Sunday, 6 April 2008

Churches Beware! Calvinism on the Sly!

Calvinist churches are but a small minority; most evangelical churches are Arminian or semi-Arminian. However, the Calvinist resurgence is producing full Five Point Calvinist pastors looking for work. The resurgence is also prompting Arminian and semi-Arminian pastors to embrace Calvinism. This dynamic is the source of considerable tension in the life of the local church, not to mention in the heart of such pastors as they hold to a view which is often at odds with their churches.

Of course, this is not a problem for those Calvinistic pastors who minister within the confines denominations which are pre-committed to Calvinism. However, this is a huge problem for Calvinistic pastors who minister in theologically mixed denominations. Such denominations would include Southern Baptist Convention, General Baptist Conference, Evangelical Free Church, American Baptist Churches and others, not to mention the many independent churches.

Since the majority of these churches are Arminian or semi-Arminian, and since the typical congregation is not theologically astute enough to detect various subtleties of the debate, Calvinistic pastors are prone to mute their theological particularities so as not to raise an outcry of opposition.

In my own case, as an interim music minister, I served under a new pastor at a thoroughly semi-Arminian congregation. That is to say, there was no one in the congregation who held to limited atonement or unconditional election, and everyone in the congregation would have dismissed such notions as pure unbiblical non-sense. Yet the new pastor came to the church already fully committed to Five Point Calvinism. We'll refer to him as Pastor X.

Pastor X taught Calvinism on the sly. He could not come right out and declare, "Jesus died only for the elect! Jesus did not die for everyone!" Rather, he would say, "Jesus died for the sins of his people." Of course, this language was nothing but pure obfuscation, but it duped the congregation to affirm his comments with many amens.

Pastor X could not teach Calvinism directly. He had to situate his theology at an angle, attempting to wedge it into the congregation in order to get some future leverage. So through a series of Bible studies, he hammered home the concept that salvation cannot be earned, which he hoped would pave the way for him to deny that salvation is granted on the condition of faith. Of course, this completely went over the head of the congregation, which held uncompromisingly that Jesus died for everyone and that all you have to do to be saved is believe.

Thus, Calvinism on the sly attempts to mute all phrases which teach a universal atonement. After a year or two, the Calvinistic pastor then starts teaching on the issues which are less obviously Calvinistic. For example, there will be a strong emphasis on Calvinistic particularities of Total Depravity, monergism, irresistibility of grace, and de-emphasis on faith as a condition of salvation. Still, the congregation remains typically ignorant on many of these issues as well. One or two might raise questions, but they will still be entirely unsuspecting of how this is all prelude to limited atonement.

Meanwhile, the Calvinistic pastor manages to network with other Calvinists in the area, and perhaps draws one or two into his congregation whom he promotes and with whom he forms a mutual support within the congregation. This creates a divide between those who are clued into the secret coded language of Calvinism and the main body of the congregation. The informed Calvinists, led by their pastor and aided by their knowledge of the coded language produce an in-crowd which puts them at odds with the rest of the congregation. Still, the congregation remains clueless, having no idea that the newly formed inner circle propagates the notion that Jesus only died for the few.

When the congregation finally does figure out that their pastor no longer believes that Jesus died for the world, then chaos and argumentation breaks out. Ultimately, in most cases, the result is some sort of church split or the unpleasant departure of the pastor.

For this reason, congregations looking for a new pastor should be clear on these important theological issues. Questions should be asked on various issues, and repeated from various angles. If the pastor responds, "Yes, I believe that Jesus died for the world," the follow up question needs to be, "Does this include those people who will never accept Jesus," for Calvinists define "world" and "all people" differently than most Christians.

Moreover, congregations should protect themselves by requiring a new pastor to enter into a covenantal agreement that would require a resignation if the pastor's theology were to change significantly during the course of the pastorate. This should apply to any theological issue, not just Calvinism and Arminianism.

Good pastoral ethics require full disclosure. There should be no attempt to teach divergent theology on the sly. This is true for both sides of the Calvinist-Arminian issue. However, there seem to be few, if any, Arminians who are trying to get jobs in Calvinistic churches. Because of the Calvinistic resurgence, however, those churches which embrace the gospel of God's love for the world and for every person must be on their guard against those who would restrict the atonement for the few.


