Arminianism and Youth Ministry

in blog on September 5, 2012by Ryan Akers

[To see the companion post that goes with this article and presents a different viewpoint, visit: Calvinism and Student Ministry]

My fellow YouthMin.org contributor Frank Gil hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “What you believe about how Christ saves his people will affect how you worship and live.”  He springboards from there and shares how his view of God, particularly Calvinism, has shaped his ministry from top to bottom.
It is absolutely true that Youth Ministry is not just about knowing great games, having the perfect pizza to student ratio formula, or being able to wrangle a few unsuspecting volunteers into the lock-in that will nearly kill them.  Youth Ministry is…MINISTRY.  That means, at its very core, Youth Ministry is about pointing people, mainly students, toward a life-altering relationship with Christ.  This means the most important aspects of ministry SHOULD be teaching, mentoring, and discipleship.  All of these key ingredients MUST be driven by a sound theological base and clear understanding of doctrine.  If not, students will be confused, disillusioned, and leave with more questions than they had before they came.  I would argue that Youth Ministers need to be extremely prepared doctrinally, because many times, students will ask questions that adults are too comfortable to ask.
With that said, it is important to realize that almost all of us come from a slightly different perspective, worldview, and even theological background.  Frank specifically mentioned Calvinism as his theological tilt.  I, however, happen to be a zero-point Calvinist.  I used a picture of Calvin as a dartboard in college (just kidding, it was Tom Selleck).  I grew up in the Christian Church / Churches of Christ.  I studied at Taylor University under 5-point Calvinists, but found their views of many passages in the Scriptures to be inconsistent with mine.  I was much more at home where I finished my schooling – at Johnson University in Knooxville, TN.
Through many years, lots of reading, and the occasional “debate,” I have a clear and consistent theology that directs and guides everything I do and say in ministry.  Despite the fact I come from a different perspective, Frank and I are colleagues, friends, and co-laborers in Christ.  And I respect that he has a method to the madness.  While this is not an anti-Calvin or anti-Frank post, I did want to mention a few key tenets of my theology that direct my ministry.
1.  God is Creator, all-powerful, and to be praised.
Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”  And of course, we are reminded that Creation is the most powerful vessel through which God conveys His greatness.  Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…”  This truth is vitally important in Youth Ministry, because students are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their identity.  By focusing on God as Creator, it is a simple and yet invaluable transition to the fact that THEY are a perfect Creation of God, unique and beautiful, and designed for His glory.  I believe this is the foundation upon which ministry to students must build.
2.  It is God who saves, but He gives us the freedom to choose.
You’re thinking about that Calvin dartboard again, aren’t you?  Free will is central to the way we do ministry in my church.  We believe strongly in 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  While God graciously and lovingly sent His Son to die for us, I believe it is completely possible for someone to hear that message, understand it, and choose to walk away from it.  While God does 99 percent of the work of salvation, there is still a part of the process where we must choose Him.  Because of this, we offer students the opportunity to respond to the Gospel every week.  In the words of Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
3.  Baptism is a part of the plan of salvation.
This is a basic part of Restoration Movement doctrine, and is probably the most distinct element to our denomination.  I won’t go into an entire diatribe about why I believe wholeheartedly in this, but will devote one question to it.  If Jesus did it, then commanded it, the apostles practiced it, the authors of the New Testament recorded it, and the hearers of the Gospel in Acts responded by doing it, is it possible that it’s more than just a sign of obedience?  We believe a student is sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of Redemption when baptism is complete (see Acts 2:37-38).  For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on this.  We encourage students to pursue it, to ask questions about it, to study it, and when they are buried with Christ, we celebrate like CRAZY!
4.  Holiness is vital.
If you ask a Calvinist about a man who has been saved and then rejects God, they will argue they were never saved to begin with.  I would argue that they walked away from their salvation (see Hebrews 6:4-6).  Funny how we are both saying the same thing – that the person needs Christ.  Holiness is a crucial part of the Christian walk, and we work hard to communicate that to our students.  Matthew 5:48 says simply, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  And Hebrews 10:26-31 is some of the most straightforward holiness stuff in the New Testament.  God expects a lot from His people as they reflect Him to the world.  Yes, His grace is vast, but students need to know that the expectation is high, and that God values integrity.
These are just a few of the key ingredients in our theological youth ministry.  Yours are probably different, which is totally okay.  But what are your key beliefs about God that drive you and your ministry?

Frank Gil at 9:42 am

I love the way you wrote this. It was not combative nor attacking. Just writing from the heart! This is how brothers from two different theological backgrounds should interact. With love and understanding that we are co-laboring for the same Lord. Great post man!

