A Spectacle of Arminian Befuddlement by Jack Kettler 2013
This article will touch on the George Bryson / Dr. James White debate on Calvinism and Bryson’s anti-Calvinism book that attempts to repudiate Protestant Reformation soteriology. It will also provide a critical assessment of George Bryson’s home church, Calvary Chapel founded by “Papa” Chuck Smith.
Who is George Bryon and who is Dr. James White?
George Bryson is top leader and church planter at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, the mother church of “Papa” (Father) Chuck Smith’s non-denominational denomination. He has taken various classes with no degrees listed.
Dr. James R. White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an evangelical Reformed Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. He received a B.A. from Grand Canyon College, an M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Th.M., a Th.D. and a D.Min. from Columbia Evangelical Seminary. He is the author of more than twenty books and has engaged in numerous moderated debates.
The reader should first listen to some of the cross examination that took place during this debate between Dr. James White and George Bryson. As will be seen, it is apparent why George Bryson no longer wants to engage in formal debate with cross examination, hence my title “A Spectacle of Arminian Befuddlement.”
Why George Bryson Won’t Debate Anymore (if cross examination is part of the debate)
Cross examination is the heart of the debate and where the debate takes place.
Also see, A Sad Blast from George Bryson by Dr. White:
This is a brief update on the White Bryson debate.
Closing Statement: Debate on Calvinism by Dr. White (A Classic defense of the Doctrines of Grace)
My starting comments:
I’ve left commenting on Bryson’s “The Dark Side of Calvinism” and debate with Dr. White alone for along time since George Bryson was a factor in bringing the gospel to me in August of 1971 through the Shiloh ministry. Be that as it may, after weighing this for some time, I’ve decided to provide my thoughts and comments on this debate and Bryson’s book since the Reformed Faith that I hold dear to my heart has been slandered. My comments in this article should not be understood as a point by point rebuttal or formal review. Bryson does not give his opponents a fair hearing, so surely, his book does not deserve a formal book review and response.
To start, Bryson’s book is replete with numerous inaccuracies against Calvinism and exhibits an incredible bias against Reformed theology and its rightful emphasis on the Sovereignty of God in the area of soteriology. It is fair to say that Bryson’s book is an exercise in ad hominem attacks and non sequitur arguments. Many of Bryson’s arguments comprise nothing more than referring to an Arminian proof text which he seems to think must be taken for granted. Or, raising a standard Arminian question that at least in Bryson’s mind, must be unanswerable. Any Reformed person reading this book, immediately sees a misrepresentation of the Calvinist position of the text which is cited. Astonishingly, there is no serious exegetical interaction with Reformed scholarship. Because of this, Bryson’s book cannot be considered scholarly.
If you are going to refute something, it is necessary that you do not to put words into your opponent’s mouth, or make caricatures of their position. Bryson at best, seriously misunderstands what he is trying to refute, and argues against things that Calvinists do not even believe. Sadly, Bryson probably in all sincerity thinks he is interacting with the Reformed theologians simply by citing them, while notoriously leaving out key argumentation of the theologian he references. Deplorably, Bryson is probably not even aware of his logical fallacies and actually thinks these fallacies constitute arguments against Reformed soteriology.
Bryson lists numerous excellent Reformed books in his crusade against Calvinism book. As previously stated, Bryson cites standard Arminian proof texts and raises typical Arminian questions about various aspects of Calvinistic doctrine. He essentially breaks no new ground in the historical debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. It is truly astonishing and bizarre, in that every issue raised by Bryson, has been repeatedly answered over and over again in the very Calvinistic books he references. Bryson has asserted that Calvinism has been weighed and found wanting.
Having said this, he is obligated to demonstrate that Calvinistic answers to the standard Arminian proof texts and Arminian questions are inadequate. Since he does not seriously interacted with Calvinistic answers, how is a reader of his book to know? Rather than accuse Bryson of intellectual dishonesty, I would have to say that he does not fully grasp the material he is dealing with. This is another reason for my title, A Spectacle of Arminian Befuddlement.
One example of a Reformed theologian whom Bryson quotes in his book:
Louis Berkhof’s biographical information:
In 1900, he graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids after which he was appointed pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church in Allendale Charter Township, Michigan. Two years later he attended Princeton Theological Seminary where he earned his B.D. in two years. He returned to Grand Rapids to pastor Oakdale Park Church.
In 1906, he joined the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary and taught there for almost four decades. For the first 20 years he taught Biblical Studies until in 1926 he moved into the systematic theology department. He became president of the seminary in 1931 and continued in that office until he retired in 1944.
Berkhof wrote twenty-two books during his career. His main works are his Systematic Theology (1932, revised 1938) which was supplemented with an Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (1932, which is included in the 1996 Eerdman’s edition of Systematic Theology) and a separate volume entitled History of Christian Doctrines (1937).
He wrote a more concise version of his Systematic Theology for high school and college students entitled Manual of Christian Doctrine, and later wrote the even more concise Summary of Christian Doctrine. He also delivered Princeton Theological Seminary’s Stone Lectures in 1951. These were published as The Kingdom of God. In addition to this, he worked on many papers for the Christian Reformed Church as well as collections of sermons.
How does Bryson interact with a scholar of such accomplishment and reputation?
As mentioned earlier, Bryson does not interact in any meaningful way exegetically with the Reformed theologians cited in his book. Simply citing them and making comments is not exegetical interaction. For example, he quotes Louis Berkoff, and then Bryson astonishing says: He is exactly wrong. How so? Is the reader suppose to say: whatever you say George? Bryson’s word may be as good as gold in the “Papa” Smith Churches, but they really don’t fly so well in the Reformed community. Incredibly, there is no scholarly or professional courtesy given to Reformed theologians on any passage in question in his book.
It took Bryson seven years to complete his book. I guess it is a little to much to ask for him to have a serious interaction with Reformed scholarship. It would have possibly taken another seven years if he had given his opponents a fair hearing. Bryson references many good Reformed books, yet I have the distinct impression that he has actually read very few of them. I suspect his method of looking at Reformed theology is much like a witch hunt where he tries to find a quote to latch onto to prove, what he, with a predetermined conclusion has already started with. This is not an objective method nor scholarly in the least.
As demonstrated above, and in every case in Bryson’s book where he mentions a Reformed theologian, you have the lesser (Bryson) dissing the better trained theologian! This is an unmistakable pattern in Bryson’s book.
How should a discussion or book on Calvinism and Arminianism be written?
For example, in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will by Thomas R. Schreiner (Editor)
S.M. Baugh, Jerry Bridges, Edmund Clowney, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, C. Samuel Storms, Robert Yarbrough and other leading Reformation scholars address issues raised in current esoterical debate, their chief purpose being to present a fresh exegesis of biblical texts in the Old Testament in general, the Gospel of John, the Pauline corpus, and Romans 9.
