*This article graciously provided to us by our good friend Mark Teter about his journey out of Pentecostal/Charismatic theology to Reformed Theology and how he has grown since. Original article is HERE
Imagine thinking a certain way for years. The lens by which you view everything is trustworthy and fully able to satisfy all your longings and all those deep questions you’ve asked. Though this applies to all of life, I am particularly talking about God — theology.
Every person reads the Bible through a certain lens, a perspective that filters what is right and what is wrong. You know what I’m taking about. Us Christians say things like “This verse means this… This verse means that…. God is like this… God is like that…” We interpret the entire Bible based on what we know from certain verses, right? Many go too far, saying, “Well 1 John 4:8 says “God is love” and it’s emphasized in John 3:16, “For God SO loved the world” therefore, God can’t send people to hell.” Is that what those verses imply? Nope. Here’s another one that most believers say “John 3:16 says that “God SO loved the world”, which is every single person, “that WHOSOEVER believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” and 2 Peter 3:9 also says “…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” therefore, Jesus died for everybody and all they have to do is accept it.” Is that what those verses mean? Nope. That’s what I use to think and having read that explanation I would say, “Well, Yeah. Of course that’s what that means.” It would blow my mind that any person would disagree. Well, now I would disagree. But my realization of that truth didn’t begin there, it all started with Romans 9. The lens I hung on to for years slowly started to melt away. Let me explain.
I came to saving faith in an Assemblies of God church, which was 6 years ago. To help, I will give you a short summary of my beliefs for those 6 years. First, God is absolutely, 100% in love with me. He’s cheering for me. I’m at the center of his world. Second, God is a gentleman. He asks permission from me in order to 1.) Save me 2.) Allow him to work 3.) Let his will be done. God is never going to violate my free will. Third, in order to know where to go directionally in life, we must hear God’s voice. Taking 1 Samuel 3:7–11 “Speak O Lord, your servant is listening.” and John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice…” to mean that if we “abide in me [Christ]” (John 15:4) and “walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) then we will hear God speak to us, giving us direction and special, specific insight. Fourth, speaking in tongues is the initial evidence for salvation (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). And there is also a second baptism, referred to as the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Fifth, many embrace, even endorsed, names such as Bethel Music/Church, Jesus Culture, The Passion Translation, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, the Enneagram, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, etc. Though the list could continue, I don’t believe it is necessary to dive into every detail.
Seek not division, but unity
My objective with this article is not to convince non-believers that I’m switching religions, nor is it to, in any way, shape, or form, prove or even say there are heretical teachings of this denomination. I love, 100% love the people. They’re not just friends, they’re family. I’m not saying any person is not saved. Please understand friends and family that are reading this: I love you dearly and don’t want to be divided whatsoever. My sole purpose in writing this is to tell everyone what I believe (if anybody even cares in the slightest) and why I believe. I’m being honest and even very personal. I’ve struggled with these things for some time now, concealing them from most out of fear of rejection. But I believe now is the time to share my beliefs.
Romans 9: God does whatever he wants and doesn’t owe anything to anybody
I mentioned previously about the impact Romans 9 has been on my life. In my studies, I just couldn’t escape the doctrine of predestination and election. Everybody believes in those two things, it’s just a matter as to what extent. Here are the main verses that hurt my head, the ones that I previously didn’t have any shelf room for in my mind:
Verse 11: …though they (Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls…” The Purpose?
Verse 12–13: she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” So I thought, “Before these two people were born, God had two separate purposes for them and they must be fulfilled.”
Verses 15–16: For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,but on God, who has mercy.” God has mercy on whom ever he wants to have mercy on. He is not obligated to dish out mercy and grace to all. God’s displaying of his mercy isn’t dependent upon our efforts but on his own freedom to do as he pleases.
Verse 21: “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” So, one cluster of people, one group for honorable use and another for dishonorable use. God decides who is in which one based on his own good pleasure.
Lastly, verses 22–24: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
The Other Verses that Rocked My World
To avoid any thoughts about me basing an entire biblical worldview on one chapter in the Bible, I would like to mention a few others that made me Reformed.
Romans 8:29–30: 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
John 6:37–39: 37: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Ephesians 1:4–5: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…”
John 3:19: “And this is the judgment, that light is come unto the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.” (Humanity is still the same)
Ezekiel 36:22: 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came…”
For more verses, check out “God is for God” by Matt Chandler, “The Doctrine or Election” sermon series by John Piper, “The Reformed View of Predestination” by Loraine Boettner (free e-Book), and “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul.
So, what is Reformed Theology and why did I become “Reformed”?
Reformed Theology stems from Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430), but Calvinism is the branded name of Reformed Theology. Calvinism derives its name from John Calvin, a theologian and “reformer” (1509–1564). Though Calvinism is named after a mere man, Calvinists do not follow John Calvin in any way. In response to the 5 point summation from the Dutch Remonstrance, led by Jacobius Arminius (well, he died shortly before this but the opposing term of Calvinism is Arminianism), the Calvinists created their own 5 point summation at the Synod of Dort (1618–1619). Here is what they, though not exhaustive, concluded:
T: Total Depravity– the consequence of the first sin is that we sin because we are sinners, not sinner because we sin (R.C. Sproul). We’re born dead in sin (Eph. 2:1), haters of God (Rom. 8:7), and unable to come to God unless He implants the desire to come to him (John 6:44,63).
U: Unconditional Election– “God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.” (R.C. Sproul) see, Romans 9:10–13. Why am I convinced of this? Because God doesn’t look down through the halls of time to see who will accept him and then choose, He chooses whom he wills and it’s not unjust of him to do.
