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From Non-Reformed To Reformed: A Guide for New Calvinists – Opening Perspectives

I’ve literally been working on this article for about seventeen years. That’s roughly the amount of time I’ve been reformed.  Back then, attending a solid-ish independent baptist church and directing the choir. Now, an ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Long and interesting journey and I’m still growing (as we all should be) in my understanding of the Christian faith as a whole and the implications of reformed theology in particular. During this time, I’ve been privileged to have influenced a few folks to move over to reformed theology after coming out of similar (or in some cases, radically different) church backgrounds.

Before I continue, a few definitions are in order. Throughout this entire series, you’ll see the words calvinistic, calvinist and reformed thrown around more than free t-shirts at a little league baseball game.

By Calvinistic, I’m talking about folks who hold to what are commonly called The Doctrines of Grace or The Five Points of Calvinism. The points were a response to the remonstrants (theological descendants of Jacob Arminius) and their five points of contention with the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. By Reformed, I’m talking about accepting some form of covenantal theology (which includes the five points mentioned above), confessional subscription to a historic reformed confession (Westminster Confession, Belgic Confession, Savoy Declaration, etc…). Main point is that I’m not using Reformed and Calvinistic as synonyms (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t). If you’re lost on either of these terms (or related terms), I’d invite you to head over to Monergism.com and start reading/listening to some of the ‘introduction’ MP3s or articles you find on the site. John Frame has a great one right here.

What’s going to follow are a series of posts on this subject based on questions, problems and issues I’ve seen happen (or have went through personally) over this time period with regard to when non-reformed folks become calvinistic or fully reformed. To get you started, I’m going to share a bit of my journey from non-reformed to reformed so you can get a bit of perspective.

I learned from the lesson (some would better say the error) of Mark Driscoll over the years: don’t try to write a book “too soon” after learning the lesson yourself. As a result, I literally have been sitting on top of doing this series since about 2011 or so. Some of the old posts related to it are on the now-non-functioning LDM message forum (which I haven’t updated since about 2011). Mind you, at that time, I’d literally been reformed in some shape, form or fashion for about a decade.

Anyway, let’s get down to the issue at hand. The reformed resurgence is slowing a bit (at least from my end of the spectrum….the actual numbers may tell a different story), so the ‘flood’ of newly-reformed are slowing just enough for some of us to take a break and breathe.  In taking that breather, we can stop for a moment, look around and see how we got ‘here’.

‘Here’ usually is barebones acknowledgement that there is ample scriptural evidence for “The Five Points of Calvinism”.   After debates on a message board, twitter, e-mail or in person (wait…people actually still talk in person ?) combined with sermons from a particular pastor or reading a particular book or books on the subject, and a lot more time in the Bible than you’ve done before, things you saw that were ‘unclear’ or ‘not there’ are all of a sudden:

– “It’s here! It’s right there! How did I miss it all this time ?”
– “Why didn’t my old/current church teach me this ? I thought my pastor was pretty solid!”

– “I have to share this with everyone!”

The ‘route’ here may have been different for many of you. Some went the ‘traditional’ route; someone challenged you on the T in T.U.L.I.P. and everything else started to make sense once you spent that extended time in Romans 1-3. For some of you, election (the U) was the last thing to make sense. “If God chooses from eternity past without regard to who will choose Him, how does He hold us accountable for our sins and for rejecting Christ ? Who is really resisting His will ?” And then you read Romans 9 and saw that Paul anticipated your question (and gave you an answer that was a non-answer). For many of you, the journey began (or ended) with an investigation into understanding the L, since all your life you’d been taught that “Christ died for everyone” and assumed that this meant He died for everyone in the exact same way or that He simply made a token payment not directed to anyone in particular, but available to everyone like a lost ATM card with the PIN written on the back.

For still some more of you, someone shared a shai linne/Timothy Brindle/Christcentric/Flame/Voice (now known as Curt Kennedy)/Lecrae/Trip Lee album with you and you had tons of questions after listening to the lyrics, started reading more, started listening to John MacArthur, John Piper or R.C. Sproul and that just pushed you onward. Lecrae said he kept a ‘Johnny Mac’ in his backpack, so you went out and purchased one too (a John MacArthur Study Bible), poured through the notes and began to approach scripture in an expository fashion. Somewhere along the line, everything ‘clicked’ and the whole T.U.L.I.P. made more sense to you. Suddenly, you began sharing your reformed ‘stuff’ with everyone….

And they all began looking at you as if you’d grown a third eyeball.

Everything didn’t immediately change, though. While you got a bit more theologically and scripturally discerning, you didn’t immediately change churches. You may have thought that you could affect a change in your church’s teaching (your church was/is probably not reformed or in some cases, may be anti-Calvinistic), change the mind of your church’s leadership (“If I just show them this, they’ll get it! It’s right here!”) or even start a mini-reformation from the ‘bottom up’ (“I’ll teach it to the kids in the Sunday school class/adults in the adult Sunday school class!”). Some of you may not have had any thoughts of changing your church’s views at all (or those of your fellow parishioners). You may have simply treated the ‘five points’ as another set of doctrines you can choose to believe or not believe and they have no real effect on your Christian faith, so you stayed put.   I met a few people like this years ago. They would say “Well, I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t like the term. I like my church and the people there, so I’m not leaving. We all have Jesus in common and that’s all that matters, even if I don’t agree with everything coming out of the pulpit.”

