Contentious Calvinists (2)

(This is a reblog from May, 2013)  One unfortunate thing I’ve noticed over the past ten years (give or take) is that sometimes new or young 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/blogs, 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 really 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.  But 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, humble-and-helpful member of a local church.  The doctrines of grace are most consistently believed and lived out in the context of the local church.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

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4 comments on “Contentious Calvinists (2)

  1. Austin David says:

    Wonderful insight Rev. Lems. I have at times noticed this with what you might call the “young restless and reformed movement” that people at times can rejoice more over one’s ‘conversion’ to calvinism rather than their conversion to ‘Christ crucified.’ . . . .

    ” And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

    Continue to be blessed by your writing here on the blog- blessings and thanks!

  2. M says:

    The name “Tim Challies” sprung to mind while reading this rather brilliant blog post. Thanks for saying what many are thinking.

  3. evanmace says:

    Great post. I wish I had read it a few years ago. It would have saved my wife some headaches I’m sure. I would summarize it as a simple lack of humility.

  4. Calvin attributed the taking of such labels to pride:

    “And that there might be no doubt as to their separation, they have given themselves the various names of factions. They have not been ashamed to glory in that which Paul so execrates, that he is unable to express his detestation too strongly. Unless, indeed, we suppose that Christ was not divided by the Corinthians, when one teacher set himself above another (1 Cor. 1:12, 13; 3:4); and that now no injury is done to Christ when, instead of Christians, we hear some called Benedictines, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession.” Institutes, IV.13.14.

    He would reprove the use of “Calvinist”, methinks.

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