If you want to claim the “mantle” of Reformed Doctrine (despite which “tribe” or denomination which you follow), one of the central tenants is the Sovereignty of GOD. In Reformed Doctrine, this idea along with Unconditional Election is supposed to give the believer comfort, because he is Chosen by GOD before the beginning of time to be joined with GOD. It also has the potential to make the believers and followers lazy. After all, if GOD knows who he is going to choose, they won't need to make the effort to evangelize to a neighbor. GOD's will can't be frustrated by man, so if I don't do the job, HE will just raise up someone else to do it for me.
Taking this thought process to its (il)logical extreme, do I need to study in school and work hard to advance in my job? Should I take prescribed medicine to help cure me of an infirmity? Should I quit brushing my teeth, combing my hair, dressing in an appropriate manner and using decorum and etiquette and expect to find a wife or fit into society? Paul says it best: “Should we continue to sin that Grace may abound more?” Then he answers the rhetorical question with the equivalent of the Southern Colloquillism: “Heavens to Betsy, No.”
I still believe that Reformed Doctrine is the most appropriate way to look at the Christian Faith. However, it frequently leaves me cold and dry, due to the way people ABUSE this belief system. Much like the Israelites, who were to bless the
world (with Jesus), most people in the Reformed Camp have become “puffed up and proud” with the knowledge that they (alone) are saved. They alone are the chosen. They have become this Generations GNOSTICS, with their secret knowledge of GOD alone giving them access to HIM. They don't need to spread the word. Instead, at the first sign of resistance/trouble from anybody, they retreat like a frightened turtle back into the shell of the church, circling the wagons, reinforcing the exterior hard shell.
This explains a lot of why I've been on a downward spiral in my church journey for the past 18+ years. I've found the Reformed Church “dry as a popcorn fart.” It is unfriendly, to the extent that in each of the four different reformed churches, congregations and denominations that that we have either joined of spent any significant amount of time with have left me emotionally empty. If we (ever) had real relationships at any of these churches (and I do consider the PROBABILITY that we did not ever establish a relationship at 3 of the 4), it was because we had done all of the “heavy work,” by seeking out those with which relationships were established.
I seem to be/have been living this article for at least the past 10 years. Although I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church (My wife, being from the Mid-West was raised in the Grace Bretheren Church), I joined a Presbyterian Church in America congregation a few years after we were married. I had known the preacher before when he was a Southern Baptist preacher and felt comfortable that the preaching/teaching would be the same (It was, but without the alter call at the end). It was just the church government (polity) that would be different. We stayed there about 10 years, waiting between 3 and 5 years to officially join the membership roles. Although we found it clannish and unfriendly, we "forced" our way in, until we had become accepted as acquaintances and fellow members, embracing the teachings of Calvinism and ignoring the coldness. We left later, seeing a number of disturbing things happen within the church that caused us to determine that the leadership had gone in a direction that we could not tolerate (e.g. Dropping "Presbyterian" from the name and marquis to become more "seeker friendly," wanting to exclude children older than 3 that could not "behave and keep quiet" during the service, the bizarre way that "Church discipline" was applied to a non member congregant when he started to separate and divorce from his wife, Music/culture wars about the kind of music that would be played and the way worship would be performed and tolerated, and the overstepping of boundaries by an Elder who demanded that he "discipline" my 5 year old son, after his son got hurt during horseplay with a number of boys.).
We moved on to a Sovereign Grace Ministries congregation (which we never joined), where the praise(music and response) was more open and the Doctrine and preaching were still solid, only to find that we disagreed with a (critical to them) viewpoint on an aspect of the doctrine and praise. During this time they tried to indoctrinate us through their "care groups," a fancy way of dividing the congregation up under ersatz leaders to manipulate and control EVERY ASPECT of their lives (We even saw marriages controlled, as marriage to a "believer" who was outside of the body of that "denomination" was considered to being "unequally yoked" and families that let their children marry outside were ostracized and excommunicated. Those who did not home school were considered "2nd rate parents that did not love their children.") My wife and I were personally told by a small group leader that if we did not believe in a particular gift of the spirit that "we were blaspheming the Holy Spirit and going to Hell." From my "Meager Knowledge" of what is taught in the Bible, I knew that I didn't need to be going to a church in order to go to Hell: I could do that while attending St. Matress each and every Sunday Morning. So we left there after 18 months of enduring that congregation and denomination.
