Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is there a place for Arminians in the pulpit?

As a pastor I take the seriously the teaching ministry of the church. As a committed Calvinist (of the Spurgeon & Whitefield variety), I want to ensure that this teaching is in accord with the biblical doctrines of grace. As someone who is committed to plural teaching voices, I also insist that others be allowed into our church's pulpit to challenge and equip the congregation.

This past Sunday I asked a dear friend to deliver the morning and evening sermons. This young man currently serves in two congregations and spends much of his time in evangelistic ministry. He is also a committed Arminian. In fact, we would disagree on several issues. For example, I passionately and fully believe that "Lordship salvation" is the only view of salvation that is consistent with the teachings of the New Testament. Or, as one would say these days, 'John MacArthur is my homeboy'. My young friend rigorously opposes Lordship Salvation and follows the teachings of Zane Hodges and Charles Stanley.

Still, this young man loves Jesus Christ and passionately wants to serve him. He eagerly desires to see others saved and strives to bring glory to God. He desires to be holy and offers himself daily as a servant to advance the Gospel. He is also thoroughly committed to the power of God's Word and has devoted his life to advance its teachings.

Even so, to what extent, if at all, should a Calvinistic pastor allow an Arminian speaker into his pulpit? I should note that I have not always exercised proper control. As I mature into this role I do feel the need to use more and more discretion regarding who ascends into the pulpit. Still, I do feel that we can, at times, open our pulpits to men who are "less than fully" convinced of the doctrines of grace.

But I value your thoughts on this issue. As it stands now, here are some of my guidelines.

1. This should not be a regular experience.
2. The speaker must agree not to consciously go against our leadership's teachings.
3. The speaker must agree to intentionally stay away from the points of controversy.
4. The occasion must be followed up by the regular pastor with deeper teaching on points of agreement/disagreement.

For you other guys in the ministry, or who are perhaps theologically astute on these issues, what are your thoughts?


  1. Well I am not in ministry per se and I am not sure how theologically astute I am but here goes anyway.

    Setting aside the idea of keeping other Christians out of "his pulpit" so as not to be accused of beating the proverbial dead horse, I would ask what your Scriptural support would be for preventing an arminian from preaching at Indian River. I understand the viewpoint, it is hard for me to sit and listen to someone teach from a different perspective on theology than you and I would hold. I also cannot see a Scriptural mandate for quieting a brother based on doctrinal differences. I know the individual in question and while I am sure we would quibble on issues, I also am confident that when I heard him and when he taught at Indian River, he was faithful to the Gospel. That seems to be to be the only Scriptural standard by which we can exclude another brother from teaching. I would ask if 1 Cor 14:26 implies that each bring a hymn, a lesson, a revelation but only if they subscribe to the same theological camp as you do?

    Unless you are arguing that arminianism is "another gospel", I don't see where we have the right to silence our brothers based on secondary issues. It pains me to say that, because I love the doctrines of grace as much as any man, but I can't make a Scriptural case for silencing other brothers based on my theological beliefs apart from the Gospel.

  2. Arthur,

    This is the kind of discussion I was looking for because my thoughts are hardly settled on this issue. Partly the reason for the post is because I so thoroughly enjoyed him being in "my" pulpit (forgive the use of the personal pronoun, its just quicker than referencing the name of the church every time).

    Yet with the idea of inclusion comes a host of problems: inconsistency in teaching, causing confusion in the minds of new or growing believers, unintentional undermining of a church's doctrinal position, or even a sense of apathy ("see, good men disagree on this subject and its probably not that important so lets just ignore this whole topic"). I am in favor of inclusion, but am wondering how to work out the details for future occasions---partly because I do want this particular speaker to come back.

    This seems similar to the issue of "tongues" and the other charismatic gifts or even the baptism issue (though I would argue the Calvinism/Arminianism issue is much more significant that either of those issues). Would a baptist church allow someone to preach from a padeobaptist perspective? If so, how would one go about it? What would be the "ground rules", so to speak.

