Do Calvinists tend to be unloving and mean? Are there things in the Christian life that are more important than being absolutely precise in every area of theology?
“Pastor Tim, can you please do commentary and give good advice on the subject of today’s young Calvinists being more loving and bearing fruit of the Spirit? To form a question out of it, is it okay to appear rather mean and unloving while being a Christian who identifies as a Calvinist?” And then he writes a lot of other things here, but at the end he says this: “I recently went to a Calvinism debate by James White. Everyone I met there, I brought up the points you made in your ‘Is Theology Your Idol?’ video. I friended more than 50 people on Facebook that went to the debate, and talked to almost all of them on Facebook Messenger. I had dialogue with them in a very natural, non-confrontational way about this subject and how I’ve repented, how my mind has changed. I sent them all your video. A good chunk were grateful and told me they felt convicted as well, but there were others who were talking in a scholarly language trying to stand up for continuing to appear mean and cold, and trying to say Scripture doesn’t tell us otherwise. Some of these guys cuss and are getting Ph.D.’s at Bible college.”
Tim: So the mean and cold ones are “cussers” as well, I guess. But do you know that not long ago – it’s been some years now, but Time Magazine ran an article called, “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” And the third on the list was Calvinism. This new Calvinism. We’ve talked about the young restless reformed. What do you think? Mean? Can we justify being mean? Let’s ask this: This guy has a concern that there are folks in the Calvinistic circles that are mean. Now rather than just jumping on that bandwagon and assuming that what he’s saying is right and going to answer it, is there a sense that that’s right? What can you say about Calvinism and those who profess it? And churches that hold to the doctrines of grace? I mean, just from your own experience, would you say he’s right at all? I mean, he says, even in those who went to that debate, he says many of the people responded well. The video that he was sharing with them was basically a video – were you taping then?
James: That was 8 years ago.
Tim: Eight years ago? On theology being our idol. And so what would I have said in there that he would be making a point with these people? I think it had to do with priority. Where your theology becomes the most important thing over and above perhaps the things that Christ says are the weightier matters of the law. That’s not to say that doctrine isn’t a weighty matter. That doesn’t mean that truth isn’t a weighty matter. But what we do with it, how we respond with it, how we react towards other people because of what we believe, we never want to neglect the weighty matters. So, what makes Calvinists mean?
(from the room) I feel like sometimes people confuse God’s wrath when you talk about it as coming off as mean. That’s what I’ve kind of experienced in the past. So it’s like don’t talk about the wrath of God. Talk about grace. So I don’t know if that would be it.
Tim: Here’s something to think about. I know years ago, back in 1996, Brother Andy brought a series on missions, and he did one message on reasons why those in reformed circles are not more involved in missions. And one of the things that he brought up was isolationism. Do you know the very nature of believing in election makes those who believe in the doctrines of grace very narrow? It comes across that way. You’re very narrow. You’ve got this elect people. I remember as a young believer, I had somebody very close to me in my family say, “I hope you’re going to be happy in heaven all by yourself.” But the reality is if we understand Scripture, we understand that they asked the Lord one day, “Are there many or are there few that are going to be saved?” “Strive to enter in,” He said. “For many are going to seek to enter in and will not be able.” We recognize that both coming at it from the human side and the striving and the narrow gate, there’s few. We recognize from God’s perspective and the sovereign side of this that there are an elect people. It can seem very narrow. And that’s not the same as isolation. I think what happens is that we get people who come to the doctrines of grace, and they settle into their little reformed communities, and they basically cut themselves off from the world. And I can remember visiting a church up in Kalamazoo that was reformed. And I doubt people a block away knew the church was there. And that was kind of how I felt about many of the reformed churches. People would come – sometimes they would drive from fairly far away and they would conglomerate in this building, and then they would go back out again. But you just didn’t get a real feel that the people knew they were there. This idea of meanness… I think the thing I talked about in that video was just about how knowledge puffs up. There is a knowledge that humbles us, and there is a knowledge that puffs up. And what can happen is people come to these doctrines – it’s like God has shed some light that you kind of feel like maybe other people don’t see, and then you feel superior. And then you look down at people. And it’s more about what I know. If you recognize what he said there, he said it was like there were these scholarly guys who are getting Ph.D.’s – and you don’t want to stereotype that all the Ph.D.’s are mean and arrogant. But it is interesting that Jesus told us something about titles. And really that we should call one another “brother.” And there are a lot of guys that really like to be called “doctor.” I think Christians probably should leave those titles behind. Because it tends to make men feel superior. Calling somebody “doctor” is probably the reformed way of calling somebody “father.” It’s like they would be better off if they left that title behind. And I recognize some people use it to show respect. But brethren, as Calvinists; as those who hold to the doctrines of grace, brethren, you know what we don’t ever want to forget? I’ve been thinking a lot about these verses. There’s various of them. How about somebody read Matthew 23:23? You know this. Jesus rebuking the Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
