Archive | July, 2012

What is a nice Baptist Girl Doing Speaking of Calvinism?

31 Jul

I John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death.”


My best friend is Calvinist, a Presbyterian.  She has not always been so, but went through a period of intense reading and study in which she came to the conclusion that the Calvinist doctrine most closely matches the Bible.  I have similarly studied my Baptist faith very intently and have made the same conclusion about my faith matching the Bible.


When we get together, we have wonderful conversations and Bible studies, as we have always done since we were college roommates.  The places where we differ, we fill with grace toward each other and move on.


Thus it has always bemused me to see the attitude that some of my fellow Baptists exhibit toward Calvinism and our Calvinist brethren.  Sometimes the word “Calvinist” is spoken as an accusation against someone.  Sometimes, it almost seems to be thrown out there like a curse word.  Why is that?


Surely the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) are not all doctrines with which we disagree.  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Seems like we agree completely on total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Unconditional election is pretty hard to dispute by anyone who believes Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart’s deceitfulness.  There is nothing to recommend us to salvation except the fact that God loves us.  So . . . we get stuck on the limited atonement issue.  And fight so fiercely about it that you might think that Calvinist doctrine was more of an obstacle to Baptists than are the cults, or the Eastern religions, or the atheists.


And, truly, it is only the hypercalvinists who say that limited atonement means Christ only came to die for those who would eventually be saved (the elect).  The rest of them phrase it that His death was “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.”  Put that way, it doesn’t sound too very far from the position most Baptists take about Christ’s death.  


I am going to suggest that the answer to the animosity many Baptists exhibit toward their Calvinist brethren lies in our mutual history.  


One place where Baptist theology showed a distinct departure from Calvinism was during the ministry of Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening.  Finney himself started life as a Presbyterian pastor and later rejected Calvinism.  Perhaps some of the Baptist antipathy toward Calvinism is inherited from that era.  Although Finney took appropriate stands for inclusion of women in worship (short of pastoring) and against slavery (Oberlin College, where he served as president, was one of the first institutions to educate blacks and women alongside white men), he may have played a disproportionately large role in the development of distaste for Calvinism among Baptists. 


Prior to Finney, Baptists were often classified as Five Point or Particular Baptists who held to Five Point Calvinism and Four Point or General Baptists, who held to all of the points of Calvinism except for Limited Atonement. 


Nowadays, a Baptist expressing belief in either a Five Point or a Four Point position might be seen as guilty of heresy, and in some Baptist seminaries, might face school discipline. 


It is my belief that we humans often overreact to things we don’t understand, out of fear, mostly.  Seminaries that let people know that they can only think certain thoughts about God without facing discipline probably don’t produce the caliber of thought, analysis, and writing that they would wish to have.  How much better to tell seminarians that they are free to explore the whole counsel of God’s Word and to write about it, as long as they can support what they are saying from His Word and not just from a man’s systematic theology!


That is enough for a first look at this topic.  I will no doubt be writing more about it as the months go by because it seems that some of my fellow Baptists truly have an irrational fear of Calvinism and, thereby, of our Calvinist brethren.  I want to take the tenets of our faith, and theirs, to the Word of God one by one and see what I find therein.  For surely we must be willing to abandon any of our pet beliefs if we are shown that they are inconsistent with God’s Word.


I will also look at the five tenets of Arminianism.  I have no set schedule for all of the above and I don’t plan to get legalistic about covering everything in a given amount of time.  All I can say is “stay tuned . . .” 


I doubt anyone will change their systematic theology as a result of the discussion here, but I hope it will help us exercise charity toward our brothers and sisters as we explore some things together.


I believe that one discovery we may make is that there is a not a great chasm between Calvinism and Baptist theology.  Based on the good fellowship I have with my best friend (and several other Calvinist sisters), I believe we are closer in our beliefs than we think . . .  In other words, I believe we are all pretty Biblical, with some fine points on which we disagree.  Let’s look at God’s Word together and see . . .

My Weightloss Journey This Year (Weight Watchers)

30 Jul

Idols Check

30 Jul

I John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.”

There is much teaching right now about functional idols and functional idolatry in our lives.  We are often urged to “do an idols check” to see what may be getting in the way and stopping us from utterly abandoning ourselves to our Lord in love.  What might an “idols check” look like, in practical terms?

