A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

A Primer on Reformed Theology – And How it Relates to the Subject of Abuse

I was raised, for the most part, in Independent Bible churches and in Conservative Baptist churches. Bible churches are typically not part of a formal denomination, though they may be members of some kind of fellowship of churches. Some Baptist churches are independent while others belong to a denomination such as the Conservative Baptist Churches of America or Southern Baptist Convention. Both Bible churches and Baptist churches share the same commitment to the self-governance of the local church. There is no denominational hierarchy such as a presbytery in the Presbyterian denominations.

But generally there is still another distinction between Bible or Baptist churches and Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist churches, and that difference concerns theology. Generally you will find that independent Bible churches or Baptist churches embrace a “Bible only” theology. That is to say, they usually do not have a particular, historic, confession of faith such as the Westminster or London or Savoy Confessions. They hold to a normally brief statement of faith to be found in their church constitution. I suppose this distrust of the confessions may have grown out of the battle between liberalism and fundamentalism in the early half of the 20th century.

The confessions of faith that grew out of the Protestant Reformation set forth a theology known as Reformed Theology. In contrast, many Bible churches and Baptist churches adhere to what we can call dispensational theology.  Not all of them. But probably the majority. You might call dispensational theology “Left Behind” theology because it is the system embraced by the pre-tribulational rapture, Left Behind book and film series.

Hang on. I promise this has a direct bearing on the subject of abuse.

I am a Reformed Baptist pastor. My confession of faith is the London Confession that was published by English Calvinistic Baptists in about 1689. It really is the Westminster Confession of Faith (the confession of the Presbyterian church) with just a few Baptist “tweaks.” It specifies believers’ baptism, for example, rather than infant baptism. So I embrace Reformed Theology. I did not always. I was trained in dispensational theology, although the irony is, I didn’t know that I was for a long time! I went to Multnomah School of the Bible, then to Multnomah Biblical Seminary (Portland, Oregon) because I wanted to study the Bible. But the background of that school is the dispensational theology of Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas (Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Waalvord, etc). It was only in later years of my pastoral ministry that, as I preached a detailed sermon series through Romans that I realized the deficiencies of dispensational theology and came to understand that Reformed Theology was and is a more biblically accurate theological interpretation of the Bible.

Let me list just a few points at which I believe Reformed Theology is more biblical than the dispensational system:

1) Dispensational theology separates God’s program of salvation for earthly, national Israel from his program for the Church. To be sure, dispensationalists vary widely among themselves, so it is hard to make generalizations. But historic dispensationalists taught that there are two programs of salvation. One for national Israel (the Law) and one for the Church (Grace). God’s primary program is for national Israel, for the Jews, while His plan of salvation for the Gentiles (the Church) was a kind of after thought once the Jews rejected Christ.

2)  Reformed theology understands that God has one plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. That there is only one Israel and that is the Church. We are all sons of Abraham by faith, we all are circumcised (in the heart) by faith, every Christian is a Jew by faith, there is only one tree in Romans 11 and that is the Church.  We do believe that one day there will be a great revival among the Jews (see Romans 9-11), but the result will be that those believing Jews, as always, will be grafted into the one tree — the Church, just like every other Christian.

3) Reformed theology believes that there is still a role for the Law in the life of the Christian today. While we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone through God’s grace alone, the resulting work of the Spirit in regenerating the Christian is to write the Law of God upon our heart. The Christian therefore loves God’s Law and obeys it (though imperfectly) because he/she loves the Law he once hated. Our obedience to the Law is not to earn merit before God (that has already been accomplished by Christ), but for the glory of God whom we now love. So while the Christian is not “under the law” as a covenant that defines his relationship with God (we are in the New Covenant which is of faith, not works), the Law is still applicable to us. This means that every Christian will evidence the fruit of obedience to the Lord, and anyone who professes to be a Christian but who walks in disobedience habitually and without repentance, is a liar. They do not know Christ.

4) Dispensational theology on the other hand has no place of the Law in the Church. They would accuse Reformed folks of being legalists here. And herein is the root of what has been termed “The Lordship Salvation Controversy” we heard so much about back in the mid 1980’s. To his credit, John MacArthur Jr (a dispensationalist) took up his pen and opposed the antinomianism (anti-Law) teaching that was coming primarily out of Dallas Theological Seminary. That teaching said that repentance was not part of the gospel because it is a work. Therefore, to preach faith and repentance for salvation is to preach faith plus works, a message that the dispensationalists claim is a false gospel and anathema.  A person, they claimed, is saved only by believing in Christ and that even if a person never bowed their knee in obedience to Christ as Lord, nevertheless they can know Him as Savior and thus they are a Christian!  No kidding!  That is what those guys were writing in their books (The Hungry Inherit, by Zane Hodges or So Great Salvation by Charles Ryrie). They said that a person can be a Christian, but not be a disciple. Everyone who believes in Christ is a Christian and saved, but not everyone is a disciple who obeys Christ as Lord. Why?  Because there can be NO Law at all allowed in the New Testament in the thinking of the dispensationalist.