Kevin Jackson said...

Informative post. I've seen this same issue in my denomination. Since we're strongly Wesleyan, it's usually not a pastor promoting Calvinism, but perhaps a Sunday School teacher or small group leader.

To be fair, the promoters don't always have an agenda to secretly introduce Calvinism- they are simply promoting what they believe. But if one teaches Calvinism in an Arminian Church, it is out of place and almost always divisive.

We should be truthful, upfront, and submit ourselves to the teachings that are important to the Church we attend - especially if we are going to be in a position of leadership.

If we disagree strongly on a key doctrinal issue, we should go to another church or keep quiet.

I can't imagine going to a Presbyterian church and promoting Arminian theology. Or to use similar analogies, I wouldn't go to a Pentecostal church and teach against speaking in tounges, or go to a Southern Baptist church and argue against OSAS. Those activities would cause unnecessary division, and do not submit to the authority of the church on specific doctrines that are important to them. The only fair thing to do in a case like that is to leave and find a church that believes the same way, so as to promote Christian unity.

A side note: I wish Calvinists put half the effort into reaching the lost as they put into trying to convince Arminians. :)

James M. Leonard said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

If Calvinists simply want to promte what they believe, then they need to do so without the veiled language. They should come straight out and shock people by saying, "I don't believe that Jesus died for everyone."

The fact that they often don't do so is a sign of Calvinism on the sly.

James M. Leonard said...

The fact of the matter is, Calvinistic Pastors are infiltrating unsuspecting Arminian or Semi-Arminian churches. They know that there is every likelihood that the typical church holds to unlimited atonement and would be shocked to hear of someone believing otherwise. Yet they don't divulge the fact that they believe in limited atonement when talking things over with the pulpit committee.

This is not ethical.

Tom Shelton said...

Interesting post. I agree with some of what you say and disagree with some. Your post inspired me to write a post of my own at my blog. You can see my post here:


Monkey Boy said...

What a wonderful piece of serendipity! I appreciate the thoughtfulness and forthrightness of your posts and plan to return here often to challenge my mind and instruct my heart.

Mark Heath said...

I think it is important for congregations to protect themselves of people with weird theologies. There are definitely a lot of out there nowadays. However, I think that a prospective pastor's soteriological beliefs should not play into account in the hiring process. I know many Wesleyan/Arminian pastors who have a great heart for The Lord and do awesome work for His Kingdom. Just the same, I know many Calvinist pastors and missionaries who do more work for God than I ever thought possible. If your theological convictions push you to love The Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, that is awesome. There is a lack of that in the church today. Rev., I am a firm believer in Calvinism and the reformed faith, however, I can accomplish nothing without the rest of the Body at my side. Despite our theological differences, if we are going to make disciples of all nations, I need your help and you need mine.

Poop is Emergent Too said...

What if God convicts him? What if the spirit moves? I think a pastor should be free to teach the scriptures without being bound to system…that said as a Baptist and a Calvinist,are you my Arminian friend aware that limited atonement is the last doctrine that most Calvinist are going to get worked up about? That last thing we are going to stake our claim on and the last thing we would “sneak in ” to teach? We are much more enthused by the glory of God and the centrality of that to all of life.

I think perhaps you focus here because it allows you to avoid the inherent humanist bent of arminianism.

It would also be better if you understood Calvinism instead of the caricature you present. Everyone would oppose a theology in which God does not love the world, however either you are ignorant or lying because we both know this is not the teaching of Calvinism.

You are right though there is a "Calvinism resurgence," but the point should be made that a great deal of it is in church plants and is conversional, in fact some of the most effective churches in reaching the lost are Reformed in theology. Would you also oppose that?

Eric said...

Rev. James,

In this post, you said, "Since the majority of these churches are Arminian or semi-Arminian, and since the typical congregation is not theologically astute enough to detect various subtleties of the debate, Calvinistic pastors are prone to mute their theological particularities so as not to raise an outcry of opposition."

