Sonnet Sunday 59: Doctrinal Divides
Today’s poem was from the November 2016 Poem a Day challenge, to the prompt “Stay or Leave.”
One of the core events of my life was going through a church split while I was in high school. New pastors always mean a slight shift in the congregation, but this was major; this was a moderately Baptist, very evangelical, Bible-centric church switching to a pastor who was more or less a Cage-Stage Calvinist. I suspect that’s because he found in us what he believed to be serious doctrinal concerns, but it meant that he spent more time educating us on the doctrines of TULIP and as much time quoting Jonathan Edwards as he spent teaching from the Bible. And according to my parents, both of whom took active leadership roles and had at various points been deacons there, he did not tolerate dissent, even on nonessential doctrinal issues. As in, if you had a question about, say, whether atonement is truly limited, are you even a Christian, amirite? I mean, that’s a step above an argument about which shade of maroon to use for the new sanctuary carpet, but it’s a complex subject, and understanding it is utterly unimportant to your eternal fate.
So about half the church left over disputes about that sort of issue, but he brought in just as many new congregants as left. Some of them, Mom speculated, were attracted to his highly intellectual perspective. And I get it. Pastor Dan was a smart guy, and I fully believe he put in hours of study to come to his conclusions. I also look forward to the day that I meet him in Heaven, when I will be able to look at his Gospel work with joy instead of bitterness—a day when I will be glad that God “preordained from the beginning of time” that he would become our pastor, even if that meant so many of us would experience so much pain at the time. Because in the end, I firmly believe that God worked it to the good of both those who stayed and those who left, even if it felt like the church was lacking in grace at the time.
Originally written November 1, 2016
The sanctuary had become too small
Under Dan’s teachings. He drew in the crowds.
We added services; moved down the hall
To the gymnasium, where space allowed
Him to impart his Calvinistic creed
On those who lapped up Piper, R.C. Sproul.
But woe betide the ones who disagreed,
When Dan pronounced his judgment on their souls
For not finding atonement limited;
For thinking Sovereign God finds use in prayer;
For not believing every word he said—
But we found no room for discussion there.
For every new chair filled within that place,
Another emptied, searching for God’s grace.