Calvinism and Arminianism - Part 1

SERMON TOPIC: Calvinism and Arminianism - Part 1

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 11 October 2015


Sermon synopsis: Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology which attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility with regards to salvation.
- The Calvinist viewpoint highlights man’s depravity, the salvation by grace alone of God’s elect, but emphasizes God’s sovereignty.
- The Arminian viewpoint accepts man’s depravity, salvation by grace alone of all who believe, but emphasizes man’s responsibility.

An introduction, with a focus on Calvin's dealings with Michael Servetus as contrasted with the NT model of handling heretics.

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& Calvinism


Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology which attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility with regards to salvation.

The Calvinist viewpoint highlights man’s depravity, the salvation by grace alone of God’s elect, but emphasizes God’s sovereignty.

The Arminian viewpoint accepts man’s depravity, salvation by grace alone of all who believe, but emphasizes man’s responsibility.




Total Depravity

Prevenient Grace

Unconditional Election

Conditional Election

Limited Atonement

Unlimited Atonement

Irresistible Grace

Resistible Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

Falling from grace



Calvinist theology was a product of the Protestant Reformation and was largely defined by the Geneva-based French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the most influential books written in the Reformation era. His belief in double predestination (salvation and damnation predestined) and the inability of man to change these determinations were one of the most influential of his ideas.


Title page from the final edition of Calvin’s “Institutio Christiane Religionis”

Calvin’s ideas were to have a far-reaching influence:

Calvin’s disciple John Knox, made Scotland a centre of Calvinism with the Presbyterian church.

After Dutch independence from Spain in 1581, Calvinism found a home in the Netherlands through the state church (Dutch Reformed).

Calvinists who wished to reform the Church of England from within were known as Puritans, while those who left the state church were called Separatists.

The Calvinists in France were called Huguenots.

Calvin’s influence extended to North America through the Pilgrim Fathers of Massachusetts and the Puritans of New England.


Calvinism can be a misleading term because the religious tradition it denotes is and has always been diverse, with a wide range of influences rather than a single founder. The movement was first called Calvinism by Lutherans who opposed it, and many within the tradition would prefer to use the word Reformed. 1

But in reality the classification “Reformed” - as a branch of Protestantism distinguished from Lutheranism – included both the movements of Zwingli (which spawned the Anabaptists) and Calvin (which spawned the Arminians).

However it is now rare to call Arminians Reformed, as many see these two schools of thought as opposed, making the terms Calvinist and Reformed synonymous. 1

1 https:// wiki/ Calvinism


Historically, well-known Calvinists include:

16th century: Theodore Beza, John Knox.

17th century: John Owen, Cotton & Increase Mather.

18th century: Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, John Gill.

19th century: Charles Spurgeon.

20th century: Arthur W. Pink, Karl Barth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Francis Schaeffer, Loraine Boettner, James Montgomery Boice, D. James Kennedy.

Contemporary: John MacArthur, D. A. Carson, R. C. Sproul, James White and John Piper.


Churches that teach Calvinist theology include:

The various Reformed Churches


Many Congregationalists

Some Baptists (Particular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Separate Baptists)

Some Anglican (Episcopal) churches


The biggest Reformed association is the World Communion of Reformed Churches with more than 80 million members in 211 member denominations around the world. 1

Advocates of both Calvinism and Arminianism sometimes both exist within the same denomination as with the Anglican Communion, Baptist and Congregationalists.

While Congregationalist churches had Calvinist roots, the individual congregations lacked doctrinal uniformity and as such have been more diverse than other Reformed churches. Despite the efforts of Calvinists to maintain the dominance of their system, some Congregational churches gradually developed leanings toward Arminianism. 2

1 https:// wiki/ Calvinism 2 SOURCE: https:// wiki/ Congregational_church



Ever since the followers of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, known as the Remonstrants, revolted against the Calvinist doctrine in the early 17th century, Protestant soteriology has been largely divided between Calvinism and Arminianism.

Although Arminius studied theology under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, he eventually rejected Calvin’s doctrines of predestination and election. He taught that God has given humans free will, and that humans are able to freely choose or reject salvation.


Jacob Arminius (1560-1609)

The ranks of well-known Arminians include:

17th century: Simon Episcopius, Hugo Grotius.

18th century: John & Charles Wesley.

19th century: Charles Finney, D.L. Moody.

20th century: Andrew Murray, R.A Torrey, Watchman Nee, Billy Sunday, Bob Jones, C.S. Lewis, Leonard Ravenhill, Billy Graham, David Wilkerson, A.W. Tozer, Bill Bright, Adrian Rogers, Chuck Colson, Dave Hunt.

Contemporary: Many Evangelicals (e.g. David Pawson, Josh McDowell, Tim LaHaye, Charles Stanley, Franklin Graham) and almost all Pentecostal (e.g. Reinhard Bonnke) and Charismatic ministers (e.g. Pat Robertson).


Denominations leaning in the Arminian direction include:

Pentecostals (e.g. Assemblies of God, Apostolic Faith Mission, Full Gospel)



Many Baptists (Free Will Baptists, General Baptists)

Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ

Church of the Nazarene

Some Anglican (Episcopal)

Some Congregationalists


The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the US, with nearly 16 million members as of 2012. According to a 2012 poll by SBC-affiliated LifeWay Research the majority of Southern Baptists (70%) do not consider themselves Calvinist, although 94% believe in eternal security. 1

But while many (40%) in the SBC consider themselves neither Calvinist nor Arminian, their beliefs lean far more towards Arminianism. 2

1 78% of pastors responded they personally are not 5-point Calvinists. 30% of respondents classify their church as Arminian or Wesleyan. 2 Only 10% strongly agree with the Calvinist statement that “Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone in the world”. More than 90% strongly disagree with the Calvinist belief that “it diminishes God’s sovereignty to invite all persons to repent and believe.”



A model Calvinist city

Statues on Reformation wall in Geneva, Switzerland. Left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore de Beza and John Knox.

In 1509 John Calvin (French: Jean Cauvin) was born in Noyon in Picardy, France, into a wealthy family. When he was 12 he was sent to school in Paris intending to become a priest, but his father later thought that he would make a better living as a lawyer so he studied law in Bourges and Orleans.

