Here’s a picture of me and my 5th grade Sunday School class sometime around 1965 at Southport Methodist Church in Southport, Indiana. This was the church our family went to while I was growing up in central Indiana. It was during this time period that I hold some of my fondest memories at this church, and it was here that I first came to faith in Christ around age 12.
Around 3 years after this picture was taken, the church changed their name to include “United.” I continued my membership there into my young adult years, with increasing periods of inactivity on and off during my late teens and early 20’s, and then a resurgence in the early 1980’s. God got my attention one night after listening to Billy Graham speak on TV. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about all the sin in my life and cried out to Him in repentance and faith. I began reading my Bible and started going back to my old church.
I enjoyed being back in the church I grew up in, especially the people, but a couple of things started bothering me. My Sunday School class studied books that seemed more philosophical than biblical, and many of the pastor’s sermons were light on Bible verses and heavy on modern day stories. Around this same time, I was listening to a Baptist preacher out of Atlanta on the radio, Charles Stanley. His sermons were jam packed with Bible verses and Bible stories. This style of preaching was new to me and I found myself very drawn to it. While I really enjoyed my old church and probably would have stayed there a long time, God had different plans for me.
In 1988 I broke tradition in our family and became a Baptist, by full water immersion at age 33, at Providence Baptist Church in Riverview, Florida. It was a series of events that lead up to my change in church membership and in my relationship with God. I wrote about this experience in a previous blog, Another Gospel. In short, God wanted me to grow closer in my relationship with Him.
So now, some 32 years later, my favorite teacher is Jesus, and my favorite book is the Bible. I’m still a Baptist although I do lean more toward Reformed Theology now, which makes me more of a Reformed Baptist I guess. I very much respect the hero’s of the reformation such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. While I’m not quite a 5-point Calvinist, I do particularly like the writings of the puritans, such as John Bunyan and Jonathan Edwards. I also like Charles Spurgeon. While I don’t agree 100% with his views, I believe most of his writings are 100% spot on. For example, I don’t agree with his position that baptism is essential to salvation, but I do agree with his viewpoint that Baptismal Regeneration, the practice of baptizing unbelievers and infants, is not biblical and does not save. I also find Charles Spurgeon’s background fascinating. He was born into a family of Congregationalists, saved in a Methodist Church, became the greatest Baptist preacher in history, and also the most well know Calvinist of the Victorian era.
At the same time, I still like Arminian preachers such as John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, Charles Stanley from First Baptist in Atlanta, Greg Laurie from Riverside California, and of course, the late Billy Graham, who is probably the most well known evangelist of the 20th century. I believe God uses both Arminians and Calvinists to preach the gospel message and to teach us about the Bible. I like this quote from Arminian pastor Leonard Ravenhill, “Think like a Calvinist, live like an Arminian.”
I find debates between Arminianism and Calvinism interesting to a point, but it bothers me when soteriology becomes more of an argument between believers than the mission God intended it to be. Those who find themselves in frequent debates on this subject would make better use of their time by instead sharing the gospel with a lost and dying world, as Jesus commanded in the Great Commission. Our job is telling. God’s job is saving.
If I were pushed to choose a side in the Arminian-Calvinism debate, I would choose Calvinism. I believe God is Sovereign and ultimately in control of everything, whether we think so or not, including, and not limited to, free will. Regardless, our salvation is based upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross and our coming to Him in repentance and in faith, believing that Jesus is who He says he is.
I like the response that Charles Spurgeon once gave to someone who asked him about his theology. Though he preferred to think of himself as a “mere Christian” he also said “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist,” and “I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist, but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’”