All systems contain errors, as they are built on a human understanding of Scripture. I have summarized some of the discrepancies found within these systems here. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be, nor are the arguments presented on either side complete. As mentioned above, others have eloquently argued both sides of each issue and I will leave it to you, dear reader, to delve into these subjects.
If your particular brand of Christianity is not found here, it probably simply means that I have not yet had the chance to study it as carefully as those listed here. Please do not be offended about these statements. I will try to add references and opportunities for further reading on the various systems where I can.
Each of the entries will define the system, give a brief summary of the erroneous point and then attempt to explain from where the error might stem and what makes it an error. These will be brief summaries not exhaustive treatises. Others have already done an admirable job at that. Suffice it to say that there are two things that I will assume as I put these together.
- God exists and He has chosen to speak to us, coming to earth as the man Jesus Christ, dying for our sins and rising again from the dead.
- The Bible is a supernatural book, coming from the very mouth of God, His missive to us and it is the authority for all things supernatural. Nothing else is needed, nothing else need be consulted.
Issue: Man can lose his salvation.
Key passage: Hebrews 6:4-6
Basis: Man’s free will is extremely important in coming to God and he can chose for or against God freely.
Argument:Because man has a free will and has the ability to aid in his salvation by choosing God, he also has the ability to decide to leave the fold of God and turn his back on God’s offer. This choosing against God is shown through the actions of the individual and he will have lost his salvation if he lives contrary to what God desires.
Result: Legalism, judgment of individuals, constant fear of losing salvation
1. Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
“No one” is assumed to include oneself, which the plain reading of the text suggests.
2. Paul’s statement concerning the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13b-14 (NIV):
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession to the praise of his glory.”
A deposit that guarantees our inheritance strongly suggests that the deposit cannot and will not be taken back.
Further Reading: C. Gordon Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation (Cedar Knolls, NJ: Global Gospel Publishers, 2002)
1. The Sovereignty of God
Issue: God’s primary attribute is His sovereignty
Origin: A fundamental assumption supposedly set forth by John Calvin himself.
Argument: “According to the Calvinist, God is not only the supreme Lawgiver and Ruler; but God is supreme also in the realm of truth in science, and in art quite as much as in the realm of morals, in the dissemination of His love and grace and all His gifts as well as in the administration of the laws which men are to live by or which operate in nature. The Calvinist believes that God does not act arbitrarily either in the dissemination of His gifts or in His providential control of man and nature. Order is heaven’s first law.”22
Result: The entire Calvinistic System of thought; dual predestination; God is responsible for sin; we are no more than automatons
Rebuttal: God’s nature is perfect (Psalm 18:30). This suggests that none of His attributes would supersede another. He is a perfect balance of all His attributes, His sovereignty included. Therefore, to build a system on one attribute of God is to focus only on the exterior of one wall of the cathedral and to deny the existence of all other parts of it.
It is also interesting to note that in I Corinthians 14:33 Paul does not contrast God’s dislike of disorder with order, but with peace!
2. Dual Predestination
Issue: Just as God has predestined humans to be saved, so He has also predestined them to be condemned.
Basis: God’s sovereignty allows Him to chose whom He wants to accept and whom He wants to condemn.
Key passages: Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-6
Argument: Because God has decreed that certain people will accept Him, the logical conclusion is that He has also decreed which ones won’t accept Him. Because God’s will is irresistible, it will happen as He decreed it, regardless of what we think or do.
Result: Fatalism; Man has no responsibility; God is responsible for all of our actions; God cannot be just in punishing us for not choosing Him.
Rebuttal: Scripture is clear that God has chosen those for salvation (see Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-6), however it is equally clear that God does not want anyone to be lost, but for all men to come to salvation (I Peter 3:9; I John 2:2; and a strict reading of Romans 5). The only way, regardless of what logic we take, that God’s desire for all men to be saved can be thwarted and we can be truly responsible for our actions is if we have some sort of free will.
3. Further Reading
About Calvinism by a Calvinist: H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956)
A Rebuttal: C. Gordon Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation (Cedar Knolls, NJ: Global Gospel Publishers, 2002)
Issue: All “sign” gifts, such as tongues, miraculous healings, miracles, and prophecy pertaining to the future have ceased.
