25 October, 2007

Arminian Pastor-Blogger in Hot Water

PORTLAND, ME - When Michael Saylor graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 2004, he knew that getting his first pastoral position would not be easy. Michael grew up in the PCA, and desperately wanted to remain in his home denomination. There was only one problem: Michael is a closet Arminian.

According to Rev. Saylor, "I love the PCA. That is where I was baptized, that is where I came to know the Lord, and that is where I was called to seminary. However, I just can't buy into all of the Calvinistic teachings. When I read the bible, I see a God who loves all of mankind and offers salvation to all people. God is not arbitrary or capricious. He would never override man's free will or destine anyone for Hell. All I need to look at is John 3:16 to tell me so."

Rev. Saylor was called to Lakeside PCA near Portland, Maine in early 2005. Things apparently went well for the first two years or so. TBNN has learned that during that time Rev. Saylor had the habit of preaching mostly topical sermons, pulling scripture from all over the bible. Trouble began in middle of this year when several members of the body asked Rev. Saylor if he would preach through some of Paul's writings.

"I knew I was in trouble when that happened," said Saylor. "What was I supposed to do? The people really wanted it. My difficulty is that Paul was so big on God's sovereignty in his writings. I tried to pick the least 'Reformed' Pauline epistle I could find."

The problem for Saylor is that he preached through Philemon in about one month. The church members liked it so much that they specifically requested that he next preach through Ephesians. That's when things really started to get interesting.

Lakeside member Wallace Daniels said, "We were all looking forward to Ephesians. Rev. Saylor had done such a mighty job with Philemon. But when he began preaching on Ephesians 1:1-6 it got weird in a hurry. The poor man seemed so nervous and hesitant. We were all anticipating a wonderful message about the sovereignty of God and His spiritual blessings for His adopted sons and daughters. That's not what we heard."

Several eye and ear witnesses have told TBNN the same thing. The pastor began the sermon by talking about the love of God for the whole world. Then he discussed the clause, "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world." Rev. Saylor talked for a few minutes about how the key to this clause is the words "in him." He said that what Paul was really saying was that anyone who chose God in Him (meaning in Christ), would then be elected by God to salvation. By that point in the sermon most of the church members were confused.

Wallace Daniels said, "We just couldn't follow his argument. The biblical text is so clear there that God chose us. When he said that we chose God it just didn't make any sense to us. Honestly, I don't know if we heard much more of what he preached because we were so lost."

Things went from bad to worse at Lakeside later that same week. Several members of the congregation stumbled upon Rev. Saylor's blog, entitled "Closet Arminian Pastor-Blogger." The posts mostly fell into three categories: why Arminianism is biblical, why Calvinism is not biblical, and why complete freedom of the will is so important.

Since this all occurred, in July of this year, Saylor has been "in hot water" at the church. He has apparently tried to explain to the body on repeated occasions why it doesn't really matter if he is an Arminian and they are Reformed. After all, he says, "it doesn't really affect the gospel at all."

Mrs. Francis Ralph, a Sunday School teacher at Lakeside, reported, "The pastor managed to make it through Ephesians. It was difficult for all of us. After that, he preached a few topical sermons - that was a bit of a relief. I'm not sure what will happen next. I've also heard that he shut down his blog altogether."

We have discovered a potential problem on the horizon: the body has asked Saylor to preach through Romans. No one knows what to expect next.

21 comments:

Richard Boyce said...

Here's a fair question:

Is it possible that "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world" is a reference to the Church, and not an individual?
In other words, before creation, He chose to allow certain individuals to escape certain damnation? I don't think the "hows" and "whos" of election are even touched in this passage. It merely says that God chose to save some.

Just a thought.

Elder Eric said...

Richard,

You ask a good and fair question.

Ephesians 1:3-6 has been interpreted in many different ways over the years. This is usually because people bring their preconceived conclusions to the text.

The key for all of us, obviously, is to correctly determine what Paul meant when he wrote it. The text can only have one true meaning.

In general, when we interpret scripture we need to assume that the most straightforward reading of the text is the best way to get to the author's meaning. I actually find this passage quite clear. Paul writes that God "chose" us, and that "He predestined us for adoption." The simplest and clearest reading of the text is to assume that Paul is referring to individuals.

Also, the passage doesn't say anything at all about God "allowing" anything. That is an assumption that people often bring to the text.

I was raised in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. Texts like this one were always taught through a filter of God allowing certain things to happen, such as individuals choosing Him. I believed this while growing up.

A few years ago I determined to read texts such as Eph. 1 and 2, Romans 8-11, and John 6 and 10 in as straightforward a manner as is possible. What I found shocked and bothered me at the time: God is sovereign over salvation.

