Letter To Our Elders Regarding Calvinism Growing In Our Church
Below is the letter my husband and I wrote to our elders regarding the Calvinism that's growing in our church. I am including it here (omitting any identifying details) in case I need to share it with anyone in our church. And I am posting it to help anyone else who might be disturbed about Calvinism growing in their church. (Update: We have recently left our Evangelical Free church, May 2019. And the more I studied this issue, the more I think it is a HUGE issue. One worth leaving your church over!)
[And if the elders and pastor get upset about this and start wondering "How could she do this!?! And what should we do about her and the stuff she's writing?", I would suggest this:
The first thing you should really be asking yourself is "What if she's right? What if Calvinism is wrong? What is the Truth?" And then take off the Calvinist glasses and spend a lot of time with the Bible, before the Lord, asking God to show You His Truth, telling Him that You want to know the truth, even if it means He has to show you that you've been wrong this whole time. Read my posts on it. And see what God says and what you learn. I'm not asking you to buy into my interpretation of the Word; I am asking you to read the Bible plainly, for yourself, as it is written, without Calvinistic reinterpretations tainting your understanding of it. Let God's Word speak for itself, and see what you learn.
(If you are so sure about your Calvinism, then how about taking my challenge in this post: "Defend Your Calvinism" Challenge.)
And fyi, I have a couple questions for the elders at the end of this post, after the letter.]
To the Elders of ***** Church (and anyone else who may want to know this),
There’s something I want to bring to your attention. It’s nothing huge or really bad, but it’s more like a “difference of opinion” that I think you should know about, in case it matters to you too.
Before Christmas, Pastor ***** wrote a post on the church’s blog about predestination. About how predestination is what the Bible clearly teaches, and how we don't have to like it but we do have to accept it, and how even though the Bible teaches that God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, we are still fully accountable for our choices to God. (And he preaches on this regularly, of course.)
Maybe you agree with Pastor *****. Maybe you don’t. I, personally, don’t. After much study, I think there is more than enough in the Bible that contradicts predestination/Calvinism. And I think Calvinism does great harm to God's Truth, His character, people's faith, our view of His love and justness, the need to evangelize and pray (why bother if it's all been planned and there's nothing we can do about it anyway?), etc.
And so I added a comment to his post, using biblically-based points to disagree with his view of predestination. And the comment appeared on the blog. But just a few hours later, the comment got deleted.
Maybe this doesn’t bother you, but it bothers me. And I think it should be concerning to the church. I am not bothered that no one gets to read my comment; I am bothered that someone would prevent others from reading it, from being exposed to another view on this highly debatable issue. “Predestination vs. Free-Will” - as we all know – has been debated for centuries, and even the best theologians haven’t come to an agreement on it. And yet our pastor consistently preaches dogmatically on it. And now someone is blocking opposing views on it. Of course, the church is not required to post comments, but is that the kind of church we want to be? One that blocks biblically-based views on highly debatable issues?
But since I expected my comment to not show up (it’s happened before), I saved a copy of it before I sent it. And here it is:
The thing is ... I don't think the Bible does clearly teach predestination. In fact, the more I studied it for myself, the more I think it's not predestination. I think it's clear in Scripture that God has offered salvation to all, but it's up to us to choose to accept it or reject it. He does not make that decision for us. I think this is the only way to view it when you look at His character, at biblical examples of how He acts, at the many calls He gives us to believe in Him, etc.
Examples: 1) In the concordance, "hardens" is retribution - a punishment for having first hardened your own heart even though God has been patient and long-suffering with you. 2) And Romans 9 talks about those "prepared for destruction," which means NOT that God prepared them specifically for destruction but (according to the concordance) that they prepared themselves for destruction by their character, by how they chose to be. 3) You often say God opened Lydia's eyes, as in "making her believe," but the verse or two before says she was already a "worshipper of God." It's more likely that God opened her eyes to the need to be baptized, not to turn her into a believer. Because she already believed in God. 4) And the idea of "total depravity" is based on "there is no one righteous, not even one." But that doesn't mean we are so depraved that we can't possibly even think about or seek God unless He makes us do it. It simply means none of us deserves heaven by our own merits. None of us can work our way there. 5) And the Bible is full of commands to "seek Him." How can we do that if we can't seek? The more I study, the less predestination it is. I say read Tony Evans, not RC Sproul.
This was my comment. It was very biblically-based. But it was deleted. For some reason or other. So I sent another one:
Interesting ... my comment was posted here earlier, but now it's been deleted. Is it because I disagreed with you about predestination? If so, it would be sad - and scary - to know I was part of a church that would silence opposing views on a very debatable topic. This issue has been debated through the centuries - by even the greatest theologians - and they haven't been able to come to an agreement on it. I don't think it's right for you to be so dogmatic about this, to the point of silencing opposing views (if that's what you did). You shouldn't be afraid of different views on this. If I am clearly wrong, it would only make me look like a fool while highlighting how right you are.
