Road to Reformation – Part 2

I actually read most of the best-selling book, “The Purpose-driven Life” a couple of years ago. At the time I thought it was a refreshing blast of gospel simplicity. I was thrilled at Rick Warren’s approach because, in hindsight, it was reflective of the way my church conducted service. It was a natural synopsis of the philosophies I had been raised upon in my first decade of spiritual growth. Of course I loved it! I heartily recommended it to a friend struggling through a divorce for encouragement, without a moment’s hesitation.

However, my suspicions concerning the state of the modern evangelical church continued to grow from that time until just over a year ago. It all came to a head in a prayer I voiced to God in the cool darkness of my backyard one late autumn night. My prayer went something like this: “Lord, my spirit is troubled over the church and the way it is handling the precious gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I fear that error is spreading like a plague through the churches of our land. More than anything, I desire to know the truth, and to live by that truth no matter the personal cost. Humble me that I may choose to follow you, Lord wherever it is you lead me. Open my eyes that I may perceive, unstop my ears that I may comprehend.”

Now, that sounds similar to the prayer of repentance of someone just coming to Christ, but I felt I’d lost my sense of direction. I was in motion but not moving forward, only sinking into a bog of confusion and chaos. This prayer was spurred in large part to (oddly enough) a program on TBN I caught one late night as I was channel surfing. It was called Way of the Master. It featured a little mustachioed man named Ray Comfort and his sidekick Kirk Cameron (of Growing Pains fame).

Intrigued by this odd duo, I tuned in and was astonished at the effectiveness of their their straight forward approach to preaching the gospel to a lost and dying world. They would go into the streets with cameras rolling, witnessing to complete strangers passing by. I admired their boldness and faithfulness to Christ’s mandate to preach the gospel to every creature. Their approach to presenting the ‘good news’ was completely foreign to me but it made sense in my mind immediately. The premise of their ministry is on the basis of the scripture,

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.‘ (1 Pet 5:5.)

Ray uses the ten commandments to humble the pride of man and show him that he stands guilty before a just and righteous God. He first gets a person to openly admit their guilt using the standard of the moral law. He then presents the glad tidings of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. Ray crushes the pride of man when he has been humbled by the law then offers him grace.

Incredible! This was revolutionary to me and knew it to be biblical. I have long understood why the law was given by God to Moses. The Apostle Paul expounded on that doctrine in his epistles.

By the law is the knowledge of sin.’ (Rom 3:20)

When a person is confronted with the law he realizes that he is a lawbreaker and must pay the penalty for his actions, which is death. The only hope man has is God’s mercy, which is graciously given through the cross of Christ. I just had never applied this balance of law and grace to my evangelical approach. I have developed a great respect for Ray Comfort’s ministry and frequently venture to his website at www.wayofthemaster.com. I also watch his program whenever possible. It has been a tremendous blessing and has helped in my evangelism immensely.

As I watched and read more about his beliefs, I caught on to some things that troubled me. Often Kirk and Ray would say something like “but remember, salvation is of the Lord.” when wrapping up a telecast. That puzzled me. They also would say man is completely powerless to save himself. Huh? I didn’t get that at all. It sounded suspiciously like… (Gasp!) Calvinism. Surely not! These two wonderful evangelists could not possibly adhere to the obviously heretical doctrines of election and predestination!

Curious, I began to look a little deeper into their theology, which, by the way, is never overtly addressed by either Ray or Kirk (that I’ve found). I noticed Ray and Kirk quoted Charles Spurgeon frequently, so I investigated his teachings to find clues on whether they were indeed ‘wicked Calvinists’. I was vaguely aware that Spurgeon was a renowned 19th century preacher in England who holds the title of ‘The Prince of Preachers’. I quickly discovered that he was a man on fire for God with an undying passion for evangelism. I was greatly impressed by his zeal which was obvious from just reading his sermons. I also was aghast to find that he was indeed a Calvinist, right down to the bone. He even went as far as to say that Calvinism was the gospel! I was crushed. How could people with such great passion for God have their theology so screwed up? But because I had grown to admire Ray Comfort and Charles Spurgeon I was reluctant to just dismiss them as ‘zealous for God but not according to knowledge’..

Note: To this day I’m still not absolutely 100% sure Ray and Kirk are 5-point calvinists. Sometimes they sound like flaming calvinists then at other times… not so much.

I remember Ray on his television program contrasting his evangelical style to what he called the ‘modern gospel.’ I soon realized the ‘modern gospel’ he criticized sounded suspiciously like the same gospel I had been adhering to for so many years. Yet everything he said resonated true in my ears. My conscience, which had been troubling me for so long, finally had found a voice through Ray Comfort’s teachings. I started Googling ‘modern gospel’ and found no shortage of excellent material chronicling the downward spiral of modern evangelism. Prominent in the critical scope of these discerning believers was the ministry of Rick Warren and his two best-selling books “The Purpose Driven Life” and “The Purpose Driven Church”.

As I read article after article chronicling the watered down gospel presentation that Warren and his contemporaries adhere to, my spirit soared, as if just released from the crushing weight of 10,000 iron chains. I had been duped. Myself along with the majority of Evangelical Christianity had bought into the methodology that catering to a crowd’s wants and needs provided the best means of planting their butts in the pews and saving their souls. In truth, this brand of evangelicalism is spiritually devastating, manufacturing easy-believism while creating false converts across the land.

