A Hope Dashed
Picking up from the last post, 2007 was the year I really began to embrace the intellectual side of Christianity. For far too many people, even the idea of an “intellectual side” sounds like the death of vital, vibrant, Spirit-led Christianity. Many Christians see the intellectual pursuits of doctrine as divisive, often citing the warning to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:3-5
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (ESV).
The Christian life is meant to be a marriage of spirit and truth, of piety and knowledge, of joy and sobriety. Many strains of Christianity end up dry as deserts, lost in pits of books, disputes, and dissensions, while others end up drunk on emotionalism, rejecting the pursuit of knowledge, and susceptible to every wind of doctrine which whips along.
But for me in 2007, the flood of new doctrinal insight I received through studying Calvinism was a flood of information laced with deep pockets of joy. Up to this point, I had been rather a-doctrinal, more so focused on just reading and understanding all the parts of Scripture, yet without a conscious interpretational grid (hermeneutic).
As of 2007, a radical new chapter was written in my spiritual autobiography, overflowing with the fires of joy and zeal for the knowledge of God. With the combination of Paul Washer, John Piper, James White (and more), we the young guys at Koinonia Church were exploding with excitement for all we were learning.
And yet Koinonia Church, although having dropped affiliation with Calvary Chapel, was still through and through an Arminian, charismatic stronghold. The top leaders of CC have often denounced Calvinism in their preaching, in books, and in public media. The fact that nearly a dozen young men (including the youth pastor who is the pastor’s son) were converting to Calvinism set off a general alarm at Koinonia.
Like I mentioned in the previous post, Pastor Ray was also preaching Calvinistic sermons at this time, declaring boldly the sovereignty of God in salvation. The associate pastor even preached a Calvinistic sermon from 1 Peter 1, which both shocked and delighted the young men in the church. We felt the revolution had arrived, and the time was right to begin explicitly teaching and discipling the church in the doctrines of grace. How wrong we were.
The hammer dropped first on the young men who taught the youth of the church. We had been teaching TULIP and the doctrines of grace to the high schoolers, also preaching radical holiness a la Leonard Ravenhill, Paul Washer, and other pietistic pastors. The Koinonia elders wanted to put an end to this new direction in the youth ministry, so they sat down with the Calvinistic guys and asked them to tone it down, and to just stick to the way things had been done.
Without knowing all the details of what went on behind the scenes, it became apparent that the other elders around Pastor Ray were not on board with his new Calvinistic preaching, nor with the Calvinistic discipling going on from us young men. In a short time, by the end of 2007, more than half of us had left Koinonia.
In my case, I actually asked the associate pastor if I could speak to him in his office on a Tuesday afternoon. I had a seat, and began relating my concerns. I told him that I was one of the Calvinists, but that I loved our church and did not want to cause any trouble. I thought he was going to talk me through my concerns, his concerns, and the best way forward for our church. Instead, he bluntly replied: “maybe you should find a new church,” and that was it. His cell phone rang right then, and he asked me to step out of his office so he could take his call, telling me “I really have nothing more to say about this.” Shocked, I walked outside, feeling for the first time in my Christian life a massive disillusionment with the Church catholic.
Pastors are supposed to pastor, right?
Elder brothers in the Lord are supposed to search the Scriptures, changing old errors in their thinking, guiding the young men, right?
Elders aren’t supposed to be politicians, just worried about maintaining status quo, right?
Right, but that wasn’t what happened when the rubber hit the road.
Koinonia Church had an opportunity in 2007 to embrace an improved, stronger ecclesial identity, to become something more catholic, stronger in the Scriptures, and humbled in the Lord. Instead, the elders quietly opened the back doors for us young men and shut them behind us.
We were shattered, we were scattered.
Several young men took their families to Grace Baptist Church, which is a hardcore 1689 Calvinistic Puritan church. At GBC, they observe every rule in the Puritan book: no musical instruments in singing, mandatory church attendance with requirement to call ahead if going to be absent; long, fiery sermons on the importance of keeping the commandments of the Lord, and so forth. While I love and admire the pastor of that church, I never once attended a service, having worried that a form of Reformed legalism was operating there—and looking back, I was right. Nearly every family that went from Koinonia to GBC ended up dried out, burnt out, and dropped out of church life. Some of my dearest friends from ten years ago are today completely out of church life, having tried to live up to the law keeping of the Reformed Baptist denomination. (What I now know to be the results of Pietism, being one reason I no longer feed on Paul Washer’s teaching. I will talk at length about Pietism in future posts. Here is an old post from a time when I was coming out of that thinking).
As the years have unfolded, I have learned of a long history of spiritual harm among the Reformed Baptist churches in Rochester, NY. I personally know Christians and know of dozens of families who suffered severe spiritual harm from the legalism and cult of personality present in so many of those churches.
We were scattered, our unity shattered.
The bulk of the rest of us went to the Evangelical Church of Fairport, a Calvinistic, New Covenant Theology church. I will have an entire post dedicated to my experience at ECF, but let me just say I am thankful I ended up there rather than in a Reformed Baptist church like GBC. The discipleship I received at ECF buoyed my Christian life in such a strong way that to this day I am walking with the Lord because of those brothers and sisters.
But looking back at what happened in 2007, I believed I had found the white-hot center of the Church catholic. Koinonia and Calvinism seemed to be the golden pair; if our pastor was to be a Calvinist, we could build a strong, new church for the future of all the young people in attendance. We could far outgrow the CC past, leaving behind the weaknesses of charismaticism, Arminianism, and the excluding of membership. We could preach holiness, we could pursue a better eschatology than the standard premillennial dispensationalism of CC, and we would all worship together for 50 years, so it seemed.
And it was an illusion. The pastor yielded to the status quo of the elders, gave up moving in a Calvinistic direction, and let all of us leave, including his son.
What I began to learn from Gospel Light Bible Baptist Church and Koinonia was that many evangelical Christians hate Calvinism, and fight it with bared teeth. In most cases, they are fighting a caricature; it is rare to find an Arminian who can give a fair, accurate definition of the doctrines of grace. I began to learn that Christianity is all about accurately defining doctrine, debating over disagreements, and defending the truth from all-pervasive error.
By 2009, I was fully immersed in the discipline of apologetics, and have only grown more oriented to the apologetic angle of the faith ever since. What I learned in and through that time was that error and heresy, weak leadership, compromise, and division are far more prevalent in the Church than are truth and orthodoxy, strong, humble leadership, backbone, or unity.
In other words, my exit from Koinonia until this day has been a long season of growing disillusionment with the Church catholic… though not hopelessness or despair, necessarily.
The last ten years have been filled with learning to walk forward with Christ when it seems so much of what He promised isn’t manifesting the way I was sure it would.
My boat was adrift again, and Koinonia had been a “false positive” in my search for the Church catholic.