As a lawyer in Paris Calvin was attracted to the Protestant reforms of Martin Luther in Germany. Calvin and his friend Nicolas Cop (rector of the University of Paris) encouraged reform of the church in France.


Portrait of Young John Calvin

After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestantism in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where he published the first edition of the Institutes in 1536. 1

Calvin was persuaded by William Farel to relocate to Geneva in Switzerland to reform the city, albeit somewhat reluctantly as Farel had warned him that God would punish him if he refused.

1 https:// wiki/ John_Calvin


William (aka Guillaume) Farel (1489-1565)

Initially rejected and even expelled from the city, he relocated to Strasbourg from 1538 to 1541. Calvin finally gained the acceptance of the Genevan city magistrates, and was requested to return.

Under his influence Geneva became the model centre of Calvinism and was dubbed the “Protestant Rome” and Calvin nicknamed “the Pope of the Reformation”.


Saint-Nicolas Church, Strasbourg, where Calvin preached in 1538. The building was architecturally modified in the 19th century. Photo by: Riccardo Speziari

Lacking Luther’s charm, confidence and humour, Calvin held an intensely serious view of life. While in Geneva, he insisted that the city ordinances comply with supposed religious teaching and it became a bastion of rigorous and enforced morality (as defined by Calvin).

Card playing, “licentious dancing,” theatre-going, drunkenness, gambling, and swearing were outlawed. Absence from sermons, criticism of ministers, and family quarrels were punished. Punishment was provided for laughing during a sermon, having one’s fortune told, or praising the Pope. 1

1 SOURCE: Advanced%20Placement%20European%20History/ Notes/ zwingli_Anabaptism_and_Calvinism.htm


Even so innocent a sport as skating stirred Calvin’s bile. 1

The only tolerated attire was sober and almost monkish. The tailors, therefore, were forbidden, unless they had special permission from the town authorities, to cut in accordance with new fashions… Lace was forbidden; gloves were forbidden; frills and slashed shoes were forbidden… 1

Married folk were not allowed to give one another presents at the wedding, or for six months afterwards… 1

1 Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2008) - Stanford Rives, attorney and former Calvinist


They measured the hairstyle of women to see if it was too high or too low, counted the rings on their fingers, and the pairs of shoes in their closets. 1

They enforced dietary regulations to prevent one from indulging with too much meat, and to ensure that jams and sweets were not hidden in the kitchen. 1

No one was allowed to “make music”. 1 In addition, “Calvin suppressed” the celebration of Christmas. 1

1 Ibid


John Calvin & Michael Servetus

One of the Five Solas of the Reformation was “Sola Scriptura” i.e. Scripture Alone. But for John Calvin clearly it was not Scripture alone. It was Scripture plus some leftovers from the Roman Catholic Church - like infant baptism, Amillennialism, and a state church along with persecution of those who disagree with you doctrinally.


Many critics of Calvin have condemned him in particular for the very active role he played in the trial and execution of Michael Servetus.

Michael Servetus (aka Miguel Servet) was a Spanish cartographer and physician, the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation (70 years before William Harvey).


Michael Servetus (1511-1553)

But Servetus questioned the conventional view of the Trinity and as such was considered a heretic by Catholics and Protestants alike. Servetus believed that Jesus became the Son of God at his incarnation, but was not the eternal Son of God.

Servetus also opposed the practice of infant baptism (as did the Anabaptists) as well as Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

When he sent certain of his manuscripts to Calvin stating his own ideas, in an attempt to correct him Calvin had sent him a copy of his own book “Institutes of the Christian Religion”. Servetus responded by returning the book with a lot of critical marginal comments, which had incensed Calvin.


At the time Servetus was living under an assumed name in Vienne, France. Due to some manipulation behind the scenes Calvin ensured that the Inquisition in France was made aware of his real identity and teachings.

In 1553, Servetus was arrested by the Catholics on charges of heresy, but was initially released due to lack of evidence. He was subsequently rearrested, thanks to Calvin who furnished the Catholic authorities with some incriminating letters and writings which had been sent to him by Servetus.

Servetus managed to escape, but was sentenced to be burned with his books in absentia. His property and possessions were confiscated to pay for the legal costs.


Intending to flee to Italy, he inexplicably stopped in Geneva, where his teachings had already been denounced by Calvin. With a seeming death-wish, he attended a sermon by Calvin, and he was recognised and - at Calvin’s instigation - arrested. Calvin supplied the charge list and furnished the evidence that was used in the subsequent trial.

Servetus’ reasonable request for a lawyer acquainted with the laws and customs of the country was refused by the General Prosecutor, the reason given that – being able to lie so well - he didn’t need one.

At his trial, Servetus was convicted on two counts, for propagating Nontrinitarianism and anti-paedobaptism (anti-infant baptism).


The city’s governing council determined that he be burnt at the stake as a heretic.

When the executioner began his work, Servetus whispered with trembling voice: ‘Oh, God, Oh God!’ Farel snapped at him: ‘Have you nothing else to say?’ Servetus replied to him: ‘What else might I do, but speak of God!’ 1

1 The Heretics, p. 327


Servetus at the stake by Edouard Elzingre (1909)

Thereupon he was lifted on to the pyre and chained to the stake. A wreath strewn with sulphur was placed on his head. 1

When the faggots were ignited, a piercing cry of horror broke from him. ‘Mercy, mercy!’ he cried. For more than half an hour the horrible agony continued, for the pyre had been made of half-green wood, which burned slowly. “Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me,” the tormented man cried from the midst of the flames. 1

1 Ibid


Memorial in Geneva marking the location of Servetus’ execution

John Calvin had Servetus executed and Calvinists don’t care

Charles Finney had altar calls and Calvinists are enraged

Some try to downplay Calvin’s role in the death of Michael Servetus by saying that it was the state, not Calvin, who executed him.


Calvinists who are aware of these events try to excuse or minimise Calvin’s actions in the following ways:

However it’s notable that in his following denunciation of Anabaptists, Calvin takes personal responsibility for Servetus’ death. In 1561 he writes in a letter:

“Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”


In fact 7 years prior to his execution, Calvin already wrote to Farel, “Servetus has just sent me a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word; for if he comes here, if my authority is worth anything, I will never permit him to depart alive”.

Again Calvin admitted his culpability in the death of Servetus when he writes in 1554, “Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed.”