Basis: Being uncomfortable with the Charismatic movement’s excesses in practicing the sign gifts and needing a rebuttal against it.
Key Passage: I Corinthians 13:8
Argument: A reading of the original Greek of I Corinthians 13:8 clearly suggests that the tongues will be stilled on their own and prophecies and knowledge will be actively gotten rid of. We now have the full canon of Scripture and don’t need special prophecies or knowledge or the tongues, all of which were needed when the Early Church first established Christianity. Because we have progressed beyond the need of such signs and wonders they must have ceased today.
Result: A sense of superiority in one’s own position and a dismissal of certain passages in Scripture, including I Corinthians 14.
Rebuttal: The cessation of the “sign gifts” is clear in Scripture, but I Corinthians 13:8 alone gives no time frame as to when that might happen. The immediate context following (vv.9-13) strongly suggests an end-time application of this cessation. Also, when read in the section context of I Corinthians 12 – 14, it becomes apparent that Paul did not view the gifts of having ceased, precisely because he gives guidelines as to how they should be handled. God’s continued inclusion of the ordering of the use of the gifts in Scripture suggests that even today these gifts will be active and need to be subjected to the same rigorous control that God set fort through Paul in I Corinthians.
In addition to this, the whole cessationist doctrine is based solely upon a reading of the Greek of only this one verse in Scripture. This is dangerous for two reasons. First, basing a doctrine upon one verse in Scripture makes it tenuous at best, because there is no other support for it elsewhere and it would so be considered marginal in God’s grand scheme of things. Second, the ability to check this contention would require special knowledge (i.e. being able to read Koinë Greek) which the average Christian does not have. So they have no way of knowing whether this is truly something that the Bible teaches or something that the exegete has come up with himself.
Issue: All believers must receive a second baptism of the Holy Spirit to be truly saved.
Key Scripture: Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 8:14-16; 10:44 connected to I Corinthians 12:13
Basis: A desire to transcend the mundane, hum-drum Christianity and to really experience God and see Him moving (a mystical experience).
Argument: When God first moved in the church, the outpouring of His Holy Spirit prompted His apostles to speak in various tongues. This was a second act after they believed in Jesus and were baptized in water. It happened to the first Jewish Christians (Acts 2:1-4) and the first Gentile Christians (Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit did not come upon the first Samaritan Christians until bestowed by Peter (Acts 8:14-16). Therefore it must be the same way with us: we need the second empowering of the Holy Spirit to really know God and to be in ecstasy before Him. If we have this second empowering we will all speak in tongues.
Result: A disdain for any “Christians” who don’t speak in tongues, “learning” to speak in tongues and often a wishy-washy, endorphin-based Christian life that flits from one high to another and is always looking for flashy results with an attitude that if it’s not exciting it’s not from God.
Rebuttal: I Corinthians 12 and 14 very carefully regulate the speaking in tongues and a plain reading of I Corinthians 12:10 strongly suggests that the gift of tongues was not given to everyone. Equally, if I Corinthians 12:13 is taken in context it is clear that we already have the baptism of the Spirit and if read in concert with Romans 6, the plain meaning of Scripture says that this baptism happens at the time of our conversion, not after.
Also, the definition of “tongues” as put forth by the Charismatics is not the same one as the definition garnered from their favorite passages in Acts and arises once more from one verse in I Corinthians 13:1. Using one verse to support one’s position is extremely tenuous, as was pointed out with the cessationist point of view above.
E. Covenant Theology
Issue: The Law of Moses is still applicable to us today, if only in part.
Key Scriptures: Lacking
Basis: a desire to order the Scripture into epochs
Argument: The way God deals with humans is by making agreements with them in the form of covenants. He did this with two key covenants: the Covenant of works with Adam before the fall and the Covenant of grace with the rest of mankind once Adam fell. He continued to elaborate these covenants in various ways, including the Law of Moses. Because all of these covenants were part of the covenant of grace, the moral and civil law is still applicable to us, whereas the ceremonial is not, as Jesus has fulfilled that.
Result: Legalism; exegete decides what parts of the Bible are valid for life today.