This book which Bryson references is a text book case on how to have a civil theological debate in which the above theologians interact with a group of Arminian theologians in their book: The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism by Clark H. Pinnock (Editor) Unlike Bryson’s book, both books are scholarly and show professional courtesy and Christian maturity. Bryson’s book is notorious for its spirit of ill will against the Reformed Faith.
Some comments on Bryson’s book from blogger Ed Enochs and Dr. James White:
The Dark Side of Calvinism: A Biblically-Based Examination, Evaluation, and Refutation of the Reformed Doctrine of Redemption and Reprobation (Paperback) by George Bryson
Reviewed by Ed Enochs
I wrote this response to Bryson’s book upon hearing that a very large church in Southern California made its entire staff read Bryson’s book as a definitive answer to Calvinism.
George Bryson should have not written this book. It is filled with many factual inaccuracies against Calvinism that leaves one with the distinct perception that Mr. Bryson, along with Dave Hunt, his compadre in his illogical crusade against Calvinism, already has an emotional and irrational presuppostional bias against Reformed theology. After Reformed Baptist James White’s very thorough public thrashing of Mr. Bryson in a debate at the Vineyard a few years ago, you would have thought that Mr. Bryson would leave the Calvinism issue alone. It is clear, after reading the “Dark Side of Calvinism”, that George Bryson is not a scholar and offers poor arguments laden with Ad Hominem attacks against Calvinists, and not serious academic refutation of the Calvinistic soteriological theological system. James White has the following to say about Bryson’s book,
James White has the following to say about Bryson’s book:
The Dark Side of Calvinism Well, it finally arrived. George Bryson’s The Dark Side of Calvinism is finally sitting on my desk. Despite only having “seen it from afar,” so to speak, I finally had a chance to look over the work today. The sub-titles are great: “A Biblically-based examination, evaluation, and refutation of the Reformed Doctrine of Redemption and Reprobation” appears at the top of the cover, and under the title we have, “The Calvinist Caste System.” Very briefly: it is not a well made
book. It is an 8.5 x 11 photocopied “Kinkos” style binding, hence, not overly easy to handle. It has no Scripture index, so, to find out what the book says about any single passage can be very difficult to determine. I likewise noted a number of sections repeated material found earlier in the book (something demonstrating the need of those wonderful folks called “editors”). Of course, the big question everyone is waiting for an answer for: when George Bryson told me to “read the book” to find the answers
to Genesis 50:20, Isaiah 10, and Acts 4:27-28, was it because we just didn’t have time for him to go over his in-depth exegesis of these key passages, or was something else involved? Now, Wally Balt, the Australian/Hawaiian Astrophysicist Guy, had already scanned the book and informed me that there was not a single reference to Genesis 50 or Acts 4 in the book. I certainly trusted someone of Balt’s scholarly abilities, but I also wanted to see it for myself, and I wanted to look for Isaiah 10 as well
(though, obviously, if someone skips the others, they aren’t going to tackle that one!). Having now scanned the entirety of the book, I can say without hesitation that Mr. Bryson showed not the first inkling of interest in exegeting, let alone mentioning, the three passages that I presented on the BAM
debate. They were never mentioned, cited, quoted, or allowed to wave from the bleachers in the far left field. I will be playing relevant cuts from the BAM debate regarding this on next Tuesday’s Dividing
Line. Now, I saw a lot of really bad argumentation going by as I was checking each page for citations of those three passages. It is clear that since our debate in 2002 Mr. Bryson has determined it would be best to create some kind of defense regarding John 6. Numerous pages in different sections are devoted to a very passionate, yet utterly muddled and incomprehensibly vain attempt to get around the teaching of the Lord in the synagogue in Capernaum. And though he directly quotes numerous Calvinists, all of
whom point to the same textual issues (especially the fact that John 6:44 says all those who are drawn are also raised up), his tradition is so thick and so impenetrable that he continuously misses the point.
In fact, he can go on to make these claims (p. 126):
Only in the imagination of a committed Calvinist do we see that all who are drawn by the Father come to Christ or believe in Christ.
Only in the imagination of the committed Calvinist do we see that being drawn by the Father means that the one drawn must come to Christ.
Only in the imagination of the committed Calvinist do we see that those who do not come to Christ were not drawn.
I invite the reader to review John 6:37-44 for a tremendous example of the power of tradition displayed in these incredible statements. Is it my committed Calvinist imagination that those given by the Father and those drawn by the Father are the same group? Is it my committed Calvinist imagination that all the Father gives to the Son as a result of being given come to the Son (Bryson rejects this simple grammatical and textual fact). Is it just my Calvinist imagination that the “him” who is drawn in
6:44 is the “him” who is raised up (another plain textual fact Bryson ignores)? One thing is for certain: the words of the Lord Jesus recorded for us in this passage continue to refute every vain effort made by men to mute their testimony to God’s utter sovereignty in the matter of salvation. I should, however, note one positive thing: there are so many citations of good, solid Reformed sources in this book that I truly believe Mr. Bryson has unwittingly lent us a hand in “getting the word out.” Evidently he feels his replies are compelling, but in fact, most of the time, he simply does not provide a comprehensible, let alone a compelling, reply. Therefore, I truly believe we will see more folks coming to see the importance of rightly handling God’s truth in the matter of His sovereignty as a result of this book.
(From the Alpha and Omega Website: http://www.aomin.org/BlogArchives0104.html
I would have to agree with James White’s assessment of this book, it is really not worth commenting on…See Ed’s excellent blog at: http://www.blogger.com/profile/12062450844687403472
At this point, the reader will certainly benefit from seeing one of Bryson’s pet peeves with Calvinism demolished by the following short presentation titled: Bird With A Broken Wing=God Mocking? George Bryson
This excellent presentation that exposes a key point in Bryson’s fallacious reasoning process!
Back to my comments:
Again, my comments in this article highlight many of the errors Bryon promotes along with general observations about problems with his book and his own problematic “Papa” Smith church theology.
A brief description of “Papa” Smith’s Calvary Chapel Church doctrinal positions:
As mentioned at the start, George Bryson is church planter with a church in Southern California started by “Papa” (Father) Chuck Smith. “Father” Chuck is essentially a mini pope of the Calvary Chapels. It is doubtful that many of “Papa” Chuck’s followers realize that Roman Catholics refer to the Pope as “Papa.” “Papa” Chuck and his Calvary Chapels try to appear indifferent, to classic theological debates and because of this display an air of intellectual high-handedness. This nothing but a ruse since “Papa”Smith and his Calvary Chapels are doctrinally Arminian, and dispensational escatologically speaking, and charismatic and as such, are hardly neutral. “Papa” Smith even wrote the glowing introduction to Bryson’s un-scholarly book and in this introduction reveals his own abysmal knowledge of Reformed theology.
