An historical perspective of Calvinism

[From the Georgia Christian Index]

By Tom Nettles

Several disturbing theological assertions have recently surfaced from brethren in Georgia. One proposed that “Calvinist” candidates for ministry should accept calls only from Calvinistic churches. Another concerns several broadside attacks on “Calvinism” from noted pastors among Georgia Baptists.

Names here are not the point. These ideas, however, have an interesting historical context. If a policy of exclusion had been rigorously followed from the earliest establishment of Baptist churches in Georgia, there presently would be nothing but Calvinist ministers. The confession of faith of the first Baptist church in Georgia was clearly Calvinistic.

Virtually every Georgia Baptist Association followed the Charleston Confession or an abstract of it. The confession of the Kiokee Baptist Church affirmed “the great doctrine of Election, effectual calling, particular redemption, Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone . . . the saints absolute final perseverance in Grace.”

Confessional infidelity began when non-Calvinist pastors took positions in confessionally Calvinistic churches. With names of Marshall, Mercer, Sherwood, Dagg, Mell, and Tucker, Georgia Baptists sparkled with a noble history of evangelical Calvinism – not an oxymoron.

In 1880, H. H. Tucker, editor of The Christian Index, defined and affirmed the doctrine of election – “That God determined from eternity to save certain individuals of our race from their sins, and make them heirs of eternal life.”

Concerning this doctrine and other distinguishing doctrines of grace, Tucker stated, “Ninety-nine in a hundred of our readers already believe them to be so … The doctrines which they embody are as universally received by our denomination at least, as any other doctrines ever taught in our literature, or from our pulpits.”

It seems to me that the burden of evidence shows that the non-Calvinist has departed from the faith of Georgia Baptists.

[Amen Dr. Nettles. On a side note, regarding paragraph two and the statement: “If a policy of exclusion had been rigorously followed…there presently would be nothing but Calvinist ministers”, I have it from a trusted source that First Baptist Church of Woodstock Georgia, one of the current front-runners of the SBC in the anti-Calvinistic rhetoric, formerly held to a clear Calvinistic confession, according to historic church documents.]

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15 Comments on “An historical perspective of Calvinism”

  1. Gene Says:

    Nathan,

    Is there anybody @ FBCW that you know who could gain access to the church’s founding documents and make copies for distribution? These would need to include:

    a. The founding charter and covenant.
    b. The founding confession
    c. All subsequent alterations of the founding charcter, covenant, and confession.
    d. If a new charter, covenant, or confession was adopted, (1) when it was adopted and (2) why it was adopted.

    I’d like to see Drs. Vines and Hunt respond to the history of their church.

  2. Scott Says:

    Gene,

    FBCW has the orginal confession of the church on their own website under history. Yes, it is Calvinistic and they don’t even know it !

  3. Scott Shaffer Says:

    Go to their website (www.fbcw.org) and look at the section entitled church history. You’ll find in the pdf file a copy of their first constitution.

  4. JS Houston Says:

    “I have it from a trusted source that First Baptist Church of Woodstock Georgia, one of the current front-runners of the SBC in the anti-Calvinistic rhetoric, formerly held to a clear Calvinistic confession, according to historic church documents.”

    Precisely why First Woodstock was dying when Dr. Hunt was called there. God used a hot hearted soul winner and expository preacher to help revive the dying congregation. It most likely did hold to a clear Calvinistic confession- that was the problem. As a matter of fact, I would be surprised if Johnny didn’t know “the history of his church.” Hunt, and now Vines, have responded to the history of their church by not repeating it with fatalistic theology.

  5. Nathan White Says:

    JS,

    “Fatalistic theology”? Uh, it’s called Biblical Christianity. Look, even if you do hold to a ‘foreknowledge’ or whatever view of election (like Hunt and Vines), you still must deal with the fact that God ‘knows’ who will choose Him and who will not. Thus, if He knows what the future holds, then the future is fixed, He created them ‘knowing’ that many would not choose Him (thus creating them for hell), and you lose that precious free will that you are so trying to defend. Sorry, you’re undermining biblical christianity with the ‘fatalistic’ comment. You’re certainly not lobbing over anything valid against calvinism.

