Friday, March 9, 2012

How To Avoid Hiring a Calvinist Pastor

Many unsuspecting churches have unknowingly hired Calvinist pastors which has resulted in church splits, fired pastors, and broken churches. This post is intended to assist church search committees with identifying Calvinist pastors who apply for their vacancies and enable the committees to make an informed choice.

Calvinism is becoming firmly entrenched in our seminaries (Southern & Southeastern) as well as our entities (Lifeway & NAMB). At the end of each seminary semester, new Calvinist ministers are graduating and looking for a place to preach their Calvinist doctrine. While a majority of Calvinist graduates from our seminaries have indicated a desire to plant churches (and the current NAMB has been recreated to accomodate their desires), many Calvinist graduates will apply for positions in existing traditional churches. My own experience with church search committees has been that they ask very few church polity or theological questions in interviewing for a vacant pastorate. This is unfortunate and if search committees are to avoid hiring Calvinist pastors, this must change. Most Calvinist pastors won't self-identify to a search committee that they are Calvinist so what should a church search committee do to avoid hiring a Calvnist pastor? The answer is ask specific doctrinal questions.

Calvinists believe in five specific doctrines which are framed in the acronymn: TULIP. Here's what TULIP stands for:

T = total depravity. Man is incapable of coming to Christ without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
U = unconditonal election. Before time began, God preordained whom He would save. Unless one is a part of this special group, known as the "elect," one will not be saved.
L = limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the whole world. He died for the elect.
I = irresistible grace. In the case of the elect, they will ultimately come to Christ because God will cause them to come through an irresistible pull from Him.
P - perseverance of the saints. The elect of God will persevere in their faith in Christ and will not fall away.

Now let me make a couple of points regarding this doctrine which Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary says is our "future." These are some of the logical conclusions to what Calvinists believe. If God chose who was going to be saved before time began, then nothing can change His sovereign decree. Thus, if you are not one of the elect, you will not come to Christ. You can hear the word of God preached but it will have no saving effect on you because you are totally depraved and cannot come to Christ unless God causes you to come to Christ. And if you are not one of the elect, God will not cause you to come to Christ. The flip side of this theology is that God does nothing to draw the non-elect to Himself, thus they will not come to Him through Christ.

With this type of theology, it really doesn't matter whether a church is active in missions or not. If God has selected who is going to be saved and He is going to make that happen, then the elect will be saved whether or not we do missions. The same also applies to the unsaved. In Calvinist theology, if you are not one of the elect, then nothing anyone does will help you get saved. The bottom line is there is no practical compelling reason to do missions for a Calvinist.

Is that what your church believes? If it is, then, great, hire a Calvinist pastor. If not, then avoid a Calvinist pastor. Ask specific questions about theology to the candidates for your church vacancy. If you ask them if they believe in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, even Calvinists can honestly say yes to that question because our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is too broad of a theological statement to weed out Calvinists. Ask them about every point of the TULIP acronym. Ask them who can be saved. Ask them who Jesus died for. Ask them if they believe God chose who was going to be saved before time began. Be specific.

Asking specific doctrinal questions is very important to the overall pastor search process. If your church believes in the Rapture, then you should ask pastoral candidates if they believe in the Rapture. If your church believes that the King James Version is the only proper bible, then ask the candidate what he thinks about bible translations. If your church doesn't believe in evangelizing children until a certain age, be sure and ask your candidates what are their views on child evangelism. Some will say that these theological matters are secondary and should not be important in the life of a church. Perhaps that sentiment is true, however, churches have split over lesser concerns, thus it is vital to the future health of your church that your pastor is as close as possible theologically to the existing membership.