Church Splits: Causes, Cures and Calvinism

Warning:  Pastors, some of you may not like me much after you read this. But if we are going to preach the hard truths to our people, maybe sometimes we need to listen to the hard truths ourselves. Divided churches and church splits are a huge problem today. And we like to blame those sinful, divisive, unruly people for all the problems. But I am going to call the “blame the people” response into question here.  I think church splits are usually started by rebellion or ungodly attitudes among people, but they are assisted by wrong attitudes and actions by church leaders.  I hope you will listen to what I am saying here. I have a heart for pastors and for church unity.  I hate to see good men of God make bad mistakes that bring dire consequences into Christ’s church.

I preached through the Old Testament in overview form from October 1, 2000 to August 13, 2005, on Sunday nights in Cedar Rapids.  It was formative in my theology, as I began to see some patterns in the ways of God.  One of those patterns I’ve turned into a book which I hope will be published before the Lord returns, called, “Significant Servants.”  But I noticed something else, something that perhaps many of us who are pastors may not want to admit.

Whenever God was at work among his people, there was always conflict and dissent.  Someone would criticize, complain or even oppose what God was doing.  Moses experienced it.  Joshua.  David.  It is a  pretty common pattern.  However, when the leaders sought God and responded correctly, God made their staffs bud, demonstrating his favor on them and enabling them to lead through the division to accomplish God’s purpose.  In Acts, there was often opposition to the work of God.  But the Apostles and others continued in Christ until he brought unity and overcame the obstacles.

I love the story in 1 Samuel 30 where David and his men returned from battle to find their women and children kidnapped.  The men, in their anger, turned against David and there was talk of a mutiny, of stoning David. David didn’t fight back, he poured out his heart to the Lord and the Lord worked through the situation to bring victory.  On the other hand, it was Rehoboam’s folly that led to the split into two nations.  These seem to me to be recurring patterns.  Relying on God overcomes obstacles while fleshly folly fuels division.

So, here are my two strong beliefs based on my observations of Scripture.

1)  Disunity is always a part of God’s people.  Whenever God is at work, there will be some movement of the enemy or of the flesh to undermine this work.  We are at war, folks, with the principalities and powers.  Will they sit idly by while we work?  The pastor who expects everyone to love him and support him is doomed to a life of disappointment.  There will be enemies without and enemies within and it is all a natural part of living in a fallen world which lives under Satan’s deceptions.

2)  Disunity becomes division when leaders react wrongly.  We pastors always like to blame the rebellious, sinful people for our problems and for the division in the church.  But when we respond in the right way to disunity, it rarely continues on to division. That is pretty much the case throughout scripture.  When the leaders sought God and his help, the people of God overcame the disunity accomplished God’s purpose.

I’ve done a little bit of a non-scientific study of church divisions and splits. The makings of a church split exist in your church right now as they do in mine – our churches are filled with sinners whose sinful hearts can betray them into sinful action.  But I have observed in reality what I have also observed in the scripture – that it is often crucial (and often sincere or at least unintentional) errors by leadership in a church that causes disunity to become division that leads to a split.

The Causes and Cures of Church Splits

So, in summary, disunity and even rebellion are normal parts of churches in a sinful and fallen world.  No amount of “regenerate church membership” or church discipline can banish sinners and their sinful actions from the church. We can limit it, but not eliminate it.  Even as good-looking, sweet and kind as I am (no, you need not comment on this), there has always been someone in every church I’ve been in whom I sarcastically call “chair of the Dave Miller fan club.”  I remember one lady who would sit and stare daggers at me every Sunday morning – oh, she hated me.  Another man would, I’m sure, claim the sky was pink if I said it was blue.  You cannot avoid that.  But I believe that we can, if we do things right, avoid or at the least greatly reduce church splits and the path of destruction those leave.  Here are some ideas I have come to believe and recommend to you.

I will, within this discussion, address the popular question, “Is Calvinism a chief culprit in the rash of church splits we see today?”  To that question, I will give an unequivocal YES, and an equally forceful NO.

1)  Whose agenda are you on?

I know some of you aren’t crazy about him, but Henry Blackaby is my hero  – the most significant human influence on my life other than my father.  He wrote an excellent book called “Spiritual Leadership” – the best I’ve ever read.  It diverges from the common corporate CEO-based models of leadership in some significant ways.  The core principle of the book is the question, “Whose agenda are you working?”

My job as a pastor is to find and operate on God’s agenda.  If I am working in cooperation with God’s agenda, then the Holy Spirit is the motivator and mover to accomplish that agenda.  If I am doing my own thing and working my own plan, then I have no promise from God that the Spirit will aid me in accomplishing my will or my agenda in the church.  This is a hard distinction to make and often we struggle to figure out the difference.