After this statement, you provided one example from your personal experience. If there really is a significant problem with Calvinistic pastors misleading Arminian congregations, then this must be occurring quite a bit. Could you please provide for us the names of 40 to 50 churches where this has happened? If this really is the problem you say it is, then you must be aware of specific cases where this is happening. If you are unable to provide this data, then this post at least borders on irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Hey poop...too,

You wrote:

It would also be better if you understood Calvinism instead of the caricature you present. Everyone would oppose a theology in which God does not love the world, however either you are ignorant or lying because we both know this is not the teaching of Calvinism.

The issue is how one defines "love". Does love mean to truly desire the best for someone (e.g. God truly desires that all be saved) or is "love" re-defined along with so many other English words in order to conform with Calvinist theology and make it more palatable?

Please explain how God "loves" the reprobate? By giving him a short life of fleeting pleasures on this earth(though many live life in misery and have very little that could be called "pleasurable")? Is that the "love" you are referring too?

Did you ever read where Jesus said, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" That doesn't comport with your definition of God's love very well IMO.

Or perhaps you have another way of defining God's "love" for the reprobate that you should have shared and defended before criticizing someone for misrepresenting Calvinism (BTW, there are plenty of Calvinists that do indeed deny that God has any love for the reprobate).

And yet you seem quite content to misrepresent Arminianism by claiming that its theology has an "inherent humanist bent." Perhaps you are either ignorant or lying in the way you are representing Arminianism? Just some food for thought my friend.

God Bless,

Anonymous said...

I am a reformed southern baptist that attends a church that is not reformed. The pastor is does not claim to be arminian but much of his theology leans that way. I have only become reformed in the last 6 months or so. I teach and adult sunday school class, a junior youth discipleship class, and various other discipleship classes as the opportunity presents itself.

Before I accepted the doctrines of grace I taught from my understanding of the scriptures. At the time, I probably leaned a little to the arminian side. Now, I am firmly on the reformed side and I teach my classes from that perspective. I try hard to explain both sides when it is appropriate to the lesson.

Do you all think the same standard that Rev. Leonard has proposed for pastors (that they should resign when their theology changes) should be applied to someone like me? A laymen called to teach but who does it on a voluntary basis.


James M. Leonard said...

As a Baptist, and as one who affirms historic Baptist congregationalism, I reject the notion that the Pastor is the one who mediates from God what the theological position of the church should be.

Many churches have their own theological treatises, and have covenanted by them for perhaps generations. In many cases, these churches have long, historic associations with neighbouring congregations with whom they engage in cooperative ministry based around mutually agreed theological affirmations.

In such cases, he should not take a church with hopes or designs to persuade the congregation to his way of thinking.

Moreover, it is not ethical for a pastor to present himself for candidacy when he disagrees with the church's statement of faith.

Furthermore, if he changes his mind about his theology so that it is in conflict with the church's statement of faith, he should do the honourable thing and resign.

Calvinists should be explicit about their theology when candidating for Arminian and semi-Arminian churches, and not mute the peculiarities of their theological system, such as limited atonement and unconditional election.

If it's any consolation to our Calvinist brethren, I would insist the same thing for Arminians. But because of the reality of the predominance of Arminian or semi-Arminian churches, combined with the Calvinist resurgence, the scenario of a newly graduated Calvinistic pastor from Southern Seminary candidating at an semi-Arminian SBC is much more likely than a graduate of Free Will Baptist Bible College candidating at a PCA church!

James M. Leonard said...

Calvinism on the sly is related to the issue of full disclosure in evangelism.

Calvinists also withhold important theological information as they evangelize. They never tell the evangelistic prospect that Christ may not have died for them, and if he didn't die for them, then no matter what, they will die and go to hell.

The so-called Calvinistic Doctrines of Grace are the kinds of things which Calvinists teachers can only safely divulge after the novice has proven himself cooperative with easier, less offensive Calvinistic teachings. They have to set the hook at the right time, or else the fish gets away.

James M. Leonard said...

Nice comments Mark Heath. I might have a caveat or two, but otherwise, I appreciate your sentiments.