Calvin wrote to Bullinger, “… there are others who assail me harshly as a master in cruelty and atrocity, for attacking with my pen not only a dead man, but one who perished by my hands.”


It was at Calvin’s instigation that Servetus was arrested. Calvin compiled the list of 38 charges surrounding the nature of God, infant baptism, and the attacks on his own teaching. He also supplied the evidence that was used to bring about a successful conviction.

Writing to Sultzerus, he observes:

“When at last he was driven here by his evil destiny, one of the syndics, at my instigation, ordered him to be committed to prison: for I do not dissemble that I deemed it my duty to restrain as much as lay in my power a man who was worse than obstinate and ungovernable, lest the infection should spread more widely.”


Yip! It was me.

While the charges against Servetus were submitted by Calvin’s secretary Nicholas de la Fontaine, both Calvin and Theodore Beza admitted that it originated from Calvin himself. Calvin possibly used de la Fontaine as his proxy because the laws regulating criminal actions in Geneva required that in certain grave cases the complainant himself should also be incarcerated pending the trial.

Calvin, in his work Fidel. Expos. Serve ti Errorum candidly admits the role he played:

“All the proceedings of our senate are ascribed to me: and indeed I do not dissemble that he was thrown into prison through my interference and advice. As it was necessary according to the laws of the state that he should be charged with some crime, I admit that I was thus far the author of the transaction.”


Philip Schaff (1819-1893)

And so Phillip Schaff, the renowned Swiss-born church historian writes of Calvin:

“He is responsible, on his own frank confession, for the arrest and trial of Servetus, and he fully assented to his condemnation and death ‘for heresy and blasphemy’…” 1

1 The History of the Christian Church



Let’s just briefly consider why the state was even involved in a question on heresy. The answer lies in the differences between the Magisterial and Radical Reformation.

The Magisterial Reformation refers to the reformers who relied on the authority of the civil rulers to enforce and further their agenda.

Frederick the Wise had supported Luther and protected him from the papacy. In Luther’s well-known “Appeal to the German Nobility” he appealed to the German aristocracy to assert their temporal authority against the authority of the ‘Romanists’. Calvin and Zwingli are considered Magisterial Reformers because their reform movements were supported by ruling authorities in Geneva and Zürich respectively. Likewise John Knox won the support of the Scottish Parliament.


Zürich became a theocracy ruled by Zwingli and a Christian magistrate. Like Zwingli, Calvin didn’t propagate the separation of church and state, but continued to endorse a state church which had prevailed since the time of Constantine. 1

Although he did not hold office in the government, Calvin had immense influence in Geneva. He drafted the new ordinances that the government modified and adopted as a constitution for Geneva governing both secular and sacred matters. 1

1 References: 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia


Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Both Calvin and Zwingli were more concerned with the reform of society than Luther. Although many of Luther’s writings affected German society and politics, his primary aim still remained the salvation of the individual, not the establishment of a Christian government on earth.

While the Radical Reformation rejected any secular authority over the Church, the Magisterial Reformation argued for the interdependence of the church and secular authorities, i.e. “The magistrate had a right to authority within the church, just as the church could rely on the authority of the magistrate to enforce discipline, suppress heresy, or maintain order.” 1

1 https:// wiki/ Magisterial_Reformation


The Radical Reformation movement (i.e. Anabaptists) had no state sponsorship. The Radical reformers thought that the Magisterial reformers were still captive to a political marriage of church and state.

Even in the OT there were separate offices for priest and king. When kings like Saul (1 Sam 13:8-14) or Uzziah (2 Chron 26:16-20) tried to usurp the priest’s authority, God judged them. And the prophets were not involved in governing, yet would bring rebuke to the kings.

When the Catholic church was state-supported, this resulted in cases of abuse of power and was an impediment to reform in the Church. Whenever this system was simply replaced with a Protestant state church, we still have cases of state- sanctioned religious persecution, rather than freedom of religion.


Anabaptists insisted that the church be separate, govern itself, and have no ties to the state. They felt that the church should not be supported by the state, neither by taxes, nor by the sword; Christianity was a matter of individual conviction, which could not be forced on anyone, but rather required a personal decision for it.

This sounds acceptable to us today, but then it was revolutionary. Ever since the 4th century when Constantine made Christianity the preferred religion of the Roman Empire – and Theodosius I subsequently made it the state religion – religion and state had always been linked together.


Theodosius I


But what kind of a defence is that? The Catholic Inquisition generally wanted to kill any Protestant they could lay their hands on at that time. And they are rightfully criticized by Protestants for that.

In addition it was only with Calvin’s assistance that the Catholics in France were able to adequately charge Servetus. And it was only because of Calvin that the French Inquisition was investigating Servetus in the first place.

Others defend Calvin’s actions by saying that in any event the Catholics wanted to kill Servetus first.

In 1553 Michael Servetus published a book Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity) where he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and predestination… Servetus argued that God condemns no one who does not condemn himself through thought, word or deed. 1

After sending an early draft of the book to John Calvin, Servetus was arrested by the Inquisition in Vienne… 1 Aware that Calvin knew his identity, Servetus probably did not expect to be betrayed by a Protestant.

Evidently disappointed that no action was taken against Servetus by the Inquisition in Vienne, Calvin decided to initiate it himself. 2

1 https:// wiki/ Christianismi_Restitutio 2 Introduction to Michel Servetus translated by M. Hillar, and C.A. Hoffman


So Calvin designed an intricate scheme to condemn Servetus, attempting to mask his own role by supplying the incriminating material via a third party.

Possibly to hide the fact that he was assisting the Catholic Inquisition and to prevent the potential damage to his reputation in Geneva, Calvin did not act on his own, working instead through a friend, Guillaume de Trie, a merchant in Geneva and former sheriff of Lyon.

And so De Trie sent a letter dictated by Calvin to his cousin Antoine Arneys, a devout and zealous Catholic. The letter was accompanied by the first 8 pages of Servetus’ book, torn from Calvin’s exemplar complaining about the “heresies” allowed in Lyon. 1

1 Ibid


Arneys, as it was expected, communicated this letter from his cousin, together with the pages of Servetus’ work, to the Inquisitor of Lyon, the Dominican friar, Matthieu Ory who immediately proceeded with organizing the investigation, collecting additional material from de Trie and Calvin, setting up interrogation and the trial. 1

1 Ibid


Calvin of course had a private copy of the book, Christianismi restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity), before it was printed.

