November 25, 2020

If You Have A Calvinist For A Pastor…

preachguy.jpgA friend is pastor of a large SBC church I’m familiar with, and a faction in the church is trying to end his ministry because, according to this group, Calvinists are the sum of all evil. Several friends have written and called for my views, so this post is a generic reply to them all.

My criticisms of the “truly Reformed” watchbloggers do not lessen my respect for the Founder’s Movement men I have known and their approach to ministry.

Larry,

Thanks so much for calling and updating me on the situation at church. I have to admit that all of this sounds very strange to me, but then these are strange times we are living in. Southern Baptists know less and less about who they are or what their churches are all about. Southern Baptists have become the absolute masters of generic evangelicalism, which really means they know less and less about who they are, what they believe or why they are Baptists at all. Pastor Dale is paying the price for that ignorance, though in the end, no matter what happens, the disease that afflicts the larger denomination and its individual churches far outweighs whatever momentary pastoral brouhaha has our attention.

A wise person should look deeper. Ought we not to be more concerned that Calvinism, Arminianism, liberalism, conservatism, even “Baptist” have all become labels that generate feeling, but not thought? We’re throwing rocks and calling names, and yet the vast majority of Baptists have no idea what they are talking about. Hence, it’s relatively easy to hand out packets of information garnered from the internet (!!) and announce you’ve made a huge discovery. If this keeps up, someone may discover that Southern Baptists were born to defend the right of slaveholders to be missionaries!

Let me address your most basic question. Since you are not familiar with Calvinism, I’ll answer this way: If you have a Calvinist for a pastor, what do you have?

First, you have a man whose theological label doesn’t matter a bit in the things that matter most. Let’s be honest: the Biblical books of I, II Timothy and Titus tell us what kind of men should be pastors, and the issues of import are not theological labels, but those of personal integrity, maturity, reputation in the community, marital and family faithfulness and devotion to the Gospel call to preach the Word. No one can stick the label Calvinist on a man who stands before those verses and make him better or worse. He stands or falls by what God says makes a minister and a preacher.

Second, if you have a Calvinist as a pastor you have a man who loves and studies the Bible. You have a man who believes in and preaches Jesus as the savior of sinners and the duty of everyone to believe the Gospel and be saved. You have a man who believes in the local church and its mission. You have a person who puts evangelism and missions as priorities in the church’s mission. That Calvinist pastor will care about the reputation of God and God’s church in the community. He will believe in prayer. He will desire fellowship with other Baptists. He will see God’s providence in the history of the church and its lay leadership.

If he is one of the SBC Calvinist pastors that I know, he will be among the best pastors in the community, and your church will be fortunate to have him for as long as you can keep him. Remember that men like D. James Kennedy, John Macarthur, Charles Spurgeon and John Piper are Calvinists, but they stand as models for all Christians in how to be faithful, evangelistic pastors.

Pastor Dale is such a man. Of that I am confident. Now, I will tell you that if there are factions who want the pastor to be the puppet for their particular agendas, a Calvinistic pastor is usually going to disappoint. He will prefer the things of God to the calling of church politics, and if Calvinistic pastors have a “failure,” it is that they are not politicians, but preachers. The factions who want the pastor to carry their particular agenda will have to look elsewhere, for this will be a man who believes there is no ultimate benefit in pleasing factions of ranting partisans when the question that matters is “What does God say?”.

Now those seeking to undercut pastor Dale’s ministry will raise all kinds of issues that amount to smearing a particular man with the worst insults that can be thrown at a movement. I trust that the wisdom of the church leaders will exceed this sad tactic. If pastor Dale is going to preach predestination, deny the lost the gospel, discourage missions, evangelism and prayer, you will have seen that by now. If he is going to disband the deacons, begin evolving into a Presbyterian or announce that only the elect can vote in business meetings, I’m sure it would have been clear by now.

Let me give you an example: There are obnoxious UK basketball fans. I could make a list of fifteen bad things true about some UK fans. Some are rude. Some start fights. Some paint themselves blue. Some use profane language. Some are delusional, even fanatical. The average UK fan, however, is your nice, normal neighbor. Your grandmother. Your Sunday School teacher. They will have none of these characteristics.

Mature people understand this. We can say terrible things about white people. Kentuckians. Christians. Baptists. Men. Americans. And so on. But are these terrible things- that may be true of someone somewhere- true of the person next to you on Sunday morning? It is unlikely.

Somewhere there are nasty Calvinists that you wouldn’t want for your pastor. Placarding pastor Dale with the collected innuendo, prejudice and horror stories available via Google and the internet says much about the person engaged in such a campaign, and most likely says nothing about the real person who is a Calvinist.

Remember this Larry: I am not a Calvinist, but I know them well and I share much of what they believe. If I were in your community, pastor Dale would be my pastor and I would support him whole-heartedly. We might disagree on some fine points of theology, but Calvinists are aware of the value of theological discussion. They ought to encourage everyone in the congregation to know what they believe and where it is taught in scripture.

Also remember this, a Calvinist is a man who knows his direction. He does not get up in the morning and see what the latest trend for churches dictates that he do. If pastor Dale departs, then your church will, in all likelihood, become part of the current confusion in the SBC. You will have a pastor wearing Hawaiian shirts, preaching sermons peppered with movie clips, accompanied by a praise band and a handful of worship leader wannabes. The SBC these days is fighting over whether charismatics are Christians, whether those using wine in communion can be leaders and whether those who were baptized in other churches can be missionaries. Every SBC church is being told how to be a megachurch, how to worship like Saddleback and how to replace the pastor with a “visionary entrepreneur.”

