I struggled mightily with the doctrines of grace and it was not until I heard R.C. Sproul explain TULIP did I begin to embrace fully the veracity of these truths.
On Valentine’s Day of this year something momentous took place in the life of my family — we joined Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Jackson, Tenn. What is so momentous about joining a church? To be sure many families likely united with PCA churches in our nation on that day, so why was our joining such a unique moment? For the majority of my 48 years I have been a Southern Baptist. I was raised a Southern Baptist and when old enough became a Southern Baptist by choice.
Again, maybe there is nothing extremely significant in our times for families to switch denominations. But did I mention that I was also a Southern Baptist pastor? That’s right, for 23 years I served in the ministry in some capacity. I was theologically trained in Southern Baptist institutions, earned Bachelors, Masters, and finally a Doctor of Ministry degree in theological studies. Now do you see why this is considered such a momentous occasion?
How did I arrive at the place where I would join a PCA church and seek a call as a PCA pastor? To understand this fully, let me fill in a few blanks.
In 2000, during my first pastorate, I was introduced to the doctrines of grace–actually my wife started studying Reformed theology and became a Calvinist overnight. She had been asked a question in a Sunday school class about whether she believed in predestination. Now you must understand, she was raised not unlike me and did not have much experience with or knowledge of the doctrine of election and predestination. But she did know that the word was in the Bible and so she had to believe something about it.
After class the teacher scolded her somewhat for believing in predestination and was told never to bring it up again (remember, he brought it up!). This started my wife on a journey and it was a quick trip. She read Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul and immediately became a full-fledged Calvinist. I like to joke that one night I went to bed with an Arminian wife and woke up with a Calvinist wife! This caused a considerable amount of tension and strong debate in our home. At the same time I had a pastor colleague talking to me about Reformed theology. I struggled mightily with the doctrines of grace and it was not until I heard R.C. Sproul explain TULIP did I begin to embrace fully the veracity of these truths.
The ministry changed considerably for me in the initial days of the process of my Re-forming. I remember going through a wide range of emotions from joy in the new truths discovered to anger and disappointment that no one had shared these truths with me beforehand. So I set out to correct this error for the people that I pastored. I started preaching through the Gospel of John and the book of Romans. I encountered some difficulty at the church with my new theology and was very disappointed that more did not see the magnificence of these biblical truths.
In the ten years since I served three churches (two as senior pastor), and have encountered a wide range of responses to the doctrines of grace. In my last pastorate I ran into anger and hatred — not just for the theology but for me personally for believing in this theology. This pastorate ended in difficulty not only for me but for the three other men who served as associate pastors in the church. The Baptist community completely ignored the harsh treatment and the needs that this turmoil created. The document, “Smoke out Calvinist Pastors,” that is floating around the Internet to be used in Southern Baptist churches to smoke out Calvinists resulted from our experience. All four of us struggle to find our places again in the area of service in the church.
The ten months following my resignation from the pastorate have been a tremendous physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge. But what was meant as evil has actually worked for my good as Romans 8:28 affirms. The events most difficult to endure have been the catalyst to help me see more clearly just how Reformed I truly am. I had always considered myself a Reformed Baptist, but now understand that it was more correct to label myself a Calvinistic Baptist. In the fuller sense of the word, Reformed refers to those who hold to the confessions that came from the Protestant Reformation (e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Three Forms of Unity; the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort).
The covenantal aspect of Reformed theology is the theology that I have embraced. The theology known as Reformed theology has a unifying aspect to it with respect to God’s overall plan of redemption. Covenant theology consistently teaches that God is a covenant keeping God and that he has given signs and seals of his covenant to his people. The forms of the signs and seals are different from the Old Testament to the New, but they function the same way for giving assurance and comfort to God’s people. These are truths I now embrace and cherish because they reveal a God who is and was a covenant making and keeping God.
The confessional aspect of Presbyterianism is also a tremendous strength. For years I served in a denomination with no serious commitment to a confession of faith; in fact, in many of its circles holding confessions with great disdain resulting in a church experience where every man’s hat functions as his own church. Accountability proves impossible in this type of church experience; what a passage means to one person does not necessarily translate to another. Without a confessional standard to hold a people together, the natural result is a plethora of beliefs on any given doctrine and a major loss of a serious connectedness for the people of God.
On May 25, 2010 I completed the process of licensure in the Covenant Presbytery and can say that I have been accepted in the PCA with open arms and warm hearts. I look forward to serving and worshiping with this covenant and confessional people who have become my people. I look forward to serving among the PCA as God gives opportunity. I am grateful to God that he has led me to this new home.
Patrick McGill lives in Jackson, Tenn.