And then I sent one more, disagreeing with him that Romans clearly teaches predestination:
Romans 11:32: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." We are all in the same boat. We are all fallen, but He has mercy on us all, offering all of us salvation. But it's up to us to accept or reject it.
In the concordance … "Hardens" (from Romans 9:18) is punishment for first hardening our own hearts.
"Called" (Romans 1:1, 1:6, and 8:28) involves the idea of being invited to accept God's offer of salvation, not that it's an irresistible force that compels us to become a believer.
"Receive" (Romans 1:5, 5:11, 5:17, and 8:15) is not passive; it's deliberately reaching out and grabbing ahold of what is offered to you.
"Believe" (Romans 3:22, 10:4) is not passive, either, as in "God makes us believe." It's allowing ourselves to be persuaded by something, and then committing to it. It's the opposite of being resistant to it, of hardening our hearts against it. It shows we have the responsibility to accept or reject the truth.
"Unbelief" (Romans 11:20, 23) is not about God causing us to be resistant to the truth; it's about dis-believing something, being unwilling to believe it. (And according to Romans 11:23, if we stop persisting in our unbelief, we will be grafted in. WE persist in unbelief, but we can be grafted in if we are willing to accept the truth.)
"Ignorance" (Romans 10:3, Eph. 4:18-19) doesn't mean God blinded them, that He never gave them a chance; it's about us deliberately ignoring something, choosing to resist it.
"Prepared for destruction" (Romans 9:22-23) is not about God preparing us for destruction, but us preparing ourselves for destruction by our character, by how we choose to be.
The "hardening" of hearts (Eph. 4:18-19, which is really "blindness" in the concordance) doesn't mean God hardened their hearts but that they chose to be callous toward the truth. It comes from the word which is used of the Israelites who deliberately refused God's Will and His ways. It's willful, self-chosen blindness. (This is the same for the word “hardened” in Romans 11:7. In the concordance, it’s “blinded” and it means that their minds were blinded because of their deliberate refusal of God’s Will and ways.)
Over and over again, the Bible - including Romans - teaches that God offers salvation to all, but it's up to us to accept or reject it. That God doesn't cause anyone to go to hell, but it's our own stubborn resistance that leads us there.
The Bible calls us over and over again to seek God (Amos 5:4, Is. 55:6, Deut. 4:29, Psalm 9:10, Heb. 11:6, Acts 17:27). We are responsible to see Him in His creation, and to seek Him. And there's no excuse for not doing it (Romans 1:20).
John 12:37-40 tells us that the people would not believe in Him, and because they would not believe, God hardened their hearts. Not the other way around.
2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us who blinds the minds of unbelievers: Satan. And 2 Cor. 3:16 tells us who takes the veil away: Jesus Christ, when we turn to Him. If we perish, it's not because God predestined us for hell. It's because we refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thess 2:10 and 1:8)
Based on watching our pastor speak from the pulpit, I expect him to dismiss all this out-of-hand. It is my fear that he will paint me as “biblically uneducated” and “unhumble” and maybe even divisive. And I am quite sure he can come up with some convoluted arguments to disprove it all. But I am not trying to change his mind on it. I can tell he is far too invested in Calvinism to be swayed by a few points made by me.
But I wanted to share this with you to show that there’s more than enough in Scripture to – at the very least - shed significant doubt on predestination/Calvinism. And yet, Pastor ***** regularly preaches it as (paraphrase) “The only way to read the Bible. Disagreeing with this is disagreeing with God’s Word. Humble Christians have no trouble accepting predestination. You only have three options: ignore it, get angry about it, or accept it.”
But there is another option: Disagree with this teaching because you don’t think it’s what the Bible communicates, and present biblical support to back you up.
And this is what I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of research on this topic so that I could figure out what I believe the Bible really says. And I wrote it all online in case anyone wants to read it. I am not trying to change everyone’s view and I don’t expect everyone to see it my way, but I at least want the church to have the right to discuss different views on this completely debatable issue.
This is why it bothered me so much that my comment got deleted, as if we are not allowed to share or have other biblically-based beliefs about this debatable topic. Pastor ***** never even acknowledges that it is a debated/debatable issue. He always comes across as “My view is the only way to see it. It’s what the Bible says, and you don’t have to like it but you do have to accept it.” While it might not be his intention, it comes across very much as manipulating people into agreeing with him or at least shaming them into not vocally disagreeing with him. Over the years, he’s painted those who disagree with his predestination/Calvinist views as “overly-proud, unhumble Christians who are denying the Word and refusing to submit to God’s control” (paraphrased). Who’s going to stand up against his views when this is how he makes you feel for disagreeing?