James M. Leonard said...

Misc. Comments.

1) I'm all for Calvinists spreading the gospel by establishing new church plants.

2) The rule applies for both laymen and ministers that we all should be upfront about our theology. However, I think greater freedom for participation in the local church should be granted to laymen who disagree with the church's theology than with paid ministers.

Eric said...

Rev. James,

I'm not trying to be antagonistic or difficult about this issue. I'll simply repeat what I said before.

If there really is a significant problem with Calvinistic pastors misleading Arminian congregations, then this must be occurring quite a bit. Could you please provide for us the names of 40 to 50 churches where this has happened? If this really is the problem you say it is, then you must be aware of many specific cases where this is happening.

Jim Shaver said...

I cannot speak for other groups but in the SBC there is evidence that the opposite took place somewhere between 1845-1970 in some of our oldest churches.

Churches that were thoroughly Calvinistic in 1845 are NOT now.

An example is my church which was founded in 1826. When I became pastor in 2000 I discovered they had at some point abandoned their original Articles of Faith which were without a doubt Calvinistic.

The change is not documented within the church's minutes so I assume that it was a gradual change that probably reflected the general shift away from Calvinism in the SBC.

Perhaps the same kind of general shift is happening now, only back to Calvinism.

My point is - Perhaps it's easier to move from Calvinism to Arminianism than it is to reverse the trend.

Kevin Jackson said...

Related article:
TULIP Blooming: Southern Baptist seminaries re-introduce Calvinism to a wary denomination. (Christianity Today)

Anonymous said...

Rev. Leonard said:

Calvinists also withhold important theological information as they evangelize. They never tell the evangelistic prospect that Christ may not have died for them, and if he didn't die for them, then no matter what, they will die and go to

This is not a relevant point. A person who is not a member of the elect will not respond to the gospel so not telling them this makes no difference.

James M. Leonard said...

Honestly, I only know the ins and outs of about 40-50 churches total in all of my 20 years of ministry, many of which would be completely insulated from Calvinistic incursions. And I sure don't know 40-50 Calvinist pastors total. Nor has anyone done the research to track Calvinist-on-the-sly pastors.

So the demand that I must cite 40-50 Calvinist-on-the-sly pastors and their duped churches in order to prove my point is too much to ask.

I couldn't cite 40-50 churches which have been led away from a conservative stance to a liberal stance either. Nor could I cite 40-50 churches which have moved toward a Charismatic theology.

So the bar for proof has to be considerably lower. Can I cite one or two examples of Calvinism-on-the-sly within the pale of the local associations of which I've been a member? Yes.

James M. Leonard said...

Here is a note from a significant person who is in a position to know these things. I've omitted some details because this was not aired publicly.

"This is an excellent analysis of a creeping trend within especially Southern Baptist churches.

"I live in XXXX [state] which was evangelized largely by northern Free Will Baptists in the early 19th century. (The very first Baptists here were Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, but they had very little impact.)

"The vast majority of Baptists--including pastors--in XXXX [state] are Arminians who believe in eternal security. They don't know they are Arminians because here (as in much of the South among Baptists) "Arminian" means someone who denies eternal security.

"I've taught seminary here for almost ten years now and the typical story told by James Leonard is one I have heard a hundred times.

"Most of these "Calvinism on the Sly" Baptist pastors are young and coming out of XXXX Seminary in spite of XXXX's free will leanings. They were taught Calvinism by XXXX (who now teaches at XXXX) and/or by New Testament professor XXXX. Many of them became Calvinists in college or during seminary under the influence of John Piper....

"They slip into XXXX [state] (or other) Baptist churches untouched by Calvinism and gradually begin to inculcate Calvinism into the congregation. Eventually a split happens. Many of my students come from churches where this has happened. This pattern is very well known and often discussed among XXXX [state] Baptists--conservatives and moderates."

Eric said...

Rev. James,

I appreciate your position on this matter. I also agree with you that there should be no deception on the part of any pastoral candidate.

