John Calvin was a second generation reformer born in 1509 in Noyon, northern France. He was a young man of about twenty six years old and a recent convert to Protestantism when he wrote his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Soon after its publication, Calvin began his ministry in Geneva, Switzerland. He revised and expanded the Institutes over a number of years, until the fifth and final edition was published in 1559. Calvin got much of his inspiration for the Institutes from Augustine of Hippo, the founder of Roman Catholicism.

There is no evidence that Calvin was actually a born again believer. (Matthew 7:15-20). He is said to have been strongly devoted to Roman Catholicism as a youth and he trained for the priesthood at the Collège de Montaigu until around 1530. It is unlikely that Calvin’s break from the RCC was based on theological differences or a heart for reform. Rather his withdrawal from the college appears to have been the result of a conflict between his father and the cathedral chapter of Noyon over a business matter in 1527. Calvin’s father and older brother were excommunicated in 1528. As a result, Calvin’s benefices and expectations became uncertain. In other words, Calvin’s departure from the college was an inevitable consequence of these events. Calvin’s father subsequently enrolled him in the University of Orleans to study law.

The basis of Calvin’s soteriology was double predestination aka limited atonement:

Calvin: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” {1}

Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination was taken directly from Augustine, whom he frequently referred to and directly quoted in his writings. It appears that Augustine’s flawed teaching on predestination was an overreaction to the error of Pelagius and was a throwback to Gnostic Manichaeism. Critically, Augustinian predestination was not taught for the first 300 years of the early church period, as the writings of a considerable number of influential early church fathers demonstrates. {2}
Calvin: “The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. (Decretum quidem horribile, fateor).”  – the horrible degree. Double predestination is extremely problematic and differs from the plain teaching of the bible in a number of key respects:

everyone who believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).

everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21).
* God commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30).
The Lord.. is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).
* God desires all people to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4).
* Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:6).
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2).

Calvin’s mandatory implementation of his version of Christianity upon Geneva pre-empted even God Himself, or rather Calvin’s idea of God. Following Augustine’s example, Calvin literally forced “regeneration” upon the populace by his own, rather than God’s “sovereign”intervention! In November 1552, the Council declared Calvin’s Institutes to be “a holy doctrine which no man might speak against”, hence Calvin became known as “the Pope of Geneva”. Failure to become one of the “elect” was punishable by death or expulsion from Geneva. Failure to attend church was a punishable offence and all entertainments and shows were banned outright.

Calvin’s compulsive implementation of paedobaptism (infant baptism) is a further indication of his flawed understanding of soteriology. Calvin denied that a conscious decision was necessary in order to become a believer, and he viciously overruled any objections from the Anabaptists. Protestants were known to “baptize” Anabaptist “heretics” by drowning them in rivers! Calvin defined baptism as: “..the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.”

Free-will, a dirty word to Calvinists, was expunged… and so proceeded Calvin’s rule of terror. Calvin’s vile actions even contradicted his own writings:

Calvin: “..the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.” {3}

Prefatory Address in his Institutes to Francis, King of the French, 1536. “But when I perceived that the fury of certain bad men had risen to such a height in your realm, that there was no place in it for sound doctrine, I thought it might be of service if I were in the same work both to give instruction to my countrymen, and also lay before your Majesty a Confession, from which you may learn what the doctrine is that so inflames the rage of those madmen who are this day, with fire and sword, troubling your kingdom. For I fear not to declare, that what I have here given may be regarded as a summary of the very doctrine which, they vociferate, ought to be punished with confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and flames, as well as exterminated by land and sea. This, I allow, is a fearful punishment which God sends on the earth; but if the wickedness of men so deserves, why do we strive to oppose the just vengeance of God?”
Letter to William Farel, February 13, 1546. “If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.”
Letter to the Lord Protector of Somerset, adviser to King Edward VI, October 22, 1548. “[They] well deserve to be repressed by the sword which is committed to you, seeing that they attack not the King only, but God who has seated him upon the throne, and has entrusted to you the protection as well of His person as of His majesty.”
Letter of August 20, 1553, one week after Servetus arrest. “I hope that Servetus will be condemned to death.”
Defense of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, published in early 1554. “Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honour, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories? Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face.”
Preface to Commentaries, July 22, 1557. “To these irreligious characters. and despisers of the heavenly doctrineŠ. I think that there is scarcely any of the weapons which are forged in the workshop of Satan, which has not been employed by them in order to obtain their object. And at length matters had come to such a state, that an end could be put to their machinations in no other way than cutting them off by an ignominious death; which was indeed a painful and pitiable spectacle to me. They no doubt deserved the severest punishment, but I always rather desired that they might live in prosperity, and continue safe and untouched; which would have been the case had they not been altogether incorrigible, and obstinately refused to listen to wholesome admonition.”
Comments on Ex. 22:20Lev. 24:16Deut. 13:5-1517:2-5. “Moreover, God Himself has explicitly instructed us to kill heretics, to smite with the sword any city that abandons the worship of the true faith revealed by Him.”
Letter to the Marquis Paet, chamberlain to the King of Navarre, 1561. “Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others], who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”

