If You’re Not Reformed You Are Irrelevant

October 22, 2014

Allen M. Rea | Pastor
Dunn Memorial Baptist Church, Baxley, GA

At MacArthur’s famed, or infamous, Strange Fire Conference last year one of the speakers was Dr. Steven Lawson. Lawson, now heading his own ministry, is a Reformed Baptist closely associated with R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur. In the session entitled “Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists,” Lawson said, “In fact, Dr. MacArthur has said, ‘If you’re not reformed right now, you are basically irrelevant.’ I would add to that, ‘You’re wrong.’ But there has been a ground swell and it has been spread far and wide to this Reformed resurgence to mainline denominations, to independent churches, to Baptist churches, and there’s been a host of gifted teachers who have led this parade.” [1]

A statement such as this is simply offensive. Now I am a Traditionalist, or a Rogerist, as some would like to refer to me. I realize that in the pop culture of Reformed theology no one necessarily is concerned with offending a Traditionalist. I have always appreciated the ministry of MacArthur. I have a well-worn and duct-taped copy of his study Bible. I consult his commentaries and, to my knowledge, have read everything that he has published. I obviously find myself in disagreement with some of MacArthur’s statements. Now,let me assume first off that Lawson has correctly quoted MacArthur. This conference gained national attention and is offered free at MacArthur’s ministry website. I believe, then, it is safe to assume that MacArthur did not disagree with Lawson’s statement. If we can safely assume the validity of the statement then let me share with you why I find it offensive.

At least three times a week I labor in sweat and blood to prepare expository sermons from the Word of God. I preach the Word as I have been commanded (2 Timothy 4:2). I do not believe the Bible is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, I believe it to be infallible, inerrant, and sufficient. To piously pronounce that people are irrelevant if they differ with you on theology is a leap in logic at best and blind pride at worse. I was trained in the notion that the Word of God is living and active and needs neither amending nor apologies. Dr. Lawson, I am a Traditionalist. I am young and settled; however, I am not irrelevant because I preach and teach the Word of God.

I do not possess a Ph.D. from a prestigious institution. I do not rub elbows with “the gifted teachers” of Lawson’s Reformed “parade.” Jesus warned us against arguing over who is the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). I, however, have reached my conclusions from the Word of God. I do not believe myself to be “wrong” simply because I do not like the smell of tulips.

I hear a lot about “sola scriptura” coming from my Reformed brothers; nevertheless, I see the movement producing books on systematic theology, biographies, and even the movement itself. Where are all the commentaries? I would rather be textual than theological. I see conferences based on Knox or Calvin. How about a Reformed Evangelism Conference?

I am young, settled, and traditional. I pastor a church in small town Georgia. Dr. Lawson, such a statement offends me. However, if Lawson truly believes one such as myself is “irrelevant” and “wrong,” if being a Traditionalist that extends altar calls and believes Christ died for the world is “wrong,” then I have no desire to be “right” in the eyes of Lawson. I extend an invitation: Who would like to be “irrelevant” and “wrong” with me?

Luke 17:10,

Allen M Rea

 

[1] http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/TM13-4/calvins-critique-of-charismatic-calvinists

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D. Morgan

Well said pastor.

    Allen M Rea

    Thank you

Ron F. Hale

Thank you Allen for your thoughts and convictions. It seems every year some or several high profile person(s) of this camp boasts that “Calvinism is the gospel” or “The truth” or “where else can you go?.”

The Scriptures encourages us: “So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17 HCSB).

Blessings …and keep looking unto Jesus!

    Allen M Rea

    Thanks Ron! I rejoice in nothing but my weakness, not even my victories. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). I thank you for exhortation. I pray to always have my eyes on the One who died for us all.

Rick Patrick

In 2011, Brad Whitt wrote an excellent essay entitled, “Young, Southern Baptist…and Irrelevant?”

Whitt’s point was that, in the eyes of some Christians, all Southern Baptists who are not Calvinists–and particularly younger Southern Baptists who are not Calvinists–are being overlooked when it comes to speaking at conferences, publishing books and initiating new ministry strategies. Whitt addresses both denominational loyalty issues (such as Cooperative Program support) along with ministry practices such as the Sinner’s Prayer, preaching behind a pulpit and not sitting on a stool, and even wearing a coat and tie. But the primary thrust of the piece is that if you are not a Calvinist, then denominational leaders do not appear to have much use for you in Southern Baptist life today.

MacArthur and Lawson celebrate that which Whitt laments–a Christian culture paying far too much attention to Calvinism (relative to its popularity in the SBC at large) and far too little attention to those with Traditional SBC convictions.

I can only think of one way for Traditional Southern Baptists to become relevant again. We must join our individual voices together and connect with one another, gathering at conferences and rallying those who embrace our theology with as much fervor and enthusiasm as the Calvinists have managed to engender at theirs. We must come together in order to be heard. We must invite our own speakers to conferences, write our own books, and elect our own leaders in the same manner that they have elected theirs.