Now, with Ray gaining more credibility by the minute, I decided I would investigate why on earth Calvinistic theology appealed to him and his contemporaries.

I was stunned when I found a website that listed several pages of Calvinism proof texts. As I read through them I quickly discovered that this was a theology built around the scriptures and not simply by the whims of some ancient heretic. I rolled up my sleeves, knowing it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought to dismiss this heresy. I studied the TULIP doctrine. For those new to this theology, TULIP is an acrostic for the 5 points of Calvinism. They are as follows:

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irrestistible grace

Perseverance of the Saints

I will go into the full meaning of these points in future posts. In a nutshell I decided the entire TULIP doctrine stood or fell upon the first point; Total Depravity. I studied intently for a couple of months to discover the answer to the burning question in my heart: Is man so lost in sin that he is totally unwilling and unable to repent and believe the gospel apart from God’s saving grace? The conclusion I came to after my long study in the scriptures left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yes, indeed, man is a ruined creature, totally depraved in the sense that every part of his being is affected and dominated by his sin nature. Man has no little ‘island of righteousness’ left within him that allows him to come to his senses and decide contrary to his own nature to turn towards God and receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Since I discovered this to be true I was forced to believe that if man can’t come to God, He must come and save us by his own sovereign grace. This grace is not bestowed by any meritorious act or thought man can muster in himself, but only by God’s good pleasure and purpose. Sola Gratia! God unconditionally elects some people to salvation while leaving the rest to perish in their sins. This was, at first, very difficult for me to accept (and still is). Then, slowly, I began to see the glory of God in these doctrines.

Man, in his corrupted state, has turned his face away from his Creator, is openly hostile and rebellious to God’s laws and statutes. He has absolutely no desire to turn away from his own lusts. But God, under no obligation whatsoever to save even one worthless sinner’s hide, because of his great mercy and compassion,

commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ ‘We love Him because He first loved us.‘ (Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:19).

For me, the gospel once again has become Christocentric. It’s all about the grace of God. I’m discovering that the gospel isn’t about me at all, but about Christ expressing God’s love towards his church. I’ve been set free from the bondage of legalism and works-based acceptance. I no longer believe that I came to Christ by producing within my corrupt and deceitful heart the pure, acceptable faith and repentance required to become a child of the Most High God. I reject the notion that I obtained grace by my own faith and must produce good works to retain that grace. I’ve realized that I’m not working out my salvation by striving for God’s continued approval but resting in the magnificent arms of his grace, which he freely and lovingly wrapped around my sinful, unworthy soul. I could go on for pages gushing about the wonder and glory of these doctrines of God’s sovereign grace, but this post has dragged on too long already. Enough about my testimony. The road to reformation is still ongoing and while I’ve embraced the 5-points of Calvinism I still have many questions to ponder about God’s sovereignty and other aspects of Reformation Theology. The journey down this new road is exciting and fresh, but it won’t be smooth, as I already can attest.



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10 thoughts on “Road to Reformation – Part 2

  1. Calvinism doctine of unconditional election believes that even many infants who die at birth are sent straight to hell because although they have never sinned, they are depraved by the sin of mankind and therfore are sentenced to hell.
    Does this sound like the will of a loving, just God?

    Although there are some scriptures that may imply the saved are unconditionally elected there are also scriptures that clearly refute this.

    Acts 2:20-22 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
    21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'[a]

    Acts 16:29-31 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.”

    Romans 10:8-10 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[a] that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

    Romans 10:12-14
    12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    James 2
    Faith and Deeds 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

    Philippians 2 Shining as Stars
    12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

    Phil 2:12″Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

    Matt 10:22″…but he who has persevered to the end will be saved.”

    2 Corinthians 13:5).”Therefore, brethren, strive even more by good works to make your calling and election sure. For if you do this, you will not fall into sin at any time. Indeed, in this way will be amply provided for you the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

    NIV

  2. Who Are The Elect?
    According to scripture the whole world and all men are the elect. God has elected the whole world to be saved but only some will make a choice to accecpt the election.

    Joh 3:16, 17 For God so loved the world , that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    1Ti 2:3, 4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

    2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance .

    Joh 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me .

  3. It’s interesting to me how we have gone down a very similar journey….

    I too have wondered what is happening to the churches of our days. I knew in my heart something felt very wrong in them.
    I prayed for God to reveal to me what was going on. I soon saw the problem with opened eyes. Many local churches are watering down the gospel.
    I too am feeling that these “seeker friendly” methods, imposed by Rick Waren (author of Purpose Driven life and church books), are getting us in the “tickled ears” catagory. And they are being taught to many churches!
    Along this spiritual journey I too also found Way of the Master…which has been a great help for me.

    And who did I find out has come up with some of the best teachings? Calvinist such as Piper, Paul Washer, Charles H. Surgeon… and even possible Calvinist Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.
    I’m not saying preachers who aren’t Calvinist aren’t good preachers, there are good ones there too. But these preachers who have really hit home and the heart for me more often than not are Calvinist.

    I am still doing my studies of Calvinism and TULIP.
    I actually didn’t know such an idea of this type of election exist, before this last October of 2008. So, basically I am very new to this concept.

    Enjoyed reading your writings.

    God bless you,
    and thank you for giving us a glimps into your walk with God.

  4. Thank you Robin, and welcome to my blog.
    It warms my heart to hear your testimony and to know that the path I have walked was not a solitary one. It’s good to have company on the road home! If you have any questions about Calvinism feel free to ask me. I’m still learning too. I would recommend that you read Michael Horton’s ‘Putting Amazing Back into Grace’ as an excellent primer on the doctrines of Grace. I also recommend ‘Chosen by God’ by RC Sproul. Excellent books!

    • YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO READ THE TEACHINGS OF AW PINK. HE IS VERY GOOD AT BRINGING OUT PREDESTINAATION AND DIVINE ELECTION. ALSO YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ LAW OR GRACE BY M.R DE HAAN. MANY CHURCHES BELIEVE IN ETERNAL SECURITY BUT DO NOT REALIZE THAT PRDESTINATION AND DIVINE ELCTION IS THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH IT STANDS. i AM HAPPY FOR YOU BROTHER AND THINKS FOR SHARING YOUR TESTIMONY.

  5. I’d be very careful about a full 5 point Calvinism. I say that because in order to achieve those 5 points it goes extra-biblical by augmenting God’s Word… not something I’d recommend. Trying to plug the holes God has purposely left with man dreamed logic is not of faith. And that which is not of faith is sin.

    Total Depravity – We cannot save ourselves…. no how, no way. God tells us that in our natural state our hearts, our wills, even our minds are corrupted by sin. Everything we do to try and attain our own righteousness merely heaps more sin at God’s feet. The end result is Isa 64:6.

    Unconditional Election – God elects to service, and He elects to salvation. God has made election to salvation conditional upon our response to Him. It is not however about our abilities… it’s about our response to His abilities. He empowers that response by His offer, but we must exercise the response. Among other places, Matt 22 – the parable of the wedding banquet. Those that are called (kletos) but who do not respond as God has said they must are not chosen (eklektos). Mt 22:14 “For many are invited (kletos), but few are chosen (eklektos).”

    Don’t get hung up on the “many” as a limiting factor. One must understand Hebraic / Aramic idioms. Just as in Romans where Paul tells us that on the account of the one man (Adam) the “many” are sinful.. we understand that to be “all”. In the world of Hebraic / Aramaic idioms, “many” is sometimes used to represent “all”. It’s used that way to describe how big the “all” is. If I put “all” my car keys on the table (1), next to “all” of my house keys (5 or so), in the Hebraic / Aramaic world view I would say that the first “all” is one, and the second “all” is “many”… it describes what “all” means.

    Limited Atonement – Please consider: 2 Cor 5:17-19 – in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, God was reconciling the “world” to Himself. Hopefully we know what scripture means when it says “the world”. It means this entire world system, fallen and depraved in sin, and everyone and everything in it. Christ reconciled all of that to God on the cross, bearing the sin for “all”, also described as “many” in the above Hebraic / Aramaic idiomatic speech pattern. Quite simply, for whom did Christ die? Just the elect that will end up being saved? No. From Paul:

    1Ti 4:9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
    1Ti 4:10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
    1Ti 4:11 Command and teach these things.

    Also from the Apostle John:

    1Jn 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
    1Jn 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (holos kosmos).

    Irresistable Grace – Not according to God’s Word. In fact, the only place in scripture where I see God compel any human to anything, is at the Great White Throne judgment where those that will not bend the knee to Christ will be forced to. God started us out in Eden with a will. He wanted creatures that would love Him. Love cannot be forced, or coerced, or preprogrammed. Once it is, it is no longer love… because love is not an emotion – it is a free decision of the will. If that will is subverted you can no longer have love. God’s grace can most certainly be resisted. From sweet, sweet Stephen:

    Ac 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

    Perseverance of the Saints – More like the perseverance of the Lord. We can only hold on to Him, because He holds on to us. End of story. See, once God wraps us up, encapsulates us into His Son, He drowns our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness… sins past, present, and future. We are forever bound up with Christ and when God looks at us, He only sees His precious Son. That my friend is the wonderful grace of God. Completely and totally unmerited. He loves us because He chooses to.

    See, even though we are depraved, we still know we are missing something. God has set eternity in our hearts, and in our deepest core we know we are in the dark. At least at first. We can, by constantly suppressing the truth of God He has made plain to us (Romans 1), allow our conscience to be seared and our hearts self hardened.

    Look at Isa 50:10-11. We know we are in the dark, but those that listen to the testimony of the Lord (as we know in the NT, from the Holy Spirit) trust in the Lord for their light. But others refuse God’s light and seek to make their own. They seek to make their own light because they know they are in the dark.. .depraved, but aware. Depraved is more about an inability that a negative ability. We have the will to do as we want, but not the will to do as we ought.

    Jesus case into the World as the light of the world. This light shines into our darkness and offers salvation. As Jesus said:

    Jn 12:35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.
    Jn 12:36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

    Post calvary, we have the Spirit of Christ (another name for the Holy Spirit). He condemns the world in regards to sin (that we have it), righteousness ( that Jesus has it and we don’t), and judgment (that because of our sin, it’s coming).

    Through the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truth of God’s word, God enables our conversion (biblical repentance and biblical faith – not the regret and easy believism that is preached today). Just as in the parable of the wedding banquet, all who hear the King’s message are “called”. But the chosen are the ones who answer as God has indicated they must. The others are rejected not because God made them that way from all eternity, but because the refused the light of Jesus Christ and treated His blood as an unholy thing.

    Faith is not a meritorious work. Faith is standing in God’s court (because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit) and pleading guilty to all that He says about us. Pleading guilty to high treason and rebellion is not meritorious. Then throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court is not meritorious. However, both of those things (the duplex act of repentance from sin and turning to Christ for salvation in complete and total faith) is the condition that God has put on His salvation.