I didn't like it and wrestled with it for quite a while. Eventually I came to the conclusion that if I was going to believe the bible, then I would have to believe that God controls salvation.

Do we have a responsibility to repent and believe? Yes.

Has God chosen and predestined His elect individuals to salvation? Yes.

Thanks, Eric

Richard Boyce said...

Good answer, and it is indeed a clear interpretation. I guess my question should have been, "Where in this passage do we see the basis for God's choosing?"

Both Calvinists and non-Calv's can use this verse to support their claims.

Elder Eric said...

Richard,

The basis for God's choosing is an interesting question.

Eph. 1 makes it clear that God chooses. As for the basis, I would go to Romans 9 and the subject of Jacob and Esau. God's choice of Jacob was not based on Jacob's merit, but on the sovereign good pleasure of our Lord. Some may not like this, but I think it is clear.

For those who claim that this is not fair, Paul takes that up later in chapter 9. Paul makes it clear that God (the potter) has the right to do what He wishes with His clay (individuals).

Eric

W.A. Foote said...

Here's a fair question:

Is it possible that "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world" is a reference to the Church, and not an individual?

Mr. Boyce

I with Eric do believe that the Ephesian passages are quite clear. However your question is a fair one. I would point out though, the scriptures are very clear, the body of Christ (the Church) is made up of many members to make one body. So whether you take this passage as reference to the Church (The accumulative body) or as individuals (The members of that body) you come to the same conclusion. God chose us the individual members of his Church in him before the creation/foundation of the world.

Your brother in Christ
W.A. Foote

Garbage Man said...

Man, my biggest thought was that I wish there were really a church that were clamoring for biblically sound, expository preaching instead of shallow, topical sermon. I was drooling at the thought of a congregation that would be able to follow, understand, critique and enjoy a verse-by-verse sermon on ANY book of the bible! If there were more churches like this there would be a different breed of preacher filling stadiums!

You've gone from satire-writing to fantasy. 8-)

Barrett said...

I love this site! It appears to me this post is a play on the current trend in the SBC of trying to identify "closet Calvinists" in their hiring processes. Good job flipping it around!

Joe Blackmon said...

Ok, I'm just a little on the simple minded side but this is how I keep myself from having a migrane thinking about the subject of election and God's soverignty.
In John 6:39, Jesus said "This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing". Who is doing the giving? God. In this verse, are the ones who are being given active or passive in this process? They look pretty passive. So God is 100% soverign in salvation. In the next verse, Jesus says that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life. Therefore, while man is not cooperative in salvation he is responsible. God is soverign and man is responsible. How do I reconcile those two seemingly opposite statements. I can't. But I will understand it perfectly when I get to heaven and that's good enough for me.

Darrin said...

The term "responsible" can be tricky. We are certainly responsible for our sin. But, although we must believe on Christ for salvation, we as fallen men are unable to. Yet still God's sovereign mandates are not compromised. So only He gives, to those He chooses, the ability to perform these things. It is really just a life response. (What does a light bulb "do" when you turn it on? What did Lazarus "do" when given life?) We often see God's imperative commands and confuse them to be indicative: because He requires doesn't necessarily mean we are able to perform. Thus Augustine wrote "Give what You command, and command what You will". He brings about the response to His own requirements, since only He can. Praise His holy name.

Stefan said...

This fictitious pastor sounds like Finney reincarnate.

Elder Eric said...

Garbage Man,

It's true that there are few churches that seem to want solid, biblical expository preaching. I was actually able to be a member at one while in seminary. It was quite a joy. It was also very challenging to preach there because if I missed something, my brothers would call me on it.


Barrett,

Good catch! You are right on target with that one. BTW, I'm a Calvinist and in the SBC. It's not easy.



Joe and Darrin,

I think I agree with both of you if that is possible. While I do think that man has responsibility to repent and believe, he certainly cannot do any of that apart from the gracious election of God. If God doesn't regenerate the heart, man has no chance of salvation. In fact, he wouldn't even want it.



Stefan,

Finney is one scary dude - and I'm not even talking about his looks!

Peter Kirk said...

(Eric:) This is usually because people bring their preconceived conclusions to the text.

Indeed. And among the presuppositions I bring, one which I would expect to share with you, is that the whole of the Bible, not just the letters of Paul, is the inspired Word of God, and therefore that the meaning of one part is to be understood in ways which do not contradict other parts. On this basis I am in agreement with Rev Saylor that "All I need to look at is John 3:16 to tell me" (although I could also look at 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9) that your interpretation of Ephesians 1:3 is wrong.

Chuck said...

Wallace Daniels! That's great. Has he written a Greek grammar, perchance?

Darrin said...

