Arminian Antics Create Calvinists

 

 

(How God used an Arminian Bible college to make me a Calvinist)

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Background

 My wife and I were converted in a conservative Southern Baptist church in Sioux Falls, SD.  Growing up, I had attended United Methodist and Evangelical Covenant churches where the preaching was very bland and easy-believism was the norm.  This SBC church was the first place I had ever heard sound expository preaching, and in my extreme naivety I assumed that all Baptist churches were like this one, standing firmly on the inerrancy of Scripture, preaching boldly against sin and faithfully proclaiming the gospel.  So when I “surrendered to preach” I enrolled in the local Baptist college which had a 3-3 program with the North American Baptist seminary in town.  It only took a few weeks on campus to realize that all Baptists are not conservative and this college was no place to train for the ministry.  So I spent quite a bit of time researching for the most conservative Southern Baptist Bible college I could find.  My search led me to Florida Baptist Bible College in Graceville, FL.

Fav Point Calvinist!

 Moving from South Dakota to the Florida panhandle in January was awesome!  It was -18 degrees when we left and in the 60’s when we arrived.  The day after we moved into the on-campus married housing I was enjoying the balmy weather and chatting with my new neighbor in our shared front lawn, when a senior student stopped to say hello.  He had just  “made the loop”, visiting all the Southern Baptist seminaries in order to decide which one to attend for his post-graduate studies.  At some point in the conversation he said to my neighbor, “You’ll never believe what they got for a president at Southern.  –a FIVE point Calvinist!” :O (He was referring to Dr. Mohler of course.)   I had never heard the term before, so after the senior had driven away I asked my neighbor, “What is a five point Calvinist?”  He didn’t know exactly how to define it, and he seemed somewhat neutral on the subject, but he made it quite clear that most students looked at it as a very bad thing.

A few days later we were having dinner with another new student and his wife.  When the fact that I liked Spurgeon came up in the conversation I was told “Oh, you must be a Calvinist.”  To which I had to reply, “I don’t know what a Calvinist is.”  My friend was still in the discovery phase, but his explanation was enough to peak my interest.  I was very busy with all the various duties required in the first semester of a new college, a new job and family (at that time we had 2 children), but I knew this was an issue I wanted to learn more about.

I joined the Theology Club, hoping to engage in some additional “iron sharpening” and fellowship.  This hope, unfortunately, was very short lived.  We had only one meeting that I can recall.  At that meeting the decision was made to host a debate:  Calvinism vs. Arminianism.  I was pretty excited, thinking this would be of great benefit to my understanding of these matters.  Within a couple of days my excitement was turned to dismay.  The college had forbidden us from having a debate on the topic!  Their suggestion for a better topic of debate:  abortion.  I was completely dumbfounded!  The theology club isn’t allowed to debate a theological issue?  What in the world is there to debate about murdering babies?  What a joke!  Needless to say, the Theology Club simply disbanded.  By this time I had two friends who shared my conservative views, and we spent most of our spare time talking about theology.

Finally, a Definition

 It seemed like a day could not pass without hearing something in class or on campus about Calvinism, “five pointers”, or something of that nature.  I remember quite clearly when I finally found out what “five point Calvinism” actually was.  I was up late, (about 1:30 am as I recall) working on a paper, when I had to look up a term in my “Dictionary of Theological Terms”.  As I was putting the book down, it suddenly struck me, maybe the term “five point Calvinist” is in here.  Well sure enough it was!  Under the heading “Five points of Calvinism” I found the TULIP definition as expressed in the words of J.I. Packer.  I eagerly dove in, wondering what monstrous doctrine I was about to uncover.

I began to read: 

 Total Depravity… well that’s clearly Biblical, all men are born dead in trespasses and sins, why would anyone have a problem with that?

Unconditional Election…  Why would anyone disagree with this either?  If all men are completely unable to choose God what else could be the case?  And besides, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Limited Atonement…  Well that’s clearly wrong, 1 John 2:2  He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

Irresistible Grace…  Of course, God’s grace cannot fail to accomplish His purpose.

Perseverance of the Saints…  Well Duh.  How could anyone ever have eternal life temporarily?

 Ok, ok, what is going on here?  Why is everybody so worked up about “five point Calvinism”?  Four of the five points are as plain as the nose on my face.  I remember waking my wife up and reading each point to her and asking “This is Biblical isn’t it?  What’s wrong with that?  Am I missing something?”  My wife didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, but she agreed with me that four of the five points were obviously Biblical.  What a realization, I was a four point Calvinist before I even knew what the word Calvinism meant.  Funny how serious Bible reading and expository preaching can bring that about, isn’t it?

