The New Calvinism
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In the fall of 2015, the new associate pastor, Joshua, has started to teach during the Sunday School hour about the covenants between man and God throughout the Bible. He trades off intermittently with Charles. In October, Charles strays into some territory that sets off protest from several people. First, I have noticed that he brings into his teaching the idea that “God loves himself so much. If he didn’t he would be practicing idolatry.” I find this to be a strange circular argument that really serves no purpose. But this is not the only eccentric teaching. Somehow the topic of “are babies saved?” is raised.
“I believe babies are sinners like the rest of us,” insists one man, “If you have any children at all you know they are sinners from day one. Contrary to what people say, I don’t think there is any age of accountability,” he finishes.
“You are right,” agrees Charles, “The Bible does not say anywhere that babies or miscarried children go to heaven. It is for them like the rest of us. If God has pre-chosen them to be saved, they go to heaven. Otherwise, I don’t think so.”
I can’t quite believe what I am hearing. All I can think is, telling someone who has just lost a baby that their child is in hell would be a disaster. Besides, how does that fit into the practice of adult baptism by faith? Very young children are not capable of accepting Christ by faith. So where does that leave all the children who are too young to make a confession of faith? Of course, if one believes everyone is pre-destined, I guess it doesn’t make much difference. Come to think of it, a true Calvinist believes in infant baptism and that makes sense under the rationale that one can’t change the outcome anyway. Several people, me included, bring our concerns to the chairman of the elder board.
“Would you be willing to talk to Charles personally? That is the Biblical mandate – to talk to the person one-on-one first.”
“Yes, I can talk to him. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Charles is too busy that Sunday to talk with me or the next couple of Sundays, so I give him a book to read, Chosen but Free by Norman Geisler. Before I am actually able to have a one-on-one conversation with him, he addresses the church to clarify his position. The congregation is encouraged by the pastor to give him grace.
He quotes I Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” Through the use of this verse as a proof text, he makes his case that babies who are born to Christian parents go to heaven if they die. Oh Please!
Feeling somewhat snarky and being unable to accept that he actually believes this, I send him an e-mail, “How do I kindly say that I am not sure that your answer today scored any points for you or the Kingdom, so I thought you might want to read the article referenced below by John MacArthur.” In it he says, “All children who die before they reach the condition (not age) of accountability by which they convincingly understand their sin and corruption and embrace the Gospel by faith are graciously saved eternally by God through the work of Jesus Christ.”
There is no hesitation in Charles response, “Thank you for the article by John MacArthur. However, it appears we are not making progress to be reconciled on your concerns. Please let me know when you and Gordon are available within the next week or two. Pastor Travis and I would like to meet with you in person to make sure we are doing everything we can to avoid further miscommunication on this topic, and any other areas of concern.”
Now I am disturbed. What is all this business about not making progress? Charles hasn’t even made an attempt to talk to me personally. I agreed to talk to him personally, not in a group with the pastor present to side with him and make sure his position is validated. And why are they pulling my husband into this? Is this one of those complementarian expectations that a woman has to have her man to keep her under submission? Gordon does not want to talk to anyone. He is already beaten down and demoralized by this betrayal of beliefs. This whole situation has gone from bad to worse.
Reluctantly, we agree to meet with Charles, Pastor Travis, and another elder I have asked to join us. Gordon and I are defensive, guarded, and feel trapped in what seems like another trip to the principal’s office for rebuke and remediation. The conversation involves many aspects of our differing beliefs but several things that are said solidifies for us that Pastor Travis is distinctly Calvinistic, an issue that we were not totally sure of before.
“The Bible says that God loved Jacob and hated Esau in Romans 9:13,” Pastor Travis declares as evidence that God pre-determines to love some people and hate others. I am puzzled and bewildered by this logic as the Bible also says, “if any one comes to me and does not hate his father and mother… he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26 and we don’t take that to mean we should actually hate our family. But then I think, maybe God did tell Rebecca in Genesis that he would hate the one and love the other. But when I look up Genesis 25:23 later, it says, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” It says nothing about hating one and loving the other. Finally, I realize that the verse quoted in Romans actually comes from Malachi 1:2-3 where the prophet is talking about the nation that resulted from Jacob and the nation that came out of Esau. One followed God and one did not. The statement has nothing to do with the persons of Jacob and Esau. Confusion whirls around in my brain that our seminary trained pastor cannot see this small misinterpretation that is being used as a proof text.
“Who killed Jesus?” is the next thought-provoking question thrown our way. I pause. How do I answer this without them saying, “Got you?” I don’t have an answer for him that I can spit out immediately, but I don’t think it is a simple “God did it” or “Men did it.” God in his omnipotence and sovereignty knew what the culture and political situation of the time would be when He would send Jesus to earth. He knew there would be men happy to betray Jesus and to desire his crucifixion. Yes, it was in the plan of God from before the world began to send His Son for our sins, but he did not make any of the men who participated in Christ’s death do it. Even Judas was not pre-condemned. He could have received forgiveness if he had sought it rather than hanging himself.