  6. JS Houston Says:

    Nathan,

    Without trading barbs, let me reiterate what I am saying. It would not surprise me if Johnny was and is very much aware of the Calvinistic roots of FBCW. As a matter of fact, if you could archive every sermon Dr. Hunt has preached since 1986, you would probably find a reference of him alluding to this confession as being one of, if not the major hindrance to church growth, health and life at FBCW in the years that preceded him. If Scott were to call Dr. Hunt with the intent of bringing this to his attention, my guess would be that it would be no surprise at all to the Pastor. Calvinism and the subsequent lazy evangelism that followed it was killing Woodstock. Now, the Word of God, the Spirit of God and a Pastor who is obedient and faithful to the commission of God has resurrected a proverbial “valley of dry bones.” It appears the calvinistic bent had sucked the life out of a ministry that had the potential to impact the world. With Dr. Hunt following the will and call of God to FBCW, the error has been exposed, and the potential has been realized.

    Just my thoughts,

    JS Houston

  7. Nathan White Says:

    JS,

    Thank you for the comment. But I do wonder if you have reconsidered your ‘fatalistic’ comment in light of my reply above. I pray that you did. Nevertheless:

    The Calvinist roots of FBCW were abandoned well before Dr. Hunt arrived on the scene, so I disagree with your point there on historical grounds.

    Secondly, in your judgment, you are making the same mistake that Johnny himself often makes. That is, you are using pragmatism to make your point, and pragmatism is not a biblical standard for judging anything. In fact, as an acquaintance of Johnny and a former 10year member of his church, in knowing that he is a man who truly desires to honor the Word of God, it is my belief that it is his strong tendency towards pragmatism that is fueling almost all of his doctrinal errors. He sees numbers, growth, baptism, and tithes, and he somehow thinks that these things somehow justify sound doctrine. I would argue, however, from the scriptures, that successful numbers way-more-often-than-not signify errouneous teaching rather than pure biblical teaching.

    Truth of doctrine is not decided by numbers, growth, tithes, etc. Truth is determined by the scriptures. Did Calvinism suck the life out of FBCW before Johnny was there? Well, who cares if it did? What does that mean? Are numbers the only thing that matter? Do numbers decide what is true and what is false? No, what we should care about is if the change in doctrine can be defended from the scriptures. Anybody can build a 10k member church and claim God did it. Look around. There are mega-churches all over this nation who claim that because they are big, they are doing things right. You are saying the same thing.

    The prophet Jeremiah preached for 40 years without having one known convert. Was he implementing this dead theology you are talking about? If we use your standard of what determines right from wrong…we’d be forced to get Jeremiah out of there and get some guy in there who can get some results!!

    Listen, I do appreciate your comment. I attended FBCW for many years, and I really have a heart for those who are there and want to honestly investigate these issues. I think we can most certainly have a friendly exchange and sort out some of the core issues that divide us. I just pray that you and others keep in mind that it is God’s word that has the final say in all matters of faith and practice.

    SDG

  8. Gene Says:

    Interesting, the original confession even contains an affirmation of covenant theology (viz. the covenant of redemption).

    Brother Houston, tell us, how many persons at FBCW embraced the doctrines of grace when Brother Johnny arrived? Was their pastor a Calvinist? When did FBCW embrace the BFM over its original confession?

    Notice that Brother Houston, so consistent with his theology, doesn’t say that God has added to the church and leave it there. Rather, he says Brother Johnny added to the church and helped revive it.