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Keith Parker at 12:36 pm

Thanks, Frank. My hope and goal was to maintain unity throughout. The truth is, we will probably all get to Heaven one day and realize we were ALL wrong:) I’m not arrogant enough to think I have God all figured out. But I’m smart enough to figure out He wants His people to be united (John 17). This was fun to write – thanks for the great inspiration.

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Frank Gil at 9:42 am

I love the way you wrote this. It was not combative nor attacking. Just writing from the heart! This is how brothers from two different theological backgrounds should interact. With love and understanding that we are co-laboring for the same Lord. Great post man!

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Keith Parker at 12:36 pm

Thanks, Frank. My hope and goal was to maintain unity throughout. The truth is, we will probably all get to Heaven one day and realize we were ALL wrong:) I’m not arrogant enough to think I have God all figured out. But I’m smart enough to figure out He wants His people to be united (John 17). This was fun to write – thanks for the great inspiration.

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Matthew Ryba at 12:40 pm

Love these two articles! I tend to agree more with Keith, but I love Franks openness and authenticity to share about his walk and journey in ministry! These post are great! Love the term “co-laborers”

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Matthew Ryba at 12:40 pm

Love these two articles! I tend to agree more with Keith, but I love Franks openness and authenticity to share about his walk and journey in ministry! These post are great! Love the term “co-laborers”

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Ben at 1:49 pm

Good article. I just have one question about baptism as a part of salvation. What about the theif on the cross? Never baptized. Where is he?

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Frank Gil at 1:57 pm

I will allow Keith answer this but I have heard some interesting arguments that the theif was one of the last saved in the Old Covenant. As in, he is in heaven the same way Abraham, David, and the Old Testament saints are. Trusting in the hope that the messiah will accomplish what he was going to do. Christ had technically not died for sins when the thief believed. However, that is just one view. I don’t necessarily believe that.

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Keith Parker at 2:23 pm

Hey Ben, Frank hit part of the equation. Hebrews 9:16-18 says, “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” Since Christ had not yet died, the New Covenant was not yet in effect.
More practically speaking, in the case of the thief, baptism was an impossibility. So, Jesus granted him special access through His power. So, I would tell anyone – if it is absolutely impossible for you to be baptized, and you have been given special exemption by Jesus Himself, then don’t worry about it:)
Until then, Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

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Mark at 4:30 pm

Another verse to consider is Hebrews 12:2. Jesus is the author of faith. When we categorize faith by what we don’t have to do, we might not be acting in faith as much as we hope we are. Whenever we use grace and faith as a means to get out of being obedient to faith, we’ve probably missed the point.
John 12:42: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.

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Keith Parker at 1:28 pm

Great words, Mark. We don’t approach other people we love with the “what is the least I can get by with” mentality, so why would we think that’s okay with Christ? Like the eunuch says in Acts 8, “Here’s water, why NOT be baptized?”

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Nathan Powell at 10:30 am

Great post Keith. With God making exceptions. Why live in hope of God making exceptions, when we know with certainty that we are to be immersed?
And how much is it a work than confessing before a crowd in a prayer that is not found in scripture. I do not hate the sinners prayer (it is a good repentance prayer), but I lead students to be buried with Christ. For that is where Paul says we are united (Romans 6:5).
There are times in Acts that the Holy Spirit showed up because of the laying on of hands (See conversion of Cornelius). But it is through the laying on of hands by the apostles. And I do not believe that apostolic authority is passed down. I do not believe in apostolic succession (see Acts 8 and Simon the sorcerer).
Baptism is a hand to accept the free gift. A hand to extend along with believing, confessing, and repentance.

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Keith Parker at 10:58 am

Thanks, Nate. Good words. I love the words of Francis Chan on this. He says, “Jesus says to be baptized, so just do it and stop arguing about it.” Pretty simple, but also pretty clear.

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Ben at 1:49 pm

Good article. I just have one question about baptism as a part of salvation. What about the theif on the cross? Never baptized. Where is he?

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Frank Gil at 1:57 pm

I will allow Keith answer this but I have heard some interesting arguments that the theif was one of the last saved in the Old Covenant. As in, he is in heaven the same way Abraham, David, and the Old Testament saints are. Trusting in the hope that the messiah will accomplish what he was going to do. Christ had technically not died for sins when the thief believed. However, that is just one view. I don’t necessarily believe that.