Later the Inquisition was to find 2 printing presses in a country house along with 3 young men who under threat confessed that they were printing a book, but did not know the contents as it was written in Latin, and who otherwise remained silent “for fear of being burned.” 1

Calvin certainly supplied de Trie with the first sheet of Christianismi restitutio, with Calvin’s book Institutio (i.e. Institutes) bearing the annotations made by Servetus, and a dozen of Servetus’ manuscripts which were sent to Calvin in confidence. 1

1 Ibid


He did all this knowing full well that he was putting into the hands of the inquisitors evidence by which Servetus was to be put to death. Servetus denounced Calvin at the trial at Vienne as the instigator and later during the trial at Geneva reproached Calvin with treachery. 1

The role of Calvin and de Trie is especially contemptible since they were themselves “heretics” by Catholic standards, yet they indirectly assisted the Inquisition in persecuting a fellow “heretic”.




1 Ibid


Others rationalize Calvin’s heavy-handed tactics by saying that he attempted to get Servetus to recant and would have preferred this to the execution of the man.

E.g. Bruce Gordon stresses that while Calvin took heresy to be a capital offense, he wanted “Servetus to recant, not die”. 1

1 Calvin [Yale University Press, 2009], pg 223


Again this is not unlike the practice of the Inquisitors, who also pardoned those who recanted their ‘wrong’ beliefs. But surely no one would use this line of argument to defend the persecution of Protestants by the Catholics.

Calvin wanted “Servetus to recant, not die”?

Not so! Calvin expressed his real desire to Farel during the trial by writing “I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed on him…”

His attempts to get Servetus to recant were then probably only to vindicate his own doctrinal position by exacting a recantation.

In typical Catholic Inquisition style, Calvin believed that the punishment of heretics by death was deserved, because they refused to listen to admonition. He writes:

“To these irreligious characters and despisers of the heavenly doctrines… And at length matters had come to such a state, that an end could be put to their machinations in no other way than cutting them off by an ignominious death; which was indeed a painful and pitiable spectacle to me. They no doubt deserved the severest punishment, but I always rather desired that they might live in prosperity, and continue safe and untouched; which would have been the case had they not been altogether incorrigible, and obstinately refused to listen to wholesome admonition.” 1

1 Preface to Commentaries, July 22, 1557


It also seems that Calvin was uncooperative when Servetus begged him to return the manuscript on which he had made the comments Calvin objected to. Having being denied a lawyer, Servetus was attempting to prepare his own defence and naturally wanted to see exactly what he had written years before.

Despite Servetus’ pleas, Calvin, who developed an intense dislike of Servetus during their correspondence, refused to return any of the incriminating material. 1

1 The Age of Reformation 1250-1550, p. 370



In his earlier letter to Farel, Calvin wrote, “I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed upon him; but I desire that the severity of the punishment be mitigated.”

Farel in reply wrote, “In desiring a mitigation of his punishment you act the part of a friend towards a man who has been your greatest enemy. But I beseech you so to bear yourself that none shall rashly dare hereafter to promulgate new doctrines, and throw all into confusion, as Servetus has so long done.” So Farel highlights the private animosity between the two men and seemingly promotes revenge. One wonders what happened to “love your enemy”?

Another typical attempt to sanitize Calvin’s actions states that, he did after all request a more humane death for Servetus by beheading rather than burning.

Servetus requested beheading rather than death by fire, being afraid that his strength might yield. Schaff writes:

At eleven o’clock on the 27th of October, Servetus was led from the prison to the gates of the City Hall, to hear the sentence read from the balcony by the Lord Syndic Darlod. When he heard the last words, he fell on his knees and exclaimed: “The sword! in mercy! and not fire! Or I may lose my soul in despair.” He protested that if he had sinned, it was through ignorance. Farel raised him up and said: “Confess thy crime, and God will have mercy on your soul.” Servetus replied, “I am not guilty; I have not merited death.” Then he smote his breast, invoked God for pardon, confessed Christ as his Saviour, and besought God to pardon his accusers. 1

1 ccel/ schaff/ hcc8.iv.xiii.xii.html


In a letter of 26 Feb 1533, 8 months before the execution, Calvin had reportedly stated, “One should not be content with simply killing such people, but should burn them cruelly.” 1

Yet strangely he supported Servetus’ request for beheading, implied when he writes to Farel, “Tomorrow he will be led to execution. We tried to change the mode of his death but in vain.”

In any event the council determined that Servetus not only be burnt at the stake, but that greenwood be used in order to prolong the agony.

1 Cited by Bainton, but now lost - Ronald H. Bainton, Michel Servet, hérétique et martyr (Geneva: Droz, 1953)


While at first this appears to indicate some humanity on Calvin’s part, the notion quickly disappears when we read his seemingly heartless comments to a friend about Servetus’ response on pronouncement of his sentence.

“But lest idle scoundrels should glory in the insane obstinacy of the man, as in a martyrdom, there appeared in his death a beastly stupidity; whence it might be concluded, that on the subject of religion he never was in earnest. When the sentence of death had been passed upon him, he stood fixed now as one astounded; now he sighed deeply; and now he howled like a maniac; and at length he just gained strength enough to bellow out after the Spanish manner, Misericordia!” 1 (Misericordia is Spanish for ‘mercy’.)

1 The Christian Disciple and Theological Review, Volume 3 by Noah Worcester


Perhaps Albert Rilliet is correct when he suggests that Calvin wished to change the mode of execution, not for humane reasons, but “to avoid the use of those means which the Roman Inquisition employed against heretics and Protestants, and not to recur to instruments of punishment already become odious. Calvin wished to leave to Romanists the monopoly of the auto-da-fe…” 1 2

1 “Calvin And Servetus: The Reformer’s Share In The Trial Of Michael Servetus Historically Ascertained.” 2 An auto-da-fé (from Spanish and Portuguese for “act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish, Portuguese or Mexican Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed. (https:// wiki/ Auto-da-f%C3%A9)


Albert Rilliet (1809-1883)

Calvin said that in cases like these, one should supress any natural affection:

“God makes plain that the false prophet is to be stoned without mercy. We are to crush beneath our heel all affections of nature when His honour is concerned. The father should not spare his child… nor husband his own wife or the friend who is dearer to him than life. No human relationship is more than animal unless it is grounded in God.” 1

1 Ronald H. Bainton, Michel Servet, hérétique et martyr (Geneva: Droz, 1953)


We need to ‘almost’ obliterate humanity from our memories:

“Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honour, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories?”

