Jeremy Sarber, Reformed Baptist pastor

 

Honest With Me

Embracing Our Arminian Friends

If you haven’t already, please read this series’ introduction.

I think we have hashed out the Landmarkism discussion long enough. Let us move on, in particular with re-baptism and Communion.

Do you not see a problem with the baptism of those who have been baptized in churches that believe an Arminian doctrine, for example, similar to that of those in Acts 19 that were baptized in John’s baptism? I mean, it would appear they were believing, or not really believing, but yet had been baptized in the same mode and method as Jesus. So what was the key difference? It wasn’t the mode; it was the belief, or as I said, the lack thereof.

So with the Arminian who believes Jesus died for all people to save everyone from their sins and to give everyone an opportunity to believe and be saved versus the true doctrine of election and predestination—do you not think there is a problem of not really believing in the real Jesus? Jesus we know didn’t come to die for everyone and give everyone an equal opportunity. He’s not a weak, beggarly Jesus who’s hoping, begging people to come be saved. He’s a conquering Savior. Those are two different Jesuses. So if you’re baptized under the former, do you not see a need to re-baptize someone under the latter true Jesus?

With closed Communion, we have always seen an intimate grouping of believers who practiced Communion together. I think the biblical accounts of Communion show very close brothers and sisters who were on the same page so to speak. They were communing with each other. Returning to the Arminian example, if you have a person who comes to take Communion with you that does not believe in the same Jesus as you do, then how can one truly commune? Do the vast differences in the views of Jesus not create a problem of communion?

I’ve been in Primitive Baptist churches my whole life. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard John 6:44 quoted: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Jesus went on to say, “They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn 6:45). Then there’s John 10 where Jesus said, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me. I give them eternal life” (Jn 10:26-28).

As many disagreements as I have with Arminianism, Arminians do not believe in a different Jesus. When sinners feel the weight of their sin for the first time, hear the message of Christ crucified and resurrected, and put their trust in him as the only possible Savior, they hear the voice of Christ. It is God himself who draws them. And they’re not necessarily converted to an Arminian creed; they’re turned to Christ from deep within their souls, regardless of the faulty doctrines they eventually learn. To say otherwise is not to reject the institutions to which they join, but to deny the authenticity of their conversions.

I agree with Charles Spurgeon who said, “Some of our Arminian friends know a great deal about the breadth of [God’s love], and can preach very sweetly upon it too, and I thank God they can, for they are the means of bringing in many converts who might not be brought in if it were not for their broad preaching.”

As critical as Spurgeon was of Arminianism, he was still willing to embrace Arminian believers as brothers in Christ. He knew that many of God’s people had begun following Jesus after hearing his voice in Arminian churches. Chances are, you have a few people in your own church who began in Arminian denominations.

Here’s an interesting exercise for you. I’ll read a brief sermon, and you tell me whether it was preached by an Arminian, Calvinist, or an Old Baptist.

Here it is:

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

“And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43)

Is that Arminian or Calvinist? The only hint of distinct Calvinism is possibly the line about being “chosen by God as witnesses.” But the ending gives the sermon an air of Arminianism: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” It’s certainly not a call-to-action you’ll hear in a Primitive Baptist church. But, of course, that sermon was preached by Peter in The Book of Acts, and it was followed by Peter commanding the people to be baptized.

Did the crowd understand the extent of God’s sovereignty or the doctrine of election? Could they have articulated all five points of the TULIP acronym? No, but they knew they were sinners in need of saving, and they knew Christ was the Savior in whom they should believe. If Peter had been an Arminian, both his sermon and the results would have likely been the same.

When Paul re-baptized those twelve men in Acts 19, the problem was not that they believed the wrong things about how a person is saved. They didn’t believe in Jesus at all which is why Paul reminded them that John’s entire ministry was about Jesus. That is why Luke makes it a point to tell us that Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus.

Look, I have some serious objections to Arminianism. And we should probably acknowledge the fact that there are many shades of Arminianism. But speaking broadly, a person sitting in an Arminian church could hear a nearly identical presentation of the gospel as the apostles once preached. And since it is God who makes them alive and draws people to himself, that person sitting in an Arminian church could genuinely believe in the true Christ and be sincerely converted.

According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, everyone who is baptized by the Spirit becomes a part of the Lord’s body. Now you may argue that Paul was referring to the universal church, not the local church. I tend to agree. So notice what he said next in that chapter:

As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. (1 Corinthians 12:18-22).

In his providence, isn’t it possible for God to use Arminian churches in the conversion of his people? I agree that Arminian doctrines fall short, sometimes crossing the line into something resembling Pelagianism. But I still believe Arminians are capable of preaching and believing what I’ll call a sufficient gospel. It may not be the full gospel. It may contain errors. Eventually, it may even lead a person to more serious errors. It may not be the most Christ-exalting, God-glorifying, theologically-accurate soteriology. But it can be sufficient for the conversion of God’s people.

I’ve known many people who first became Christians in Arminian churches. After studying the Bible awhile, they gained a better understanding of the doctrines of grace: the depth of human depravity, the essence of irresistible grace, the doctrines of election and predestination, and so on. So they began seeking local churches who shared their convictions.

It seems to me that Arminianism can be a step in one’s process of sanctification. Some believers learn the fundamentals of the gospel and discipleship in Arminian settings before growing in knowledge similar to Apollos. Keep in mind, the first disciples believed and followed Jesus for years before they even grasped the meaning of his death and resurrection.

I’m not going to throw a stumbling block in a believer’s path by demanding they be re-baptized as though baptism were little more than a local church’s initiation ritual. Christ has performed an extraordinary supernatural work in their lives. I won’t undermine that by insisting it didn’t count or wasn’t good enough.

No, I say to them, “Join us, fellow Christian. Let’s work together ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4:13-14).”

As for Communion, I have to ask myself, “On what is Christian fellowship based? How much in common do I need to have with this other person to commune with him?” Well, my mind goes to passages such as Galatians 3: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).

Our fellowship is based on Christ. The Lord’s Supper is about Christ. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Co 11:26). We don’t proclaim election in Communion. We’re not joined together by our level of theological education. We proclaim Christ and his death. We are united in Christ alone.

Let me paraphrase a metaphor I believe Spurgeon once used. He described a new believer approaching an archway. Above him were the words, “Whosoever will, may come.” So this man walks through to the other side. As far as he knows, eternal life is a free offer to everyone, and he chose to accept it. But after some time had passed, he felt compelled to turn around. And as he looked back at the archway, he noticed words on the opposite side that said, “You were chosen before the foundation of the world.”

I think that’s an experience shared by many people. In fact, it’s a biblical pattern. The apostles didn’t call unbelievers to repentance by teaching predestination. They taught subjects such as predestination to believers to give them the comfort of eternal security. So while the finer points of soteriology are vital to our growth and understanding of the gospel, a new believer won’t necessarily know them.

I think it’s a mistake to deny someone’s conversion and baptism or exclude him from our fellowship just because he’s ignorant or misguided about certain Bible doctrines. Where’s the gospel in that? Where’s the grace? Where’s the striving for unity?