Do you begin to see how this applies to all the troubles abuse victims suffer at the hands of their churches?

You see, the evangelical church was largely taken over by dispensational theology. Still is, though there is a resurgence of Reformed theology now. And understand, dispensational theology is a newborn. It did not come into existence until the latter half of the 1800’s. Reformed theology is the original. Dispensational theology is the newbie. But the latter is what most Christians today seem to believe.

So let’s get down to the application. If a person can be a Christian yet never obey the Lordship of Jesus Christ, never show any outward fruit of being saved, then we no longer have any means of evaluating a person’s claim to Christ. And that means that abuse victims are going to be guilted and shamed if they dare imply that their “Christian” abuser is no Christian at all! On the other hand, Reformed theology says in agreement with the Apostle John, “If a man says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.” Reformed theology says that a REAL change occurs when we are saved.  That we REALLY are given a new heart. That we REALLY are made into a new creation. Not just “judicially or positionally in God’s eyes” but REALLY! And if that change is not evident, then we have every right to judge that a person is not a Christian.

Reformed theology, you see, (yes – call it Calvinism) is the abuse victim’s friend. Are there Reformed churches that handle abuse cases horribly? Absolutely. But that is not because of the theology they claim to embrace. It is because they do not understand either abuse or their own doctrine!

25 Comments

  1. I believe in Reformed Baptist theology. Absolutely. But even though my church embraced it on all points theologically, they could not carry it out on a practical basis. They handled the situation of my husband’s abuse to me horribly. I ended up leaving that particular church about 6 weeks ago.

    • Jeff Crippen

      jennibear- I hear you, and I know exactly what you mean. Enabling abuse and not aiding victims is totally contrary to God’s Word and to genuine reformed doctrine. It is a failure to apply God’s truths to real life situations. If we, for example, say we hold to the doctrine of the total depravity of man, then we of all people should understand the evil of the abuser and not stand aghast at what a victim is telling us he has been doing. If we believe that salvation is only by faith only in Christ and that His saving grace is powerful and irresistible and works a radical new creation work in the sinner, then we aren’t going to be duped by abusers who claim they are Christians. So unfortunately some reformed Christians are not reformed in practice. As you say, they could not carry it out on a practical basis. And that means that their theology was false. Why? Because truth that is not applied is not truth, it is not sound doctrine. God’s truth always screams for our obedience to it.

  2. This is probably why me and my family have all left the dispensational branches and are now in a Reformed church. #1 was the issues surrounding salvation and predestination, and #2 is this business of believing that wicked evil men in the church are “saved”.

    My mom said that when she studied Calvinism some missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place for — for instance, she could never understand Jacob and Esau until she grasped what it meant when God said He hated Esau even before Esau was born. (before Esau was even able to sin)

    We may not tow the party line in every minor doctrine of the Reformed tradition – but we have been edified by the Reformed church, and we can more easily say that we are truly free, truly saved with no fear of losing our salvation, and that wicked men are NOT saved. Amen!

  3. IamMyBeloved's

    This is where I am confused. Referring to number 3, Some of the Reformed churches are now actually trying to re-institute the Law (Re-constructionists) and are wanting to go back to the Law, even establishing it as the Law in this country, where children would be put to death for disrespecting their parents. This is not Christ either. Of course, all who are not saved, are under the Law and will be judged at the end, but as Christians, we are not. So, this is confusing, to see this happening.

    Referring to number 4, I heard this same kind of teaching in the Reformed church! Everyone who just makes a profession, gets baptized and joins a church, is a Christian (federal vision), regardless of fruit unto repentance or not. In other words, as long as you say you are saved or claim Christ, you can abuse your family and do whatever you please and lie your head off the whole time, and still claim Christ. That is just too confusing to me, but I heard it in the reformed circle I was in.