Probably influenced by his fatalistic theology, Calvin believed that God even assisted in the handling of heretics when he “banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts”.


“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal.” 1

1 “Defence of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus”


Nicolaus Zurkinden was a great friend of Calvin and future secretary of state in Berne, who thought Servetus was justly punished. But on 10 Feb 1554 he wrote to Calvin, “I would rather prefer to see the magistrate and myself to sin by excess of indulgence and timidity than to be inclined to use vigorously the sword.... Wherever I turn it seems to me that the swords of the magistrates should be blunted rather than sharpened.... I would prefer to shed my blood rather than to become stained by the blood of a man who would not merit the torment absolutely.... I add that we cannot provide more pleasure to the Papists, we who have reproved their cruelties, by reinstalling among ourselves a new office of the executioner.” 1

1 From the Introduction to Michel Servetus “Thirty Letters to Calvin & Sixty Signs of the Antichrist”, translated by Marian Hillar, and Christopher A. Hoffman


Zurkinden shows the kind of humanity we would expect, but find lacking in Calvin’s statements, when he relates a personal experience he witnessed in 1536 or 1537, “... what struck me were not the passages from the Bible, but the stupefying examples of our times in the punishment of Anabaptists. I have witnessed how an old octogenarian woman was led to her torment with her daughter, a mother of six small children. The only reason for their torment was that in accordance with the plausible and popular doctrine of the Anabaptists they did not admit the baptism of infants. And it was only to their own risk and peril, because there was no fear that these poor women with their false doctrine could corrupt mankind. This single example among many left such an impression on me that it suffices ...” 1

1 Ibid



E.g. Alister McGrath claims that: “Servetus was the only individual put to death for his religious opinions in Geneva during Calvin’s lifetime, at a time when executions of this nature were a commonplace elsewhere”. 1

But sadly Servetus’ death was not an isolated incident. In the first five years of Calvin’s rule in Geneva, 58 people were executed and 76 exiled for their religious beliefs. 2 There was an earlier case with the libertine Jacques Gruet. Gruet was indeed an obstinate and disagreeable person, but made the mistake of attaching a note to Calvin’s pulpit calling him a hypocrite. 3

1 A Life of John Calvin, pg 116 2 " 3 SOURCE: History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity.

Some defend Calvin by saying that this was an isolated incident.

Gruet was also heard uttering threats against Calvin and was implicated in state treason.

He was arrested, tortured every day for a month then beheaded in 1547. 1

(Subsequent to his execution) In his house were found a copy of Calvin’s work against the Libertines with a marginal note, Toutes folies, and several papers and letters filled with abuse of Calvin as a haughty, ambitious, and obstinate hypocrite who wished to be adored, and to rob the pope of his honour. There were also found two Latin pages in Gruet’s handwriting, in which the Scriptures were ridiculed, Christ blasphemed, and the immortality of the soul called a dream and a fable. 1

1 " ccel/ schaff/ hcc8.iv.xiii.xii.html


The Libertine Pierre Ameaux hated Calvin’s theology and discipline. At a supper party in his own house he freely indulged in drink and roundly abused Calvin. 2

Part of what he said included, “And this foreigner from Picardy, this liar and seducer of the people, who wants to make himself bishop — it’s a laugh, were it not so tragic! No one in the Council any longer dares to speak his frank opinion, without having first inquired about his views.” 1

For this offence he was imprisoned by the Council for 2 months and condemned to a fine of 60 dollars. 2

1 " english/ potpourri/ historical/ burning_of_servetus.htm 2 " ccel/ schaff/ hcc8.iv.xiii.xii.html


He made an apology and retracted his words. But Calvin was not satisfied, and demanded a second trial. The Council condemned him to a degrading punishment called the amende honorable, namely, to parade through the streets in his shirt, with bare head, and a lighted torch in his hand, and to ask on bended knees the pardon of God, of the Council, and of Calvin. This harsh judgment provoked a popular outbreak in the quarter of St. Gervais. 1

Two preachers, Henri de la Mare and Aimé Maigret, who had taken part in the drinking scene, were deposed. The former had said before the Council that Calvin was, a good and virtuous man, and of great intellect, but sometimes governed by his passions, impatient, full of hatred, and vindictive.” 1

1 Ibid


Jerome Bolsec was a French Carmelite theologian and physician, who became a Protestant and subsequently settled at Veigy, near Geneva. He deemed Calvin’s doctrine of predestination to be an absurdity. In 1551, at one of the public discussions held at Geneva every Friday, he interrupted the orator, who was speaking on predestination, and argued against him. Unaware that Calvin was present, Bolsec was surprised when Calvin himself subsequently stood up and refuted his argument point by point. 1

1 "https:// wiki/ J%C3%A9r%C3%B4me-Herm%C3%A8s_Bolsec

Jérôme-Hermès Bolsec (died c. 1584)


The city magistrates arrested Bolsec and he was placed on trial by the city. To demonstrate the correctness of the Genevan doctrine and the unity of Swiss Protestants, the magistrates in Geneva sent a letter to get advice from Basel, Zurich and Bern. The responses were extremely disappointing to Calvin: the support of the doctrine of predestination was tepid at best and the counsel of the cities was to be lenient with Bolsec. Nevertheless he was charged with attacking the religious establishment of Geneva and banished permanently from the city. 1

Bolsec published a vicious and extremely slanderous biography of Calvin, which modern scholarship has deemed to be of questionable historical merit. Later in his life he reconciled with the Catholic Church.

1 "http:// resource-center/ resource/ calvin-bolsec-and-the-reformation


The following persecutions at Geneva were also mentioned in “The Minutes Book of the Geneva City Council”, 1541-59.

A book printer who, while drinking, had railed at Calvin, was sentenced to have his tongue perforated with a red- hot iron before being expelled from the city. 1

A man who publicly protested against Calvin’s doctrine of predestination was flogged at all the crossways of the city and then expelled. 1

1 “Erasmus: The Right to Heresy” by Stefan Zweig


Calvin also considered Anabaptists (who correctly opposed the unbiblical practice of infant baptism in favour of the scriptural believers’ baptism) to be heretics. He actively persecuted them and encouraged others to do the same.