The Dark Side of “Papa” Smith’s Calvary Chapel Church Polity:
Shockingly, “Papa” Smith promotes the “Moses Model” of leadership which basically, means that the local pastor is in charge and can override anyone who disagrees with him. Sadly, in “Papa” Smith churches, the church attender cannot disagree with the pastor’s actions or teachings in any meaningful way. “Papa” Smith’s “Moses model” of church government is a shocking departure from Scriptural church government by a plurality of elders that comes to maturity in the New Testament.
In light of the New Testament teaching regarding the church being ruled by a plurality of elders, this “Moses Model” is nothing more than a crude hierarchal authoritarian form of church polity. God’s relationship with Moses is not the model on how He deals with pastors. Is keeping the attendees of “Papa” Smith churches in the dark, about Reformed theology’s view of church government one of the real reasons for Bryson’s attack on Calvinism?
In Reformed Church government, pastors are not mini popes who are unaccountable to the church members. Right at the outset of this article it would be helpful to the readers to see the Biblical standards for church leaders written by Orthodox Presbyterian pastor, Archibald Alexander Allison.
Pastor Archibald Alexander Allison on Church leadership requirements:
Biblical Church Government by Kevin Reed:
Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 2: Government by Scriptural Church Officers Chapter 3: Government by Church Courts Chapter 4: Government with Confessional Standards Chapter 5: Church Membership Chapter 6: Conclusion Bibliography
Download document in: PDF ePub Mobi
Reformed Church polity is a method of church government defined by the rule of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elders who are elected by the congregation. The governing elders are usually referred to as the session or consistory. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery or classis. The many regional presbyteries join together in a general assembly which convenes normally once a year. Individual members can challenge church doctrine, practice and leaders, first at the session level. Second, they have a right to appeal to the presbytery and third, the general assembly.
There are three levels of government so that you have a separation of power which serve to provide checks and balance on the potential abuse of the people of God and protect the church from falling into error in doctrine or practice. In the New Testament, we see the church ruled by elders. In Reformed Churches, there are ruling and teaching elders (pastors). Both ruling and teaching elders, each have only one vote. The pastor does not rule the church. Many practical and theological issues work their way up through the process of church courts and the best minds of the church study and rule on doctrinal considerations and church practice.
The astute reader will notice that the genius of Reformed Church government played a substantial role in the separation of powers and three branches of government that found their way into the founding of the U.S. Government. Perhaps this is why John Calvin has been called “the virtual founder of America.” by Harvard professor and historian George Bancroft. Bancroft said rather forcefully: “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.” John Adams, America’s second president, was in agreement and declared: “Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect.”
Attendees of “Papa” Smith churches are being held in ecclesiastical bondage with no way to address abusive church leadership and doctrinal errors when it happens. This side of heaven, it always happens. “Papa” Smith has thrown out all of the freedoms and Biblical reforms in church government that the Protestant Reformation secured for believers. Roman Catholics whom “Papa” Smith criticizes, have innumerable more opportunities to address grievances than in “Papa” Smith churches. In “Papa” Smith churches, it is their way or the highway. This is not freedom, it is ecclesiastical tyranny.
Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda! These words are the rallying cry for Reformed Christians. This Latin phrase means “the church is always reformed and always reforming.” May God light the fire of reform in the Calvary Chapels so they can repudiate the un-Scriptural “Moses Model” of church government. God has used the Calvary Chapels to bring many to Christ. This is good fruit, but it should not be an excuse, or should it be used to justify bad church polity.
Why Bryson and “Papa” Smith’s promotion of supposed on-going revelatory gifts is so dangerous:
“Papa” Smith’s Calvary Chapels are charismatic, and as such undermine the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the closed canon of Scripture because of their belief in ongoing extra-biblical revelatory “prophesies,” “words of knowledge” and the so-called “tongues” (γλῶσσα, glossa,) a Greek word meaning tongue or language. If God is still giving revelatory knowledge and guidance, then the canon of Scripture is not closed, but instead is ongoing. If this be the case, we should all go back to Rome. This on-going revelation doctrine is a serious theological error being promoted by “Papa” Smith. In fairness, “Papa” Smith’s charismatic theology does not believe that a “word of knowledge” or “prophecies” received in a prayer meeting are on the same level for example as Isaiah’s prophecies. This is problematic, is it a prophecy from God or not? If it is from God, then it is on-going revelation. Do these so-called “prophecies” teach things not found in Scripture? If so, they are extra-biblical and false. If not, what good are they since God has already communicated this truth in Scripture? God’s people are to study the Scriptures to find God’s Word for them, not depend on subjective unverifiable alleged “prophecies” or “words of knowledge.”
Consider the following observations about the dangers of “Papa” Smith’s promotion of the charismatic on-going revelatory gifts:
The modern day charismatic movement which Bryson and “Papa” Smith are part of is notorious for allowing experiences to influence their interpretation of Scripture. Adherents of the charismatic movement believe that God still speaks through the continued presence of revelatory gifts in the church today. It must be asked again, do the Charismatic revelatory gifts convey authoritative knowledge? If so, how is this revelatory knowledge fundamentally different from revelation given by the followers of Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, which also claims to be authoritative? If they are not authoritative, what is the purpose of these revelations since these same revelations in substance would already be in the Scriptures? Revelation if real, is authoritative. Non-authoritative revelation is a contradiction of terms. God’s revelation cannot be separated from His authority. As previously stated, charismatic followers usually do not believe that modern day revelatory knowledge contradicts the Bible. However, simply believing something is no guarantee of the truth or reality of the belief.
If the charismatic revelatory gifts are imparting new revelation, then this is a dangerous movement away from the authority of Scripture. In many cases, unwittingly the charismatic is accepting an authority other than the Bible, namely the new revelation. In addition, rather than Sola Scriptura being the guiding principle of the charismatic movement, many adherents of this movement have adopted a “just let the spirit lead or move” approach to arriving at truth for life decisions. In fact, this “just letting the spirit lead or move” seems to be the modus operandi of much of the charismatic movement.
Sometimes this claim of “letting the spirit lead or move” has been used as a pretext for doctrinal abuse and public sins such as men running off with the wive of another man. This writer personally knows cases where people believing that they received words of prophetic knowledge actually sold their homes and moved away at great financial loss only to find out later that such a move accomplished nothing at all beneficial. Claims to the contrary, this movement has spawned unbelievable abuses in practice and doctrine, which is the very fruit of a non-Biblical system of authority.