“At the least, you must believe that regeneration comes before faith?” Pastor Travis peers at us questioningly. I can only shake my head back and forth. No, I don’t believe that. “How do you explain then the conversion of Paul? God regenerated his heart before he had faith.”
My mouth must be hanging open as I stare at Travis. “Most of us are not hit over the head by God with a blinding light so I don’t think one can generalize any conclusions based on Saul’s conversion.” After all, God had a special assignment for Saul and he needed to get his attention. Saul obviously was not making the choice God wanted him to. Otherwise he would not have needed to use extraordinary means. If the belief is true that God regenerates the heart before one can believe, why didn’t he just regenerate Saul’s heart without the hitting him over the head.
“Have you talked to Pastor Joshua?” I address Travis, “It doesn’t seem like from his preaching that he is Calvinistic.” Travis gazes at me but does not answer. My stomach sinks to my feet. So they are all of this persuasion. We are in the minority.
We are more confused and upset after this meeting. It is now blatantly obvious to us that everyone, with the exception of one man, in the leadership has been swayed by the Calvinistic system of theology. It is what they listen to, what they read, what they convince themselves of. We feel shamed for believing that it is a choice to accept Christ’s salvation. We feel like second-class Christians who are undeserving of God’s blessings and acceptance. Gordon is totally lost in shame, failure, and convinced he is not good enough to be one of the “chosen.”
Besides concern for my husband, my overall concern is how this creep towards focusing on the Calvinistic side of how we come to salvation will eventually affect the unity of the church. The Evangelical Free Church of America does not have any statement of belief on this topic. There is nothing in the ten statements of the Free Church belief that incorporates the first four tenants of Calvinism. The EFC, as a body, believes this teaching is not an essential and people should not split over it. The problem is the person teaching, then cannot be fervently fixated on this position if they are not going to cause division, considering that many in the congregation do not hold this belief. I believe my duty is to caution the leadership to be aware of what positions they hold and how it may affect the church as a whole. I begin a campaign with books and articles to try to show the pastor wherein Calvinism is wrong in how it is using proof texts to create this systematic theology and not considering the whole context of the Bible and the gospel. I write to Pastor Travis and the elders in November 2015,
I come with a humble heart, so I hope you don’t misread my intentions, but I would like to share with all of you some articles that I hope you will graciously read and thoughtfully research and consider in the light of God’s Word. I challenge you to go back to the original text, the context of the various scriptures being used to support pre-destination to heaven or hell, and the overall character of God within the context of his Word. I am not in any way smart enough to take on learned men, but I do understand that the gospel is for all mankind and God’s word was written so even children could understand the gospel message. Maybe we are making it way more complicated than God ever intended.
I have no illusion that I am ever going to change minds, but God has put this burden on my heart and I will follow His leading by sharing it with you. I hope you can be open enough to at least read the attached papers. Thanks. Amanda
As I study more about this topic and this trend in the church, I learn that I have been sitting under the preaching of Calvinism for a long time but not recognizing it primarily because of the redefining of Biblical terms. I have only vaguely been sensing that something is not right. Pastor Travis preaches constantly about the “sovereignty” of God. I believe in the sovereignty of God so what is the problem? “Sovereignty” to Travis means “divine determination” or the principle that God pre-determines everything about our life and that of everyone in the world. “Sovereignty” to me means that God is in complete control, but he has withheld his total power for now in order to allow man to have free will or the ability to make choices about life and about worshipping Him.
“Human depravity” under Calvinism is defined as the condition of being “dead in your transgressions and sins” Ephesians 2:1 with dead being defined as “rigor mortis” dead or unable to do anything. Therefore, God has to regenerate the person before they can have faith. In my view, this is an incorrect interpretation of “dead” in the Bible. In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam and Eve, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Did they become “rigor mortis” dead when they ate of the tree? No, they were separated from God and eventually did physically die but even then, dead means a separation from those on earth. In Luke 15:24, the Father in the story of the prodigal son says, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again! He was lost and is found! So they began to celebrate.” The son was capable of coming home to his father. He was not “rigor mortis” dead and his father did not go get him.
Another example of the changing of meaning that occurs to assist the Calvinistic theological system in meshing together is the redefining of the word “all.” The many verses that talk about Jesus dying for “all” are redefined to mean He died for “all the elect.” These redefinitions are subtle and often not verbalized but they change the underlying premise for believing what one believes.
I approach different people in the congregation to get a feel for how others view this Calvinism teaching. 80% of the people do not know what I am talking about. “What’s Calvinism?” is the most common response I get. Other responses include:
“I don’t try to figure out such things. I let the pastors study those issues.”
“Of course, I believe in pre-destination. My daughter is so mean, I know she is pre-destined to hell.”
“I am not going to change churches at our age no matter what happens. I know what I believe.”
Wow, no wonder I feel like we are alone in this struggle.
About this time also, I come across a book by Austin Fisher entitled, Young Restless No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism. The book is thought provoking, easy to read, and helps me think through the issues of this resurgent system of theology that has been plastered in front of my face. I am so excited about the book, I buy a dozen and begin to hand them out to close friends in the church who seem interested in this topic that is just coming to the surface.