Calvinism On The Sly?

The fact of the matter is, Calvinistic Pastors are infiltrating unsuspecting Arminian or Semi-Arminian churches. They know that there is every likelihood that the typical church holds to unlimited atonement and would be shocked to hear of someone believing otherwise. Yet they don’t divulge the fact that they believe in limited atonement when talking things over with the pulpit committee.

This is not ethical.

This comment was made by Rev. James M. Leonard in the comment section of his post entitled Churches Beware! Calvinism on the Sly! His blog is Arminian Baptist.  In the post, Rev. Leonard makes the case that Pastors who hold the reformed position are being dishonest about their beliefs and trying to secretly teach them to the congregations who hired them.  In some cases this may be happening (probably very few cases actually) but you can’t say that it is happening in all cases.  He cites an example of a church where he was employed as interim music director and their new pastor.

The average Southern Baptist Church has less that 100 in membership.  There is usually only one elder (the Pastor).  There is usually not any other member who has any theological training.  The search committee, which comes from the leadership and congregation, will not know what questions to ask to determine what the Pastor believes and will teach.  If they have some questions, from some outside source, to ask the prospective Pastor they will most likely not understand the answers he will give them.  This may be a more damaging alternative than not asking any theological questions at all.

Rev. Leonard says that churches should protect themselves by asking various questions to the prospective Pastors during the interview process.  I agree with this.  He also says that churches should require a covenant from the Pastor that he will not teach anything contrary to what the congregation believes.  Here are his own words:

Moreover, congregations should protect themselves by requiring a new pastor to enter into a covenantal agreement that would require a resignation if the pastor’s theology were to change significantly during the course of the pastorate. This should apply to any theological issue, not just Calvinism and Arminianism.

This sounds good on the surface but upon further examination there are several problems with this proposal.  First, God is the head of the church and He chooses to lead through the Pastor not the congregation.  So it is the Pastor, being submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who decides what is to be taught and when and how in the church.  The congregation’s job is to test what the Pastor is teaching by the Word of God.  If the Pastor is teaching something that is contrary to God’s Word, then they, through the other church leaders, are to call him back into a correct relationship to God and God’s Word in his teaching.

Second, we must remember that Pastor’s are human and can be in error in some area as to what the Bible teaches.  If that is the case and the Pastor becomes convinced that his prior understanding of some doctrine or topic was in error then he is compelled to change his thinking and teach from his new understanding.  This suggestion would require the Pastor to resign in a case like this.

Lastly, who is to be the decision makers as to what a significant change is?  In most SBC churches, the congregation is not learned in theological issues, let alone, what would qualify as a significant change.  With this being the case, we could be on a very slippery slope.

Now, having said all that I want to say that, in general, I agree with the premise of Rev. Leonard’s post.  Pastors should not be teaching something secretly.  If they have to teach something secretly then there are larger issues in that church that need to be addressed.  Also, it calls into questions the Pastor’s integrity and motives.  This is not a position any Pastor wants to find himself.  Ultimately, the Pastor must be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to his understanding of the doctrines of the Bible.  If he does that, God will be glorified and the kingdom will be expanded.


22 Responses to Calvinism On The Sly?

  1. Robert says:

    Hmmmm….. Interesting. My comment does not fully follow your article. Instead of theological issues, my thoughts are more to do with the administrative duties of a pastor. Ya’ see, I’m a bit torn between believing that a pastor is the “administrative leader” of a church or that he is an employee of the church. One or the other, but probably a bit of both ?

    As an employee, his duties are to
    a) preach
    b) shepherd the flock
    c) be a spiritual leader
    d) other duties which I know I’m forgetting

    As the “administrative leader”, his duties are to basically run the church & make decisions. I am leaning away from this position & believe more in the “employee” viewpoint.

    Yeah, I’m rambling a bit, but would like your thoughts on this.



  2. Douglas K. Adu-Boahen says:

    It would seems as Rev. Leonard’s comments make Calvinists out to be these subverters who take over churches like [pardon the expression] underground Communists. While I agree that a pastor should NEVER teach something on the downlow, but he should also be faithful to the Spirit of God in his doctrine


  3. Tom says:


    I think if you look at the duties of elders (pastors) as described in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 you will see that he has to do both…he has to be an “employee” and an “administrative leader”. With that said, I think his primary role has to be preaching and praying. Everything else will come secondary to that.


  4. Tom says:


    That does appear to be the tone of his post…that is the way I read it anyway.