My concern is that I have now heard accusations from several different people (one being Frank Cox, who is running for SBC president) saying that some Calvinists are being untruthful, or at least not telling all that they believe, when candidating at churches.

The statements make it seem like this is a serious problem that is happening many different places. That is a serious charge to make.

Surely those who make this charge should be able to substantiate it with numerous actual names and places (one or two actual examples is not enough evidence). If not, then these statements seem reckless.

Gordan said...

If you were hired to pastor a church where the entire congregation believed, half-heartedly at least, in an eschatology that you thought was less Biblically faithful than your own, how would go about trying to get them to see that?

Would you boldly declare your opposition from the pulpit right away and challenge them to either convert or leave?

Or would you hope to nudge these earnest-but-ignorant Christians along in more gentle ways, by giving them a little here and a little there, until you had built a foundation, not only of theology, but of personal trust?

What if a Calvinist is hired by a congregation that is quasi-Arminian only by default (it's not in their faith statement) and they don't care enough to ask about it in the hiring process; don't know what he means when he tries to explain his beliefs; and don't seem to have a problem with him preaching what he thinks is right?

Do you expect him to blast them with an "all or nothing" challenge to change their views right away?

I ask because I personally know of situations like I just described. In that sort of setting, do you still think it's wrong for the Calvinistic pastor to teach with gentleness and in a piecemeal fashion, or would that still be dishonest?

James said...

What is done is first, when we find ourselves in an Arminian Church as I find myself, I walk with love. I am ready to speak boldly to any direct statement or question to me. I will speak from the Word of God.
But I also speak boldly without arguing with the unbeliever. There are many ways to love in this life and I look for those ways. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us, He loved us.
It is not my responsibility to make anyone believe, in fact I cannot even do so. I am to preach the gospel, the whole word of God, in love not arrogance. God will do as He wishes. I will not be offended when offenses come my direction, I will just love them and continue to speak the word of God.
I have much spill-over rejection from people who understand who I am and what I believe, that is fine. My response is not to be an arrogant, bible pounding, you better believe it or not person. I will in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and longsuffering walk and talk as a child of God.

Anonymous said...

At the same time, please understand that if every pastor's theological (or ethical, or political) cards were out on the table, if one or more of those beliefs involved an unpopular belief on a controversial issue, it would prove to cause the same thing in a church.

Since I am a Christian and a die-hard believer in determinism as the way to explain action, I have a theology that goes further than most Calvinists in affirming monergism. In fact, my views have been called heretical by Calvinists when I presented them in related forums.

However: I am in a difficult position, because I grew up in a typical Southern Baptist church, and so my place for the most part doctrinally and attitudinally is still in a Southern Baptist church. So: when I read posts like these, I must admit I feel a little like the young adult who becomes a homosexual and finally feels compelled to face the rejection of one's parents. They realize that it is no use to try to continue a relationship if it cannot stand the revealing of a secret such as that. At the same time: it is one's -family-, two people that this person loves and depends on, whose rejection one is preparing to face.

As members of a church, the situation is not nearly that dramatic. (If it were so, then I suspect half of every congregation would be out of luck from all the ethical scandals that are hidden, as well as the ridiculous or even horrible doctrinal beliefs that some laypersons hold.) But for the aspiring pastor or professional minister of any kind, the situation changes, because suddenly a person is subjected and exposed before the collective ideals and expectations of a large group.

Honestly I wonder about how that 30% of Southern Baptist seminary graduates who take years to formulate their worldview and plan of ministry, and find out that no one is willing to follow them as a leader in their own convention (and what luck will they find in others)? These are people who devote themselves to serving God, who hear the calling of Christ on their lives, and then are expected to parade around the two or three points on which their fellow Southern Baptists would disagree with them, like a star of David, and hope that someone will tolerate them enough to let them serve the church of Christ without having to go to the Presbyterians (and at the very least have to pay for a few more years at another seminary).

Honestly: while I hope to be upfront with any future organization or church about my beliefs since I don't wish to walk in any door beyond which I am not welcome -- I am inclined to forgive my fellow Reformed Baptists who attempt to be shrewd on this matter. Not everyone straight out of seminary has the resources to start their own church.