Many followers of the charismatic movement pay lip service to the principle of Sola Scriptura and a closed canon of Scripture. This is undermined however when so called spiritual experiences actually influence the interpretation of the Scriptures. In light of this flawed hermeneutic, namely, letting the alleged spiritual experience (tongue speaking, words of knowledge, and prophecy) influence an understanding of the Scripture it is not surprising that sound doctrine gives way to interpretations of Scripture that are influenced by these self-same experiences.
The astute reader sees the circular reasoning that plagues this approach. Since the charismatic has either allegedly witnessed or spoke in tongues, the Bible is interpreted in such a fashion as to support the charismatic interpretations of the Bible. Thus, the charismatic assumes this must be what the Bible teaches since they have witnessed or experienced it. This is nothing more than a dangerous subjectivist circle of interpretation. The role of Scripture and experience are reversed, experience gaining the upper hand in this system. As already mentioned, the fruit of this in addition to producing faulty theology, has led to practices contrary to the Bible.
In fact, it is not too strong to say that many of the modern day charismatic abuses rival the abuses that were produced by the Medieval Church. When experience is lifted up, as the guiding interpretive principle, objectivity is lost. Experience is in the realm of subjectivity. In essence, the theology of the charismatic movement subverts in principle the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and can end up supporting something other than the Scriptures being the infallible final court of appeal. Does the charismatic believer want to establish alleged revelatory gifts as an additional source of authority? If so, how this be fundamentally different than Rome’s “sacred tradition?” Both are sources of authority that stand outside of Scripture. This analysis may be painful for the charismatic to accept but it is true.
In closing this section, it needs to be asked since Bryson and “Papa” Smith’s non-denomination denomination is not confessional nor do they keep a membership role, how do they maintain doctrinal integrity? What will happen when “Papa” is gone? Will the non-denomination denomination fracture apart with many new mini “Papas” rising up, competing for power?
As an additional study, the student of Scripture should see Dr. Leonard J. Coppes’ article on The Cessation of Tongues at:
My experience with “Papa” Smith:
I left Calvary Chapel in 1981 after “Papa” (Father) Chuck Smith’s, prediction of the rapture failed to materialize. Incredibly, “Papa” or “Father Chuck” still has not learned his lesson on date setting. He is still at it! See: Chuck Smith Says the End is Near – AGAIN! http://americanvision.org/5620/chuck-smith-says-the-end-is-near-again/
As an ex-Mormon, I had discovered the many false prophesies of Mormonism. “Papa” Smith from California’s date setting scheme has as much credibility as the Utah Mormon’s Joseph Smith’s prediction of the end of the present order.
It would to me seem prudent if George Bryson would turn his attention closer to home and call his mistaken prophetic date setting pastor, “Papa” (Father) Chuck to task for false predictions derived from various elements of the aberrational dispensationalism that he learned at Dallas Theological Seminary.
A tale of two Smiths and their failed predictions. Both Smiths can be classified as futuristic millenarians:
“Papa” Smith in California wrote in 1980 that from his “understanding of biblical prophecies, he was “convinced that the Lord would come for His Church before the end of 1981.” He did this because of his un-biblical idea about Israel becoming a nation and the generation (supposedly 40 years) that witnessed this would finish with a pre-tribulation rapture. Smith did say that he “could be wrong” but then goes on to say in the same sentence that “it’s a deep conviction in my heart, and all my plans are predicated upon that belief.”1 Smith may have expressed a little reservation, but his subsequent words make it clear that “all of his plans were predicated upon that belief” in his “understanding of biblical prophecies.” (emphasis mine)
A prediction of the other Smith:
“Stated it was the will of God that those who went to Zion with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh even 56 years should wind up the scene.”2
If “Papa” Smith spent more time studying the Scriptures rather than reading wild newspaper stories into the Bible he would probably not go down the reckless date setting path. The Population Bomb was a best-selling book written by Paul R. Ehrlich. “Papa” Smith would cite information from this book because he thought it confirmed his wild beliefs about the end of the world and used information from it to excite his followers about famines supposedly predicted in the last days that were just around the corner. Paul Ehrlich and his book have been thoroughly discredited along with “Papa” Smith’s reckless dependence on the false information in the book. Getting more information from newspapers and television, Smith would talk about the planets aligning, insinuating that this planetary alignment may trigger signs in the heavens. “Papa” Smith can rightly be classified as a newspaper exegete, which is not exegesis at all.
Exegesis, the interpretive Standard:
Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις) is an explanation or interpretation of a text. Biblical exegesis is a process by which a person arrives at the meaning and message contained in a Biblical passage.
Eisegesis, the Interpretive Danger:
Eisegesis (from Greek εἰς into) is when a person interprets and reads information into the text that is not there. While exegesis draws out the meaning from the text, eisegesis occurs when someone reads their interpretation into the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.
The Reliable Grammatico-Historical-Hermeneutical Method:
This method of interpretation focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts from which the Scriptures were written. It is in the literal school of interpretation, and is the hermeneutical methodology embraced by virtually all evangelical Protestant exegetes and scholars. Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is crucial to this process.
Rather than engage in an extensive discussion of the “Papa” Smith and Bryson’s dispensational eschatological errors, the reader should consult my “A Scriptural view of the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom” at: http://www.undergroundnotes.com/Christ.htm for a traditional Protestant view of eschatology.
And Without a Doubt, Visit the Website Against Dispensationalism at: http://againstdispensationalism.com/ See especially their 95 Thesis Against Dispensationalism at this website.
Compare any publication coming out of “Papa” Smith and Bryson’s non-denomination denomination and some of the following Reformed theology classics:
Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1-2
Westminster Press (Considered one of the 10 most important books in the history of the world)
Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 1-3
P & R Publishing
Systematic Theology Vol. 1-3
Anything coming out of “Papa” Smith Churches is simply an embarrassment when compared to the above theological works.
Confessions of Faith:
Doctrinal creeds such as the Heidelberg Confession, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession represent the major tenets of Reformed theology and an incalculable influence for good in every area of Western Civilization.
On of the many examples that could be sited on why Bryson’s book is not scholarly is when he says: “The Canons of Dort, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Heidelberg Catechism make up what are called The Three Forms of Unity, subscribed to by most mainstream Reformed communities.”
If Bryson had done his home work better he would not have listed the Westminster Confession of Faith as one of the Three Forms of Unity. Instead he should have known that it is the Belgic Confession and not the Westminster Confession of Faith that comprises the three. The Westminster Confession of Faith was commissioned by the English parliament. The confession was commissioned from an assembly of Puritan clergymen meeting in Westminster Abbey, called the Westminster Assembly which was convened in 1643 for the purpose of drafting official documents for the reformation of the Church of England. The was completed in 1646 and is used by Presbyterian and many others world-wide.