An effective check is to see what our reaction is when we appear to be losing something or someone we cherish.  Do we fight like a wild animal to maintain our hold on that person or thing, or do we turn him/it loose just as soon as we sense God may want that to happen?  Can we hold everyone and everything in life loosely, excepting our Lord?  Anything He would need to pry from our hands in order to get it is, indeed, an idol.

Knowing full well that my heart can be an idol factory, as John Calvin once said of every human heart, I thought of an example to share.  This experience helped me discover that, thankfully, someone I feared might be an idol in my life was not.  It was a good “idols check” in a time of crisis.  And that is not to say I have never had an idol in my life, but only that, this one time, I did not . . .

The year was 2003.  It was June, getting near my birthday.  My son and husband had gone for a walk at the nearby beach.  I put a boxed pizza in for dinner, pulling it out to cool when it was ready.

Back then, we had dial-up access to the Internet.  We only had one phone line for the house (we later got a dedicated line for the computer).  I had to constantly remind myself to put the phone line back into the jack when I was done using the computer, or the computer would stop us from getting incoming phone calls.  We also didn’t yet possess cell phones.

I went on with my Saturday night preparations for our Sunday activities.  I got hungry, but didn’t really notice the time ticking away until I looked at our pizza and saw its edges were curling up into a hardened blob of cold crust.  Looking at the clock, I saw it was 9:00, three hours since my men had left for the beach.  Why were they delayed?

Suddenly I realized I had been on the computer earlier and had left it plugged into the phone jack.  Quickly switching the lines, I wondered if there had been a call, a message.

There had.  There had been about ten calls, nine from Noel and one from an ambulance attendant.  Our son Joey had been pulled out of the Chesapeake Bay in a state of drowning.  I needed to rush to Virginia Beach General Hospital and meet the ambulance there.

The last of those messages had been left over an hour ago!!!

Rushing to my car, I headed for the hospital.  Merging on to the interstate, I realized that I didn’t know whether our son was dead or alive at that moment.  I prayed for God to enable me to keep driving.  I was so uncomprehending of the situation at hand,  in so much shock, that I knew I was not capable of making that drive to the hospital through the Saturday night traffic headed for the Oceanfront.

And it was then, in my franticness, that I felt God’s presence take over for me.  I was truly overwhelmed beyond the ability to go on.  But He was not.  And, in that moment, I knew that whatever reality met me at the hospital, things would be okay.  Things were in His hands and He had not been taken by surprise.  I realized that I could even survive losing my son to drowning as long as God was with me.  It was one of the greatest fillings of His reality I ever had!  He is more real than we are, and able to sustain us in all circumstances!

As it turned out, our son was alive, but he had to be transferred to Children’s Hospital and kept overnight for observation.  He had swallowed so much seawater that his electrolyte balance was way off (a body can’t take in an unlimited amount of salt).  So even after the water was pumped out of his lungs, he still needed to get rid of the excess of salt trying to make its way into his cells.

But there was so much grace, too.  Joey had not looked like he was drowning.  He had actually appeared to be having fun in the water as his dad watched him.  But he was struggling to swim ashore, getting pulled further and further out.  When he finally tired of the struggle, he had the presence of mind to lay his arms on the water with his head in between them.  Noel and another man soon noticed he had done this.  So did a doctor in Alexander’s on the Bay, a fancy restaurant.  The doctor left his meal and plunged into the sea with my husband and the other man, getting rescue breathing started on Joey before the ambulance ever arrived for him.

God was so good to allow our son to survive.  But He would have still been good even if the unthinkable had happened.

And I learned through this painful night that God can be trusted, even with the lives of our family members.  We do so much better to trust Him instead of making our family members into idols whom we think we need to protect in the place of God.

There is actually so little in life that we control.  When we make an idol of a person or thing, we act as though we can fence that person or thing off for ourselves.  We can’t.  And we don’t know God’s ways, but we do know God.  We can trust Him with the people and things that are precious to us.

Do We Ever Set Ourselves up for Criticism, then Cry “Persecution”?