Tandy Vaughn said...

Since you brought up ethics in ministry I'm wondering if this applies to you as well. He is reasonable to assume that as an interim music minister that you were made aware that you would directly answer to the pastor and most if not all of your job duties would be directed by him. That is, he was over you as a matter of church polity and over you scripturally. 1 Thess. 5: 11-13, "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves." When you lost respect for the pastor and when you could no longer esteem him in love did you resign for the peace of the church. Or, did you work behind the scene or maybe openly to have him rejected which is contrary to this verse? I could go on to make sweeping and universal statements like you have in your article regarding ministers of music who wish they were the pastor - "on the sly." But you probably already know that.

James M. Leonard said...

Tandy Vaughn, while I may not be perfect in keeping all good ethics, I do know enough not to undermine the pastor under whom I might serve.

My interim ministry under Pastor X was one which, by design, what short term. During this time, I kept my mouth shut.

When Pastor X announced his own resignation 1-1/2 years later, I made our upline denominational staff aware of his 5 point Calvinism, for I was pretty sure Pastor X would do the same thing at his next church.

All this is too bad, because Pastor X was a really good preacher and would fit well at a Calvinist church.

James M. Leonard said...

Some points of theology, you just ought not to mask or camouflage, like an elephant in the vestibule.

At a church which is marginally Dispensational without premillennialism being written into its doctrinal statement, perhaps I would approach the subject cautiously in teaching alternative perspectives.

However, if a church is Arminian by default and doesn't bother asking a preacher about his position on the atonement indicates--by default-- that they would be absolutely shocked that a minister of the Gospel would even consider the preposterous idea that Jesus might not have died for everyone. This was the case at Pastor X's church.

At such churches, you can rest assured that, even if the preacher were otherwise perfect in every respect, the pulpit committee would not only throw out his resume, but they would also throw him off the bus and run over him a few times, telling their denominational associates, "That preacher ought not pastor in any of our churches!"

Churches which might be characterised as marginally or quasi-Arminian churches are such because they've not got to the point that they Calvinism could be dignified as a reasonable, respectable system.

Any Calvinist pastor who thinks he can come in on the sly into such a church is abusing the trust of his church and taking advantage of the church's lack of theological sophistication.

Anonymous said...

If Calvinists simply want to promte what they believe, then they need to do so without the veiled language.

If a congregation is seeking a new minister then it is their responsibility to ensure that they have a man who will preach the gospel. Yes, the potential recruit should answer those questions honestly and responsibly but it is their responsibility to ask them.

One thing I would say, is that many who attend 'Arminian' or 'semi-Arminian' (why not 'semi-Calvinist?') congregations are not there by theological choice, tey have not set out to join an 'Arminian' or 'semi-Arminian' congregation, they just happened upon the church by chance and stayed.

Further, Calvinism is far more than just TULIP, it is about how you view God and at any rate, as they say, all Arminians are Calvinists on their knees in prayer.

Wesley and Whitefield were friends and fellowshipped together, why then can't a Calvinist shepherd an Arminian flock....who knows, they may even learn what Calvinism actually teaches!

Kevin and Cheryl Hill said...

I am concerned with the the tone that comes across in this original article. Ironically I am also impressed with the graciousness with which the Calvinist engaged the article. I very much appreciate what John Piper has said when teaching on the difference between Arminians and Calvinists. Piper states that it is always important to remember that Arminians are people who deeply love God and that in the grand scheme of things there is only a hair's breath of difference between the two views. Piper never once used the kind of derogatory language used by this author and in my opinion that speaks volumes of the difference between the two men in regard to how the engage on this issue in a public manner.

Rev. Leonard may very well be a beautiful human being who I would deeply enjoy as a friend and as a worship leader. I certainly can not form an opinion of his entire personhood based on one article. But I certainly can perceive the appearance of someone who has been hurt. Rev. Leonard the agressive and derogatory tone with which you write about this matter gives the impression that you have been personally hurt by someone and that you link this person's calvinism to the cause of that wound. If this is an untrue statement then you should be deeply concerned about the manner with which you present yourself. As a minister you are called to be beyond reproach. And the way you wrote this article simply comes across as intentionally crass and mean-spirited. If that does not reflect your character then I suggest you rewrite the content to communicate the same concern without the tone it currently contains.

