This post is a little “off the beaten path” but in view of recent observations and discussions, even with some of you, I am posting this excerpt from a chapter called, “The True Calvinist” in Boice and Ryken’s, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel. If anyone is looking for a good overview on the topic, this book is an excellent resource.
I am not ashamed to say that Reformed Theology and The Doctrines of Grace (or Calvinism) have put me on the most solid theological footing ever. The more I see the purity of these doctrines woven throughout the pages of my Bible, the more I proclaim with Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
I have also come to see, now more than ever before, that the unadulterated Gospel message — that is, the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) will always be the object of great scorn and antagonism. The Gospel is always under attack and the Bride of Christ will always stand (but also prevail!) against tremendous opposition. This is every bit as true today as it was in the days of the early church.
Through these glorious doctrines, the Holy Spirit has produced in me a holy jealousy that did not exist before. I am jealous for the Bride of Christ. I am jealous for the Gospel. It is free for us but it cost God His only Son. How dare anyone corrupt or pollute the message of the cross? How dare anyone cheapen or reduce it “to the elementary principles of the world”? How dare anyone bruise the body of Christ?
I have been blessed by the loving sacrifice and ministries of so many saints who have been at this much longer than I have. At the same time, I have also observed, and if I’m honest, even been caught up (at least at some level) in something that, I believe, runs contrary to the spirit of Christ.
This excerpt, from the introduction to Chapter Eight of The Doctrines of Grace, articulates with great sobriety a strong warning for all of us who identify with Calvin and the Reformers. I will be the first to admit it. I like it when someone else of greater stature says what I’m thinking. You might be able to pick on me but I dare you argue with the likes of James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken! So, here I am, hiding behind the weighty words of these fathers in the faith.
There is a combative streak in Calvinism, and whenever the doctrines of grace are divorced from warm Christian piety, people tend to get ornery. Some Christians who identify themselves as Calvinists seem to be in a perpetual state of discontent with their pastors, often making uninvited suggestions for their personal improvement. Others seem overly concerned with converting people to their ecclesiastical denomination. Still others have memorized TULIP but somehow seem to be missing the heart of the gospel. Thus we have sympathy for the man who wrote: “Nothing will deaden a church or put a young man out of the ministry any more than an adherence to Calvinism. Nothing will foster pride and indifference as will an affection for Calvinism…The doctrines of Calvinism will deaden and kill anything: prayer, faith, zeal, holiness.
This ought not to be. In fact, it cannot be, provided that Calvinism is rightly understood. The doctrines of grace help to preserve all that is right and good in the Christian life: humility, holiness, and thankfulness, with a passion for prayer and evangelism. The true Calvinist ought to be the most outstanding Christian – not narrow and unkind, but grounded in God’s grace and therefore generous of spirit…. (pages 179-180)
Recently, while listening to an online sermon, I heard a Reformed preacher say that it is possible to be “doctrinally right and spiritually off.” Scripture bears witness. When Jesus rebuked his disciples in Luke 9:55 he told them,“You don’t know what kind of spirit you are”. I wonder how many of us (the writer included) have ignored these words and carried on with our religious crusades, all in the name of “Truth”.
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry explains how the zeal of the disciples actually did more damage than it did good.
…they were ignorant of the prevailing motives of their own hearts, which were pride and carnal ambition. Of this our Lord warned them. It is easy for us to say, Come, see our zeal for the Lord! and to think we are very faithful in his cause, when we are seeking our own objects, and even doing harm instead of good to others.
We, like the disciples, must be prayerfully on guard against this kind of religious pretense. There is zero ambiguity in this text. Jesus flat-out rejects this kind of religious charade. The “true Calvinist” is the saint who is obsessed with God’s glory in all things. A combative disposition seeks glory for no one but self.
I will openly confess that I have had to repent of this kind of zeal, which really is no zeal at all but just a disguise for a wrathful, vengeful heart. I would even go so far as to argue that this kind of spirit is engaged in outright violence against the Bride of Christ. How so? It casts stones at the very body that we are called to love, cover, and protect. This so-called “passion” will do as much damage, if not more than any other opposing force since it destroys relationships from within and even, to use a colloquialism, bites the hand that feeds it!
If the Doctrines of Grace are truly to be embraced for all their eternal and glorious worth, then we must repent whenever God, in His mercy, brings us into conviction for a combative and destructive spirit. May there much grace to keep us ever mindful of it.
Reposted from February 25, 2011.