I recall having a huge argument with an ex-girlfriend (she and I were dating around 2003-2004) – one of her college friends had become a local pastor and she wanted us to go to his church one Sunday morning. I was aware that he was a very big fan of T.D. Jakes – an absolute anathema to anything reformed and biblical. I kept redirecting our church visits to churches in the area that were solidly expository in their preaching (our own church at the time was preaching through The Purpose Driven Life….so I was leaving immediately after the last word of the sermon to speed to a reformed church nearby). Though she had studied a bit of reformed theology while in college (she went to bible college), she wasn’t understanding (and I wasn’t explaining very well) why expository preaching was such a big deal.   Finally one day, she asked me why we’d only been going to reformed churches and why we couldn’t go to her “big brother’s church”. “Is it because he likes T.D. Jakes ?” she asked. I said…”well, not just that. He’s really word-of-faith-ish and that stuff isn’t biblical at all. But overall, he isn’t reformed…. So there’s no telling what will come out of the pulpit and I don’t want to waste a Sunday morning.”

Of course, a large verbal argument ensued and this became one of the factors that led to us breaking up. Years later, she explained to me that I was ‘heading in a different direction’ that she didn’t understand, so she wouldn’t/couldn’t follow. I’d learned (by that time) that I needed to spend more time calmly explaining things to her and not just throwing out statements. I couldn’t argue with her in a polemical fashion. In addition, I needed more patience; everyone doesn’t learn at the same pace (you’d think I knew this already, teaching in a public school, but applying it here didn’t come to mind).

This is classic “cage stage” Calvinism, by the way. Full of zeal, a little harsh (or a lot harsh depending on which authors influenced you and how people remember you) and always ready to pounce on a topic that looked even slightly heretical. The 05-09 time period, I spent quite a few days, weeks and months arguing online with folks over the doctrines of grace. Somewhere on a hard drive in my house, I have old copies of posts saved as PDFs from different message boards I was on. Of course, some of my other discussions included things like the Trinity, Deity of Christ and all the other topics that younger Christians at churches without a doctrinal teaching emphasis always ask about.

Understand that prior to this time period, I’d already had an extensive apologetics background. That includes everything from sitting for hours with Jehovah’s Witnesses discussing the Deity of Christ and the reality of hell to sitting with ‘conscious’ black folks (in college) and schooling them on the reliability of the New Testament as well as myriad discussions on AOL, eWorld (Apple’s old clone of AOL – including an extended stint as a the ‘Bible Answers Guy’ in their religions and spiritualities forum), a few conference speaking engagements and some more stuff. So Q&A-type polemical apologetics was already a ‘thing’ with me and not something brought on with Adult-Onset Calvinism. I simply ‘applied it’ once I became reformed (not always in the wisest fashion).

My theological development between 2000 and 2009 was varied as well. My journey toward reformed theology and Calvinism started in 1998 (see this blogpost which has links to the still-existing conversation from that time) when a church of Christ minister on my apologetics list challenged me on the topic of original sin. My friend Bill Kilgore followed up that original discussion with in early 1999 and the ‘trip’ was fully in motion. As I was forced to spend more time in the scriptures, I came to find that what these ‘Calvinist’ folks were saying was true. By December of 2000, between scripture, scripture, scripture, Arthur Custance’s The Sovereignty of Grace , and James White’s The Potter’s Freedom, the case for Calvinism had been burned into my head. I still occasionally go back in the Internet Archive and look at old versions of my site and chart my own theological progress on these and other issues (see for example 12/1/2000 versus 11/25/98 when it wasn’t even on my radar).

As an aside, around this time, I was also studying quite a bit on eschatology (understanding of end times), so I found myself also moving toward progressive dispensationalism in addition to becoming a Calvinist. Your soteriology (understanding of salvation) and ecclesiology (understanding of the church and the people of God) in accordance with scripture, will also affect your eschatology. I didn’t understand it then, but I look back in hindsight and see it a bit clearer now.

So here I was, barely-Calvinistic (the “L” in TULIP was the last thing to fall for me and I was still shaky on my understanding of it). I saw the link between the benefits of the atonement, election and the atonement itself all chained together in Ephesians 1, so I knew it had to be true, even if I didn’t fully ‘get it’ right away. This is one of those important points that believers have to come back to again and again as you grow; truth does not depend on your understanding of it – a thing which is true, whether it be the Trinity, Deity of Christ or Calvinism, is true regardless of whether you believe it, understand it or accept it personally.

