Question and Answer

Christian Lifestyle

Question:

I am from the Canadian Reformed Church, a church with which you (OPC) have formed sister-church relations. I was just wondering what your thoughts on the Christian lifestyle are. Below is a joke-list. In it there are a couple of things I don't agree with (#4, 5, 6). I will admit that this is just a joke-list, but I find that many reformed people do smoke and drink, and go to bars. What should our stance on this be? I used to smoke, and felt very guilty about it before God. That is why I quit. Just wondering.

TEN REASONS I AM A CALVINIST

  1. Calvinists tend to wear wool and cotton. Dispensationalists tend to wear lime-green polyester leisure suits.
  2. John Calvin was French. Being French is very chic.
  3. Calvin sounds like Calvin Klein, and his clothes are very chic.
  4. Calvinists can drink.
  5. Calvinists can smoke.
  6. Dispensationalists are into prophecy conferences where they talk about Star-Trek eschatology and the mark of the Beast. Calvinists have conferences on "life and culture," art, social justice and other high-brow things like that. Afterwards, they go to the local pub and talk about philosophy over a pint of Bass ale.
  7. Calvinists have close ties with Scotland and Scotland is very cool-you know, Sean Connery, the movie Highlander, Bagpipes, the Loch Ness Monster, McCallan 18 year old Scotch, the movie Trainspotting, etc.
  8. Calvinists think they are smarter than anybody else.
  9. It is more socially acceptable to say, "I go to Grace Presbyterian Church" than to say, "I go to Sonlife Charismatic Believers Assembly," or to say, "I go to Boston Berean Bible Believing Baptist Bethel," or to say, "I go to the Latter-Day-Rain Deliverance Tabernacle Prophecy Center, Inc." or to say, "I go to the Philadelphia Church of the Majority Text," or to say, "I go to Soul Saving Station #3," or to say, "I go to the Lithuanian Apostolic Orthodox Autocephalic Church of the Baltic union of 1838."
  10. Ultimately, I am a Calvinist because I had no choice in the matter.

Answer:

I agree with you that the "Reasons I am a Calvinist" are frivolous and entertaining. Of course some of them deserve answers, so I will attempt to give such answers.

1, 2, and 3: It may be that Dutch Calvinists were more stiff and traditional in their go-to-church clothing than others, but since the 60's those distinctions have fallen away. At best, they were expressive of their attitude (Calvinists, I mean), that is, of the Calvinist high concept of the worship of God. That attitude persists, but in light of James 2 (look it up and read it), the matter of clothing is irrelevant in OPC churches today. It's not a matter of whether we follow the older tradition of "Sunday clothes" (myself included), but the attitude of the heart that is most important.

In a congregation I served more recently, we had men in dungarees take up the offering. They were cleanly dressed and were suitably attired by Biblical standards. John Calvin's French origin has no bearing on the man. The quip about Calvin Klein (if meant seriously) would be offensive. Of course, I don't assume the author meant it seriously. Personally, my respect for John Calvin's life and ministry would prevent me from writing about his origins frivolously.

I agree with your concerns in 4 through 6. Take smoking and drinking: In my childhood and youth I remember hearing of a saying in Dutch (I am not Dutch) which said, "Tis not a man that doue not smoke," including the "Dominee" (pastor). And in those days it was pretty much true! But I've known too many long-time smokers who have died of lung cancer or emphysema. The latter disease is one of the most horrible ways to die that I as a pastor have ever witnessed!

As to the drinking of alcoholic beverages, the Bible permits wine, but warns against strong drink (Proverbs 23:29-35). Also, Ephesians 5:18 speaks concisely to the question. If drunk with wine, the drinker is under the control of the intoxicant. If filled with the Spirit (a subject I won't go into here), then the indwelling Spirit is in control (through the sanctified intellect). (See also Romans 8:9).

Putting together numbers 4 and 5, the right or wrong of practices have to do with certain of the Commandments: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). The First and Second Commandments also apply. As to self control, Galatians 5:23 applies. How can we be led by the Spirit through the Word and, at the same time be mastered by a severe addiction? That is not to say that all who smoke or drink wine are addicted. So we do not necessarily believe that we can judge a person who smokes or makes moderate use of wine.

I myself refrain from both by choice. But I judge no man who has a different choice unless and until I perceive that he's "hooked" on something. The important thing is that Christians have liberty to make choices of anything that the Word of God doesn't forbid. Had I taken up smoking in my childhood home, I would have been sinning, since my father strictly forbade it to his children. The Fifth Commandment ("Honor your father and mother...") settled the matter.

7 is almost totally frivolous. True, dispensationalists spend a lot of energy discussing prophecy, etc. But Calvinists are also concerned with a biblical understanding of prophecy. After all, the Bible has a lot of prophecies—some fulfilled and some yet to be fulfilled. Calvinists are concerned about life and culture as all Christians ought to be (1 Corinthians 10:31). As to the "local pub," that sounds British to me but doesn't require exegesis.

As to 7, Scotland is the historical source of Presbyterianism, and we are Presbyterians. But not all Calvinists are Presbyterian. There are Dutch Calvinists, also French, German, and (from the former sources) American Calvinists, and many more! Bagpipes are Scottish and fascinating. They are a cultural phenomenon. Calvinists do not despise culture, nor are they ruled by it. They are interested in all cultures. But as one missionary friend put it, we are not required to make Christianity conform to various world cultures, but we labor to Christianize the cultures.

Number 8 is not true. It may be that some Calvinists talk and act "smart." But being biblical Christians, they recognize that they are as sinful (of themselves) as all of fallen humanity. Matthew 15:15-20 is confessed as true of themselves by serious Calvinists. See also Matthew 5:3-4; 25:30; Romans 7:14-25. We confess our native total depravity. In ourselves we can do nothing good; but through the grace of God in Christ we can do what is pleasing to God, but not even that perfectly He receives our obedience as our thankfulness for His saving mercies. Only Christ's perfect obedience can satisfy the Law's demands. And that obedience is imputed to us who believe through His death on the cross. 9 is similar to 8. Genuine Calvinists do not pride themselves on their "social acceptability," and—if they are genuine Calvinists—they are often less "socially acceptable" than the other churches you mention.

10 is absolutely incorrect. No man becomes a member of any church by fatalistic appointment. True, the Bible teaches that "The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass" (Westminster Shorter Catechism-Q. 7). That is what the Bible means by foreordination. But the Bible also teaches human responsibility. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved"; "Choose you this day who you will serve.."; Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." And there are many more.

How can I reconcile these intellectually? I struggled long and futilely on that question. But I believe both because the Bible teaches both! I don't fully understand it, but I believe it. And believing it brings me great peace. I was made in the image of God. Our God is a choosing God, and he made me a choosing creature. Of course, being a depraved sinner, I could not of myself choose him (John 6:44), but he drew me to himself, gave me a new heart to believe (John 3:3 & 5), and I came to him (John 6:37; Romans 8:28). It was so great a relief that I was not required to figure it all out in my small-capacity mind. I found Deuteronomy 29:29 to say it just right: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our sons [children] forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

I could have disposed of the questions in a shorter way, but I believe it profitable to set my answers in their biblical contexts. I hope this has been a profit to you.


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