Reformed and Transformed

Over the past several years I have found myself in the middle of many theological discussions. These discussions were not brought on by myself, but rather, from people that crossed my path. I firmly believe in a sovereign God who guides the steps of men. Therefore, I do not believe that the people that comes across my path do so by random chance or coincidence. I believe that through the circumstances of life, God brings people across our paths for various reasons. For me, I believe that God has used those I disagree with to confirm what I believe in my own heart and to show me the importance of pointing people to Jesus rather than trying to win a theological argument. With that said, allow me to address this theological argument in order to provide clarity to the main purpose of this article. I encourage you to please read this article to its conclusion as, I believe, it will challenge all of us to focus on what really matters.
The theological argument of which I am addressing is that of reformed theology versus what I would refer to as a traditional soteriology. My journey with this issue began while pastoring in Maine. There I encounter reformed theology in a very aggressive form. There were wonderful people that found their way to our church that bought into the reformed revival that we have seen across our nation. As every preacher will tell you, when you preach, your theology will be revealed in the way you preach. It just comes with the territory. You cannot hide what you really believe. As I preached, it became clear to those who were ‘reformed’ that I did not hold to such theology. This is where the debate began. It was during this time that I was challenged to truly examine what I believe and to provide Biblical evidence for my views. I am thankful that God brought these people into my life, because it forced me to study deeper than I ever had. At the beginning, I was adamantly opposed to those who hold to reformed theology. I believed in my heart of hearts that reformed theology was a false doctrine and needed to be called out as such. However, over the years, God kept bringing such people across my path. Some I have grown to love and consider them as good friends. I have also had to deal with confusion in my mind as I have witnessed various forms of those who call themselves reformed. Some take a very strong view that man has no free will at all and everything we do is directed by God, even the sins we commit. I also have encountered the view that those who are going to be saved will be saved anyway, therefore, evangelism is not for the purpose of bringing people to Christ, rather just simply bringing glory to God by obeying scripture. This view, of course, leads to a lack of passion and urgency in evangelism. I also encountered the view that God chose some people for heaven and others for hell. I was even told once that if an unborn child dies in the womb and was not one of the ‘chosen’, then that child would go to hell without even being born. These extreme views led me to grow adamantly opposed to reformed theology. However, as time went on, I realized that not all who call themselves ‘reformed’ hold to such extreme views. I still oppose reformed theology and I still oppose its rise in our Southern Baptist Convention. However, my opposition is not as adamant as perhaps it once was.
With that in mind, allow me to give a basic summary of what I believe the Bible teaches concerning God and salvation. First of all, I believe that God is God and we are not. God is sovereign and His ways are higher than our ways. We can never possibly come to a full understanding of God. There are things we just simply do not understand and, perhaps, never will. Secondly, I believe that God is omniscient. God knows all things. He knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He knows our future. He knows those who will ultimately be saved and those who will not. He knows all things. Third, I believe that man is totally depraved. I believe that we are full of sin and tainted by sin inside and out. I believe that left to ourselves, we would always choose sin, because that is our nature. There is none that does good. There are none who seek after God. Fourth, I believe that salvation is a work of God made possible by the Lord Jesus and wrought by the Holy Spirit. You cannot be saved apart from Christ. Salvation is a free gift given to us by the grace of God. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. The Holy Spirt works to draw us to faith in Christ through various means. I believe we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and we cannot save ourselves. Fifth, I believe that within the scope of God’s sovereignty, man has been gifted with a free will. Man is created in the image of God, thus, like God, we have the ability to make choices. Man was created out of heart of love. Without the ability to choose to love God, then we are simply robots programed to do whatever God wants. If this is the case, then there is no love. It is not real love if we are forced to love. I do not believe that man lost his free will at the fall. Such a belief is both unbiblical and illogical. If man lost the ability to choose to do good, then how does he have the ability to choose to do evil? A choice requires at least two options. If we have no free will at all, then the logical conclusion would be that it is God’s fault if we sin, since we have no choice at all. Besides, all through scripture we are encouraged to choose. Over and over we are presented with a choice to choose our way or God’s way. “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” This issue of free will is where I strongly disagree with most who call themselves ‘reformed.’ Sixth, I do not believe that we are regenerated before we believe. This is another issue that I believe reformed theology is very wrong. It is just simply not in the Bible. The Holy Spirit does not come into an unbeliever and regenerate them, making the Gospel too beautiful to resist, and the individual is essentially forced to believe. Instead, I believe that we hear the Gospel, we believe the Gospel, then we are regenerated by the Spirit. Seventh, I do not believe the Bible teaches that unbelievers are predestined to become believers. Every time the word ‘predestined’ is used in the Bible it is in reference to believers who are predestined for something, mainly to be conformed to the image of Christ. There is not one instance in scripture where we see the word ‘predestined’ in reference to an unbeliever becoming a believer. Eight, I believe that our salvation is eternally secure by the Holy Spirit. I do not believe that persevering is what keeps us saved. Living a holy life and persevering is certainly evidence of someone who is truly born-again. However, our eternal security is not based on whether or not we persevere, it is based solely on the work of the Holy Spirit.
