I have often wondered how many people who attend Calvinist churches really realize that the official position of their church and of their elders and pastors is that God has ordained and so determines all things that occur in the universe. They know their pastors and elders make much of God being “sovereign,” but do they really realize this is what their church means by God being “sovereign”?
To see that this is the official position of these churches one need simply look at the standards, or creeds, these churches subscribe to. For example, consider Calvinist churches in the American conservative Presbyterian tradition, such as the churches in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). These churches subscribe to the so-called Westminster Standards, including the Westminster Confession of Faith.
In that Confession of Faith, we find at the beginning an entire chapter (Chapter 3) devoted to “God’s Eternal Decree.” The chapter consists of some eight points, but, in essence, it teaches that from eternity God has unalterably ordained whatsoever comes to pass—both the good and the evil, both the salvation of individuals and the condemnation of other individuals—and has ordained all things precisely as he has because it pleased him to do so in order to manifest his own glory.
Thus we are told, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” And, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” Etc.
This is a “sovereign” God indeed! But I wonder how many people who attend these churches really believe God is like this? For is this not completely over the top? Must God ordain and determine every detail of history, the good and the evil, in order to be “sovereign”? Or is this not an abuse of the term, an instance of making a term mean something it does not? A king is sovereign over his kingdom without ordaining and determining every single action his subjects make, so why is the King, that is, God, “sovereign” only if he ordains and determines every single action of his subjects—even the actions of Satan himself?! This is not “sovereignty”; it’s something else entirely.
More significant, though, how can one possibly maintain that this all-determining God of Calvinism is good? He ordained every detail of the life of Adolf Hitler, every detail of the Holocaust. He ordained the sex slave trade of children that is occurring in parts of the world right now as I type this post. Indeed, think of any evil that has occurred in the past, that is occurring now in the present, or that will occur in the future—God has ordained every one of those evils, and he has done so because it pleased him to do so for his own glory. Even Satan’s entire history of evil was ordained by God before Satan ever existed. It was all ordained by God according to his good pleasure for the manifestation of his own glory. So says Calvinism.
But, again, how can one possibly maintain this God is good?! Is not this God rather the Ultimate Evil? The Murderer behind every murderer. The Torturer behind every torturer. The Rapist behind every rapist. The Pervert behind every pervert. The Sex Trafficker behind every sex trafficker? In short, the Monster behind every monster? Calvinists may respond that this is all a very great mystery. Somehow God has ordained all things, including all the disgusting, horrifying evils of this world, and yet is still a very good God, even an all-good God. Somehow he has ordained all the evils of this world, even according to his pleasure and for his glory, but he is still perfectly good and loving—omnibenevolent. But does this make any real sense? What meaning must the terms “good” and “loving” hold if this God is “good” and “loving”? Have we not entered an alternate universe where words mean their very opposite?
At any rate, I wonder how many people who attend Calvinist churches really realize this is the official view of God in their churches. And I wonder how many of those who do not realize it would reject it upon learning it. Indeed, I wonder how many of those who “subscribe” to it, including the pastors and elders, really “believe” it. Do they know what they are saying? Do they really believe God is like this? Maybe so. Maybe all, or almost all, of those who attend these churches do realize this is the official position of their church and accept this doctrine of an all-determining God. But I suspect this is not the case, because, frankly, it is just so obviously true that God—at least the Heavenly Father revealed by Jesus Christ—is not, cannot be, like this; and I think most people in these churches surely find that obvious too.
There are many books I would recommend for further study on this topic, but here are three of the best that I think every Christian should own, especially those who have been oppressed by Calvinism or know someone who has been: