only unique command of Jesus? In that the other commands were merely elucidations or verification of Mosaic commands? Or do you you mean something else?

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