In 1561 he writes in a letter to the Marquis Paet, chamberlain to the King of Navarre regarding the Anabaptists:

“… but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels, who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”


In a letter to Farel, Calvin writes of a man in Geneva called Belot:

“In these days an Anabaptist, when he was laying out foolish writings publicly for sale, was at my instigation arrested… he was expelled from the city. Two days later, when he was again seized in the city, he was beaten, his books publicly burned, and he himself was told not to come again, on penalty of the gallows. This is a man or rather a beast of desperate wickedness.” 1

1 Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online " index.php?title=Calvin,_John_(1509-1564)


E.g. James White states: Calvin risked his life to try to meet with Servetus many years earlier in Paris but Servetus stood him up. 1

It is true that in 1534 there was a meeting scheduled by Calvin and Servetus, at a location which posed danger for them both. But the reality is that no one knows why Servetus didn’t show up. Calvinists use this event to imply that somehow Servetus was either callous or inconsiderate to Calvin by disregarding his safety, but to do so is only an assumption. The truth is that, while we know that Servetus was a no-show, we actually do not know the reason. In any event, didn’t Jesus teach us to return good for evil?

1 In a video entitled ”Calvin and Servetus: Dan Barker Twists History”

Servetus had a disregard for Calvin’s safety.



The truth is that Calvin clearly (without any assumptions needed) showed a disregard for Servetus’ safety.

Servetus was living in Vienne, France under a false name, although he had revealed his pseudonym of Michel de Villeneuve to Calvin in their correspondence.

In 1550 Calvin denounced Servetus’ doctrine in his work De Scandalis, revealing Servetus’ name as Villanovanus, his nationality and profession, except for the place where Servetus worked. 1

So indirectly Calvin exposed the true identity of Servetus to the same Inquisition which would have executed Calvin himself if given the opportunity.

1 From the Introduction to Michel Servetus translated by Marian Hillar and Christopher A. Hoffman


E.g. It is true that Calvin and his fellow pastors in Geneva were involved in the death of Servetus. However, it would be difficult to find any church leader in the 16th century who advocated a more gentle approach… Toleration and acceptance of doctrinal differences were simply not sixteenth-century concepts. 1

1 "https:// meeter/ resources/ servetus.htm

Some contend that killing people for differences of opinion in religious matters was common practice and considered acceptable in Calvin’s time.

Here is another similar “Everyone else was doing it – and worse” defence:

“...Despite the fact that religious toleration did not become a popular conviction until at least two hundred years later, and that what was done in Geneva was done virtually everywhere else in Europe on a much grander scale...” 1

David Bennett notes, “Using that logic is like saying the Apostles should have converted people by the sword and crucifixion because that was the way things were done at the time. The ‘everybody else is doing it’ argument never worked on my parents when I was growing up. The Bible tells us we are to be in the world, not of the world.” 2

1 B. G. Armstrong, “John Calvin” in Who’s Who in Christian History (1992) 2 the_golden_rule


But despite these attempts to sanitize Calvin’s actions or to rationalize his heavy-handed tactics, no one defends the Catholic Inquisitors with this line of argument (“it was common practice in that era and considered acceptable”). To this day they are widely criticized for killing both Protestants and Jews over religious matters.

But Calvin and the Papal church acted in the same way with ‘heretics’ – it was just the definition of heresy that varied.


Calvin and Servetus before the council of Geneva

Noah Worcester (1758-1837) wrote:

It has become fashionable of late for Calvinists to join in reprobating this conduct as loudly as any; but at the same time to impute it altogether to the bad spirit of the age. Bad spirit of the age? But does it make a bad man good, to live in an age in which all men are as bad as he is? Besides, if the spirit of that age were so bad, why go back to it for instruction? Why go back to it for your creed? When men so entirely misunderstood the true spirit of Christianity, were they most likely to form a true system? 1

1 The Christian Disciple and Theological Review, Volume 3 – by Noah Worcester an American Unitarian clergyman


And it is not true that Calvin’s actions were simply accepted in his day. While some like Farel, Beza, Bullinger and even Melanchthon offered support, Calvin was in fact widely criticised for this at the time.

Reformed French preacher and former friend of Calvin, Sebastion Castellio wrote:

“When Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings.” 1

1 A pamphlet “Should Heretics be Persecuted?” by Castellio under the pseudonym Basil Montfort, possibly co-authored by Laelius Socinus and Celio Secondo Curione.


Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563)

Castellio invoked the testimony of Church Fathers like Augustine, Chrysostom and Jerome to support freedom of thought, and even used Calvin’s own words, written back when he was himself being persecuted by the Catholic Church: “It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind.” Castellio ventured into a passionate discourse revolving around the question “What is a heretic?” He repeatedly argued against one man (Calvin)’s inerrant interpretation of Christian Scripture and concluded that a heretic is anyone who disagrees with another regarding the meaning of Scripture, thus being a relative term and a relative charge. 1

1 https:// wiki/ Sebastian_Castellio


Here is a brief background to Calvin and Castellio’s relationship:

Formerly while in exile, Calvin had met Castellio in Strasbourg and was very impressed with him. Upon returning to Geneva, he asked Castellio to join him in 1542 as Rector of the Collège de Genève. Castellio was also commissioned to preach in Vandoeuvres, a suburb of Geneva. In 1543, after the plague struck Geneva, Sebastian Castellio was the only divine in Geneva to visit the sick and console the dying; the Geneva Consistory and Calvin himself refused to visit the sick, Calvin directing his servants to declare him “indispensable” and later writing in his own defence that “it would not do to weaken the whole Church in order to help a part of it.” 1

1 Ibid


When Castellio decided to translate the Bible into French, he was very excited to ask for an endorsement from his friend Calvin, but Calvin’s endorsement was already given to his cousin Pierre Olivetan’s French translation of the Bible, so Castellio was rebuked and turned down. 1

During a public meeting Castellio rose to his feet and claimed that clergy should stop persecuting those who disagree with them on matters of Biblical interpretation, and should be held to the same standards that all other believers were held to. Soon after, Calvin charged Castellio with the offense of “undermining the prestige of the clergy.” Castellio was forced to resign from his position of Rector and asked to be dismissed from being a preacher in Vandoeuvres. 1

