LTRP Note: Over the past few months, since we released Calvinism: None Dare Call It Heresy (which caused such a firestorm), we have received many letters, phone calls, and e-mails similar to the one below. We tell you this so you do not think that what this letter is saying is just an isolated case. It isn’t. While the specific circumstances may be different in each case, the feelings of isolation, confusion, and dismay are a thread that run through many of the correspondences we have received. In spite of the loss of support and care for Lighthouse Trails since releasing this book, we still believe it is what we were supposed to do. Calvinism represents a “God” who does not want every human being to be saved and a gospel that does not believe John 3:16 that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Dear Lighthouse Trails:
The Self Proclaimed Elect. That’s what should be in neon letters on the sign of the Southern Baptist Church we currently attend in a small town. The Self Proclaimed Elect.
We moved to this small town as quintessential Yankees without having done any real homework. My spouse and I always considered ourselves devout, but “garden variety” believers in Jesus Christ, along with everyone else we’ve ever known. We joined the largest church in town, largest population in a church, and it is strongly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Half the town appears to attend this church or a few small other Baptist churches in the area.
We have now attended as members for over 4 years. The first few years, everything looked and sounded OK to us. Even the New Members class didn’t seem to have any red flags. But, the concept of “election” and “predestination” was openly taught as fact. We were confused a little by it but didn’t see why it should be of any concern. We were wrong. Way wrong.
What began to be noticed by the both of us after a while were the negative whispers from several members as to who is elect and who is not. We thought they were talking about “saved.” They weren’t. And the harsh judgmental comments always came from the same group of individuals—the top social class of the church. I grew up in a very class conscious neighborhood and admit I am sensitive to places where there seems to be a “popular kids” table at every function where no one else is welcome. I was often picked last for teams at recess and socially rejected as a kid so I am still very conscious of it as an adult. And this church had that element—on steroids. I had never seen anything like this before, and it was becoming very unnerving to be a part of it. We were already aware that rural Southern towns don’t like outsiders. But this was way beyond that. They accepted us at first—but only out of momentary curiosity. It was like we were two monkeys in a zoo cage and they just wanted to read your plaque—and then tell their kids to move along before you bit them. It was rapidly becoming very isolating and hurtful, but we figured, hey, it’s a little town in the South. That’s just the way it is.
But then the whispers about being unelect began to get aimed directly at us. Hard. After a few years, despite active involvement in the church’s various ministries, we began to get ostracized and the popular kids table became openly cold, distant, and even outright hostile towards us. And the big shock came when we were forced to realize it was coming from the top.
All I knew about this Pastor was that he was a devoted follower of John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, RC Sproul, Al Mohler, and many others. He is also a faithful attendee of the yearly T4G conference. Still, it wasn’t registering. But he was himself keeping a painful distance from us and his wife has never introduced herself to us once in the entire 5 years we have been there, even though I myself attend many of her choir rehearsals. That’s where my own red flag first went up. . . . . Yet we all still faithfully attend because he’s the most high profile Pastor at least in our surrounding counties. And he’s overall a good teacher. At least, as long as you are completely clueless as to what he’s actually saying. And we were becoming less clueless with every sermon.
That’s when we discovered the Not So Wonderful World of Calvinism. After doing months of research, I especially started to go from confused, disappointed, to now worried, and then outright scared. We were somehow now declared unelect. . . .
And, then the worst hit me: What if I really am unelect? And why would that even make sense? The Pastor teaches consistently to new members and believers that none of us know who the elect will be. . . . But how in the world does he know he even is? He can’t possibly have that assurance if he’s telling us we don’t. If Jesus died for practically no one, how can he give that pitch that he, his wife, his kids and anyone he personally likes is elect – and then warn us we might not be? I had really liked and respected this pastor. Now I was becoming terrified of him. . . . I’d sit through his sermons now hearing every Calvinist nuance he was saying. . . . I could see I was heading down that dark dangerous road of starting to believe it myself – that maybe I’m not elect since I am in doubt of the validity of their theology altogether.
All I have studied tells me clearly never to challenge their theology to their faces – especially a Senior Pastor with lifelong indoctrination into this theology. You will instantly become devastated by this. He/they will tell you that you just don’t have “ears to hear and eyes to see.” And then they’ll walk away saying to themselves with certainty, “Well, that one’s sure not elect.” So you can’t talk about it to anyone whatsoever. And, already feeling very isolated, this was starting to shake our faith altogether.
I would watch their many mission teams go away to far off places and now wondered, “What’s the point in that?” They keep saying that they are going out to “save the lost.” But they’re not. They’re going out to call out the elect before it’s too late. And the elect only. Of whom they have no idea either way. Even about themselves. This isn’t right. If Jesus died for only the elect and no one else, why would God waste His time putting him here in the first place? That makes no sense. But it seems to make perfect sense to them. Because, from the Pastor on down, they have absolute certainty they have been chosen to be saved without actually ever making the choice. And it was almost now obsessively messing with our heads.
I began to go from hoping to fit in to just keeping to myself and not wanting to talk to anyone at all. Being from a different culture, it’s easy to say the wrong thing and offend someone here in general. Now it could have lifelong consequences to be rejected this way. I would only sit with a few people I know and avoid even saying hello to anyone else. What if I say or question something and it throws up red flags to them that I am in doubt of their beliefs? How much worse would that make it for both of us?
My spouse quit going. I would make excuses for him in relation to his job. But he just quit going. And I can’t blame him. I have been as terrified to leave as to stay. If I leave, then they’ll all say, “Well, we called that one correctly. Unelect. Not one of us.” I have continued to go only out of defiance and the fact that there’s really no other place to go here without running into the same theology. So, I take in what he says that I perceive as biblical truth and throw out the rest. And that is mentally exhausting to do. And causing a lot of despair. The blatant social rejection there just reinforces to me every Sunday I walk out of the service that I should be scared I’m not saved. Or, worse, not elect. I should be doubting myself. They sure do. When the Pastor himself doesn’t speak to us or want us anywhere near his family or close inner circle, it becomes a constant mental and spiritual battle not to let this take root as a permanent choking source of deep worry. I’ve cried over this many times in frustration. And, frankly, in stark terror.
So, we’re doing the only thing that can be done. And it’s long overdue. We’re renovating our house and putting it on the market. We’re getting out. Out of this town. And maybe out of the Baptist South altogether. It’s almost embarrassing that we’re fleeing this 1,000 person church without confrontation. But I’m taking seriously the advice of other Non-Calvinists. Don’t engage. Just get out. Don’t waste your time. They’ll destroy you. And you may never recover.
I don’t know where we’ll end up from here. But I especially think I need time to heal and re-grow my faith, which has been badly shaken by this 5-year experience. I continue to read and watch non-Calvinist preachers, and it’s a great comfort for me. It’s the only way I don’t feel completely alone and the only one damaged by this teaching. The good news is that, we now know what we don’t ever want to see in a church again. Our eyes and ears are wide open. Infinitely more so than our church Pastor and members will ever know.
Thank you for listening.
Anonymous in The South
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)