    • Jeff Crippen

      IamMyBeloved’s – Your observations of those errors is correct. Reconstructionism is a distortion an I say run from it! You will see this kind of thing in the Doug Philips/Vision Forum circles. Reformed understanding of the moral Law of God (the 10 commandments) is exactly what Paul teaches about it in, for example, Romans and Galatians. The Law is NOT the covenant the Christian is under. We are in the New Covenant which is of faith, not works. We obey it not for earning merit with God but because we love Him and we love His Word. But these reconstructionist types come along and they want to establish a theocracy, and in doing so I believe they are violating Jesus’ command here–

      Mat 13:27-30 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ (28) He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ (29) But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. (30) Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

      In other words, we are NOT to set up some new Inquisition and start killing people we deem to be unbelievers!

      And then your second point about the distortion (I believe it is heretical) that says that every person who has been baptized (even as an infant) IS a Christian and IS in the church. That is the false teaching that you experienced and it is bad news for many reasons, one of which is that as you say it pronounces even a wicked person to be a Christian. Such “churches” have no right to continue to claim that they adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, though they would go ballistic if they heard me say that.

      So no matter what church we go to or what books we read, we MUST carefully compare with the Word of God. Just because a church claims it is reformed or Bible-believing does not mean that it is.

      • IamMyBeloved's

        Exactly. Which is why as believers, we ourselves must know and be able to stand before God, alone. The Word says that the Spirit was sent Who would teach us all things. While I was encouraged not to trust my “heart” or the Spirit leading me, but to trust the leadership themselves, this is error. I should have listened to my “heart”, which is new and which has the Law of God written on it, which is transformed and changed, because of the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ, and not listened to any of those people who would have me deny the witness of the Spirit in me. They misuse those verses in Scripture, to keep us bound to men. I think this is a problem. I see people who know all these doctrines and things “about” God, but they do not “know God” and this is why they condemn us to lives of abuse. They know what the Word says, and they understand it through knowledge, not through a heart that has been changed and softened by God. In the beginning we were told to leave the tree of knowledge alone. Not that we are not to have knowledge about what is good and what is evil, but that we would not pursue knowledge, but instead eternal life and intimacy with Christ.

      • Jeff Crippen

        IamMyBeloved’s — Now that’s good stuff!

      • Oh goodness! This is exactly the kind of thinking that we encountered in the ARP church we used to attend. When I tried to tell them about how our eldest daughter rejected Christ after having been “saved” in another churcb, the pastor’s wife said” well was she baptized? ” I’m like…well yeah but so what? Her response was more less that I didn’t really need to worry because she belonged to Christ and would eventually be worked out. I knew this was false and was so frustrated. This was the same reaction I got from the other camp. They figured if she had walked the aisle then she was saved no matter what ouher behavior or beliefs were. The end result was that nobody prays for her because both sides are convinced that she belongs to Christ.

    • wanting to go back to the Law, even establishing it as the Law in this country, where children would be put to death for disrespecting their parents

      So basically, Vision Forum and their ilk would like us to be like Islam. Honor killings, but in disguise of obeying the OT laws.
      This is why the world points to Islam and Christianity and says there is no difference. Because there are people who want the US to be more like Saudi Arabia, but with Jesus as the figurehead rather than Mohammed.

      Thankfully they seem to be a tiny minority in the overall scheme of things, but that is creepy. Because who do they really want to be in power? Why themselves, of course. Because who else could be trusted to run things properly? /snark

  4. Forrest

    IamMyBeloved’s
    You get it! It is always about our personal relationship with Jesus and an understanding of God’s Word. So many labels can be confusing but regardless of the label a “church” uses or what they say they believe, there is still the possibility of Spiritual abuse. Individual pastors may be better able than others to deal with abuse. The key to understanding this is to recognise that the real Church comprises every real believer whereas the “churches” comprise sheep and wolves. It is important to get behind the public statement of beliefs to what they really think and this will be found by looking at their actions rather than their statement of faith. Jeff was right when he stated that there are many different views within the “isms”. For this reason, it is almost impossible to generalise. Supporting one “ism” against another may be more damaging if all you look at is the surface without getting behind it. The best protection I know is to read the bible and test everything you hear against the whole Counsel of God.

  5. Unlike Jeff C, my early church experiences were in churches which were not particularly dispensational. The main doctrines I learned in my early years in church were Arminianism, WordFaith teaching (common in Pentecostalism) and pre-trib eschatology. I was not taught all that dispensational stuff about Israel having a special place different from the church, but Arminians definitely taught me that I should to have nothing to do with Calvinism! I’d never even heard of Reformed Theology at that stage, I’d only heard that dangerous C word — “Calvinism”.

