Could I Attend a Calvinist Church?
The simple answer is—“it depends.” Here’s a hypothetical case useful for answering the question. Hypothetical case: I move to a small town where the only evangelical church is Calvinistic. (I don’t say “Reformed” because many “Reformed churches” are not Calvinistic. That is to say, they do not embrace full-bodied, classical Calvinism.) Back to the case: In this small town the only evangelical Protestant church is classically Calvinistic. Their statement of faith includes affirmation of TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). Also part of my hypothetical case is that I am unable, for whatever reason, to start my own church. (I have to say that to ward off that suggestion.)
Now, what do I mean by “evangelical?” This evangelical Calvinistic church preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and holds up the Bible as the ultimate and final authority for Christian faith and practice. This church emphasizes conversion, repentance and personal faith, and not relying solely on sacraments for salvation. It is involved in missions and evangelism and believes that the death of Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the only basis for salvation. In brief, the church is evangelical in the historical, classical sense (not the contemporary media-driven political sense).
My dilemma: I find myself living in a town where there is no other evangelical church than this one and, for whatever reason, cannot “commute” to some other location to attend a non-Calvinist evangelical church. Can I, a non-Calvinist, someone who has written a book entitled Against Calvinism, attend this church on a regular basis and worship there?
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
First, I would talk to the pastor and ask if I am welcome to attend and worship with the congregation. If he says yes then I would ask at what level I am welcome to teach and work in the church and under what conditions.
Second, I would tell the pastor in no uncertain terms that I am not a Calvinist and am strongly opposed to Calvinism although I do not consider it a heresy. And I would tell him that while I am attending the church and participating at whatever level he approves, I would not speak against Calvinism within the church, among the congregation. And that I would not criticize the congregation or its denomination although I would continue to criticize Calvinism in entirely other ways such as this blog.
If the pastor said that, under those conditions, I would be welcome to attend and worship with the congregation, I would do so. I would gladly abide by any limitations placed on me in terms of participation beyond that. However, I would not apply for membership. I could not be a member of such a church even if the pastor and church board said I could.
So someone will ask me why I wrote Against Calvinism if I could attend and worship with a Calvinist congregation. Here’s my response. I only wrote Against Calvinism because 1) there were many aggressive Calvinists promoting it publicly, among evangelicals generally, as the only possible version of the gospel. As one said many times—Arminians can be Christians “but just barely.” And many such aggressive Calvinists were calling Arminianism semi-Pelagian if not outright Pelagian, and 2) because many especially younger Calvinists did not seem to know there were any problems with Calvinism. I never said Calvinists could not be evangelical Christians. I said Calvinism is a confused and distorted version of evangelical Christianity.I believe there are other confused and distorted versions of evangelical Christianity. Some I could “handle” in terms of worshiping together with their adherents and some I could not. For example, I could not attend or worship with a congregation that believed in and promoted the so-called “prosperity gospel”—that God wants every one of his people to be rich and that sufficiently strong faith guarantees financial and material prosperity.
I could not attend or worship with a congregation that believed in and promoted the idea that water baptism is necessary for salvation or that there have been new, extra-biblical revelations of truth from God that every true Christian must believe. I could attend or worship with a congregation that believed infant baptism is salvific in the sense that a baptized person does not need to make a decision of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
I do not consider ordinary, garden variety, evangelical Calvinism heresy. However, if the pastor of the church preached that God is the author of sin and evil, I would have to draw the line there and stop attending. In any case, insofar as the church was Calvinistic, I would probably absent myself from certain worship services if I knew in advance the sermon was going to promote belief in double predestination.
For the most part I consider most Calvinists confused but not heretical. Most Calvinists I know think the same of Arminians. All things being equal I would prefer to attend an Arminian church, but if a good one were not available to me, I would not hesitate to attend and worship with an evangelical Calvinist church under the conditions set forth above. Again, however, I would not apply for membership because I think membership implies full agreement with the statement of faith.
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