It is easy for me to assume that my agenda is God’s.  I’ve done it.  So have you.  It is a dangerous thing.  When I confuse my desires, my ambitions and my need for control with the will of God, there will generally be division in the church.  God’s power is not available to me accomplish my will or to promote my glory or to attain my ambitions.

But two things are true.  When I am working God’s agenda, the Spirit is my ally, “and a powerful ally (he) is.”  He works on my behalf to calm dissension, to overcome obstacles and to accomplish GOD’s work.  On the other hand, it is God’s church and I have no right to attempt to force my agenda or to use God’s church to glorify myself, make a name for myself or accomplish my will.  If I do that, I make myself the enemy of God’s agenda. I rob him of his glory.

I wish I had never done that.  I have.  And I wish that I did not believe that one of the most common problems in churches today is pastors who are operating on agendas other than God’s.  I know this is judgmental, but it is my observation.  When I have seen a church divided, I have almost universally observed a pastor who has mishandled a situation, responded in pride not humility to criticism or who is advancing a self-centered agenda.

I remember a church (and this is just an obvious example) in Eastern Iowa that was growing rapidly.  The church had a tiny parsonage that housed the pastor and his family.  A church attender offered to build a huge new parsonage on the church property.  It is my impression that he was a church hopper and was probably trying to buy influence in the church, but the pastor was thrilled with the idea.  Division occurred when the pastor tried to force that idea through to approval and church members (who were rightly suspicious of the character of the one making the offer) resisted. That church split because of a parsonage.  No, because my good friend lost sight that he was a servant of God’s agenda and started serving his own. It took a long time before that church recovered.

2)  The problem is often the pastor’s hidden change-agenda. (Warning:  Calvinism Discussion Alert)

We have spent a lot of time arguing here whether Calvinism is inherently divisive.  Does it cause church splits?  I think it is hard to argue against the notion that many churches have split when a new pastor brought Calvinist convictions and perspectives into a church that was previously not Calvinist.  I have seen it several times.  But I saw the same thing when the Willow Creek phenomenon occurred.  A pastor would go into a traditional church and try to transform it to be a “seeker-sensitive” church.  There were many churches that imploded.

The problem is not Calvinism or seeker-sensitivity.  Those are the flash-points, the triggers.  But the problem is the pastor’s agenda.  Churches have a history and a personality.  When a pastor comes in to a church with an agenda to transition to elder-leadership, or to move to becoming a “Nine-Marks” or “Desiring God” church, there is the potential for conflict.  And yes, I know of specific examples where a pastor entered a church with just such an agenda but did not tell the church.  Then, in the first couple of years, he begins to implement an agenda that he did not reveal and people did not sign on to.  Many don’t like it and leave (and are often painted as bad people in the process).

My point is, the problem is not Calvinism, but the pastor’s unspoken agenda.  If I went into a Calvinist church with an anti-Calvinist agenda, or into a conservative church with a more moderate agenda, or into a moderate church with a conservative agenda, or…well, I think you get the point  – there would be trouble.  The reality in the SBC right now is that there are a lot of young Calvinist pastors going into churches that aren’t Calvinistic.  The result is often division.  The fault is not with Calvinism or seeker-sensitivity or whatever, but with the unrevealed, unspoken, hidden agenda of the pastor.

3)  The problem is often pastoral arrogance.

Oh, no he didn’t!  Yes, I said it.  I spend my life around pastors.  Let’s admit what none of us want to admit. When you are in a role of pastoral leadership in the church, it is very easy to let pride and arrogance surface. I want to make a name for myself.  I want to build a following.  I want the adulation of people who think I’m just the best preacher they’ve ever heard!

It is that pride that makes us so competitive at times.  When I pastored in Virginia, we had regular pastors’ fellowship meetings.  We would meet in the sanctuary then go to the fellowship hall for lunch. Every church had one of those statistics boards on the wall, and you could almost hear the gears whirring as pastors would check out the boards and make comparisons. When they came to my church, I played a little prank.  I changed our worship numbers from 129 to 921.  And the offerings that day (if real) were enough to make everyone drool.  I sat through the whole meeting enjoying watching people stared at the board.  As we were going down to lunch, I suddenly and loudly realized my mistake and corrected the totals.  They had a good laugh, but it illustrates a point.

Sit down in a group of pastors and listen to the conversation.  Pretty soon, they will be talking about who is the busiest and who has the better numbers.  We are sometimes insecure people who need approval and need validation, and often the best way to get that is through numbers.

Arrogance causes me to seek my own agenda and to pursue the glory of my name instead of seeking God’s agenda and pursuing the glory of his name.  Pride is the root of sin and pastoral pride is often the root of division in the church.

4)  We’ve got to learn to respond to criticism in a godly way.