Rebuttal: There are three issues here. First there is no suggestion in Scripture of the covenants of works or grace. These are extra-biblical constructs that were set up to make sense of the Bible.23
Second, the contention that the Law of Moses is still applicable to all of us today is rebutted in Scripture by Acts 15, where the Gentiles are expressly told they are not under the law, and also Galatians 3:19 makes it clear that the Law was meant to be temporary until salvation through Christ was available.
Thirdly, the contention that we can split the Law between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws is contrary to the contention that Scripture is authority, not the exegete (which every good Covenant Theologian will hold to). If we begin deciding what is obsolete and what isn’t we become the authority and Scripture is set aside
Richard P. Belcher, A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, Inc., 1986).
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995).
F. Dispensationalism (Darbyism)
Issue: Parts of the Bible are obsolete, because they belong to a previous dispensation.
Basis: God deals with His people in various dispensations.
Key Passage: Ephesians 3:2
Argument: God deals differently with His people in each dispensation. Each one has a test that must be followed. If that test fails, then God will discard the dispensation and all that had to do with it and start all over again. For this reason the Old Testament, which belongs to the previous dispensation of the Mosaic Law, is no longer valid for the Christians in New Testament times, who are now under the dispensation of grace. It is only of limited use to us today.
Result: only the New Testament is studied and the richness of Scripture is lost.
Rebuttal: II Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” This includes the Old Testament. It is no more obsolete or of limited use than pen and paper in the computer age. It is necessary to understand where we are and what the New Testament teaches.
Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (Second Edition; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994).
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995).
1. Faith-only Salvation (a.k.a. Easy-Believe-ism)
Issue: If you say you believe in Jesus and say the prayer you are saved, regardless of what your life looks like afterwards.
Basis: Salvation is through faith alone.
Key Scriptures: Romans 10:8-10; Ephesians 2:8-9
Argument: We are saved by faith and faith alone. Therefore if we have said the prayer and expressed this faith we are saved, regardless of what our life looks like afterwards. After all we prayed.
Result: Lots of “Christians” without any evidence of their faith; a cheapening of the Faith.
Rebuttal: That’s just the first step. Faith is not a simple cognitive process. It is much deeper than that. It deals with the very fabric of who we are. It is interesting that the key faith passages all connect faith with works. Ephesians 2:8-9 should never be read without v. 10 which stresses the works that God has prepared for us. James24 is unequivocal in what the connection between faith and works is. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18b — NIV) There is a close connection between faith and works.25
2. Lordship Salvation
Issue: It’s not enough to say you believe, you must also actively proclaim Jesus Christ to be your Lord.
Basis: An antidote to Easy-Believe-ism is needed, because it’s turning out too many false Christians.
Key Scriptures: Romans 10:8-10
Argument: Faith is one thing for salvation, but because it can be so easily counterfeited, the new “believer” must also declare his or her allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim Him Lord of his or her life. This arises from the fact that we must say “Jesus is Lord” when we are saved.
Result: Adding to Faith being the defining point of salvation; superior attitude; a legalism of sorts
Rebuttal: That’s all well and good, but adding something to the faith issue is anti-Scriptural. The Bible clearly says that faith is all that is needed. Perhaps this arises from a wrong definition of faith by both those holding to Lordship Salvation and by Faith-Only Salvationists. It seems that what was said in the passage above applies here, only in the other direction.
Issue: Rules are more important than the freedom God gives.
Basis: The idea that we need to follow rules to please God.
Argument: God has certain things He wants us to do and does not want us to do. In order to protect ourselves from stepping over the line on these issues, we must be even more careful about the way we go about everything. For example, listening to certain music is sinful, because it is used in negative venues, therefore we will not listen to it and anyone who does is a sinner.
Result: pride; sense of superiority; condemnation of other Christians; ghetto mentality
Rebuttal: This is exactly the issue that Jesus had with the Pharisees. His rebuttal was pretty harsh. See here Matthew 23. The key passage to rebut this is Galatians 5:1. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (NIV) One who needs to cling to extra-biblical rules to keep himself from sinning is called a “weaker” brother in Romans 14, which gives the “stronger” brothers guidelines of how to deal with them.
I. “Modern” Theology
Issue: The Jesus of Christianity is not the real historical Jesus. He was simply made up by Jesus’ followers.
