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Not everything Calvin said was false. In this case, I generally agree with Calvin. When we die, our bodies eventually suffer decay and return to the dust. However, our spirits, our souls are taken to a waiting place. (It is not a place of unconscious limbo or suspended animation.) The waiting place is divided, such that the righteous enjoy bliss in "paradise" in "Abraham's bosom", but the wicked suffer in "torments" or "hades". (The word, "hades", can refer to the realm of the dead in general, including both sides, or it can be used to refer to just "torments". Multiple Greek words are translated with just two English words, "hell" and "hades".) At this point, judgment is clear and unchangeable, but the final sentencing by the Judge waits for the last day, Judgment Day, when all the dead are raised and given new bodies. Although the general events of that day have been revealed to us, many specifics, including the day's timing, are completely hidden from us. On that day, everyone appears before the Judge, receives his sentence, and goes to either heaven or hell. I believe the following passages show this position. They are quoted here without comment, only highlighted for emphasis and relevance:
If you have any questions about these or seek further explanation, please let me know. There are many nuances on this subject - and many things we don't know - but, if you have any further questions, I will be happy to clarify or elaborate, where I know how."There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:19-31)
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us." But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.". Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -- Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: 'I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.'" (Acts 2:22-28)
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. ... For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. .... since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:4, 9-11; II Thessalonians 1:6-10)
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. ... Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 20:10-15; 21:5-8)
See also, I Corinthians 15:20-58, which was omitted for brevity.
I believe Calvin probably had a similar view of death, in that he understood there was a waiting place, where we wait (either peacefully or in torments) until the end. However, I would disagree with him on some particulars, and I would obviously very much disagree with him regarding how we arrive at each place (predestination, election, etc.) You can read his thoughts on the above passages at the links below, if you are interested:
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom4 ... i.iii.html
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom4 ... ii.ii.html
- (Calvin did not write a commentary on Revelation.)
Many people throw the word "cult" around to categorize any "evil" movement that enamors people and that seems to grow without reason. Here are a few characteristics of "cults", in my mind:
- Follow a strange, extremist, ritualistic set of beliefs, as regarded by the majority of society (Although their beliefs may seem strange to you and me, they are not strange to MANY people. - It's too debatable.)
- Represent a small, minority of the population (More Protestant Christians are Calvinists than not, so I do not think they qualify as an extreme outlying community.)
- Follow a charismatic leader (This matches Calvinism, although many "Calvinists", do not know Calvin or even that they are Calvinists.)
- Strongly influenced by the mystical (Although most Calvinists would stone me for saying this, I think this too often matches them. Too many are too strongly swayed by their "personal experience" with the "Holy Spirit", or so they believe, so that they are immune to Scripture's rebuke. This is a problem I find far beyond Calvin's walls. Too many people are inclined to stay where they are, because it "feels right", which they presumptively and incorrectly attribute to the Holy Spirit's leading.)
- Brainwashed - Forbidden, restricted, or strongly discouraged from considering any other opinion or source. They are often isolated geographically, as well as and especially intellectually. (Calvinist generally are very aware of the debate, and they are very content with the differences. Most seem curious about the differences; however, they ultimately seem content with shelving the discussion as "academic", relegating it to a mystery, only to be made clear when Jesus returns.)
Admittedly, the word, "cult", has a very subjective meaning, because it is often used pejoratively, or as a slur. So, you could consider Calvinism a cult, and I would not argue with you. However, I think the above characteristics come closest to the original meaning and highlight the real dangers. And, it is the dangers and error that we should emphasize. Truth and error as defined and compared with the Bible is our ultimate concern. Labels change with the times and languages, so I would advise getting hung up in such arguments (II Timothy 2:14-15).
In other words, in your discussion with Calvinists, I would avoid arguing that they represent a cult or even that they are Calvinists. I would encourage you to focus on illuminating God's teaching from Scripture, comparing their beliefs with it and against it. The other could mire you down in unprofitable tangents, because sociological definitions and Calvin's beliefs are ultimately irrelevant.
Sadly, I have seen the bad attitudes you have described from several Calvinists - not nearly all. I think that attitude originates in their assumed belief that they hold the majority, orthodox, higher-ground viewpoint. However, history - not to mention the Bible - shows that their view point was not always the generally accepted, orthodox position. The earliest writings of the post-apostolic "fathers" were very opposed to the tenets of Calvinism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagianis ... _free_will
This does not prove anything, but it should shake the confidence of an honest Calvinist, who thinks they hold the orthodox view, accepted by most Christians since Jesus.
I realize this is a bit long, but I don't want you to accept what I say, just because I said it. I hope you can look at what I believe and why I believe it, and be persuaded by the truth, not by my mere assertion.
Let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
May God help us to have a sincere love of truth,
On definition of "cult", see also:
Who is "email"?
I believe you are right about "Cultural Christians". For what little it is worth, I think there are 3 drivers responsible: (This is mostly my personal opinion and judgment based on my observations.)
- Generational Loss - For whatever reason, one generation has a difficult time successfully converting the following generation to the same level of conviction. It just seems that each generation is "softer" than the preceding one. This is nothing new (Judges 2:6-13), but I don't think it has to be that way, but it seems to happen for some reason. I think it can be overcome, but people on both sides of the generational "baton" must be aware of it and apply all the more diligence to compensate.
- Tradition instead of Truth - People who stay true to the previous generation often do so for the wrong reason - tradition (Matthew 15:1-9; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8; I Peter 1:18). We are extremely sympathetic to our parents and their beliefs. Few things are more difficult than disagreeing with family. As children, we simply accept what we are taught. As we mature, we question things, but life gets busy, and we do not always question everything. So, tradition becomes the justification for many things. And, we are hesitant to reject traditions, because of the familial associations. Tradition alone is a very weak reason for something. Some children see through it and are willing to start their own traditions. So, if we don't learn the real Biblical reason for doing something, assuming there is one, then we cannot convert others or help maintain faith. Furthermore, tradition becomes a barrier to unity, because so many traditions exist without Biblical justification. One glance at the world reveals a very fragmented "Christianity", which only further discourages potential converts (John 17:20-21), including our own children.
- Social Gospel - It is ironically hypocritical that many churches are condemning the current US government for doing exactly what they have done over the past 100 years - socializing their original charter. The gospel is meant to save souls spiritually, and the gospel is our only tool to affect change in men's hearts (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 6:17). Neither the means nor the end of the gospel is carnal (I Corinthians 2:1-14). Some people are drawn to socialized pleas, because of the apparent success. (For example, give away meals at church and see how many more people show up to hear the gospel. But, for what reason? And, how will they be kept?) Others see it for what it is - a power grab. Increased hierarchy and bureaucracy provides more opportunity to create dependents and subordinates, thus strengthening one's opportunity for control and the simultaneous appeal to "move up". There is a tremendous conflict of interests. Those who have the power to dismantle unscriptural distractions would lose too much, if they did so, so the socialization continues and grows. As long as people turn to institutions to do what is the individual's responsibility (James 1:26-27; I Timothy 5:4, 8, 16), people will continue to hide and grow soft under such institutions, and the institutions will continue to grow into safe harbors for the corrupt and those whose price has not yet been met.
Well, anyway, if we walk by faith and do God's will, He will take care of the "big picture" (Romans 13:1-17; Daniel 4:34-37), and the rest will "sort itself out". We just need to do what the Scripture says, no more, no less. Right? Here are a few relevant articles for further reading:
- http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... html#unity
- http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... ation.html
- http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... tion2.html
May God help us to love truth,