I am not trying to be divisive here. And I don’t like having to write this letter. In fact, I have kept quiet about it for years, not wanting to cause trouble or make waves. But I have been wanting to say something about his dogmatic stance and manipulative techniques ever since his 9-month-long series on Romans. We have been wanting to leave the church for years over this, even visiting another church. But it’s hard for us to leave because our children grew up here, and because our church really is one of the best around in so many other ways. The people, the programs, the friends we’ve made. So we’ve beared with it quietly for a long time, growing more and more quiet and withdrawn because of it. It’s not easy to feel like you’re the only ones who disagree with a strong, forceful, educated pastor on this. (And sadly, as our kids age out of children’s church, we are encouraging them to stay home and watch a good sermon online instead of sitting under Calvinistic preaching. Unless and until we can find another church to attend as a family.)
We’ve kept this to ourselves for years, out of respect for the pastor and the church members, not wanting to taint anyone’s view of our pastor if they really like him. But now that I see other views are not tolerated, it’s time to speak up. It’s one thing to have disagreements; it’s another thing to block opposing views on debatable topics. (Maybe by the time this reaches you, my comments will be posted. But as of now, a week later, the deleted comment still hasn’t shown up. And why was it deleted in the first place?)
I’m sure Pastor ***** truly feels he’s doing right by being so firm about this issue. And I am sure his heart is in the right place, that he’s a good man who cares about people and is trying to honor God. But I think being so dogmatic on this issue and preaching it as “the only way to read the Bible” – when we all know that’s not true – is harmful. And it’s even more harmful to start blocking other views on it. Is that how church is supposed to be? Do we want to become an over-bearingly Calvinistic church? (Maybe you do, I don’t know. But if not, take this seriously.)
And if I may point out, the EFCA blog (we are an Evangelical Free Church) has a statement about Calvinism vs. Arminianism at https://www.efca.org/blog/understanding-scripture/arminianism-and-calvinism. It states that EFCA’s official stance is to basically take a middle-of-the-road approach, not leaning too heavily either way. It also says that while individual Evangelical Free churches may lean more to one side or the other, they should be welcoming to the person who leans in the other direction. Pastor ***** does not lean; he falls heavily on the side of Calvinism. And blocking opposing views is not very welcoming to those who lean in the other direction. From that website:
“In the EFCA, this theological doctrine falls into the category of ‘significance of silence,’ or that area in which we affirm ‘unity in the essentials, dialogue in the differences,’ and without division.”
As I pointed out earlier, he repeatedly says there’s only three possible responses we can have to the “truth” of predestination: to ignore it, to get angry about it, or to accept it. There’s no room for disagreement. How does this allow for a difference of opinion or for dialogue? Can this strong of a stance be considered “not divisive”?
(But we do want to give Pastor ***** credit for something. Since the beginning, we have highly respected him for taking strong stances on biblically-clear issues, such as homosexuality, God’s definition of marriage, etc. So many other churches are compromising biblical truth to please society. But Pastor ***** has been bold and strong on the Bible’s truth in these areas. And we respect him for that and thank him for that. That’s a hard thing to do in today’s world!)
If you read the research I wrote on it, please do so with an open mind. (And yes, I do show a lot more emotion in my blog than I do in this letter. So be prepared. That was written for myself and for other Christians in general.) Before you read, pray and ask God to show you if there’s any truth in what I wrote. And even if you don’t end up agreeing with me, ask yourself if there’s at least enough in it to shed doubt on predestination, to make it unwise for anyone to preach one view of it so dogmatically and to silence other views on it.
And I also want to ask that predestination NOT be taught in the children’s/teen’s classes. My children have told me how the pastor's son (if not others too) has taught on predestination in the junior high/high school Sunday School. This topic is simply too debatable to preach it dogmatically to children. It should be the right and responsibility of the parents to teach their kids about this confusing issue. But if you feel it has to be taught, make it an elective and send a note home to get the parents’ permission to have their child attend the class. We need to be more careful with a topic that’s as debatable as this, one that deeply affects our theology, faith, and view of God.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and to consider what I wrote. I don’t know what to expect to happen from sending this letter. But I at least wanted to make sure that you are aware of this. I think you deserve to know about it, in case you find it disturbing too and don’t want to turn into “that kind” of a church. And once again, I do not want predestination taught in the kids’ classes, especially when it’s taught as “the only way to read the Bible.” I don’t want the kids being manipulated into Calvinism, when I see so much in Scripture that contradicts it.