    It’s His salvation and His free choice to state its terms. I’d not recommend any of us telling Him or anyone else something different.

    God bless you and good luck in your walk!!

  6. Check out this article about Ray Comfort. Ray has been my teacher and equipper in evangelism for years. I love this brother in Christ, and everything this article says I do not agree with, yet the point on what is repentence is noteworthy. Please read it all before making a judgment. I got so cross at first and assumed to know what the author was saying. I assured myself he was completely ignorant of the issue… until I read the article in full. I believe Ray’s definition of repentance has hindered the true call of repentence and made it unimaginably high. No one coming to Christ completely forsakes their sins, just as no one coming to Christ has complete faith. These start out very small, and as we grow in Christ our repentance and faith grow also. I am much more convicted over sin now than I was two years ago, and hopefully will be more convicted over sin in another two years. Ray is not a wolf and this man has a penchant for heresy hunting. I believe he will have to answer to God on Judgement Day for his attacks upon his brothers and his own judgement will be stricter. Still he makes a good point on the definition of repentance. http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Wolves/ray_comfort.htm

  7. It all comes down to who is sovereign. Is it God or man. I went down that path. The thought was put in my mind and after searching a bit I came across the doctrines of grace(ie Calvinism).

    Joh 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    The carnal mind can rationalize anything. That is why arminianism is so popular. It is based on the will of man and not God. Arminianism is man-centred gospel.

    Mat 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

    Arminians likes using John 3:16 but then overlooks

    John 17:9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

    BTW Faith,repentance and belief is a gift of God

  8. HARD TO BELIEVE:

    HOW I BECAME A “CALVINIST”

    BY JEREMY TODD WHITTEN

    JUNE 12, 2005

    PREFACE

    “You are lost, undone, without God; and if He is not glorified in your salvation, He will be glorified in your destruction; if God does not come and make His residency in your hearts, you must take up an eternal residency with the devil and his angels.” -George Whitefield (1741)

    Genesis 6:5-8 “Then the Lord saw that wickedness of man was great in the earth. . ., And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth. . ., So the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast. . ., But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”.

    We are all familiar with this “cute” little story about Noah and his animals safely escaping the flood that covered the entire world. But unfortunately, we are not familiar enough with the theology behind this account of God’s wrath displayed towards sinners. God decided to destroy His creation with not only rainfall, but other phenomenon with devastating cataclysmic force. Fossils, rivers, lakes, and sentiment rock are visible proof that we can still see today from this biblical event. Our rain-cycle of condensation, precipitation, and evaporation has its roots from this display of God’s power, and provides us with physical evidence that it occurred exactly how the bible described it. Not to mention that 75 percent of the earth is still under water as seen in our oceans and ice caps.

    So what does the story of Noah’s ark and the flood have to do with my testimony of “How I came to embrace the theology known as Calvinsim”? I can only answer that question by sharing my testimony in light of what I have discovered this system of theology to mean. My personal definition of Calvinism is “Man’s attempt through the study of God’s word to explain God’s purposeful plan of saving spiritually dead sinners through His sovereign and merciful grace that He ordained before the foundations of the world”. I wanted to use the familiar story of Noah’s ark so the reader could see how God showed favor to a single man and his family while displaying His wrath on millions more that included people of all ages. It is an excellent parallel to the future and final display of God’s wrath towards sinners while graciously “saving” His chosen few. I like to compare the analogy between God’s favor for Noah and his family with the elect that are graciously being saved today. One could argue that anyone could have been saved from the flood if they had repented and turned from their wicked ways. The ark was designed by God and instructions as to the size and content of the ark were specifically given to Noah. The fact is, God knew that Noah and his family would be the only ones saved from the wrath to come. We can view the final destiny of man in this same fashion. God already knows who will be saved and escape the future wrath to come. The Lambs Book of Life is shut and sealed and it is not open and waiting to add more converts. Likewise, the door of the ark was shut and sealed by God himself not allowing anyone a second chance to repent. Noah could have hog-tied a person and thrown him on to the ark or even kidnapped a child for that matter. But that was not God’s intentions or dare I say purpose.

    Today we can enjoy some of the blessings that resulted from God’s purpose of saving Noah and his family. We would not be able to survive without oceans, rainfall, animals, fossil- fuels, and the current cycle of nature that was not a part of the pre-deluged world. And, obviously, none of us would be here if the history of humanity had ended in Genesis.

    My point is that God gives grace to some sinners while others are left to “drown in their sin”. God was able to display His glory through the destruction of mankind while saving only a few. God was not obligated to rescue Noah but He had purposed to do so in order for His glory to be seen by His children. Likewise, God is not obligated to save any of us for we have “all sinned and fallen short” but His glory is displayed every time He chooses to do so. Noah was not without sin but God graciously saved him through His son Jesus’ work on the cross which God had already planned in eternity past. God saves us the same way He chose to save Noah. Through the sacrificial death of His son Christ Jesus. God preordained these events in eternity past for His purpose and more specifically for His glory. Though difficult to humanly understand, these truths should not be hard to believe. The prophet Isaiah tells us why in Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”.

