On June 5, 2009 I began teaching John MacArthur's "The Truth War". We are now 10 weeks into the series and only have two weeks left.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, here's a video link that has the author speaking of the book. If you are unfamiliar with John MacArthur, here's a few a quick facts: MacArthur is a conservative Evangelical Christian of the Baptist denomination. He is a proponent of expository preaching, is a Calvinist, cessationist and pre-tribulationalist.
"So what's the big deal?", you might ask.
Well, I am a conservative Evangelical Christian of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination. I, personally, am also a proponent of expository preaching, don't claim to be a Calvinist or Arminian, but lean toward Arminianism just as our denomination "officially" does. (see below) I am a continuationalist and also a pre-tribulationalist.
During the first and second weeks of the class, I began the class by talking about the author, his beliefs and the differences in his doctrine versus ours.
The two main issues that I would disagree with MacArthur on are:
Unfortunately, although I wish that it was, this is not just a hypothetical situation to ponder. This a situation that actually occurred today during my Sunday School class.
A member of my church, who entered the class during the fourth or fifth week of class, began to make implications about MacArthur being a false teacher as we were wrapping up Chapter 5 in the accompanying Study Guide. This portion of the Study Guide focuses specifically on false teachers and our Biblical behavior towards them. He began to make various allusions to someone teaching against tongues and brought up the matter of Calvinism. His overarching point, without coming right out and saying it, was, "Hey, if the author teaches against continuationalism and he's a Calvinist...he's a false teacher!" Mind you, this began with about 15-20 minutes left of the class. The class was hi-jacked and the lesson that I had prepared for came to a grinding halt. I spent the remainder of the class attempting to do damage control and squelch confusion as he brought up this "should have approached me off-line" issue in the middle of class.
I re-affirmed with the class that although we believe in baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, no one believed that speaking in tongues was a Heaven or Hell issue. Everyone concurred. I further mentioned that we are "Arminian Leaning" and explained the Assemblies of God position on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.
In regards to Calvinism, the Assemblies of God says, "The Assemblies of God leans toward Arminianism, though it accepts scriptural truth found in both positions. We agree with the Calvinist emphasis on God's sovereignty or supreme power and authority. But we also firmly believe the Arminian emphasis on mankind's free will and responsibility for his actions and choices. We believe the Bible teaches both truths."
They also state: "Certainly there are true Christians who believe and teach Calvinism; there are also true Christians who believe and teach that men and women have free will. Unfortunately, both sides have spent more time arguing doctrinal terminology and interpretations of theology than reaching out to a lost world. The irony of the disagreement is that Calvinists, who believe in predestination, are sometimes more active in witnessing and evangelism than Arminians who believe that man has a free will and should be encouraged to accept Christ as Savior."
One student piped up, "Well, we don't necessarily believe in what the Assemblies of God position paper states on the matter, we believe what the Bible says!" My retort was, "If we can't trust in the leadership of the AG (which I'm sure has put much thought and prayer into the position paper), then why come under the umbrella of fellowship with the AG?" It truly doesn't make any sense IF...it's a matter over which we should divide.
The person who brought the original accusation kept mentioning "Once Saved...Always Saved." This is the charge often made against most Calvinists; that they believe in the phrase "Once Saved...Always Saved." This is true, BUT with a proper explanation. Any Calvinist that I know will tell a professing Christian living in sin that they need to repent and it doesn't matter that they were "once saved" at age 11 and filled out a "Decision" card. Here's Paul Washer, a Calvinist, affirming that fact. I've heard Calvinists say over and over to do what the Scriptures say in 2 Corinthians 13:5: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?"
I truly believe that statements like these are made and misconceptions about Calvinists are driven by ignorance of what being a Calvinist actually means. The bottom line is that some have simply not taken the time to research the matter to see why Calvinists believe the way that they do. I must admit that there are very difficult Scriptures as an "Arminian-leaning" Christian, while realizing that Calvinists would have some problems with some Arminian proof texts as well.