Sincerely, Two Very Concerned Members
Here are some things to consider that counter predestination and the idea that God causes everything, as our pastor preaches:
- 1 Peter 1:1-2 is often used to support predestination. The NIV says: “To God’s elect … who have been chosen …” This makes it sound like the elect were chosen for salvation. But the RSV says: “To the exiles of the dispersion … chosen and destined … for obedience to Jesus Christ.” First, this makes it sound like it’s written to the exiles at that time, not “the elect.” Second, it makes it sound not like they were chosen or predestined for salvation, but that they - that believers - are chosen and destined for obedience to Christ. Big difference! (Most of the “predestination” verses are this way. It’s that believers are predestined for obedience, not that the elect are predestined for salvation.)
- Similarly, Ephesians 1:11-12 (RSV) says “In him, according to the purposes of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.” Once again, it’s not the elect being predestined for salvation; it’s that those who choose to believe are destined to live for His glory.
- Romans 11:7 talks about people being chosen or hardened. But Romans 11:4-5 tells us how God chooses. It wasn’t a random choosing. He chose those who did not choose Baal. The people chose first, to worship Baal or not. And God chose those who did not worship Baal. And as I pointed out earlier, “hardened” in this verse is “blinded,” which means the people’s minds were blinded/hardened because they refused God’s Will and ways.
- Calvinists often say that even if we can’t understand how it all works, we have to obey God’s call to evangelize because it’s part of how the elect become saved. But if we are required to obey God’s command to evangelize, it means we can disobey. And if we can choose between obeying and disobeying, we are right back to free-will.
- Calvinists say God wanted/planned for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. But God commanded them not to eat the fruit. Does this mean He commands us to do the opposite of what He really wants us to do? How can we trust any command He gives then, if His Will is actually that we break His command? How do you trust a God like that?
- Just because God uses an evil nation for His purposes, doesn’t mean He causes that nation be evil. Just because God can work man’s sin into His plans and purposes, doesn’t mean He causes man to sin. God is wise enough and sovereign enough to work everything into His plans, even our sins, disobedience, and rebellion. I do not believe God caused Adam and Eve to fall, or that He planned for them to fall. But He knew they would fall, and so He preplanned a way to pay for our sins (Jesus’s death) to allow us to again get into fellowship with Him.
- What about the Bible’s teaching that there’s a spiritual war going on around us? How could that be if God causes everything, and everything works out exactly the way He planned? Is this a real spiritual war … or a farce, a dramatic show orchestrated by an “all-controlling” God?
- Calvinists accuse free-will-believers of having trouble accepting God’s sovereignty. (This is how they shame people into agreeing with them. Who wants to be accused of fighting against God?) But I don’t have trouble accepting God’s sovereignty; I have trouble accepting a Calvinist’s view of God’s sovereignty. They say sovereignty means “God controls every detail, He causes everything.” But I believe God is sovereign in that He has ultimate power, but He doesn’t always use His power to cause everything. I believe the Bible clearly shows that He voluntarily restrains His use of all-controlling-power because He wanted us to have a choice about choosing Him or rejecting Him, about obeying Him or disobeying Him. Sometimes He causes things and sometimes He simply allows things. But whatever He allows, He does so because He knows how to work it into His plans. This is His sovereignty in action.
- Calvinists say we are “dead people” and that dead people can’t seek or want God. But this is a flat-out false analogy. We are spiritually dead, but not physically dead. Our brains still work. And God expects us to use our brains to see Him in His creation, to realize something is missing in our lives, to desire Him, and to seek Him. Amos 5:4: “Seek me and live …” This is God telling people to seek Him and, consequently, to find life. If the people are not “alive” yet (spiritually), then God is telling “dead people” to seek Him. He is expecting “dead people” to seek Him. And He can expect this because we are not physically dead, just spiritually dead, separated from God because of our sins. So the whole “we are like dead bodies who can’t do anything for ourselves unless God makes us” is simply wrong. A very bad analogy.
- Romans 3:11- about how there’s no one who seeks God - doesn’t mean we can’t seek God, that it’s impossible to desire Him or seek Him on our own. That’s reading into the verse something that’s not there. It just means it’s not general human nature to seek Him. We tend to be self-centered instead … which is why God tries to get out attention, reveals Himself to us in nature and the Word, and gives us so many calls to seek. Acts 17:27: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” If we were predestined to believe, there would be no “perhaps” about it. (Calvinists would twist this to say that it’s talking only about the elect seeking and finding, about God being not far from the elect. But does this sound like what the verse is really trying to say? Or do you have to do some twisting and editing to make it say that?)
