“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
It has been almost five years since Dee and I first began researching Neo-Calvinism. Initially, we concentrated on the tenets of reformed theology; but as we have learned more about the Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) movement, it seems that the revered leaders are obsessed with authoritarianism. We are so concerned about this aspect of the YRR movement that we will be doing a series of posts.
Much to our surprise, our blogging efforts have opened up lines of communication with people from around the world. We had no idea this would happen, and it has been extremely rewarding to establish these virtual friendships.
Nearly two years ago we began an online friendship with a pastor whose blog we had been following since 2009. His name is Wade Burleson. Dee and I had the pleasure of meeting Wade and his lovely wife Rachelle in December 2011 when we flew to Oklahoma. As many of our readers know, we feature Wade's sermons in our EChurch posts. We are so grateful to Pastor Burleson and Emmanuel Enid for allowing us to share these sermons every week.
What we have discovered about Wade is that while he embraces some of the tenets of reformed theology, he does not self-identify as 'reformed'. That really peaked our curiosity. After listening to his sermons week after week, we have come to understand that Wade is absolutely opposed to authoritarianism, as this recent blog post reveals.
The Truth Will Set You Free
I have many Arminian friends. Truth be known, I have more Arminian friends than Reformed friends. However, I read recently where Dr. Roger Olson, author of Against Calvinism, made a convincing argument that the word "Reformed" has been wrongly claimed by Calvinists. Dr. Olson, one of the leading evangelical Arminian scholars in America, believes the word "Reformed" does not historically define one's soteriology, since many Arminian churches and denominations have used the word Reformed in their names. After reflection, I agree with Dr. Olson. In my opinion, the word Reformed identifies a church with a particular view of ecclesiology. In simpler language, Reformed churches, whether they are Calvinistic or Arminian, seem to have specific beliefs about how a church should operate. For example, a Reformed church will usually have (1) A clear separation between clergy and laity; (2) A strong belief that the kingdom of God and the church are synonymous, and (3) Reformed churches will have leaders who emphasize their spiritual authority over God's people. In short, Reformed churches have much in common with Roman Catholic ecclesiology and little in common with Roman Catholic soteriology. That's an observation, not a criticism.
My Reformed friends dislike that I refuse to emphasize any law but Christ's Royal Law of love (see James 2:8) and that I resist any recognition of spiritual authority in the life of a believer other than Christ's authority. A few of my Reformed pastor friends seem to want to force service to God and the institutional church through exerting their perceived spiritual authority. As a result, you wind up with people who feel obligated to do what they do. I am not Reformed. I believe when the Holy Spirit motivates and empowers His people, Christians will serve freely, cheerfully, and generously with nothing expected in return from God. The Spirit doesn't need me to motivate God's people through guilt, and God's people will only truly be motivated by a comprehension of God's love, not fear. Christ does a good job of building His kingdom, and He came to set His people free from bondage. But it seems Christians finding freedom fosters fear in Reformed people like water fosters fear in cats.
The one thing all Reformed churches and people seem to have in common is an emphasis on law. Reformed leaders feel it necessary to keep their people obedient to a set of laws. Though the laws change from church to church, many Reformed leaders make the mistake of confusing their institutional desires with God's desires. Therefore, giving to the church becomes giving to God's kingdom; serving the church becomes serving God's kingdom; questioning the pastor becomes questioning God's king on earth, etc…
Why is there so much emphasis by Reformed people on the law? I believe one of the reasons is due to a longstanding misinterpretation of New Testament passages that seem to speak of God 'judging the works' of every individual, including Christians. For example, Romans 2:5-8 (NAS) says:
(5) Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, (He will give) eternal life; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey righteousness, (He will give) wrath and indignation.
Most Reformed leaders (Arminian and Calvinistic) believe the above passage teaches:
(1). Every person, including Christians, will be judged for the deeds done in this life.
(2). Those who do good will be rewarded by God with honor, glory and eternal life.
(3). Those who have been selfish and disobedient will be given wrath and indignation.
(4). Therefore, it is important for those in spiritual authority to keep people obedient.
This interpretation of Romans 2:5-8 is full of error in my opinion, and I'm not the only one who thinks this way. For example, the great New Testament scholar Henry Alford (1810-1871) writes in his brilliant commentary on Romans that "the Apostle is speaking of the general system of God in governing the world–punishing the evil, rewarding the righteous—but no question at present arises as to how this righteousness is to be obtained."
I believe Romans 2 is addressing sinners in general. I don't for a moment believe that Romans 2 is referring to judgment for sinners who are in Christ by grace through faith. God deems those in Christ perfectly righteous (see II Corinthians 5:21).
In Romans 2 Paul is slowly and methodically building an argument that the good and loving Creator measures a human being's works in this life for the purpose of reward or just punishment. Even those without the Law of Moses know by nature that they are to love their Creator and other people and that they are to do good. God gives reward for persistent, continual good works that are done with right motives (life eternal), but He gives a holy sentence of impartial judgment for a life of selfish disobedience. The final judgment before God is a judgment of one's works in this life. In the very next chapter, Romans 3, Paul draws his argument to a conclusion:
There is no one who is righteous – See Romans 3:10
There is no one who is obedient – see Romans 3:11.
There is no one who is good – see Romans 3:12.
I often hear well-meaning Christians say that at the final judgment, God will judge whether or not people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are wrong. The final judgment is about one's works in this life. Does a person live persistently and continually in an unselfish manner and do good for others with the motive of bringing glory to God. If so, they are rewarded with eternal life. But who does that? Answer: Nobody. What are the consequences for not living this kind of good life? Everybody receives a righteous and impartial sentence of judgment from a Creator who purposed that the people He created were to live a life of goodness and love.
Every single person is without excuse.
I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?"
When I hear Christians say the above, I immediately know they haven't spent a great deal of time thinking through biblically what it is that God judges in people. God is a good, kind, gracious and loving God. He treats people with kindness and love. He created us in His image. We are to be as unselfish, as loving, and as kind to other people as God is to us. Yet, everyone of us is selfish. Everyone of us is disobedient to God's royal law of love. Everyone of us violates our own conscience of what is right and we do the very thing we know to be wrong. We make excuses, but deep down we know we are guilty. It is our sin that God judges. It is our rebellion that God measures. Our sin and rebellion is not God's fault, it is our fault.
At the judgment, it will be proven there is no one good but God.
The good news is that the Creator God came to earth and lived life as one of us–and He lived His life the way life was supposed to be lived–but He died in darkness and isolation the death each rebel deserves to die because of his or her personal sin and selfishness. But, incredibly, after Jesus rose from the dead He promised broken and heavy-laden sinners some good news. I call it the Great Exchange. He said to broken sinners: I have taken your sins upon Me and I have given to you My perfect righteousness. You are delivered from judgment. You are free from the curse of sin. You are My people. Paul puts it like this:
"But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:21-22). "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). And then he says, "For this reason righteousness is by faith, in order that righteousness may be in accordance with grace" (Romans 4:16), and "Therefore, being justified by grace through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
This is the gospel. This is the good news.
You can read the rest of the post here.
While Dee and I may disagree with Wade on various parts of reformed soteriology, we rejoice in the fact that he is NOT an authoritarian, sin-sniffing pastor. On the contrary, we have found him to be one of the least coercive pastors we have ever known, and we believe it is because his love trumps his theology. If only more pastors would emulate that character trait.
The issue of authoritarianism has been of great concern to us for quite some time, and we plan to make it our focus in the coming week.
Lydia's Corner: 2 Kings 4:18-5:27 Acts 15:1-35 Psalm 141:1-10 Proverbs 17:23