The Minutes Book of the Geneva City Council, 1541-59 (translated by Stefan Zweig, Erasmus: The Right to Heresy):
“During the ravages of the pestilence in 1545 more than twenty men and women were burnt alive for witchcraft.
From 1542 to 1546 fifty-eight judgements of death and seventy-six decrees of banishment were passed.
During the years 1558 and 1559 the cases of various punishments for all sorts of offences amounted to four hundred and fourteen.
One burgher smiled while attending a baptism: three days imprisonment.
Another, tired out on a hot summer day, went to sleep during a sermon: prison.
Some workingmen ate pastry at breakfast: three days on bread and water.
Two burghers played skittles: prison.
Two others diced for a quarter bottle of wine: prison.
A blind fiddler played a dance: expelled from the city.
Another praised Castellio’s translation of the Bible: expelled from Geneva.
A girl was caught skating, a widow threw herself on the grave of her husband, a burgher offered his neighbour a pinch of snuff during divine service: they were summoned before the Consistory, exhorted, and ordered to do penance.
Some cheerful fellows at Epiphany stuck a bean into the cake: four-and-twenty hours on bread and water.
A couple of peasants talked about business matters on coming out of church: prison.
A man played cards: he was pilloried with the pack of cards hung around his neck.
Another sang riotously in the street: was told ‘they could go and sing elsewhere,’ this meaning he was banished from the city.
Two bargees had a brawl: executed.
A man who publicly protested against the reformer’s doctrine of predestination was flogged at all the crossways of the city and then expelled.
A book printer who in his cups [columns] had railed at Calvin, was sentenced to have his tongue perforated with a red-hot iron before being expelled from the city.
Jacques Gruent was racked and then executed for calling Calvin a hypocrite.
Each offence, even the most paltry, was carefully entered in the record of the Consistory, so that the private life of every citizen could unfailingly be held up against him in evidence.” (See Pike, pp. 61-63).

Sources quoted in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol. 8:
“The death penalty against heresy, idolatry and blasphemy and barbarous customs of torture were retained. Attendance at public worship was commanded on penalty of three sols. Watchmen were appointed to see that people went to church. The members of the Consistory visited every house once a year to examine the faith and morals of the family. Every unseemly word and act on the street was reported, and the offenders were cited before the Consistory to be either censured and warned, or to be handed over to the Council for severer punishment.”
Several women, among them the wife of Ami Perrin, the captain-general, were imprisoned for dancing.
A man was banished from the city for three months because on hearing an ass bray, he said jestingly ‘He prays a beautiful psalm.’
A young man was punished because he gave his bride a book on housekeeping with the remark: ‘This is the best Psalter.’
Three men who laughed during a sermon were imprisoned for three days.
Three children were punished because they remained outside of the church during the sermon to eat cakes.
A man who swore by the ‘body and blood of Christ’ was fined and condemned to stand for an hour in the pillory on the public square.
A child was whipped for calling his mother a thief and a she-devil.
A girl was beheaded for striking her parents.
A banker was executed for repeated adultery.
A person named Chapuis was imprisoned for four days because he persisted in calling his child Claude (a Roman Catholic saint) instead of Abraham.
Men and women were burnt to death for witchcraft. (See Pike, pp. 55,56).

From Other Sources:
Belot, an Anabaptist was arrested for passing out tracts in Geneva and also accusing Calvin of excessive use of wine. With his books and tracts burned, he was banished from the city and told not to return on pain of hanging (J.L. Adams, The Radical Reformation, pp. 597-598).
Martin Luther said of Calvin’s actions in Geneva, “With a death sentence they solve all argumentation” (Juergan L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, vol. I, p. 285).