MacArthur states on page 150 in his book "Kingdom Living Here and Now": “Eternal security is a great spiritual truth, but it should never be presented merely as a matter of being once saved, always saved--with no regard for what you believe or do. The writer of Hebrews 12:14 states frankly that only those who continue living holy lives will enter the Lord's presence."
I summarized the class by challenging the students to pray over what was mentioned in class and search the Scriptures. I told them that no one should violate their conscience if they felt MacArthur was, in fact, a false teacher by continuing forward and coming back to class next week. I recommended that they either sit in another Sunday School class or skip Sunday School altogether.
Do we look at Calvinists who do not believe in speaking in tongues for today [because there are some that do!] as our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we look at Calvinists who do not believe in speaking in tongues for today as false teachers? Although we would vehemently disagree with their stance, can we still call them Christians and even learn from their teaching? Are these two issues Heaven or Hell issues that would cause others to stumble and possibly be damned to Hell?
According to what I have studied in the Scriptures, I cannot come to the conclusion that we should not call them our brothers and sisters in Christ or deem them as apostates or false teachers. In addition, the leadership in the denomination in which I am part of, whole-heartedly agrees. These are matters that we can disagree upon, but still love and consider one another as brothers and sisters in Christ...not false teachers.
Since the matter was brought before the entire Sunday School class, I have taken the matter to my Pastor to officially address the matter with the Sunday School class. I am also going to forward this blog link to John MacArthur to see whether or not he would like to provide any comments on the matter.
As further evidence that Calvinism should not be a matter that we deem as false teaching, the Assemblies of God wrote an article that was published in our "Enrichment Journal" about Calvinist C.H. Spurgeon titled, "Charles Haddon Spurgeon: The Greatest Victorian Preacher."
One last, and very interesting note...In Louisville, there is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor that is unabashedly a Calvinist. He also taught one of my classes at the Kentucky School of Ministry. Here's a link to his website. **Notice the "Reforming In Faith" on the site. (This is code for Calvinism!)
I welcome your comments at John@Heuglin.net.
I posted a link to my blog on Albert Mohler's Facebook and he responded on 8/18/2009 with the following:
"John, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I would reserve the label "false teachers" to those who deny or subvert the Gospel. I am thankful for the clear witness of the Assemblies of God to the Gospel. See; http://www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_full.cfm#5"
My response to him:
"Thank you, Dr. Mohler, and everyone for taking the time to look at the blog and provide godly input. I thank God for all of you!! It looks as if I may have some rough waters ahead. Who would have ever thought that I would be defending Calvinists!?!? (LOL!)"
UPDATE!! (Part Two)
I received the following EMail from Dr. James Galyon on Friday, August 21, 2009:
I read your recent blog entry (re: Are Calvinists False Teachers), and appreciate your thoughts and the tone of the essay. I was raised in the Assemblies of God, but became a Baptist/Calvinist after leaving home. To this day I regard my old AoG pastor, who is now a missionary, with deep respect. My boss is an AoG chaplain. He is the best boss I've ever had, and I respect him greatly as well. Despite the differences, there is much upon which we agree. We agree on the gospel - justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. We agree upon the necessity of holiness in life (sanctification). All too often the doctrine of the perseverance and preservation of the saints is lumped in with the Antinomian "once saved, always saved" position. The two are diametrically opposed. Ironically enough, it is generally not Calvinists who hold the OSAS position, but Baptists who disdain Calvinism.
As for "my side of the house," there are at times Reformed brothers who refer to "Arminians" as false teachers and such. I don't care for that at all. It's wrong, on both sides. Now, I'm not saying there aren't false teachers out there, because there certainly are. It is my hope that conservative evangelicals, who agree on the doctrine of justification, and assert that sanctification necessarily follows justification, will band together for the sake of our Lord and His Kingdom. The Kingdom is much larger than any particular denomination or evangelical group.
Again, thank you for your thoughts,
By His Grace Alone,
Dr. James Galyon