As many of you know, my family and I moved to Norman, Oklahoma, a year and a half ago primarily due to my mother’s illness. Previously, we lived in Frisco, Texas, where I was a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church for six years. We all loved the church. We loved the people, the commitment to the preaching of God’s word, and the reverence for certain traditions. Oh, and did I mention grace?! That is why I went there in the first place – grace! Rarely (and sadly) do you find a passionate commitment to the word of God and a attitude of grace. This situation gives forth to energy. Call it the power of God, the movement of the Holy Spirit, or whatever you will according to your tradition, but the church was alive. I wanted to be there every day. I miss it greatly.
Grace and truth. The two most important elements in my hierarchy of looking for a church.
Notice, to the surprise of many, I did not list “perfect theology” as a criteria. I did not even say theology that I am always comfortable with (since there is no perfect theology). At Stonebriar, I had it all. Just about everything Chuck taught, I agreed with. If not, I loved the man so much that I would bend myself to agree with him! (At least for that Sunday.) Of course, Chuck is a pastor more than a professional theologian. But he was committed to sound theology and he is a Calvinist! (a four pointer at least). Oh the depths and riches of reformed preaching! The power, the hope, the pride that can be taken when God’s sovereignty is preached in such a way.
However, today I do not go to a Calvinistic church. In fact, I am at an Arminian church. In fact (again), I am a regular teacher at a church that is both Arminian and Egalitarian. In fact (last time), last week I had to call the pastor that I am under to ask if it was okay for me to teach on “Women in the Church,” a topic in a current series I am on. This church is called Crossings Community Church and it is part of the Church of God, Anderson (not the charismatic Church of God you may be thinking of).
Let me briefly define a few terms before we move on (I will get in trouble if I don’t. If you already know these “big” words, move on. If not, learn them! – its not that hard):
Calvinist: One who believes in the doctrines of grace most traditionally defined by the TULIP acronym. The most controversial of the doctrines are Unconditional Election: the belief that God elects some individuals to salvation and not other based upon his sovereign will; Limited Atonement: the belief that Christ’s death only paid for the sins of the elect; Irresistible Grace: the belief that when God’s saving grace is presented to the elect, it is always effective (i.e. they will not ever reject it); and Perseverance of the Saints: the belief that those who are saved (the elect) will persevere and cannot “lose” their salvation.
Arminian: One who denies all of the Calvinistic doctrines of grace except the first, Total Depravity. The Arminian will opt for a belief in “Conditional” election: the belief that God’s predestination is based on the foreseen faith of the individual; “Resistible” grace: the belief that God’s saving grace can be rejected by anyone; “Unlimited” atonement: the belief that Christ’s death paid for the sins of every individual; and the belief that a truly saved person and fall from or “lose” their salvation.
Complementarianism: Belief in essential equality, but functional hierarchy in the sexes. This hierarchy is by God’s design and is not due to the fall. Man is to be the leader in the church and home. Women are not to be in positions of authority over man in the church or home, but are honored due to their role in the same way as men.
Egalitarianism: Belief in the essential and functional equality of the sexes. All role distinctions which imply leadership belonging to the man is due to the fall, not by God’s design. Therefore, women can serve in positions of authority over man in both the church and the home. Role is assigned by individual giftedness, not gender.
So . . . Why does this Calvinistic Complementarian go to an Arminian Egalitarian church?
There are many reasons, but I want to highlight the three most important and then attempt to help you gain perspective in choosing a church.
1. Crossings teaches the Gospel and focuses on it.
“But, but, but . . . I thought you said they were Arminian . . . Oh, I get it. You really don’t care that much about Calvinism and egalitarianism.” No, this is not the case. I care deeply about the doctrines of grace. A little less so about complementarianism, but don’t mistake this for any sort of apathy. It just demonstrates how much I prioritize my Calvinism. However, there are many things that I prioritize even more than Calvinism . . . much more. These include the centrality of Christ, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the authority of Scripture. But there is one more thing. One more thing that I have come to value more and more over the years . . .
2. Crossings teaches grace and does not divide over non-cardinal issues.
Crossings does not just preach grace, you can feel it when you walk through the doors. I have been to dozens of churches where right as you walk through the doors, it as if a heavy burden has been placed upon your back. Smug looks of suspicion along with demeaning conversation are the most readily expected experience. I am sad to say but this is especially true of many churches in my Calvinistic tradition. All they are concerned with is making you a Calvinist. Sigh . . . I would that all men (and women) were Calvinists like me, but my goal is not necessarily to make them such. But Crossings is not about making you an Arminian, either – obviously since they have me teach! They are gracious in non-cardinal issues, allowing for diversity. They understand that diversity actually teaches more and illustrates God’s grace more than digging your heels in on every doctrinal matter. I love grace so much. When I go there, it does feel as if the burden is removed and you are joining a place with many broken people seeking help together.
Friends, this is the heart of Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism 101.
3. I am needed and used there.
Who am I to obscure the call of God based upon my particular doctrinal favoritism? These are God’s people and I will love God’s people wherever they are. If I can be used in a church that does not line up perfectly with my theology, that is great. Why would I ever turn down an opportunity to teach a group of people just because they don’t already agree with me? That is just plain silly and lacks perspective. Would I rather teach and serve somewhere that the people already would be in agreement with me? Would you? Where is the fun in that?
(Just to make it plain, I always teach in accordance with the umbrella that Crossings provides. I do make it known, when relevant, where I stand on certain issues, but I also go out of my way to help the members understand where Crossings stands and why. I respect them very much in this. But, these issues don’t really come up that much since there is so much that Calvinists and Arminians do agree upon. We just often forget how much.)
Would it be better if they were Calvinists? Would it be better if they were Complementarians? Sure, as long as they kept the grace. But, if I have the choice, I will never trade perfect theology (or nearly so) for grace. Grace is the Gospel. When you lose that, where do you go? Stay in bed.
You will never find the perfect church . . . never! There is no perfect denomination. There is no perfect tradition. There is no perfect church and there never has been. Although Stonebriar was close, it was not that close.
I don’t believe in trying to find a church based upon non-cardinal doctrinal issues. But, unfortunately, many churches don’t share my perspective, which makes it hard for people like me. If you go to a church and they have different convictions about certain issues and all they are doing is trying to convert you, this is a troubling experience. This leaves the Christian with the only option of attempting to find a church that agrees with them on everything. What a detriment to the diversity of the body of Christ. Doctrinal statements are fine. Crossings has one. Stonebriar has one. But when every detail of the doctrinal statement is prioritized to the point where every member has to sign off on everything, this is unfortunate in my opinion.
I go to a church that is full of grace and truth. That is why I go to an Arminian church. If there were a Calvinistic church like Stonebriar that was full of grace and truth (and there are some), I might go there. But right now I feel as if I am where God wants me to be.
However, this is my opinion and I am curious as to your thoughts.