  3. Should this discussion not be extended to the teaching time of, say, Sunday School as well?

    Sitting there Sunday, of course, I found some theological nits to pick during the sermon, but I don't know that any great doctrinal issues were incorrectly presented.

    I was, however, much more uncomfortable with what he presented in SS. Especially in regard to how he answered the question posed by an attendee. His answer/teaching was, IMHO, the beginning of "correct," but the issue brought forth is something I don't know that we can just get the beginning "right" - we need to get it right in its entirety.

    I would refer back to the Spurgeon quote we have both used in how he defined discernment - not knowing the difference between right and wrong, but knowing the difference between right and almost right.

    If Paul hammers time and time again on sound doctrine and we then say, "it doesn't really matter, as long as so-and-so loves Jesus and hungers for souls," is there not an inherent denial of what Paul is saying? For a teacher to have to either preface or append a guest's teaching by saying, in one form or another, "He's wrong," would seem to be counterproductive.

    If a local body says our stand is A, B or C, then a guest comes in and presents non-A, non-B or non-C, this problem would seem to arise: just the fact that the guest has been given the pulpit implies an endorsement of the veracity of whatever he is going to present. If non-A is his point and that implicit endorsement is there, then is the message really that A doesn't matter, either, if both are "OK?"

    If a guest has to be introduced with a spiritual form of caveat emptor, is that what we really want to do? To go to an extreme, would Spurgeon have turned his pulpit over to Finney?

    I'll get out of the way and let the theologically astute comment now....

  4. As someone you would probably classify as an Arminian or holdnig to Free Grace Theology I would have to agree with your concerns. Janet and I moved Yellowknife, NT almost 2 years ago in which there are no "brethern" assemblies. This also means that I do not have the opportunities to get behind the puplpit as I did before. The pastor, my age, 32, who holds to Lordship salvation is just starting to work through the same issues. We've had the same discussion with respect to guidelines I admit the one the surface they sound great and commendable they are truly unrealistic. I personally,and I imagine a great many preacher, would find it very difficult to contain or avoid letting out my soterioloical positions while preaching. I would believe that I would not be preaching the Word of God accurately or from my heart and with conviction. I think the pastor of the church we are at believes this too and would be somewhat uneasy sitting listening to an Arminian speaker. Flip the issue around for a minute. How would or have you felt when in a preaching or teaching situation in which you knew most of the auidence would hold to arminianism viewpoint and you knew of implicit or even explicit ground rules limiting you to not declare the gospel from a Lordship salvation position? For this reason I believe he only allows like minded men take to the pulpit. As frustrating as it is for me since I am convicted that I am not able to be a apart of the local body as God has gifted and desires me to be but fully respect his decision. He and the other elders are given to this local body to protect the flock (Acts 20) and since avoiding confusion and possibly division is an aspect of that protection then he, or anyother pastor/eldership, need not to worry about protecting who get's behind the pulpit as something that is wrong.

    I agree with Arthur that there is no biblical directive to not allow him in the pulpit but at the same time agree with Jeff that allowing it introduces a whole set of complications.

    Although undecided myself on this topic I would say that I lean toward protecting the pulpit

    Tim Whitson

  5. I have not really thought through this particular issue. Although, in practice, I follow Josh's principles. However, I am struggling with the entire idea of seperation itself. I am having trouble backing up the concept of essential and nonessential doctrines biblically. I can work it out rationally and pragmatically. The biblical teaching is that anyone who claims to be a Christian and knowingly teaches error or lives an immoral life is to be removed from the church and fellowship with him is forbidden. I would love feedback on this as well.

    That being said, if the division between essential and nonessential is biblical, how can we relegate a person's understanding of grace to a secondary issue. Usually, essentials are defined as doctrines that have to do with the person of God and the gospel. Obviously, one's view of grace has dramatic implications for the gospel.

    It seems like all of us have more questions than answers. Will the great and powerful Pastor Josh be able to help us?