Arminian Antics and Strawmen

 My friends and I became convinced that someone at the college was coaching chapel speakers, asking them to deride Calvinism whenever possible.  I distinctly recall one speaker, when he came across the term elect in his text, giving a completely irrelevant explanation of its meaning and concluding with the declaration:  “And that’s the only place election appears in the Bible!”  We looked at each other in disbelief.  Did he know he was speaking at a Bible college, to people who have Bibles?

Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Calvinism that I can remember was in my Christian Education class.  The instructor had for some reason brought up a question about what you as a parent should do if your daughter stays out a couple hours past curfew.  Immediately a voice from the other side of the room piped out, “If you’re a fav point Calvinist, she wuz sposed to come home late!”  Of course this was met with abundant laughter.

But this anti-Calvinist atmosphere did do one thing for me and my friends.  It drove us into the library.  Oh the library, sigh…  What a wonderful, peaceful, glorious place.  There we devoured everything Calvinistic we could find.  A.W. Pink, Ian Murray, Charles Spurgeon and John McArthur were the most helpful to me at first, and J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness gave me a taste for the puritans, and we all know what a treasure trove can be found there!

The Fifth Point

 But even though many of the arguments I came across in defense of limited atonement seemed logical, I could not be convinced, not in the slightest.  1 John 2:2 was always ringing in my ears every time the subject came up.  I prayed for understanding & spent much time in meditation over that verse.  I then decided to do all the research I could and delve as deeply as possible into the meaning of that verse.  I had my Complete Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, and I was determined to get to the bottom of every word and phrase.  Then suddenly, something amazing occurred to me.  It was as though God just switched a light on in the dark room that I had been groping around in.  Wait a minute, if that verse means what I thought it meant, then there can’t be anyone in hell!  If Christ has propitiated God’s wrath toward every individual who ever lived or will live, then no one can ever suffer under God’s wrath.  Scripture is clear that all who die outside of Christ will suffer eternally under the wrath of God.  Well what do you know, I’m a five point Calvinist!

I left FBTC after only one semester, it was much more conservative than Sioux Falls College, but it was still far too liberal for me.  I think I’ll always have fond memories of my time there, for it was the beginning of my “cage stage” of Calvinism.  I wasn’t yet what I now consider reformed, but I was indeed a “Fav Point Calvinist”!

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

A Crazy Tale of God’s Sovereign Prerogative

God is sovereign over all His creation.  As Christians we rejoice in this fact perpetually.  The knowledge that our Redeemer’s mighty hand is guiding and directing our lives in and through whatsoever comes to pass is one of our greatest blessings.  (Romans 8:28…)  God displays His dominion in every aspect of our lives.  There are times, however, when our Creator chooses to make these truths more clear to us.  Events in our lives demonstrate just Who is really in charge, to bolster our faith and increase our humility.  The following is a tale of just such an exhibition of God’s wonderful dealings with my family over the past 25 years.

1988 fam

For as long as I can remember I have wanted a lot of children, and so did my wife, but we were young and in no hurry.  We wanted to wait a few years to have kids since we didn’t want to be tied down with the added responsibility, so we were using birth control.  Well, Marion was pregnant by the time we’d been married 7 or 8 months.  Heartbreakingly, we lost that child when she was five months pregnant.  Even though we continued to use birth control we had two sons in the next year and a half.

Shortly after the  birth of our second son we started attending a local conservative Southern Baptist church.  My wife was converted shortly after we started attending, and I was converted a couple years later.  (A story for another time)  Anyway, in this church we were influenced by Bill Gothard a great deal and were convinced by his teaching that all birth control was sinful, so we stopped using any.  Guess what happened… three years, no pregnancy!  That’s right, first 2 ½ years of marriage, using birth control brought three pregnancies.  As soon as we stopped trying not to get pregnant… nothing.

So, about six years after getting married we had our third son.  A year and a half later God gave us our first girl, (who still has my heart wrapped around her finger).  But something happened between the birth of these two children.  I became… of all things… a Calvinist (Gasp!)!  What does that have to do with anything?  Let me tell you.

After becoming convinced of Calvinism at an Arminian Bible college I moved back up north and found a Reformed Baptist Church that we joined.  Someone in the congregation gave me a paper written by the elders of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI (Sam Waldron, Greg Nichols…) on the question as to whether birth control is Biblical or not.  I was immediately convinced by Biblical reasoning that birth control was not sinful in all cases.  In fact, since I was making $6.25/hour and raising four kids, I was convinced that it might even be sinful for me not to be using some form of birth control.  (The paper was clear btw, any abortifacient form of birth control, such as the pill, should not be used.)  So anyway, we started using birth control again.