29 Jul

(This entry was written the day after Father’s Day, 2012, with my thoughts following our pastor’s sermon of the previous day.  How many other bloggers often start writing after they hear teaching by a great man of God?):

Ephesians 4:29-32 (read the whole chapter for context):  “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.  And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” 

Yesterday was Father’s Day and our pastor boldly ventured to go where few pastors go. He took the verses that teach the principles found in Ephesians 4:29-32 and applied them within the family and not just to relationships within a local body of believers.  That was a bold move.  We all know it is fairly easy to be edifying to others for a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday.  Consistently living in an edifying way within our families is quite another thing.  

Although we can all learn from this topic, Pastor directed his remarks to fathers.  At the risk of scaring off my male readers within the first three days of starting this blog, I am going to go with his topic, although teaching on corrupt communications within the home can certainly be applied to wives and children, too.

Nearly fifty-four years on this planet, thirty of them in a fundamentalist denomination, have taught me that husbands and fathers, even Christian husbands and fathers,  have been living down to Western society’s lowered expectations of them for quite some time.  The first youth pastor my son had used to say that Christianity is tumbling down a slope of immorality about thirty years behind mainstream America.  I believe he was right!

So, looking back at our verses, if corrupt communication is wrong within a local body of believers, then it is wrong within a family, correct?  And these verses define “corrupt communication,” don’t they?  They show us that it is words designed to convey bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking, rather than grace. 

Does that not bring us up short as Christians seeking to follow the Lord?  All of us, not just males?

Short pause for a caveat to be inserted:  I wish I did not have to address this.  It is important to get this on the record, however.  Although my topic is verbal communication, I can’t leave the subject of physical actions unaddressed.  Ever since Dr. Jim Berg wrote “Changed into His Image” in 1999, we have at least one fundamentalist voice on the record to say that it is never right for a Christian counselor to send a wife or child back into a home where physical violence has erupted.  We also have the secular law now holding all counselors accountable in this situation.  It is a situation where they cannot hide behind the separation of church and state.  And it is sad that it took so many decades for Christians to separate themselves out from the rest of society and take a stand against physical violence in the home.  We know that this is not just an issue in some Christian homes; it is and has been a facet of all strata of society all along.  But Christians should never have become known as those who advised wives and children who were being physically abused to “go back home and submit in a godly way until your abuser realizes that the Lord wants him to change.”  We should have been helping the victims of physical violence all along.  I just need to get that on the record before I get back to the subject of corrupt communication. 

Let’s narrow the topic down to communication between a husband and a wife.  Because I have informally counseled women for decades, I will narrow it down even more to communication from a husband to a wife that appears to be disparaging.  There are many ways that this can occur or be perceived, some more serious than others:

1)    Outright verbal abuse in which anger is expressed by name-calling and other attempts to shred the dignity and self-worth of the hearer/wife

2)    Not listening to the wife when she speaks, especially when accompanied by lots of attention to friends when they speak

3)    Listening to the wife when she speaks, but mocking her input later on

4)    Listening to the wife when she speaks, but defensively contradicting everything she says

5)    Any other subtle ways in which a man conveys to his wife that he thinks he already knows everything and doesn’t need her input

Since God teaches us throughout Scripture that a married couple is meant to be a team, with complementary strengths and weaknesses, it is obvious that any married man who claims he is complete in himself and doesn’t need his wife’s input is working against God’s design for his life and his own best interests.  If he does that publicly, he sets himself up for criticism or even ridicule.  And that leads to a very pointed question.  Can we set ourselves up for criticism by not living according to God’s design, then claim we are being persecuted when someone points that out?

We protest when television shows portray men as strutting bantam roosters who act like immature children around their wives and offspring.  We protest when those wives and children are portrayed as much wiser than the man of the house.  But . . . have Christian men perhaps given some legitimacy to this portrayal by the way they have lived within their marriages?  If there is a grain of truth to the way television portrays people, especially as Christian believers, can we call that persecution?  We often do call it that.

I cling to my pastor’s wisdom in challenging all of us, husbands and wives alike, to live out God’s command to get rid of the corrupt communication within our homes.  If men will work on this, rather than just leaving it to their wives to learn to submit in a godly way to any old impulsive words they choose to use, they will see the end of the Hollywood stereotype of the foolish husband.   They will find that wives are eager to follow the leadership of husbands who listen to them and communicate with them in grace-filled ways.

God calls all of us to grace-filled living.  Husbands, wives, and children alike can all do better at getting rid of the corrupt communication within our homes.  Let us edify those closest to us!

How We Reflect Christ By Loving One Another

29 Jul

Why Iconobaptist?

