A Warning Against Using Arminian Theology as Evangelism in Church Worship Services
A wise man I once sat next to on Sunday mornings, turned to me after a particular worship service and said, “The pulpit here is Reformed, but the people are not.” Clearly, he knew what he was listening to and what he was talking about. He was not a man who slumbered during worship services.
As a random theologian out West somewhere, I have been known to grumble and murmur after a worship service of two, myself. Jesus promised that we would worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). When that does not happen, it is frustrating because we who have been loved by God (1 Jn 4:19) do not want Him to be misrepresented. We expect misrepresentation out in the world, but we loathe it in church teachings and worship services.
I will never forget on one occasion, my wife said to me, “You have ruined singing in church for me.” May it never be! What she was really saying is, “You dissecting worship songs after the service, and pointing out the blatant man-centered statements in the lyrics, has made it impossible for me to sing half the songs in church each Sunday.”
Long ago, when I tried and failed at being a senior pastor, I would gather our worship team on Tuesday and walk through every aspect of the Sunday worship service. This included reading through the lyrics of every song we would sing. This helped me coordinate themes from my sermon text, but it also allowed our team to scrutinize the theology, in the songs we were singing.
The team got good at spotting rogue verses about Jesus coming into the world for all mankind or us doing our part to make salvation happen. Our worship song leader had a degree in musical score from the University of Southern California. He was so good at fixing lyrics.
Every now and then, we would employ a new song. After a couple of times, someone would state something we had missed. If we could not fix it, we would discard it altogether. One time, one of the team members chimed in, “I hate Israel Houghton’s ‘I am a friend of God’ song.’” We were going to sing it again the next Sunday. It sparked one of the deepest theological discussions our worship team ever had. We did not sing that song…ever again.
Being in Los Angeles, I realized, as I got to know the congregation that we had first generation immigrants from 31 countries. Thus, I had an idea that we would put up a flag from every representative nation in the sanctuary rafters. Each Sunday for 31 weeks we profiled the church, in one particular country, and prayed for the assemblies and missionaries there.
We also chose a person, a couple, or a family to come up on the stage to share their testimony of how they came to know the Lord Jesus Christ, and how they had come to the United States, Los Angeles, and to our local church. In some cases, it was a wonderful, God-honoring 5 minutes. People in the congregation were delighted, “I did not know that woman from Northern Ireland, but I talked with her for the first time after church, on the day she gave her story.”
The regret I had, in introducing this “creative” aspect to the worship services, was the theological immaturity that was uttered some Sundays. I hated having to correct theology from the pulpit, but the congregation had just been exposed, and something needed to be said in the same service. I tried never to put the testimony-giver on the spot. I just corrected the bad theology in my sermon time. We never did testimonials again after those 31 that year.
Old time preachers would often speak of guarding the pulpit. This is the idea of not permitting immature believers to speak in front of the congregation, in a teaching sense. Worship song lyrics teach and so do testimonials. When someone on stage says, “I asked Jesus into my heart,” or “I accepted Jesus as my Savior on that day,” it has to be corrected. If it is not corrected, the congregation will begin to absorb it, and later regurgitate it.
The vast majority of local church congregations in America are Arminian, as a result of pastors not filtering out Arminian theology and guarding the pulpit. Of course, churches with Arminian pastors will almost never recover. A few years ago, I was introduced to the congregation at Grace Fellowship Church (formerly Skeels Baptist Church) in Gladwin, Michigan. They had been so well taught, by one called pastor to their pulpit that they transitioned out of Arminianism, to become a Reformed Baptist church. I was amazed, when I learned their story.
Man-centered theology must be purged from song lyrics, testimonials, and pulpits. It is rare, but God can extend His grace to reform congregations to understand His sovereign grace. This should encourage and maybe inspire, those who can discern theology in worship services, today, as could the wise man I mentioned at first.
The warning for churches is to avoid the slippery slope of diluting the Gospel of grace, especially for the sake of evangelism in worship services. Our natural, sinful selves love Arminianism because of its empowering message, “You get to decide whether you think Jesus is worthy to save you.” Visitors to churches like that message. As unbelievers in your midst, they will not like the true Gospel.
To convert an unbeliever takes an act of God. This is part of the message of sovereign grace…that salvation, from beginning to end, is entirely a work of God, not man. The Gospel of God is a man-disempowering message, which is why unbelievers, especially Arminians, do not like it. Arminianism is all about human empowerment. The natural man, who may have an aversion to hell likes that he can control his eternal destiny by himself. The problem, of course, is that he cannot control it. That is the very reason Arminian theology must never be allowed in Christian worship services.
The Arminian heresy, preached or sung in church, only leads people to an eternity in hell. Men do not choose Jesus to be their leader; rather, Jesus chooses His disciples, who inevitably follow Him. They follow Him because of irresistible grace.
The only message we should ever hear in our sacred assemblies is that God the Father chose a people for His own possession (1 Pet 2:9), before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4–5; 2 Thess 2:13; Rev 13:8; 17:8) and gave those elect ones to His only begotten Son (Jn 6:37; 10:28; 17:2, 6, 24). Jesus, the God-man, came into the world to save not the world (Jn 3:16), but to save His people in the whole world (Mt 1:21; Rev 5:9), from the consequences to their sins (Mt 25:46; Rom 6:23; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15).
The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26; 15:26), to regenerate each elect, redeemed soul, causing them to be born again of God (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3). King Jesus is coming back for the full company of His holy nation (1 Pet 2:9), drawn from every nation (Rev 5:9), and to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5).
A new heavens and earth will be the eternal habitation of His beloved church (Is 65–66; Rev 21–22), the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The reprobate will be damned with eternal punishment, in the lake of fire (Rev 20:14–15). When was the last time you heard that in your church’s worship service? Your answer is important because it is called, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 29, 2020