Around 2002, I officially abandoned dispensationalism (thanks in part to the Left Behind series….the first of many ironies). Around this same time, my church, which had just done a spectacular job at expositing the book of 1 John, moved over to the latest trend at the time; preaching through The Purpose-Driven Life. I can only relate how it felt going from learning and growing directly from the scriptures to going through a theme-based book with little scriptural exposition (and a lot of misquotes and out of context citations) as the equivalent of Prince Charming winning the hand of Cinderella by fitting her foot with the glass slipper and then on the honeymoon night, you find out that she was wearing a girdle AND a corset, both legs were prosthetic, all of her teeth were dentures, most of her facial features were theatrical make-up and she has the most horrific body odor in all areas.

Survive on podcasts ? Nope. Man cannot live by Sproul, Piper and MacArthur podcasts alone, so after attending the early service, I began leaving immediately after the sermon and speed down the highway to Capitol Hill Baptist or I’d drive like a maniac across town to Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg. They were the two reformed churches I’d been most familiar with at the time (I thought Presbyterian churches were a little too far past where I was at the time, and I didn’t believe in infant baptism back then, so I never gave them a look). Even after the 2 year period of PDL preaching was done, I still found myself having too many disagreements with stuff coming out of the pulpit (if not content, moreso methodology). I felt as though I was not being ‘fed’. I had a talk with my pastor about it. He told me his job (as I recall the convo – I’m being careful here because he is a good man of God and I don’t want to represent what he said inaccurately) was to preach down the middle (not to go too deep as well as not to be shallow – he didn’t want to leave anyone behind). I pointed out to him that one of the best times I’d felt as though I were growing at the church was when I first arrived and he was preaching expositionally through 1 John. I understood his point and left it alone for the time being, though I still wasn’t satisfied.

Let me (in the name of transparency and honesty) point out that I was still personally not the most stable individual at the time. There was an incident where I was placed on church discipline for a bit (no, I’m not going into detail – church discipline did it’s job) as well as a few great opportunities where my former Pastor carved time out of his schedule to meet with me regularly and I neglected those times. I bring this up because while in the process of growing in our theological knowledge, if we neglect the application of that knowledge in sanctification and we’re not honest about ourselves, we may deceive ourselves into thinking our differences with our current church may only be theological and methodological. It’s amazing to see how quick someone addressing you about personal behavior can turn into “well, they’re only saying that because they don’t believe X, Y and Z, not because I have an actual problem”. The lesson here is to avoid deflection during this time. I’ll dig more into this in a future installment.

I eventually left this church; I walked out through the front door on good terms after a talk with my pastor. A mutual friend of my now-former girlfriend (the same one mentioned above) ended up as my new pastor and my new home was in the Evangelical Free Church in America. Going into a church in a denomination was a different feel than the independent Baptist churches I’d been used to all my life.

There was an unfortunate incident with a blogpost that seemed to be bashing my former pastor (it was not, but it was phrased that way), which I had to spend another blogpost and an in-person meeting cleaning up. The lesson here was be cautious about how you talk about your current and former church and its’ members. Even if your issue is a legitimate one, be aware of how your words may be taken.   More on this in a later post as well.

Somewhere around 2005 while reading Robert Saucy’s The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, I ended up being convinced of covenant theology (irony strikes again). While at my new church, I got a lot of solid teaching. The Free Church was interesting in that while the main seminary (TEDS in Illinois) was mostly Calvinistic, the balance of churches in the denomination was about 45-55 Calvinistic to non-Calvinistic. There was a very wide array of beliefs and methodologies that were ‘ok’ to be held in the denomination, provided one held to the basic ten point doctrinal statement of the denomination, which was largely and broadly evangelical. The one main defining and unifying point in the denomination was on eschatology – all churches were required to hold to some form of premillennialism. We had an interesting mix of historic premill, historicist premill and plenty of dispensational premill folks as a result. Of that 45% that were Calvinistic, approximately 25-30% of those churches were fully covenantal (covenant theology and infant baptism like Presbyterian churches). The Free Church was a good experience for me because while there, I learned how a diversity of beliefs (Calvinists and non-Calvinists) could exist in the same fellowship, non-Calvinists could care deeply about sound theology and right exegesis (I was there during the time they were updating their statement of faith) and I saw people debate points of theology respectfully.

Dr. Willem VanGemeren did a few speaking engagements at our church over the years and his talks on baptism were the first time I’d been introduced to the topic in a manner that made sense. Prior to this, I still held to what we commonly call believer’s baptism – that is, only professing believers should be the recipients of baptism. Like many of my baptistic friends, my initial argument was always “but a baby can’t believe!” The argument of continuity from Old Testament rite (circumcision) to New Testament rite (baptism) only kind of made sense to me…but not really. I was still stuck on ‘believe, then be baptized’. One of VanGemeren’s talks on a CD (from one of the Free Church’s Midwinter Theological Talks) actually helped make baptizing the infants of believers make sense from scripture. Prior to that, I viewed baptism first as something we did as an ordinance in response to personally believing. The promises of God in baptism (and circumcision) and the transgenerational approach of God to His people (Genesis 17) started to click. Ironically, John MacArthur making some comments about 1 Corinthians 7:14 in a Grace to You podcast helped push me over the edge (again) on the issue. Dr. MacArthur said:

