Numerous events in the history of the church will be remembered and wondered at. At some points it is simply fascinating to see how God works in the church. At some points it is confusing and heartbreaking. The latter is what fills my heart these past few years as I witness all around me this “War on Calvinism” that seems to have taken hold of the Slavic Baptist churches.
I understand that I am not old and wise. I understand that I was not there when our fathers endured terrible pressure at the hand of Soviet rule. I understand that there is a lot of history involved in this controversy that would make this article much too long and pointless. Putting all that aside, my focus is on the present reality (which can be easily forgotten when one digs deep into the politics and theological systems of various people involved).
Simply put – what is this terrible Calvinsim that is being fought against? What is this monster that the brothers talk about, that will eat up all of our children and cause them to reject the “true faith” and end up with a “different Jesus”?
Truly I am confused. I hear about this monster in the sermons. I read about it in the articles. But when I get out into the real world I have not seen much more than a trace of it. We are told that “the Calvinists” teach:
- that you can live however you want and you will still be saved
- that God only loves his chosen people
- that God chooses for some to go to hell
- that it doesn’t matter if you want to follow Christ, if you are not chosen you can’t believe in him
- that you don’t have to put much effort into your salvation once you get saved because its all by grace and God will do everything for you
But who teaches this? Sure, there are probably some crazies out there who do. But classically, the battle here has been against people like John MacArthur, John Piper, Alexey Kolomiytsev, and others like them. Put more broadly, the opposition is set against the overall movement of Reformed¹ thinking that has been spreading throughout the US and Europe in the past 30 years or so.
Indeed it is true that there are some doctrinal differences between the traditional Slavic churches and this general Reformed movement. It seems like the most important one is revolving around the question of whether or not a true believe can loose there salvation.
But what is the heart of this Reformed movement? What are Macarthur and Kolomiytsev’s ministries defined by?
Anyone who takes an honest look will see that the “War on Calvinism” causes a gross misrepresentation of the people whom it seeks to destroy. It is abundantly clear that this controversy thrives on misconception. As I listen the pastors who are at the heart of the “Calvinist” movement, it is not hard to see that the main things that define all that they do are:
- Faith in the total supremacy and power of Scripture as the only way God changes the sinful heart
- The centrality of the message of the Gospel in all of the Bible and in all of the Christian life
- Deep commitment to discipleship and discipline both in knowledge of truth and practical application of it
- A passion to help train leaders and build churches that explain the Bible verse by verse
In its essence, it seems like we are witnessing a worldwide revival of sorts; a powerful return to the basic principles of the Reformation. Among this movement one of the central driving forces is a passion to live out the gospel in all of life. This can clearly be seen in the huge growth of resources like The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, Grace to You, Slovo.org and Challies.com.
Take an honest look. Do these people have Calvinism plastered all over them? Are they teaching the monstrous things that is often applied to them? No. You will find resources on expository preaching, Bible study, personal sanctification, battling sin, church planting, and so on. It seems as though the Calvinism that is being fought against exists much more in the minds of those who oppose it than anywhere else.
What are we fighting for dear bothers? I don’t know people’s hearts and motives. But I can say that I clearly see some of the results of it.
We are loosing our youth. Some of them are leaving to good places. Some to not so good. The youth sees these conflicts and looses faith in its leaders, and loses interest in the church.
We are missing out on a wealth of resources for growing in gospel centered ministry. Some of the greatest theological works, gospel application and growth in missions is all happening within the Reformed circles.
We are distancing our churches from the surrounding world. We are not seeing many unbelievers get saved. We are not reaching out to our communities. We are not functioning as strong voices of the Kingdom in our cities.
This is not intended to criticize anyone. This is a cry from the heart of a person who deeply cares. I see the impact of all this negativity and separation. I see how it impacts churches, relationships and ministries around me. I wonder about where it came from and what can we do to make things better. What is the future of our Slavic churches? Is this division truly justifiable?
My desire here is for second look at the issue. Are the Calvinists really as “Calvinistic” as it is often claimed? Is it possible that our common passion for the gospel and the supremacy of Scripture is so much more central than our answer to whether or not one can loose their salvation? Are we willing to look at the situation with a fresh perspective and an openness to admit to the possibility that we can find more blessing in unity than in separation?
(1) The movement that I refer to here has been given a variety of names, and encompasses a very broad group of evangelical theologians and pastors. I understand that there is quite a variety within this movement itself. My goal here is to speak of the general opposition that many Slavic leaders have against the movement as a whole.