28 Jul

Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”


The theme verse for my blog reminds us that Jesus is enough.  He has always been enough.  Theologically, I could take that into the Old Testament, when the Psalms were being written, but I won’t right now.


In the Middle Ages, there were two groups in opposition, like so many times in human history.  These groups were the iconophiles, who loved pictures that illustrated the Bible (icons), and the iconoclasts, who hated such pictures and took every opportunity to tear them down in churches and break them to pieces.


The first group believed they were keeping the second commandment, about not making graven images, because they didn’t have statues in their churches like the Roman Catholics.  The second group believed that all such art broke the second commandment, whether it was statues or pictures.  Many of the second group ended up being attracted to the Muslim faith, which only allowed geometric figures in its places of worship (nothing with a face).


While we can certainly understand the confusion that reigned at the time (especially before the invention of the printing press brought the written word into the hands of the common man so he didn’t need quite so much art anymore to illustrate for him what he believed), we can also see that this created quite a division between people of faith back then. 


Ever since then, an iconoclast is someone who challenges the cherished rituals of society.


I may occasionally do something a bit along those lines in this blog, but I wish to balance that with the realization that it is usually not necessary to tear down things of beauty in my own life or anyone else’s.  The only time that may become necessary is if we realize that a created thing has become a substitute for God in our lives.  In that case, I will leave it up to you to tear down those things in your own life, as I will tear them down in mine.


Mostly I want to challenge us all to think purposefully about our faith and the things and people in our lives.     


I see several strands of our society that need to be discussed civilly.  First of all, do we have cherished rituals and traditions that we have incorporated into our Christian faith, inadvertently placing them alongside the Bible in importance without realizing they have no Biblical basis?  These may be good things, when used appropriately, but we may have given them more importance in our lives than they warrant.   


Have we, perhaps, made idols of these cherished rituals and traditions so that we can’t worship without them?  Maybe we even think they are essential to our faith, even though they are manmade rituals and traditions.


Do we perhaps think less of people who don’t hold to the same rituals and traditions as we do, even though they are only personal preferences and not Biblical commands at all?


Has all of the above led us to a place where we believe we have more control over our lives than God has actually given us?  Do we trust our rituals and traditions to regulate our lives and keep them from spinning out of control? 


Have we, perhaps, even believed our own P.R. so much that we have developed the belief that we are masters of our own universe?  Have we enthroned ourselves as gods in our own lives?


All of these things can happen to normal, God-fearing, God-loving people.  Calvin said the human heart is an idol factory.  That means that all of us make idols out of things and people around us, and maybe out of ourselves.  We want to be aware of the tendency so we can do something about it. 


In the midst of smashing the idols of our own hearts, and ridding ourselves of inner conflict, we also realize we are in churches where we worship alongside people who have different backgrounds than we do (and different idols).  That can cause conflict external to us.  One way this happens in every generation is when older people and younger people come together and use the same words to mean different things. 


This blog will try to untangle some of the communication gap between believers, too.


There is much we can do to hear the Lord Jesus Christ better.  There is much we can do to love His people better also.  Then, together, we can effectively reach a lost world. 


I want to start the dialogue because it is one that we need to have.  There are many hurt and isolated people everywhere, even in the Body of Christ.  And until we start to work through some of our issues, the hurt and isolation will remain and will perpetuate itself wherever we go.  We can’t fix this type of problem by changing churches because it is within us . . .


I look forward to dialoguing with you!


Why Another Blog?

27 Jul

Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

As the above verse points out, either Jesus is enough or He is not.  He has told us that because He is our Shepherd we have everything we need.  Either that is true and His Word is truth, or . . . we Christians might as well pack up our stuff and go home.

It is my assertion, after walking with Jesus Christ since I asked Him into my life at age 14, that the statement is true and His Word is true.  This year will mark 40 years that I have been a Christian.

I have noticed a few things that I think I can express with a unique voice.  I am a retired naval officer and a fundamentalist Baptist.  There are not many women who are both of those, let alone writers willing to tell about it!

My husband is British.  Our adult son has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning autism.  I am a breast cancer survivor.

In all of the above events of life, I have found Jesus to be enough.

I can’t wait to share stories with all of you.


The London Years

27 Jul

The London Years

In light of tonight’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics, I am taking a walk back through time . . .

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