    As far as expository preaching, that’s a matter of opinion, but then I hail originally from Mark Corts’ and Dr. Gary Chapman’s ministries in NC, where we rarely if ever left the text of the sermon to go jonesing for prooftexts, and the texts were always explained to us without assuming their meaning in the process. I’ve heard Brother Johnny say “we’re all elect” in reference to universal election of some sort, so I’m of the opinion, given what I’ve heard, that he’s not bad as a topical preacher, but actual exposition of the language and grammar of the text isn’t his speciality, but I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt for the sake of charity.

    I wonder, Brother Houston, what is the attendance @ FBCW at present compared to its membership? Do half the people show up on Sunday? Less? More? Just where are the truants? What happens to all those baptisms? Do they become functioning members or are they untraceable on Sunday morning?

    Compare this with my church, where we have about 50 members in just two years, and our attendance is over 70 on Sunday, and, yes, we have baptized in the past year. Or compare this with Tom Ascol’s church, which has 250 members but is at about 400 on Sunday morning, or Wade Burleson’s church, where he and, if memory serves, his elders also, are Calvinists and the membership is mixed and he says 75 % or more of his members are in services on any given Sunday.

    Brother Wade is an IMB trustee. In fact, several SBC trustees and agency heads are either Calvinists or Amyraldians. I have many friends who are on the mission field right now who are Calvinists and Amyraldians too. In fact, aside from the real hyper-Calvinists out there, and none of which have EVER been named in the SBC, we’re all out there “soul-winning.” Since Daniel Marshall and his son founded the first major Baptist churches in GA, that would mean that FBCW owes its existence to Calvinists and Calvinism. And, while we’re at it, would you care to comment on the evanglistic fervor of P.H. Mell or John L. Dagg or Jesse Mercer? Oh, and you’re welcome to join us in front of the abortion clinic every other Saturday in Greensboro, NC where we preach evangelistically. No other Baptist church, SBC or otherwise, in the area bothers to send any help. And let’s not forget our friends in the PCA. In my location, our local PCA church is one of the largest churches here. They employ missionaries on their staff. They’re also doing theological education for the whole city by allowing anybody from any church to audit RTS classes by satellite at their church. I heard a message on missions from Romans 10 last year from their pastor that qualifies as the best sermon on missions I’ve heard in any church anywhere. If you think that Calvinism is threatening to evangelism and missions, then you need to show that these are all exceptions to the rule.

    There are also a great many non-Five Pointers in the SBC who would be classed as Amyraldians, so your words would apply to them as well. I wonder what Dr. Akin, who is an Amyraldian, would feel about your statements about what he believes? Bruce Ware?

    Incidentally, Brother Houston, according to the documents, the church’s confession now is the BFM, according to the church history, the 1963. Aside from the history of the BFM and meaning of its soteriological statements, which I’ll, for the sake of argument, stipulate to your side of the aisle, then it would seem that the church was operating under a non-Calvinistic confession when Brother Johnny was called, unless you want to argue that the 1925 or 1963 BFM are Calvinist documents. So, you’ve put yourself in a pickle, haven’t you.

    If the confession was the BFM when Brother Johnny was called, then:

    A. You can’t say that a Calvinistic confession was the church’s problem unless you admit that the BFM is Calvinistic in its soteriology.

    B. You can’t admit that the BFM is Calvinistic in its soteriology without contradicting Brothers Hunt and Vines’ view of the BFM.

    In Chapter 8 of their history, we find the current charter references the selection of trustees beginning in 1974-75 and listing the 1963 BFM as the church confession, somehow I don’t think their original confession was in force. Ergo, you may want to revisit your, how shall we say, hasty conclusions about any problems at FBCW when Dr. Hunt was called in 1986.

    Further, Mr. Houston, if you believe Calvinism is fatalism, then all you’ve shown is that Dr. Akin is correct about the sloppy theology coming out of SBC pulpits, including FBC Woodstock. You really should open a book or two and look up the difference between fatalism and determinism. Calvinism implicitly opts for soft -determinism, not fatalism, not hard determinism.