Again, pastor, you are going to be criticized.  How are you going to respond?  Do you get mad and fight back?  Or do you love your enemy and return good for evil?  Pastors sometimes want to punish those who criticize them.  We will use the pulpit to fight our personal battles, to defend ourselves and attack (subtly) those who would dare to “touch God’s anointed.”  We act as if criticizing the pastor is somehow an offense against heaven and the response is brutal.

A pastor I know came under some harsh and unfair criticism.  But he forgot that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.  He fought fire with fire instead of returning good for evil and leaving vengeance in the hands of God.  The church split wide open.  Why?  I believe if the man had loved his enemies and responded with grace, things would have been very different. No, the sinful people who treated the pastor badly cannot be excused.  But the pastor ignored Solomon’s wisdom that a gentle answer turns away wrath and he responded with anger.  He poured gas on a fire and, surprise, it was not extinguished.

Pastors, it hurts when someone says something harsh to or about you.  But you have the choice to leave vengeance in God’s hands and return good for evil, or you can try to silence all opposition, paint them as bad guys and drive them out.  I think many of us in ministry are insecure and sensitive and as such it leads to an excessive reaction to criticism.  We need to find our strength and security in God and not in the opinions of people – whether positive or negative.

If you wonder whether pastors are good or bad in general at receiving criticism, watch how we respond to real or imagined criticisms on blogs.

5)  Please, let’s leave behind the “addition by subtraction” and “weeding out the tares” metaphors.

Pastors sometimes brag as if driving a bunch of people away from the church is an heroic thing – purifying the church by getting rid of “those people.”  There is no question that one or two troublemakers leaving a church can be a boon to the ministry.  And I think efforts at regenerate church membership are noble and good.  But sometimes we use these as excuses to paint those who leave our churches as bad people.  Frankly, the way we treat those who leave us sometimes amounts to little more than slander and abuse.

One of the markers of a cult, or an abusive church, is the way they treat people who choose to leave the fellowship.  I have watch people I knew to be genuine followers of Christ but had some reasonable problems with the way their church was being led be treated like spiritual lepers.  Instead of staying and causing trouble, they left the church.  But when they left, they were branded as troublemakers and perhaps even false brethren.  That is spiritual abuse as far as I am concerned.

Beware of a church or pastor who vilifies, especially publicly, those who leave the flock.  Look, I’m an undershepherd of the Great Shepherd. Someone can stay in HIS care but leave mine.

6)  The key is patience

I read something in Lyle Schaller’s book, “The Change Agent” back in my seminary days.  He says we should invest three years in a church before we try to make systemic changes to the way the church operates.  When I came to the church I currently serve, it was deeply wounded from a bad split (is there such a thing as a good one?).  I followed this advice.  People came to me with change agendas and I asked them just to give the church time to heal and re-energize after the horrible illness it had gone through.  Had I tried to force some kind of change agenda on the church in the first couple of years it could have imploded this fellowship.

The worst mistake young pastors sometimes make is going into a church and trying to remake the traditions of that church in the first few months of their tenure.  Don’t try to alter a church’s direction until you have invested enough time for the people to know you and trust you and be ready to follow you.  So many problems in churches could be avoided if pastors would just wait 3 or 4 years before they start trying to alter the direction of a hundred year old church.

There is so much more I can say here, but this is already over 2500 words, so I guess its time to stop.  And, yes, I know that I have made generalizations to which there are exceptions.  I am writing a blog post not a book.  But I believe that these generalities are generally true, even if there are exceptions.

Just remember, I am the anointed leader of this blog and any criticism of me if clearly wrong and evil.  Touch not the anointed!!!!  Oh, wait…never mind.  Go ahead and tell me what you think.

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    This is another BIFF attempt – to bring a more balanced perspective to the Calvinists are Heroes/Calvinists are Villains dichotomy we see so much of.

    I’m off to a wedding rehearsal, so I can only hope you good folks play nice.

  2. says

    Dave,
    I would say you did a pretty good job with this one. Everyone may not like it, but I think you have done an evenhanded job of laying out the main culprits in church divisions.

  3. says

    Dave,

    Every split I have experiences has been due to personality / leadership issues, not theological issues. That alone makes me sit up and take notice. I feel the need to list them because looking back now I have several observations that have helped form my practice.

    Childhood home church (First time as child): Deacons fire pastor because of “ineffective preaching” (to my best recollection). My family leaves to join church split, er, church plant from another local church. Other families due the same, or just drop off the face of the earth.

    After some healing time my parents moved us back to home church, where they have remained thru subsequent splits for 35 years.