In such times, I would take a good look at a man who loves the Bible, preaches the Gospel, honors the sovereignty and glory of God, and seeks to be a pastor that isn’t ashamed of the pulpit, the choir or traditional worship. You don’t find such men everywhere. I would be happy for my children to associate the Word of God with a man like pastor Dale. I would rest assured they would hear the old, old story and the eternally relevant message of the Gospel. If I wanted a pastor to carry the agenda of my faction, I would be disappointed, and should be.

Usually, there are two kinds of movements to oust a pastor. The first is based on the pastor’s failure to fulfill his Biblically calling. The second is based on the perception that the pastor won’t carry out the agenda of a faction. These are two very different kinds of responses, and ought to be carefully discerned.

I will pray for you and your church. I suspect that these issues are quite surface matters, and deeper fissures are to be revealed as time inevitably exposes them.

your friend and brother,

Michael

P.S. A recent debate on Calvinism in the SBC would be a good read for everyone.

Comments

  1. Michael: I have not posted before, but I’ve lurked for months to get the flavor of this site. Bravo. Even when I don’t agree with you, I love your heart.

    Perhaps you can help me then with my understanding of Calvinism. I have many Calvinistic friends, and though my personal theology dips in that pool occasionally, I am not a Calvinist (he looks overhead to see if lightning is coming his way…apparently not, so I continue). My question is this: You say that Calvinists believe in prayer – but what kind?

    Certainly not intercessory prayer. My experience with many Calvinists, and the teachings of the men you highlight in this entry, is that they do not believe in intercession. That is, they don’t believe that our prayers can change the Sovereign will of God.

    Calvinists certainly don’t believe that God will speak in prayer. Again, the same group I mention above teach that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice and that extra-biblical revelation is not from God but either a figment of our active imaginations or a misleading of the devil.

    I perhaps have misstated the Calvinist position. But what kind of prayer do Calvinists believe in and practice.

    I like the blog and read daily, bro.

  2. Calvinists do believe in intercessory prayer. If you have met a Calvinist who doesn’t, he needs to study his Bible, as the Bible commands intercessory prayer.

    That being said, Calvinists are not Open Theists, but prayer that “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, On earth as it is in heaven.”

    Monergism.com has an index on prayer:
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/topic/prayer.html

    But I would suggest you look at the sermons of Dr. John Piper. His “Prayer Week” sermons are archived here.
    http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/prayer/prayer_index.html

    Read the chapter in Desiring God on Prayer. It is superb:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/dg/id1.htm

    On God speaking in prayer: Calvinists believe that Gos is soverignly free to speak as he chooses, and certainly don’t deny that God does sometimes speak “in prayer” as you say. The normal way that God “speaks,” however is through the illumination of scripture to the mind and heart.

  3. As someone who knows a lot of Pentecostal Calvinists, I can definitely confirm that they believe in intercessory prayer, and that God can and does speak through it — and through other people, and sometimes through non-Christians. The Calvinist idea of sovereignty is, after all, that God can do whatever He wants.

    If anything, I find it’s the dispensationalists that limit God; and Calvinists reject that theology as extra-biblical. Declaring that God can only act in certain ways during certain dispensations usually has the result of declaring that God won’t do something because He can’t — and “can’t” is not a word that is proper to God.

    Michael — love the entry. When God anoints someone for leadership, He isn’t as interested in their theology as He’s interested in their obedience; and when we obey Him, the Holy Spirit tends to sort out our theology in just the way He wants. When God anointed Moses, David, and John the Baptist, these guys didn’t know squat about theology (John was in utero, after all) but God meant for them to lead, and that was that. Some of God’s leaders never did get their theology right; Samson and Jephtheh especially come to mind.

    Paul’s advice on choosing our leaders likewise has nothing to do with whether the leaders are popular with the congregation. If anything, you need a pastor who will (in love and with encouragement, of course) confront the congregation and tell them what God wants of them, rather than put on that Hawaiian shirt and tickle itching ears. Nine times out of eleven (this is not a proper stat; this is just in eleven cases I’ve witnessed), the real reason why people oppose their pastor is because they’re sinning and he’s standing up against that. Theology only comes into it when people are trying to dig up excuses to get rid of him, but they can’t find any sin to accuse him with. They’re perfectly willing to ignore and forgive blatant heresies when they like the guy, but God help him if he were to actually represent God. (Of course the Bible has better examples.)

  4. I belong to a small conservative Baptist church in rural California ( yes, there is such a place ), and at this point in my walk, would welcome a more Calvinistic approach to leadership.

    Muldoon

  5. Michael,

    I wonder if you can expand a bit on this :

    First, you have a man whose theological label doesn’t matter a bit in the things that matter most. Let’s be honest: the Biblical books of I, II Timothy and Titus tell us what kind of men should be pastors, and the issues of import are not theological labels, but those of personal integrity, maturity, reputation in the community, marital and family faithfulness and devotion to the Gospel call to preach the Word.

    I firmly believe that those pastoral qualifications are of the utmost importance and should be present no matter what one’s theological leanings are. I also believe(as I’m sure you do too) that while a theological label is just that, one’s theology does make a difference in how they perform their role as a pastor and how they see the role of the local church in the community.

    What I’m getting to is this – In the whole Calvinist/Arminian spectrum, how much agreement do you think is necessary for a local assmebly to be able to work/co-exist together? In how how much agreement do you think the leadership needs to be. And if they agree that this the C/A question need not be a dividing point, what steps should be taken so that it can remain that way?

    Sorry, this is a lot to throw your way. This is more than just a philosophical question. In the church I attend a man was not considered for eldership because of his “Reform” beliefs. Answer if you want and have time. If not, it was good to just say my questions out loud. 🙂