Eric, I'm in the SBC too! Tough lately, isn't it?
Peter, I won't try to debate you about the verses you cite. If they're not already covered on here, I'd expect they've been handled well at strangebaptistfire.com
I've probably already added too much for this post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for those verses Peter. I read down a little lower in Peter and saw what he wrote about Pauls writings too. Very interesting. I am going to go over to the strangebaptistfire.com link and see what their view on these verses are. Thank you again Peter.

Elder Eric said...

Peter,

I agree with you that the entire bible is the inspired word of God, and that it does not contradict itself at any point.

Where we obviously disagree is in interpretation of certain texts.

The verses you have mentioned are very important; therefore, I do not want to give them a brief comment here.

A few months ago I addressed John 3:16, I Timothy 2:4, and II Peter 3:9 on my personal blog. The John 3:16 post is dated June 9th. The I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9 post was written on June 15th. If you are interested in reading my interpretation of these passages, feel free to click the hyperlink under "elsewhere" entitled "Elder Eric's blog."

-EE

kentlee7 said...

So, given the potential for confusion and misunderstanding, I wonder if an Armenian would have difficulty in such a denomination?

tyoung said...

I'am a "lurker" and only read and never post but now I feel a need for answers.
My husband and I were Baptist all our lives but our church went Purpose Driven and almost went under. The whole staff quit, including my husband who was the music director. He was made to plan "blended services." We took all we could and then left. We had been treated very badly by many people, especially the pastor. We had enough of the "have a nice day" sermons.(long story). We decided to try another denomiation because Baptist churches are being corrupted little by little by Rick Warren and his cult. We found ourselves in a very small but loving Presbyterian Church. We have not joined because we still don't understand everything, especially predestination. When we first went to this church, we had an interim pastor and when she left, there were only weekly fill-ins. The church finally called a pastor last December but he has been let go. We haven't asked a lot of questions but we were told that he wasn't doing all that was expected of him, especially "behind the scenes." We didn't get a chance to ask questions about theology.
Does anyone think that God chose the whole world but the only ones that will end up spending eternity in Heaven are the ones who accepted Jesus' salvation that he bought for us? Perhaps he gave everyone a "ticket" but only some cash them in by repenting, believing, and accepting Jesus' finished work on the cross. Like I said, we would really like some answers because we are totally new to this. I haven't gone to strangebaptistfire.com yet but I will probably need a lot of time to sit and study (which I will). I hope I made a little sense here.

j young

Darrin said...

young(s),
Glad you posted. I'm not a moderator here, but perhaps Eric or one of the Slawsons will also see your post and respond.
"we had an interim pastor and when she left" - unless a misprint, the "she" would make me wonder about the biblical consistency of this church.
"Does anyone think that God chose the whole world ..." I'm not sure if some here would agree with that line of reasoning, but a number of us definitely would not, nor would historic Christian beliefs. If you haven't yet, I'd suggest doing what Eric said he did: "I determined to read texts such as Eph. 1 and 2, Romans 8-11, and John 6 and 10 in as straightforward a manner as is possible." Also Romans 5 is important to better understand our position as fallen mankind: Adam was our figurehead, and we all fell through him. One caution about the universal election mentality is, why feel led to believe that? To justify God as "fair"? Paul spends a good deal of text showing that we don't need to vindicate God. He will do as He pleases. And if He'd be just in righfully condemning us all for our sin, and if He'd be just in showing His grace by saving us all, then surely He's just in saving some, according to His own counsel alone. Just some thoughts. There are numerous good resources on the web. God bless you.

Elder Eric said...

j young,

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I don't always look back at older posts.

First, let me please say that I'm sorry you had to go through what you did at the Baptist church. It makes me sad whenever I hear things like that.

Now, I'll say up front that I am Baptist and I'm Reformed. Basically, that means that I believe that churches should have a membership of baptized believers only. I also believe that God is completely sovereign over all aspects of salvation.

We certainly have a responsibility to repent and believe, but God has ultimately chosen who will and will not believe. I did not always think this was the case. I was actually raised in a Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

However, when I read passages such as Ephesians 1-2, Romans 8-11, John 6 and 10, and I Peter 1, I could not get away from the plain meaning of the biblical text.

The bible is clear that God chose us (believers) before the foundation of the world. He did not do it because of anything He saw good in us. He did it out of His good pleasure. Because of this, He deserves all the glory.

I can't find anywhere in scripture that says that God chose us all, and then waits for us to choose Him.

If you have any other questions, please post them here. I'll keep looking back here to try to help you through this.

God bless, Eric

Jake said...

On expository preaching, I have noticed a hunger in many church bodies, but so many are split, with only a few members hungry for the Word, and not getting fed, but sticking with their church hoping thier pastor will catch on and start challenging individuals with the Word. That's my prayer.