To give a specific example of what I mean allow me to offer this suggestion. Instead of characterize the calvinist as intentionally deceptive why not give the benefit of the doubt? You can still call for the same direct honesty in candidates without trying to imply that their is something inherently dishonest in the character of Calvinists. Why not assume that the poster named Gordon Runyan is correct when he states:
"What if a Calvinist is hired by a congregation that is quasi-Arminian only by default (it's not in their faith statement) and they don't care enough to ask about it in the hiring process; don't know what he means when he tries to explain his beliefs; and don't seem to have a problem with him preaching what he thinks is right?"

I grew up in the SBC and have attended 3 of the most prominent SBC churchs in my home state. Each one was quasi-Arminian and quasi-Calvinist. It all depended on how you phrased a question as to what a pastor or member would say and whether the answer sounded Calvinist or Arminian. As I go through the candidate process I have found most Churches are painfully light on their statements of faith and so it is reasonable that this just doesn't come up. Is it then the candidate's fault? It seems unfair to imply deception if the Church is vague and doesn't ask the question.

For example I speak in tongues and so the first thing I look at is what the church says about the gifts of the spirit. Generally it is very vague and generic. I do as you suggest, and so I am very upfront and announce to congregations that this is part of my spirituality. To this I get differing responses. However if a church has a generic statement of faith regarding salvation that is worded broad enough to include Calvinists or Arminians then what is the problem? In my experience this just is not as controversial a differnce as charismatic vs. cessatiionists. What matters is the character and behavior of the person over the differences. If the church is vague then it should be willing to have both perspectives and hold them to be secondary to the gospel. If the pastor can hold that attitude then it will be a healthy opportunity for the body of Christ to show love in the midst of disagreement.

I think this is an unfair and inappropriate blog article. That said I do agree that just as I am upfront about my distinctives so should we all be. I just doubt the way you characterize things is accurate.

Frank said...

I live in the Seattle area and have been looking for an Arminian church for a long time. The only ones I know of are Lutheran or Nazarene, I've not found an Arminian Baptist church. Can anyone point me to a church in this area?


James M. Leonard said...


I used to live in Bellingham, but have been away for 15 years or so.

There are some American Baptist Churches in Washington state which are evangelical and toward the conservative side of things, at least a little. Some of them might tend toward Arminianism, but I don't know first hand.

Best wishes,

Gary said...

Calvinistic Baptists actually have more in common with Lutherans than they do with their Arminian Baptist brothers. When it comes to the adult non-believer who converts to the Christian faith, Arminians, Calvinists and Lutherans are in full agreement: salvation occurs when the sinner believes. Baptism is not a necessary requirement to be saved. We have theological differences in how believing occurs, but we all believe that the second a sinner believes he is saved.

Our significant denominational differences arise when we talk about the salvation of the infants and toddlers of Christian parents: how are these young children saved? What happens if, God forbid, one of them should die before reaching the age where they are capable of expressing a saving faith in Christ?

The Arminian answer is this: God saves all infants and toddlers who die, even the infants and toddlers of non-believers. They have no hard proof from Scripture to support this belief, but they believe that King David's comments about his dead infant gives them support for their position. Infants who die are "safe" in the arms of a loving God.

Calvinists look at their children in this manner: Their children are either the Elect or they are not. Presbyterian Calvinists will baptize their infants to bring them into the "covenant" (whatever that is!)of the Church but do not believe that baptism has any salvific value. "If my child is of the Elect he will declare himself to be a believer when he is older." A Calvinistic Baptist does not baptize his infant, but looks at Election in the same way: My child is either of the Elect or not. There is nothing I can do but bring him up in the Faith and leave the rest to God.