“About the month of January 1546, a member of the Little Council, Pierre Ameaux, asserted that Calvin was nothing but a wicked man – who was preaching false doctrine. Calvin felt that his authority as an interpreter of the Word of God was being attacked: he so completely identified his own ministry with the will of God that he considered Ameaux’s words as an insult to the honour of Christ. The Magistrates offered to make the culprit beg Calvin’s pardon on bended knees before the Council of the Two Hundred, but Calvin found this insufficient. On April 8, Ameaux was sentenced to walk all round the town, dressed only in a shirt, bareheaded and carrying a lighted torch in his hand, and after that to present himself before the tribunal and cry to God for mercy” (F. Wendel, Calvin, pp. 85, 86).
Compiled by Jack Moorman {4}

How anyone would want to be associated with the name of Calvin after becoming acquainted with the history is staggering! Calvinism, whether Five Point Calvinism (TULIP), New Calvinism, Partial Calvinism, or whatever “ism” it is known by, is not based on the Holy Scriptures. (Galatians 5:9).

I have spent some time reading the material of former five point Calvinist, Dr Leighton Flowers, and also watching some of the exchanges between Flowers and his adversaries on YouTube. {5}
Flowers puts forward a compelling view of what he calls the “traditional” approach as against Calvinism, and he exegetes some of the scriptural passages very well. While I agree with Flowers technically, I have a huge problem with his excessive forbearance towards leaders who are aggressively pushing the Calvinist agenda. Sometimes it seems that Flowers would rather condemn those who call out false teachers than the false teachers themselves! A number of people involved in apologetics are called to.. contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3). “Winning the argument”, in human terms, as Flowers puts it, is the last thing they are interested in doing! I find Flowers reductionism and his condemnation of those speaking out against apostasy highly offensive! Perhaps more attention to the damage being done to the flock might be in order! (Matthew 7:152 Peter 2:1-22 Timothy 4:3). The practice of “Stealth Calvinism” is particularly despicable i.e. the Founders Ministries advice to Calvinistic pastors to avoid full disclosure while interviewing in order to gain leadership positions! {6}

Flowers advice to those finding themselves under the authority of a Calvinist pastor who has insidiously taken over leadership of a “traditional” church: “.. bear with the pastor and pray for him … ask questions, be patient, serve him, support him and to speak to him..” {7}. This counsel seems very tolerant and loving, but is it? Paul warned about the problem of false teachers who creep in unnoticed. (2 Peter 2:1). If a man has hidden his Calvinism prior to taking up a position as a pastor, then his personal integrity comes into grave question. (Luke 16:10). An elder should be above reproach and an example to the flock. (1 Timothy 4:12) hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:6-9 cf. James 3:1). The new pastor has created the problem, not those who are upset by his teaching. Not everyone is strong (Romans 14:1); and yet all will be obliged to come under the authority of, and be subject to, false teaching.. actually a different gospel. (Galatians 1:62 Corinthians 11:4). Must a whole congregation suffer and be sacrificed because of one man’s dishonesty? (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). I thought that shepherds were supposed to lay down their lives for the flock, not the reverse! (John 10:12-13). I do not think that Flowers would have got on very well with some of the advice the apostle Paul gave at times! (Romans 16:172 Corinthians 11:13). My advice is to politely ask questions, at the beginning, and obviously to pray. After patiently exhausting the possibility of a resolution, failure to act decisively is tantamount to putting up with another gospel. (2 Corinthians 11:4). The sad fact is that Calvinism does split churches, and there comes a time when separation becomes inevitable. (2 Corinthians 6:17).

One teacher I highly recommend is Pastor Kevin G. Thompson: Beyond The Fundamenals. {8} Thompson takes a very strong position and calls out Calvinism for exactly what it is –philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.. (Colossians 2:8). It is disappointing that Thompson has not applied the same rigorous exegesis to the pre-trib rapture debate. I am sure he would change his mind to embrace the pre-wrath position if he did.


2 thoughts on “CALVINISM : THE HORRIBLE DECREE ~ by Treena Gisborn

  1. Thank you for this. I have been researching John Calvin and Calvinism, and writing against it as often as possible. We recently got a new pastor who brought his dogmatic Calvinism with him, and it has ruined our church for us. But it also prompted me to study it thoroughly, and now I have real reasons to believe Calvinism is horribly wrong. And in response to Dave above, Calvinists misunderstand sovereignty. They believe God has to control everything in order to be in charge, to be sovereign over all. But that’s not how God has chosen to be. He voluntarily restrains himself because he wanted to allow men to make choices, especially about him. And he exercises his sovereignty not by controlling or causing everything, but sometimes by causing things (but never sin) and sometimes by allowing things, but ultimately working everything into good. God is actually much bigger than Calvinism’s God who can only handle the things he causes.

  2. Isn’t Calvinism more congruent to the Sovereignty of God. That is, God is the one who chooses, decrees, declares, predestine, elects, calls … God is Sovereign over man’s free will.

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