The Westminster Confession of Faith was adapted and adopted by Congregationalists in England in the form of the Savoy Declaration (1658). Likewise, the Baptists of England modified the Savoy Declaration to produce the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). These religious bodies have a heritage united by their common confessions, built on the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Three Forms of Unity represent Dutch and Continental Reformed thinking.
In contrast, the “Papa” Smith churches have no secondary confessional standards. Bryon lists his theological heavy weights that he thinks this should end the debate. He lists: Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis (who believed people could be saved by someone using a different name other than Jesus. See last book of the Chronicles of Narnia), John Wesley, D. L. Moody, Charles Ryrie (promoter of aberrational dispensationalism), Chuck Swindoll, “Papa” Chuck Smith, Charles Stanley
The Reformed can make their own list who have held to the Doctrines of Grace:
The Reformed tradition has also given Christianity many great teachers, preachers, and theologians such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Owen, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Witherspoon, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Kuyper, Charles Hodge, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Louis Berkhoff, J. Gresham Machen, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer and church historians such as Philip Schaff.
There are many evangelists such as George Whitfield, David Brainerd, and William Carey, the founder of the modern missionary movement along with monumental apologists such as Gordon H. Clark, Cornelius Van Til, Ronald H. Nash, Carl F. H. Henry and Greg Bahnsen. This list is embarrassing short. Many more well known theologians and pastors from the past and present could be mentioned.
In addition, many jurists, statesmen, doctors and nurses, philanthropists, military commanders, and scientists could be mentioned that have adhered to the Reformed Faith and its rightful emphasis on God’s Sovereignty. I will gladly put my lot with the solid Protestant Reformed scholarship that has transformed nations.
Two noteworthy theologians who held to the doctrine of predestination, like Calvin:
First, St. Augustine:
“He simply does not bestow his justifying mercy on some sinners…He decides who are not to be offered mercy by a standard of equity which is most secret and far removed from human powers of understanding.”3
“Therefore the mercy is past finding out by which He has mercy on whom He will, no merits of his own preceding; and the truth is unsearchable by which He hardeneth whom He will, even although his merits may have preceded, but merits for the most part common to him with the man on whom He has mercy. As of two twins, of which one is taken and the other left, the end is unequal, while the deserts are common, yet in these the one is in such wise delivered by God’s great goodness, that the other is condemned by no injustice of God’s. For is there unrighteousness with God? Away with the thought!”4
Second, Thomas Aquinas:
“The reason for the predestination of some and reprobation of others (praedestinationis aliquorum, et reprobationis aliorum) must be sought for in the divine goodness…. God wills to manifest his goodness in those whom he predestines, by means of the mercy with which he spares them; and in respect of others whom he reprobates, by means of the justice with which he punishes them. This is the reason why God chooses some (quosdam eligit) and reprobates others (quosdam reprobat)…. Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will (non habet rationem nisi divinam voluntatem).”5
St. Augustine is considered the theologian of the 1st thousand years of church history and Thomas Aquinas is considered the theologian of the 2nd thousand years. If Bryson and “Papa” Smith want to claim superior theological knowledge than these theologians, more power to them.
The Reformed Faith and Missions:
For Bryson to maintain that the Reformed Faith does not engage in real evangelism is either inexcusable ignorance or an outright lie.
For example, see Calvinism and Christian Missions:
Michael Horton devotes chapter Seven of his “For Calvinism,” to an inspiring defense of Calvinism against the charge that its doctrines discourage missionary activity and prayer for it.
A little needs to be said about Bryson and Christ’s atonement. Bryson mentions the Puritan John Owen, but neglects to answer any of of Owen’s arguments. One argument he should answer is:
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
All the sins of all men.
All the sins of some men, or
Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, “Because of unbelief.”
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins! 6
It may be objected that this is a logical argument. I would respond by saying, so what? It should be noted that this objection does not disprove the argument, it is simply question begging. Owen’s work is the most thorough Biblical examination of the extent of the atonement on this subject ever printed. The claims of ignorance by Arminian concerning the existence of this work and this particular argument is not a substitute for refuting it.
The Reformed Faith and the problem of evil:
Another big lie of Bryson’s, is accusing Reformed believers of teaching God is the author of sin. Reformed theologians sometimes talk of remote and proximate causes. When a Reformed theologian is talking about remote causes, this is where Bryson gets the idea of Reformed theologians are teaching God is the author of evil. Since he is prejudiced, he cannot discern when a Reformed theologian is talking about remote or proximate causes. If he were more discerning he would understand that his own free will doctrine, does not save the Arminian God from the same charge, namely, being the remote cause of sin and evil. Bryson apparently believes that the free will argument is a solution that saves his God from being weak and responsible for evil, and its results.
It would be interesting to see how Bryson would respond to Philosopher Gordon Clark in his Religion, Reason, and Revelation that such a thing as free will can not ultimately save his Arminian God from being responsible for evil since the Arminian God knew that sin would come into the world, and created it anyway? If the Arminian God did not create the world and man, there would be no evil. It is clear, that even the Arminian God is the remote cause of sin. Also, see also Antony Flew’s God and Philosophy. Flew observes that the Arminian fee will argument is a non-solution to the problem of sin and evil. Flew is a non-Christian. If Bryson catches on that the free will doctrine is not a solution, maybe he will move another notch down and adopt the ignorance of god doctrine, i.e., God does not know the future. Flew and many philosophers and theologians will not be impressed by this either.
In light of all of God’s Sinless Perfections and Holiness, the Reformed assert that God is absolutely Sovereign and what-ever He does is right, simply because He does it! If you are holding God to the standards of human reason this may be unacceptable. Human reason must be subservient to God’s revelation. This really is the core issue with which Arminians wrestle against, namely, submitting human reason to the authority of Scripture and the rejection of all forms of human autonomy. The Reformed rightly maintain that there is no law structure or standard above God that he is held accountable to. If so, this law structure would be God and one could also ask, where did this law structure come from? The Arminians have elevated human reason as a standard above God and hold him to an outrageous humanistic un-Scriptural standard.
The decretive or concealed will of God, is God’s sovereign will that we may or may not know, depending on whether or not God reveals it to us. God’s purposes are not always revealed.
Some passages of Scripture for Bryson to exegete:
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it it is this day, to save much people alive. Genesis 50:20
Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. Judges 9:23
And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee. I Kings 22:20-23
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Psalms 76:10
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? Amos 3:6
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Acts 2:23
Before exegeting these passages, Bryson should first get back to Dr. White on Genesis 50:20, and Acts 4:27-28 and provide a credible exegesis if he is able. Dr. White has waiting for some time for a response.