- Calvinists say that God shows His love to the elect by saving them and to the nonelect by caring for them while they are on earth. And they say that He shows His justice by damning the unelect to hell. But I would argue that the Bible says that God shows His love AND His justice in this way: By sending Jesus to die on the cross for us. (Romans 3:25-26, Romans 5:8) You can’t change His love from one kind to another (one type for the elect and one for the unelect) when God Himself tells us how He shows His love: By sending Jesus to die for sinners. (Romans 5:10: “For if, when we were God’s enemies …” We were never the “predestined elect.” We all started out as His enemies.)
- Calvinists say that John 3:16 means God loved and died for the elect, not for everyone. They say that “whosoever believes shall not perish” means “elected believers shall not perish.” But “believes” in that verse is a verb, not a noun. It’s not “the elect shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s “all who are persuaded by truth and commit to it shall not perish but have eternal life.”
- Acts 27:21-31 gives us a good picture of how God operates. During a storm, Paul tells the people on the boat that God will spare everyone on board. But only if they stay with the ship. God has a Will, a plan to spare all the men. But they have to do their part and stay on the ship in order to be in His Will. It’s God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will working together. God has a plan, but we have to choose to be part of it or not, to obey or not.
- In 1 Samuel 23:12-13, David asks God if the people of Keilah will hand him over to Saul if he stays there. God says they will, so David leaves. How could God have a different outcome in mind if He always preplans everything that happens? If God preplanned that David left and wasn’t handed over, there was no possible alternative ending and, therefore, He was lying by telling David there was.
- In Samuel 13:13-14, Saul had disobeyed the Lord, and Samuel tells him that God would have established Saul’s kingdom if he would have obeyed. Once again, how could God have had any other plan in mind if He preplans everything?
- In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus says that if His miracles had been done in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, they would have repented. How can that be if God predetermines everything, even people’s rejection of Him? If things are predetermined, they would not have repented. But Jesus says they would have if the circumstances were different. Was He lying? Or did the people really have the choice about how they responded to Jesus?
- Why would God tell Nineveh that they would be overthrown in 40 days if He never intended to overthrow them anyway? Either He lied … or the people’s response really did affect the outcome?
- And if God causes/predestines everything, these verses shouldn’t be in the Bible:
Hosea 8:4: “They [Israel] set up kings without my [God’s] consent; they choose princes without my approval.”
Acts 14:16: “In the past, [God] let all nations go their own way.”
Isaiah 30:1: “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine.”
Jeremiah 19:4-5: “They have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods … They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offering to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”
Matthew 6:10 is about praying that God’s Will happens. Why pray for His Will to happen if it’s the only thing that ever happens? In fact, why pray at all?
And you would also have to get rid of (or twist) every verse that tells people to choose between obeying God or disobeying God, that calls people to seek God, and that says Jesus died for “all men.”
Calvinism, I believe, slowly and methodically twists every verse until it fits with its own idea that God predestines people to heaven or hell and that He causes everything that happens, even man’s sins and rejection of God. And I think it does damage to the clear, consistent, common-sense teaching of the Bible. Has God made the Bible so unclear and so hard for the average person to read that we would need a Calvinist author to come along and tell us what it’s really is trying to say, even though what they say contradicts what the Bible plainly, clearly, consistently says?
Like I said, you don’t have to agree with me. But I think even this little bit shows there’s more than enough to shed doubt on Calvinism. To make it unwise to be so dogmatic about it. Let’s encourage discussion about it and research on it. (And research for yourself what kind of a man John Calvin was. Should we be building our theology around what this man believed, when he acted the way he did?)
I don’t know about you, but we (my husband and I) do not want to be part of a hyper-Calvinistic church. But our church has been headed in that direction for a long time under our pastor's preaching. (And practically every book he references in sermons or displays in the library is from a Calvinist author.)
And yet we have been silent for years, not talking to others about our concerns and views (except for our closest friends), out of respect for the pastor and because we didn’t want to become divisive or negatively affect other people’s views of him or our church. In fact, we had planned to quietly slip out, if we had been able to find another church. But now that someone is blocking opposing views, it’s time to say something - to warn people about the direction the church is headed in, before they are left scratching their heads, wondering how we got to be a Calvinistic church where no one disagrees or sees it differently. And that’s why we are writing to you, the elders - to bring this matter to your attention and give you a chance to consider if anything needs to be done about it. Before it’s too late.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11
Not part of the letter:
I have a few questions for our elders.
1. Are all the elders and pastors Calvinists? Are they "required" to be Calvinists? (If so, this should be a huge red flag. It seems to me that almost all - if not definitely all - of our elders are Calvinists, and that they knew how dogmatically-Calvinist this pastor was when they "hired" him. But they didn't clearly let us in the congregation know this, at least not that I'm aware of. Never once did I hear the word "Calvinism" or "Calvinist" as this pastor went through the hiring process. If I did, then I would have looked it up to see what it's about. It's no wonder Calvinist pastors hide the words "Calvinist" and "Calvinism," because if we don't even know that their particular brand of theology has its own name then we can't look it up to research it for ourselves. And then it has a chance to slip in deeper and deeper before we catch on.)