    Childhood home church (Second time as youth): Deacons fire pastor (at church 12 yrs) because of “ineffective preaching” (read:attendance) and a non-moral blunder he made in being dragged into a divorce that had sides. Several families leave/

    Childhood home church (Third time – single, mid-twenties): NOT REALLY A SPLIT, but Deacons fire pastor (at church 4 yrs) because of “ineffective preaching” (read:attendance) and “ineffective leadership”. I was in leadership (SS Director/Deacon) at the time and wimped out when I saw the writing on the wall and left before they fired him. I used the excuse that I wanted to go to a church where I could meet a nice Christian young lady (that part actually worked out!) In all honesty, his ministry was also being sabotaged from within by his wife, which begs the question whether he should have been in ministry in the first place.

    First church of my own: Deacons fire pastor because he had a tendency to confront his leaders (read:deacons) on their evangelistic zeal. He was the former state evangelism director after all! Also, this church was rather well to do and he had an annoying tendency of sharing the gospel with all the working class folk he came in contact with On the bright side, I met my wife and we were married at the church two weeks after they had fired him. That was surreal. He started another church 5 miles down the road in the same suburb with 400 charter members.

    Childhood home church (Fourth time for me): Pastor and Chairman of Deacons strongarm a building program on the church. When I say strongarm, I mean strongarm. A key staff member/deacon voices concern in business meetings (no gossip) and is subsequently rebuked and defamed from the pulpit by the pastor (and “privately” defamed from the SS office in front of others). Several other deacons / leaders leave after these events, including the key staff/deacon. In God’s providence, my wife and young family had moved to another neighborhood and moved our membership to the closest SBC church, which happened to be a mega.

    Local mega: No splits! Ignorance is bliss!

    After 12 years my now larger family moves to another neighborhood and we leave to go back to a local small church. Now, I get to view it from the other side as a bi-vo associate pastor.

    My new experiences as a pastor has shown me how immature I was in my prior “hops”. Every one of my cases listed comes down to an inability to confront and manage inevitable conflict. In the cases where I was an adult and had a voice, I simply avoided dealing with conflict by leaving. These single acts of leaving begin to form a pattern of avoidance.

    Fast forward to having to deal with conflict as a pastor, primarily conflicts brought on by other staff. I have had to first overcome my avoidance patterns and then learn to determine what I am seeking in the conflict. Am I determined to show that I am right, or am I seeking reconciliation. After that, I have to determine what it means to be a grace filled church. Do I view members of the body as a means to an end, chiefly a successful ministry? Do I get surprised when they do not extend grace to me (and other pastors) when I do not model that grace with them (Why can’t they get it!)?

    Quite simply, most conflict is rooted in a lack of love and grace.

    • Greg Harvey says

      34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

      I know…I oversimplify everything.

      • Christiane says

        No, you did not.

        You brought forward the eternal answer . . . it only ‘seems’ simple until people realize that all their other human efforts to be ‘one’ as a Church have failed;
        and they are forced to acknowledge that true reconciliation, of each to other, is never found in doctrinal agreements,
        but ONLY in their communal relationship ‘in’ Our Lord.

        When all else has been tried, people who seek unity must know to humble themselves before Him and before one another, and they will find that their Christian community becomes renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit who comes to help the humbled who need Him.

        • Dave Miller says

          Our oneness is in the gospel, Christiane, the display of Christ’s love in which God punish Jesus for our sins so he could bless us with His righteousness. God demonstrates his love for us in the sacrifice of Christ, not some kind of squishy and standard free tolerance.

  4. says

    Jeff, I agree with you. Dave has insightfully looked past the surface of church splits to the “spiritual root,” if you will, of many church problems. Everyone has an agenda, don’t they?!?! Well, if that agenda goes beyond the Great Commission and draws lines outside God’s agenda (which IS the Great Commission, no more, no less), then division will occur.

    This is where godly wisdom comes into play. Is a shift toward greater theological precision always necessary? After all, the Great Commission is as much practical as it is doctrinal. Nothing wrong with theological precision, and it is a noble pursuit, but God’s timing is a huge key here. If you affirm His sovereignty, then you must admit that He will work IN SPITE OF our theological ignorance.

    • says

      Ed,
      Excellent point in your last sentence there as well. God has a proven track record of working with and through complete screw-ups (both of the people variety and the situational variety as well). I think we get all worked in a lather over things that He works in spite of all of the time.

  5. Jason says

    Great post. Totally agree.

    This is what I tried to point out (in a less organized form) on the other comment stream.

    Good job, Dave.

  6. Tom Bryant says

    This was a good post. I really do appreciate the balanace your writing shows.

    Maybe the key to having a peaceful comment thread is to tell poeple right at the beginning that some of you are not going to like what you have to say and that we won’t like you very much after reading this.

  7. says

    My view is that while there are always ancillary factors in splits that involve calvinist pastors, one cannot ignore the fact that the theology itself contributes, often significantly. I don’t see how one can fail to see this.

