Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 2, 2006


Pastors face issues that seminary training does not cover


          Seminaries train pastors to serve churches. Some are good at it; some are not. But no matter how good seminaries are, they will be under fire until judgment day. That is because there are “liberals” and “conservatives” in every church and they love a good fight.

          Lately I have heard about several churches splitting over the issue of Calvinism. People loved the pastor – until they found out he was a Calvinist. Having no stomach for such heresy, they voted the pastor out. Be on your way, Bubba; we will have none of that nonsense in our pulpit.

          If they had asked me about it, I would have encouraged them to be patient. God has a way of curing pastors of bad theology. Given some time, the pastor might have had a change of heart. Most of the folks who run preachers off have holes in their theology too. Nobody is perfect although I have known several zealous parishioners who were pretty sure they were.

          Instead of firing a pastor whose theology has caused people to think, why not rejoice, search the scriptures for the truth, and give thanks to God for a pastor who can be understood. Many pastors, trying to please everybody, wind up preaching ambiguous pablum that offends nobody. I remember hearing one pastor preach about patriotism and I was not sure whether he was for it or against it.

          Many Methodists have no clue what Calvinism is, so the enemy must resort to other issues to disrupt the Methodists. Years ago Methodists were familiar with Calvinism. They had bitter debates, contending that Armenianism was true and Calvinism wrong.

          So what is Armenianism? It all started with a man named Jacobus Armenius. He challenged the absolutism of Calvinism, insisting that men could indeed resist God’s offer of grace. Calvinists believed God’s grace to be irresistible. Armenius said no, a man could refuse God’s offer of grace and as a result be eternally lost.

          The primary issue is over predestination; is it absolute or conditional? Calvinists say God has decreed from all eternity that some will be saved and others damned. Forget free will. If you are on God’s list, you are in; if you are not on his list, there is nothing you can do about it. Armenius disagreed. He died in 1609.

          Over a hundred years later John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, took up the gauntlet from Armenius and embraced his theology. Christ died for all men and all men have a free will to believe in Christ and be saved or to reject him and be lost. His preaching stirred a revival fire across England as thousands chose to accept salvation by receiving Christ as Savior. Interestingly, Wesley’s Methodist Magazine was first named The Armenian Magazine.

          Church members do like to argue – if not over theology then over property or how the pastor should part his hair. Pastors can become exasperated; no matter what they recommend, some folks will oppose it. One of my trustees once told me, without a smile, that as long as he was on the board there would never be a unanimous vote about anything.

          During a season of controversy over property in one church I served, I struggled with the stress of criticism dumped on my by some of my faithful church members. A good friend in another church rescued me with a kind letter of encouragement. He gave me the key to a winning attitude.

          The key was an Arab proverb I had never heard: “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.” From the moment I read that, I had the freedom to weather the storm. I let the dogs bark but their barking no longer bothered me. I moved on with the caravan.

          Seminaries do not prepare pastors to deal with the barking dogs. Most of us have to learn that lesson the hard way. But if we learn it, then we are able to stare down the snarling dogs that can be worse than the barking kind. 

          Shepherds have always had to contend with dogs. Perhaps that is why God provides them with a crook so they can defend his sheep – until he comes to divide them from the goats. + + + +