  5. poopemerges says:

    What if God convicts him? What if the spirit moves? I think a pastor should be free to teach the scriptures without being bound to system…that said as a Baptist and a Calvinist, is our Arminian friend aware that limited atonement is the last doctrine that most Calvinist are going to get worked up about? That last thing we are going to stake our claim on and the last thing we would “sneak in ” to teach? We are much more enthused by the glory of God and the centrality of that to all of life.


  6. Able says:

    You said…

    “Ultimately, the Pastor must be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to his understanding of the doctrines of the Bible. If he does that, God will be glorified and the kingdom will be expanded.”

    If he does that… who needs God?
    Faithful to what doctrines?
    Go ask a congregation what doctrines a pastor should be faithful to.
    Then ask the same people again the next week. Their answers will be different.

    Listen, men make mistakes and lets face it men put other men on pedistals and the only thing that will happen is they will fall. And the cycle goes on and on.
    God uses idiots to accomplish his will wicked unethical idiots.
    The pastor that has the same theological position 20 years from when he starts is dead in his spiritual life, has no friends, influences, or he has read way to many Joel Osteen books.
    Pastors are not professionals.
    People look for things other than God from behind the pulpit when they have replaced their bibles with church constitutions, hymnals, denominational creeds and fox news.

    God is glorified and the kingdom is expanded when He moves hearts and opens eyes and he uses pretty unorthodox ways to do that according to the scriptures.

    Truth is the more God moves the worse it can be for genuine God loving pastors.

    Some thoughts from a pastor


  7. mookda says:


    Of course people still need God. But God has placed their pastor over them as a spiritual authority and as a teacher. Therefore, I believe that God will give pastors wisdom in advising people, and that people should seriously consider the advice of their pastor.

    What about Paul? Did he change his theological position later in life? I should hope not. There is nothing wrong with believing the same things theologically throughout one’s life. Some people have been given very strong convictions on certain issues, and I think it would be wrong of them to go against those convictions unless God is changing those convictions.

    I would also like to ask, what did you mean by this statement: “Truth is the more God moves the worse it can be for genuine God loving pastors.”?


  8. Tom says:


    As I have thought about your question some more I need to clarify my answer a bit. In most SBC churches we have only one elder…the pastor. Often, in these churches, the deacons function as elders and I think this is wrong.

    I think that SBC churches should have multiple elders. I have come to this conclusion over the past year of so. You would still have 1 senior pastor who is the head of the church and other elders (paid or volunteer) who work with him in leading the church. These other elders would allow the senior pastor to focus on prayer and preaching and they could focus on the administrative tasks.

    One office, elder, but divided duties would be possible that way and more could be done and possible more efficiently and effectively as well.

    What do you think?


  9. Tom says:

    Able said

    The pastor that has the same theological position 20 years from when he starts is dead in his spiritual life, has no friends, influences, or he has read way to many Joel Osteen books.

    Truth never changes. God does not change. The only way a Pastor should change his theological position is if he is convicted by God that he held the wrong theological position. If he has the correct position as defined by God in the Bible then there is no reason to change it.

    Go ask a congregation what doctrines a pastor should be faithful to. Then ask the same people again the next week. Their answers will be different.

    A pastor should only ask God what doctrines he should be faithful to. Again, God does not change, His revelation to us does not change. A pastor is to seek God’s will and teach his congregation accordingly.


  10. As a Baptist, and as one who affirms historic Baptist congregationalism, I reject the notion that the Pastor is the one who mediates from God what the theological position of the church should be.

    Many churches have their own theological treatises, and have covenanted by them for perhaps generations. In many cases, these churches have long, historic associations with neighbouring congregations with whom they engage in cooperative ministry based around mutually agreed theological affirmations.

    In such cases, he should not take a church with hopes or designs to persuade the congregation to his way of thinking.

    Moreover, it is not ethical for a pastor to present himself for candidacy when he disagrees with the church’s statement of faith.

    Furthermore, if he changes his mind about his theology so that it is in conflict with the church’s statement of faith, he should do the honourable thing and resign.

    Calvinists should be explicit about their theology when candidating for Arminian and semi-Arminian churches, and not mute the peculiarities of their theological system, such as limited atonement and unconditional election.

    If it’s any consolation to our Calvinist brethren, I would insist the same thing for Arminians. But because of the reality of the predominance of Arminian or semi-Arminian churches, combined with the Calvinist resurgence, the scenario of a newly graduated Calvinistic pastor from Southern Seminary candidating at an semi-Arminian SBC is much more likely than a graduate of Free Will Baptist Bible College candidating at a PCA church!


  11. Sallie says:

    You said: There is usually not any other member who has any theological training.”

