Ethics: Southern Baptist Pastor Becomes a Calvinist

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What would you do Wednesday!

All week anticipation of this Sunday’s sermon has been high since the planned topic is election. One of your fellow church members has recently embraced Calvinism so you’re hoping the pastor gives some good biblical arguments to discuss with him. Last year in a sermon your pastor made it clear that he was not a Calvinist though he was not hostile to them. He just disagreed with Calvinism though has no problem calling them brothers in Christ and working together with them in ministry.

Recently, you’ve read two posts by a non-Calvinist SBC pastor –What I like about Calvinists1 and Why I’m wary of Calvinists2. These posts stirred your mind, especially, in light of the coming sermon and discussions with your friend.

Sunday morning arrives and the sermon starts. Your pastor admits that he has had a theological change since his sermon last year that he preached contra Calvinism. Some of your pastor’s friends challenged him on Calvinism and it drove him to study it more deeply over the year.

He explained that Calvinists have always been involved in the SBC and strongly so at its founding. He mentions James P. Boyce and explains that he was founder and first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as being an SBC founder.

As he moves forward in the sermon he quotes Boyce on election.

It is not denied that the Elect are to be true believers, and that true believers are the Elect. The character of the Elect does not, therefore, enter into this question. The issue is simply, does God choose all who shall believe, and are they, as such, his elect? or, does he choose his elect, and will they, as such, believe? Is belief the result of God’s election, or is God’s election the result of man’s faith?3

After going over some Scripture passages explaining that they support a Calvinistic position he quotes Boyce again.

The texts thus exhibited under these three classes prove conclusively that not on account of their own merits, but because of the good pleasure of God, does he choose men. They have been presented at some length, because this is after all the point upon which all that is important in this controversy turns. For, although other matters are equally essential to the doctrine, the whole opposition arises from an unwillingness on the part of man to recognize the sovereignty of God, and to ascribe salvation entirely to grace. This proof, however, has been by no means exhausted, the attempt having been to select some only of the numerous passages, and mainly such as from their conciseness allow of presentation in full. Let the Scriptures be read with reference to this doctrine and every passage marked which indicates God’s dealing with men as an absolute sovereign, and also every declaration which ascribes Election or the fruits of it to his choice and not to the will or acts of men, and every illustration afforded that this is God’s usual method, and it will appear that scarcely any book of Scripture will fail to furnish testimony to the fact that in the acts of grace, no less than those of providence, God “doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.” Dan. 4:3-5.4

The sermon finally ends leaving you with a whirlwind of thoughts.

What would you do?

  • Do what you always do – attend church, serve, love, etc.
  • Meet with your pastor to talk things over with no intention of leaving.
  • Meet with your pastor to talk things over with the intention of leaving.
  • Start a congregational campaign to get your pastor removed.
  • Or….

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh Collins July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

If you’re in some parts of Tennessee, you had your pastor sign a paper saying he was not a Calvinist before you hired him, with a clause in it that he would immediately resign should he ever switch to being a Calvinist. so problem solved.

(I personally would just go about my business as usual, since a pastor’s view on Calvinism is not a dealbreaker for me either way in evaluating a church.)

2 Jeremy July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Am I allowed to comment on this? Honestly, it would be hard to argue with the force of the argument. I really like how Boyce frames the issue and I think that he was a good choice to cite in support of the Pastor’s position. I do think that God’s sovereign election of men becomes even more clear when studied in light of the overall Biblical story and I think it is important to study that way instead of just taking the famous proof texts that support the high view of God’s sovereignty in election. So, in summation, I would be delighted! 🙂

3 MarieP July 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I’d kill the fatted calf and break open a bottle of…sparkling white grape juice!

Seriously, since I am Reformed myself, you know what I would say/do. But let me put myself in their shoes. Let’s say my pastor became a paedobaptist or continuationist (ala Piper and SGM). I ought to consider what he is saying, and search the Scriptures to see if what he says might indeed be true (aka be Berean-like). I may or may not come to the same conclusion, and depending upon what the issue is would determine whether I would have to leave. But I would put lots of prayer into it as well as discussion with my pastor and the elders (that’s why a plurality is so vital!) Through it all, I would realize that I am not the first to experience this, and others in my church would be too, and my pastor too is a man wrestling with God’s truth.

My church is confessional, so that would add another dimension.

4 Lee July 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

You should support your pastor for preaching the text before him. There are times when you rightly preach the text that you sound more “Calvinistic” than other times. We often work our framework into the text instead of allowing the text to drive our framework and understanding. There are times in which I sound like a Calvinist and there are times in which I do not sound like a Calvinist, because I attempt to allow the text to drive the interpretation not my framework. So yes, talk with your pastor, stay at the church and keep loving Jesus first.

5 Mark July 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Josh, that paper signing thing is crazy. It’s almost as if they are implying that being a Calvinist at best disqualifies one from ministry or at worse disqualifies one from being a Christian.

6 Mark July 27, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Jeremy, of course you may comment. And, of course, I knew you’d be delighted as a former Presby. 🙂

7 Mark July 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Marie, thanks for your answer. Interesting that you brought up paedobaptism and continuationism. I wonder if some see those items on the same level as Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

8 Mark July 27, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Lee, thanks for the comment. I fear some may not approach the situation with such ease that it seems you’ve done. I appreciate that.

9 Lee July 28, 2011 at 8:57 am

Mark, Certainly I wrestle with doctrines, like free will and God’s sovereignty. Election is it conditional or not. However I do find peace in knowing that God is not wrestling with these doctrines! Also the more I listen to people the more I fear we allow our systems to drive our interpretation and we are not allowing the text to drive our interpretation. There is great joy in just preaching the text before you and not having to force a system into the text.

10 Peter L July 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I would talk to the pastor and agree with him on the sovereignty of God in salvation, but I would steer him away from the name “Calvinist” because of all that entails. Calvin was a state=church and infant baptism proponent, and would not have allowed an independent, “believers’ baptism” church to continue meeting. We who believe in such doctrines are anathema to the beliefs of Calvin.

11 pam knight August 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Doesn’t the 4th chapter of Romans teach that God does not consider believing or trusting in God to be a meritorious work that earns righteousness ? Because Abraham believed and it was counted unto him for righteousness. V4 clarifies the difference and then V5 clearly states “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”.

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