Sunday, March 14, 2010

Checking Under the Hood (Smoking Out Calvinists, Pt 3)

A church’s pastor search committee has every right – indeed, the obligation – to explore a prospective pastor’s theological bent to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with its own. But should every church that rejects some or all of the 5 Points of Calvinism “smoke out” Calvinist preachers (or members) using a litmus test and then summarily reject them?

(See “Smoking Out Calvinism” and “Making Labels” here, as well as Tom Ascol’s article.)

If a man is already serving as pastor and someone in his church must use a smoke-out tool such as “Reformed Red flags” or “Theological Differences” in order to determine whether he is unacceptably Calvinist, there is not likely as much of a problem as someone is pushing to suppose. Whether he uses an ESV Study Bible or quotes R.C. Sproul will not reveal much if the congregation doesn’t already believe that the pastor is attempting to surreptitiously convert them all to Doctrines of Grace.

And, if the goal of the smokers is to root out men who have weaseled into their pulpit by hiding his real self, then the solution is not to use cloak and dagger tactics to catch him in his perfidy, but to shine the light of the gospel on the situation and do something truly radical: ask him.

But let’s not miss the significance of this: the very fact that a church must resort to asking its pastor if he is Calvinist, or to using tools designed to help spot the "warning signs", indicates that there is nothing seriously problematic about his theology. If doctrine were truly the problem, then it would be obvious to everyone. If a man proclaims doctrine from the pulpit that is obviously out of sync with Scripture, then you don’t need to know what soteriological brand he wears in order to find it problematic.

In other words, if a pastor is trying to implement church discipline, have an elder structure, eliminate the “altar call” – even preach grace – and the congregation made uncomfortable by it can point to no Scriptural error in the pastor’s efforts but can only throw a label on him in order to find his label objectionable, then the problem is not likely doctrine. There may be other legitimate reasons to send him on his way, but simply “being Calvinist” would not be one of them. The pastor is either being sinfully divisive, or he is attempting to introduce biblical change that the congregation does not find palatable.

If he is being sinfully divisive, the church has ample reason to seek other leadership. But to go to such extremes to characterize his sinful divisiveness as a product of “Calvinism” is gratuitous, and is likely the result of some other agenda.

If the pastor is introducing biblical change that the congregation finds unpalatable, it is facing a different situation, entirely. Any congregation facing this situation should make absolutely certain that its objection is not simply to change.

For proposals about how a search committee can address these issues with a prospective pastor, see my next article, “Kicking the Tires (Smoking out Calvinists, Pt 4)”.

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