I am a Calvinist. The fact is though if you are on our churches website or know our church in any way then you kind of could put the hints together. Being a Calvinist is controversial. The most common question I get is not: “what do Calvinists believe?” No one really ever says: “Can you explain to me how, why and when you became a Calvinist?” None of those are questions that are asked rather I get asked more times than not:" “Why are you following John Calvin?” and to be honest, at times I have been guilty maybe not of following John Calvin, because I had never read his works until years after I became a Calvinist, but I have followed this subculture in Christianity called the Reformed movement.
Reformed theology is not anything new. I actually find it rather interesting that the people who claim it’s new never really quote or read authors from the past yet when I meet other Reformed folks all I hear is how they are reading St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan. All who are reformed. Reformed theology has been around for a very long time and it has deep roots not only in the Southern Baptist Convention but also in the United States. When I came to reformed theology it was not because of men though. I noticed Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Lecrae, John Piper but these guys never idolized reformed theology so there was no persuasion from these men to join the movement. Instead I came to reformed theology by reading my Bible and being convinced of these truths called the Doctrines of Grace and it was not until later that I found out what I believed was what is now called Calvinism.
The danger though for me came as I found myself waving the reformed flag as if truth and reformed theology were the same thing. They are not and this is the point in addressing the question of “why are you following John Calvin?” I am not, but I have idolized and I was wrong like I think many Calvinists/reformed people are.
What’s the Issue?
Currently I have started reading through 1 Corinthians. This is a book I always look forward to reading yet when I come to it I often am overwhelmed by what is contained in the words Paul gives. Early on though in the beginning of this epistle Paul addresses an issue that the church of Corinth is obviously struggling with so bad that Paul has not even had to come to see it himself but rather sister Chloe’s people has reported back to Paul about the idolatry running rampant in this church.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
It seems that according to what Paul says in these few verses that the church of Corinth has became divisive over who they are following. Tribes are being set up in the church, not in the way of a denomination necessarily but rather by pitting Christians leaders against each other and creating teams like in a elementary school game of dodgeball. The battle is not being had of “what we believe” but instead “who do we want to be our leader?” This is sad, one because its happening here and has to be addressed but also because in many of our churches today and in the evangelical world we do this exact thing.
We read the command in Exodus 20:4 that says: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
The issue comes in though when we think we have not made an idol out of our leaders in our churches just because they do not look like a statue or we do not pray to them. This is why the way we look at idolatry in the west is all wrong. We idolize everyday in every single second. We worship constantly, that's what we were made for. It’s a natural trait about us. The question comes in though: “what are we worshipping? Who do we follow?” The answer for a lot of us is we get sidetracked. We start off good and fall off into chasing after the approval of man. We become more concerned about whether others think we are doing right than whether God thinks we are doing right. We chase after the affections and affirmation of leaders in our churches and communities but we forget that loving God is costly and it comes with disapproval by your superiors and peers, maybe not all the time but a lot of the time.
We are like the church in Corinth are we not? They according to Paul’s address to them were putting Paul against Christ against Cephas yet we put John Piper up against Carl Lentz up against Joel McDurmon. This is not acceptable. We have missed the mark. In fact, we do not just put Christian leaders against each other instead we are exactly like the church in Corinth many times and put Billy Graham, Albert Mohler, T.D. Jakes all in one up against Christ. We may not say it verbally but I have been in those situations where the text clearly says: “do this a certain way or do not do this a certain way” and a Christian brother will aruge with me about how a Christian leader has said to do something different than what Christ through his word has told us. This is shameful. Especially for reformed folks of whom I am one of. I have committed this sin of trying to please the Reformed brothers and sisters instead of aiming to please God.
How do I combat this sin I am in?