Tim: Justice and mercy and faithfulness. And sometimes I think about people – certain people – they can dot every “i” and cross every “t” but they neglect the weightier matters. Mercy. Can you think of any other verses that are similar to that? Do you remember when Matthew or Levi had Jesus over? And Jesus confronted the same Pharisees? Do you remember what He said there? Where’s that? Matthew 9? Mercy and not sacrifice. And then what it is? Matthew 12? Oh, that’s the one where His disciples were going through and picking the grain on the Sabbath. And what did Jesus respond there with? Anybody remember there? (unintelligible) I desire mercy and not sacrifice. And then you remember the account right after that? There’s a man with a withered hand and He brings him out. And there’s different accounts, and there’s different places where He expresses this truth. But He basically says this: Look, you guys, if you have an ox or a sheep or a son who falls into that pit or that well on the Sabbath, you’ll pull him out. And listen to what He said. Is it right to do good on the Sabbath? What does that have to do with all the new Calvinism? It has everything. Brethren, this is what mattered. You remember the text? I mentioned this on Sunday. “This is not the way you learned Christ assuming that you have learned of Him and have heard of Him as the truth is in Jesus.” But think with me here. How do we learn Christ? Right from verses like these. And what do we learn? What’s weighty with Him? What’s the most important thing? Is the most important thing for you to win a battle in an argument on election? And you know what happens? Oftentimes, we get exposed to these things. There’s nobody more dangerous than a young “Calvinist.” Has just come to understand double-predestination, and has had his eyes open to Romans 9, and goes out and bashes the family and just butchers people with those things. Election and limited atonement. By the time he’s done with everybody, he’s made it seem to everybody like it’s impossible to get to heaven. Whereas Jesus – think about Him. A leper comes to Him and He touches him. I can remember a family called me. They wanted to know about the church. And I mean, you can tell by the questions people ask – this was back when I was manning the phone before James took it over. Somebody called, “Well, tell me about the church.” And I could tell by the questions, it’s like: Do you have Sunday school? Do you do this? Do you do that? It’s like the guy’s making judgments. And you know, in the end I said – and this was in the earlier years when we were meeting over at Fatty’s – and I said, “Sir, if you’re okay to have a meal after the service and maybe sit across from a prostitute, we’re the kind of church you want to come to. If that’s not up your alley, you probably want to look for another church.” And he never came. And we’re probably much better off for it. But this is what matters. Jesus wants our doctrine to be biblical, but with it, we need to remember the weighty matters. I’ve been thinking about the Moravians. I’ve been thinking about the Moravians for the last couple days. The ones that sold themselves to the leper colony. Ruby and I saw something the other day concerning leprosy, and I’ve just been thinking. They sold themselves into a leper colony where they likely were going to get leprosy. You know what? That wins the world. Not your debate over Calvinism. Not getting your Ph.D. and being mean and ugly. You know what melts people’s hearts? “I will. Be clean.” Now, we can’t do that. We can’t heal like Jesus could. But we could jump the wall and go into the leper colony. I’ll tell you, that’s what turns the world upside down. Our right theology – oh, Brother Andy hit it right on the head back in that ’96 series. The whole reformed movement will just basically be a footnote in church history if all we have is just correct doctrine. That’s not what has ever turned the world upside down. It simply isn’t. The Moravians turned the world upside down. And we would say their doctrine probably didn’t square up in some places. But you know they could look at us and they could say our lives don’t square up in a lot of places. I personally would rather have what they had than have what we have if all it is is just the dead letter. I’ve prayed this – I’ve wanted this, that God would make our church or maybe our circle of churches in this day and age the modern Moravian movement; some kind of movement of the Spirit that would just unleash a passion. Think about this. I mean, somebody open up and just begin reading 1 Corinthians 13:1. Just start reading there. Again, Brother Andy, when he was here and he spoke at the men’s Grace House when it was over on Pine Street, he said that these verses affect him more than anything else. They should affect us too. And look what it’s done to his life. He’s not some cold Calvinist. He and his wife are giving their lives. This is what we want to be. Somebody start reading that. . Just start reading real loud. “And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Tim: Okay, stop there. See how we speak? We stand in the pulpit and speak? Oh, we can perfectly articulate our views on the atonement or perfectly articulate justification and how it’s different from sanctification. But listen to what Paul’s saying. You see, this goes right along with what Jesus was saying. What are the weighty matters? As we refine our doctrine, we need to see such glorious views of God that at the same time are producing such fruit in our own lives, and if it doesn’t, it’s worthless. And the thing is, we can try to