    Let’s be clear here. Dr. Hunt and Dr. Vines affirm libertarian freedom. They also affirm certain futurition of events. Fatalism requires libertarian freedom in order to be correctly labeled. Since God is not actively foreknowing and predestinating people, in Dr. Hunt’s view we see real impersonal determinism working itself out by way of real fatalism. If the will is free in the libertarian sense, and the future is certain, then what makes it certain? Chance? In your view, choices must be uncaused. If they are uncaused, then why does one person believe and not the other?

    Your free will position that seeks to preserve man’s freedom of choice is, in reality, impersonal and fixed, thus being both deterministic and fatalistic. The only way to make it less fixed is the way of Open Theism, which denies the omniscience and omnipotence of God! The Calvinist position is personal, and God is active in the lives of people who make real choices with real moral boundaries. Calvinism is thus inherently personal for both God and man! I agree with you that real, impersonal fatalism is repugnant to God and man and perversion of the gospel. Why then, do you believe that very thing?

    John Frame once said in regard to the difference between Determinism & Fatalism: Determinism means that all events are rendered unavoidable by the causes, which include our choices. Fatalism says all events will happen, regardless of our choices. Calvinism is not the same as fatalism. In fatalism, Oedipus cannot escape his fate, try as he might. Indeed, he fulfills his fate by trying to avoid it. He is at the mercy of the impersonal forces of the universe. In Calvinism, the reprobate are not trying to escape their fate. Indeed, they regard themselves as masters of their own destiny. In short, fatalism says that God accomplishes his purpose apart from the will of man. In other words, the ends occur regardless of the means. God fulfills his plan regardless of the will of man. But this is not Calvinism. Calvinism, however, states that God accomplishes his will through the will of man; God controls both the ends and the means. He actively intervenes sometimes (miracles, salvation, the Incarnation, etc.), and He allows the nature of second causes for other things, passively allowing men’s desires to play out.

    Ron Hanko rightly notes:

    The [fatalist], then, makes the same mistake as the Arminians and free-willists, only he draws a different conclusion. Both think that to command or demand repentance and faith of dead sinners must imply that such sinners are not dead and have in themselves the ability to repent and believe. The free-willist says, then: “To command must imply ability, therefore, men have the ability.” The [fatalist] says: “To command must imply ability, therefore we will not command any but the elect.”

    This is fatalism:
    • If it is fated for you to recover from your illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
    • Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so even if you call a doctor.
    • So, calling a doctor makes no difference.

    In Calvinism/soft-determinism: The ends are fixed, but men do what they will do. Calvinism looks like this:
    • If it is determined for you to recover from your illness, then you will call for a doctor.
    • Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not call a doctor.
    • So, calling a doctor makes a difference.

    If you’re going to start making the argument that Calvinism = fatalism, then you need to make the argument. What is fatalism? How does Calvinism qualify? Particularly how does this small statement qualify as “fatalistic?”

    (4) We believe in the everlasting love of God to his people and the eternal election of God and the
    foreknowledge of God and that there (was) a covenant of grace or redemption made between the father
    and the son before the world began.

  9. Bob Devine Says:

    Brother JS Houston,

    Reading with interest your posts, I’m impressed that you are wholly enamored with and alegient to Johnny Hunt and not the power of the Word of God. Consider what you’ve said:

    “God used a hot hearted soul WINNER [emph added] and expository PREACHER [emph added] to help revive the dying congregation.”

    “..and a PASTOR who is obedient and faithful to the commission of God HAS RESURECTED a proverbial “valley of dry bones.”

    Is the phrase ‘hot hearted’ out of Scripture or is it straight out of a Hunt sermon?

    “It APPEARS the calvinistic bent had sucked the life out of a ministry that had the potential to impact the world.” Conclusions based on appearances are essentially no conclusions at all. Even poor exposition and errant doctrine, while inherently problematic, can be used to bring some to conviction and repentance when it follows ‘no exposition’ and ‘no doctrine’ preaching. What’s to say that this is the only difference between ‘before Johnny’ and ‘after Johnny’?