2. Does the pastor respectfully tolerate those who disagree? Are elders allowed differing opinions on this?
3. Are all elders and leaders required to sit through "Calvinist indoctrination," such as by studying books from Sproul, MacArthur, Pink, White, Piper, Packer, etc.? How about Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology? (From what I understand, all elders are required to go through this book with the pastor, as well as others who are invited to study it in little groups with him. Calvinist-brain-washing, one by one.)
4. Are all reasonable doubts about Calvinism and questions about its illogical inconsistencies answered with "Well, we don't have to understand it; we just have to accept it because it's 'what the Bible says'" or "Humble Christians accept this teaching in faith" or "Who are we to question God"? (These are marks of cults and false religions: silencing any opposition, shaming people into submission, blocking any opposing views, surrounding themselves with only those who agree, convincing people that there are "deeper, hidden meanings" to Scripture that the people can't really understand so they just have to trust the leaders, etc.)
5. And was this pastor upfront about his Calvinism when you interviewed him for the head pastor role? Or did he hide it? (I read something once about how if a not-specifically-Calvinist church is looking for a new pastor, and if the pastoral candidate is a strong Calvinist but doesn't reveal it upfront during the interview process, it will eventually tear apart the church. I can understand why that happens! Here are some other "red flags" to watch for from other people's experiences, some things to consider: "Church Takeover Success Using Strategies From A Calvinista Playbook" ... "Is Calvinism or Reformed Doctrine Taking Over Your Church?" ... "My Journey Into Calvinism.")
6. Does any of this cause you concern or bother you at all?
Do you know what I really think is going to happen by sending this letter?
Nothing! I think at the very least, they might restrict the teaching of predestination in the kids' classes, maybe making it an elective like I suggested. But, in general, I think nothing will change.
In fact, I think most of our elders and pastors are Calvinists, and the pastor doesn't seem like he'd take too kindly to being contradicted. I think the pastor (if the elders even share the letter with him) will double-down on his predestination view, that he'll try to teach it more clearly and thoroughly, thinking that maybe we disagree because we aren't "biblically-educated" enough. And so if he can just educate us more about "what the Bible really says" then maybe he can sway us.
But I am not really writing this to sway him in any way. My real reason for writing it is my hope that I can get the people talking about it, that we can talk about our different views on it, something the pastor seems to not allow. And that's why I also addressed it to "anyone else who may want to know this." If the pastor won't talk about the other side to this issue, I am hoping I can get the people themselves to talk about it. A grassroots kind of thing. That's my hope and prayer.
And if nothing does end up changing, it won't affect me either way. I'm so done listening to this pastor. I'm so tired of being discouraged by his dogmatic stance and manipulative tactics. For years, I kept giving him the benefit of the doubt, choosing to start listening to the sermons again, sure that he must be done hammering on it so dogmatically. And then ... we'd get another round of "predestination beating." And I'd get discouraged and frustrated all over again. After years of this, I am done. I'm too tired to hope that it'll change. And I am more than content to listen to my Christian music on my headphones in the hall while reading a godly book, then going home and watching a good Tony Evans sermon online. Thankfully, I know my faith is strong enough to withstand his teachings. I do not need his teachings to help me form my theological views. (And actually, he did help me form my theological views because I researched every Calvinistic point he made and ended up realizing that I don't think it's what the Bible teaches.)
[Update September 2020: In the kids' youth group, they are starting a new, school-year-long series on Ephesians (a big book for Calvinists, right after Romans) where they will be teaching on the "big words" of Ephesians, and the first two weeks are about "chosen" and "predestined." This is a series written by two strong Calvinists at our ex-church. So despite my one specific request that they do not teach predestination to the kids without notifying the parents first or seeking permission, they are teaching it to the kids anyway, without ever sending a note home to us parents.
(I found out because my kids told me. Thankfully, my kids are well-educated about what the Bible really says. And maybe they can even be truth-bearers to those in their small groups, helping them to realize the errors of Calvinism and to realize that they have biblical reasons to question it. Also, last fall, the leader of one of my kids' small groups - an elder - discussed this topic one night without telling us parents. This bothered my 13-year-old son so much - because the only friend of his who also disagrees with Calvinism wasn't there that night, and so my son had to quietly sit and listen to everyone else agree with it - that my son left his group right in the middle of it and called home to ask me to pick him up early, which I gladly did. So much for notifying the parents or giving the parents a say in what's being taught to their kids!)