    When I later went to a Presbyterian church (akin to the PCA in America) I gradually learned about Reformed theology, and I took it on board it easily because it lined up with my personal experience. During my conversion God had impressed on me many of the teaching of Reformed theology like total depravity, predestination, irresistible grace, effectual calling and how Christians are to relate to law — the moral code — in that it is written on our hearts and we are called to obey the Law of Christ from gratitude and love for him, not to earn merit with God to obtain our salvation. I did not know the proper theological terms for any of those ideas in my early years as a convert; I only knew those things from revelation by the Spirit and from reading the Word. Right from the beginning of my conversion, I knew Jesus as my Lord. So when the Reformed Theology of salvation was preached in the Presbyterian church, my spirit assented joyfully because it fitted perfectly with my experience.

    And when I later learned there were such things as Reformed Baptists who believed baptism is just for believers, I knew I was a reformed baptist because the infant baptism thing had never sat right with me in Presbyterianism. It was only some time after I’d met Jeff Crippen that I learned there were Reformed Baptist Confessions (like the London Confession). All I’d heard about in Presbyterian circles was the Westminster Confession.

    I guess I’m recounting this just to point out that people can come to Reformed Theology by different tracks.

    And I also want to mention that at ACFJ we do not expect all our readers to agree with Reformed Theology. We know our readers come from many different theological streams, and that’s okay so long as we are all evangelicals.

    Knowing Jesus, knowing Christ personally, is the bottom line, and that’s where we meet. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Brenda R

    This is a topic that I wanted to hear about, not having any knowledge of Calvinism, Arminian, Confessions in the church where I was raised and saved in. We were encouraged not to listen to Christian radio because of all of the differences in doctrine.

    I believe there is a pre-tribulation rapture, that repentance and faith In Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I don’t believe repentance is a work, but is necessary to the knowledge of Jesus. We are given a new heart at the time of salvation and the Spirit continues to change us deeper as our personal communion with Christ takes hold and we ask Him to fill the broken places in our hearts.

    I believe that Jews can become Christians by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as all can, but I have trouble with Christians becoming Jews by faith. Jews did not then and do not now believe Jesus is/was the Messiah. That would go against my faith in Christ and the Living God. I would happily rejoice in anyone from any heritage putting their light on the candlestick as my brother or sister in Christ.

    Abuse abounds in all religious circles. I believe that is because there are so many with head knowledge but no heart knowledge. I believe Barb has it right. Knowing Jesus, knowing Christ personally, is the bottom line, and that’s where we meet. Our differences in doctrine shouldn’t cause us division, as long as we know the only true way to find God.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Brenda – Right on. That is the real foundation, right? Jesus Christ as the only Way, Truth, and Life.

    • just one point to clarify and make sure we don’t offend anyone unnecessarily:

      There are people who are ethnically Jews who have come to faith in Christ. The modern term for those people is Messianic Jews, and there are Messianic Jewish congregations in various parts of world including Australia and the USA. And of course, in the book of Acts, many thousands of Jews came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.

      • Brenda R

        Another area which I have never heard of and had no intentions of offending anyone. I know that people from various beliefs come to know Christ including Jews. I was under the impression they would leave the Jewish faith and join a Christian church.

      • Some converted Jews do join churches where the majority of people are not ethnically Jews. But some join Messianic Jewish congregations. It’s a personal choice.

      • And I have heard Jews who converted to Christ say things like, “I have not given up my Jewishness. Rather, now that I know the Messiah personally, I am a fulfilled Jew. I don’t try to practise Rabbinic Judaism any more because I know now that Jesus has done it all, he is The Prophet that Moses said would come. I am still a Jew by ethnicity, but my religion is that I believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah and He is my Lord and Saviour.”

        And of course, there have also been ethnic Jews who were non-practising (did not attend synagogue etc.) and from that place of secular Jewishness have become converted to Christ.

      • Brenda R

        I have lived a very sheltered life. I don’t even know anyone who is Jewish. So little I know.

  7. IamMyBeloved’s wrote:

    “The Word says that the Spirit was sent Who would teach us all things. While I was encouraged not to trust my “heart” or the Spirit leading me, but to trust the leadership themselves, this is error. I should have listened to my “heart”, which is new and which has the Law of God written on it, which is transformed and changed, because of the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ, and not listened to any of those people who would have me deny the witness of the Spirit in me.”