When I found myself aiming to please the reformed brand I came to that realization by writing in my journal and getting thoughts out of my head. If you are like me then your brain is complex, ignorant, wise but also very confusing and so a practice has to be made to go through the check list of your brain. Journaling helped me realize my sin with this because I would have to write what I did that day and maybe I got into an argument with someone else or maybe I was just arguing with myself in my head where I was fighting my flesh. I know what was right according to the word but I kept saying to myself; “But R.C. Sproul does not believe this or do this.” When I caught myself trying to figure out what Christian leaders were doing instead of what God was wanting me to do that was when I could say to myself: “Hey, you are in sin and something needs to change.”
Talking to our Father is another thing. There is a moment in the gospels where the disciples are completely distracted with their own ambitions. They have idolized themselves and are vocal about their desires to Jesus. It was not all the disciples, just James and John, but if we are honest with ourselves I am sure we have all struggled with a similar desire that James and John had.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
James and John talked to Jesus about their desires and goals. The issue became not that they had idolized a brand or a leader but rather themselves. They literally were trying to place themselves on the throne room of heaven and told God about it. Some would say James and John were dumb for speaking about it but I would take a different position beause what they did in this moment was confess how they were actually feeling. They showed their cards to Jesus and then Jesus was able to correct them and make a teaching moment out of this situation. This is so crucial to fighting not only the sin of idolatry but any sin.
When you find yourself idolizing a leader or a brand or a movement, stop and think for a second. Then reflect on who you are and what these desires you have are. After that talk to Jesus about these desires you have. Ask Jesus to search your heart for error and clean it out. Ask for conviction of your sin and for passion and strength to chase after what is actually God’s will for you. You are gonna want God to not only clean you out but also to fill you back up with something more satisfying than other’s approval.
Some Needed encouragement to Reformed People
Loving the work of studying theology is okay. Theology is the study of God and Christians should all be studying who God is. That does not always mean you have to read Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology but sometimes it helps, that’s okay. I would highly encoourage every Christian I meet to study the Bible intensively. If you love God why would you not want to know more about him and if you are like me and have a hard time processing and learning directly from the Scriptures. Try picking up a good book. Books written by Christians about theology is merely a tool to help. It is not something at all to be idolized or put on some sort of pedastool but just a tool to better equip you. The fact is, I am not the smartest guy out there and so God has blessed me with the ability to learn from the brothers and sisters in the faith who know more than me. This a good thing.
When it comes to how we look at the reformed brand or reformed leaders remember they are broken sinful people who do not always get it right. Their systems can be flawed at times and that’s why committing to any theological movement is dangerous because ultimately that movement will mess up eventually. The question becomes: “will you own up to it or continue to blindly follow it?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Leaders, teachers, speakers, authors, musicians, lay leaders, any one who you have submitted to the teaching of is merely a servant of God and nothing more. The servant is not greater than the master yet we time and time again fall into this sin of believing Abraham is God. That John Piper is Christ. John Piper did not save a single person from Hell. Billy Graham in all his great revivals was merely a vessel used by God. Every good work from these men and women are actually the work of the Spirit. No matter how extraordinary Francis Chan is, he is still just clay in the masters hands still being molded into who he was called to be. Remember who these leaders are. They are not your saviors, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ, committed to and created to make much of Christ in every area of life. They are servants just like you. PhD’s only live so long. They can only hide their sin for so long. Eventually when you raise these men higher than they ought to be raised, you will be devasted when you see them fall on their knees before the father because these men and women know that they have to bow down to someone greater than themselves. These leaders are not perfect, they mess up, they fail and one day they will be forgotten about. New better leaders will replace them so hanging on to every word as if it is Scripture is so dangerous. Stop yourself if you are in this sin of idolatry. Figure out which beliefs you have that are rooted in the Scriptures and which beliefs you have that are rooted in the words of man. And once you do that, start over with the beliefs you had to get rid of. It is okay, it is not too late and remember that even though these leaders fail, Christ never will. You can put all hope and trust in Him and know without a shadow of a doubt that his word never falls short.
By: Austin Neil Gregory