Look at verse 14, very interesting.  “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.”  Now, wait a minute here.  You know something, folks?  Not only is the believer not contaminated, but what happens?  The very opposite.  You say, ““Well, will I be defiled by the unbeliever?”  No, he’ll be sanctified by you.  Fantastic.  Instead of a Christian being defiled or made unholy, the unbeliever is actually made holy.  Sometimes I ask a person, I say, “Do you come from a Christian home?”  “No – I’m the only Christian there.”  Do you know how many Christians it takes to make a Christian home?  One Christian.  You say, ““What do you mean?”  Everybody else in the house is sanctified by your presence.  Did you know that?  You say, ““John, what do you mean by sanctified?  That’s a very strong word.”  I know it’s a strong word.  Sanctified means set apart, holy.  You say, “But what’s it saying here?”  Well, it isn’t saying that the guy’s automatically converted.  It’s not saying if a husband doesn’t believe, he is saved anyway, just because he’s married to a Christian.  No.  No, it isn’t saying that, and it isn’t saying an unbelieving wife is saved automatically just because she’s married to a Christian husband.  Well, what does the word sanctified mean?

Well, this is what we call matrimonial sanctification.  And what do you mean by that?  Well, that’s just a term to distinguish it from spiritual and personal sanctification.  You become set apart unto God and holy when you believe in Christ, but just having been in a home or living in a home where somebody is a Christian has a sanctifying influence.  Paul doesn’t mean that the unbeliever is automatically made a Christian by marriage, but what he does mean is that the marriage is benefited, and that everybody in the house reaps the benefit.  For example, two people when they get married become what?  One.  If God blesses one of those, one of that one, then the other one is going to get some of the spillover, right?  That’s all he’s saying.  Hey, if you’re a non-Christian, and you’ve got a Christian mate, you ought to thank God, because your home is the recipient of the blessings of God.  God pours out grace and mercy on that home, and just because you happen to be connected to that partner, you are the recipient of those things; short of salvation, but nevertheless far superior to living in a totally pagan home.  Marriage to a Christian creates a relationship to God for the non-Christian; though while it is short of salvation, it is far superior to pagan life.  Listen, one Christian in a home makes a Christian home, and graces that entire home.

Source: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1829/divine-guidelines-for-marriage

Raise your hand if you read that quote in your head and heard Dr. MacArthur’s voice.

Now, why are you raising your hand and smiling ? No one around you knows, but they’re all looking at you weird. You can put your hand down now and keep reading.

Sproul and Piper both had podcasts (Sproul’s is here) at the time discussing each others’ views and both made it a point to state that unless you are able to articulate the other’s view accurately (to the point where the person you disagree with can say “yes, you understand me”), you have not earned the right to criticize the viewpoint. On a related note, Third Millennium Productions has an excellent video discussing this that helped settle things a bit for me (again, as a supplement, not substitute for scripture).

Understanding covenant infant baptism (as I like to call it) helped me to also make sense of the warning passages in scripture (see here and here), so that they were no longer a ‘place to be avoided’. Holding to believers’ baptism and anything else other than covenant theology (even progressive dispensationalism) potentially created severe problems when you come across passages that dealt with falling away and drifting away from the faith. This is one example of how one area of theology heavily impacted other areas.

The late Clark Pinnock found himself also struggling with the warning passages, which eventually led not only to his rejection of reformed theology, but also to a rejection of the inerrancy of scripture and finally an acceptance of open theism and annihilationism. Remember earlier when I mentioned that eschatology (understanding of the end times) had an effect on my ecclesiology (understanding of the nature of the church) ? Contrary to the prevailing notion that all beliefs can be held in exclusion to one another (pick what I like, jettison the rest aka cafeteria christianity), all beliefs have consequences. Some of the consequences are minimal and affect personal opinions. Other beliefs are systemic and can affect entire systems of belief. Some beliefs necessarily place a person outside of the space where they can rightly be called Christian at all (1 John 3:4-10, 2 John 7-11). The believer’s responsibility is to spend time wrestling in the scriptures for clarification. There is an ‘island of stability’ that you may arrive at in time (I believe I’m there now since I haven’t had anymore major theological upheavals in the past decade) and from there, you may simply grow to understand what you believe in a clearer form (the difference between seeing blue and as your eyes get trained, being able to see all the different shades of blue available).

Back to our story. The year is now about 2008. An unfortunate set of circumstances forced the closing of the church I was attending and resulted in me and my then-fianceé (now my wife) needing to find a sound church to attend. Part of our time together as a couple, in addition to reading through pre-marital material, involved going chapter-at-a-time through J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Over this time, I learned that being truly prepared to discuss things theological also involves wisdom, not just knowledge of the subject area. Every discussion doesn’t require nailing 95 theses to the door of the church, or even praying aloud “Give me Scotland or I Die”. Sometimes, it requires introducing people to reformed theology via the ‘back door’. D.A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, in addition to Packer’s classic work are two good and non-confrontational ways of discussing the doctrines of grace and training the believer to interpret scripture well.

