An Interesting Pickle: Accept Free Will and Become Catholic?

I did not grow up Calvinist. Though I knew of it, I never gave it much attention. From the beginning the whole thing sounded wrong. However, in college I had a sudden influx of friends who were either Calvinist or seriously considering it. Finding myself unexpectedly surrounded by Calvinists and conversing about it, I wondered if God was trying to tell me something so I began to look into that theology myself. To keep a long story short, after Biblical studies, ponderings, and many conversations, I decided to continue rejecting it.

As time went on I began noticing complications. I rejected Calvinism and attended non-Calvinist churches, yet the basic theology of “faith alone” was still there as well as a sense that one could not lose one’s salvation short of a complete 180° rejection. Sin in the life of the believer was often not seen as something that could cost a believer his soul. Sin was presented as hurting our “relationship” with Jesus but did not effect a loss of salvation. Sermons or Bible studies would come across any of the multiple Bible verses that demand the Christian to live a moral and righteous life and, almost without fail, preceding or succeeding the exposition of these verses would be a disclaimer saying something like, “Not that we are saved by our works, obviously, etc. etc. etc.”

Meanwhile, I was left pondering the relationship between faith and works. Works and righteousness are clearly commanded in the Bible. It seems Jesus strongly suggests works are necessary for salvation.[i] The Book of James is about practically nothing but works in the life of a Christian and straight up says we are “justified by works and not by faith alone.”[ii] The Apostle John says that there is sin that leads to death.[iii] Paul warns the Galatian Christians to live righteously or they will not inherit the kingdom of God.[iv] Baptism is clearly a requirement for salvation in the New Testament[v], which means something must be done—a “work” according to most Protestants.

With the recent considerations of Catholicism, it was initially frustrating—though now it is becoming amusing—how a Protestant apologist will say something like “One should reject Romanism because it does not follow Biblical teaching. True Biblical teaching is x, y, and z.” Meanwhile, x, y, and z is Calvinistic. Thus I am left pondering, “I myself have rejected these notions as unbiblical so I can’t hold Catholicism ‘unbiblical’ on these issues if they too reject them.” It puts me in a weird position.

As part of my attempts to learn all sides, I recently checked out from the library a DVD called “Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism.” It interviewed some fairly famous Calvinist theologians and apologists about the history and doctrine of Calvinism. One thing I found interesting is their opinion on Arminianism, which is a version of Protestant theology that accepts free will. Take these examples:

R.C. Sproul said,

The Reformers felt that if they acquiesced to the protests—the Remonstrations—of the Arminians at that time, that in a very real way they would have been putting their feet back on a path to Rome. Now let me clarify that. I don’t think any of them believed that Arminianism was, or is today, Roman Catholicism. We’re talking about putting your feet on a path that goes in a certain direction.

D. James Kennedy said,

And if once you acknowledge free will, which Luther and all of the other Reformers denied, then you open the door for all of the various Roman Catholic heresies that came along as well as that one.

This analysis of the situation is reminiscent of a story told by Scott Hahn. While Hahn was still a Protestant attending seminary, a professor told the class that the entire Reformation hinged upon the doctrine of “faith alone” and quipped that if that doctrine were disproved he would be the first to knock on the doors of the Vatican for entry. Hahn said they would all laugh—“What rhetoric!”—but as his further studies in theology began to show that faith alone was not Biblical Hahn was drawn further into the Catholic Church.

It’s no wonder Calvinists are so militant in rejecting free will. Apparently to accept free will is to put one on a path leading to Rome. And since Catholicism is obviously wrong (duh!), free will must be rejected too, right? Playing the Roman card will probably have an effect on those determined not to be Catholic—“I don’t want to be Catholic so maybe I had better reject free will”—but it’s not going to help someone who has already rejected Calvinism and is considering Catholicism. In fact, it only confirms certain suspicions.

[i] For example, Matt. 7:21; Matt. 25:31-46

[ii] James 2:24

[iii] 1 John 5:16-17

[iv] Gal. 5:16-26

[v] For example, Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21

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