Church Splits occur when a significant portion of a church leaves to form a separate church. Calvinism is a common cause of such splits. It usually occurs when a new pastor is hired and conceals their theology, with the secret intent to change the church into a Calvinist church.
Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group within the Southern Baptists Convention, advocates using the following strategies in order to turn a non-Calvinist church into a Calvinist church:
“Don’t tackle the whole church at one time. Choose a few men who are sincere, teachable and spiritually minded and spend time with them in study and prayer. They will help you to reform. … In the pulpit, don’t use theological language that is not found in the Bible. Avoid terms such as Calvinism, reformed, doctrines of grace, particular redemption, etc. Most people will not know what you are talking about. Many that do will become inflamed against you. Teach your people the biblical truth of these doctrines without providing distracting labels for them. … Set up a book table in your church. Start with little things at first, that is, pamphlets and books with some doctrinal and experiential substance. … Check the history of your church to see if it has any early constitutions or declarations of faith. Often you will find, particularly in older churches, a statement expressing the doctrines which you desire to establish. A gracious appeal to such a document will help give you credibility. … Since nothing in this mortal life is more important than true religion in the soul and in the church, reformation should be diligently sought after, and carefully looked into. It is not enough to pout and complain about what is wrong in the visible church, but we must be occupied in reforming and restoring what is right and biblical.”88
It’s odd that Calvinists would need to employ such subterfuge, especially when they claim to have “Irresistible Grace” on their side. Is such chicanery therefore deemed as the means?
Roger Olson: “Some Calvinists are attempting to impose Calvinism on Christian organizations that have traditionally been neutral with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism and have included both. They are often doing this under the guise of warding off open theism. Arminians need to band together, in spite of our differences over things like open theism (whether it’s a legitimate evangelical option or not) and push back when this happens.”89
Bruce McLaughlin: “SBC Seminaries and Bible Colleges are riddled with Calvinist faculty sending a steady stream of Calvinist pastors into predominately Traditional congregations. If the Calvinist pastor has the courage of his convictions and tells the truth about his beliefs, he will either fail to find employment or split a church. A new strategy has evolved based on stealth, subterfuge, deceit, guile and duplicity employed, of course, with God’s approval for the ‘greater good.’ This strategy is to suppress the issue of Calvinism in all local churches. If the topic surfaces in a church in spite of the pastor’s best efforts to suppress it, he may try to convince the congregation that each individual’s choice is simply a matter of personal preference, like whether to wear brown shoes or black shoes to church; no one must be allowed to express the possibility that Calvinism is blasphemy at its core. Because some local churches may see through this subterfuge, other strategies have been introduced with the hope of ‘tap dancing’ around the core conflicts. These strategies include: (1) undermine all discussion and teaching on this issue and thereby maintain a level of ignorance within congregations and particularly within pastor search committees, (2) subordinate the importance of this issue to church growth, music, other entertainment and family ministries, (3) argue that the seriousness of the conflict is contrived in the sense that a Traditional pastor is really no different than an evangelical Calvinist pastor who believes in unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace, (4) utilize Seminaries and Bible Colleges to convert Christians to Calvinists, (5) avoid Articles of Faith that clarify the denominational position, (6) assert the simultaneous validity of both Calvinism and Traditional Baptist beliefs using a type of logic popular among intellectual elite called ‘positive tolerance,’ (7) claim to be above the fray by just ‘believing in the Bible’ and (8) assert the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are like two parallel lines that meet at infinity.”90
James Leonard: “In my own case, as an interim music minister, I served under a new pastor at a thoroughly semi-Arminian congregation. That is to say, there was no one in the congregation who held to limited atonement or unconditional election, and everyone in the congregation would have dismissed such notions as pure unbiblical non-sense. Yet the new pastor came to the church already fully committed to Five Point Calvinism. We’ll refer to him as Pastor X. Pastor X taught Calvinism on the sly. He could not come right out and declare, ‘Jesus died only for the elect! Jesus did not die for everyone!’ Rather, he would say, ‘Jesus died for the sins of his people.’ Of course, this language was nothing but pure obfuscation, but it duped the congregation to affirm his comments with many amens. Pastor X could not teach Calvinism directly. He had to situate his theology at an angle, attempting to wedge it into the congregation in order to get some future leverage.”91
The root of such Calvinist-activism may, in part, be due to Calvinists taking in the dogmatic writings and statements of leading proponents of Calvinism and then come to perceive Calvinism as “the gospel” itself, with the result that they, then, take on an aggressive mission to “reform” Christian non-Calvinists. For such adherents, Calvinism comes to dominate their entire Christian identity.
