HOW SEMI-PELAGIAN LEGALISM TOOK OVER A BAPTIST CHURCH*
In September 1998, God was pleased to save my wife and me out of the Pentecostal movement.
With the outbreak of the Toronto Blessing in the early 1990s and the flooding into the Pentecostal churches of outlandish and ungodly behavior and beliefs, we were caused to flee to the scriptures and spend many hours in study and prayer. We also began listening to solid Bible teaching on our local Christian radio. Such men as John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul. During this time the Lord led us more and more into a Reformed evangelical understanding of the Christian faith and we eventually came to see that neither one of us had been truly saved. The Holy Spirit did a glorious work of awakening in our hearts and we cried out to Jesus to save us from our error.
We then began a process of daily renewal of our minds. The years of Pentecostal thinking had taken its toll upon our understanding of God and true, Christian spirituality. With this new beginning, we began to visit a number of churches in our area, but none of them truly satisfied us. They were either tainted with Pentecostal/Charismatic teachings, seeker-sensitive philosophies, or they were seriously compromised in some other way. None of the pastors of these churches preached expositionally through the scriptures, the type of preaching my wife and I desired to hear.
Thankfully, the Lord led us to a small Baptist church. The pastor and his wife were both graduates from Bob Jones University and the pastor had attended The Master's Seminary. This news pleased us because we both loved John MacArthur for his radio ministry was so instrumental in bringing us to the Lord. Additionally, this pastor was an expositional preaching pastor who taught the entire Word of God and not sermons taken from cherry picked passages. My wife and I were filled with joy for we had discovered the last remaining refuge in an area of severe drought.
We quickly became involved with our new church home. We attended the pastor's new Christian class and learned so much from him. Additionally, his preaching was deep and warm and provided us with a sense of awe for God's Word. He held strongly to the doctrines of election, what was nick-named Calvinism, and though my wife and I were first shaken by these doctrines when we learned them, as we study the scriptures, the illuminating work of the Spirit showed us that this is what the Bible clearly taught. We eventually rejoiced with humble gratitude that God would choose to save two sinners like ourselves.
The worship at our church was also sweet. The music leader, though a young man, led us in worship that was a sound balance between classic, traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs. The music he used provided us a profound vision of a sovereign God worthy of our praise. Most importantly, our pastor loved missions. Our church sent out summertime, short-term missions teams to Africa, Asia and even the former Soviet Union. In 2002, my wife and I had the opportunity to use our vacation time for two weeks in a remote South African village building a church and encouraging the saints.
In December 2003, our beloved pastor resigned to become a full-time missionary in Albania. We were all saddened by him and his family leaving, but were also joyful at the wonderful ministry opportunities that awaited him. That was a difficult time for my wife and I because we loved our pastor so much, but we remained faithful to our local Baptist congregation where we had grown in the knowledge of the Lord.
Shortly after he left, a couple of deacons in our church began the candidating process to find a new pastor. These two men were fairly new to our church and were known for having strong personalities. They had quickly risen to prominence even while our previous pastor was here, even challenging him as to some of the things he taught like the doctrine of election and his use of a modern Bible version when he preached. Now these men were facilitating the process of finding a new pastor.
Eventually, these men announced to the congregation that they had found "God's man" to lead our little flock. They told us he was a man who had graduated from Pensacola Christian College and held firmly to the fundamentals of the faith. One of the deacons even jokingly suggested that those who didn't like him when they heard him preach "were not walking in the spirit." The man did come to preach for us, but I was troubled by his bombastic preaching. He had the tendency to yell a lot when he preached and he seemed to wander all over the place in the Bible, not staying with in the selected text like our previous pastor. I was also concerned by his admission during the public interview time after the morning service that he had "pastored" three different churches with in the last 7 years. None the less, and despite these red flags, my wife and I reluctantly voted for him to be the new pastor because we didn't want to be viewed as "not walking in the spirit." We also wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and hoped his preaching would improve when he came.
After he arrived to take up the position of pastor, it quickly became clear that his preaching was consistently the style of sermon he gave when he was candidating: he read a verse or two from a selected passage and then spent the remainder of his time jumping from context to context throughout the Bible. On Sunday mornings his sermon was always "evangelistic" ending with an extended invitation which many of us thought was manipulative of people's emotions. Sunday and Wednesdays evenings were devoted to messages addressing what the pastor believed were "serious compromises" in the Christian church. He spoke against ecumenicalism, the seeker-sensitive movement, the Prayer of Jabez and Purpose-Driven Life philosophies, and charismatic theology. I agreed with much of what he said against these "compromises," but he began to address a variety of subjects that really concerned my wife and I, as well as several others in the church.
At one Wednesday evening service, he took the time to speak out against the so-called "evils" of contemporary Christian music and announced from the pulpit that our church would no longer tolerate the man-centered lies permeating the lyrics of CCM anymore. This news alarmed many of us in the church because we were personally blessed by some of the CCM, especially the contemporary songs our worship leader utilized during the worship time. After our pastor condemned the singing of CCM, the deacons told our worship leader he could no longer use any contemporary songs and in fact had to submit any worship music to the pastor the week before the service for his approval. The worship leader did his best to satisfy the deacon's wishes, but he resigned the position a couple of months later, and he and his family eventually left our church by the end of the year.
