Dear Fellow Saints,
Please pray for me. I am a SBC pastor who holds to the Doctrines of Grace and supports the Founder's movement and am under intense pressure. Although my church's doctrinal statement in the constitution and bylaws is the Abstract of Principles, I was presented the following at a deacon's meeting last Sunday by the deacon chairman:
"Only Baptist beliefs should be taught in Baptist churches for purposes of discipleship. One who has taught contrary to Baptist beliefs should repent, apologize to the congregation from the pulpit and in writing, and promise to stop such teaching. Strange doctrines and beliefs should be presented only for information and should be clearly identified to avoid confusing new Christians or alienating older Christians. These comments are directed specifically to the teaching called "predestination" including the claim that man does not have free will. Further, attempting to trivialize a Baptist belief by labeling it only "tradition" shows unbecoming disregard for the same."
I have been in the church for five and a half years. Most of the people are doctrinally ignorant. I have a small core who holds to the Doctrines of Grace, most of whom have joined because of my beliefs.
The recent controversy stems from a series I began on Sunday evenings introducing the doctrine of election. I have preached sermons on God's glory as the purpose of all things, God' absolute sovereignty, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility and how they are both parallel truths in Scripture and not contradictory. I have further done a series of sermons highlighting man's total depravity. In so doing, I have quoted the definition of election from the Abstract of Principles, which is part of the church's constitution and bylaws.
My discussion with the deacons Sunday was mostly futile. One of seven stood in support, three remained neutral and three attacked. I met privately with the deacon chairman on Tuesday and further justified my position biblically as I did Sunday afternoon. He insists on twisting the Scripture I present and building his whole theology around John 3.16.
I covet your prayers and any advice you have.
Your Brother in Christ,
I am very sorry to hear of your difficulties. You are not alone in being attacked because of your efforts to preach God's truth in sincerity. There is not much that I can offer you via email, but I would be glad to speak to you by phone if you would like. …
Guard your heart against bitterness. Remember that however hard all of this is on you it is much more difficult on your wife. Be strong and encouraging for her sake. Don't deny your theology by your attitude or actions. God must open their eyes. Be "as wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove." Remember that the Lord has you right where He wants you this minute and so seek to be as faithful as you can be in your normal responsibilities. Out-rejoice your critics. Out-love them. Remember that Jesus was mistreated and abused and misunderstood. Pray for and expect the Lord to give you grace to respond redemptively to hostilities at the time that they come.
Well, as I said, it is hard to communicate things that might be of help to you via email. Do keep me up to date and I will pray.
I have just finished this article, and would like to ask what place the Scripture which says that It is not God's will that any should perish, but that all would come to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus has in Calvinist thought?
R. H., via email
Thanks for your note and question. It is an important one. The two verses that inform your question are:
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" 2 Peter 3:9.
...who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" 1 Timothy 2:4.
As you can imagine, these and other such verses have been the subject of much study and reflection by those of Reformed persuasion and detailed expositions can be found from a variety of teachers (John Gill, John Piper, John Owen, D.A. Carson, et al).
I will try to give a quick summary of my own understanding of the verses above and the issues they raise. First of all, in 2 Peter, the apostle is explaining how we should respond to those who ridicule us because Jesus has not yet returned and because it seems like everything is just rocking along as it always has with no hint of His return in sight. Verse 3:9 is written in that context--the Lord has not forgotten His promise to send Christ back, He is not slack; it will happen. The reason it has not happened yet is that He is longsuffering. To whom is He longsuffering? "Toward us [or possibly, you]." He is not willing that any [any of who? "us" or possibly "you"--in other words, His people as Peter identifies them in 1 Peter 1:1-2 and 2 Peter 1:1]. The argument is this: God will not send Jesus back until all of "us" [read His people] are rescued. Only after they are will Christ return. If this is not the meaning and if Peter means every person without exception, then his argument fails: Christ will not return until every person without exception is rescued, which we know will never happen.
In 1 Timothy, I think a case can and should be made that "all men" refers to all kinds of people, based on the varieties of people that Paul has just mentioned should be the objects of our prayers. I know the response that says, "all means all and that is all that all means," but such a view cannot be maintained at every place that the Scripture uses "all" (see for example, Mark 1:5, 32; 7:3, etc.).
Some people (Spurgeon, for example) see 1 Timothy as expressing God's revealed will which cannot be used then to ignore the existence of His decreed will. I am helped to think about the reality of these 2 ways of willing in God by considering the cross of Jesus. Was it God's will that Jesus be crucified? It depends on how you are thinking about that question. It most certainly was not His revealed will--it was murder and a miscarriage of justice and those responsible were guilty of going against God's clearly stated, revealed will (as it is summarized in the 10 Commandments). However, Jesus is said to be the "lamb slain from before the foundation of the world" and Isaiah 53 graphically prophesies His execution 700 years before it happened. So, yes, Jesus' death was God's will in the sense of it was His eternal purpose that it should happen. That was the very reason for which He was born.
So Peter summarizes these two ways of willing in Acts 2:23, when he says of Jesus, "Him, being delivered by the *determined purpose and foreknowledge of God* [in keeping with God's secret, decreed will], you have taken by lawless hands [in violation of God's revealed will], have crucified, and put to death;" Acts 2:23. See also the disciples' prayer in Acts 4:27-28.
Recognizing this makes the wisdom of Deuteronomy 29:29 shine all the brighter in my mind: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" Deuteronomy 29:29.
Hope this helps a little.