    INTRODUCTION

    Before I begin with my testimony, I want to clarify as to why I have used the label “Calvinist” to describe my views of God’ purposeful plan of saving spiritually dead sinners through His sovereign and merciful grace that He ordained before the foundations of the world. I have purposely chosen this controversial title to encourage the reader to search for themselves as to what they believe about theological terms such as regeneration, conversion, election, predestination, reprobation, justification, sanctification, glorification, man’s free-will, the “sovereignty of God”, and all the biblical doctrines that teach us about the most important issue any of us will ever face: SALVATION.

    The purpose of my testimony is not to argue over any of these doctrines that either support or negate the classic belief of Calvinism, nor do I purpose to attack the opposing system of theology known as Arminianism which has its’ early roots filled with controversy as well. There are plenty of books, articles, and websites that offer plenty of scripture references and sermons that argue for and against Calvinism. It is an age-old argument that goes back to the first days of the early church. My goal is not to convert anyone to Calvinism but to encourage the reader to search for themselves the deeper things of God.

    I do not believe in the notion; that as a Christian, you must embrace one view or the other or that you must fall under one of the two labels. However, I do not consider it healthy to be content with embracing neither. Claiming the “middle ground” is usually an excuse for not wrestling or striving to understand truth. Whether or not truth comes to light is up to the believer to seek and for God to illuminate.

    I think that most American churches avoid controversial dogma in order to create a “seeker-friendly” environment. They seem to care more about numerical growth then the spiritual growth of its’ members. As a result, along with apostasy in our culture, we have lost some of the ability to discern spiritual truth against unsound doctrine.

    One of the great indictments of the modern evangelical church is that we are ignorant concerning most of these Christian doctrines. Our ignorance has a lot to do with the popularity of man-centered preaching, watered-down gospel presentations, impure motives for evangelism and missions, entertainment inspired worship services, and ministries that do not give glory to God.

    I believe the greatest need for the church today is for God’ people to proclaim His truths with power and conviction with no regard to whom it might offend or make to feel uncomfortable. Calvinistic doctrine bled through the pulpits that led to life-changing experiences during The Great Awakening revivals and during some of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit ever documented in church history. Our only remedy for the sickness that has plagued our churches is for God to send revival and to awaken His people today just like He has in the past. We should always pray for God to supernaturally revive us because if the “living” are not alive then what hope is there for the dead?

    I also want to make clear that by calling myself a “Calvinist”, I am not endorsing all of the teachings of John Calvin and am not an apologist for his beliefs. The terms Calvinism and Reformed Theology are used interchangeably throughout my testimony for the sake of clarity and because the terms are usually used to describe each other. I prefer to use the terms Doctrines of Grace when referring to the Five Main Points of Calvinism, which I mention in my testimony but do not labor to explain in detail.

    I do not embrace all of the teachings that sprung from the Protestant Reformation for I am a Baptist by denominational association and would thus have to differ with my fellow brothers with some of their practices and liturgy that came from that movement. I believe that God’s truths and His true church have always existed from the first church in Antioch till now. I believe the true church was visible at some level even before the time of the Great Protestant Reformation. Jesus promised that He would preserve His word and reveal Himself to His people until His physical return, so thus my stance on The Reformation.

    I wish I did not have to fall under the label “Calvinist”, “Baptist”, or surprisingly even “Christian” for that matter. A more appropriate label for Christians would be what the New Testament refers to as “Saints”. The only two labels that any of us should be concerned with are the “Saints” and the “Aints”. Placing my poor grammar aside, I believe that all of humanity falls under one of these two categories despite the abundance of so-called Christian views that claim otherwise. It is not up to any of us to discern who the elect or reprobate (if there is such a thing?) are, hence the reason why we are commissioned by Jesus to preach His gospel to everyone. We plant the gospel seed but God gets the increase and His word never returns void regardless of the outcome.

    The title of my testimony is intended to create a stir without the intentions of being controversial. I do not like calling myself a Calvinist but rather a student of doctrine and a seeker of truth. I want to encourage other believers to wrestle with these important doctrines and to search for themselves as to what the Bible has to say about them. I have tried to express my opinions with humility and in love for all believers in Christ. If the label fits me, then I intend to wear it. If I am a follower of Christ, then call me a “Christian” ; If I practice believers baptism within a self-governing church, then call me a “Baptist”; If I embrace the Doctrines of Grace then go ahead and call me a “Calvinist”. For it is only a label shared by many of the great theologians, hymn writers, missionaries, and preachers of our past; including Augustine, William Tyndale, John Knox, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards (our country’s greatest theologian who served as president of Princeton University), David Brainerd (missionary to Native Americans), Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John Newton (the author of our Christian anthem Amazing Grace), fellow hymn writers Robert Robinson (Come, Thy Fount of Every Blessing), and Isaac Watts’ (Joy to the World); and the great 19th-century evangelist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who said the following concerning Calvinism, “It is no novelty then, that I am preaching no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname CALVINISM, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. . . taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren; I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church. . . the old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth. I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again”.

    MY TESTIMONY

    My introduction to the theology commonly and fearfully known as Calvinism began when I was a youth. Reading parts of my Living Translation bible, I would often come across difficult passages of scripture such as Romans 9:11-13 “For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her (Rebecca), The older shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”. I remember reading other verses that referred to fellow Christians as the “elect” or “chosen”. I also remember thinking about the foreknowledge of God and how I interpreted that to mean God “knew” who would be saved since He was “all knowing” and that He looked in the future and saw who would “accept Jesus as their personal savior”; and they were the ones whom God had chosen or predestined to become His children.