    At some stage an honest calvinist has to be clear on unconditional election, limited atonement etc. Those are inherently divisive. One might listen to the unanointed and vast unwashed throngs of laypeople every now and then.

    It amuses me that some of my calvinist friends think that if you just package the theology right, if it is explained right, if it is preached with some finesse and elan, people will be converted to it, embrace it, and church meltdowns will be always be avoided.

    Anyhow, Dave…very sensible post…

    • Jim G. says

      I think you said something very clearly here, William. Church splits notwithstanding

      I think there is a real fear among ordinary, everyday Christian people concerning Calvinism. Granted, they probably do not understand all the nuances, but there is something about the idea that God chooses to predestinate some to hell that just does not sit right with a large number of people. Now, before you reply and say I am misrepresenting the doctrine of election, hear me clearly: I am going by ordinary people’s perception of things, not the nuanced versions that many of you are capable of stating. The perception is that the Calvinistic expression if God has him sending people to hell and they have no chance at salvation. And a huge number of Christians (including Southern Baptists) just won’t buy into it.

      I grew up in an area that is a mix between Baptists and Methodists, with some Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. I only knew one (one!) Particular Baptist out of all the people I came in contact with in almost 20 years of mingling with Christian brothers and sisters. Now this is all admittedly anecdotal, but the fear among ordinary Christians is that Calvinism was wrong because a God who loves could not predestine someone to hell. Again, this is perception.

      All I ask from my Calvinist brothers is to be aware of this perception. Be sensitive to it. I think it is what William is trying to get at. I don’t know the SBC as a whole, but I imagine there are literally millions of people in SBC land with this exact same perception as I have described. The 5 points rub a lot of Christians the wrong way, and this perception will not be educated away anytime soon. My encouragement here is to be gentle and understanding with those who may disagree on that issue. Any Calvinist who comes across as arrogant and aloof about his beliefs will only further entrench the perception.

      Jim G.

      Jim G.

      • Bill Mac says

        Jim: There is no question that some people fear Calvinism. For some, they fear Calvinism because they have been hurt by Calvinists or know some people or church that has been hurt by them.

        For the second group, they fear Calvinists because they read and listen to people who are telling them to fear Calvinists. Many such places can be found with the letters SBC in the web address.

        The first is unfortunate but can be dealt with. The second is the real problem but is also unresolvable.

      • says

        Jim, I don’t know how you can nuance unconditional election. The best I’ve seen my calvinist brethren do it is to package it with a lot of other stuff.

    • Bill Mac says

      This is a false dichotomy. Not all Calvinists preach Calvinism even if they are “honest” about holding to the theology. Not all Calvinists are out to convert everyone else to Calvinism. No split is necessary. Everything a preacher says can be divisive if the some in the congregation hold a different view. The division can occur if the preacher insists that everyone else agree with him. Tell me that doesn’t occur with anything but Calvinism.

      I went through Romans in Men’s bible study. I outlined the major viewpoints (Calvinism, Arminianism, and the current Baptist view) on the relevant passages and the differences between them. I also told them where I stood. We had a good discussion. There were no conversions and no splits.

      There is no question that theology can drive an agenda, but it doesn’t have to. And there is no evidence that Calvinist theology is more likely to create agendas than any other. Dave is correct, at their heart, church splits are the result of human weakness, not doctrine.

      • says

        I agree with Bill on this. My church has healthy factions of Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. We discuss, disagree on some things, serve together proclaiming the gospel around the world and come together to worship the same God.

      • Jason says

        “at their heart, church splits are the result of human weakness, not doctrine.”

        Precisely. I am not sure why some here refuse to admit this reality.

      • Jim G. says

        I see your point, Bill. But I think the second type of fear has been around longer than the internet or the current state of unease. If anything, the information explosion has just magnified it.

        Jim G.

    • Jason says

      William,

      I understand your point. I understand why you see it that way. But I believe the fact that there are many, many calvinists in churches that don’t split and that don’t have meltdowns undermines your argument in your last paragraph. Evidently it is possible to explain it in a way, and to lead in a loving way, and avoid those meltdowns. It happens all the time.

      It is for that reason that I believe it is not inherent in the theology to cause division. If someone goes in and draws strict lines and does not allow disagreement or divergent viewpoints on the issue, they will have problems. So, that is why I say that personalities and people cause problems, not theology. We pastors need to teach what we believe, but be open to those who have disagreements on these third level issues.

      BTW, I applaud the use of “elan”.

