Nearly one year ago, I wrote in my blog about my church exploding. See 2/21/17 BOOM!
Today, it is exploding again, but this time it is a mere boomlet, a firecracker. To be brusque and crude, a mere fart in a hurricane of world apostasy. Instead of focusing on serving the physical and spiritual needs of our local community, we focus on further dividing ourselves into endless spiritual distinctions, always declaring to rest on a true biblical foundation, truer than that of our neighbors, truer than that of other denominations, even truer than that of some of our members who worship with us. We have a real spiritual pride in the veracity of our truth, which exceeds any other biblical truth heretofore known to mankind. We love ourselves for it. We gloat on our spiritual superiority.
I love my church, which consists of the people and not of any shelter built to house them, but I have kept somewhat of a distance since the original BOOM. After the BOOM, there is nearly always a subsequent Boomlet, where those who banded together in unity to remove themselves from the presence of some larger doctrinal malfeasance discover that their unity is not so perfect, then begin to sub-divide and further sub-divide until laymen who have a hard time finding Habakkuk in their own bible find themselves caught up in doctrinal disputes that existed prior to St. Augustine. They find themselves disputing some of the most profound Christian thinkers of any age, smug in the security of their rightness to the wrongness of everyone else, mostly on issues that are peripheral to their own relationship with Christ. I know this happens to men. It has happened to me. It is happening to others at this very moment. Perhaps, were one to look, one may see that I never joined our new church as a voting member though I still consider it my church, which will surprise many; my name is not on any roll book to be found there, and if it is, it was not because I put it there. I made this choice because I do not know if my particular church group will survive in any manner that will make me want to stay there. It does not look promising at this time.
BOOM(let)! Ha! We should laugh at ourselves, but we take ourselves too seriously.
In my new church’s by-laws, as Wesleyan Methodists (Is there another kind?) in nature, we seemed to be taking on a fairly well established Southern Baptist dogma, with a pastor who seemed decidedly Calvinist to me, and associate pastors who were perhaps Baptist by upbringing and training, mixed in with a congregation that was by upbringing and training strongly Wesleyan and Arminian in disposition. There were issues to settle out. Sometimes in the settling out, there is friction, leading to a spark, which leads to an explosion, sort of like making gunpowder; its components benign in their nature until one mixes them together, then, one had best continue the grinding/mixing process with extreme caution, as what was once benign becomes highly volatile and unstable, needing very little to set it off in a big boom, or a boomlet, as is the case here. It is a mere firecracker’s worth of volatility. The next time this happens in our church, we won’t even have a firecracker’s worth, but just enough for a few of those poppers, the paper wrapped things that pop like a cap in a pistol when you throw them onto a hard surface.
Before I go any further, if you don’t know the difference between Armenian and Arminian, stop right here and go and do some homework. You aren’t qualified to go any further in any dispute, discussion, or discussion of disputes about Christian doctrinal dispensations of any character. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but the truth is the truth. I’ll likely win few friends with this post, but these things need saying. Who will hear?
The dispute in our church is over its doctrinal identity. We had taken a decidedly Calvinist turn, which was not entirely unappealing to me, though I am an Arminian by upbringing and inclination. Someone produced the T.U.L.I.P. chart that identified the five points of Calvinism, and it was presented apparently amid so much strife that some seemed to think they were written by Beelzebub, himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one cares to do the least bit of study, there are five point Calvinists, four point Calvinsts, and three point Calvinists. Calvinism is not a monolithic evil in Christendom. It is not evil at all.
Reformed Theology and Calvinism have long been ORTHODOX Protestant teachings. Calvin’s predecessor, Zwingli, influenced both Calvin and Luther. Calvin’s protege, John Knox carried Calvinism to the Church of England and fairly well started the protestant reformation in the Roman Catholic Stuart England and Scotland. Were it not for Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox, most of us European descended Americans would likely be Roman Catholic. Zwingli taught in the 1500’s. Calvin and Luther across the 1500’s and 1600’s. Since then, there have been many refinements and pinpoint deviations in Reformed theology, which gave birth to the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and a host of other denominations, either in refinements of or rejections of Calvinism. The only group I know of who thought the Calvinists were heretical were the Roman Catholics. Back in the days of these men, there was no separation of church and state, and to be declared heretical was likely to result in exile at best, and head removal or stake burning at worst. Many men gave their lives in defense of what they believed and the correctness of the theologies they had worked out. These days, we here in America have the luxury of boldly declaring the truth as we see it to our fellow Christians and then driving home to the penalty of HDTV, Netflix, air-conditioning, and barbecued ribs. We have little at stake in the physical realm, and if one investigates further, little at stake in the spiritual realm. Christ is far bigger than men’s factional-fractional doctrinal disputes.
As one who has strong Arminian tendencies, I have examined Calvinism at length. Calvin is impossible to dismiss. Did you hear me? Impossible. He is simultaneously a thorn in my side and a balm for it. Whether he is a thorn or a balm for you is another matter entirely. But dismissing him? Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you. I’ve tried, and Calvin will not go away. He is as irresistible as the Grace of God he proclaims.
