1 Jan 2002

A short stint in the PCA

Submitted by theshovel
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend to friendSend to friendPDF versionPDF version

A short stint in the PCA (approx 1990-91)

A reader had asked me about how Calvin's beliefs fit with the true message of grace so I answered by giving a bit of my own history.

Years ago, we attended a PCA church for a couple years when my oldest daughter got involved in the youth group (we weren't actively involved anywhere at that time as it was during the aftermath of the breakup of a home church we had been with).

I was already a bit familiar with the PCA denomination because I had visited one in the 70's (I think it was fairly new then) and was very impressed with the teaching of grace I was hearing from the pastor. It was liberating to one who was going to Bible college for soul-winning training, I can tell you that. This guy had all his messages organized and printed out for everybody and was going through Romans 6 at the time. But we were more involved in the college and its ministries, so my stay was short-lived.

I had no intention of becoming a member at the church my daughter found for us. I mainly wanted to stay heavily involved in the lives of my children ... so I "helped" out with the youth group (by the way, my daughter absolutely loved me being there). I brought my guitar and did the opening sing-alongs, as well as playing a few solo tunes.

The PCA is built upon systematic doctrinal correctness, which is something I once highly-valued from my Bible college years. I say that, not because I no longer care about teaching God's grace accurately, but because doctrinal correctness is a goal in and of itself. It doesn't even need the life of Christ, only the truthfulness or the correct understanding of Him. I realize my conclusion may sound a little stark, but if you will keep asking yourself how the bits of doctrinal correctness preached to you suggest you need Jesus in the right now or your everyday life, you may be surprised at what you discover.

Calvinism and Arminianism? Calvinism is obviously based upon the teachings of John Calvin, the founder, while Arminianism is based upon the teachings of Jacob Arminius, who was a religious leader shortly after the time of Calvin. Calvin has lots of writings and teachings, but Calvinism is the summary of his teachings regarding the sovereignty of God, depravity of man, and miraculous work of salvation. Calvin, though (as I understand it), did not come up with the Five Points of Calvinism (otherwise known as TULIP), for this came into being after his death when his followers wanted to counteract the five points put forth by Arminius. In other words, each of the 5 points of Calvinism was an answer to each of the 5 premises of Arminius' teachings.

Arminius based his teachings upon what we call man's free will. Calvinism basically says that God did it all, all by Himself because we were totally incapable to do anything, even the willing of it. Arminianism says that God did His part and we must do ours, and it has a multitude of variations.

Now, I obviously believe that God accomplished salvation all by Himself, but the salvation claimed in Calvinism is very carefully formulated to fit within a context of past and future. In other words, it says that we couldn't save ourselves and needed God to save us so that we became saved people, and that this accomplished salvation will not go away but will keep us saved so that we will go to heaven. But somehow in the systematic understanding, this salvation becomes sanctification in the present ... and this is where law is preached and taught to us in the very real part of our daily living.

Basically, both systems end up being built upon a wisdom of man. The truth of grace, on the other hand, is LIFE!! The life of God has been put within those who are saved, those who have been delivered from their own past empty existence without God. You're not going to hear much of that in the PCA, and when you do it will be a very carefully placed teaching or doctrine within the overall system ... but NOT really life.

I was asked numerous times - by a few in the church - why we weren't members. There was always this sense in their questions and also in their disappointment with my answer that clearly let us know that we simply weren't a true part of their fellowship - unless of course if we became real members. We were appreciated, but I sense also tolerated, because of my active involvement, both with the kids and also in my musical offerings in the worship service.

A vacancy in the Jr. High youth group brought a request my way to take it over. I thought it odd since I wasn't a member, but I suspected it would become an issue if I agreed. It did. I was asked to get together with the Sr. pastor, associate pastor, and the High school youth director to discuss this opportunity, and this was where I was told that I would have to become a member first. But first they had asked me about my testimony.

I described my understanding of God's grace in the matter of the salvation they referred to ... and they absolutely loved my accounting of how I came to see that God did it all. They all agreed that I needed to tell this story to their men's group, and also other places. But then came the question of my lack of membership. The Sr. pastor bluntly asked me (especially in view of my approved testimony, "Minker, why aren't you a member?" It all went downhill from there.

Speaking in terms I knew they would immediately understand, I said something close to, It has much to due to your doctrine of 'Covenant Theology'. Their expressions really changed at that. I summed it up by using one of the assistant pastor's favorite expressions regarding whether we were under the law, and I emphasized that I wasn't specifically picking on him or just that one statement - for the statement summed up the lack of understanding the life of Christ.

