Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Are "seeker" churches semi-Pelagian?

In thinking about "seeker sensitive" churches, it seems to me that they would be best described as semi-Pelagian in the fullest, original sense. Sometimes people who consider themselves "Calvinist" in some sense throw around terms like "semi-Pelagian" simply meaning "synergistic" (as opposed to monergistic). I suppose most know what they mean when they use the term: but it's probably better to use terms according to their widely-accepted definition rather than a private definition which your listener may or may not share.

So let's Define Our Terms! I am using "semi-Pelagianism" to mean what I believe is the original definition: that it is necessary for humans to make the first step toward God and then God will complete salvation. I think you can make a scale of "Christian" beliefs about soteriology as follows. Note that I am using these terms for the purpose of classification only: I generally avoid using terms in direct reference to people because it's not profitable. I am also not using these terms pejoratively, but rather descriptively. I am not saying a semi-Pelagian person or even a Pelagian is "good" or "bad." I may reject them as holding a non-Biblical theology, but I am not making a value judgment on the people involved. Many of them are probably better and holier than me.
  • Pelagianism: It's up to us to want to follow God and save ourselves. This is generally considered non-Christian, being rejected by virtually all church fathers and the church since. Since they completely reject God's sovereignty, they would obviously reject all five points of Calvinism.
  • Semi-Pelagianism: We take the first step towards God, and then God saves us. This is probably on the border of what would classically be called "Christian." They would probably also reject the five points.
  • Arminianism: God takes the first step to save us, then we have to accept (once and on a continuing basis for the rest of our lives) salvation. This is common in many types of churches, including Methodist and Nazarene. They accept God's sovereignty, but still reject all five points of Calvinism.
  • Semi-Arminianism (my term): God takes all the steps to save us except the last one, the actual exercise of faith, which we have to do ourselves. This is common in "fundamentalist" churches such as the southern Baptists, but also many non-denominational churches and seminaries. They often call themselves "two-", "three-", or "four-point" Calvinists, generally rejecting Limited Atonement.
  • Semi-Calvinism (my term): Similar to semi-Arminianism, except they generally accept Limited Atonement and divine election. However, they reject Irresistible Grace, the idea being that God elects us, but He gives us the free will to reject Him. They might typically call them four-point Calvinists. I have seen a number of these in Calvary Chapel.
  • Calvinism/monergism: Accept God's sovereignty in everything, and thus all five points of Calvinism. I fall into this category.
  • Hyper-Calvinism: Really a misnomer, because they do not follow Calvinistic/monergistic ideas, chief among them being that man has a real will and is thus responsible for his own sin. Rather, they have a fatalistic view of God. God elects us (or not), and we have absolutely nothing to do with it, no will of our own; thus no guilt for our own sin.
So, let's consider where "seeker" churches fit on this scale. Their whole purpose and method is to attract people's wills, to make themselves attractive to people. People's wills (they hope) will be turned to God. Once they get people to stay for enough services and perhaps take some classes, God's spirit will finally work on the people's hearts and convert them. I contend that this is semi-Pelagianism in a pretty pure form. People make their own decision to stay because of the cool music or "relevant" preaching, and eventually they get close enough to where God can save them.

Again, I am not saying that I am holier or better than these preachers, nor that I care about the lost more than they do. However, I would say that their methods are unbiblical, and simply do not work if the goal is to "make disciples of all nations." They may fill the churches; they may give help people live happier lives; they may be better for people than if they hung around in bars. (Same idea as the biker bar in my town that has a sign on the window that says Better Here Than Across the Street, referring to the courthouse across the street.)

But I contend that they do not truly convert men's hearts. Only the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God, can do that.


Anonymous said...

You are so right on every point.
The crux of the whole thing is that only God regenerates a heart...His timing, His choice, His everything.
We supply the gospel preaching, we trust Him for the rest.

This view is the only view that doesn't demean God and make Him into something less than He is, in my book.

Michael said...

i think ephesians 2:4-5 are clear as to what our part is in the process.

Marc said...

It sounds like you would condemn any form of persuasive evangelism or attractive contemporary gatherings on the grounds that these are human events, giving humans the glory and only God saves.

But these things are not mutually exclusive. God works and only He can save but he works through people and events just as much as privately and directly. Whether the leaders then try to steal the glory is really a separate issue.

Take unconditional election and total depravity and you've got no reason to evangelise. If you throw in the absence of free will you don't even have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Marc, thanks for commenting. I suggest that you read some other posts here. I have no doubt that you honestly believe that unconditional election + total depravity would eliminate any reason for evangelism.

But this is exactly the conclusion that I argue is false in a number of other posts here. "Calvinists don't evangelize" is a good starting place. "Arminians don't evangelize" is a good article for comparing your own philosophy and understanding why we are all in the same boat, whether we believe in unconditional election or the ol' "Corridor of Time."

You are exactly the kind of person that I am writing (hopefully will finish some day!) my series on the five points of Calvinism. There is so much misunderstanding of them rife among Arminians, Catholics, and all other synergists, that I felt compelled to do my small part in clearing it up. You can judge whether I succeed or not. That is, if you are willing to reconsider the truth of your philosophy and see how it squares up against the Bible.