How can we do this? First, go to Connect 316 and familiarize yourself with the topics and events. Second, plan to attend the Connect 316 Supper at the Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus. Third, motivate others with similar convictions to stand up and be counted. We have every reason to be just as proud of our Hobbs-Rogers theological heritage as they are proud of their Calvin-Piper theological heritage. The road to relevance is for our theological convictions, ministry practices and leadership principles to grow in influence. One day, prayerfully, we will no longer be ignored as second class citizens of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Allen M Rea

    Rick,
    I started to link to Whitt’s article. Thank you for referencing it. I pray for our unison in this cause. Nashville is much closer to my heart than Geneva. We appreciate your leadership in this ministry.

Johnathan Pritchett

Well, me for one. I’m with ya!

    Allen M Rea

    Johnathan,
    Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. Vines shares in his autobiography that after his second election he and others were at a cafe in New Orleans. All the conservatives got together and sang “Victory in Jesus”. He mentions that many took offense at this. One day we all may be able to sing that song together. Thanks for coming down the aisle for this information. Will you fill out this card for me? ;)

Gene Clyatt

Allen,

You asked, “How about a Reformed Evangelism Conference?”

The theme of the very first Reformation Montana conference was missions and evangelism. Just sayin’.

Allen M Rea

Gene,
Thanks for reading and posting. I am thankful to hear about the Montana conference. I was not trying to communicate that they do not exist, but that I, as a Traditionalist, do not hear about them. I am not in the circle. Many of these conferences I hear about and see publicized are concerned a church history figure or emphasizing some distinct doctrine in the Reformed movement. Many of the Reformed seem to harp on “sola scriptura,” but as an outsider looking in, I do not see it. They celebrate 500 years of Calvin and Knox, and to a certain extent I understand that. I adore church history. However, we are not commissioned to share church history or our theological systems, but the Gospel. The lost world sees us celebrating a dead saint. I am uncomfortable with this, because it resembles unbiblical trends in Catholicism.

    Gene Clyatt

    I understand. We do tend to hear the news most from the circles that we run in. For example: I know of two street evangelists arrested in Scotland in the last few years, wrongfully charged with anti-homosexual hate speech (charges dropped in both cases). Both men are Calvinists. Are they the only ones who have been arrested for proclaiming the Gospel in Scotland? I do not know, but they are the ones I know about.

    Same with conferences – there have been several large street evangelism conferences in recent months conducted by Calvinists. You just probably did not hear about them, because you run in different circles. John MacArthur’s church, where the Strange Fire conference took place, is constantly sending out missionaries around the world. Strange Fire was actually the second Truth Matters conference, and the first conference was all about the Gospel itself – defining it, understanding it, and proclaiming it. I would contend that a very good case could be made that every major evangelistic movement in the last 500 years has been Calvinistic in origin and understanding.

    After all, Lottie Moon was a Calvinist :)

      Allen M Rea

      Gene,
      Your case would be intriguing to hear. I swim in the Sandy Creek myself. My first study Bible was MacArthur’s and I am abundantly thankful for that. My well meaning kindred could just as easily gave me a Swaggert Study Bible. MacArthur helped lay a solid textual foundation for me. MacArthur blazes through my speakers constantly, and I do not see that changing. I would love to attend his inerrancy conference next year.

        Gene Clyatt

        I plan on attending that conference, Lord willing. If you make it out, we’ll grab a cup of coffee and do some wool-gathering together.

          Allen M Rea

          Consider it booked! I am trying to attend with a couple of my deacons. I will keep you updated via twitter.

    Tyler

    I dont want to start a quarrel, but the T4G conference was all about evangelism as well. 24 thousand people were listening to it. God bless!

      Allen M Rea

      Tyler,
      No quarrel will begin if I can help it. The T4G conferences that I have listened to via internet were not evangelically centered. I will be happy to stand corrected on this. Please send me a link via twitter @dmbcpastor How many non-Reformed have spoken @ T4G events?

Andy

Allen,

May God bless you ministry. I understand your reaction and wish Calvinists would stop saying things like this. I want you to know not all young pastors who agree with Calvin on the election issue think those who don’t are irrelevant. I remember in college, we would have late-night discussions about sovereignty and free will, often disagreeing, but then we’d get up and go do ministry together as good friends. I am blessed to serve in a church that approaches the issue in a similar way. We can help temper and sharpen each other if we don’t immediately dismiss one another out of hand. I even know a Calvinist who married a Nazarene! :-)

Signed,
-“One who finds the arguments for Foreseen Faith & Corporate Election unconvincing.”

Allen M Rea

Andy,
Your words of encouragement are greatly appreciated. I have many Reformed friends. Some of them were even kind enough to I read this article before it was published. They agreed that Lawson was out of line. I sat on the basis of this article for months. I listened to the entirety of the SF conference, and I felt some responsibility to respond. Lawson’s “Famine in the Land” is a wonderful call to expository preaching. I have tried to make sure this entire conversation avoids “ad hominem” attacks. I was disappointed to hear that Lawson left pulpit ministry. I respect that after much study you have found our arguments “unconvincing”. Have you read a copy of Allen and Lemke’s “Whomsoever Wills”? Also on our Connect316 website we have many articles written by far better minds than myself. As Tozer often said: “I am just an intern.” I hope you find these resources edifying and respectful. I am praying for you and with you.

