Preachers often say the Gospel is so simple even an 8-year-old child can understand it and that’s very true once you’ve accepted Christ. But it’s the Holy Spirit Who opens hearts to the Truth of the Gospel through the Word of God. The Gospel is such a simple message but it’s also beyond our human comprehension. There are many theologians with multiple doctorate degrees who don’t understand that they’re sinners without one plea and on the way to judgement, but that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died for their sins, and they can have forgiveness and eternal salvation in Him if they will only repent of their sins and receive Him as Savior by faith.
Why are some people able to understand the simple Gospel and others cannot? A controversy has been raging in the church over that very question for centuries. There are some folks, called Calvinists (after French/Swiss Reformation leader, John Calvin), who believe God predestines only certain people for salvation and everyone else is predestined for hell. This doctrine sounds very uncharitable at first glance but there are many verses in the Bible which indicate that God irresistibly draws the “elect” to Him and that their faith is entirely a gift from Him. Calvinists believe a person who is drawn to Christ and consequently trusts Him as Savior can never lose their salvation. Some denominations that embrace Calvinism are the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and the Congregationalists of a bygone era. Calvinists believe free will plays no part in God’s plan of salvation.
On the other side are the Arminians (after Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacobus Arminius) who believe God’s grace draws people to Christ but the individual is then free to accept or resist the Gospel. God, in His sovereignty, already knows who is going to accept Christ so He makes sure those people get to hear the Gospel. Some, but not all Arminians believe a person who accepts Christ can reject Him afterwards and lose their salvation. Those who follow Arminianism are the Methodists, Wesleyans, Freewill Baptists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. Arminians can also cite many Bible verses that seem to support free will over predestination and maintain that free will is an integral part of God’s plan of salvation.
Taken to its extreme, Arminianism becomes a works-based, legalistic religion with similarities to Catholicism. Since Arminianists sin all day, every day, just like everyone else, they could potentially lose their salvation and have to re-accept Jesus as their Savior multiple times throughout each and every day. Arminianist leaders like Wesley and Finney tried to get around this difficulty by preaching that dedicated Christians could eventually achieve a state of sinless perfection as Catholicism also teaches.
Taken to its extreme, Calvinism minimizes obedience as the fruit of a genuine conversion to Christ. Hyper-Calvinists see no point in evangelism or missions because God is going to save exactly who He wants to.
I’m not a theologian and heavy debates over the Calvin-Arminius question hold only a limited appeal for me. My viewpoint? After accepting Christ I attended an independent Baptist church for eight years which believed strongly in free will but also taught a genuine Christian could not lose their salvation. I then attended a church for a year where the young pastor was Reformed Baptist and leaned toward Calvinism. The pastor of the non-denominational (with Baptist roots) church we’ve attended for the last six months is also a Calvinist but I’ve yet to hear him harp on about predestination. I guess right now I’m somewhere in the middle of this debate. I believe the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and opens their hearts to the Gospel but I also believe free will plays a part in salvation. I believe some people understand the Gospel but reject Christ. That was me for about one year before I finally accepted Him. I don’t, however, believe a person who is truly reborn by the Holy Spirit and is in Christ can lose their salvation.
So are you a Calvinist, an Arminianist, or do you fall somewhere in between? You can’t say you don’t care (as much as you might like to) because your pastor does take a stand in this debate.