1 Ibid


On 16 Nov 1553, Guilelmus Gratarolus, an Italian physician who was a religious refugee in Basel since 1549, wrote to Bullinger that many people, even those who in other respects were not supporters of Servetus’ ideas, blamed Calvin for the death of Servetus and asserted that the Christian magistrate was not justified in exacting this punishment. He previously reported that he heard in Basel many prominent and learned people who in discussing the case of Servetus considered Calvin a “butcher”. 1

1 SOURCE: Introduction to Michel Servetus translated by Marian Hillar and Christopher A. Hoffman


Guilelmus Gratarolus (1516-1568)

André Zébédée, the pastor of Noyon, wrote to Calvin denouncing the sentence. He declared that while the fires of the Spanish Inquisition were outdone by those in France, those at Geneva outdid them both… 1

Former Catholic turned reformer, Pier Vergerio, wrote to Bullinger that the drama of Servetus horrified him. Though he hated such disturbers of the church, he opposed the death penalty. 1

1 Ibid


Pier Paolo Vergerio (1498-1565)

In 1554, Sicilian poet Camillo Renato wrote to Calvin highlighting the fact that Jesus never reacted to opposition in the way that Calvin had:

Your cruelty, Calvin, is not worthy of the ferocious beasts. Don’t you realize that the error subsists and spreads when one exterminates a heretic? Neither God nor his spirit have counselled such an action. Christ did not treat those who negated him that way. Was it not he who burst into anger against his disciples who wanted to set Samaria afire?” 1

In response to the growing criticism, a year after Servetus’ death Calvin felt the need to publish a book defending his actions, called “Defence of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus”.

1 Ibid


How did Calvin respond to his critics in the matter?

He called them dogs and swine.

“Some object that since the offence consists only in words there is no need for such severity. But we muzzle dogs, and shall we leave men free to open their mouths as they please? Those who object are like dogs and swine. They murmur that they will go to America where nobody will bother them.” 1

1 Ronald H. Bainton, Michel Servet, hérétique et martyr (Geneva: Droz, 1953)


He shows no remorse and claims indifference to their criticism.

“Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face.” 1

They were worthy of the same fate as heretics.

“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.” 1

1 “Defence of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus”


So to those who try explain the incident away as “the culture of the time”, we must note that Calvin wasn’t simply an innocent bystander in a violent culture – he was himself actively promoting the violence.

In his Prefatory Address in his Institutes to Francis, King of the French in 1536, Calvin states:

“For I fear not to declare, that what I have here given may be regarded as a summary of the very doctrine which, they vociferate, ought to be punished with confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and flames, as well as exterminated by land and sea. This, I allow, is a fearful punishment which God sends on the earth; but if the wickedness of men so deserves, why do we strive to oppose the just vengeance of God?” 1

1 tidbits/ calvinp.htm


Michael Servetus wrote:

“It seems to me a grave error to kill a man only because he might be in error interpreting some question of the Scripture when we know that even the most learned are not without error”. 1

Even Calvin had earlier written that the death penalty for heresy was entirely unjust. Richard Stevenson writes: “In the earlier editions of his Institutes are passages which show that he had convictions that heretics should not be punished, at least with harshness”. After quoting from Calvin’s earlier version of the Institutes, Stevenson continues, “This and other passages are altered in later editions. What changed the man?” 2

1 Letter to Oecolampadius in Calvini, Opera, op. cit., Vol. IX, 861-862 2 John Calvin the Statesman (1907) pg 159


At the beginning of his own career when he was persecuted himself, Calvin, in theory supported toleration, advocated clemency against vengeance, and opposed any violence such as “prison, exile, proscription and fire.” In the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion published in 1536 he talked about kindness and persuasion against the excommunicated and in the dedicatory epistle to the king of Denmark, Christian III, in his Commentary on Acts, he wrote: “Wisdom is driven from among us, and the holy harmony of Christ’s kingdom is compromised, when violence is pressed into the service of religion.” 1

But from the Servetus’ affair, Calvin demonstrated that as soon as he gained political influence, his behaviour was no different from that of the Catholic church he condemned.

1 The Christian Disciple and Theological Review, Volume 3 – by Noah Worcester


Servetus correctly maintained in his trial that there had been no criminal prosecution for doctrinal disagreement in the early church and that during Constantine’s days heresy deserved no more than banishment. This is quite true. Arius, who was also Nontrinitarian, was banished by the emperor to Illyria after his defeat at the Council of Nicæa in AD 325. Ultimately Constantine permitted Arius and many of his adherents to return to their homes, when Arius later reformulated his Christology to mute the ideas found most objectionable by his critics.

Church historian Philip Schaff writes, “Calvin should have contented himself with banishing his fugitive rival from the territory of Geneva, or allowing him quietly to proceed on his contemplated journey to Italy, where he might have resumed his practice of medicine in which he excelled.” 1

1 The History of the Christian Church


Schaff further comments on Calvin’s treatment of Servetus:

“He procured his arrest on his arrival in Geneva. He showed personal bitterness towards him during the trial. Servetus was a stranger in Geneva, and had committed no offence in that city. Calvin should have permitted him quietly to depart, or simply caused his expulsion from the territory of Geneva, as in the case of Bolsec. This would have been sufficient punishment. If he had recommended expulsion instead of decapitation, he would have saved himself the reproaches of posterity, which will never forget and never forgive the burning of Servetus.” 1

1 The History of the Christian Church Ch. xvi. Servetus: his life. Opinions, trial, and execution


In the Ninety-Five Theses (1517) Martin Luther had written:

“The burning of heretics is contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit.”

He wrote in his “To the Christian Nobility” (1520):

“If it were scholarly to conquer heretics with fire, then the henchmen would be the most learned doctors on earth”.


Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Commenting on the Parable of the Tares (1525) Luther states, “As to heretics and false doctors, we must not pluck them out or destroy them. Christ tells us plainly to allow them to grow. The Word of God is our only resource, for in this field whoever is bad today may become good tomorrow. Who knows whether his heart will not be touched by the Word of God? But if he is burnt or eliminated, his conversion has become impossible. He is cut off from the Word of God, and he who otherwise might have been saved is of necessity lost.”