    “With Dr. Hunt following the will and call of God to FBCW, the error has been exposed, and the potential has been realized.” Has Johnny preached about the specific error of his FBCW predecessors individually or as a group? Are you suggesting that all the wonderful things that are happening at your church are attributed to the pastor and his obedience? Are you sure that you want to dabble in the New Age of ‘realizing your potential’ or is Johnny inclined towards Joel Osteen? As an aside, do you have an opinion you’d like to share about honorary doctorates?

    Thank for candidly sharing your thoughts so that others may get a glimpse into the impact of the ministry at your church, upon which, I understand, the sun ever sets.

  10. RGG Says:

    Blessing Gentlemen,

    Just a short comment, so pardon me if I don’t fully engage in the discussion. I am both a graduate of SBTS and a current member at FBCW. That may cause a “hmmm” moment for some, but that’s fine. On to the comment.

    If you (you to include anyone) are not a part of the membership at FBCW, then one would be out of line to suggest what has previously been suggested of gathering founding documents and such for distribution. Distribution to whom and for what purpose would this serve? Neither you nor I were called and appointed by God to shepherd and lead FBCW. If people do not agree with Pastor Johnny on a particular doctrine then they can decide for themselves to stay or go. It is local church business. It doesn’t pertain to others outside the local church, specifically FBCW in this instance. God can handle his own shepherds.

    Bottom line, it isn’t the business or the place of those outside the fellowship of FBCW to offer such “friendly” criticism towards Johnny Hunt or anyone on that staff.

    It gets a little old running to the battle and getting cut off at the knees by your own brother. I have been in those battles way to much.

    Blessings,

    Robert

  11. Jeff S Says:

    I thought it was decided that Calvinist preachers could only minister in Calvinist churches and, I suppose, vice-versa?

  12. Nathan White Says:

    RGG,

    Please understand that it is FBCW and Hunt who are clearly on the offensive in lobbing ‘friendly’ criticism towards others who don’t hold the same doctrinal convictions. Thus, I pray that you would be an honest man and present the leaders of FBCW with the same comment you supplied us above. It is FBCW who have invited such men and Vines and Price to do nothing but lob dishonest and ad-hominem attacks on those with other convictions.

    However, you make a good point in that people can decide for themselves whether to stay or go, and that particular doctrine is local church business. But warning others of questionable doctrine most certainly does not violate these principles.

    It is getting old brother, it is. I mean, I ask this question to you not as a Calvinist or Arminian, but as a Christian: Did you hear the sermon by Price? And Hunt afterwards called him a ‘prince of a preacher’. That, my brother, no matter what your position on soteriology, should cause you to turn and run…

    Nevertheless, please note that my intention in this post was not to attack FBCW, but to simply show how they -and many other SBC churches- have abandoned the doctrinal foundation that they were built on. In the face of so many denying this clear fact (of baptist history), the link to FBCW (and given Hunt’s crusade against what the founders of the SBC believed) proved to emphasize the point of Dr. Nettles’ article.
    Thank you for your kindness. Your words will be taken to heart.

    SDG

  13. RGG Says:

    Nathan,

    Thank you for posting my comments and your response. My emphasis was to question the gathering and distribution of materials for an unstated but implied purpose. That was as simple as I could communicate it. Thank you again for seeing that and responding to it.

    In response to your question, I have not seen the Price message. I have been out of town a few weeks. Sometimes I catch up on them.

    I can say from personal experience that doctrinal and theological discussions often become passionate and personal; after all, we hold our core beliefs and values close to our hearts. This makes objective discussions very challenging at times. Not only have I found myself wrestling with theology and doctrine throughout my life, but with the emotion attached to it. Challenge to my core beliefs has often provoked an emotional response in me. I would offer the idea that would be the case for all people, regardless of what their core beliefs are. Somehow when we wrestle with principles and positions, people become involved. Amazing how that happens.

