I have always considered myself to be a Bible-believing evangelical Christian. So what has happened that I have begun to question everything that I have ever been taught?
My husband and I joined the local Evangelical Free church after our marriage 27 years ago. It offered basic Christian beliefs in its statement of faith. It offered Christian liberty in “non-essentials.” It was just the church we were looking for. Looking back, it would have been classified “Arminian” though I don’t think anyone would have recognized that term. We just all knew that salvation was for ALL people and Christ’s atonement was sufficient for ALL people. We knew that each person had a choice to make whether to accept Christ as their personal savior.
About 16 years ago in 2002, we hired a new pastor. This man contained all the characteristics that the people were looking for in a pastor. Everyone was excited. What was not realized at the time was this man had a Calvinistic leaning in his beliefs. In fact, those on the search committee would have had no understanding of such things if the issue was even addressed. About 2 years into his pastorate at this church, the pastor preached a sermon on “predestination.” This brought protest from a few members of the congregation of which we would have been one of them. After much spiritual struggle and reassurance from the pastor that he would not be focusing on this, we made a decision to stay in this local church we loved.
Several more years went by before we noticed that several families from the metropolitan area nearby had started to filter into the church. These people seemed to have similar beliefs in common. They believed that God ordained everything that happened to us. One particular gentleman who often taught Sunday School focused on this and the concept that everything is about God’s glory. He also stated that “the only people who will be saved are those who were chosen and pre-destined before the world began.” I was confused by the things I was hearing and did not believe them to be true. My husband, as an elder candidate, and I brought up our observations and beliefs to the pastors and current elders. Our concerns were met with shrugs and silence which confused us further.
One day while watching a teaching video in Sunday School by John Piper, he made a comment about being a Calvinist. What’s a Calvinist I asked? I went home and looked up Calvinist. I was shocked that Christians would believe any of the things spelled out by the TULIP acronym. But now I understood what was being taught that had vaguely troubled me. I also realized that a large portion of the people in our church would lean towards an Arminian perspective but probably, like me, didn’t even realize that there were different perspectives or that they were being taught a position different from their basic beliefs.
Several more years slipped into eternity and another pastor was hired. This pastor was young and definitely subscribed to the “neo-Calvinism” beliefs of the “young, restless, and reformed.” He was passionate about them and saw no reason to be sensitive to those on the other side. Now, the pendulum of belief had swung to the side of Calvinism. Both pastors, as well as 2 of 3 elders subscribed to this position on salvation. When approached about the discomfort of some in the congregation about this switch in beliefs, the response was “But we haven’t changed the statement of faith. You can believe either way and serve on the elder board or serve in any other position of the church.” But could one really? Our story parallels that of many evangelical churches in America in which our general faith world has become saturated with men and movements, all shouting that they have the best “Bible-based” fad to be followed. In our personal world, it was this New Calvinism along with the much subtler accentuates of authoritarianism, complementarianism, and covenants that go along with Neo-Calvinisms infiltration. This situation in the church in regards to Arminianism and Calvinism left us devastated in our faith. Nothing makes much sense any more. If this important of a doctrine can be understood two different ways, why should we believe that man has rightly interpreted anything that is in the Bible? When one is 60 years old, and your learned pastor who seems to be a dedicated man of God, tells you everything you have ever believed about your salvation since childhood is false, it is devastating. We stumble around in confusion and sadness. Where do we go to church? Does it even matter? Is any of this that we call Christianity true? If what our pastors are teaching is true, it doesn’t much matter what we do. It’s all pre-determined anyway. And if it’s all pre-determined, there is no point in prayer. Prayer would change nothing. Also, if it’s all pre-determined, then why did Jesus die? Is this all a theatrical act? God could just save those he planned to save without Jesus dying since they can’t resist His grace and saving power anyway and the rest can go to hell as planned.
I have found many people do not want to look closely at their faith. They are content to follow what they are taught by their pastor and to experience the “fuzzy” feelings the emotional experience gives them with little thought to the implications of the doctrines the church is teaching. Our story is a journey into a world of questioning that we did not sign up for but found ourselves thrust into.