Our Common Enemy

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I mentioned recently that Arminians and Calvinists are not enemies (even though there are people in both camps who at times disagree — or at least behave as though they disagree — with this statement). Calvinist John Owen (1616-1624), for example, calls the Arminian system a “proud Luciferian endeavour.”1 Likewise, Arminian Malcolm L. Lavender (at least I think he is Arminian), who confesses that Calvinism is another gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9), writes, “It will be noted that Calvinism is the most dangerous system in Protestantism, and an upgrade of their parent types — Paganism, Gnosticism, and Roman Catholicism.”2 The battle between Calvinists and Arminians has, historically, been (and continues at times to be) a blight on the unity of Christ’s body.

I think Calvinism is wrong (and right) on many doctrinal issues. Biblically, however, a genuine born again believer in Jesus Christ who differs with my theology is not an enemy of mine or of God. I think that we should always keep in mind that our common enemy, namely Satan and his minions, have one common goal: defaming God. Our common enemy accomplishes this feat by causing disunity in Christ’s body. He tirelessly seeks to use whoever is willing to do his bidding.

I will not soon forget a statement that my father once made: “John 17:11 seems to be the only prayer that was not fulfilled.” This prayer is Jesus asking the Father to protect believers in the world, so that they “may be one,” as He and His Father are one. Positionally, my father understands that all believers in Christ are one — we have a unity in Him which cannot ultimately be broken by anyone; this unity is made possible through the indwelling and unifying Holy Spirit. Whether or not some Calvinists or Arminians think that their theological opponent is saved makes absolutely no difference; they have no say in the matter. God has chosen to save those who trust in His Son (Rom. 5:1; 1 Cor. 1:21). We need to remember that “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13 NRSV). In Christ Jesus we are all one — unified.

We also need to remember that Satan is a clever deceiver (Rev. 12:9; cf. Gen. 3:13; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:3; Rev. 20:10), who accuses (in the present tense: accuses and keeps on accusing) the Lord’s redeemed people (Rev. 12:10). Like a thief, he seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10), said Jesus. He is not only a thief but also the father of lies (John 8:44). Moreover, he is Abaddon or Apollyon: destroyer (cf. Rev. 9:11). He knows that he is a defeated foe of God; Christ Jesus destroyed the works of the destroyer (1 John 3:9). God, through Christ, disarmed principalities and powers, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross (Col. 2:15). Being stripped of his power, he “knows that he has a short time” in which to accomplish his goals (Rev. 12:12). He rails against the redeemed, for their sins (unlike his) have been forgiven in Christ. Second-century Church father Tertullian writes:

That most stubborn Foe never gives his malice a rest. Indeed, he is then the most savage when he fully feels that a man is freed from his clutches. He then flames fiercest while he is fast becoming extinguished. He must of necessity grieve and groan over the fact that, by the grant of pardon, so many works of death in man have been overthrown. He grieves that so many marks of condemnation (which formerly was his own) have now been erased. He grieves that this sinner, Christ’s servant, is destined to judge him and his angels. And so the Foe observes, assaults, and attacks him.3

The apostle Paul taught us how to war against this ancient foe of ours (Eph. 6:10-18). The apostle Peter warned us that, like a roaring lion our adversary the devil “prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore, he calls us to resist or stand against him, steadfast in the faith: “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (1 Peter 5:9 NRSV). That believer in Jesus Christ with whom you disagree is not your enemy. He or she is your brother or sister in the Lord — a human being for whom Christ Jesus died — an individual created in the image of and adopted by God, and thus dear to Him. Will you rail against the one whom God chose to justify? Did not the apostle John admit that everyone who loves the father loves the one born of the father (cf. 1 John 5:1)?

So, to what are we as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ called? The apostle Paul answers: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. . . . If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:9-10, 18 NRSV, emphasis added). To the churches throughout Ephesus, Paul writes: “I therefore, prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3 NRSV, emphasis added).

May the Lord Himself motivate and move us in the endeavoring of attaining this unity. As strongly as we may disagree with each other, as far as our theological bounds will allow, let us refrain from consigning our theological opponent to a fate that God Himself will not fulfill. Though biblical orthodoxy may not embrace as many as some propose (i.e., Universalists, Unitarians, etc.), nor is it as restrictive as many others suppose. Both orthodox Calvinists and orthodox Arminians have one common enemy. Our real battle is with God’s defeated foe, who seeks to destroy God’s glory by inciting Christ’s body — the Church — to a civil war. Let our theological debates be passionate because theology matters! But let us not sit as judge — a place reserved only for God — over a person’s salvation merely because the person disagrees with us.

From The Arminian site, which is now defunct.

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1 John Owen, A Display of Arminianism: Being a Discovery of the Old Pelagian Idol Free Will, With the New Goddess Contingency, Advancing Themselves into the Throne of the God of Heaven, to the Prejudice of His Grace, Providence, and Supreme Dominion Over the Children of Men; Wherein the Main Errors by Which They Are Fallen Off From the Received Doctrine of All the Reformed Churches, With Their Opposition in Divers Particulars to the Doctrine Established in the Church of England, are Discovered and Laid Open Out of Their Own Writings and Confessions, and Confuted by the Word of God (Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989), 13.

2 Malcolm L. Lavender, The Calvinists and Another Gospel: The Advocates, Their Claims (Port Huron: Crisis Publications, Inc., 2007), 1.

3 A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2003), 593.