Reformed confessional standards on the authorship of Sin:
Reformed theology is defined first by Scripture and secondarily by the Reformed confessional standards such the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Reformed Christians do not deny that God is the author of sin simply because it is in our confessional standards. We deny it, because it is denied in the Scriptures, which are the final and only infallible rule of faith and practice.
Canons of Dort, from the Dutch Reformed Church:
“The cause or guilt of this unbelief as well as of all other sins is no wise in God, but in man himself.”
While making clear that man is not saved on the basis of an exercise of his will, the Dutch Synod affirmed that God can restore the freedom of the human will without doing violence to it:
Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and an in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections… But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and it properties, or do violence thereto; but is spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore, unless the admirable Author of every good work so deal with us, man can have no hope of being able to rise from his fall by his own free will, by which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin. (underlining emphasis mine)
Westminster Confession of Faith used by Presbyterians:
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Ch. III) teaches that God’s absolute sovereignty established the freedom of second causes and that it does not do any violence to the human will, nor does it make God the author of sin:
GOD from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;a yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, b nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. c
a Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18. b James 1:13, 17; I John 1:5. c Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27-28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33.
Bryon references both of the above confessions so it is a question of, can he understand the theology he is trying to refute, or is he being honest? One thing is clear, Bryson puts words in the mouth of his opponents, ones that they specifically have rejected. As Bryson should be able to see, God is the remote cause of everything. But, God does this in such a way that He is not the author of sin as stated by the confessions quoted above, and repeatedly by Reformed theologians.
For further study, the serious student of Scripture should see: Clark’s God and Evil: The Problem Solved. Reviewed by Dr. W. Gary Crampton at:
Also see: The Problem of Evil (Part 1 and 2) By Dr. Greg Bahnsen:
Another observation about Bryson and his problem with Total Depravity:
I’ve mentioned several times, Bryson’s lack of genuine interaction with scholars he is in disagreement with. One notable example, is the “Bondage of the Will” by Martin Luther. This book is about the debate Luther had with Erasmus in response to Erasmus’ Diatribe. This was surely one of the most important theological debates of the Reformation. Strangely, there is no mention of this debate by Bryson. It would be interesting to see if Bryson agrees with Erasmus or Luther. It is quite possible that if Bryson thinks the Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the Three forms of Unity, he is probably unaware of Luther’s position on man’s depravity and predestination.
In my opinion, Bryson’s whole approach is influenced by his inadequate understanding of the fall of man. In light of the Biblical teaching on the fall of man, God is under no obligation to save any. God could rightly withhold His mercy and be praised for His Holiness. Rather than justly withhold His mercy to all, He gave His grace (unmerited favor) to some. Those to did not receive the unmerited favor have no grounds to complain. They get what they deserved for their sin and suppression of the truth in unrighteousness. Bryson in reality is disputing with God, not Calvin. Bryson should put aside his humanistic reasoning and go back and and re-read Romans 9:11-23. Does Bryson stand with Paul or the “O man” the apostle mentions?
In Luther’s Commentary on Romans, he wrote:
“All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.”7
In his The Bondage of the Will he wrote:
“Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.”8
If Bryson were more circumspect, he would not have written his book, considering the huge debt Western Civilization owes to Protestant Reformation theology. Sadly, Bryson and his “Papa” are on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side in their understanding of the “Doctrines of Grace” in their crusade against the Reformed Faith.
In closing, I will leave the reader with wisdom from two notable figures in church history:
“After the Holy Scriptures, I exhort the students to read the Commentaries of Calvin. . . . I tell them that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the ancient Christian Fathers: so that, in a certain eminent spirit of prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all. I add, that, with regard to what belongs to common places, his Institutes must be read after the Catechism, as a more ample interpretation. But to all this I subjoin the remark, that they must be perused with cautious choice, like all other human compositions.” – Jacob Arminius
“I believe Calvin was a great instrument of God; and that he was a wise and pious man.” – John Wesley
What is the point of this article? Men who live in glass houses should not throw stones!
On-Line Stories and News about “Papa” Smith Churches:
Day of Reckoning Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel face an uncertain future.
A Biblical Critique of Chuck Smith’s Study: “Calvinism, Arminianism & The Word Of God”
George Bryson’s Letter to Calvary Chapel Pastors
Calvary Chapel Abuse
Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel, and their Ignorance Fest on Calvinism (James White) Excellent must listen to presentation!
Chuck Smith Blasts, Threatens Calvary Chapel Abuse Survivor from the Pulpit of CC Costa Mesa
Why we left Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa
Calvary Chapel Authority Structure
Calvary Chapel Clergy & Moses Authoritarianism
The “Moses Model” of Ministry Backfires
Has your mind been poisoned by slanderous fallacious arguments? If so, suggested DVD viewing:
Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism
RC Sproul Chosen By God
Why Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel Produce So Many Calvinists (James White)
Why are so many Calvinists being produced in Calvary Chapel when Chuck Smith and Co. are openly against Calvinism? Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries answers this question at the above link.
Alpha & Omega Ministries Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel
See my: A Testimony of an Ex-Mormon on why I believe salvation must be monergistic rather than synergistic.
- Chuck Smith, Future Survival (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today,  1980), 20.
- Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), p. 182.
- St. Augustine, quoted. in Bonner, God’s Decree and Man’s Destiny, (London: Variorum Reprints, 1987), 17.
- Augustine of Hippo, Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints, Book V, the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Available on-line at: http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers/npnf1-05/c12.2.htm
- Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae (1a.23.5)
- John Owen, The Death of Christ, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Penn. 1978), p. 173,174.
- Martin Luther, quoted in Boettner, Reformed Doctrines, p. 15.
- Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, (Old Tappan, New Jersey, Fleming H. Revell Company) 1957, p.101.
Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of http://www.Undergroundnotes.com
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To see some of the accomplishments of Reformation Theology, enjoy this next article titled “Calvinism in America by Loraine Boettner. This article high lights many of the great accomplishments of the Reformed Faith in America.
Calvinism in America By Loraine Boettner
When we come to study the influence of Calvinism as a political force in the history of the United States we come to one of the brightest pages of all Calvinistic history. Calvinism came to America in the Mayflower, and Bancroft, the greatest of American historians, pronounces the Pilgrim Fathers “Calvinists in their faith according to the straightest system.”1 John Endicott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; John Winthrop, the second governor of that Colony; Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut; John Davenport, the founder of the New Haven Colony; and Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, were all Calvinists. William Penn was a disciple of the Huguenots. It is estimated that of the 3,000,000 Americans at the time of the American Revolution, 900,000 were of Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin, 600,000 were Puritan English, and 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed. In addition to this the Episcopalians had a Calvinistic confession in their Thirty-nine Articles; and many French Huguenots also had come to this western world. Thus we see that about two-thirds of the colonial population had been trained in the school of Calvin. Never in the world’s history had a nation been founded by such people as these. Furthermore these people came to America not primarily for commercial gain or advantage, but because of deep religious convictions. It seems that the religious persecutions in various European countries had been providentially used to select out the most progressive and enlightened people for the colonization of America. At any rate it is quite generally admitted that the English, Scotch, Germans, and Dutch have been the most masterful people of Europe. Let it be especially remembered that the Puritans, who formed the great bulk of the settlers in New England, brought with them a Calvinistic Protestantism, that they were truly devoted to the doctrines of the great Reformers, that they had an aversion for formalism and oppression whether in the Church or in the State, and that in New England Calvinism remained the ruling theology throughout the entire Colonial period.