As you can clearly see, I have great reason to oppose reformed theology based on what I believe the Bible teaches. I do believe that such doctrinal issues are essential and that every local church should make it clear as to what they believe concerning salvation.
The glorious Gospel of Jesus has transformed my life. This transformation is a gradual transformation. As time goes on, God is working in me to continue to transform me and conform me to be more life Jesus. With that said, I believe that God has transformed my attitude toward those with whom I disagree. Do I believe the Calvinist is wrong? Yes I do. Do I believe reformed theology is wrong? Yes I do. And I will continue to preach the truth and stand against the rise of false doctrine in the church and in the denomination of which I am a part. Can I have close friends who are ‘reformed’? Yes I can. Can I work with those who are ‘reformed’? Yes I can. You see, the thing I have learned is this: No matter what you believe concerning how you come to believe on the Lord Jesus, you still have to believe. This is something we can all agree on. We also agree that Jesus is the only way. We also can agree that we are called to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. As long as the Gospel we preach compels people to receive Jesus, then we can work together. Some of the most evangelistic people I know call themselves ‘reformed.’ Some of the most mission-minded people I know call themselves ‘reformed.’
Depending on the brand of reformed theology, there is much more we agree on than disagree. Therefore, I am transformed by the Gospel and reforming my attitude toward those who are ‘reformed.’ Even though I firmly believe that what I believe concerning salvation is true and biblical. Even though I firmly believe that those who hold to reformed theology are misguided and wrong, they are not the enemy. I am afraid that in our Christian circles and theological camps, we tend to look at those we disagree with as an enemy. I must confess, there have been times when I have considered those who are ‘reformed’ as an enemy of the Gospel. However, in my experience, I have learned that most (not all) who consider themselves ‘reformed’ are just as zealous in their efforts to tell people about Jesus as I am, if not more so. Most ‘reformed’ believers do not emphasis their theological views above their work to spread the Gospel around the world. Most do not preach their theology, most just simply preach Jesus. The tricky thing is as new believers are discipled our theological views come out in our teaching. This is why we must work together to provide balance in our teaching and present various theological views and allow the one we are teaching to come to their own conclusions. We should not shy away from expressing our views, however, in our teaching, we should also not shy away from presenting views that are opposed to our own.
The bottom line is this: I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, even those with whom I strongly disagree. My love for Jesus compels me to partner with other believers for the sake of reaching the world with the Gospel. My love for God and for others allows me to freely worship and learn and grow with those that I may disagree with. My passion for evangelism and missions breaks through the walls of theological arguments and focusses on winning people to Jesus. As a Southern Baptist pastor, am I concerned that the convention may be led completely by those who are ‘reformed’? Yes I am. Am I okay with ‘reformed’ believers being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention? Yes I am. My desire is that there should be a balance. For every SBC trustee that is reformed, there should be one that is not. Every SBC seminary should have professors from both sides and should teach in a way that allows the student to be determined in their own heart what they believe. Our mission boards should focus on sending out missionaries who are passionate about reaching people with the Gospel. Will it be difficult for ‘reformed’ and ‘non-reformed’ Baptist to work together? Yes. But, I believe it is possible. It is our love for Jesus and our passion for winning souls that unites us. The jury is still out on whether or not we can work together. But, for now, I concede. I do not hold those I disagree with as the enemy. I do think we can work together for the sake of the Gospel. I am reformed in that I no longer view those I disagree with as an enemy of the Gospel. I am transformed in that my attitude toward those I disagree with is now an attitude of love, grace, and cooperation. May we all consider one another in love. It is time for us to get out of the coffee houses where we just keep going in circles with our theological debates. It is time for us to walk hand-in-hand and together proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all of the world.

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