L: Limited Atonement– communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him. (R.C. Sproul) As mentioned at the beginning of the post, 2 Peter 3:8–9 is the go-to passage to refute limited/definite atonement. However, this passage is referring to “us”, the elect. The context for this scripture isn’t all humanity, but rather God’s elect. Sproul also states, “I don’t think we want to believe in a God who sends Christ to die on the cross and then crosses His fingers, hoping that someone will take advantage of that atoning death.”
I: Irresistible Grace- Here are a few summary statements on this doctrine: 1.) Regeneration comes before a faith 2.) The work of regeneration, being born again/made anew, is 100% God. He creates the desire that we were born without. Irresistible? Not in the sense of dragging us kicking and screaming, for He creates within us the desire to follow him. Irresistible in the sense that God’s Grace accomplishes what it intends to accomplish, “when He exercises this grace in the soul, He brings about the effect that He intends to bring about.” (R.C. Sproul) Read John 10:3–4; 11:38–46; Galatians 1:15; Revelation 22:17
P: Perseverance of the Saints– Once saved always saved? I prefer to say, “The Holy Spirit is going to keep/preserve the children the Father chose and the children whom Jesus died for.” It’s the Holy Spirit that is the result of your keeping of the faith. We can’t possibly be unjustified — after being made into a new creation (2 Cor. 5–17) we can’t be put to death again, the death we were born subject to. Fellow Christian, what is our great hope? Is it that we keep ourselves, as if it all comes down to us? No. Our firm hope is that our loving Father has chose us, sent his Son to actually, not hypothetically, die for us, and sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify, guide, counsel, and protect us.
In summary, I don’t view anyone in the Assemblies of God as heretics, that is, believing something about God that is clearly against the one true foundation and hope. They are trinitarian, lovers of justification by faith alone through faith alone, believers of hell, sin and eternal judgment, believers in the inerrancy of the Bible, and people of the Bible. I do, however, qualm with the elevation of man. As I read many great Reformed works, I saw a God that was represented as Supreme, beautiful, reverentially amazing, the same God who can speak and melt the earth (Ps.46) and the God who can lead me by still waters (Ps.23). Reading the works of John Piper, Joel Beeke, Jonathan Edwards, the Puritans, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, etc., made me in awe of God, not like before, where my outlet to love and adoration for God is based off all that He has done for me, but based on who He is. The question Piper asked rattled me, “Some of you can’t even conceive of another definition of love than to be made much of. God loves me? He makes much of me. Now here’s the test: Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or when he, at the cost of his Son’s life, gives you the ability to enjoy making much of him forever?” Listen to the infamous sermon here.
I am a Calvinist
I am not basing my theological confessions of my experience or feelings alone, the basis by which I confess is simply: Here it is. These verses. I can’t escape and I sure can’t continue avoiding them. God can do whatever he wants, I can’t thwart His plan (Isa. 14:27; Job 42:2). Am I radically depraved? Yes. God had to create the desire in my heart for him. Dead means dead (Eph. 2:1). Hostile means hostile (Rom. &:7). Did choose me before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4 and Rom. 8:29–30) to conformed to the image of His son? Yes. As Spurgeon said, “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.” Did Jesus die a hypothetical death for all, which no one is assured to come, or did Jesus die any actual feat by which those whom he died for will assuredly come by His grace? The latter.
I would quickly like to take up the humble position of refuting the lack of discernment of many. We should, first and foremost, avoid building our theological worldview upon on sands of emotionalism. When we worship, the affections of our hearts should come from our minds. Let us sing right words, not becoming like the world, who sings catchy songs with great beats and doesn’t even judge the content. Let us worship in joy, but subjecting ourselves to Paul’s exhortation of order within the church (1 Cor. 14:49) and self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Secondly, let us be diligent in looking into the bands we listen to, the teachers we subject ourselves to, the books we dwell in for hours at a time, and the churches we attend.
Thought seemingly random, I would like to move on to my last qualm. Let us not embrace the notion of God’s love being reckless, for He is all- knowing, all-perfect, and all-powerful. He knows every outcome because He has planned it all. He is utterly good, leaving out any idea that He can act brash or out of impulse. He is also totally capable of doing anything He wants. Let us look up reckless in the Word of God and submit ourselves to its definition. Thought a song may be catchy and tug on our hearts, let us filter truth through our minds and let it move us. Lastly, let us test everything. Judge the teaching according to the Bible. We will surely be blessed as we discover God’s truth and being made aware of the fact that what we use to believe wasn’t true but not put down those still believing such things.
This Matters to Me
I don’t take up the position of an onlooker who is projecting my own feelings upon you the reader. This matters to me. Why? Well, for awhile I was taking online classes, fully paid for by my the church, to become an ordained, Assemblies of God minister.
When this journey began I had inward struggles, deep tensions that had to be resolved. The progress of my classes began to slow. I was growing weary of the AoG and didn’t see any resolution for this tension. Eventually I decided to stop pursuing ordination. This was my career path for years and years. I had tunnel vision when it came to becoming a pastor but I couldn’t pursue it further. I couldn’t go under oath and pledge my alignment with all 16 of their fundamental truths. Such as #7, “THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT” and #8, “THE INITIAL PHYSICAL EVIDENCE OF THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.” It wouldn’t be be appropriate or biblical for me to continue towards my credentials.
So this matters to me. Reformed Theology has redirected my whole life. It has also changed the way in which I read my Bible. My prayer for this article is that God would use it somehow to positively affect you, the reader.
Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton
Desiring God by John Piper
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Mere Calvinism by Jim Scott Orrick
The Potter’s Freedom by James White