  6. Nah, I'm just dashingly good looking.

  7. I went around and around with this issue regarding baptism. How do people who hold to different views on baptism fellowship together. I think baptizing infants is a misapplication of a key Biblical sign of obedience. Paedobaptists think that withholding it is a denial of the covenant relationship. But as strongly as I feel about the issue, I can't make the case from Scripture to restrict fellowship, including teaching. I dug my heels in but again and again I found that I couldn't support my position from Scripture and that makes it an issue of preference/tradition/legalism.

    When Paul spoke of sound doctrine, I don't think he was referencing things like soteriology or eschatology or baptism. His concern was the Gospel, how is a man saved. It had to do with things like necessity of being circumcised.

    As long as someone holds to a Biblical view of justification by faith alone, I don't see any choice but to call him brother and if he is my brother how can I relegate him to being a second class citizen in the Body because I don't like his soteriology? We struggle with this issue from a pragmatic standpoint, how do we make this work, but that must take a backseat to Scripture. We are called to unity in the Body and we have to prayerfully make that happen. If I heard someone preaching a false Gospel, I would have no hesitation to call them out on it. If I disagree with a genuine brothers interpretation on some issues, we can and should discuss and work through them but that should not be the basis of restricting or even separating. The only, the ONLY, reason for separation is denial of the Gospel or unrepentant sin. Much as I dislike Arminianism, I can't label it a denial of the Gospel or a sin.

    For what it is worth, I know a lot of super orthodox, Reformed guys that write lots of thick books and get invited to speak at the best conferences who lack the Christ focused zeal of Bruce.

  8. Arthur,

    That seems to have been something of the viewpoint of Whitefield, who requested that Wesley preach his funeral. They also spoke together on occasion, admittedly more so in the earlier years before the controversy.

    I should note, however, that the differences in theology did force a separation of sorts between the two men. Pragmatically, two opposing views that approach the Gospel differently (note I didn't say two different Gospels) ultimately don't work within the same ministry/church.

    Thus, it seems you have something of the spirit of Whitefield, but you also take that view much further than he did.

    As for baptism, how would that work in a local assembly? Can one elder teach padeobaptism one week and the next week another elder teach credobaptism?

  9. My brief lunchtime answer is that I "solved" that problem in part when I concluded that baptism is not a function exclusive to the local gathering of the church.

  10. Arthur,

    First, I want you to know that I do not necessarily disagree with you, but I have trouble supporting my belief biblically. No offense but I would like a little more than Arthur Sido doesn't think Paul is speaking about soteriology, baptism, or eschatology. Paul's statements seem to statements which condemn false doctrine and immorality generally. He does not seem to distinguish between fundamental and secondary. However, I remain open to further instruction.

    Also, your analogy with baptism fails because the meaning, mode, and proper subjects of baptism, at least for Baptists and Presbyterians, do not fundamentally effect the gospel. However, one's view of free will and grace is directly relevant to the gospel. I am not ready to say that arminians preach a different gospel, but I am also not ready to relegate these matters to secondary status.

    If only Josh could trade his dashing good looks for wisdom and spiritual insight, we would all be so much better off.

  11. Perhaps another example would help here.

    Let's say we all agree that the issue of women serving in the pastorate is a secondary issue. I don't think anyone who has commented thus far would claim a female pastor is going to hell (at least for the reason of her being a pastor). Still, would a local church be wrong to "exclude" her from the pulpit? (and by "exclude" I simply mean not invite her to speak)?

    Certainly the issue is secondary to the Gospel, but secondary issues are still vitally important and churches must wrestle through them and take a stand on many of them. Perhaps some can coexist (various view on eschatology, for example), but others really cannot (padeobaptism/credobaptism, complimentarianism/egalitarianism).

    My question at hand is whether Calvinism/Arminianism can coexist in the pulpit, or if rather these force a pragmatic division (a "Paul and Barnabas parting of ways", so to say).

  12. Although I agree with most of the comments above none have moved me any closer to thinking that Calvinism/Arminianism can practically coexist in the same pulpit on a *regular* basis.