Here is the oft-mentioned statement: Of course we can't keep the Law, but we should TRY! (His emphasis)

Do you hear what this says? Do you see the total inconsistency found in the systematic teachings? The system demands that man cannot keep the Law, but the system also teaches that believers have to be responsible, but don't want to imply that we are under what was taken out of the way in Christ ... because that's part of the systematic teachings. The bottom line is that living by teachings only negates the life of faith through the systematizing of truth. But truth is IN us, not just our creed!!

Jim Minker


Please explain your last paragraph again please. Does this explain why the reformed write so many books?
theshovel's picture

Here is the oft-mentioned statement: "Of course we can't keep the Law, but we should TRY!" (His emphasis)
Do you hear what this says? Do you see the total inconsistency found in the systematic teachings? The system demands that man cannot keep the Law, but the system also teaches that believers have to be responsible, but don't want to imply that we are under what was taken out of the way in Christ ... because that's part of the systematic teachings. The bottom line is that living by teachings only negates the life of faith through the systematizing of truth. But truth is IN us, not just our creed!!

If you haven't listened to the most recent Shovel Audio, Heading God Off at the Pass, you may find it rather helpful, as I refer to this exact quote and discuss it there.

If I know that my attempts at keeping the Law will only end in failure, especially when I don't hide the fact, then I am only revealing my lack of understanding what it is to live in Christ by telling others that they should try to keep it anyway. In other words, a statement like this should be shouting out to anyone who hears it that I haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about. And this is the problem with an intellectual approach to Christ.

Intellectually, I can understand the need for grace because of the recorded failure of mankind, especially when I have seen it in myself. Furthermore, I can recognize that my life should be much different than what it was. Reason will lead to me conclude that there must be some way to make this happen. Observation will suggest that simply understanding grace isn't working either. Once I rule out grace as a truly viable option to achieve what I sense as my responsibility as a Christian, I am forced to fall back upon that which I already know won't work ... so I have to make some kind of concession or admission.

Dinner is calling so I'll stop here and wait for a reply. :)

And yes, this may in fact have much to do with why so many reformed books have been written.


Hey Jim! I fellowship with a ‘housechurch’ (aka. the Kingdom meeting inside a brother’s home!) and one of the Elders is PCA. It’s funny because he’s all about the Grace of God through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Anyway, me, him and some brothers sat down for lunch and we talked about a little theology, and how none of the systems really have a hold on it. He even went to say that he would be horrified if one of his daughters was not amongst the saints and it was explained to him by the Father as Calvinists rigorously put out in the 5 pts. At the end of the meal, heading back to the car, I was still baffled over where I stand in the whole debate (neither Arminian nor a Calvinist) and he told me tongue in cheek that I’m a ‘Free-Will Calvinist’. I don’t like labels as they are so accurate, but I laugh every time I tell someone that (so, two times I think :) ). Just curious on opinions. I know at the end of the day it doesn’t matter much, the Resurrection Life being present through Messiah in us is the ultimate treasure! Cal
theshovel's picture

Hello Cal,

I'm guessing you meant to say that labels are so IN-accurate, and with that I am in full agreement. :) Labels provide an illusion of agreement or disagreement, and I remember that old false sense of comfort in having some kind of handle. He who has the Son has the life, he who does not have the Son does not have life. The truth is simple, as you say, but it leaves us not knowing what to do with our designations and handles. Maybe we just need to walk by faith and not by sight.


Having been part of the Reformed Presbyterians (and around Orthodox Presbyterians) for a while, I understand the importance to them of “covenant theology.” Some of their traditions arose out of a time when their position could get them killed in Scotland. I’ve heard their arguments (carefully extracted from Scripture) for infant baptism, closed communion, exclusive Psalmody, etc. and while they were not particularly convincing to me, the groups did seem right on in their teachings in many areas. Perhaps the most valuable thing I carried away was the sense that careful handling of Scripture can allow a variety of positions and, aside from a shared belief in the fundamentals (the gospel, the divinity of Christ, and the role of Scripture as final authority), I can fellowship with brothers (and sisters) from many different traditions. Tom
theshovel's picture

Hello Tom, thanks for writing.

You know, it's easy for us to forget the dangerous nature of expressing one's belief in Christ in other times or other lands, isn't it? We often speak our words with little concern that someone or a group of someones might not like it.

I can remember finding much joy regarding freedom in Christ in my early years from a PCA group south of me. It was vibrant and alive. Maybe it was because of where I was coming from, or maybe even the fact that the PCA was so young at that time, but when the group got really large ... something changed. And that's not the same group I met with for a couple years.

Anything that causes us to accept one another simply because of Christ is a worthwhile endeavor ... at least for those who discover that freedom. :)


Add new comment

Random Shovelquote: Seeking to be justified (view all shovelquotes)

"Seeking to be justified in Christ" is a statement regarding the religious perversion of the satisfaction Christ brought about, for he put an end to that endless search. source