Part of the insidious nature of Calvinism is that sometimes Calvinist pastors will try to disguise their Calvinist theology in a cloak of orthodoxy, thus making it easier for their Calvinist beliefs to stealthily work its way through the church unencumbered, until it is too late and the damage is done. That is accomplished by invoking intentionally misleading statements and carefully constructed words. For instance, such stealth Calvinists will speak of salvation being “offered to all” and Jesus having “died for sin,” but here is what is really meant:
- Calvinism: While salvation is “offered” to everyone, it only extends to Calvinism’s elect who alone are given the ability to receive it.
- Calvinism: Jesus “died for sin,” but not everyone’s sin, since all but Calvinism’s elect are excluded from a Limited Atonement.
So, a person can listen to the statements of Calvinists and think that everything is perfectly fine, but not realize what is truly going on:
David Allen: “Furthermore, when high-Calvinists say, ‘Christ died for sinners,’ the term ‘sinners’ becomes a code word for ‘the elect only.’ To be consistent with their own theology, they have to say the deliberately vague statement ‘Christ died for sinners.’”92
Here is how John Calvin speaks of the “offer” of the gospel:
“Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.”93
“But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all.”94
“Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor 5:18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.”95
How is the gospel truly “offered” to those who are purposely excluded from Calvinism’s Limited Atonement? Christ’s atonement is the only basis for the salvation of anyone’s sin, and therefore to exclude someone from it, would leave them utterly without hope, without the possibility of ever becoming saved. Such an “offer” of salvation is therefore turned into a cruel hoax. Indeed, Calvinists speak of the gospel being “offered to all” as “salvific for all,” but then undermine it by saying that it neither “extends to all,” “reaches to all” nor was ever “destined for all.” It makes absolutely no sense to even speak in such universal terms, if Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace are affirmed, unless the intention was to deliberately be deceptive, in order to make Calvinism more palatable and appealing to a wider, mainstream Christian audience.
What do Calvinists believe?
God’s sovereignty means that God is in charge of what is ultimately going to come to pass in the world—not ourselves. God has the final say in everyone’s eternal destination—not ourselves. This is what Calvinists mean when they say that God is sovereign. God is in charge—not ourselves.
This is a perfect example. When Calvinists say, “This is what Calvinists mean,” what follows sometimes conceals, masks and hides what Calvinists often really mean. For instance, when Calvinists say that God determines what is ultimately going to come to pass in the world and determines our final destiny, it sounds totally innocent, like God ultimately ushering in the End Times with the return of Christ and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom on earth, or God determining Heaven as the eternal destination for believers and Hell as the eternal destination for unbelievers, but what Calvinists really mean is that (a) God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, including all sins (in which every single sin committed anytime, anywhere allegedly has its own predesigned purpose), and (b) God determines our final destiny in terms who becomes a believer and who doesn’t—via TULIP Calvinism. So, while on face value, the statements of Calvinists can seem to be theologically sound, the problem is the underlying presumptions which are strategically designed to make Calvinism appear more palatable to those who are unsuspecting. Raw Calvinism comes later when the church-split is already in full operation.
88 Founders: Walking Without Slipping: Instructions for Local Church Reformation https://founders.org/library/quiet-revolution/walking-without-slipping/
89 Roger Olson, Beware of Stealth Calvinism! https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/07/beware-of-stealth-calvinism/
90 Bruce McLaughlin, Corruption Of The Southern Baptist Convention http://www.christianapologetic.org/TheologyCorner.aspx
91 James Leonard, Churches Beware! Calvinism on the Sly! http://arminianbaptist.blogspot.com/2008/04/churches-beware-calvinism-on-sly.html
92 The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 97.
93 Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, translated by Ross Mackenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 117-118, emphasis added.
94 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 103, emphasis added.
95 Ibid., 149, emphasis added.