With this background we shall not be surprised to find that the Presbyterians took a very prominent part in the American Revolution. Our own historian Bancroft says: “The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure. It was the natural outgrowth of the principles which the Presbyterianism of the Old World planted in her sons, the English Puritans, the Scotch Covenanters, the French Huguenots, the Dutch Calvinists, and the Presbyterians of Ulster.” So intense, universal, and aggressive were the Presbyterians in their zeal for liberty that the war was spoken of in England as “The Presbyterian Rebellion.” An ardent colonial supporter of King George III wrote home: “I fix all the blame for these extraordinary proceedings upon the Presbyterians. They have been the chief and principal instruments in all these flaming measures. They always do and ever will act against government from that restless and turbulent anti-monarchial spirit which has always distinguished them everywhere.”2 When the news of “these extraordinary proceedings” reached England, Prime Minister Horace Walpole said in Parliament, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson” (John Witherspoon, president of Princeton, signer of Declaration of Independence).
History is eloquent in declaring that American democracy was born of Christianity and that that Christianity was Calvinism. The great Revolutionary conflict which resulted in the formation of the American nation, was carried out mainly by Calvinists, many of whom had been trained in the rigidly Presbyterian College at Princeton, and this nation is their gift to all liberty loving people.
J. R. Sizoo tells us: “When Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate retreat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial Army but one were Presbyterian elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.”3
The testimony of Emilio Castelar, the famous Spanish statesman, orator and scholar, is interesting and valuable. Castelar had been professor of Philosophy in the University of Madrid before he entered politics, and he was made president of the republic which was set up by the Liberals in 1873. As a Roman Catholic he hated Calvin and Calvinism. Says he: “It was necessary for the republican movement that there should come a morality more austere than Luther’s, the morality of Calvin, and a Church more democratic than the German, the Church of Geneva. The Anglo-Saxon democracy has for its lineage a book of a primitive society — the Bible. It is the product of a severe theology learned by the few Christian fugitives in the gloomy cities of Holland and Switzerland, where the morose shade of Calvin still wanders . . . And it remains serenely in its grandeur, forming the most dignified, most moral and most enlightened portion of the human race.”4
Says Motley: “In England the seeds of liberty, wrapped up in Calvinism and hoarded through many trying years, were at last destined to float over land and sea, and to bear the largest harvests of temperate freedom for great commonwealths that were still unborn.5 “The Calvinists founded the commonwealths of England, of Holland, and America.” And again, “To Calvinists more than to any other class of men, the political liberties of England, Holland and America are due.”6
The testimony of another famous historian, the Frenchman Taine, who himself held no religious faith, is worthy of consideration. Concerning the Calvinists he said: “These men are the true heroes of England. They founded England, in spite of the corruption of the Stuarts, by the exercise of duty, by the practice of justice, by obstinate toil, by vindication of right, by resistance to oppression, by the conquest of liberty, by the repression of vice. They founded Scotland; they founded the United States; at this day they are, by their descendants, founding Australia and colonizing the world.”7
In his book, “The Creed of Presbyterians,” E. W. Smith asks concerning the American colonists, “Where learned they those immortal principles of the rights of man, of human liberty, equality and self-government, on which they based their Republic, and which form today the distinctive glory of our American civilization ? In the school of Calvin they learned them. There the modern world learned them. So history teaches,” (p. 121).
We shall now pass on to consider the influence which the Presbyterian Church as a Church exerted in the formation of the Republic. “The Presbyterian Church,” said Dr. W. H. Roberts in an address before the General Assembly, “was for three-quarters of a century the sole representative upon this continent of republican government as now organized in the nation.” And then he continues: “From 1706 to the opening of the revolutionary struggle the only body in existence which stood for our present national political organization was the General Synod of the American Presbyterian Church. It alone among ecclesiastical and political colonial organizations exercised authority, derived from the colonists themselves, over bodies of Americans scattered through all the colonies from New England to Georgia. The colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is to be remembered, while all dependent upon Great Britain, were independent of each other. Such a body as the Continental Congress did not exist until 1774. The religious condition of the country was similar to the political. The Congregational Churches of New England had no connection with each other, and had no power apart from the civil government. The Episcopal Church was without organization in the colonies, was dependent for support and a ministry on the Established Church of England, and was filled with an intense loyalty to the British monarchy. The Reformed Dutch Church did not become an efficient and independent organization until 1771, and the German Reformed Church did not attain to that condition until 1793. The Baptist Churches were separate organizations, the Methodists were practically unknown, and the Quakers were non-combatants.”
Delegates met every year in the General Synod, and as Dr. Roberts tells us, the Church became “a bond of union and correspondence between large elements in the population of the divided colonies.” “Is it any wonder,” he continues, “that under its fostering influence the sentiments of true liberty, as well as the tenets of a sound gospel, were preached throughout the territory from Long Island to South Carolina, and that above all a feeling of unity between the Colonies began slowly but surely to assert itself? Too much emphasis cannot be laid, in connection with the origin of the nation, upon the influence of that ecclesiastical republic, which from 1706 to 1774 was the only representative on this continent of fully developed federal republican institutions. The United States of America owes much to that oldest of American Republics, the Presbyterian Church.”8
It is, of course, not claimed that the Presbyterian Church was the only source from which sprang the principles upon which this republic is founded, but it is claimed that the principles found in the Westminster Standards were the chief basis for the republic, and that “The Presbyterian Church taught, practiced, and maintained in fulness, first in this land that form of government in accordance with which the Republic has been organized.” (Roberts).
The opening of the Revolutionary struggle found the Presbyterian ministers and churches lined up solidly on the side of the colonists, and Bancroft accredits them with having made the first bold move toward independence.9 The synod which assembled in Philadelphia in 1775 was the first religious body to declare openly and publicly for a separation from England. It urged the people under its jurisdiction to leave nothing undone that would promote the end in view, and called upon them to pray for the Congress which was then in session.