Biblical wisdom dictates that we be “the right Jesus for the job”.   A good rule of thumb is not “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD), but moreso “What Did Jesus Do In This Type of Situation In Scripture” (WDJDITTOSIS). Flipping tables over (John 2 and Matthew 21:2) and driving out the greedy with a whip is appropriate at times. But not all the time. You see Jesus being compassionate and gentle with the woman at the well in John 4. You see Jesus being a bit more stern with the crowd in John 6 – they wanted to be entertained and Jesus wasn’t having it. You see Jesus go full out on the Pharisees in John 8. The wisdom to be the ‘right Jesus’ for the situation requires time and experience and you will blow it at times. Thank God for His grace and graciousness toward us. When you blow it, repent (turn from it) and work toward not blowing it again. Apologize to those you offend because of your approach (never because of the content) and try to restate what you meant in a different and less harsh fashion. More on this in one of the future posts.

In 2009, my wife and I got married and settled at my present church, Wallace Presbyterian Church in College Park, Maryland. I occasionally play with the musicians there and was ordained as a deacon two years ago. My plan (and hers) is to die at Wallace 50-60ish years from now if God allows us to live that long.

I bring all of this up to give you a bit of background so you can ‘connect the dots’ on my theological journey to this point. It was extended and varied in many ways; do not expect your journey to a straight line from non-Calvinistic to Calvinistic. Do not expect to move as quickly as mine did; Phil Johnson of Grace Community Church commented that his own understanding of the doctrines of Grace took around fifteen years for him to finally get. My friend Mike became Calvinistic over the course of 3-8 months. Think about that and let it weigh on you.

What I want to do in future installments is to give you a few tips and suggestions based on my steps (and missteps) so that you (and those like you) make wiser choices in your journey toward further biblical fidelity. My ultimate goal is to see you (whomever you are) in a solid, reformed church, growing in the grace of Christ.

And yes, we’re going to tackle the topic of leaving your church – both for those in leadership/teaching jobs as well as those who are just lay people in the pews.

Until the next installment, take care and God bless.

While We’re Waiting: Thoughts on the SGM Controversy (weeks later)

Ah. Yes. This.

Those of you who’ve followed here for a long time know that a few years back, one of my exes was an SGM (Sovereign Grace Ministries) church member (she left there while we were dating).  There were stories she used to tell me about spiritually and emotionally hurt people (herself included) that resulted from not going along with whatever ‘plan’ or program was being promoted at her church.

In addition, my own bits and pieces of independent research (including talking to then-current members and a few former members)  turned up a lot of ‘things that didn’t add up’ (i.e. no mention of Larry Tomczak’s name as helping to start SGM in their official history – not even in the 30 year anniversary DVD with a skit of how their church and ministry started), even though it appears in scholarly works like The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.

As an outsider, I can’t say that I’ve *always* had red flags about SGM. I haven’t. They’ve been on my recommended list of churches for years now (even on the main portion of this site) because the good there outweighs what I thought were simply a few negative criticisms (after all….no one’s perfect and spiritual hurt occurs even in the most sound of churches). I’ve heard stories of entire care groups taking off from work to help an individual move, come alongside someone who is grieving and even help with cooking, housekeeping and other things as an outworking of what the ‘oneanother’ passages in scripture point to.  So there are some very good things about SGM. God is at work in that denomination (yes, I know they don’t call themselves a denomination….but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….name it Donald or Daffy and move on with life).

I only found SGM Refuge and SGM Survivors on accident about 2-3 years ago….visited a few times, read a few dozen posts and a few hundred comments (for perspective) and then got tied up in other things.  So they weren’t an ‘influence’ so to speak, in me formulating my opinion of SGM. My general opinion was that they’re a good church movement, their teachings are relatively solid (only relatively…they are baptists… 🙂 ) and as the leadership in the movement grows more reformed in their thinking, the movement itself will grow more reformed. I do think that theologically, they still had (and this was my 2008 opinion of them) some growing to do in a few areas, but nothing to pull people away from.

I also noticed (and this is me analyzing church culture) that it seemed like all of their churches are clones of the mother church (Covenant Life). There seemed to be a certain personality type that ends up at CovLife (I didn’t notice a real ‘diversity’ of personality types like I would at other churches I’ve visited  and I’ve visited repeatedly at different points between 03 and 06 with sporadic visits between then and 08).  I don’t mean that in a negative way….it’s just an observation I noticed.

Anyway, we fast forward to the present. I may have read about 70-100 pages of the first documents that belonged to Brent D.  The rest of the smaller documents (the 26 and 30 page docs), I read in full, since they tended to summarize the earlier documents.

I’m not too surprised.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely unless your name is Jesus and you’re fully God and fully man.   This isn’t a problem unique to SGM.  Stuff like this happens in other denominations as well, albeit on a smaller scale in most cases. There’s also a certain tendency toward shepherding in some pentecostal movements that SGM’s leadership may have held onto all this time – either knowingly or unknowingly.