We moved on to a Southern Baptist Church (Founders Movement) that was "more Calvinistic in Doctrine than most Presbyterian Churches,” but it was not like a Presbyterian Church in polity. The pastor was the "anointed leader," setting the vision and determining the path of that congregation. He was "more equal" than the other Elders within the congregation. Strangely enough, the individual congregation was unaccountable to a larger body, but the membership was expected to be accountable to the (leaders) Elders. Once again, we "forced" our way in to the congregation, making few acquaintances with which we socialized. Staying there for just over 5 years, we found the small groups not to be the all controlling "rectal exam" that it was in the SGM church, but still fairly intrusive and somewhat controlling, with your small group leader calling you to come over to his house and "tell him what's going on in your spiritual life." People seemed to move into and out of this congregation with astonishing speed, with most having a 2 year lifespan within the local body. This 3rd go round with Calvinistic Doctrine was no better that either of the first two, landing somewhere between the PCA and SGM congregations in both the way that Calvinism was applied and the way small groups are administered. We found it cold and unfriendly, and in the end discovering ourselves disconnected from the rest of the church body after 5 years of membership. Although most (75%) of the congregation was younger (college aged to mid-30s), seeing little to no "love" within the body (we did not exist within the body once we walked out of the meeting to which we were going, whether it was Sunday morning worship, a Sunday evening business meeting, or Small groups) after serving for a number of years (we were members of at least 5 different small groups, lead a small group, frequently had members over for pizza nights where we made home-made pizzas for everyone for dinner, having 31 members over on a July 4th for pulled pork barbeque, hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad and cole slaw, opening our home to impromptu called sessions of prayer, my wife singing on the Praise team or working in the nursery and me bringing, setting up/tearing down, running the sound equipment, taking it back down, loading it and driving the van back to the pastor's house , where it was parked almost every Sunday for 2 years) we "dropped out," and stopped attending for at least 6 weeks before anyone called. When the pastor called upon us, his answer was that we should get back involved and come to core seminar/weekly corporate worship, business meetings and small groups. At first, I agreed, but then realizing what we had been involved in, I decided that doing the same thing and expecting a different result was (in Albert Eisenstein's definition) insanity and decided to leave. I went back one more time, but realizing that I was just going through the motions and didn't want to be there, it was my last time.
I took a break from "church" for about 6 months, wondering what object lessons I was teaching my children (then 13 and 11 years of age). I considered that maybe it was the age of the congregation or the small groups that caused me to have the experiences I had had. Deciding that at their impressionable age, maybe it would be better for them to learn "to go to church" by watching their parents go each Sunday, we decided to try an Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregation. There were a number of pluses, with solid doctrine, no bizarre teachings seemed to have wandered into the church as a denomination, no small groups and we were younger than most members of that congregation. We wandered in on an Easter Sunday 2-1/2 years ago. It seemed loving enough as the older people were welcoming and most everyone was glad to see new blood (fresh meat?). However, over time, the familiarity seemed to overcome (or maybe it's the Calvinistic Doctrine) and erase this feeling of love. Once again, when we leave the building, we are never contacted, unless there's something special going on at the church (where they wish for us to attend) or they want to know where we are (and where we've been). It's the same old story, but the names have changed.
And of course, the relationships, if there ever were any, all ended after we moved on to another congregation. Because you need to understand, with religious fervor being what it is, you can only leave a church for two "correct reasons;" (1) getting a job that takes you out of the community or (2) at room temperature in a hearse. Changing congregations for any other reason means that you disrespect the other people in the former congregation ("Why would we ever stay in contact with them? They never were one of us. Otherwise they wouldn't have left us"). You become ostracized and ignored. Past acquaintances are severed, never to be re-established.
All the while, this Neo-Reformed or Neo-Calvinist movement seems to be sweeping across the world like a wildfire over a tender dry woodland. Even the Southern Baptists are neck deep in its doctrine. Groups like The Presbyterian Church in America, Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Founders Movement of the Southern Baptist Church and their leaders, (R.C. Sproul, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Deevers, John Piper and Albert Mohler) get together in these “feel good” conferences designed to minimize the differences between the “tribes”. How much of it is real, I don't know. But it has made the Baptist Churches that follow the Reformed Doctrine just as unfriendly as the Presbyterians (PCA and ARP) and Sovereign Grace Ministries Churches were.
