By Eusebio Tanicala, Ph.D.
This article gives some insight into Calvinism on the issue of total depravity. There are two views about the theory of Total Depravity and Regeneration.
Firstly, in the 4th century, St. Augustine came up with the theory that because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience all mankind completely lost God’s grace. All grace was withdrawn from humanity. There were only two people: Adam and Eve. The two comprised all of humanity. What was true of the two became true unto all ages after them. What was true when humanity was 2 individuals, was true when humanity numbered only 20, true when numbered 200, true when numbered 2000, true when humanity became 2,000,000, true when it became 2,000,000,000 and will be true when all of humanity becomes 2 trillion in number, and so on until the end of the ages.
From this thinking, the Roman Catholic Church slowly evolved the doctrine of “Inherited Original Sin. That even an infant is totally depraved so that, if it be possible, even a newly born babe should be given the sacrament of baptism. Borrowing some idea of the OT circumcision, a child should not go beyond 8 days when he should be baptized with a godparent standing as the child’s proxy in faith. It was even taught by some priests that a still-born child should be baptized by a parent or matured relative. Or a child of several hours or several days if it dies should be baptized by any believing person so that the child’s soul would go to “Limbo” and eventually would graduate into Paradise. (Incidentally, the Roman Catholic Church this year has announced that the belief in Limbo is no longer a dogma. Will they disown the theory of original sin after another millennium?)
Roman Catholics are excited about bringing a child into the Christian community through infant/child baptism. Sacramental Baptism starts God’s grace flowing into an individual. And when reason/belief springs from a child’s heart, he participates in the sacramental rite of Confirmation which formalizes a person’s entry into the visible church.
In short, God’s grace returns or is revived in a person via the sacrament of baptism. This is the Roman Church’s doctrine.
Secondly, among Calvinists, the theory of St. Augustine is accepted but developed into a different direction. Calvinism says that man is totally depraved of God’s grace. Man is dead. Man can’t will to do good. Man has no appreciation or sense for what is spiritual. So man’s salvation is granted thro God’s grace only. It is God who injects every tiny ability and desire to live for God. Sola gratia. Man can’t do nothing and does nothing to get into a saved conditioned.
Those who are predestined to be saved are supplied by God with gifts: a preacher is providently led to that person, God supplies/injects into the mind and heart belief and faith, God supplies/injects repentance into the person’s heart, God supplies/injects confession into the person’s lips, God supplies injects willingness to obey and act on all God’s commands. A person desires to do good because God injected into him the desire to do good. It’s all God’s compulsion. Calvinists call this the “irresistible grace” of God.
How about those not elected and chosen and saved by God’s grace? This question should be asked, according to Calvinism because God is the Sovereign LORD. His sovereignty is like the sovereignty of a potter in his Potter’s Field. A potter makes all kinds pots in different designs and sizes. What the potter chooses to become beautiful and be placed on the display counters is his own discretion. Those pots not chosen are broken and thrown away. Pots don’t complain nor ask questions. Yan ang paliwanag ng Calvinism.
Among Churches of Christ, our position is this: From conception a child is innocent until a certain age of accountability. Because the Devil is the God of this world I Cor. 4:4), the world’s environment soaks and overwhelms a child with evil influences that an individual could not resist but develop lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Man is depraved but there remains a small flicker of light, small germ of conscience, small germ of reason to start a search for the truth and the good. If truth and goodness competes against the allurements of this world, a person uses his common sense to determine what he desires most. The wonderful design of nature is presented everyday to prove God’s existence. This idea is taught by Apostle Paul in Romans 1:19-32. The prophet Isaiah invited Israel to a session or reasoning and argumentation. (See 1:18)
From the above, we get the idea that there’s a period of innocence from birth to a certain period of maturity when sin is overlooked among children. Then comes the point in time that a person arrives at maturity and that man becomes responsible for his acts. Free will comes into play. Man becomes answerable for his own decisions and acts. So Christ gave the Great Commission to bring the good news of His death, burial and resurrection as the basis of salvation. The blessings and promises of the gospel compete versus the allurements of the world.
The term “dead” is not absolute absence of sensation. The soul is in the person. That soul is not “dead” not a zombie. Death here is separation from God. Read the usage of the term “dead” in Genesis when God said that Adam and Eve would “die” the very day they would eat the forbidden fruit. Read also Luke 15 about the Prodigal Son who was “dead” but came to life. Read the “dead who bury their dead” in Matthew 8:22. Did these dead possess free will? Yes. So out of their free will they decided to do some things.
From these three views presented above, you may choose what is most reasonable and nearest the scriptures.. We will expand the term “dead” in a subsequent article.