Some thoughts on the Doctrines of Grace as a test of fellowship

When I say that I don’t use Calvinism (or the Five Points or the Doctrines of Grace, whatever you choose to call them) as a test of fellowship, I certainly don’t mean to imply that they’re not important. I simply mean that I’m not going dismiss a brother in Christ from my fellowship if I find out he is not Calvinistic. And I’m certainly not going to treat him as a heretic, a fool, or an idiot because he does not understand. I will love him, pray for him, stand firm in the truth, and graciously continue to believe and live in light of what I understand to be true Bible doctrine. There are several people in the church I pastor who have made clear to me that they themselves do not believe the Doctrines of Grace and yet we fellowship together with little difficulty (And what there is does not revolve around this issue). I know they don’t see it in Scripture, they know I’m going to preach it, and without apology, too, I might add, and some have come to see these truths revealed in Scripture.

Sadly, my experience has been that the Calvinist brethren in my tradition are more likely to “live-and-let-live” than are my non-Calvinistic brethren. (And, having been a Calvinist since 1986, I do have quite a bit of experience with this.) It is often the non-Calvinist who parodies and mocks the Calvinist and says that they can’t worship or fellowship with those of my stripe. Often such mockery or caricature comes from ignorance rather than from an informed attempt to understand these doctrines as revealed in Scripture and so I am subjected to ridicule (usually the same stuff I have heard since 1986, just delivered as if the clever remarks are new) and put-downs from people who have no idea what they are talking about, or challenged to immediate debate from people who have no idea what they are talking about. Either way, my relationship with them immediately takes on a confrontational and adversarial tone which I have done nothing to provoke except simply to believe what I see in the pages of Scripture.

What these people don’t understand if that while I am happy to discuss this issue and its doctrines, to answer questions about it, to demonstrate it from Scripture, and even to enter into friendly debates sometimes (in a charitable fashion, of course), I absolutely refuse to argue with someone about this. What I mean is, if you want to discuss it with me, be willing to listen to what I have to say, as I listen to what you have to say (although, after 21 years next month, June, I think I have heard it all since it has been a while since a new argument has come my way), thoughtfully consider the Scriptures rather than simply trying to think of what “proof-text” you can pull out to throw my way, and do not caricature me or my stand but treat me with the same respect with which I am willing to treat you. It just might be that we can both learn something from looking into the Scriptures together even if we do not succeed in changing one another’s minds about this or any other issue.

Either way, my concern is to stand firm for truth, be willing to change when confronted with the incontrovertible truth of Scripture, and not to give any offense beyond that which the Word itself gives. May we all aspire to these things.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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