One unfortunate thing I’ve noticed over the past ten years (give or take) is that sometimes new Calvinists are not a great benefit and blessing to the church. Sometimes people who have recently discovered the doctrines of grace make for poor churchmen and end up being a thorn in the side of a local church.
I’ve heard it from other pastors as well. Broadly evangelical Christians hear podcasts, read books, and listen to online sermons or programs and become enamored with the doctrines of grace (which is good!). But sometimes these Christians then find a Reformed church and in their “Calvinist zeal” they cause many headaches and problems (which is bad!). Eventually they leave, go to another Reformed church, and do the same thing all over again. They like the doctrines of grace, but don’t like the church. I’ve heard quite a few sad stories like this.
Why does this happen? I’ve been discussing this problem with others, and I may bring it up again later here on the blog. For now, I’ll let John Newton explain one reason why new Calvinists sometimes make for poor churchmen. Apparently, he faced the same problem we face today.
“I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principal cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors [i.e. Christians who profess the doctrines of grace] are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of divine appointment” (Newton’s Works, XI p. 278).
Well said. The “T” in TULIP should make us so humble we never stop thinking that others are better than we are (Phil. 2:3). A Calvinist who is proud, contentious, and arrogant is a very inconsistent Calvinist (to put it nicely). Someone who has truly been humbled by the darkness, evil, and depravity of his own heart will not come to a church assuming that he knows it all and that everyone else must conform to his superior ideas.
If you’re one of our readers who is just learning the beauty of the doctrines of grace, and, more broadly, Reformed theology, please pray for much humility as you look for a church that preaches these great biblical truths. You’re never going to find a perfect church; you may never even find one that is exactly to your liking. And when you do find one that preaches the whole counsel of God in and out of season, that administers the sacraments, and that practices church discipline unto repentance, thank God and ask him to help you use your gifts there (humbly!) to edify his people and bring him glory. One part of being a consistent Calvinist is being a solid, helpful member of a local church. But more on that later.
rev shane lems