We hear this phrase a lot, and I’m not quite sure whether or not it’s actually in the bible. Annnnd….knowing the neo-Calvinist “leadership” the way I do, I’d be surprised if it is. Funny how all of these doctrinal revelations that they are so privy to (unlike the rest of us mindless animals beneath the stage) and which the bible speaks so “plainly” or “clearly” of are simply not to be found in scripture. In fact, I’m not sure a single one of Calvin’s Five Points appears anywhere in the whole of it. Let me check.
Hmmm…nope. Definitely not.
Anyway, the other day, there I am minding my business, sitting in my church, which until recently was quite a nice church…now, I say recently because about three months ago they hired a stark-raving Calvinist to “lead” us so that we can “make local church planting a priority” (where have I heard THAT before…oh, yeah…SGM; well, I will be planting my ass nowhere except on the couch if anyone asks). Yes, it seems as though you can take a boy out of the neo-reformed juggernaut but you can’t take the neo-reformed juggernaut out of Christianity these days. Sigh. So, once again, the dog (me, it seems) has “returned to its vomit”. So, until we find another non-Calvinist-church-but-will-likely-become-Calvinist-five-minutes-after-I-get-there-because-Calvinism-is-breeding-like-the-aliens-from-“Aliens“, there I am, sitting in the church on a Sunday morning minding my own business when this not-entirely-rational voice proclaims from somewhere up front, behind a podium, somewhere in some part of the church I don’t bother paying much attention to anymore, I heard, yet again, for the one-millionth time in my banal neo-Calvinist slog that what God wants (which, of course, any good Calvinist autocrat can tell you at any given moment; trust me…just ask!) is for us to make yet another umpteenth “commitment to Christ”.
Now, most of us don’t have a problem with committing to Christ. We are all about that. What we—or at least I—have a problem with is when some guy that I don’t even really know but I’m pretty sure I out-think throws out something like this without feeling the least bit compelled to offer even the slightest bit of qualification. I’m assuming he is not merely speaking about salvation, because this is a room full of believers here. Sure, we are TOTALLY DEPRAVED believers, half of which are really going to hell obviously…but still, we are believers. Even the ones for whom salvation is nothing more than “ignorance is bliss”. The “damned saved” as I call them.
No, no. As usual, this is of course another new commitment; nothing to do with salvation (what does in Calvin’s theology, really?). For if there is one thing I know it’s that as soon as a Calvinist pastor lands a new job he’s going to want the whole damn church committing to pretty much everything in the world. It’s called job security. Tell people to shut up and commit, stop looking for excuses and other churches because you’re not sure if you like this new guy or not and get back to the business of BELONGING to the CHURCH.
Instantly my ears perked up because I cannot resist betting with myself when the opportunity arises; and this is because I always win. It’s almost getting too easy.
So I bet myself this time that not only will he not qualify the nature of this “commitment” he is dangling and that we are supposed to make (in writing…which came at the end of the sermon, of course!) but also that the sermon which follows will involve some heavy appeal to self-denial in favor of yet another unqualified and poorly defined remonstrance against the “world”, with a large does of guilt, and some nebulous and half-hearted nod towards “I’m no different; God expects the same from us all” (lie), and some serious and hyper–specific ideology focusing on the “good of the many depraved asses outweigh the good of one depraved ass…namely YOU”, and then some vague and flimsy “applications” that really don’t seem to speak to anyone in any particular way.
You see, rule number one for Calvinist sermons: It’s all about getting the ideology across; the rest is just canned whipped cream. And once that’s done, you, the congregant, are expected to come to the pastor (or the “care group” leader, who has already been to the pastor, and vetted for doctrinal loyalty) for answers on just what the hell it is supposed to look like for you. The problem is that when the “collective” is front and center of every sermon, it is hard for individuals to know exactly what to do with the information. And this, I submit, is why there is so much psychological torment in neo-Calvinist congregations. People feel guilty for not knowing. They feel guilty for being “selfish” and “prideful” which is clearly the problem; otherwise, they’d already understand what to do…goes the inner monologue. After all the pastor shouldn’t be expected to have to spell it out for them. He’s got better things to do, like “covering” this other guy over here, you selfish jerk; and thinking up a funny and trite story with which to start the next sermon, preferably involving sports so he can sound masculine and manly, because that is what Christianity is supposed to be and feel like (the physical stature of most senior pastors notwithstanding) and because nothing says manly like men in tight clothes or brightly-colored shorts playing games while a million drunk idiots hyperventilate and vomit in the stands.
So, your ignorance on how to apply a concept which is totally exclusive to your individual frame of reference makes you, the poor slob, wallow in self-abasing, self-loathing emotional chastisement. And when you finally gather up the nerve to ask a “leader”, you are either ridiculed or pitied/patronized for not having “sound doctrine”.
And then you are promptly told to go join the Urinal-Cake Cleaning Committee until a spot opens up in the two to four-year-old Sunday school class. Which will likely be next Sunday. And if you know anyone else willing to help out in that class, call them as soon as you can. Because, damn it, we always need help in the children’s ministry…especially the reeeeally little ones.
You know what? After you clean the urinal cakes, why don’t you just hop on over to children’s ministry. I’m sure they need the help right now. Do this, and you’ll be raking leaves and sweating your ass off cutting grass on your day off in no time, brother. After that, you get to set up chairs at six a.m. on Sunday mornings. The sky’s the limit when you properly hate yourself. Oh, you’d be surprised how many jobs the adequately self-loathing get to do for the church.
Well, it turns out I won my own bet, as usual. Two for two. And what followed was yet another overt appeal to Marxism as the way to do church “right”. “Your gifts for me and mine for yours”, went the refrain. Yeah…seriously. And so, again, I started writing in my little notebook that I always keep with me. Taking, er…”notes”, on the pastor’s sermon, like any good little reformation boy would. After all, when God stands in front of you and dictates, you write it all down verbatim. That’s how we got the bible, remember?.
And this is the fruit of my labor. The source material was so good, my hand started to cramp keeping up.
I must say that, so far, the research in my little Calvinist part of the world is going just swimmingly.
Please stay tuned for part two!