The Five Points of Calvinism were drawn from the Canons of Dort, where they and many other doctrinal issues of Reformed theology are contained. The Five Points (known by the acronym TULIP) were condensed to form a response to the Five Articles of Remonstrance, drawn up by the students and successors of Jacobus Arminius as a refutation of Calvinism. Were it not for Arminius, we would likely have no Five Points of Calvinism, only the entire Canons of Dort to draw from them whatever we will. It depends on whose version of the Five Points of Calvinism you look at as to how favorably they are presented, much as differing TV news shows present information in a supportive or pejorative manner about things political. Be careful what you read. Things are not always what they seem to be. I have tried to present things in a fair context, but even I have biases that I may not be able to fully suppress.
Below is a chart of Arminian Articles of Remostrance as juxtaposed with Calvinism’s Five Points. Needless to say, I borrowed the information on this chart. I typed it, and edited it, but these are mostly not my words. They will, however, suffice.
Some of you will see major differences. Most of you will likely see mere semantic differences. Hopefully, most of you will find the differences to be peripheral to your own relationship with God. It is not necessary that we have a correct understanding of everything doctrinal, which is a good thing since people likely smarter than us, and far more educated about such things who devoted their very lives, and in some cases forfeited their lives to their understanding have disputed this for nearly 500 years, and even longer if one goes back to St. Augustine‘s dispute with the Pelagians and his teachngs on predestination The Pelagians claimed that man’s fallen nature was not totally reprobate but retained some goodness that allowed men to approach God. You can argue this for yourself, but arguing with St. Augustine is not easily done, as he was one of the most profound Christian thinkers, one of the most influential of the early Church fathers, and a prolific writer who left little room to misunderstand what he meant.
In effect, this doctrinal dispute started in the Apostolic age, with the Manichean (dual-nature) and Arian (limitations of the Son) heresies, continued through the early Church with Augustinian views on predestination, through Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Knox, Wesley, right on into modern Reformed, Baptist, Lutheran, and Wesleyan theologies today, and 20th century philosophers/theologians like Karl Barth. No theologian worth his salt considers any of the modern theological schools listed above as heretical even though they may not subscribe to them. They are all orthodox. Rather, it is the postmodern that is heretical, and the postmodern consists of this: for every event, there is an infinite number of interpretations, none of which has any more value than any other. This is the very definition of heresy: every man for himself; every man doing what seems good in his own eyes. The bible has a good response for this: There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.
Essentially, all of the disputes between Arminianism and Calvinism boil down to man’s inability to see things as God sees them. We cannot wrap our minds around the infinite, nor clearly separate God’s foreknowledge from predestination. To think we can accurately put on the mind of God is a dangerous business. At best, it is a laughable arrogance. At worst, it is a damnable arrogance. Either way, it is arrogant. We cannot place human limitations on God, nor place a boundary on His sovereignty.
In the end, we are left with two opposing theologies. Luther has not been much discussed here, but he and Calvin were contemporaries. While I don’t think they knew each other, they knew of each other’s work and the courage and the passion of their separate convictions. What we are left with it this:
Calvin: What God has foreordained cannot be altered.
Luther: What God has foreseen cannot be false.
There may not seem to be much more than semantic hair splitting, but to some those two statements are a universe apart. Only God, who can see the end from the beginning from a place where there is no end or beginning can be sure which one of the two is correct, or partially correct, or wrong. Until we see face to face, we will peer through the darkened glass, catching glimpses of the eternal which entice us, but when dwelt on too long leads us into anthropomorphizing God with our finite minds, and God is so much bigger than that. We cannot make a box so big that God will fit in it. It is ludicrous to try. It is beyond arrogant.
We go through the motions, satisfying ourselves that we have all the right answers. Job tried the same thing.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” God asked Job.
“Answer me if you can,” God demanded.
Job stood there quietly. He could make no answer.
Maybe there is something in Job we could learn. Maybe it is useful to know that for 500 years, intelligent, educated men have been at odds over the doctrines set forth by Calvin and Arminius, and that perhaps half-a-millenia of lively debate has not been satisfactorily resolved in an acrimonious afternoon meeting in a small church in Lauderdale, Mississippi.
If it has been, I wish someone could get word to Calvin and Arminius. Maybe Job met them at the pearly gates and warned them not to say anything too smart. Maybe in that instant that they met God face to face, and the glass was no longer darkened, they were also face to face with their own foolishness. I suspect God told them both, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
I don’t know, yet. I suppose I am not in too big a hurry to learn first hand. You??
I’ll just continue to stay here and catalog all the things I don’t know. I do know that I love the people in my church, even those given to backbiting and malcontentedness. We will ever have them among us.
Please note the numerous links I have furnished. Until you have familiarized yourself with them, perhaps theological, doctrinal disputes are best avoided. The few links I have furnished will provide a lifetime of study. If you find them uninteresting, I’ll understand. Lots of folks do. They are not required to have a fulfilling, saving relationship with Almighty God.
And for those who declare, “We have examined the scriptures and have the bible as our sole guide.” Well, where do you think every concept contained herein came from?
Cataloging the things I don’t know should keep me plenty busy. There is plenty of room at that table if anyone cares to join me. While I am not sure about a lot of things, the following scripture, I’m pretty sure about. Will anyone see this evidence in my life? If not, I must stop and make time for a worthwhile reassessment.
John 13:34.35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love for one another.
PS….I did not mean to omit the remarkable and prolific Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards: another giant of Reformed theology.