    This is true in many instances but it also seems that there are many young folks who just aren’t taking a Pastor’s word for it anymore and seeking out the Truth in God’s word to be sure for himself. So, even if there isn’t anyone with any theological training within the congregation, it has been my experience in our many churches (moved because we are a military family) that there are MANY who have sound doctrinal training and are always studying to learn more.

    God bless,


  12. disableme says:

    mookda you said…

    What about Paul? Did he change his theological position later in

    The comparison here between Paul and pastors today is a little questionable in regards to what I was trying to express. I think we are a little more like Apollos and timothy than Paul. If we look at Apollos we see a good example.

    I would also like to ask, what did you mean by this statement: “
    Truth is the more God moves the worse it can be for genuine God
    loving pastors.”?

    Look at what happened to Jonathan Edwards at his church he was kicked out over communion.

    In Him


  13. disableme says:

    I think something was lost in translation here I was not saying you should ask the congregation.

    I was making the point that people are fickle and forgetfully and as a mob they can be hurtful and ignorantly dogmatic.

    Tom the truth is today most people have TV, Radio and Internet Pastor and competing with them can be very difficult.

    I was not intending to say anything other than the relationships between pastors and congregations are very complex in some many circumstances.

    Again read about what happened to Jonathan Edwards after the great awakening it is very interesting.

    Thanks for the discourse Tom
    God Bless You


  14. disableme says:

    Great post
    although I am not congregationalist in my view of church polity you are clear and correct about pastor needing to be upfront. The sad truth is many churches small churches accept pastor with a honeymoon mentality and when it wears off watch out… i don’t care what you believe. They like about him seems to be the something that becomes a problem. LOL



  15. Robert says:

    First, note that my thoughts are based on my experience with the Southern Baptist Church. This may not apply to other denominations. Guess it comes down to the authority to make decisions. Ultimately, it is the body of believers that make up a church who make decisions in the church. Maybe we could call it a representative democracy since, in effect, the deacons are elected. For large decisions, the church body votes directly. Cool so far?

    You say that you disagree with deacons acting as elders. I read the passages which you listed, which did a fine job of defining the qualifications and duties of elders. From your entry above, it sounds like one could use the terms “deacon” and “elder” interchangeably.
    You said, “….elders who work with him in leading the church. These other elders would allow the senior pastor to focus on prayer and preaching and they could focus on the administrative tasks.” That seems like a perfect definition of the roll of deacons.
    Do you currently see deacons better serving an administrative roll or a spiritual leadership position? So now we need to define deacon and elder & what is the difference between the two.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, I feel that a body of deacons should have the authority to over-rule a pastor’s decisions. As I understand it, this is the way it is in SBC, although the pastor does have a lot of influence (as he should).

    Hope I haven’t totally tried to hi-jack your initial thread, but this is interesting to me.



  16. Tom says:


    Pastor, elder, overseer, and bishop are different names for the same office. Deacon is a separate office in the church. Pastors / elders are to preach, teach, and rule in the congregation. Deacons are to minister to the body. Deacons are not to rule they are servant leaders.

    In most SBC churches the deacons do function as elders meaning they help the pastor rule but this is not their duty as described in the bible. If the pastor leads or teaches things that are unbiblical then, in the absence of other elders, it is up to the deacons to correct him and if he resists then to bring him before the congregation to be removed.

    In my understanding (and I could be wrong) the biblical model of church government should congregational with multiple elder rule. Deacons should be heading up ministry of and to the members. I do not mean that the congregation makes all decisions and I do not mean the elders rule without any oversight. Day to day decisions should be made by the elders and all the big decisions would be brought to the congregation.

    I hope I have been clear enough, if not, let me know and I will try again.


  17. What Br. Leonard is addressing is subterfuge. If a pastor with Calvinistic leanings decides to integrate his systematic view over time while knowing his positions are opposed to the theological perspectives of the church he is pastoring, he is simply dishonest. The General Baptist doctrines being opposed by Calvinists are not compatible with those of the pastor who is not being forthright with his congregation. To subtly introduce Calvinist teachings while offering the pretense of being in agreement with the church statement of faith or doctrinal stance should be cause for resignation.

    To be fair, I am speaking as an Arminian who regards this practice as little more than what our Pentecostal friends call “sheep stealing” (at least that is where I have heard the term). Is it not more forthright and Christlike to bear your doctrines outwardly and be known for what you teach and believe?

    Blessings in Christ

    A.M. Mallett


  18. Tom says:

    A.M. Mallet,

    I agree that if a pastor takes a job under false pretenses that he is being dishonest and worthy of dismissal by the church. On the other hand, a pastor who is not specifically asked theological questions can not and should not be held liable for teaching what he feels the Lord is guiding him to teach.