    If the regular teaching of the assembly is that of Calvinism then potentially the majority of congregation maybe discerning enough to sift through a sermon from a guest speaker given from an Arminian viewpoint and be ok with it. Is that enough? What about those that are not able to understand the differences? Are they utterly confused? Again guidelines can be put in place thereby limiting the preacher not to tackle the topic head on but can not see how such and important part of a preachers soteriology would bleed through during the message.

    If you are talking about a regular speaking engagement then I can not see how they can coexist. If you talking about a rare special speaker with guidelines then it maybe be possible but I can not see how the preachers' persuasion could be completely unrevealled. The preacher himself would have to feel somewhat akward in such a situation.

    Then again I ask myself would I ever be in favour of an infant baptism; even just one time? No. Since I personally put the debate of Calvinism/Arminianism on the same level, likely greater, of infant/believers baptism for example then I have a difficulty seeing how they can coexist.

    I am interested in hearing how you finally work this out

  13. Jeremy, I would say that Reformed theology, while the best theological system to explain the Gospel, is not in and of itself the Gospel. I can see a case made for something like Apollos being instructed by Priscila and Aquila as someone who was fervent but with incomplete knowledge, but they pulled him aside to teach him "the things of God more accurately". I certainly think that Arminians should be corrected where they err, but unless they are preaching a false Gospel they should be treated as brothers.

  14. Arthur,

    There are a lot of true brothers in Christ that we don't let into the pulpit. Each church is full of them. Every congregation has those who 'teach' and those who are 'taught'. Even in churches that having multiple teachers (either pastors or just a bunch of godly guys), there is still many in the congregation who will not be asked to speak.

    Failing to invite someone into the pulpit--either because of doctrinal differences or lack of aptitude--isn't an indication of division within the body. Being a brother in Christ is not a ticket for free access to a pulpit.

  15. Based on Arthur's last comment I guess I can now more fully understand why everyone is struggling with this more than I am. While he says Arminians err in their explanation of the gospel many that hold to Once Saved/Always Saved (Arminians) would label Lordship Salvation as another gospel; equating or boiling it down to a works/merit based salvation or maintaining salvation. Although I do not completely agree I certainly have a bent towards that direction.

    I am not trying to change the discussion into a debate on Calvinism vs Arminianism but I am now wondering if we individually have to answer a preliminary question first before coming to a personal decision on the question at hand; that is: Do you believe that the opposing position preaches a different perspective on the gospel or a different gospel?

  16. Please allow me two examples. Let's see if you would say they would be permissible in your pulpit(s). (These are both real and happened within an hour of each other in a Michigan prison)

    1) A Man proclaims as the major point of his message (and this a quote), "The only thing more powerful than God is our own free will!" Many amens and nodded heads were heard and seen. I almost threw up in my mouth. Admittedly, this wasn't a "church service," but an evangelistic meeting. I'm guessing, though, if he proclaims that message there, he's proclaiming it in his church and wouldn't have a problem proclaiming it in your church, either.

    2) Man gives a wonderful 60 second discourse on Romans 8:38-39 and how "nothing" means "no thing" and how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Then 30 seconds later he turns around and states that the only thing that can separate us from the love of God is ourselves. Concluding the syllogism (which he did not do), by his definition, we are then "nothing."

    Are those messages y'all really want to clean up after? Ah, the joys of interdenominational evangelism.....

  17. Are not their presentations of the gospel totally different. The Arminian recognizing he has to change the will of the individual has no reason to pray because salvation is up to the individual will be tempted or required to manipulate the listener's emotions.

    Where as the Calvinist would present the holiness of God, the total depravity of man and allow the Holy Spirit to regenerate, convict, and bring that individual to repentance.

    This brings about the discussion of decisionism vs. regeneration that is often talked preached on by Paul Washer.

    Does a calvinist need to find a calvinist camp for the children of their church to attend?

    I am not sure my thinking out loud will help answer any of Josh's questions, but thanks for the question.