Jeremy Sarber, Reformed Baptist pastor

 

Honest With Me

New Series: Honest With Me

Soon after leaving the Primitive Baptist Church last year, I was inundated with questions as well as loving efforts to bring me back. As much as I’ve wanted to accommodate everyone, there’s only so much time in a day.

Rehashing the same topics over and over again at length quickly became overwhelming, not to mention impractical. I’ve often referred people to the 1689 Baptist Confession as a summary of my beliefs, but some have felt that I’m merely avoiding a real conversation. Perhaps my convictions can’t survive even a light probing.

To be candid, I have wanted to expound and clarify why I left the Primitive Baptists. Not that it matters what anyone assumes, but some of the rumors have bothered me. For instance, I didn’t leave because the churches refuse to use musical instruments in worship. I do not believe in gospel regeneration. Popular Calvinist preachers such as John MacArthur or John Piper did not lead me astray. It is not the Old Baptist culture and idiosyncrasies which I oppose, though I admit that I’ve often struggled to fit the mold.

If no one else, I would love for my family and closest friends to understand why I am breaking a multi-generational family tradition. After 35 years in the Primitive Baptist Church, what could motivate me to walk away? Has the Siren song of contemporary Calvinism lured me to what I mistakenly think will be greener pastures? Was there something or someone from within that drove me out? “Please explain,” people have requested. I’ve prayerfully considered it.

Then again, I can hear the potential objections already.

“You’re just inciting division among Primitive Baptists.” Several elders have already thanked me for peacefully walking away without trying to convert others to my side. God forbid that I should ever be “one who sows discord among brothers” (Pr 6:19). But I’m not sure that being honest about my faith¬†qualifies as sowing discord.

“You’re just bitter and lashing out.” Even if I felt resentment toward anyone (which I don’t at all), I’d still say, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Php 1:18). Despite my disagreements with Primitive Baptists, I love them as much as I ever have. Plus, my endorsements outnumber my objections even if they don’t outweigh.

There is also the likelihood that any explanations I publish would spark an onslaught of debate. The questions I once received through an endless stream of texts, tweets, and emails would not cease; they’d simply become arguments instead, leaving me with another version of my original dilemma. How could I possibly answer them all? Furthermore, I neither enjoy nor am I especially good at debates, particularly online. I’ve tried countless times, and I’ve failed. Personal frustration ensues, and the body of Christ receives no edification.

Five months later, I’ve decided to publish my views anyhow with two objectives in mind, neither of which are an attempt to demean or offend anyone. First, I’ll express what I believe in contrast to what Primitive Baptists believe. While comparisons are necessary, my focus will be on articulating my interpretations of Scripture. Secondarily, I’ll give a voice to those who share my concerns and conclusions. My goal is not to persuade anyone to change their minds, but to help those who already agree with my positions.

Several weeks ago, I asked a Primitive Baptist elder to interview me. He could ask any questions he wanted, and I would answer them as thoroughly as possible. I welcomed counterpoints and follow-up questions. While I would do most of the talking, he would direct the conversation and set the pace, allowing me to vicariously discuss relevant subjects with every interested member of the Primitive Baptist Church. He agreed. (This elder will remain anonymous.)

Throughout a series I’m calling, Honest With Me, you will read our entire conversation minus small talk and other unrelated topics. Otherwise, our discussion remains unedited except some formatting (his words are in bold, italics are used for emphasis, and Bible references are included).

I am publishing this series in digestible installments that will never exceed 4,000 words each. It is an approach that at least my email subscribers can appreciate. (Perhaps even a few thousand words is too many for a single email.) But it also allows people to make pointed comments. Let me explain.

The comments section beneath each post will be open to those who have questions, remarks, or even rebuttals. If a post were 50,000+ words, however, it would be difficult for readers to make comments about specific parts of the conversation. Dividing the series into shorter posts should minimize confusion and better organize ensuing discussions.

My intention behind public comments is not to provoke an ongoing debate with me for reasons I’ve already stated. In fact, at the risk of appearing rude, I will be quite selective when making personal replies. For the most part, I consider the conversation I’m publishing my final words on the matter. But in the spirit of fairness, those who wish to express dissenting viewpoints will have a forum. I only ask that everyone remain civil.

Update (May 2017): I’ve enabled Facebook’s commenting system which means some of the previously posted comments are not displayed.

To my family and friends, I pray this series will answer all of your questions. I also pray that God will give you understanding hearts. Chances are, we’ll still disagree, but that’s okay. My convictions are not your convictions, and I don’t expect them to be. Right or wrong, years of study and slow transformation led me to where I am today. I love you.

To all of my Primitive Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ, please do not be offended. I love and respect the Primitive Baptist Church. Let us disagree but never fight nor slander. Let us go our separate ways but never cease to be kind. Let us always pray for one another. Remember that we’ll eventually worship together again in perfect unity around the throne of God.

To everyone else, know that my commentary does not reflect every church under the Primitive Baptist label. Inevitably, I make generalizations that are filtered through my personal experiences and perspectives.

May “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:21).