Well, perhaps you’ve already guessed it.  Pregnant two months later!  I walked around in a daze for at least two days.  I couldn’t believe it!  Why would God put me through the emotional turmoil of changing a fundamental moral position and convince me that I ought to be using birth control if He was just going to give us another baby right away any way?  What?  Why?  Huh???

My perplexedness subsided after a couple days and was replaced with the joy I should have had from the start.  God gave us another beautiful girl! (who also holds my heart in her hand) What blessings were mine.  Not even 30 years old and I’ve already got five wonderful children and the best wife I could ever imagine who somehow manages to homeschool them all.

1997 fam

I was still convinced that we should be using birth control.  I was making a lot more money, but we weren’t out of debt, and besides my wife was caring for five kids under the age of eight already!  What followed was our longest gap yet, five years.  Wow, five years!  I had begun to think we were done.  But God was pleased to grant us yet one more precious little princess.  (I can’t express how much I love these sweet girls.  Of course I love my boys, but my princesses melt my heart.)

2004 fam

Fast forward about six years.  I’m still in debt.  I’ve moved my family half way across the country for a job opportunity that was supposed to change that.  We have a few months left on the really good health insurance from my last job, and I’m thinking my quiver’s full.  After a great deal of prayer and contemplation we decide that my wife should have her “tubes tied”.

The operation went fine, no complications or anything, but guess what?  Two months later she is pregnant!  Oh the rejoicing that was ours!  God, it seems had overruled us again and was going to add another olive plant to my table.  To our tremendous grief, this child also died when my wife was five months pregnant.  After the loss of the baby the doctors ran a dye test on my wife’s tubes and they were indeed closed, the clamps had not failed,  her tubes were still “tied.”  (My wife has suffered from some troubling side effect ever since the operation, but as far as closing her tubes goes, the operation was successful.)

This story may seem to be going on and on, but it isn’t over.  Two years later, we are pregnant again!  YeeeHaaaaa!!!!  I’m thinkin’: 1) maybe God will raise up a Spurgeon, an Owen or a McCheyne.  2)  What happened?  So we scheduled a C-section, because I was going to see those tubes with my own eyes.  I did see them.  I saw them, and the clamps that were still on them… and the new tube that God caused to grow right around the clamp!  What a mighty and kind God we serve!  I don’t want to drag this out endlessly.  God blessed us with a fifth boy just last month and we couldn’t feel more blessed.

What’s it all mean?

Some, after hearing this tale conclude that all birth control must be sinful after all.  God must not like it, He kept it from working, right?  That is not the way I see it at all.  I am still convinced that using birth control is the right thing to do in many instances.  This is the lesson I find in all of this.  We are indeed responsible to do all we can to obey God in all things.  I needed to be responsible with my finances and especially with my wife’s physical and emotional well-being.  I am convinced that I was indeed following the preceptive will of God by using birth control.  However, God has the absolute prerogative to do whatever He pleases.  He can override every choice I ever make and He deserves our praise and adoration for it all.  It’s really the same principle that we find in Biblical evangelism, only the flip side of the coin, if you will.  In evangelism, we must be faithful to proclaim the gospel, but we depend fully upon Him for the results.  He chooses if, when & how He will bless our efforts by granting salvation to those we witness to.  In this case however, I needed to be faithful to obey Him in what He had revealed to me in this area.  The results were equally up to Him, only in this case, it is by His withholding the success of the particular means that He blessed us so tremendously!

I’m sure you will agree that this was indeed a crazy tale, but I have one more serious lesson I need to share.  When we lost our first child we both simply assumed that our child went to heaven.  Neither my wife nor I were truly converted.  I was a false professor, a Christian in name only, and my wife was a nominal Roman Catholic.  We lost another child, at the exact same point in the pregnancy, by this time however, the Lord had graciously granted to each of us a saving knowledge of Himself. But I was no longer convinced that the Bible teaches that children who die in the womb certainly go to heaven.  Not that I believe my children certainly did not go to heaven, but I don’t think the Bible gives a conclusive answer as to what happens to children who die in infancy or in the womb.  God could certainly save them all, or at least some or many, but I don’t find any of the texts used to make such claims to be conclusive.  However, I do trust that the Lord of all the earth does right.  He is gracious and loving, and whatever He does is good.  I do not rest in a sentimental assumption, I rest in God Himself.  Now this may be unbelievable to many, but we dealt with the second death of a child immeasurably better than the first.  A living trust in the Living God brought us comfort in such overwhelming affliction and pain. I testify before all the world, trusting in mere comforting ideas is never the answer, no matter what the affliction.  But resting upon the arms of the God who delights in mercy brings real and everlasting comfort.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex