Calvinism 4.0/The Sin of Sectarianism

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What I would like to do, Lord permitting, is preach a series of messages through the basic doctrines of the Reformed faith, as we understand the teaching of Scripture. This is particularly important for you if you have been attending here for many years, or if you have grown up in this church. It is of course bad to be steeped in sectarian doctrines and be full of pride over it. But it is far worse to be deeply attached to a doctrine or tradition that you actually know nothing about.

The title of this series refers to Calvinism 4.0. What is that about? The history of the Reformed faith covers one fourth of the entire history of the church, and there have naturally been developments—in my mind, each one consistent with and augmenting what went before. Calvinism 1.0 was the initial period in the 1500s, the time of Calvin’s Institutes. Calvinism 2.0 was the period of the Reformed scholastics, culminating in the Westminster Confession. Calvinism 3.0 is best represented by the fusion of American evangelicalism and the orthodoxy of Old Princeton. Calvinism 4.0 is what we are attempting here in our ministry, fully in line with what has gone before, but with a few additions that I will develop as we go.

The Text:

“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Cor. 4:6, NKJV).

Summary of the Text:

The Scriptures plainly prohibit any kind of factionalism that arises from undue loyalty to particular Bible teachers (1 Cor.3: 4, 21-22). To prohibit such attitudes is no slam against those teachers necessarily because the ones named in this section by Paul were particularly godly—two were apostles (Paul and Peter), and the other was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures (Apollos). The problem is one of conceit and pride, taking credit for something that you had actually received as a gift (1 Cor. 4:7). The fact that the problem resided in attitudes, and not in the names per se, can be seen in the fact some at Corinth were guilty of this factionalism while using the name of Christ (1 Cor. 1:12). A denomination refers to a name, and you can’t escape denominationalism through the simple expedient of calling yourself non-denominational, or “simply Christian.” It should be so easy. The fleshly heart is sneakier than that.

How Our Statement of Faith Works:

Our church has adopted the original British version of the Westminster Confession of Faith. What this means is that it represents the kind of doctrine you can expect to hear taught from the pulpit. Members of the church are not required to subscribe to it—members of the church are simply required to be Christians who are living decent and responsible Christian lives. So this means that a man who loves Jesus, and who is walking in accordance with the gospel, can join this church, even if he is a Wesleyan charismatic dispensationalist.

Not Our Table:

We practice what is called open communion. This means that anyone who visits us is welcome to partake with us, provided they have been baptized in the triune name by a Trinitarian church or individual, and provided further that they are not under lawful church discipline. This is the Lord’s Table, not ours, and so it is open to any of the Lord’s people. But this is open communion, not promiscuous communion. Vacationing Lutherans are as welcome as anyone, but we do not say the same thing about visiting meth dealers.

An Optical Illusion:

The way God created the world, it is necessary for us to live in particular communities. This means that, in a certain stipulated sense, we have to major on minors. What do I mean by this? For example, if you were to quiz me on what doctrines I believe to be very important, the doctrine of an optimistic eschatology would be in the top three. And yet a person could conceivably join our church and not find out about this emphasis for a year and a half. It might occur to him to wonder from time to time about how cheerful all these people seem to be in these Last Days, but yet still not encounter any explicit statement of it.

And what is the doctrinal importance of the songs we sing? Well, they are important also, but about seventeen things are on the list ahead of them. And yet he finds out about our music on the first Sunday with us, the second Sunday with us, and so on. It turns out the music is a different kind of important.

Beyond What Is Written:

The basic injunction that Paul gives us in our text is that we must be people of the Word. We must be in the Word, and we must live out the Word. We must not get out ahead of ourselves when we assume that “this is what the Bible must teach.” We must exegete the text, and try not to extrapolate from it. But deductions from the text (e.g. good and necessary consequence) are the text.

Churches that have defined systems of doctrine (as we most certainly do) will have temptations that correspond to what they possess. If you enroll in a math class, you will have math problems. If you are a confessional Christian, you will have confessional Christian temptations. And this why all of you need to be Bible readers. This prevents you from relying “for the gist” on the Cliff Notes provided by sermons, catechisms, or Christian books. There is a vast difference between teaching a Bible reader, as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch, and providing dashboard summaries for Christians who can’t be troubled. This is why all of you women who participated in the Bible Reading Challenge are to be commended. You are exhorted to desire the milk of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2), and while it is sometimes more convenient to get it third hand, the chances of the milk being watered down are greatly increased. This is why a lot of Christians are drinking milk that looks like water somebody cleaned their paint brushes in. Man shall not live by bread alone (Matt. 4:4).

Plausibility Structures:

When you grow up in any culture, the assumptions of that culture will naturally seem reasonable to you. This sometimes troubles Christian kids—are Hindu children, and Muslim children, and Mormon children being taught in just the same way that I am being taught, i.e. that “their religion is true”? The answer to that is yes, they quite possibly are. It is possible for Christian kids to be indoctrinated in just the same ways that other kids are indoctrinated elsewhere. This is why you must come to Christ yourself; come to His Word yourself; live by faith yourself. Christianity on cruise control is not what we are after.

Jesus is Everything:

When you grow up in a church like this one, it would be a grave mistake to think that we are simply indoctrinating you. What we are seeking to do is tell you the good news in a manner that is consistent with the message itself. You do not know yourself to be a sinner just because that was in your catechism. You know that because you read it in your heart. You can see your heart, can you not?

And when Christ is presented to you, as He is every week, you know that He is the Savior of every sinner. It is true that I am telling you this, but someone else is also telling you this. And this is the work of the Spirit of Christ, present with us now, the one who makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).