Basis: There is no such thing as the supernatural. Everything must be explained through natural causes.
Argument: All religions are man-made and evolved the same way, moving from a mother-goddess religion forward to polytheism and from there to a father-god religion which spawned Christianity. Because of this, most of the texts in the New Testament were written by humans without any divine intervention. They contain the ideas of men, not of any god and therefore Jesus Christ could be no more than a man. Since Jesus could be no more than a man, it is important to realize than all and any miracles he did, any claims to divinity he made were put into his mouth by well-meaning but misguided followers. They must have written this over a long period of time, completing the New Testament long after 100 AD, perhaps even into the third or fourth century.
Result: A dismissal of the Bible and a complete erosion of the Christian faith into a “we are saved because we’re all good” religion.
Rebuttal: The Bible is the oldest historical document with the most extant manuscripts. It has many old manuscripts dating from a time that suggests that they were written much earlier than previously thought. It is also clear that the Bible considers itself the Word of God passed on to man (see here all of the “the Lord said” in the Old Testament and II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 3:15 in the New). Most of this comes from a desire to not believe in Christianity and undermine it, so technically “modern” theology has no place in the Christian church and should be viewed as a very destructive heresy.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998)
Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict Volume 1 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999).
J. Roman Catholicism
Issue: The bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when the priest says the words from Scripture.
Basis: The Eucharist is a sacrament with salvific properties. Christ’s death was only to take care of original sin, we’re still responsible for our daily sins and therefore need the Eucharist.
Key Scriptures: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; and I Corinthians 11:23-25 combined with John 6:53-58.
Argument: As Christ’s death is only efficacious for taking away the original sin committed by Adam, we need a form of cleansing outside of that. Since His sacrifice is the only cleansing for sin, it must be performed again and the bread and wine must be ingested to give us true life per John 6. Thus the bread and wine must literally become the body and blood of our Lord in order to be efficacious for our salvation and for the forgiveness of sin.
Result: Faith in the efficacy of the Eucharist rather than in the death of Christ; viewing the Eucharist as a magical rite that buys salvation.
Rebuttal: There are three points to this. First of all we must look at the key passage that deals with the Eucharist and that is John 6:53-58. The audience that Jesus is speaking to in this passage, the unbelieving Galilean Jews, makes it clear that He is not speaking of the Eucharist. The very text itself suggests that one must take the terms that Jesus uses here figuratively to point to salvation and faith in Him.
Second, the re-sacrificing of Christ is actually a blasphemous act, as Hebrews clearly states that Christ only suffered and died once (Hebrews 9:24-28). This sacrifice is efficacious for all time and need not be repeated, whether in the Eucharist or anywhere else!
Third, the whole idea that Christ’s death is only useful for the forgiveness of the original sin flies in the face of everything that this ultimate sacrifice has accomplished. Certainly we still struggle with sin this side of eternity (Romans 7), but it is clear that we are forgiven and are the children of God (see Ephesians 1 and especially the classic passage Ephesians 2:8-10). Nothing else is needed to affect salvation.
2. Mary the mother of God
Issue: Mary is the mother of God and so we can pray to her as well.
Basis: A logical connection between Jesus the man and Jesus the Son of God
Key Scripture: None
Argument: Because Jesus is God, his mother Mary must have borne God. Therefore she becomes the mother of God. As the mother of God she has special ability to talk to the exalted Christ for us lowly sinners and He will listen to her more readily than to us.
Result: A worship of the created Mary rather than of the True God; idolatry.
Rebuttal: This is a flawed argument, simply from the place it comes from. Nowhere in Scripture does it suggest that Mary the mother of Jesus was any more than a simple human. It is true that she bore the God-man, but at no time did she become the mother of God, because God existed before her. It is true that she is the mother of the Christ, no one can deny that, but she is not the mother of God by any stretch of imagination. If God needed a mother, He would not be God, regardless of which person of the Three-In-One we’re talking about.
Second, we are commanded to pray directly to the Father in Jesus’ name in John 15 and parallel passages (consult your study Bible). There are no mediators, save one: the Man Jesus Christ (see here I Timothy 2:5-6). If we pray to any we pray to Him and to the Father, as they are One, not to any saints or humans who have lived exemplary lives.