  8. says

    I know of instances of calvinists who learned how to do one thing well, namely, to put it to a person in a way that both provoked and encouraged them. What they learned and did in that instance worked well, so well that they adopted it as a hallmark for their ministry. they then tried to apply it in all of their subsequent ministry only to find that it blew up in their faces. Too illustrate: an evangelist who was preaching Sovereign Grace in a church in Mississippi heard a man called on to pray and whose prayer evidently revealed his lostness. The evangelist then prayerd and said, “Lord, that is the most miserable prayer….” the fellow who prayed it became enraged, following the service he threatened the evangelist with death. To make a long story short, before the week was ought the man was converted and admitted that the prayer he had prayed was, indeed, a miserable prayer. The church had a glorious revival. In another place, circumstances were altered and the people were different, and the evangelist tried the same approach. He created a split and did harm to his own cause.

    Was God in such service? It is a difficult to speak with authority and assurance on the issue. Ministers do smart things, and they do dumb things. Sometimes the smart thing in one instance is just plain dumb in another instance. What seems to be needed is a wherewithal to be able to look at a situation and determine what is the best approach for dealing with it. A better understanding of the intellectual depths of the biblical message is the way to getting an understanding of situations and how and what the truth is to be applied in the particular circumstances.

    When a minister gets it right, the results can be tremendous. Devotional reading of the Bible with daily, agonizing, intense prayer is the answer. A sense of dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ finds Him there with the help at the point of need. When He is not there, it can generally be traced to two causes. One is sin. Two, there is something else to come out of the situation that yet remains to be accounted for.

    Think of how Paul was warned about his trip to Jerusalem, and still he continued in his determination to go. Those warning him ceased their efforts, saying, the will of the Lord be done. Eventually, Paul would wind up in Rome after a number of hair-raising escapes from danger. How God can allow or decree as the case might be is His prerogative; our is to submit, when His will becomes evident.

    Learning to study, think, reason, and reflect upon the truths given to enable and empower us to be effective servants of Christ is no easy matter. Thinking outside the box becomes practically a mark of the believer, especially as he or she has to learn to consider the principles in a multitude of situations. But the Inspired word was designed for thinkers and the thoughtful; it provides the insight and wisdom for dealing with life’s stituations.

    It is still a bit of amazement to me that in my research in church history, I stumbled over what it is that makes believers and ministers balanced, flexible, creative, enduring, and magnetic, thus able to deal with changing circumstances.

  9. says

    “Arrogance causes me to seek my own agenda and to pursue the glory of my name instead of seeking God’s agenda and pursuing the glory of his name. Pride is the root of sin and pastoral pride is often the root of division in the church.”

    Let me come at this from another angle. First, it’s not just pastors that are affected, but other kinds of ministers – and are all Christians not called to minister? If there are ministers who get it right, then arrogant competitiveness from other ministers can bury their ministries. Therefore, this kind of pride from one can destroy the good efforts of another. So some ministers may respond in kind not because they are arrogant but because they fear for their ministerial viability in a hostile ministerial environment.

  10. gloria says

    You are 100% right. Dave Miller 3 years seems is the right time to get to know the people, etc. Even accept God’s leading not to take a church where your ministry is different.

  11. Bill Mac says

    I do agree that unconditional election is an uncomfortable topic, but let’s face it, we have to deal with election. If you think God elects people (and not groups) then either God elects based upon His own counsel, or His election is reactive (the foreseen faith theory). The former is uncomfortable, the latter is untenable. If ever I’m persuaded that unconditional election of persons is not true, I’ll be jumping into the “election of people groups” camp.

    • Jim G. says

      Hi Bill,

      Yes. I agree that conditional election has more minuses than plusses. But, so does unconditional individual election. That is why I think the Barth-Torrance view of unconditional election (Jesus Christ as electing God and elected man) is a better alternative.

      Jim G.

      • Jason says

        Jim, That theory would be great if not for the pesky fact that sinful men are called “elect” all over the Epistles.

        That view’s response to the fact that others than Christ Himself are called elect, is unsatisfactory…as are the responses to other related issues regarding election.

        People are smart, they know the Bible teaches election. They may not understand it, but they see it there. My concern is that they don’t try and explain it away as of it isn’t there. People left to their own aren’t going to come up with Barth/Torrance theory. They will say, why did Paul address the church as “elect” and individuals as “elect”…and when he did why did he act like it was a GREAT thing and something to take comfort in while we people were suffering? If it was meant for comfort, then it isn’t a divisive thing. If it was meant for comfort, I should embrace it. If it was meant for comfort, then it isn’t some ethereal thing that really doesn’t talk about me at all. People KNOW it talks about individuals, thus the consternation on the issue. That is a plain reading. To explain it away is unhelpful and dishonest.

      • Bill Mac says

        Jim: I’m not familiar with that theory of election. I’ll have to look into it. I’m fairly comfortable with election remaining mysterious. I’m far less committed to the truthfulness of unconditional election than I am to the untruthfulness of election based upon foreseen faith. At the risk of being rude, it surprises me that the theory ever gained any traction. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. Choosing someone because you know they will choose you is no choice at all.