Also, the pastor was strongly opinionated about the use of the King James Version of the Bible in our church. He gave a series of messages on Sunday evenings telling of the superiority of the KJV over all other English translations. He denounced all modern versions as being "modern per-versions" and told the congregation we needed a revival of God's Word in our life - God's Word meaning the exclusive use of the KJV. Many of us in the church were deeply disturbed by the messages, because we used some of the modern versions he denounced. On the last Sunday evening of his KJV series, I spoke with the pastor and told him I really liked the English Standard Version. He dismissively replied, "Well brother, I know I won't drink from broken cisterns and poisoned wells. I want to drink from the pure Word of God and that can only be found in the KJV." He told me to read a book called "Final Authority" by a guy named William Grady.
Then, about 7 months or so after the pastor arrived, one of the deacons who was instrumental in having him candidate, started a series of messages in our men's Sunday School class based upon the book "What Love Is This?" by Dave Hunt. In the very first message he announced that he believed "Calvinism" was a serious anti-evangelistic heresy that taught Jesus didn't die for the world. He further said that a person is not born-again, or regenerated, until AFTER he believed in faith. I was quite surprised at his lesson, because I knew from my former studies with my old pastor that the Bible clearly taught that a sinner never desires salvation and cannot exercise saving faith until God regenerates him first. I also knew Calvinism was extremely evangelistic oriented because our former pastor promoted world missions and local outreach on a regular basis.
Over the following weeks this deacon, with the use of emotional anecdotes and cliched rhetoric, skilfully and eloquently presented his lessons based upon Dave Hunt's teachings against Calvinism. I could see that they were an attempt to condition the men in the congregation, because each week the messages reinforced anti-Calvinistic, semi-Pelagian legalism. Through my earlier studies into Calvinism, I learned that Hunt's book is one of the main vehicles in our day through which anti-Calvinistic, semi-Pelagian theology is being propagated in the churches, particularly the fundamental independent churches like ours. His own supporters brag that he is the best author and teacher to use if you are wanting to indoctrinate your people against Calvinism and have it removed from your church.
I engaged in a number of discussions with our new pastor to express to him how I was concerned that this deacon was using Dave Hunt's book. I tried to show him that Dave Hunt was not a credible researcher and critic of Calvinism. I explained to him that Hunt misquotes authors, mis-characterizes the historic theology of Calvinism, and sinfully slanders those men he labels as "Calvinists." The pastor told me that people should just let the Bible speak for itself and not try to force someone's system upon it like Calvinism, so obviously he wasn't an enthusiastic supporter of Calvinism, what our church believed for so long under our old pastor.
Then, it was announced from the pulpit one Sunday morning that our church would no longer be involved with an annual evangelistic crusade with another like-minded church about an hour away from us, because it became known that some of the members of that church had attended a Bible conference where Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary in Kentucky, and popular pastor, John Piper, had spoken. Our pastor told us that Al Mohler is an apostate Calvinist, as well as Dr. Piper, and our church could no longer have fellowship with this other church because of the doctrine of separation.
With the blatant semi-Pelagianism and legalistic teachings becoming more pronounced, and seeing the way in which this pastor and the two deacons were taking the church, my wife and I decided we would need to speak with them. We did not believe the things that were being taught and we were concerned that our views would eventually cause conflict, so we arranged a meeting with them in our home.
When the men arrived, I expressed to them that I would not be getting into debates over Calvinism. I was convinced that the belief system was as true as they were that it was false. I did tell them though, that through my studies on the subject, I had come to the conclusions that Calvinism was solid, biblical doctrine, and that the semi-Pelagianism they promoted was a philosophy of man built around human traditions and that their legalistic principles against the various "compromises" they believe are in the church were unscriptural.
In the meeting, we asked the pastor if he intended to take the church further down the path against Calvinism. He professed he was indeed against Calvinism and assured us he would continue to promote anti-Reformed teachings in the pulpit. We then told them we could no longer attend the church in good conscience, even though the only like-minded church is a hour's drive away. We ceased attending this church after nearly 6 years of faithful service. The pastor explained our departure during a special Wednesday evening service and disappointingly, defamatory comments were made about me. I was painted in the worse possible light as a man who was filled with intellectual pride and had believed Calvinism unwittingly from our previous pastor.
Sadly, we were not the only people affected by this new pastor's legalistic, anti-Calvinistic rhetoric. We learned later that many other members either left the church because they did not like where it was headed, or were "forced" to leave because they were marked as compromising the faith in some way or another, particularly for embracing Calvinism. The church we loved has since dwindled from almost 300 people down to about 120. Though our church didn't officially "split," this pastor has reduced its membership nearly in half with his legalistic, semi-Pelagianism.
We currently drive a hour each way to attend this one like-minded church from which our old church had separated. We are happy to be there to worship with the people, even many members from our old church, but we are praying God will raise up a man of God to start a Bible teaching, grace centered church in our area. We have some possible prospects, and although it is months away, we are excited at having such a fellowhip for people who want to stand for the old paths.
*This story is meant as a response to Hughie Seaborn's "testimony" about Calvinists taking over his former Baptist church. Though the story itself is fictitious, I pieced it together from true testimonies from friends and family who did encounter similar scenarios in their own churches. In reality, legalistic, semi-Pelagian theology has damaged the psyche of more Christians and split more congregations than ever a resurgence of Calvinism among faithful Christians.