Lutheran author Juergen Neve (1865-1943) writes: 2

“Calvin’s mistake was his refusal to recognize the freedom of conscience. In his dealing with teachers of false doctrine within the Church, Christ speaks of excommunication after previous brotherly admonition; but neither He nor the apostles have commanded that they are to be put to death. Calvin’s practice was a return to medieval methods which Luther had characterized ironically with the remark: ‘With a death sentence they solve all argumentation’” 1

1 A reference to the methods of the papists in Rome 2 A History of Christian Thought, vol. I, pg 285


Juergen L. Neve

Neve continues:

“Luther admitted that there might be cases where in the interest of tranquillity troublesome persons may be banished from the country. But he was opposed to bodily punishment for heresy. These were his words: ‘Heresy can never be restrained with force. It must be grasped in another way. This is not the sort of battle that can be settled with the sword. The weapon here to be used is God’s Word. If that does not decide, the decision will not be effected by worldly force, though it should drench the whole world with blood. Heresy is a thing of the soul; no steel can cut it out, no waters can drown it.” 1

1 Ibid


Unlike Luther, who wrote many hymns for the church, Calvin prohibited the use of musical instruments in the church. In his commentary on the Book of Psalms, he writes, “To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures, but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving…”

Yet strangely (and inconsistently) although he considered the Old Testament to be a “dispensation of shadows and figures”, Calvin based his treatment of heretics not on the New Testament practice, but on the Mosaic Law.


Commenting on Ex 22:20, Lev 24:16 and Deut 13:5-15, 17:2-5, he says:

“Moreover, God Himself has explicitly instructed us to kill heretics, to smite with the sword any city that abandons the worship of the true faith revealed by Him.”

But the Mosaic theocracy was superseded by the kingdom of Jesus which he said is “not of this world.”

John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”


In the NT, there is no record of religiously condoned physical violence by Christians against other groups, which could be used as a precedent for Christian persecution of non-Christians, other Christians or heretics.

We do not convert or discipline by the sword, and Christianity should not be embraced for political or social advantage. Jesus should be sought for his own sake. It is Islam that has always been spread through the sword. The message of the early Christian church was spread by love and example.


Does the NT teach that we should spread and enforce the gospel through force? No! The enemies of Christianity are reached when:

We love them (our enemies) and show mercy.

Luke 6:35-36 “But love your enemies, do good to them… (Then) you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We share our faith with “gentleness and respect” (not torture and coercion).

1 Pet 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…


Church discipline in the NT comprises of admonishing in the church, or expelling people from the church, but never persecution or killing. Jesus taught us to break fellowship (i.e. excommunication) with those who sin against us. This is after failed attempts to settle the matter privately, then with witnesses, then publicly:

Matt 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”


Paul also taught excommunication for the unrepentant Christian (the goal being restorative, not punitive):

1 Cor 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? … When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus… hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.


Excommunication (or disfellowship) is not just for the sexually immoral, but includes the following:

1 Cor 5:9-11 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.


The principle of disfellowship applies to false teachers:

2 John 9-11 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.


False teachers should be silenced, not by torture or death, but by rebuke and by refuting them with sound doctrine.

Titus 1:9-11 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

1 Tim 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer


Divisive people are also to be avoided after repeated warnings:

Rom 16:17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

If Calvin considered men to be divisive, this was the NT approach he should have followed – “keep away from them” or “have nothing to do with them” - not contrive to have them publicly humiliated (like Pierre Ameaux) or executed (like Servetus).


As mentioned the intention of disfellowship is restoration. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul instructs them in his second epistle regarding the man who had been disfellowshipped earlier:

2 Cor 2:6-11 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.



Yet it was Jesus who instructed us to test false prophets, not by their doctrine, but “by their fruit” (i.e. character and actions):

Matt 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

Lastly we are told that even if Calvin erred in this matter, we cannot dismiss his doctrinal views because of that.


Matt 7:18-20 “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit… Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

So what is the good fruit we would expect to see in a prophet of God?

Gal 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is lovekindnessgentleness

Judge for yourself – Were the actions of Calvin those of a “sheep” or a “ferocious wolf”? In his handling of Servetus, did he display good fruit (love, kindness, gentleness) or the opposite? Then remember that Jesus said that “a bad tree bears bad fruit” and “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit…”

1 John 3:10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.


As Anabaptist author and speaker Benjamin L. Corey aptly comments:

Why in the world would I want to build the totality of my Christian theology on a foundation erected by such a person? If *2 Calvin didn’t understand something so basic as torturing and killing people is something a Jesus follower probably shouldn’t do, I have zero confidence that he ever understood the more complex theological issues. 1

1 " blogs/ formerlyfundie/ the-execution-of-michael-servetus-my-primary-deal-breaker-with-calvinism/ *2 Image: Adam Ford http:// anti-calvinist/



5-point Calvinism holds to the following tenets:

Total depravity: as a result of his fallen nature man is unable to choose to follow God.

Unconditional election: double predestination - God has decided from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to condemn those he has not chosen.

Limited atonement: Jesus died only for the sins of the elect.

Irresistible grace: when God decides to save someone, they certainly will be saved and the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted.

Perseverance of the saints: Eternal security - those whom God has called can never lose their salvation.

Arminianism holds to the following tenets:

Prevenient Grace: Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation. Salvation is possible by grace alone and works of human effort cannot cause or contribute to salvation. But though born a sinner, mankind is given prevenient grace that enables him to respond positively to God with free will.

Conditional election: God’s election is conditional on faith in Jesus. God does not arbitrarily consign some people to eternal damnation; their wilful rejection of God’s salvation makes them responsible.

SOURCE: Includes http:// top/ Beliefs/ topics/ gendoct_09_security.cfm


Unlimited atonement: Christ died for every person, even though some refuse to accept the provision for their salvation.

Resistible Grace: No person is forced against their will to become a Christian. God allows his grace to be resisted by those unwilling to believe.

Falling from grace: Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith. One’s salvation can be lost through wilful disobedience. Rather than the unconditional predestination of Calvinism, Arminianism teaches conditional predestination. We are predestined to eternal life if we accept God’s provision of salvation.

SOURCE: Includes "http:// top/ Beliefs/ topics/ gendoct_09_security.cfm



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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (

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