Suggestions for Determining Whether a Pastoral Candidate Is a Calvinist

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

I believe the vast majority of Calvinists seek to be clear about their belief in Calvinism when interviewed by a pastoral search committee. I personally know some Calvinists who seek to make this very clear in the interview process. However, and quite unfortunately, that is not always the case.

On one occasion, the Director of Missions in one of our Oklahoma associations invited me to speak to the pastors on the subject of Calvinism. The Director told me of two churches in his association that, despite their desire and best effort to call men who were not Calvinists, ended up calling men who were Calvinists. The search committees attributed this unfortunate eventuality to the fact that the pastoral candidates were, shall we say, less than forthright about being Calvinists. In each case, this cast the respective churches into turmoil, and a number of people were hurt.

I have received calls from people who served on their church’s pastoral search committee regarding this very problem—one church in my own city and one as far away as California. In both cases the church was seeking to call a non-Calvinist pastor. In each case, the committee asked specific questions such as, “Are you a Calvinist?” Being convinced the man was not a Calvinist, they extended a call to him only to find out later that he was in fact a five-point Calvinist. One even went so far as to say that he agreed with John Piper on everything, but he was not a Calvinist.

By the time I spoke with them, the man had already been called and was serving as pastor. Of course, the churches were in turmoil. All of this could have be avoided if pastoral candidates practiced speaking truthfully about their beliefs so that the members of the committee, usually laymen, could understand precisely the candidate’s position regarding Calvinism.

I offer the following questions in order to help pastoral search committees determine whether a candidate is a Calvinist or not. Although a certain level of precision is required in formulating such questions in order to avoid mistakes, I did try to write them in such a way that the committee need not be theological sophisticates to understand either the terminology or the candidate’s position. Additionally, if a church seeks a knowledgeable and committed Calvinist to be their pastor, the questions will also help in that setting as well. Selection of a pastor may very well be the most important single decision that a church makes.

I offer these guidelines for using the following questionnaire. First, the committee needs to ask, and repeat if necessary, the question precisely as written. Second, each question is written so as to be easily answered by a simple yes or no. Follow-up comments are acceptable, but only after a clear yes or no have been given. Third, the “Meaning” listed under each question is to help the committee understand more accurately the nature of the question in order to avoid misinterpretation. Fourth, a non-Calvinist should have no difficulty at all in responding to all of the questions; consequently, any lack of clarity in one’s answer is, at least, a red flag. A non-Calvinist would answer no to the first six questions and yes to the last three. They are that clear. Less than one-hundred percent consistency is cause for serious concern.

  1. Do you believe in unconditional election?

Meaning that while all people have the responsibility to respond to the Gospel, only those whom God has sovereignly and unconditionally elected to salvation can or will believe unto salvation and the same will not say no.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe that regeneration[1] is monergistic?[2]

Meaning that until a lost person is regenerated he is totally passive with regard to exercising faith.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe that regeneration precedes faith?[3]

Meaning that faith results from regeneration rather than preceding regeneration.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe that only the unconditionally elect will experience regeneration?

Meaning that God selectively and exclusively applies regeneration to only the elect.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe there is an internal efficacious[4] call of God that is extended only to the elect?

Meaning that this is the essential and irresistible call given by God to the elect that inevitably results in salvation, and this same call is withheld by God from the non-elect.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe that conditioning regeneration or salvation upon a person’s faith in Christ is equivalent to adding human works, merit, or virtue to salvation?

Meaning that Calvinism’s belief in unconditional election gives God all the glory (credit), and non-Calvinist’s belief that salvation is conditioned upon faith gives man some of the glory (credit) for his salvation.

  1. Calvinists say Yes.
  2. Non-Calvinists say No.

 

  1. Do you believe that both God’s saving desire and His decretal will confirm that His salvation plan provides everything necessary for every single person to actually be saved by faith?

Meaning God’s decrees and His saving desire equally prove that everyone and anyone who hears the gospel can truly be saved by faith.

  1. Calvinists say No.
  2. Non-Calvinists say Yes.

 

  1. Do you believe that anyone and everyone who hears the gospel is, by the grace of God, able to freely respond by faith unto salvation or to freely reject the gospel, and whichever choice the person makes, he was equally able to have made the other choice?

Meaning that God graciously provides in order to make both options accessible to every person.

  1. Calvinists say No.
  2. Non-Calvinists say Yes.

 

  1. Do you believe that Christ’s death atoned for the sins of every person in the world in the same way so that anyone and everyone can believe and be saved?

Meaning that Christ’s death actually paid for every sin thereby removing every obstacle so that every person has the same opportunity to be believe the gospel and be saved.

  1. Calvinists say No.
  2. Non-Calvinists say Yes.

 

[1] Usually understood to mean born again
[2] This means that God alone brings about regeneration in the elect without any cooperation or activity by man; consequently, being born again is not contingent upon man exercising faith.
[3] Not all Calvinists ascribe to this, but most in SBC life do; all non-Calvinists reject it.
[4] “Efficacious” means that it is absolutely successful in securing salvation for those who receive it—the unconditionally elect. Often times, this is used interchangeably or cooperatively with the belief in “irresistible grace.”