convince ourselves – it’s almost like we think, well, we have come to understand truth that other people have not come to understand, and therefore that automatically guarantees a blessing. That automatically guarantees success. Brethren, I can remember when our church first started and I was considering joining a Reformed Baptist Association that operates in the United States and abroad. And you know, as I examined it, do you what I began to realize? I began to realize that the missionaries – every single missionary being sent out by this reformed Baptist association, every one of them at that time when I was assessing it, every one of them were saved in other circles; every single one of them got their missionary burden in other circles, and then at some point, came to the doctrines of grace and joined this. And one of the guys that was trying to recruit me, he asked about joining and I asked him, doesn’t it bother you that the movement is not producing its own missionaries? They’re all transplants. They all come from somewhere else. Why is that fruit not coming out of our churches? He said, “no, that doesn’t bother me. I think we should give ourselves more to printing books anyways.” I thought I don’t like that. I want to be part of circles where the Spirit of God is saving, and where the Spirit of God is putting His hand on men and women and burdening them with a passion for souls. I don’t want this dead Calvinism. I don’t want it. But I mean, we need this. Keep reading now.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind…”
Tim: Okay, that’s far enough. But you think about, like I think of 1 Timothy. Somebody open to 1 Timothy 1. Maybe about verse 5. And read that text. . The aim… “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Tim: Notice that. And another text I think a lot about is Galatians 5:6. Circumcision is nothing. Uncircumcision is nothing. But what’s everything? Faith working through love. That’s everything. Brethren, a lot of you are the young Calvinists. But look, if we properly learn Christ, this is what we need. See, I was thinking today. Wow, John Sytsma has like 15 years on me. I thought you know he could outlive me, but I thought, I’m probably going to see John’s funeral. Who’s going to replace him? Who’s then going to run all over the world and run to Iraq and run to Nepal and run to India and run to the Philippines? Who’s coming along? Who’s going to have the love? What about when Sam Pitrone’s gone? What about when Andy’s gone? Who’s going to go to these places then? And the Moravians are gone. The leper colonies. I was hearing just today – my wife had Platt preaching who’s now leading in the Southern Baptist Convention. What’s his position? He’s the president of (the mission board). And basically that thing operates – I think his goal is for the missionary aspect of it. And he was talking about Africa being one of the least reached. Randy Pisino is going over there times a year, but when he’s gone, who’s going to go then? Africa. You know a lot of English speaking people in Africa. A lot. I cannot get out of my mind Haiti. Haiti. We went up through those mountains preaching the Gospel. But here it is. “Is it okay to appear rather mean and unloving while being a Christian who identifies as a Calvinist?” I mean, just the things we’ve considered. Of course it’s not. It’s not just not being mean. It’s not just articulating the right doctrine. Because if we do that but we don’t have love, I’ll tell you, judgment day’s going to sift all that out. And the right doctrine is not – think about it. Jesus never once – Matthew 25 ought to stand before our eyes all the time. He never once says, “You were a Calvinist.” “Good job.” Think about everything that He says. “I was hungry.” “I was thirsty.” “I was naked.” “I was a stranger.” “I was sick.” Listen, religion that is pure and undefiled – it’s visiting the widow and the orphan in their affliction. That’s what Jesus is recognizing. Jesus said, “Follow Me.” He put His hand on the leper. The Moravians put their hands on lepers. But this is the Calvinism that we want. This is what William Carey broke out of. He broke out of the dead and dying churches of 18th century hyper-Calvinism. And he broke out into India. And others went with him. And a handful of those churches caught the fire. Spurgeon. A burden for souls. Oh, he could preach the doctrines of grace. But he had a love for the souls of men. Young, restless, and reformed. I don’t know. That makes me think of a soap opera. “The Young and the Restless” that my grandmother watched when I was a kid. Young and the restless. Restless doesn’t sound good. Young? That’s okay. But I think we need to be young and purposeful and holding to good doctrine. (Incomplete thought) You think about it. You know, if you’re the two Moravians that jumped the wall into the leper colony; or you’re the guy on the ship that sails away out of Copenhagen Harbor and goes to the Caribbean never to return, you know you kind of have your moment of glory as you’re pulling out of the harbor, and you say the words that get immortalized, but then you’re forgotten. I mean, we know who they were. We can put names to them. But you kind of jump the wall, and the glory’s kind of over. You know? Yes, charge! And you go in there, and what is it? Day after day among the lepers. And they’re dying and they stink and they’re repulsive and you’re probably going to catch it, and you’re in that all the time and there’s no vacations and you don’t go out and you basically live all your days there and you preach the Gospel. The Lord will be with you and He’ll give you joy. And He’ll uphold you and keep you going, and in the end, there’s great reward. But there’s not a lot of glamour here. Most of what He calls us to isn’t out on the platform under the bright lights. So, who’s ready to go? And the going doesn’t just mean Africa. It may mean just out here in these neighborhoods. It may mean – who knows what it may mean?