    I did not learn till much later that the correct translation of foreknowledge in the bible was “loving intimately before hand”. I now understand the word “know” in the bible to mean a special love relationship, i.e. Adam knew his wife Eve and bore a son; and “depart from Me, for I never knew you”. God obviously “knows” who we are but He does not share the same love relationship with those who have rejected Him.

    Growing up in church, I had never heard of Calvinism, Arminianism or theological terms such as Reformed Theology, Gods sovereignty, or even the “free-will of man”. However, I did understand as a young Christian that God was in control of everything and that He was a caring and loving God. I guess if I had known at the time, I had an Arminian (free-will) view of Gods grace towards men. I assumed that God did His part and that it was then left up to man to repent and place their faith in Jesus without ever wondering how one acquired a saving faith in Jesus. I thought that a person could simply recite “a sinner’s prayer” and that salvation could be exercised by one’s own will. Obviously, I was not familiar with Romans 9:16 when Paul said “it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God who shows mercy”.

    I do not remember a time when I did not believe in God or trust in Christ. I am not implying that I was born saved. The bible does not teach an “age of accountability” so therefore I have a problem with believing that children are innocent or that God has a “different” plan of salvation for children. Anyone who has raised children can verify the biblical truth that children are not “innocent”. God loves children and graciously saves them the same way he redeems adults. I was born a sinner like everyone else but at some point in time; I was regenerated (born-again) by God and given child-like faith to believe in Him and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The exact time and place of my conversion was never revealed to me by God. The fruit of my belongingness to Christ was evident but maybe not as visible as it is now. I had asked God to save me on numerous occasions. I will not try to guess when God first bestowed His saving grace to me when I am not sure of when but only assured of how he saved me.

    I wish I had a fiery, emotionally charged testimony to share with you but I will not conjure one up just to satisfy others and to prove myself worthy. I guess that childhood conversions are not as dramatic and memorable as that of teens or adults. The nature of sin is greater manifested in an adult so their burden is probably heavier than that of a child. Children who have been genuinely saved are blessed because they experience God’s favor much earlier in life. They do not have to grow up in enmity against God like that of an adult who has spent many years indulging in sin. So obviously, an adult would have an easier time remembering their salvation experience.

    I am not afraid to admit my uncertainty of the genesis of when I was born-again and made to walk in newness with Christ. It is more important to know that you are saved now then to recall some moment in the past that may or may not have been a legitimate conversion. If you are trusting in a “decision” that you made in the past then your life today should reflect a Christ-like nature. Anyone has reason to doubt their conversion if the desire to be like Christ is not displayed in their life. My soul rests on the truth that God continues to work in my life today. He is all the assurance I need!

    As a young Christian, I often wondered why God seemed to show favor towards certain people and in certain places throughout history. I would hear about the starving kids in Ethiopia and think that I could have been born in Africa or some other Godless society. I could have been born to atheistic parents and not enjoyed the blessings of growing up in a Christian home. I never believed in fate, chance, luck, or that some people were just dealt a bad card in life. Even as a young Christian, I was aware and acknowledged the fact that God was sovereign (though I did not know the term). I was always sensitive to the fact that God placed me in certain situations and allowed me to meet certain people for reasons that only He knew at the time. So the thought of God having a divine purpose and plan did not come as a shock to me when I began to look at these doctrines later in life and as I matured in the faith.

    Having thoughts of God’s sovereignty mixed in with my Arminian (though I did not know it at the time) yet popular views of theology, I was interested when the topics of “predestination”, “divine-purpose”, or “foreknowledge” were brought up among my college Sunday school class at a local Southern Baptist church. Some of my Sunday school peers would often debate and go over scriptures concerning the doctrines of Calvinism which I would soon erroneously think to mean that God chose certain people for no apparent reason and forced them to become Christians; and that He predestined some to hell because they were not the “chosen ones”.

    At first, I animatedly opposed some of these doctrines but not to the point where I did not welcome the conversations (which seemed to dominate our group at the time).There were always solid verses that supported this unpopular belief (or was it a cult?). And for every verse that talked about the “elect’ I would argue the “whosoever wills”. Jordan Thomas, my Sunday school teacher at the time, embraced the Doctrines of Grace. As a result of his convictions, he was released of his duties as an associate minister to students. He was fired for allegedly teaching Calvinism even though the founders of our denomination were Calvinistic in their doctrine. He never forced his beliefs on any of his students. He always encouraged us to “wrestle with God” concerning anything we found difficult to understand in scripture. He would challenge us to seek God in order to understand who He was and he encouraged us to live as a reflection of His glory. I thought equipping the Saints was the purpose of any minister of the Gospel. In retrospect, I feel that he was fired for simply being too doctrinal. His bold style of preaching resulted in challenging and convicting messages that obviously struck a nerve with students and their parents. His dismissal was very upsetting to me and several other members of the church where I no longer attend. The churchs’ “decision”? to replace his ministry played a vital role in my opinions of the modern church-movement. It also encouraged me to look further into this “heresy” known as Calvinism.

    After lunch one afternoon, Jordan asked me a question about “Where does saving faith come from”? And my hesitant but correct response was “from God”. Though I had answered the question correctly, I was not so sure why I believed it. Since I believed that saving faith was a gift from God (because that is what the bible clearly states) and I did not believe that a true Christian could lose their salvation (that is in the bible too), then I could at least agree on some of the points of Calvinism without embracing the other points involving election and man’s inability to come to Christ on his own terms.

    I want to include in my testimony a summary of when God’s Holy Spirit flooded me in the summer of 2000. It began after hearing a sermon one Sunday morning at my church that I was attending at the time. Surprisingly, it was not a hell-fire and brimstone sermon filled with yelling and fist pounding at the pulpit. It was seemingly a typical Southern Baptist sermon but it obviously had God’s anointing all over it. I would love to share this unique experience in complete detail but I do not want it to over- shadow the subject of my testimony of “how I came to understand and embrace the Doctrines of Grace which are known to some Christians as Calvinism and or heretical misinterpretations of the holy scriptures”.

    On father’s day, June of 2000, God supernaturally invaded my life and gave me a sharp and painful awareness of my sin as well as the sin that was everywhere around me. I was preoccupied with God and with thoughts of His holiness as compared to my sinfulness. After experiencing this personal revival and even during this difficult yet fruitful time; I was challenged to discover what God was doing in my life and why this experience was happening to me. Most of those answers I found in scripture. I was never satisfied unless I had spent time alone with God meditating mostly in the book of Psalms. I was interested in hearing similar testimonies of this particular work of God to bring understanding to what God was doing with me. Through God’s providential circumstances, He led me to a young Primitive Baptist preacher who had described a similar experience of God’s presence as well as similar manifestations I had encountered. He helped me understand this unique work and how it affected his view of God’s hate towards sin.

    Brother Jordan Thomas, who was responsible for preaching the sermon that sparked this invasion of God’s holy presence in my life was vital in counseling me during this time. During the congregational prayer before the sermon that had changed my life; Brother Jordan asked God “to meet us in a real and supernatural way”, and he prayed for God “to change our lives in a unique way”. Little did I know that God would answer that prayer and would continue to perform a supernatural work in my life for days to come. I began to feel the awesomeness of God as the sermon came to a close. During the invitation, I felt that I needed to respond but I did not know how. This feeling intensified as I went home afterwards. I tried to preoccupy myself with amusement and I even took my second shower of the day to try and clear the restless thoughts of uncertainty and guilt. The more I tried to push these thoughts aside the stronger these feelings of conviction wore on me. I finally decided I needed to spend time alone with God. Behind closed doors of my bedroom, I thought all I needed to do was praise Him and thank Him for saving me. Before I could offer up my first praise; It was as if God had spoken to me and said “I do not want your praises, but I do want your heart”. God had my undivided attention like never before. I would feel convicted while trying to watch television or by doing anything that kept me from thinking about him. I even felt miserable later in the week after going to a bible study at another church because God wanted to deal with me alone. It obviously made working at my job extremely difficult. Thankfully, God allowed me to work while dealing heavily with my soul.

    I was up earlier than usual each morning and was compelled to spend hours throughout the day reading my bible, praying and meditating on God’s holiness. During this time, I could not believe how anyone could sin and escape the feelings of Gods wrath. I was not able to eat much during this time but ate as much as I could to keep my family from worrying. I was willing to do anything that God would ask of me if He would “let up” these feelings of unworthiness and nakedness.

    I am not exactly sure how long this encounter with God lasted. For at least a month, I knew I was not my normal self as others would notice. To a much lesser degree, these feelings are still with me as I continue in my pilgrimage. I kept a journal during this time so that I would be able to reflect on these experiences. As I look back at it now, I can see how the onset of this work was initially filled with remorse and conviction and “a tearing away of my nature”. This experience weakened as it turned more into a season of praise and thankfulness.

    During my counseling sessions with Jordan in which I would describe how God was dealing with me and how the Holy Spirit was sharpening my awareness of sin, he was reminded of what he had often read about in books that dealt with revival and some of the testimonies during America’s Great Awakening revivals that took place in New England in the 1700s under the preaching of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. So naturally, I wanted to look at these revivals in closer detail in order to gain a better understanding of this supernatural work that I had experienced.

    I immediately went to area Christian book stores and searched for bios of Jonathan Edwards (sadly some were found in the clearance sections), and books containing the testimonies of those converted and revived during The Great Awakening. I begin to study some of the theology behind these revivals and some of the sermons that sparked these supernatural works of God. I was interested in reading anything that described true God-sent revival including an account of a prayer meeting led by Duncan Campbell in Scotland where the whole town was “ablaze for God”. One book that was of particular usefulness was entitled Revival – “A People Saturated with God ” that Jordan graciously gave me during this time but I was not able to read till much later (I was meditating in Psalms).

    The most powerful and influential book that I had ever read other than the Holy Bible was the work entitled Religious Affections (which is an abbreviated title from the original) by Jonathan Edwards. I began to shape my theology as a result of reading this book and felt somewhat “discipled” by Jonathan Edwards himself because he seemed to answer so many of the questions that I had conscerning God. He would give precise scripture references and in particular those that dealt with God’s sovereignty and His purpose of glorifying Himself.

    This all happened during a critical time in my life when I was searching for answers and career guidance while seemingly living a good Christian life. But being active in Sunday school and church activities were not enough for God, as I would painfully learn. He wanted to show me how much I still needed him even though my spiritual life seemed to be in order. During this time of “personal revival”; I remember not understanding how anyone, whether they were saved or lost, could live in sin and not run to the throne of God and beg for His mercy. I realized there was no hope for anyone attempting to live the Christian life unless God revealed to them their desperate need for a savior. I had not yet converted to Calvinism for I was still wrestling with the issues. Having been influenced by Jordan Thomas, Jonathan Edwards, and other Puritan writers of early American history; it would have been easy for me to embrace their theology and proclaim myself to be a “Calvinist”. After all, Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist and was widely revered as the greatest Baptist preacher of all time. Even though I respected these beliefs, my human mind would not allow me to understand them. Calvinism did not seem fair and some of the main points seemed out of God’s character. They did not line up with the ideas that I had always had of God. My thoughts on witnessing and “leading people to Christ” were in question when these doctrines were brought to my attention.

    However, I did gain some ground with my opinions on Calvinism and the overall purpose of God’s plan for the redemption of man. I did not regard Calvinism as heresy. I did not think that Calvinists were in gross error but I still wanted to study the opposing views that were shared with most “Christians”, and the scriptures that seemed to contradict the teachings of Calvinism. I was hoping to come to some conclusion as to whether I would completely embrace the doctrines of Calvinism or the more popular teachings of modern Christianity. I prayed and asked God to reveal His truths concerning these issues. Over time, He began to answer my prayers through His word and through providential circumstances.

    I began reading books that opposed Calvinism in order to get a healthy balance for my personal study. I would skim pages of books that argued the age-old controversy of God’s sovereignty verses “the free-will of man”. I read articles by contemporary authors who argued that Calvinism was detrimental to the spread of the Gospel and contradicted God’s love for all mankind.

    I eventually found a book at Bellevue Baptists’ bookstore entitled Predestined for Hell ?, Absolutely Not! by Dr. Adrian Rogers. While purchasing the book, a nice lady at the sales counter offered a free audio tape by Adrian Rogers that featured his message on Reformed Theology. I thought that God’s providence was allowing me to obtain these resources as an answer to my prayers for the understanding of truth. While reading the book and listening to the message, I was given excellent scripture references while learning about the “Five Points of Calvinism” through the acronym of T. U. L. I. P. Dr. Rogers went through each point giving his explanations as to what he thought they meant. They included: Total depravity of man (which I interpret as man being dead in trespasses and sins and completely fallen from Adam’s curse), Unconditional election (which I interpret as God graciously saving His children based on His love for them and not on anything we have to offer within ourselves), Limited atonement (which I like to refer to as “particular redemption””, meaning God accomplished on the cross that which He intended), Irresistible grace (which I like to refer as the “effectual call””, meaning man accepts the Gospel on God’s terms), and Perseverance of the saints (meaning once you are truly saved you can not lose your salvation).

    I respected the fact Dr. Rodgers addressed these teachings when most preachers of his platform seemed to avoid them. Most of Dr. Rodgers’ opinions are shared by many respected bible teachers. The majority of the scriptures he used were found in Romans chapters 8 and 9. I respectfully disagreed with his interpretations of these doctrines in light of what I knew of Calvinism and my background of Reformed Theology.

    Ironically, it was this study of Romans that I found myself defending Reformed Theology and the Calvinistic Doctrines of Grace. I did not “hop out of bed” one morning and proclaim myself a “Calvinist”. I gradually embraced the Doctrines of Grace as God gave me understanding through His word.

    Just because I now embrace Calvinism and some doctrines under the umbrella of Reformed Theology, it does not mean that I have God “all figured out” and that I can explain to anyone exactly what happens at the miracuolous point of regeneration and conversion of a sinner. To say that would be arrogance on my part and would contradict what God says in Isaiah concerning “His ways and thoughts are higher than ours”. I have learned that we do exercise “free-will” in a sense that we have “all freely and willfully chosen sin”. And without God invading our paths to self-destruction we would all be without hope. I take refuge in knowing that God chose to save sinners and it is important to understand that no man is sent to Hell that has not willfully chosen to go there himself. I have gained a better understanding of God by having a higher view of Him while having a lower view of self.

    The ultimate fruit to these glorious truths is that God receives all the glory for our redemption and that all praises are forever due to our gracious and merciful King of Kings and Lord of Lords. These truths exalt His name and give Him glory that He purposefully governs to make known to His people. The question in doubt should not be “God’s will verses the free- will of man”? But rather, “God’s purpose versus man’s responsibility”. The bible is clear on that question. The bible teaches that God indeed has a purpose which will be fulfilled and come to fruition, and that mans’ responsibility is to repent and turn from sin. Unfortunately, not all men will repent but it will not be without the purpose of God in mind. That truth itself is difficult for me to humanly understand but by God’s grace, it is definitely not “hard for me to believe”.

    Ephesians 2:8-9

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”.

    Romans 8:28-30

    “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He forknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified’.

    “I was a wondering sheep, I did not love the fold: I did not love my Shepherd’s voice, I would not be controlled.”

    “I was a way-ward child, I did not love my home: I did not love my Father’s voice, I loved afar to roam.”

    “The Shepard sought his sheep, the Father sought his child: He followed me oer vale and hill, oer desserts waste and wild”.

    “He found me nigh to death; famished and faint and lone, He bound me with the bands of love, He saved the wondering one”.

    “Jesus my Shepard is: “Twas He that loved my soul, twas He that washed me in His Blood, twas He that made me whole”:

    “Twas He that sought the lost, that found the wondering sheep: Twas He that brought me to the fold, Tis He that still doth keep”.

    “No more a wondering sheep, I love to be controlled, I love my tender Shepard’s voice, I love the peaceful fold”:

    “No more a way-ward child, I seek no more to roam: I love my heavenly Father’s voice, I love, I love His home”!

    -Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

    John 10: 27-28

    “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand”.

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