    Bingo. The Spirit is our Teacher, but sadly some church leaders forgot this and attempt to take the Spirit’s position in our lives violating our consciences. In some Reformed churches, for example, to get a divorce, one must seek “permission” from the elders…as if they really know what goes on behind closed doors and can make this decision for the victim. Seeking advice from elders is one thing, but permission? Each one of us will stand before God (not elders) one day for our decisions and choices.

    Permission asking, for me, violates the first preliminary principle of the PCA’s Book of Church Order:
    “God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God, or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship, are not governed by the Word of God. Therefore, the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable.”

    How have some church leaders come to such “rank arrogance” (as I’ve heard Jeff C call it)? The following quote from in Reformed church bulletin explained a lot for me:

    “There is no position in life more worthy of honor than that of a minister.” Dr. Mark Creech, Christian Action League

    I believe being a minister of God’s Word is a high duty that comes with great responsibility. Not many are to be teachers. But, can one really claim that being a minister or elder is greater than the woman in the temple who gave all she had? John said, “He [Jesus] must increase and I must decrease.” Give JESUS the highest honor and bring Him glory in whatever “position of life” you are in or whatever job you set your hands to!

    • IamMyBeloved's

      “There is no position in life more worthy of honor than that of a minister.” Dr. Mark Creech, Christian Action League

      This is the kind of arrogance that leads to spiritual abuse. Jesus said that if you want to be great, then make yourself a servant to all. If you have to demand honor, because of who you are or your position in life, then you can already be assured, that no honor is due you.

      “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk 10:42-45 ESV

      John 12:26 “…if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” ESV

      The verse says “anyone”, not just ministers.

      This is sort of like me saying, that no position in life is more worthy of honor than being a mother. Then what happens to all those women who cannot have children? What an insensitive thing to say.

      However, if in my wildest imagination, I thought Dr. Creech’s statement was even worth revising, I personally would revise the statement to say, “There is no position in life more worthy of honor than that of an abused spouse or his/her abused children.” Dr. IamMyBeloved’s, ACFJ. (har har)

  8. p.s. Happy Reformation Day!

  9. sharpsheep

    Trying to figure out all the various theological stances and words related to that is enough to make my head spin. I did like what J. Vernon McGee said once, although it took me a few seconds to quit laughing. ( I’ve no idea what he was as far as dispensational, reformed, calvinist, etc goes) Regarding the rapture and all the debate at the time about whether it would occur pre trib, post trib or during, he said: Now look. It don’t matter where the launch pad is as long as you is ON it!

    • Brenda R

      I like that! I will have to remember that the next time that debate comes up.

  10. M&M

    This is interesting, how does this Reformed theology compare to “Reformed Church of America” and “Reformed Christian Church” denominations?

  11. Anonymous

    This is something I found from Corrie Ten Boom and it has helped me and my daughter tremendously. God willing it will help some of God’s other little ones. Keep in mind that Corrie died in 1983 and this was written earlier.

    There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution…In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

    “We have failed.
    We should have made the people strong for persecution,
    rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
    Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
    how to stand when the tribulation comes,
    – to stand and not faint.”

    “In America, the churches sing, “Let the congregation escape tribulation”, but in China and Africa the tribulation has already arrived. This last year alone more than two hundred thousand Christians were martyred in Africa. Now things like that never get into the newspapers because they cause bad political relations. But I know. I have been there…Several years ago I was in Africa in a nation where a new government had come into power. The first night I was there some of the Christians were commanded to come to the police station to register. When they arrived they were arrested and that same night they were executed. The next day the same thing happened with other Christians. The third day it was the same. All the Christians in the district were being systematically murdered. The fourth day I was to speak in a little church. The people came, but they were filled with fear and tension. All during the service they were looking at each other, their eyes asking, “Will this one I am sitting beside be the next one killed? Will I be the next one?” The room was hot and stuffy with insects that came through the screenless windows and swirled around the naked bulbs over the bare wooden benches. I told them a story out of my childhood. “When I was a little girl, ” I said, “I went to my father and said,
    “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
    “Tell me,” said Father,
    “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam,
    when do I give you the money for the ticket?
    Three weeks before?” “No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength.
    Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.
    He will supply all you need – just in time…” My African friends were nodding and smiling.
    Suddenly a spirit of joy descended upon that church and the people began singing…Later that week, half the congregation of that church was executed. I heard later that the other half was killed some months ago. But I must tell you something. I was so happy that the Lord used me to encourage these people, for unlike many of their leaders, I had the word of God.

    Hard stuff but good stuff to help us prepare for these end times we are in. How, even now, I wish that the rapture would take place–but this is childish thinking and we know as mature Christians do, 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.”

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