Question #310

I found a mistake in your answer to Question 39.

Your site is a very interesting one. However, I feel obligated to inform you that your Question and Answers section, namely, the answer to the question on "What is total hereditary depravity?" (Question #39), contains some erroneous information. The answerer to the question states that, "...Calvinists adopted the doctrine of Immaculate Conception". With all due respect, this is misinformation. Calvinists most emphatically DO NOT, in any way, shape, or form subscribe to this unique (and false) doctrine of Roman Catholicism (actually, some Eastern Orthodox hold to it as well, but it is not, strictly speaking, a formally defined "dogma" in that religion). Again, Rome's so-called "Immaculate Conception" doctrine plays absolutely, 100% NO role in Calvinist/Reformed theology. It is completely antithetical to it! I respectfully request that you make the appropriate changes in the answer given to this question, or else please cite the source where you received this info on Calvinism in connection to this Roman dogma. I am certain that you are extremely busy, but I would be very interested to know the source from which this "Immaculate Conception" info was obtained. In any case, I hope that you will please make the above suggested corrections.

The Answer:

First, let me acknowledge that the writer of this question is correct – Calvinism does not accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine that arose from wrestling with the problem of how Christ could have been born sinless if the doctrines of hereditary total depravity and original sin are true. Calvinism vigorously supports both of these doctrines. The mistake was made because an assumption was made that Calvinists, like others, especially Roman Catholicism which has elevated the doctrine to a Church Dogma, use this doctrine to avoid Mary’s being tainted by the doctrine of original sin and transmitting original sin to the Christ child.

That said, it must be noted the Calvinists, even if they reject the doctrine of the Immaculate conception, still wrestle with the same problem – they must devise a scheme whereby Mary’s original sin, if any, can be removed so that it is not transmitted to the flesh of Christ. It would seem that they have several possibilities:

1. Mary had no original sin to be transmitted to the Christ child. If this solution is selected they must then account for Mary's exclusion from the Adamic curse of original sin. They have several choices:

a. God simply predestined from the beginning that Mary would be born without original sin. The problem here is that if God could have so predestined for one person (Mary), could he not have so predestined for all humanity?

b. Following the Augustinian approach, they could postulate that original sin is transmitted through the lust and passion associated with sexual intercourse and, given Jesus’ virgin conception with no male involved, no original sin was transmitted. (This solution, of course, makes God responsible for the transmission of original sin since he made man with the reproductive process by which original sin is transmitted.)

c. Original sin is transmitted through the male and not the female; therefore, Mary had no original sin to transmit. This solution, of course, requires a grandmother without original sin, a great-grandmother, a great-great-grandmother, etc. (you get the idea) all of the way back to Adam. In turn, this destroys the Calvinistic doctrine that all flesh is cursed by original sin.

d. They could follow the Catholics partway, and accept the theory of two conceptions, the active conception which is the sexual union, and the passive conception which is God’s infusion of the soul. By that procedure the original sin transmitted by the sexual conception was removed by God when he infused the soul.

2. Mary had original sin that was removed by the conception of Jesus. This still involved a miracle. If God could remove Mary’s original sin could he not have performed the same miracle for the Christ child? Surely he could have, which makes Mary’s being sinless as unnecessary as it is un-biblical.

3. Mary had original sin that was not transmitted to Christ because he was sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

This seems to be John Calvin’s choice: “It is childish trifling to maintain, that if Christ is free from all taint, and was begotten of the seed of Mary, by the secret operation of the Spirit, it is not therefore the seed of the woman that is impure, but only that of the man. We do not hold Christ to be free from all taint, merely because he was born of a woman unconnected with a man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit, so that the generation was pure and spotless, such as it would have been before Adam’s fall.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 13, section 4. Now we must grapple with the question of how Christ could have been tempted in all points like as we are (Heb. 4:15) if his flesh was different from ours, i.e., not tainted with original sin. Of course this issue brings into contention the question of how he could be touched with the feeling of our infirmities when he did not have one of the most significant of our frailties. It does not address the issue to say that Christ was pure because he was God. If his sinlessness was based on his deity he was not tempted in any respect as man, much less in all respects. He was tempted “in everything the same way (we are) (He 4.15)”, Barclay Newman Greek English Dictionary.

Given these considerations the referees would overlook the mistake made in answer to Question 39 under the “no harm – no foul” rule. While it is true that Calvinism does not accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, they grapple with the same problem that it solves. The solutions that they have put forward and the only solutions available to them are as nonsensical and as non-biblical as the doctrine that they reject. Calvinism’s solution is non-biblical because it is as antithetical to scripture as the doctrine of Immaculate Conception is to Calvinism; it is nonsensical because it is a solution dreamed up supported by no scripture to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing taught in scripture as total hereditary depravity or original sin as promulgated by John Calvin and his followers. Nevertheless, the correction as to Calvinism’s relation to the doctrine is gladly made and its being pointed out is greatly appreciated. It is important to be as accurate as humanly possible and every effort is made to do so here. After all, we are not dealing with current events but with eternal issues.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)