My On Again/Off Again Relationship with John

I have a on and off again relationship with John. John Calvin, that is. When I was little, I went to an Evangelical, non-denominational church. It was in tiny Homer, Alaska where there weren’t enough people to create a church for everyone’s denominational background, so we all gathered together: former Mennonites, Presbyterians, Brethren, Baptists, Assembly of God, Reformed, Pentecostal and the newly converted.
Both my parents grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church/Christian Reformed Church and met in church when my father’s family immigrated to a predominantly Dutch community in the San Joaquin Valley of California where my mother was born and raised. My ancestors as far back as the 1700, with the exception of one family of Mennonites, were baptized, married, and buried in the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Dutch Reformed Church began in the 1570’s and grew out of the Reformation as its name implies and along with other country’s Calvinist churches, such as other Reformed Churches, Presbyterian (Scotland), Puritans (England/USA), and Huguenots (France), followed the teachings of John Calvin. These churches are known for their order, practicality, committees and emphasis on education, social justice and reform, hospitality, and generosity. They are considered “main stream” churches.
When my parents moved to Homer and began attending the non-denominational church, they were searching for a church that felt more alive and less boring. The community church was definitely not boring! With people from such varied backgrounds, living a frontier type existence, faith became very real and important to survival. Conversions, baptisms, testimonies, miracles and basic Bible teaching were all a part of Sunday services.
Our Pastor was Arminian and while the individual members of our church had a variety of beliefs regarding eternal security, what was preached every Sunday from the pulpit was a salvation based on faith, but sustained through right living and the emphasis was on us being horrible sinners and God was just waiting for us to screw up so he could punish us so I was never quite being secure in my faith.
While I was taught that Catholics believed that works saved them and we as Protestants believed in faith, the reality of living every day was quite different (also later on I learned that Catholics believe faith and grace save them too, but that is a different topic all together). I was a nervous, shy, perfectionist child prone to worry and obsess about death, the end times, and hell. Perhaps if I had a carefree or wild personality, a reality check about my own sinful nature and the awesome holiness of God would have been helpful, but instead, I was constantly worried that I was “falling away”, “lukewarm and God was going to “spew me out of his mouth”, or that that one sin I committed was the last straw and I was no longer “saved”. When I was very young, I would say a “sinner’s prayer” nearly every night, thinking of all the awful things I had done during the day and worried that I was no longer saved. I firmly believed in the idea that while “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separated us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)” that somehow I could separate myself from his love by my actions and choices.
As I grew older, this fear matured into a fear of making the wrong decision regarding the future and getting so far off the “plan God had for me” that I could never get on the right path again. I worried that God had a plan and that I would make the wrong choice (like become a journalist instead of a psychologist or marry the wrong person on accident and move to Spokane instead of Portland) and I would seriously screw things up for God. This also showed a belief that God was hiding his will and would punish me based on whether or not I was smart enough to figure it out instead of a loving parent who either makes their will made known explicitly or allows their child freedom in their choices as long as they are not destructive to them.
On the flip side of this was a certain arrogance that is common in some Christian circles that somehow we were better than other people. After all, we had enough faith or intelligence to believe in Jesus and be saved. We picked the right answer and chose the right religion, while others out there had heard and rejected it because they were more sinful, stupid, stubborn, doubting etc. Why else would someone reject the gospel unless there was something wrong with them and why would we choose it unless there was something right with us?
These ideas all changed for me when I took a class on Romans at my Presbyterian College, Whitworth. The professor, Professor Gore, took us through each passage of Romans showing us how we were sinners first, how God was Holy, how we are all condemned, how God chose Abraham, he chose Isaac before he was born or had done anything good or evil (Romans 9:10), and how it is God’s sovereign will to show grace and mercy to his chosen (Romans 9:14-18). God’s plan was still stressed in this Calvinist theory, but instead of being up to humans that may screw things up, God instead was orchestrating Her plan of love to the world and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it. Dr. Sittser, another beloved professor, told us a story on how he was offered two good opportunities and he worried over both of them so much because he didn’t know what God’s plan for him was. His wife then told him that his fear over choosing the wrong opportunity was more detrimental to him, his relationship to others and his relationship to God than looking at both options intelligently, praying about it, choosing one and walking with the confidence that no matter how it turned out, that choice had been God’s plan because it occurred.
Though I initially struggled against this theology, eventually I saw the benefits in my own life. I could live my life trusting in God instead of myself. I know I screw up all the time. I know that God does not and if He is in control, I can trust that She is working all things together for good for them that love God (Romans 8:28) and “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). Also, the belief of God in control relieves my constant fear and worry and “fear not” is one of the most often written commands in the Bible.
I will go more into the actual history, Biblical support, and problems with Calvinism in the coming weeks, but one of the most pressing problems with the idea that God is in complete control, is that then God is responsible for all the evil in the world, whether it be natural disasters, sickness, death, or from the choices other humans make to hurt, abuse, and betray each other. It also creates automatons that cannot choose to love each other or God, but do so because God wills it. What is most frightening for me though is the trend I see to use Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism to defend abusers, sexism, and homophobia in the name of God.
While I now attend a Wesleyan church and live with three decidedly Arminian people, I still fall back on some Calvinistic beliefs while completely rejecting others. I am looking forward to the exploration, respectful discussion (remembering that both Arminianism and Calvinism can be supported through scripture) and enlightenment that the coming weeks will hold.

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2 thoughts on “My On Again/Off Again Relationship with John

  1. Wow so interesting!! I am excited to keep reading your thoughts and view of researching ect. On this wonderful subject ! Loving the she and her you put on the spin of God I don’t know if it was by accident or not but was a great idea to all of us were imperfectly perfect and God will be in each of our own views either female or male as of it even matters not sure please let me know if it was an accident cause it really made me think a lot about how God is to each of us different . For him to be just waiting to punish us view is horrible I too struggled with this and even married horrible men twice because I was told how awful my din was to be living together , I choose to make my own mistakes Its my choice to have faith that God will give me eyes to see a mans heart and personality ect, and to never be blind again to a persons soul. Love you and your weekly writing they are so awesome

    Sent from my iPhone

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