In the Christian world, there are plenty of discussions around theology – especially the theology surrounding salvation and how it works. Calvinism has become an integral aspect of this discussion for more than 5 centuries, and this raises a common question: what denominations are Calvinists?
The denominations that are Calvinist in their theology are the Presbyterians, the Reformed churches, and the Baptist churches.
By the end of this article, you will better understand Calvinism, what it teaches, why these churches follow it when explaining the concept of salvation, and why other churches choose not to follow it.
What are the beliefs and doctrines of Calvinism?
To know the origins and beliefs of Calvinism, we need to go back to the era of the Protestant Reformation, which happened from 1517 onwards. The beginnings of Calvinism were in 1519 when Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss theologian, taught the initial variety of Reformed doctrine.
These teachings influenced his students, particularly the French theologian John Calvin. When he was 27 years old in 1536, John Calvin created a set of practices and doctrines that narrowed down the focus on the theology that Martin Luther talked about in his 95 Theses.
In many ways, the theology that John Calvin outlined was very similar to Luther’s theology while also taking much of its influences from Augustine in terms of predestination, the salvation of the elect, and the sovereignty of God, similar to scriptures such as:
Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… Ephesians 1:4-5
In John Calvin’s view, he wanted to show his readers that the work of salvation was initiated by God Himself, as human beings cannot manipulate God. He explained this in the form of the 5 Points of Calvinism, or TULIP:
The Five Points of Calvinism-TULIP
T = Total depravity
This was an explanation of the concept of original sin. The Bible talks about original sin in many scriptures, with some examples being:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… Romans 5:12
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8
It also talks about human beings living in a fallen state from the time one is born. One cannot do anything to go back to God – instead, God is the one that provides everything an individual requires for salvation. This is also seen through scriptures, including:
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God… 2 Cor. 3:5
U = Unconditional election
This is where many non-Calvinists disagree with Calvinist doctrine, and some scriptures Calvin used to imply this belief include:
…who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of his purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began… 2 Timothy 1:9
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
This belief talks about God choosing the people he will draw to himself based on his mercy, not their goodness, faith, or merits. From the beginning of time, he already chose and knew those he had chosen and extended mercy to these people, while the ones set for destruction were not extended this mercy.
L = Limited atonement
Alongside the theology of election, the belief in limited atonement also came up. To prove his arguments, Calvin stated scriptures like:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9
This belief states that the death and resurrection of Jesus were specific in their purposes, and their accomplishments were complete. Therefore, Jesus only did this process for the sins of the elect, who were selected by God.
I = Irresistible grace
The concept of salvation relies on God’s grace to happen so that as many people as possible can experience salvation. Therefore, the teaching relies on scriptures like:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will never cast out whoever comes to me. John 6:37
It implies that God applies his saving grace to the elect, and this grace will overcome any resistance the elect has to the Gospel, causing them to respond and come to faith in Christ.
P = Perseverance of the saints
This doctrine continues the previous four tenets and emphasizes God’s sovereignty. Since humans have no control over God’s sovereign will, anyone who God calls into salvation will remain saved until the end – in other words, “once saved, always saved.” To justify this, Calvin used scriptures like:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Romans 8:35
What does Calvinism look like in modern churches?
Calvinism established itself as the promoter of theology relating to God’s sovereignty and the authority of Scripture. However, it has taken a modern flavor today – what theologians call “New Calvinism .”Several factors have fueled Calvinism’s resurgence, particularly the incredible popularity of prosperity preachers and errors in doctrine.
However, unlike classic Calvinism, which emphasizes the depravity of human beings and the finer points of theology, new forms of its doctrine tend to emphasize engaging contemporary society with the aim of “redeeming the culture” from postmodernism. The result is that it attracts more young people, emphasizes the local church, encourages church planting, and engages with younger generations by addressing their concerns about secular culture, evangelism, and society at large.
What churches follow the Calvinism doctrines?
From the beginnings of the Presbyterian church, there was a significant emphasis on Calvinist teaching thanks to the efforts of people like the Scottish theologian John Knox.
Some churches in the Presbyterian denomination will emphasize this doctrine, while others do not and rely on modern social values. The Calvinist-leaning churches include the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America), while the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA) does not follow Calvinist teachings.
The term “reformed” can be a reference to churches, theology, or people in the Protestant branch of Christianity. In this case, reformed churches are denominations that follow Calvinist teachings.
These include the Reformed Church in America (which is the offspring of the Dutch Reformed Church), the Evangelical Association of Congregational and Reformed Churches, and the Reformed Church in the United States.
Churches that identify with the Baptist tradition rely on several core values: anyone who is baptized must be a professing Christian, the church and state are separate entities, and churches should follow a congregational structure. They include groups such as the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America.
Can non-denominational churches be Calvinists?
Yes, they can be Calvinist in their theology. Non-denominational simply means that the church does not associate with a specific denomination (like Presbyterian, Baptist, or Pentecostal) but follows a congregational structure and conducts its affairs – including financial and logistical.
The theology they follow will often reflect their head pastor, and the pastor can choose to follow Calvinist or Arminian theology. Additionally, Calvinist-leaning pastors can follow all the five pillars of Calvinism or opt to follow some and leave out others.
Calvinism | Encyclopedia Britannica
Martin Luther and the 95 Theses
Who are the New Calvinists, and what are the beliefs of New Calvinism?
Are Calvinists and Presbyterians the same? Get the facts
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.