With the exception of a couple of glaring errors, this blog, Peter Berger seems to be "on to the story of the century" about the Neo-Calvinist Movement in American Christianity today.
"This may be called the great Evangelical 'whoever', reverberating through the long history of American revivals, reiterated with every call for people to come to the altar and confess their faith—summarized in the most quoted sentence from the Gospels: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Luke 3:16). That was a major screw up as the correct reference is John 3:16 and defining Arminianism as
"The Arminians had a number of differences with Calvinist orthodoxy, prominently including a rejection of the doctrine of double predestination. They split from the orthodox Dutch Reformed Church over a number of issues, spelled out in the so-called Remonstrance of 1610. A major issue was their assertion that election was conditioned by a free choice of the will—thus rejecting the doctrine of double predestination." simplifies the differences in the two doctrines. Arminianism is not a nicer version of Calvinism: It is its POLAR OPPOSITE as it places the individual's "ability to come to GOD" (Making the power of the individual greater than the "Irresistible Grace" which GOD uses to call people to
While I follow the teachings of the Bible, especially the teachings of Christ Jesus, I've found that most of the churches I've been attending are more about rules that can't be kept and how often you attend rather than repentance, redemption and love I believe that the definition of Calvinism (core beliefs) is probably more correct than any other doctrinal system I have looked at, but instead of changing the adherents hearts, making them into more loving (and forgiving) persons, it has changed their heads, making them proud and puffed up with knowledge. They are cold and uncaring. It has changed the adherents from followers to Gnostics (a sect of early Christianity that believes that it alone has the special knowledge and words to know, communicate and gain favor with GOD).
Additionally, so few of church members actually know what is in the Bible that the Reformation, to which they cling, has become null and void. They are so lazy as not to investigate what has been chronicled in the Bible, but instead to let a Preacher tell them what are its contents and what they mean. Jan Hus and Martin Luther were excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church and ostracized from society because they fought for the right of the Bible to be placed in the hands of common believers, rather than let the church tell its followers what it meant. They wanted a community of believers rather than another set of rules to follow and another organization of which to belong. Most of todays adherents of Reformed Theology have now embraced what was fought against 500 years ago.
If Christianity were just a philosophy, an ideal that one might follow, I would think that even those that followed the "philosophy of christianity" would be somewhat different in the way they would act. But then again, maybe not. I might not expect any better than what is happening in the Christian Church in America today, since most of the members seem to think that it's just about following rules. In a true believer of a philosophy, we see a behavior change. We can see by the way that Socialists, Conservatives, Objectivists and Libertarians, that they march to the beat of a different drummer.
But looking in on the North American Christian Church (universal, not a particular
denomination) from the outside, the divorce rate within a typical church membership is the same or higher than in the rest of the American population. A similar percentage of people have extra-marital or pre-marital affairs
and are tried, convicted and jailed for crimes they've committed. People are just living by rules and attending (doing time?) on Sunday mornings (and maybe Sunday nights or Wednesday nights, if they are faithful in attendance or are members of a small group). I don't see where lives are affected. I don't see where Hearts are changed. The more that the (Universal) church relaxes the rules, the fewer people are willing to come and belong to it. Belonging and the commitment it shouldn't bring a half-hearted effort. Other people around the disinterested "followers" can tell it by the way these posers live their daily lives. You can watch some "legalistic" individual walk right up to the edge of a commandment, rule or constraint, but not cross the line, instead of just staying away from it all together.
From my experience, there is little love in the church of today, but there are lots of rules. All of this has left me dry and cynical over the state of Christianity and the Church in America. I've been struggling with what my faith means for about 10 years, changing church memberships at least 3 times, when I lacked the emotional capital to do so. No, I haven't lost my faith. But, instead am sickened by just "going through the motions" of a dead set of rules and not seeing a difference in a person that claims to have had a life changing transformation.
The conclusion that I've come up with is unless I can find an organized body of believers that truly demonstrates that what it believes causes it to be different than the rest of the world, I will just follow the teachings of the leader of my faith (Jesus) and probably leave the institutionalized church.
Have you been down this road and made the same decision yet?