And to top it all off, the leaders set up this series by telling the kids that they are going to study the words that people have changed over the years because they had trouble accepting the truth, to bring it back to their "original definitions" (read: Calvinist definitions).
Talk about manipulation right from the start! Paraphrased: "We, your trusted, spiritual, godly church-leaders, are going to tell you kids what these words really mean. Some people have trouble accepting the hard teachings of the Bible and so they want to change it to something they like better. But we are going back to the true, biblical meaning of these words, because we accept the hard teachings like good, humble Christians."
Calvinist manipulation! What child will dare to question what they're being taught when this is how they set it up!
Oh, the innocent, trusting minds these Calvinists mislead! The simple faith they complicate and ruin! The clear, simple teachings of Scripture and the wonderful characteristics of God they destroy! The sacrifice and love and grace of Jesus they minimize! The hearts they ruin!
Have I mentioned how much I hate Calvinism!?!]
[Another reason I don't care for his preaching is that it's all information for the head, theological academic stuff. It's not preaching for the heart, for the hurting heart, for life. There's no encouragement in there, no "God loves you and you matter to Him," no "let's figure out how to get through these hard trials of life together," etc. It's always just more theological and academic information for the mind.
Calvinist teaching is always loaded with how depraved we are, how insignificant we should feel before God, how virtually worthless we are apart from the glory God gets through us, about how God has predetermined everything, how we have no effect on God or on our lives, about how our choices are not really our choices because we are just acting out the parts God's already written for us, about how our eternity has already been decided for us and we can't change it, and about how God causes everything but we are still accountable. And how we don't have to understand how that works, we just have to accept it! Or else we'll be dishonoring God. (Which is kinda ironic because if we bring God dishonor it would have to be because He made us bring Him dishonor, because according to Calvinism God causes everything.)
But sometimes, we just need to be reminded of how much God loves us, how valuable we are to Him, how He can and will help us through this hard life. But when the sermons are all about God being so far above us, about how low in the dirt we should view ourselves, about God only being concerned with His own glory and how we should only be concerned with that too ... well, it's really hard to connect with a God like that, to want a relationship with a God like that, to feel like He wants a relationship with us.
Sometimes we don't need another theological beating. Sometimes we just need a heavenly hug.
And it's interesting because in one of the links above, the writer tells us that a Calvinist pastor usually avoids messages about how God loves you and Jesus died for you. They have to avoid these because they don't know, according to their Calvinism, if God loves everyone in the audience or if Jesus died for everyone in the audience. Because, according to Calvinists, God only loved the elect and Jesus only died for the elect. So you won't hear those general "God loves you" kinds of messages from them.
And Calvinists are not about God's love. They're all about God's glory, our insignificance, His ultimate control, our complete inability to do anything. And I kinda see that it's true. Calvinists like to remind us regularly about how we are only here for God's glory, so that He can glorify Himself through us. I have no problem with God being glorified and with bringing Himself glory in what He does (that's only appropriate), but sometimes it's nice to hear that He made us because He loves us, because He wants a relationship with us, not just because He is looking for another way to bring Himself glory.
I don't think God made us just for His glory. I think He also made us for His enjoyment. Because He wants people to love, and He wants people to love Him. Because it brings Him joy. I found a verse - 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 - about one of the reasons why God made us, and this passage doesn't say it's only all about His glory: "... we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who made us for this very purpose ..." To me, this sounds like the very reason God made us was so that we could have eternal life in heaven with Him. He wants us in heaven with Him. And that is the reason He made us. Even though He is glorified through everything, I think one reason He made us is because He wanted us, not just because He needed to glorify Himself by creating us. And that's a God I want to get close to and to love; One who wants to get close to me because He loves me.
What is it that Paul prayed about for the Ephesians?
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)
God is not just about using us to get more glory. God was completely complete in Himself before we ever came along. He needs nothing from us.
But He does want us! He wants us to know His love fully, deeply. Knowing His love is what will fill us completely with the fullness of God. Not reducing ourselves to such tiny, insignificant worms who are only here because God wanted to bring Himself more glory.
God made us out of love! God wants us to come to Him, to spend eternity with Him, because of love!
My heart is aching for some good, godly encouragement about God's love. For some practical messages about how He'll carry us through the hard times and how His love for us spurs us on to love Him more, etc. I don't need more academic information, especially when it's loaded with Calvinism. My soul is drying up there. Ugh! But that's my own personal thoughts about this. And yet, I know I'm not the only one thinking it. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!]
It makes me sad. I've always liked attending church. My church was always a good place that I was eager to invite others to.
But not anymore. I cannot invite people to my church. And I haven't for years. I would feel partly responsible for them getting a damaging picture of God - one who doesn't extend grace and forgiveness to everyone, who causes people to not believe in Him and then punishes them in hell for not believing, who somehow finds it glorifying to put people in hell, etc. Ugh! It makes me sick. And heartbroken.