Max

“If you’re not reformed right now, you are basically irrelevant.”

Sounds strangely similar to a charge to young pastors from a famous/infamous Southern Baptist:

“If you’re a theological minded, deeply convictional young evangelical, if you’re committed to the gospel and want to see the nations rejoice in the name of Christ, if you want to see gospel built and structured committed churches, your theology is just going to end up basically being Reformed, basically something like this new Calvinism, or you’re going to have to invent some label for what is basically going to be the same thing, there just are not options out there.” (Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

Allen, from your testimony, I would say you are relevant and “committed to the gospel and want to see the nations rejoice in the name of Christ.” My prayer is that you will grow to be old, settled, and traditional and that more young pastors like you will become a huge tribe in SBC ranks.

    Allen M Rea

    Thank you Max. I pray that our tribe increase as well. I appreciate your encouragement.

Doug Sayers

Irrelevant to whom? If anything would encourage a sense of irrelevance it would be the Calvinistic doctrines of *irresistible* salvation and *irresistible* reprobation. Not much room for any meaningful volition in that system.

Allen, I have always enjoyed the writings of Vance Havner. I got to hear (and meet) him once at New Tribes Mission in Florida. I think it was Vance who first said that Christians and preachers must have the heart of a child AND the hide of a rhinoceros. God decides who is relevant and He will let us know when its all over. Since leaving Calvinism, I have been accused of being a Pelagian, Open Theist and on the slippery slope that leads to Roman Catholicism. It was suggested that my theology was driven by personal trauma. Don’t let ’em get to you brethren. Play the hand you’ve been dealt and leave the judging to God. Just say ‘NO” to soteriological insecurity.

One of the extra biblical reasons that eventually led to my demise as a Calvinist was the same condescending spirit in which many leading Calvinists displayed toward non-Calvinists, at that time. This was coupled with the inordinate amount of praise heaped upon the Reformers and Puritans. They were brilliant men and godly, no doubt, but it became evident to me that we were building our doctrines more on the writings of some men, who made no claims of inspiration, and less on the actual words of the inspired Apostles. The Corinthians tried the man-following thing and it didn’t go well.

I was led to faith in Christ by a man who was not a Calvinist. Its hard for me to view him as irrelevant.

I can now look any man, woman, and child in the eye and tell them, on the authority of God’s word, that God loves them, Jesus died to propitiate their sins, and He has given them the grace needed to repent and believe unto salvation. I couldn’t do that as a Calvinist.

Thanks Allen.

    Max

    “I can now look any man, woman, and child in the eye and tell them, on the authority of God’s word, that God loves them, Jesus died to propitiate their sins, and He has given them the grace needed to repent and believe unto salvation. I couldn’t do that as a Calvinist.”

    Amen Doug! Isn’t it great to be able to look into the face of anyone across the planet and say “God loves YOU. Jesus died for YOU.” This should be the “default” theology of all Christians. If I’m wrong, I will just have to stand guilty before Jesus and confess that I loved Him and everybody so much that I just had to share what I believed the Gospel message to be. But if I’m right and Calvinists are wrong …

Allen M Rea

Doug,
I appreciate you ministry. I have been edified by your writings. Vance Havner is one of those guys, like Tozer or Ravenhill, that I cannot read without a first aid kit. A loud “Amen” is in order for the entirety of your generous comments. The Bible is INfalliable and INerrant but whoever does preach and teach from that Book is NEVER IRRelevant. My prayer is that Jesus is glorified from this little piece, and He would use it to edify His saints. I should have said this to you MANY times: thanks!

Greg Gerber

I came across your link from a FB post to SEA. Your post here was a real blessing to me this morning. Thanks for sharing. I attend a Free Will Baptist Church in Cincinnati. It’s a joy to me to attend a Church where the Pastor studies and works hard to faithfully deliver God’s Word. I appreciate the expository preaching and working carefully through the Bible. I’m convinced there are a lot of Pastors like you all over the U.S. who must feel the same as you have described here and I’m thankful to God for all of you. I was in a Bible Church that gradually moved into this new reformed resurgence and I’m thankful the Lord led me out. Keep up the good work. There are plenty of lay people praying for all our faithful Pastors like you to keep on going. You’re not alone.

    Allen M Rea

    Greg,
    Thank you for taking the time to read. I appreciate the ministry of SEA. Your words of encouragement are a real blessing to me. The temptation is to feel like John under the cross. All the “others” are weeping in corners or just A.W.A.L.; however, the Word is clear that many have not yet bowed the knee. Prayer is my greatest asset. I am thankful that you were gifted with the insight that you possess. I covet with you, and all lay people, to “fight the good fight.” Please check out http://www.connect316.net if you have not done so already.

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