Calvinism accepts the main Christian doctrines as set forth in the early creeds of the Church. It gives special prominence to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the redeeming work of Christ. It follows the doctrine of the sovereignty of God to what is seen as its logical conclusion, teaching that God has destined some to salvation and others to damnation. Efficacious grace is given to the elect to ensure their perseverance until they attain salvation. At the same time Calvinism has never minimised the mercy of God nor has it refrained from offering salvation to all who will hear. It received its classic exposition in the Institutes of calvin and in his great commentaries on the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession is the most thorough English exposition of Calvinism, and has shaped much Protestant and Puritan thought. Calvinism is also associated with a form of church government by presbyters and by a system of church courts such as is to be found in churches associated with the World Presbyterian Alliance. Calvinism inspired and reinforced national movements such as those associated with Huguenots, Puritans and colonial pioneers.
Calvinism is the theology and system of church government formulated by John Calvin and followed by Reformed, or Presbyterian, churches. Its principles were first published in Calvin's The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. Calvinist theology is based on a belief in the omnipotence of God and the utter sinfulness of all men. According to the characteristic Calvinist doctrine of predestination, God has willed most men to eternal damnation as they deserve, but in His mercy, He has chosen a few "elect" to be saved.
No one can win salvation by atonement or good works. The elect are saved only by God's grace, sent to them through the Bible and Christ. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper reaffirm God's grace to the elect. Although the individual will never be sure that he is of the elect, his faith in God will give him an inner sense of salvation that is expressed outwardly in righteous conduct and good works. Cal-vinists are thus inspired to lead virtuous, hard-working lives so as to indicate that they may be of the elect.
The Calvinist theory of church government provides that each congregation shall be ruled by sessions composed of presbyters, or elders, including ministers and elected laymen. Representatives of these sessions form presbyteries and synods that govern groups of churches. This democratic form of ecclesiastical government has influenced political development in England and the United States.
Calvin believed the function of the state to be the protection of law and order as defined in the Ten Commandments. Every Christian was required to take part in the work of the state. Originally, Calvin intended that the church should control the state, but since Calvinists are a minority in most countries, they have encouraged freedom of worship.
Calvinism was the religion of the Huguenots of France and became the official religion of Geneva, of the Netherlands, and of Scotland under John Knox.
Its doctrines were embraced by the English Puritans and brought by them to America. Although modern Reformed churches have modified many of Calvin's beliefs, Western principles of individual freedom and democracy are derived in part from Calvinist philosophy.
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