I’m also not surprised that a number of Christian men whom I’ve met, talked to and respect very much have jumped to his defense. They are his friends and friends do that for each other.  I personally think it might be smarter of them to belay their public defense of him (notice – I didn’t say their support….just public defense).  The reason I say that is that watching the entire thing unfold on the web as it has (not discussing whether or not it should be up there or not now….it’s there… you can’t unpop a balloon), if the independent panel evaluating Brent’s accusations does come to the conclusion that CJ is at fault, everyone who defended him (and trashed Brent at the same time…see below….) will necessarily be tainted.

That also includes the independent three-man panel (who tried to appear impartial on the issue, but actually have lots of ‘links’ to SGM and CJ in particular) who just declared CJ fit for ministry.

I say that as a caution because of the multiple discrepancies visible in the handling of the situation to date:

  • CJ acknowledges some things as sin and sees deficiencies in his leadership style as well as the style of SGM as a whole.
  • Josh says SGM is being publicly spanked. Rest of the leadership disagrees, Josh decides to leave the leadership board.
  • Others jump to CJ’s defense as if ALL the charges are completely false (in contradiction to CJ’s own released statement). In addition, they (along with SGM leadership) say whatever is necessary to discredit blogs like SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge…along with all of Brent’s documents.
  • Josh, on the other hand, at a family meeting (as well as in the Sunday morning sermon), pretty much encouraged people to go read the documents for themselves, read the blogs and acknowledged that there are some ‘true truths’ in the documents – enough to be concerned about and address as they have been doing.
  • Josh recently (this past Sunday I believe), backtracks on his previous statement (it appears..at least according to reports. I’m listening to the sermon now….) and regrets telling people to read the blogs and documents.

I’ve seen plenty of CJ and SGM defenders pop up as well as CJ and SGM bashers pop up.  Some people are straight speaking out of the pain that they experienced as SGM church members and now this is their time to ‘get even’.  A few out of genuine concern for the movement and the people involved in all of the situations.  Some speak as though CJ can and has never did any wrong and SGM is the ‘most perfect church on the face of the planet’.  A few have just shaken their heads in disbelief and said ‘move along…nothing to see here’. To also be honest, some are popping up simply because they hate reformed theology (which is what I caught a few whiffs of when reading Refuge and Survivors for the first time years ago) and this gives them a chance to ‘blame Calvinism’.

There’s been lots of ‘honest and open dialogue’ now in SGM. I keep reading from current members how their pastors are now discussing issues, failings and shortcomings, seeking out reconciliation with former and current members and much more.  SGM has even (and this is a good thing) allowed negative comments to stay up on their blogposts, with their main media guy (big ups to Andrew for doing such an awesome and gracious job) answering comments as they come in.

Maybe along the path of reforming SGM from a charismatic shepherding-movement/Jesus-people-movement spin-off to a pentecostal/charismatic church with reformational tendencies to a more solid biblical movement, some changes to the leadership structure must happen. God is sanctifying his church. There are a lot of good people in SGM and a lot of good things there.  But apparently, there’s also some things that need to change….otherwise, you wouldn’t have Survivors and Refuge and the hundreds of people who read and/or post there.

I don’t have a horse in this race.  I’m just the random presbyterian guy who has interacted favorably with a few SGM folks, know a few of them and see many “evidences of grace” in the lives of the folks I’ve dealt with (including a few of the leaders that I’ve had passing and/or extended convos with). The last person who I was ‘starstruck’ with was John MacArthur, Jr. at T4G 2006 when I got a chance to shake his hand and tell him ‘thanks’ for The Gospel According to Jesus. All men are sinners – we are saved by grace and without grace, would be nothing more than sinners. Learning that lesson has reminded me not to put people I admire on a pedestal.

Reflecting on SGM’s spiritual trajectory and looking at my own spiritual history down to this point, I see quite a few parallels. Those who know me from my interactions with folks on HCR over the years (and other places) know that I can be (and have been) a really harsh dude at times to those I’ve disagreed with.  Over the years, as the doctrines of grace sunk in deeper beyond the surface, I’ve learned to be more gracious to those I disagree with (don’t get it twisted. I will still call something moronic, stupid and idiotic if it is…and if it’s heresy, I have no beef with calling it lies from the pit of hell).  My theology got solid first and it gave me quite a ‘zeal’, so to speak….a zeal that I’ve grown to learn how to temper (not eliminate or ignore) with mercy, forgiveness, patience and kindness.

So maybe SGM’s going through some of those same growing pains, but as an entire movement and not just individuals (even though CJ is a main focus, since he leads SGM).

I don’t think it’s wise to treat it like a free-for-all-bash-all-things-SGM-related-and-pray-for-their-collapse as I’ve seen some do.  Likewise, I don’t think it’s wise to jump up in automatic defense. I don’t think it’s wise to dismiss all of the documentation that Brent D. has provided (he himself did not put it on the web, but apparently knows who did post it anonymously).  But I also don’t think it’s wise to take only one presentation of the story at face value (Prov. 18:17).