Lutherans believe that when God told us to baptize all nations, he meant to baptize ALL those who are the Elect. Many Arminians and Calvinists assume that Lutherans believe that anyone that they run through the baptismal font will get into heaven. Not true! Only the Elect will get into heaven. We baptize our infants in the HOPE that they are the Elect. Is it possible that some of the infants of Christian parents whom we baptize are not of the Elect and therefore will not be in heaven? Yes! But that is a mystery of God that we do not attempt to explain or understand.

But we believe we do our job of "baptizing all nations" (who are of the Elect)by baptizing our infants and we then leave their Election up to God. We do our job of instructing them in the Faith as they grow up, but when they are older it will be their responsibility to nurture their faith with prayer, Bible study, and worship. If they abandon their faith and turn their back on God, they may wake up one day in hell! Baptism is NOT a "Get-into-heaven-free" card! Salvation is by God's grace alone, received in faith alone.

No faith--->no salvation--->no eternal life!

The Calvinist position on the salvation of infants is very confusing to me. It seems to be a process. A specific event of salvation is not necessary. Is there any example in the NT of anyone being saved by a process?

As much as I deplore Arminian theology, I do like the fact that they insist on a specific "when" of salvation. However, they are wrong to believe that the "when" of salvation is based on THEIR decision when in reality it is based on GOD'S decision.

If Calvinists agree with Lutherans that it is God who chooses who will be saved, and it is God who chooses when to save...which approach seems more Scriptural for the salvation of our children: God saves THOSE OF OUR CHILDREN WHO ARE OF THE ELECT in a one-time event in Holy Baptism or he saves them in a nebulous, drawn-out process over a period of years? Unless, of course, Calvinistic Baptists believe that their children who are the Elect are born saved...I certainly hope they do not believe that the Elect are born saved as do some hard-core Calvinists.

To read more:

Unknown said...

This OP seems to be a caricature of calvinists but there seems to be some truth in it.

This is good advice:

"For this reason, congregations looking for a new pastor should be clear on these important theological issues. Questions should be asked on various issues, and repeated from various angles. If the pastor responds, "Yes, I believe that Jesus died for the world," the follow up question needs to be, "Does this include those people who will never accept Jesus," for Calvinists define "world" and "all people" differently than most Christians."

This sounds so gnostic of calvinists:

"This creates a divide between those who are clued into the secret coded language of Calvinism and the main body of the congregation."

Unknown said...

I am a First Baptist Church member with reformed theology. Calvinism isn't the negative/sneaky/unfair theology that this OP makes it out to be. To me it puts the focus where it should be...on God. Man doesn't "choose" God. We make our choice's sin. That said, I do believe pastors should be open with their theology...any church without a well-defined theology is missing out on so much.

Unknown said...

This is happening as I write this in our small church in Maine. There are Maine church planting websites and they are Reformed Calvinists, I would say New Calvinists They don’t only plant churches, they “revitalize”. Or to put it plainly, Reform the church into a Reformed church. It has happened in a few churches around us, too. Our Pastor isn’t telling us, he has been caught in lies a few times and many many veiled answers. We are just starting to realize this is all true. We couldn’t believe our Pastor would really lie to us about this. What made us realize it, is that he got quite a few new members in in the last year, who also didn’t tell us they were Calvinists, but now it is showing because there is quite a rumble from them about the “oldies” in the church who don’t want to change. (These people have been there for over 60 years, some of them and have poured their whole life into this church) They are being left out of everything, everything is being changed. 80 year old women are crying because even their Christmas party has been done away with. They don’t even realize yet that he is also bringing in false doctrine that will make it so much harder for the people in our small town to be able to be saved if they come to church. I don’t believe you could ever figure out salvation from his messages. He has enough people now to win if we had to vote on his leaving. It surely looks to me like he is trying to steal our church. Some of the people and the building. He doesn’t care to have all the people....they aren’t intelligent enough to be the chosen. After all they were stupid enough to let him in as Pastor, and his Calvinist friends. I’m praying every day that the Lord will help us, and I can have the right attitude about it all. Watch out folks!

drwayman said...

Note this blog post about a Calvinist trying to "cleverly introduce" his Calvinist philosophy to his teen Sunday School class in an Assemblies of God denomination (a decidedly not Calvinist denomination):