John asks a great question:
I go to a church that doesn’t affirm Calvinism. However, in my small group, I detect subtle Calvinist catchphrases like “Salvation has nothing to do with us” and “Dead people can’t ask for help.” How would you counter this type of teaching without being outright disrespectful or rude?
When I teach a Bible study or Sunday school class, I’m thankful when the participants have John’s concerns. When I am sitting in someone else’s study or class, I, too, have those concerns.
I’m basing my answers below on teachings from Proverbs and the Pastoral Epistles.
First, if you disagree with something that is said, evaluate whether it is wise for you to comment.
When I was at DTS, I had a rule. In a one-hour class, I would ask at most three questions. I could have asked ten or twenty questions an hour.
Second, watch your tone and body language. There are ways to say things that are respectful and cooperative. Avoid sarcasm, raising your voice, and pejorative language.
Third, since you are not the teacher, do not think it is your responsibility to correct him or her publicly. You are free to share your view in the right manner. But sharing your view is not the same as correcting the teacher.
For example, let’s take the comment, “Dead people can’t ask for help.” You might say, “That is one view of total depravity. However, in light of Cornelius in Acts 10 and the woman at the well in John 4:10, isn’t it possible that dead people can ask for help?”
Asking the question that way opens the class to an interesting discussion without criticizing the teacher or his views. You have not pointed out that what he said contradicts the church’s position as a non-Calvinist church. You did not yell, use sarcasm, or use pejorative language. You didn’t say, “Isn’t it obvious that dead people can ask for help?”
Fourth, pay careful attention to how the rest of the class responds. Do some or all in the class agree with you? Or do most or all agree with the teacher? If you are out of step with the views of most in the class, it might be time to find a different class.
Fifth, if what is being taught is clearly contrary to the church’s doctrinal statement, I suggest you present your concern to the church board. Maybe the board does not know what is being taught. Or maybe it does, and the members approve of it.
Even if the church as a whole is non-Calvinist, the leadership might approve of one or more classes being offered for those who are Calvinists. While I don’t think that’s a good idea, it’s not up to me to decide. It’s up to the elders (or deacons or pastors).
Finally, know that churches today often seek to be inclusive. Many churches welcome Calvinists and Arminians, cessationists and charismatics, and conservatives and liberals. One way you can tell is that the sermons are generic. The pastor will not talk about the sign gifts one way or another. He will not refer to Calvinism or Arminianism. He won’t use catchphrases that indicate his position.
I would not want to be part of such a church because the pastor won’t be teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. But if that is your best option within a hundred miles of you, you might choose to go there. (Of course, you could move. Or you could start a church in your own home.)
I close with a few verses that deal with this question:
“He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov 13:3).
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1).
“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Prov 15:28).
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1-2).
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous…” (1 Tim 3:2-3).
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” (2 Tim 2:24-25).