The blogsphere has a tendency to polarize folks on issues like this – thus, I’ve waited until weeks later to post and tried to be as objective on the topic as possible before releasing my thoughts to the general public. My suggestion is to pray for all involved as more things become public, and weigh them with biblical wisdom before simply ‘choosing a side’.  Pray for the men leading the movement and that they would not succumb to cronyism (CJ mentored most of the board members who are now responsible for evaluating him for ministry), favoritism and the ever so tempting tendency to ‘spin’ truth, spin presentations and only appear to be doing something without actually doing anything. Pray for CJ. It’s real easy to resort to defending yourself, ignoring comments of critics in place of your own self-evaluation which seems ‘good’ to you (trust me…been there…done that).

Pray for those hurt by SGM’s practices who’ve left the movement (and even those who have left the visible church altogether). Pray for those SGM pastors left in the movement to exercise wisdom, patience and to discharge their office in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

Pray for those still in SGM’s churches.  Pray that their faith be not shaken, but placed rightly in the Savior first and foremost and not in men.

That’s all for now.  Got a few articles to write for the main site.

-KG

May 22nd Message. For those deceived by Harold Camping….

Part 1.  Part 2 is linked at the end of this video.

Food Choices, Church Choices and Their Effects on Living

I’ve been threatening, gathering, pondering and chunk writing portions of a new series (which, at this rate, will end up as a book) on reasons to leave your current ‘not-heretical-but-not-really-deep-theologically’ church for one that is. My friends and my own life experiences are continually giving me new source material to write and use as illustrations.

So you’re at a church that doesn’t teach anything overtly heretical, but the sermons are rather ‘light’ in doctrinal content. The preacher may be content with giving you practical (supposedly) sermons week to week which seem to be ‘how to’ more than anything else. All well and fine. We do need to know ‘how to’ from time to time. But you find yourself a bit ‘critical’ of the sermon week to week – “not enough meat!” So you supplement your church’s sermons with podcasts from people you consider ‘meatier’ – MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, or any number of lesser known but solid biblical and exegetical pastors.

There’s an old saying – if the cook doesn’t eat here, why should you ?

Maybe that’s a bit too strong. Maybe your church is more like this: Not adequately consistent on biblical teaching. The equivalent of eating steak one day, McFood Product 3-4 days out of the week, a McFood Product Apple Pie one day and then one day it’s potluck.

Since we’re running with food illustrations, let me add one more.

My wife and I recently started (maybe over the past 6-8 months) moving the bulk of our diet to being more organic. So we eat at Silver Diner (because they’ve switched over to organic) and Chipoltle as our primary food places if/when we eat outside. The occasional Chic-Fil-A comes in every once in a while (emergency food – but at least we know they serve real chicken) and Arby’s (my wife used to work there, so she knows how the food is prepped – at least the beef).

Since the new food choices have come into play, several things have happened.

1. We’re finding out that processed and non-fresh foods (i.e. canned fruit cocktail versus fresh fruit that you chop up or that is prepared the same day) don’t retain their flavor or their nutritional value. For example, at an event my wife and I went to, my wife (who loves fruit) didn’t finish the fruit cocktail she got (it was one of the healthier choices). She said it didn’t taste like anything. In the past, she used to be able to devour canned fruit cocktail all day….but now…not so much. Fresh fruit tastes better and as you spend extended time around fresh, canned begins to lose its’ appeal.

2. We’re finding ourselves having more energy to do more things. Healthier diet and lifestyle = more energy. The old food choices we used to do (rushing around with little time to cook) tended to ‘fill’ us up, but it left us feeling sluggish and tired afterward. As we’ve learned in researching some restaurants, some of it is because most or ALL of the nutritional value of some foods was pretty much NON-EXISTENT. So your body was working harder to draw nutrients out of something that didn’t have nutrients in it to begin with. Therefore, you’re left tired. Related to that is the additional fact that some of the food which DID have some nutritional value was also high in fat and sodium. So now, the remainder of your body’s energy is spent converting stuff to BAD fat and the sodium content is sapping your body of fluids, dehydrating you. So your body has to work harder to process less and you end up with less energy, altered moods, physiological issues, chemical imbalance, etc… This affects your thinking and communication skills as well. When we switched to organic choices (and added some harder work/regular exercise to the mix), things started to change gradually. At the end of last school year, I did the school yearbook, kept up with the school website and a plethora of changes, did two performances 3 days before the end of the school year and a few dozen other things that normally, I would’ve been completely burnt out to do. I’m not saying I wasn’t tired at the end But compared to last year, I’ve found myself recovering quicker.

3. Overshare time (wife cringing as I type this) !!! We’ve found ourselves more apt to get rid of…stuff. This has also helped with losing weight (since we’re not holding onto stuff in our intestines for extended periods of time) and digestion (good food digests easier).

These three points have great theological significance. Churches that are light on their treatment of theological topics and issues often find their members working harder (whether it be to work themselves into a shout and live off of the emotional high for the next week, or thinking that the various programs and outreaches they get involved in are the equivalent of growth and being spiritual) with diminishing returns (because now they have to involve themselves in ‘more’ over time just to feel like they are ‘doing the Lord’s work’ or ‘serving Him’ or ‘worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth’).