3. The immaculate conception
Issue: Mary the mother of Jesus was conceived without sin.
Basis: Sex is sinful. Jesus was sinless, so God needed a sinless vessel to bear Him.
Key Scripture: An interpretation of Genesis 3:1-7 connected with the cleanliness laws in Leviticus 15.
Argument: This here is two-fold. First of all is the contention that sexual intercourse for pleasure is sinful and that when even when it is used for procreation it conveys sin. The idea from this comes from the interpretation that the “eating of the fruit” in Genesis 3 was really Eve having sex, first with the serpent, then with her husband Adam.
Because sex is sinful in and of itself, anyone born of a sexual union must be sinful. However, God could only use a sinless vessel to bear His Son. Therefore He had to enact a miracle for another sinless child (this one a girl) to be born of natural means so that this sinless girl could bear God’s sinless Son.
Result: A disdain of sexual intercourse; an undue exaltation of Mary; reinterpretation of Scripture in invalid ways, e.g. saying Jesus “brothers” were his cousins.
Rebuttal: To the first issue, the idea that having sex is sinful arises mostly from the cleanliness laws in Leviticus and the elaborate rituals that the priests had to go through to cleanse themselves. It is interesting the Bible contains one of the most erotic books ever written as part of its canon: The Song of Songs. The fact that this book is blatantly sexual creates a problem for those who are afraid of sex. It is true that it is an animal passion of sorts that drives us to procreate and that should not be surprising, as we are created that way, but saying that Adam and Eve fell because they had sex with one another is ludicrous. The only places where sex is compared to eating is in Proverbs and the Song of Songs, both of which are highly poetical books. The narrative in Genesis is prose which begs to be taken at face value. Thus the whole contention arises out of a misreading of a passage by combining it with one that had nothing to do with it and the difficulty that certain exegetes had with their sexual drives.
The idea that Mary was sinless is nowhere supported in Scripture. Scripture is clear that sin is passed on not from mother to child, but from father to child (see here especially Romans 5).26 Thus, if a sinless Father is involved, the mother need not be sinless. She is the vessel carrying the sinless child, because his blood is from his father and no sin will flow in his veins.
K. Sabbatarian Movements
Issue: Saturday is the only day on which we can correctly worship God.
Basis: God declared the seventh day to be the Sabbath, the day of rest.
Key Scriptures: Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11
Argument: God made the Sabbath day the holy day for worshiping Him and resting. Our modern Saturday is the actual day on which the Sabbath falls. For that reason we must stop meeting on Sunday to worship God and start meeting on Saturday, as the meeting on Sunday is a corruption introduced by the Roman Catholic church.
Result: false pride; sectarianism; ghetto mentality
Rebuttal: It is definitely true that God has decreed the seventh day to be the day of rest. It is also interesting, though that He never said anything about His Son’s disciples meeting on the first day of the week rather than on the Sabbath. This probably arose from the fact that the Jewish day begins at sundown, rather than midnight. So, after worshipping in the Temple in the Jewish fashion, many of the early Christians – who were Jews, by the way – would meet to worship and “break bread” (i.e. have Communion) on that evening, which was already considered the first day of the week: Sunday. This was later adopted by the Gentiles, who tended to reckon midnight-to-midnight, so they met on Sundays, usually in the evening as well.
That’s the historical background. That does not address the Scriptural issue of the Sabbath, though. It is interesting, however, that all of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament with the exception of the command to keep the Sabbath. There is only one passage that deals extensively with the Sabbath rest and that is found in Hebrews 4:1-11. The interesting thing is that this is a perpetual Sabbath rest that we are supposed to be in, one in which we cease from our works, i.e. from trying to earn our own salvation. We are to rest in God’s finished work, an interesting concept, which automatically makes every day of the week a Sabbath!
- 22. H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956) pp. 33-34.
- 23. See here Dr. Charles Ryrie’s rather caustic, but good rebuttal in his book Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995) pp.183ff
- 24. James 2:14-26
- 25. For more on faith and what is involved, see J.M. Diener’s devotional “Faith – Taking God at His Word and Acting Upon It”. Available from < http://www.wolfhawke.com/musing/defide.php >
- 26. This is confirmed by the fact that children will carry the father’s blood type, not the mother’s.