      • Jim G. says

        Hi Jason,

        Before we start name-calling (dishonest), I’m not sure you understand the entire idea.

        Our election is unconditional in Christ. That is the point. Christ, as the God-man, is able to contain the election of all of us. We are elect because he is elect. In this view, election is something that occurs “in Christ.” Therefore, unconditional election is maintained, as is general atonement and real assurance.

        Is it a perfect way to explain election? no. But neither is John Calvin’s approach, or the one of the Arminian tradition. In my opinion, the Barth-Torrance view has fewer biblical snags than the traditional C or A approaches. Of course I am not able to explain the whole idea in a blog reply. But it would be good to interact with the merits of the view, which I would be happy to do.

        Jim G.

        • Jason says

          Jim,

          That wasn’t an accusation, I was speaking in generalities of telling people “I know what it says, but that’s not what it says”. You know what I mean? I was not accusing you of being dishonest at all. Sorry for the confusion.

          As for the view, I studied it when writing a paper in seminary. It is intriguing, and I agree with aspects of it. But I find the dealing with individual passages unconvincing. Oddly, I agree with Olson’s critique (for the most part) of the view. I appreciate the attempt, I just don’t agree with the conclusions.

          • Jim G. says

            No problem, Jason. I was afraid the conversation would go south.

            If we reject the idea of corporate election, we are left with two options that frankly have so many problems that I don’t want to choose either: unconditional or conditional individual election. Both of those have really big issues attached. Calvinism is committed to the former, while Arminianism holds to the latter. Both of these are hard to hold when looking at the totality of Scripture, in my opinion.

            By Olson’s critique, do you mean Grenz and Olson’s treatment in 20th Century Theology?

            Jim G.

          • Jason says

            Jim,

            Am I wrong in my conclusion that you are the one who posed this issue to Olson on his blog a few months back? Those are the comments to which I am referring. (BTW, Olson tore apart Lemke’s article on a middle way…from an Arminian perspective. He showed some major inconsistencies and rightly rebuked the foolish statement of “I’m not calvinist or arminian, I am a baptist.”)

            I agree with the conclusions he made, but from the opposite side of the spectrum. Barth’s conclusions over-state his case and I feel make the individual passages quite unclear. Like I said, I like the attempt (as someone who is very christocentric), but I can’t go there on the conclusions.

            I didn’t think “20th Century Theology” dealt with this issue. But it’s been a few years since I read it. Does that book address this issue?

          • Jim G. says

            Yes, I am the one who sent that in. I don’t think Olson has spent enough time with Torrance at least to make the claims he did (not a criticism, I don’t recall the exact words, but he seemed intrigued at the idea, at least to me). Most of the serious Barth scholars with whom I am familiar don’t agree with Olson, either.

            I think Torrance at least is pretty clear in his new book (edited by his nephew) “Atonement.” He is neither a universalist nor does he subscribe to traditional Calvinistic unconditional election. I’ve done enough work in Torrance to appreciate the positives of his approach. Again, is it perfect? No. But it is better because I think if we reject this corporate view, then we are thrown back into the mess of an either/or between unconditional and conditional individual election. Both are highly unsatisfactory in my view.

            Olson is right that as long as we see election as individual we are confined to either Calvinism or Arminianism. He is absolutely correct that if election is individual, there is no “middle ground.” 400 years of infighting has sufficiently exposed the theological shortcomings in both positions.

            The reason I don’t want to let this rest is because if we reject corporate election, we have either Calvinism or Arminianism. Both of these options are too theologically troublesome.

            Jim G.

          • Jason says

            I’ll check out the Torrence book, so I can interact with his views a bit.

            I understand where you are coming from. But I have a hard time, exegetically, with corporate election…and I see the legitimacy of individual election, from the text. That is where I agree with Olson. Obviously, I disagree with him on the conditioning of election.

            So, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this. But I appreciate the conversation.

          • Jim G. says

            Hi Jason,

            I appreciate the tone of the conversation, but are there any texts in the NT that imply individual election? Every use of the word “elect” (with the exceptions of Jesus himself in 1 Pet 2:6 and the angels in 1 Tim 5:21) is in the plural sense, that is, an elect group of people rather than a collection of elected individuals. Same with “election.” Even Romans 9, concerning Jacob and Esau, is an echo of Malachi 1 which speaks of the nations. In the word “chosen,” the only examples of individual use I could find are again Christ, and this time both Paul and Rufus.

            I’m not sure the text bears out the election of individuals, as there is not a lot of evidence for it. Aside from Rufus, Paul was chosen for a mission. The rest of the uses of “election” are plural, if not corporate.