No real spiritual nutritional value. Just empty spiritual calories to fill you up. ‘How-to’ sermons divorced from their theological and biblical foundations, become morality lessons. Morality lessons don’t transform your way of thinking and they don’t save people. And you can only live off a cliché or morality lesson…until real trials strike.

Good spiritual food (in the form of consistent sound doctrine and good teaching) is like eating steak, organic chicken, fresh vegetables and such….every day. Good food on a regular basis helps your body grow stronger and keeps you free of most diseases. Likewise, good spiritual food will keep you free of most of the pitfalls that some believers constantly face and struggle with (i.e. “Am I good enough now to merit God’s favor beyond Him just saving me ?”). But the key is this: you have to be in the atmosphere consistently. That means you don’t simply live off of podcasts, tapes, CDs and DVDs, but you have people alongside of you who believe the same things, encouraging and strengthening you to move forward. You have a shepherd who consistently teaches and preaches these things every week. Your church consciously is modeled after this line of thought.

As other members of your community are being transformed by the preaching on Sunday and teaching throughout the week, they, in turn, pass that on to you as you interact with them. And as you find yourself being transformed, you pass that back to them. This ‘mutual edification’ gives you the spiritual strength necessary to endure all sorts of trials as they come.

Your view of God changes in a sounder atmosphere. God goes from being a benevolent grandfather up in heaven looking down at you and smiling and waiting to give you all sorts of gifts (because He’s nice and loving) to being the Almighty Creator of the universe, before whom, you deserve nothing but wrath and death, but who instead chooses to give you love, blessings and salvation. Realizing your condition makes God appear as He should – much bigger, much more awesome and then it hits you…. His love for you doesn’t depend on your performance. He didn’t save you because of something you did or would do. He didn’t “see the best in you” and then save you based on that.

It’s easy to think of yourself as being ‘worthy’ of a certain kind of love and knowing that your mate or another human being loves you because you’re you. There’s even a song out about it now (The Best In Me by Marvin Sapp). But knowing that God loves you when the best of ‘you’ is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and coming to realize that it doesn’t depend on you at all…well…that’s humility-producing.

It also produces a different kind of sanctification. You’ll find yourself more apt to self-examination (per 2 Cor. 13 and all of 1 John) and find yourself jettisoning as much ‘waste’ in your life that weighs you down from running toward the goal of Christlikeness.

Now I hear, on regular basis, people say things like “well, maybe some people are built up by things from this style of preaching versus that ‘theological’ stuff.” That, to me, falls in line with thinking that “ Well, maybe some people are built up by eating unhealthy food versus all that ‘organic stuff’.”

Objectively speaking, there’s only one meaning to the text of scripture. It cannot mean one thing and the exact opposite of that one thing at the same time. Objectively speaking, only ‘real spiritual food’ brings real spiritual growth. In other words, if what gets taught is false doctrine, no matter how the person feels about it, they are not being built up in the faith. They may be built up in habit, tradition, feeling, thinking and experiencing, but these things are not the Christian faith as taught in scripture.

In food analogy terms: one cannot say that McDonalds builds up people in a healthy fashion and that real beef from one cow builds up people just as well. Both statements are mutually exclusive (if you know how McDonalds’ meat gets mushed together from several different animals in varying shades of health). One is good for you and provides more nutrients for your body.  One is not and provides little nutrients for your body, gives you unwanted antibiotics, possible disease contamination (because those cows aren’t in the healthiest of shape and they eat a lot of filler).  Both taste differently.  So although both might fill you up, don’t mistake being full for being healthy. Both are having different effects on your body over the long haul.

I’ve encountered people who, after eating so much fast food for so many years, really don’t have a taste for real food. They have a taste for food…but not healthy food. And like children, over time, they must be weaned off of the bad food in order to develop a taste for the good.

A few ramblings of a man determined to nudge folks on to better ‘food choices’. I already know that some people will be moderately offended by it because they know that their church has good food. I teach middle school kids who think that McDonalds’ is good food too. But I’ve also been humble enough to sit and watch Super-Size Me and follow up on that with personal research. I also realize that middle school kids don’t necessarily have the maturity and capacity to think at the level of ‘what is this doing to my body over long periods of time’ because they’ve been trained up (by culture, society, media and parents) to have everything ‘now’ and focus on ‘now’. Likewise, there are many believers who have been trained up to not think critically and use their minds to the glory of God (Deut. 6:5).

The thing with good food, though…even if your palate has been trained to love fast food, you can be weaned off of it and moved over to real food. You can grow teeth that will bite into and rend steak. You can develop a taste for fresh fruit so that canned longer appeals to you. It takes time, work and the same way you would reprogram your muscles with daily workouts to grow stronger, you’d need to reprogram your appetite with good foods.

All that said…move somewhere with fresh, real, healthy, nutritious food. Nothing scripture says that you should remain at a place that is malnourishing you. You have friends at these places ? Instead of staying for their benefit, why not bring them with you to your new place of eating ?