    If a pastor comes to a church and then finds that the congregation has been taught a false doctrine, should he not be allowed to teach the correct doctrine in order to bring his flock into a correct understanding of the Bible. No matter what that doctrine is or how long the congregation has believed it. Should he be forced to resign or fired if, in his understanding, the congregation is wrong? I believe that one of the pastor’s duties should be to find any false doctrines in the congregation in which he serves and through teaching correct the doctrine.


  19. Tandy says:

    I reaad the referenced article and I just have one question. Since he brought up ethics in ministry I’m wondering if knows this applies to him as well. It is reasonable to assume that as an interim music minister that he was made aware that his position called for him to directly answer to the pastor and most if not all of his job duties would be directed by the pastor. That is, the pastor was over him as a matter of church polity and over him scripturally. 1 Thess. 5: 11-13, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

    When the interim minister of music lost respect for the “pastor x” and when he could no longer esteem him in love, did he do the ethically right thing and resign for the peace of the church. Or, did he work behind the scene or maybe openly to have pastor x rejected which is contrary to this verse?

    An Interim minister of music who secretly wanted to be the pastor or though he was smarter or more qualified to lead should come clean and not be the pastor “on the sly.” And now he is coverning up his unbiblical behavior by calling his motives into question. Kind of like I just did here to show him how it feels.

    The only other thing I would say is I wonder if he ever considered that God put this minister where He wanted him? And perhaps he was fighting against God rather than man? But since he has such a diminished view of God’s sovereignty that would not likely ever occur to him.


  20. david scott says:

    To Tandy, you are missing several crucial points:

    1. The music minister was hired to do a duty and did not enter into any subterfuge in that regard. So why should he resign? The issue at hand here is dishonesty.

    2. Who are you to assume that he has a “diminished” view of God’s sovereignty? Is that your professional assessment? Based upon what? The fact that a Reformed Pastor is lying about being….reformed?

    3.A music minister simply discerning such subterfuge does not constitute “insubordination” but rather “discernment”. Did he say he openly challenged the Pastor’s right to preach, or did he simply point out the dishonesty?

    4. What scripture do you use for God “placing” somebody as Pastor in a church from Paul’s letters? God has instituted the role of Bishop as an overseer but there is no scriptural basis for being “called”, much less to a specific church. Paul only mentions the qualifications necessary including the desire to lead, being apt to teach, and being a responsible husband and father. That’s it.

    5. Losing respect for the pastor in question in this case was the personal conviction of the music minister. This does not require him to quit his job. Quite the opposite. His job is to affirm the theological statement of the church, not to uphold an impostor.


  21. Calvinism on the sly happens often enough that Christians should worry about it. Here’s just another email we received at the Society of Evangelical Arminians:

    Our daughter in law came to faith a little over a year ago. We had a new young pastor who has begun introducing Calvinist teachings slowly but surely into his sermons at the church we attend. We did not leave the church immediately at that time because we wanted to spare our daughter in law from the sometimes acrimonious debates that arise in the church and nurture her faith. We were wrong. The Church has split. She was indoctrinated into Calvinism at the Bible studies for young people. She is a hard core Calvinist at this time. We have agreed to examine the issue openly from both sides in our home. She will not attend the first church but we agreed to look for a church to attend together while we discuss the issue. The young pastor has already tried to contact her. We need help to prepare. We have never prepared a defense before on such areas as Romans 9. We can defend ourselves but perhaps not as well as we need to. What is our best resource to read and prepare.


    • Tom Shelton says:


      Since we don’t know anything about the church mentioned in the email or what they asked the pastor before they hired him how can you assume dishonesty on the pastor’s part. I know dishonesty was not mentioned in the email but it is implied by the tone of the email. It is also implied, or assumed, that a Reformed (Calvinistic, if you prefer) understanding Scripture is not a valid understanding. The fact that we don’t agree with an interpretation does not automatically mean it is wrong or invalid. Also, the “indoctrination” claim is meaningless. Both sides could make that claim of anyone teaching a perspective other than their own.

      The question should be was she taught the Bible in these Bible studies? If so, and if someone disagrees with what she was taught, they should present their understanding to her and let her weigh them based on what the Scriptures say. Then she can make a decision as to which she thinks bests fits what is taught in Scripture.

      These continual accusations of dishonesty on the part of pastors have played out. It is time people who disagree with their pastor to get in God’s word and challenge him on the issue in question. If he is wrong they may be able to correct him. If it is a secondary issue they need to be understanding that others may come to different positions. These differences should not stop us from the main focus of the church as given to us by Jesus in the Great Commission.


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