            And even the best known text, Eph 1:4, says we are chosen “in Christ.” There is a large number of the “in Christ” texts that are properly interpreted in a “locative” sense, which means it is where the believers are located.

            I’m not sure the textual evidence is lacking. But I’d still like to keep discussing it.

            Jim G.

      • Christiane says

        Thank you for introducing the importance of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity’s Incarnation.

        I don’t think that Southern Baptists focus much on the meaning of the Incarnation ‘in depth’. For this reason, the ‘Barth-Torrance’ view may not be understood in the way that you want it to be . . . so you might ‘elaborate’ in order to help people see what you are meaning. I’m sure you can do it and I am sure they will understand, if you try.

  12. Dave Miller says

    There is one inviolable rule of church conflict and splits. The fault is always THEM!! Not me. Not us. Them. Those Calvinists (unless I am one). The pastor, unless that is me. Then its the people. But the fault is always someone I don’t look at in the mirror when I shave.

  13. says

    This post might be a good time to relate this story:

    Not long after I came to Georgia, I experienced two speakers (both from the GBC) within a 6 month time frame who came to our Association’s Ministers’ Conference and at lunch told the table to beware of Calvinism because it was hurting Churches. When pressed to give examples, they both seemed to hem and haw and eventually would mention one Church that they knew of, but no hard evidence (essentially, on both counts I was already aware of the Churches in question, but was never alerted to any others except the two that these guys mentioned and so far I’ve only heard of those two Churches where the pastor’s Calvinism was essentially a problem).

    Months later, we had another speaker from the GBC come to the Pastor’s Conference and talk about Church conflict. He indicated that the GBC keeps regular statistics on Churches in conflict, particularly if they come to the GBC or Association for help. When he presented the numbers for Churches who fired their pastors, the vast majority were reported to have been over personality issues (something like 75%). Then there were several various other reasons. When asked how many were fired due to theological concerns, he said that he knew of only 2 in the last year (this was about 2 years ago), which represented less than 5% of all pastors fired by their Churches in Georgia.

    Now, I realize that it is likely very true that the GBC’s numbers do not represent even half of the Churches who had conflict in any given year, but they do present at least some sort of reasonable sampling of GA Baptist Churches (and perhaps total SBC Churches). What this seems to confirm is what Dave has said – namely, that most Church conflicts come down to personality problems with the pastor and not specific theology. I would also say that I think it shows the likelihood that theology is a contributing factor to personality problems and not the other way around.

    I think apart from any statistical study on the issues of Calvinism and personality problems as root causes of Church conflict, most of what we are presenting here is anecdotal evidence, which is generally unreliable and easily skewed based on personal experiences, which is probably why there are so many extreme reactions to the idea that Calvinism causes Church splits – some have seen it, some have heard about it, and others haven’t.

    In any case, I think all of us would agree that we would like to see some firm statistical evidence on the matter.

  14. says

    One thing I have found that ws helpful in preaching election is that it is an invitation. In his introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first text book ever used in theology at Harvard Univ., Dr. Eusden declared, “predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgriamge….” I applied the idea of invitation to Predestination, Total Depravity/Inability, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance/Preservation of the saints, and, yes, Reprobation. Yes, each one has the thought of an invitation to be saved, to trust Christ for salvation and deliverance. Add to that the fact that paradoxical intervention/thereapeutic paradox illustrate how something so seemingly opposite can be a means to help, an invitation, an empowerment for change. Gentlement, we ought to outflank, outthank, outlast with patience and kindness, the folks who feel so provoked. Lay it on thick. These truths are loving invitations. Take the woman of Canaan and the idea of worship at the thought of Jesus not being sent but to the lost sheep of the hosue of Israel and she was not a Jew. Add the idea of be willing to find complete and miraculous help in a crumb that no one would deny to the unclean reprobate image of a dog……and think of the compliment it bestows upon Jesus. He can say anything He wants by way of condemnation and discouraging words, and the woman thinks it is all so wonderful that she will settle for the smallest hope and help…even that of a crumb.

  15. says

    “We are sometimes insecure people who need approval and need validation, and often the best way to get that is through numbers.”

    Dave,

    Excellent observations. I’ve got nothing to add as far as the Calvinism debate, because it’s been ferreted out as far as it can be. However, I’m working on a book for a publisher about why pastors fall. The statement you made above is one of the reasons. We are insecure people with many self-imposed expectations as well as external expectations. We carry around a lot of pride as well. A lot of the fallen pastors I’ve interacted with said the same thing, “I realized after I fell that I wasn’t pursuing Christ, I was pursuing the ministry.”

    Great blog post.

  16. sal says

    Well done, Dave. You’re candid about a problem that is rampant: arrogance among leaders. Egotism and ambition exist in the church and it’s troubling. The ministry has always held out a certain prestige. People sometimes go into it for these wrong reasons.

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