The response yesterday surprised me. I thought all I was asking for was some pastoral advice for a pastor struggling with what he perceived to be overly aggressive Calvinists. What we got was some serious expressions of differences. Here’s the letter I drafted prior to yesterday’s responses and now with just a little bit of touch up late last night when I got home from class.
You are not alone as most of us have encountered such folks. Here are my suggestions:
First, love them as Eikons of God regardless of what they believe or don’t believe. Love them by believing they are doing what they think is right; love them by knowing that we are not all likely to agree. Love them enough to learn from them. Love them enough to do a missional project with them.
Second, if they are in your local church, and you have said to me privately that they are, then I would urge you to urge them to realize that the theological unity of your church is rooted in its doctrinal statement or affirmations and that division outside of that is unnecessary. This may seem harsh, but if your community of faith has a statement of faith and they’d like it to be redefined, then they are being divisive.
Third, you will need to listen to them if you are expecting them to listen to you. And this goes with the level of the conversation. If, for instance, you want to offer to them some considerations of the warning passages in Hebrews and you think a person can abandon their redemption, then you will have to engage their own defenses of the Calvinist views of those passages. You know as well as I do that such debates are endless and not often productive. I think they are worth it under some conditions, but I’d be wise with time spent.
Fourth, the prospects of changing their minds is not good; and it is probably the case that you are not going to change your mind. Most of us don’t enter these conversations green — we have considered such issues and come to conclusions.
Fifth, if this is in your church, it might be wise for you to have some serious meetings with your leaders to see if a Sunday School class mapping the options would be a good thing to do. Know that doing such a thing might raise the stakes for many, but at least it would bring it into the open. I would urge each session begin with some serious words about disagreements, about how to converse, and about the rules for Christian civility.
Sixth, church plants like this can get off to some bad starts if one doesn’t proceed wisely yet firmly. I know you are in contact with your mentors and leaders and it is very important, so I think, to keep that contact close for wisdom.
When this is all over, you will have learned deeply from what has happened. It might not be of much use to you right now to know this, but brother I cannot tell you how many tough experiences have proven to be instructors in wisdom for me.
Blessings and the prayers from the whole Jesus Creed community,