Reply
Keith Parker at 2:23 pm

Hey Ben, Frank hit part of the equation. Hebrews 9:16-18 says, “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” Since Christ had not yet died, the New Covenant was not yet in effect.
More practically speaking, in the case of the thief, baptism was an impossibility. So, Jesus granted him special access through His power. So, I would tell anyone – if it is absolutely impossible for you to be baptized, and you have been given special exemption by Jesus Himself, then don’t worry about it:)
Until then, Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Reply
Mark at 4:30 pm

Another verse to consider is Hebrews 12:2. Jesus is the author of faith. When we categorize faith by what we don’t have to do, we might not be acting in faith as much as we hope we are. Whenever we use grace and faith as a means to get out of being obedient to faith, we’ve probably missed the point.
John 12:42: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.

Reply
Keith Parker at 1:28 pm

Great words, Mark. We don’t approach other people we love with the “what is the least I can get by with” mentality, so why would we think that’s okay with Christ? Like the eunuch says in Acts 8, “Here’s water, why NOT be baptized?”

Reply
Nathan Powell at 10:30 am

Great post Keith. With God making exceptions. Why live in hope of God making exceptions, when we know with certainty that we are to be immersed?
And how much is it a work than confessing before a crowd in a prayer that is not found in scripture. I do not hate the sinners prayer (it is a good repentance prayer), but I lead students to be buried with Christ. For that is where Paul says we are united (Romans 6:5).
There are times in Acts that the Holy Spirit showed up because of the laying on of hands (See conversion of Cornelius). But it is through the laying on of hands by the apostles. And I do not believe that apostolic authority is passed down. I do not believe in apostolic succession (see Acts 8 and Simon the sorcerer).
Baptism is a hand to accept the free gift. A hand to extend along with believing, confessing, and repentance.

Reply
Keith Parker at 10:58 am

Thanks, Nate. Good words. I love the words of Francis Chan on this. He says, “Jesus says to be baptized, so just do it and stop arguing about it.” Pretty simple, but also pretty clear.

Reply
Chase M. at 6:17 pm

Loved these two posts today. Thanks for sharing and getting us to think. I didn’t know that Arminians held that view of Baptism, I find that kind of surprising. I’ll need to read more about that aspect.

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Keith Parker at 8:54 pm

Hey Chase, the title is a little misleading. My post is from the Restoration Movement point of view. Baptism may not be a staple of Arminianism as a whole – I’m not sure. But it is a vital part of Restoration Movement doctrine.

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Chase M. at 6:17 pm

Loved these two posts today. Thanks for sharing and getting us to think. I didn’t know that Arminians held that view of Baptism, I find that kind of surprising. I’ll need to read more about that aspect.

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Keith Parker at 8:54 pm

Hey Chase, the title is a little misleading. My post is from the Restoration Movement point of view. Baptism may not be a staple of Arminianism as a whole – I’m not sure. But it is a vital part of Restoration Movement doctrine.

Reply
Zach Gibson at 2:25 pm

I’m another Restoration Movement guy, and loved your post Keith. I think we probably see eye to eye on a number of things. I agree with the first person that commented on this post, I believe we should have room to disagree theologically with other believers in a manner that isn’t divisive to the Body of Christ as a whole. My brother-in-law is a 5 point Calvinist who I have disagreed with many times. We read Romans together last year and came to vastly different conclusions on a number of passages, but for the two of us, we’ve both got the same end in mind and can agree on the truth of Jesus and what he did on the cross.
For me, it’s important to instil the importance of the Word of God in my Student’s Development and encourage them to read the Bible for themselves and allow them decided for themselves to be guided by that Holy Spirit as to how they understand Scripture.

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Zach Gibson at 2:25 pm

I’m another Restoration Movement guy, and loved your post Keith. I think we probably see eye to eye on a number of things. I agree with the first person that commented on this post, I believe we should have room to disagree theologically with other believers in a manner that isn’t divisive to the Body of Christ as a whole. My brother-in-law is a 5 point Calvinist who I have disagreed with many times. We read Romans together last year and came to vastly different conclusions on a number of passages, but for the two of us, we’ve both got the same end in mind and can agree on the truth of Jesus and what he did on the cross.
For me, it’s important to instil the importance of the Word of God in my Student’s Development and encourage them to read the Bible for themselves and allow them decided for themselves to be guided by that Holy Spirit as to how they understand Scripture.

Reply
Nikomas at 2:30 pm

Great post Keith. I didn’t grow up in the Restoration Movement, but after studying it’s history and it’s heart on the authority of scripture and unity among denominations, I fell in love with the movement. Baptism was the biggest hurdle to get over…but after doing an in-depth study on the movement’s belief’s and studying the scriptures, I hold it’s importance as much greater than I ever did before. Have been in restoration movement churches for the past 12 years now.

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