Now that we’ve looked at some of the myths of reformed theology, I want to comment on my experience in the Baptist church. This will be helpful in contrasting my previous and current church experience.
In my personal experience with Baptists, I have found some of the most shallow, biblically illiterate, mean-spirited, lukewarm people I’ve ever encountered. People that are prideful simply because they are Baptist. An accusation often hurled at reformed Christians. And I should know, I was one of them. An arrogant, prideful person that took pride in my theological knowledge when I was, in reality, a miserable wretch. In reformed theology I found a theological depth, a Gospel centered theology that reminds me of my sin and encourages me to die to myself each and every day. I found an understanding of the Gospel that daily calls me to the cross to confess my sin, be accountable, and die. I found a theology that reminds me that I can do nothing to earn my salvation (my works are worthless) and that I must rely on the finished work of Jesus both now and every day forward. My understanding of the Gospel and my ability to communicate it is infinitely greater now, thanks to the Gospel focus of reformed theology, than it has been in my entire life.
While my experience with Baptist churches has not been good. My wife’s experience is worse. She went to a Baptist church where the pastor ruled with an iron fist and cared nothing for what anyone thought. He regularly taught that praise music is of the devil and that guitars and drums in church were sinful. When my wife told him she was engaged to me, a worship leader, he told her she was going down the wrong path just because I led worship. This legalism is more typical in Baptist churches than others that I have experienced. You might be thinking, “Well, you haven’t been in good Baptist churches.” And that might be true. But if that is true then you also have to admit that perhaps you have not known good Calvinists/Reformed Christians. The idea that there is none, or that they don’t exist should not exist, if for no other reason than the men mentioned above and their ministries.
The articles I read criticizing reformed theology badly misrepresents those that adhere to this biblically based theological understanding. There is so much misinformation, and disinformation that it shows a clear lack of understanding of reformed theology and the people that claim it. It also does nothing to further the Gospel. It propagates false myths about Calvinism and creates division rather than unity around Christ. As Christians, we must be about creating unity around Christ and the Gospel over our personal differences over non-essential issues. It’s interesting to me that there is an abundance of articles by Baptists that “warn” people about Calvinism/Reformed Theology but you would be hard pressed to find a single article by a Calvinist warning people about Baptists. I find this curious as I consider keeping the main thing the main thing. Do I believe Baptists are wrong on some things, even important things? Yes. Am I going to denigrate them or warn people about them? Nope. Because I know that Baptists get the Gospel right, and that’s the main thing. So I can let go of the non-essentials and support Baptists in sharing the Gospel.
I’ve found it curious that Baptist leaders are quick and all too happy to condemn Calvinist and reformed Christians, but hardly, if ever, say a word against Catholics, Mormons, or others. Rather than warn people against false religions like Catholicism or Mormonism, they seem preoccupied with attacking other Christians. This leaves many that are outside looking in confused and wondering why we seem to happily attack one another. I find myself wondering the same thing.
What I can tell you is that I spent most of my life as a Pharisee. My family was hurting and I was hurting and no one paid enough attention or cared enough, or noticed enough to reach out. Because I looked good, said the right things, did the right things, and did not do certain things, I was thought of as a “good Christian.” The accountability I found in a reformed church has brought me to a place of spiritual concern and care that I’ve never experienced. The Gospel is now the center of my life, we talk about it, we read it, we share it, and we train our kids in it. My family is so much healthier now than they were a few short years ago. I, as a husband, father, and Christian am in a better relationship with Jesus than I have ever been. My thirst for Jesus and serving Him is greater now than ever before. My desire to die to self and live for Christ, whatever it means is stronger now than ever before. My prayer life is more vibrant now than ever in my life. My desire for personal evangelism saturates my life in a way it never has. And all this came as a result of understanding the Gospel in a way I never had. I can trace that to being challenged by a friend to study Romans in a way I had never considered and coming to see that the reformed position was right and I had been wrong all these years. The Bible now makes far more sense than it ever has. The lingering questions I could never answer are gone and I can connect the Old and New Testaments in a way I never could previously. My theology permeates all aspects of my life in a way it never did before.
Now that I’ve shared some of the aspects of reformed theology and my experience with the Baptist church, I want to talk a little about the reformed churches I’ve been a part of and the difference I see in them.
(You can read part 3 of this article tomorrow)