Where Calvinists, Lutherans, Arminians (and Some Catholics) Agree
The subject is “salvation” from beginning to end–from the first stirrings of desire for communion with God to glorification in heaven and everything spiritually good in between. About what do Calvinists, Lutherans, Arminians and at least some (maybe all right-thinking) Catholics agree?
It’s all gift.
We disagree among ourselves about whether God’s good and precious gift(s) of salvation–conviction and calling, conversion, repentance and faith, forgiveness, reconciliation, regeneration, justification, adoption, union with Christ, infilling of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, glorification–must be freely accepted (synergism) or is given without regard to free acceptance and cooperation (monergism).
Each tradition has its own distinctive “spin” on that dividing issue, but, at least in their theological teachings (not folk religious beliefs), all agree every good and perfect gift, including every aspect of salvation, is unmerited except by Christ for us.
Catholic theologians still talk about “merit,” but the ones I have read and talked to insist they do not mean that salvation can be “earned.” This understandably confuses Protestants (and some Catholics). They (theologians) distinguish between kinds of merit and that which is required for full salvation is always given, not earned.
As an Arminian Protestant who grew up in the Pentecostal tradition and then have been Baptist most of my adult life, I have always known that every aspect of salvation, including whatever “good works” I do, is by God’s grace alone and that all the glory for them goes solely to God. Ephesians 2:8-9: the indicative; Ephesians 2:10: the imperative. Salvation is, as Emil Brunner so often wrote, both “gift and task” (Gabe und Aufgabe). But, the glory for whatever good works I do goes solely to God because all the desire and ability are from God (Philippians 2:13).
As much as some non-Arminians fuss and fume in protest, classical, true, faithful Arminians (as opposed to Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians) all believe, always have believed, that every aspect of salvation, including good works, comes from God’s grace such that no human being, however, spiritual, can take any credit for it or boast of it.
When I was growing up Arminian Pentecostal, and since becoming Arminian Baptist, I have always believed, been taught, and then taught myself, that any “rewards” we receive in heaven for good works we will immediately “cast at Jesus’ feet” because we will know that they were all by his grace alone.
Differences appear among these Christians, of course, when they discuss “background” issues such as whether God’s proffered gifts of salvation can be rejected even by those for whom they are truly intended by God and whether God’s gifts must be freely accepted.
Fortunately, most Calvinists, Lutherans, and Arminians, if not Catholics, have come over the centuries to acknowledge what I have said and have come to accept each other as equally Christians in spite of differences of opinion about soteriology (the “ordo salutis”). Unfortunately, every once in a while some Christian of one or another tradition launches a theological inquisition arguing that those who do not agree with the theology of his or her confessional tradition about the disputed questions are not fully, truly, authentically Christian, even if they can be saved in spite of “bad theology.”
We need to say a firm “no” to this behavior which is divisive and only contributes to the non-Christian world’s opinion that Christians are a quarrelsome lot who can’t love each other because of relatively minor differences of opinion about the details of their differing belief systems.