    Thanks again for allowing me to post my comment. I hope you have a blessed Christmas.

    Robert

    p.s. Thought you might be interested to know I had Dr. Nettles for Baptist History back in the day.

  14. Bob Devine Says:

    RGG,

    Your question is interesting and evokes a few thoughts:
    1. Without an adherence to Biblical form of church governance, how can we know that God did the calling? Disobedience in this area should be an indication that the results will be likewise, something akin to ‘you won’t get the right answers if you ask the wrong questions’. SO, questionable calling should make the statement s of the called come under more and greater scrutiny, not more acceptance and parrotting…
    2. Many folks HAVE left that church for the reasons you list; however, your suggestion (as I understand your post) is that its inappropriate to challenge/question that churches doctrine and positions unless you are a member. Do you really believe that one should remain a member in spite of their covictions about unsound doctrine??
    3.If confessions and other similar documents are not to be disseminated for use outside the congregation, is that congregation, then, really a secret society?
    4. Finally, while its nice that you acknowledge the permissibility to leave when you are convicted (my term) about the churches errant doctrine and unbiblical preaching, is it Biblical to fail to warn others–in love and with Scripture–of the error you see and the disastrous life consequences thereof? I suggest the answer her is an emphatic ‘NO’. In a vibrant and healthy Body, honest, candid and transparent discussions about Doctrine can only have positive long-term results, although it would require true Elder leadership to ‘manage’ discussions. In the end, more folks would be forced into the Word, learn how to STUDY (not simply read proscribed portions) the Word as the WHOLE counsel of God, and also see where there is common ground–saved by Grace and salvation only through Christ as the Way to heaven.

    Thanks again for your post, as it opened the door for raising more issues. Blessings to you this Christmas and traveling mercies as well.

  15. RGG Says:

    Bob,

    Brief comments then off for a needed Christmas break…

    1. I understand biblical eldership clearly. I have been on staff at elder led churches and SBC ones believe it or not. I perceive that your post questions the calling of Johnny Hunt since my responses were concering FBCW. I do not question the call of Johnny Hunt to shepherd and lead FBCW.

    2. Clarification on doctrinal conflicts…I don’t suppose a person to remain in the family of a local church body if there be a personal doctrinal conflict they can not resolve in themselves. They are certainly free to leave. I will go on to say that I would find it next to impossible for anyone of any level of theological understanding to agree on every point of doctrine. I have not experienced it throughout my education at Southern Seminary in Lousiville, KY, nor have I experienced it on any church staff I have served. If Danny Akin (who was the Dean of the School of Theology at SBTS, and now president of Southeastern Seminary) and Dr. Mohler can work side by side and go to the same church, then the many who have been influenced by their teachings can do so as well.

    3. My comments about the distribution of documents had nothing to do with keeping information from people. Obtaining a copy of those is no big deal. The question is WHY. That becomes a heart and motive concern. That prompted my initial response. I thought the secret society comment to be quiet humorous. Seriously, I wan’t offended. It was funny.

    4. I am not sure of the disatrous life consequences you speak of and you don’t need to explain what they are. I do agree that people should study and search for themselves, but not for the purpose of being theological police or proving people wrong, or even knowing about God, but actually knowing Him intimately. I have heard it often said we should know what we believe and why we believe it. Both viable questions. Here is another…just for pondering over the holidays…How does what we believe impact how we relate to ourselves and to others? I am working through that one myself.

    Those are all the contributions I have for 2006. I hope you all have a most gracious and splendid Christmas!

    Blessings!

    RGG

    p.s. If you are ever in a seminary class and get bored with your papers, select an outlandish topic. I wrote “Could Jesus Have Been a Woman” for Systematic Theology with Dr. Akin. Fun paper and good grade. There is humor in theology!


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