The Episcopalian Church was then still united with the Church of England, and it opposed the Revolution. A considerable number of individuals within that Church, however, labored earnestly for independence and gave of their wealth and influence to secure it. It is to be remembered also that the Commander-in-Chief of the American armies, “the father of our country,” was a member of her household. Washington himself attended, and ordered all of his men to attend the services of his chaplains, who were clergymen from the various churches. He gave forty thousand dollars to establish a Presbyterian College in his native state, which took his name in honor of the gift and became Washington College.
N. S. McFetridge has thrown light upon another major development of the Revolutionary period. For the sake of accuracy and completeness we shall take the privilege of quoting him rather extensively. “Another important factor in the independent movement,” says he, “was what is known as the ‘Mecklenburg Declaration,’ proclaimed by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of North Carolina, May 20, 1775, more than a year before the Declaration (of Independence) of Congress. It was the fresh, hearty greeting of the Scotch-Irish to their struggling brethren in the North, and their bold challenge to the power of England. They had been keenly watching the progress of the contest between the colonies and the Crown, and when they heard of the address presented by the Congress to the King, declaring the colonies in actual rebellion, they deemed it time for patriots to speak. Accordingly, they called a representative body together in Charlotte, N. C., which by unanimous resolution declared the people free and independent, and that all laws and commissions from the king were henceforth null and void. In their Declaration were such resolutions as these: ‘We do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the mother-country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British crown’ …. ‘We hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people; are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing association, under control of no power other than that of our God and the general government of Congress; to the maintenance of which we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual cooperation and our lives, our fortunes and our most sacred honor.’ … That assembly was composed of twenty-seven staunch Calvinists, just one-third of whom were ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church, including the president and secretary; and one was a Presbyterian clergyman. The man who drew up that famous and important document was the secretary, Ephraim Brevard, a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church and a graduate of Princeton College. Bancroft says of it that it was, ‘in effect, a declaration as well as a complete system of government.’ (U.S. Hist. VIII, 40). It was sent by special messenger to the Congress in Philadelphia, and was published in the Cape Fear Mercury, and was widely distributed throughout the land. Of course it was speedily transmitted to England, where it became the cause of intense excitement.
“The identity of sentiment and similarity of expression in this Declaration and the great Declaration written by Jefferson could not escape the eye of the historian; hence Tucker, in his Life of Jefferson, says: ‘Everyone must be persuaded that one of these papers must have been borrowed from the other.’ But it is certain that Brevard could not have ‘borrowed’ from Jefferson, for he wrote more than a year before Jefferson; hence Jefferson, according to his biographer, must have ‘borrowed’ from Brevard. But it was a happy plagiarism, for which the world will freely forgive him. In correcting his first draft of the Declaration it can be seen, in at least a few places, that Jefferson has erased the original words and inserted those which are first found in the Mecklenberg Declaration. No one can doubt that Jefferson had Brevard’s resolutions before him when he was writing his immortal Declaration.”10
This striking similarity between the principles set forth in the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church and those set forth in the Constitution of the United States has caused much comment. “When the fathers of our Republic sat down to frame a system of representative and popular government,” says Dr. E. W. Smith, “their task was not so difficult as some have imagined. They had a model to work by.”11
“If the average American citizen were asked, who was the founder of America, the true author of our great Republic, he might be puzzled to answer. We can imagine his amazement at hearing the answer given to this question by the famous German historian, Ranke, one of the profoundest scholars of modern times. Says Ranke, ‘John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.'”12
D’Aubigne, whose history of the Reformation is a classic, writes: “Calvin was the founder of the greatest of republics. The Pilgrims who left their country in the reign of James I, and landing on the barren soil of New England, founded populous and mighty colonies, were his sons, his direct and legitimate sons; and that American nation which we have seen growing so rapidly boasts as its father the humble Reformer on the shore of Lake Leman.”13
Dr. E. W. Smith says, “These revolutionary principles of republican liberty and self-government, taught and embodied in the system of Calvin, were brought to America, and in this new land where they have borne so mighty a harvest were planted, by whose hands? — the hands of the Calvinists. The vital relation of Calvin and Calvinism to the founding of the free institutions of America, however strange in some ears the statement of Ranke may have sounded, is recognized and affirmed by historians of all lands and creeds.”14
All this has been thoroughly understood and candidly acknowledged by such penetrating and philosophic historians as Bancroft, who far though he was from being Calvinistic in his own personal convictions, simply calls Calvin “the father of America,” and adds: “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”
When we remember that two-thirds of the population at the time of the Revolution had been trained in the school of Calvin, and when we remember how unitedly and enthusiastically the Calvinists labored for the cause of independence, we readily see how true are the above testimonies.
There were practically no Methodists in America at the time of the Revolution; and, in fact, the Methodist Church was not officially organized as such in England until the year 1784, which was three years after the American Revolution closed. John Wesley, great and good man though he was, was a Tory and a believer in political non-resistance. He wrote against the American “rebellion,” but accepted the providential result. McFetridge tells us: “The Methodists had hardly a foothold in the colonies when the war began. In 1773 they claimed about one hundred and sixty members. Their ministers were almost all, if not all, from England, and were staunch supporters of the Crown against American Independence. Hence, when the war broke out they were compelled to fly from the country. Their political views were naturally in accord with those of their great leader, John Wesley, who wielded all the power of his eloquence and influence against the independence of the colonies. (Bancroft, Hist. U.S., Vol. VII, p. 261.) He did not foresee that independent America was to be the field on which his noble Church was to reap her largest harvests, and that in that Declaration which he so earnestly opposed lay the security of the liberties of his followers.”15
In England and America the great struggles for civil and religious liberty were nursed in Calvinism, inspired by Calvinism, and carried out largely by men who were Calvinists. And because the majority of historians have never made a serious study of Calvinism they have never been able to give us a truthful and complete account of what it has done in these countries. Only the light of historical investigation is needed to show us how our forefathers believed in it and were controlled by it. We live in a day when the services of the Calvinists in the founding of this country have been largely forgotten, and one can hardly treat of this subject without appearing to be a mere eulogizer of Calvinism. We may well do honor to that Creed which has borne such sweet fruits and to which America owes so much.
1Hist. U. S., I, p. 463. 2Presbyterians and the Revolution, p. 49. 3They Seek a Country, J. G. Slosser, editor, p. 155. 4Harper’s Monthly. June and July, 1872. 5The’United Netherlands, III., p. 121. 6The United Netherlands, IV., pp. 548, 547. 7English Literature, II., p. 472. 8Address on, “The Westminster Standards and the Formation of the American Republic. 9Hist. U.S., X., p. 77. 10Calvinism in History, pp. 85-88. 11The Creed of Presbyterians, p. 142. 12Id. p. 119. 13Reformation in the Time of Calvin, I., p. 5. 14The Creed of Presbyterians, p. 132. 15Calvinism in History, p. 74.