If you haven’t already, please read this series’ introduction.
First off to begin the discussion I know there has been a lot of questions about your recent decision to resign as pastor of Angier Primitive Baptist Church. There were a lot of questions as to why you decided to leave, and if you were resigning from Angier or if you were leaving the Primitive Baptists altogether. Can you elaborate on that?
The answer is both.
A little over seven years ago, Angier Church wanted a full-time pastor, and I became one, devoting a significant amount of time to studying Scripture. And as you would expect, I grew in my understanding. But along the way, I also drifted from some points of Primitive Baptist orthodoxy. I came to see some things differently. My differences were over purely secondary issues—I still wholeheartedly agree with every word of Angier Church’s Articles of Faith—but I also know that a lot of people don’t treat secondary issues as secondary.
So I had a choice between pressing on as pastor of Angier Church or resigning. If I stayed, I’d have to teach what I believe is right, which became increasingly apparent would cause problems. There would likely be a division in the church. Well, according to Ephesians 4, my job as a pastor is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:12-13). How can I equip and build up the church while simultaneously disturbing its unity?
To make a long story short, I went as far as I could. Eventually, God gave me the peace I needed to resign, and I did. And once I made my decision, there was no reason to stay with the denomination. I assumed it would only lead to more contention which is needless and, worse yet, spiritually harmful to everyone involved.
So do you feel like your beliefs were in contradiction to Primitive Baptist beliefs? If so, did you feel this way all along since you were ordained, and just weren’t telling anyone? Or was this something that came later?
My disagreements came later. When I was ordained in March 2008—well, to be candid, I wasn’t ready to be ordained. You know, you read about men like Charles Spurgeon who preach eloquent sermons, teaching relatively deep theology at the age of nineteen. Well, I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t know what it really meant to be a pastor, and I only knew enough about the Bible to survive my ordination. But I did know the church’s Articles of Faith, and that was enough. And I did believe those doctrinal points. Again, I still do.
No, the differences came later as I continued to study and especially after I became a full-time pastor. If I even had views about some of these subjects early on, they didn’t change until years later. They slowly evolved over time. The more I studied the Bible, the more convinced I became about some things, and the less confident I felt about others.
Okay, well, that leads in then to the next question I would have: In what ways have you differed recently from what you used to believe? I know you’ve spoken about it some in some final sermons at Angier but what are the real differences you identify and what made you change on these things if you felt strongly enough about them, in the beginning, to be ordained in affirmation of them?
When I resigned from Angier, the deacons asked me to cite my differences, at least in broad terms. So I’ll tell you what I told them. I do not agree with (1) King James Onlyism, (2) Landmarkism, and (3) Hyper-Calvinism.
I think the first term is self-explanatory. After a considerable amount of time studying the history of Bible manuscripts and translations, I just can’t defend King James Onlyism. I can defend the King James Bible, but not King James Onlyism. I believe there are other reliable translations of the Bible into English that, frankly, are much more likely to be read and understood by contemporary readers.
As for Landmarkism, I believe Baptists borrowed the principles of Landmarkism from none other than the Roman Catholic Church. By Landmarkism, I’m talking about the way in which some believe that church authority and perpetuity are passed from one generation of ordained leaders to the next. There is a true church, and its lineage can be traced back in unbroken succession to the apostles. If a church is not part of that direct lineage, well, I guess that makes it a false church.
Now out of this issue springs others, but Landmarkism seems to be the foundation for them. Out of it comes a denominational arrogance, arbitrarily strict views on who can and cannot participate in the Lord’s Supper, and the requirement of every non-Primitive Baptist believer to get re-baptized. It may also account for the many splits and divisions that have taken place over the years. Everyone’s trying to protect the last remnant of Christ’s true church.
Finally, there’s Hyper-Calvinism which is no doubt the biggest of the three because it comes the closest to touching subjects that are actually addressed in most churches’ Articles of Faith. Plus, to deny the basic tenets of Hyper-Calvinism is to reject some of Primitive Baptists’ most beloved and distinct doctrines.
Now when you look up the definition of Hyper-Calvinism, you’ll usually see five points listed. Even though I think Primitive Baptists have their own unique brand of Hyper-Calvinism, they can still check off every one of these five points. First, Hyper-Calvinism denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear. Second, it denies that faith is the duty of every sinner. Third, it denies that the gospel makes any kind of offer to the non-elect. Fourth, it denies God’s common grace to all. And fifth, it denies that God has any sort of love or benevolence for the non-elect.
There are a few other issues that I lump into this category even though they may not technically be Hyper-Calvinist views (depending on who you ask). For instance, subjects such as faith’s role in salvation, the timing of justification, the gospel’s power or purpose, and maybe even the extent of God’s providence.
But getting back to your question, most of these topics—well, I was not even asked about these things when I was ordained, not directly. My church’s Articles of Faith didn’t address them, and neither did the ministers who ordained me. But if someone had asked me about them, I would have defended King James Onlyism. I didn’t know enough at the time to defend it, but I would have tried. And I would have upheld the principles of Landmarkism and Hyper-Calvinism as well. I doubt that I could have made strong, biblical cases for them, but they certainly fit within my understanding at the time. Keep in mind, I’ve been among the Primitive Baptists all my life. It’s all I ever knew, and I was just beginning to study the Bible in depth.
Now if you want to know what caused my views to change, honestly, it was the Bible. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have suggested that maybe I started reading the wrong books or listening to the wrong preachers as though I got misled somewhere along the way. No, that’s not what happened. In fact, for years I avoided reading anything that wasn’t written by Primitive Baptist elders. I always had questions about some of these things, but I got my answers from Scripture. I will say, however, that it was nice to later find affirmation of my views among Primitive Baptists of the past, not to mention many other Baptist and non-Baptist ministers.