I didn't want to send this letter to the elders. I am a people-pleaser by nature, a "make people feel good, don't rock the boat, don't offend others" kind of a person. It distresses me when I have to confront others. And it takes me a long, long time to do it. And I'm usually stressed for days after it, replaying it all in my head, wondering if I did the right thing.
But after writing and sending this letter, January 2, I went to bed in complete peace. I felt not one shred of anxiety or distress. I had done what I needed to do, what I know the Lord was asking me to do.
(And yes, I know that sending this letter could cost me. It could change or destroy friendships at church. It could lead to us leaving that church. It could turn us into bigger outcasts than we already feel like we are. It might lead to us being called "divisive heretics." But ... is it divisive to point out what I believe is an incorrect and damaging teaching of the Bible? Is it heretical to draw people's attention to what the Bible clearly, consistently teaches? If this makes me a "divisive heretic," then so be it! Sometimes ... it's worth it! Especially when Truth is at stake! I believe this was the task the Lord gave me. And I am accountable to Him to do it, regardless of the cost.)
I didn't write this letter so that the pastor would start preaching what I want to hear. Because I am done listening. I can't even listen to his good sermons anymore - the ones where he talks about our "responsibility" to respond to the Gospel - because I know his underlying view is that we don't get a choice anyway, that no one can even want God or seek God unless God makes them do it.
I didn't write this letter for me. I wrote this letter for the people in the congregation who are struggling with his teaching, but who think they're alone in disagreeing with him. I wrote it for those who aren't aware they are being manipulated and shamed into Calvinism and who aren't aware that biblically-based views on debatable topics are being blocked, but who would want to know that this is what's happening. I wrote it for those who are also discouraged and who have been wanting to slip out quietly, too. If we all slipped out quietly, if no one voiced any disagreement, then we would simply be handing this church over to dogmatic Calvinism, where no one disagrees and no one is "allowed" to disagree. And the people wouldn't even know it's happening. And that wouldn't be fair to the people.
And I wrote it for the Lord, because I think it's wrong to teach that His death wasn't for everyone, that He chose most people to go right to hell and gave them no chance to be saved, that He causes people to sin but then holds them accountable for it, that you should simply trust Him anyway and not question Him, etc. I think it destroys the Gospel message and Truth and God's character, that it hurts people's faith and their view of God, and that it makes a mess of the Bible.
Honestly, that's one reason I took this issue so seriously and researched it so thoroughly. I have put my faith in and staked my soul, my eternity, on the Bible. And I needed to know that the Bible is reliable. That it tells one cohesive, understandable, reasonable, rational story from beginning to end. That it makes sense. But predestination makes a mess of Scripture and God's character. It creates far more questions - unanswerable questions - than it answers. And then it tells you, "Oh, but you don't have to understand it. So be a good, humble Christian and just accept it, even if it's too confusing and makes God look bad."
But no! I staked my eternal soul on this Bible, on the Gospel, on Jesus. And I needed to know that I had good, valid reasons to. That it makes sense. That God is who I believe He is - good, loving, just, righteous. And so I researched and researched. And now I can honestly say that, yes, the Bible really does make sense, and it tells one cohesive story and presents God's character in a cohesive way from beginning to end. After you throw out predestination and Calvinism.
I strongly believe Calvinism is basically heresy, that it totally alters God's Word and God's character. And if I sat quietly by and said nothing when the church started blocking other biblically-based views on this, then I would be partly guilty for the spread of this damaging teaching in our church.
I didn't want to write this letter. I had to!
Lord, You know I don't have much hope that this little letter of mine will make any difference. But it's there for You to use in whatever way You want. I have done my part. Now I leave the rest up to You. Amen
For more on this:
I broke the above four large posts up into smaller posts and put them in a series, starting with "Is Our Eternity Decided For Us?" (follow the links at the end to the next post in the series).
Acts 13:48: Not As "Predestination" As It Sounds
Sovereignty and Free-Will Working Together
What's The Best Way To Make People Agree With Your Calvinist Views?
Letter To Our Elders Regarding Calvinism Growing In Our Church
Why is Calvinism So Dangerous?
Anti-Calvinism Memes and Links
If Calvinism is true, then God is a liar!
Links To My Anti-Calvinism Posts
Sovereignty and Free-Will Working Together
What's The Best Way To Make People Agree With Your Calvinist Views?
Letter To Our Elders Regarding Calvinism Growing In Our Church
Why is Calvinism So Dangerous?
Anti-Calvinism Memes and Links
If Calvinism is true, then God is a liar!
Links To My Anti-Calvinism Posts