Part 3: My Testimony as a Member of Arab First Baptist; Background Information for Context
Isn’t This Sort of Discussion Out-of- Bounds?
I can honestly say this is a blog post I never would’ve believed I’d write. When bad things happen in churches, we all seem to live by this unstated rule that we are to keep silent about it. For almost 6 months now I’ve been mostly silent with the exception of the few church authorities I’ve reached out to. I have attempted to follow the Biblical steps laid out in Matthew 16:15-17 for resolving conflict via the proper chain of authority. That has been a long, arduous process, but in the end (or almost end, this really isn’t completely over), it has been effective. I believe that the deacon body as a whole has done the absolute best they can to address the situation in accordance with Biblical principles, extending grace to all parties involved. David Kizziah resigned last week as senior pastor of Arab First Baptist Church, which was a decision that I believe was the right one to make under the circumstances he had created.
If that’s the case, why am I writing this? Currently we are at the stage in which church members are deciding whether they will remain at AFBC or leave. There is a lot of confusion, because there has been absolutely no transparency with the congregation as a whole to date. Frankly, David and some of those who support him have been intentionally perpetuating the false narrative that my conflict with him, and the additional conflict that has arisen pursuant to that, is primarily regarding disagreement over secondary theological views (i.e., Calvinism). This is absolutely, unequivocally untrue. It serves only to damage personal relationships and cause division. I have evidence to corroborate that this is false. A few of those who are supporting David have this evidence, yet have made the decision to facilitate this falsehood anyway. Some of those who are supporting David do not have this evidence and likely have no idea that it exists.
Therefore, I find myself between a rock and hard place. I know there are people groping around in the darkness, trying to make good decisions. I’m standing here with a flash light, but I haven’t turned it on. There are other people who I love and greatly respect who will not agree that I should provide this information in such a public forum, and may be angry that I have chosen to do so. Ultimately, my silence, while appropriate at first, now only serves to enable David to continue in what I view as his attempts to mislead and divide.
A Little Full Transparency of My Own
Our family moved to Arab when my children were 10, 6, and 3. I was struggling internally about joining a church. I really didn’t want to. (I have a complicated religious background that involves being raised in a doomsday-type cult up until the age of 14 when the group split.) I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit to put myself out there again, but I was still resisting. I had been my kids’ Bible teacher for several years and I really wanted them to have the experience of growing with a church family. For all its warts, that is something that the church I was raised in did exceedingly well, and I will always treasure those memories and relationships.
When my youngest turned 4, I enrolled him at AFBC preschool, and later signed him up for the Upward Basketball team. That year, I met a wonderful woman whose son also played Upward ball and went to school with my youngest son. We had some great conversations about the Bible and she invited me to AFBC’s Tuesday morning women’s Bible study. She was really my first friend in Arab. After two years of attending this women’s Bible study regularly, I finally began visiting for worship on Sundays, then we began coming for Sunday school as well. Within a few weeks, the pastor announced that he was leaving, and after that we had several guest pastors, followed by an interim pastor. My children were really thriving in the church’s children’s and youth ministry programs. Honestly, at the time, this was enough to really attach myself to this body.
I was nervous about joining without knowing who the incoming pastor would be, but I didn’t think the one they had when I arrived was Calvinist. I ended up attending a potential member orientation class, and I asked the Associate Pastor who was teaching the class directly what he thought the odds were of a Calvinist pastor being hired. (While I’m not anti-Calvinist, of course one prefers to join with a body as closely in alignment with ones views as possible.) He explained that prior to the pastor who had just left, the pastor they had had for 20 years was staunchly non-Calvinist. This encouraged me, and shortly afterward we joined the church.
David Kizziah is Hired as Pastor of AFBC
At one point during the pastor search, the friend that I mentioned above told me in Sunday school that her husband (who is a deacon and was also on the pastor search committee) had been tasked with presenting a paper explaining Calvinism to the rest of the committee. I did know that there were a few members of our church who were Calvinist. She and I had had conversations about Calvinism in our years together in Bible study, and she knew my stance very well. I no longer know what her stance was at the time of this particular conversation, but I do know that in our previous conversations she had been in agreement with me.
Later on, during the infamous Covid chaos of 2020, pastoral candidate David Kizziah was introduced to our church. The pastor search committee had landed on him after a lengthy search. He had familial connections with the pastor who had been with AFBC for 20 years prior to his retirement, and apparently had that pastor’s recommendation as well. Due to the out-of-the ordinary circumstances Covid caused, the entire pastor search committee did not get to meet with David in person. My friend’s husband went alone to interview him and recorded the interview. When David and his family were introduced to the congregation via video, I instantly liked them. They seemed open, honest, sincere, and were genuinely likeable. I did wish that the congregation had been kept more in the loop on his views, and maybe even have had the opportunity to ask him questions directly, but I didn’t go to any steps to ask anyone if this was possible. I’m sure that I could have if I had asked, but I did not. He was affirmed by the congregation.
I eagerly listened to his sermons, trying to see if I could pick up any clues regarding his soteriological persuasion. There were various inconclusive remarks that gave me pause, but by his third month in the pulpit I was positive that he was, indeed, Calvinist. In all honesty, I was bummed. However, I truly believed that he was one of the most sincere, genuinely caring pastors I had known. I never considered leaving due to my discovery. The kids were happy in their thoroughly non-Calvinist children’s and youth classes, and I was content to use the content of his sermons that I disagreed with as a tool to teach my kids what we believe and why we believe it. I didn’t say a word to anyone in the congregation.
At the time, it did not even cross my mind to consider why the pastor search committee had not disclosed to the congregation that he affirmed Calvinist doctrine. Why? I have no idea. For some reason it just didn’t. This general state of things continued for about two years. During that time, I began serving in the capacity of children’s Sunday school teacher. My oldest son, Kane, developed a passion for theology and studied it and the Bible like it was his job. Now, at the age of 17, he’s literally my favorite person to have deep theological conversations with. He also joined the tech team and became one of the primary tech guys for the youth as well as the main worship service. I believe this back story sufficiently sets the stage for a proper contextual understanding of Part 4 of this series. We weren’t disgruntled. We were happy overall, and I (we) will forever be grateful for how the children’s and youth ministry staff and volunteers have poured into my children. They have grown in the Lord under their discipleship and my two oldest have been baptized at AFBC.
A lot of people are hostile toward Calvinism. I completely empathize with their reasons, and I’d be lying if I said this experience with David Kizziah has not altered my perception going forward. However, I am still not hostile. When I re-devoted myself to study of the Bible after years of being disaffected with religion in general (but not God), I was very attracted to Calvinism, although I would not have recognized it by name.
David Platt was my favorite pastor for years. I loved to listen to Matt Chandler, Paul Washer, and Voddie Baucham. I took several free, online classes from Credo Courses, which is Calvinist Michael Patton’s organization. When I had Bible questions, I was reading online ministries such as John Piper’s Desiring God, R.C.Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, and GotQuestions (yes, they’re Calvinist leaning). That’s probably why I was Calvinist leaning without even realizing it! Almost all theological internet searches are going to land you on primarily Calvinistic resources. Calvinist scholars are prolific writers and Calvinists are excellent in supporting those ministries. I appreciate those ministries and I greatly value all that I have learned from them.
The deeper I got the less satisfied I became with Calvinist answers to certain questions. Whew, some of that doctrinal fine print is a doozy. I became less convinced that their interpretation of certain passages was accurate. Alarm bells went off for me when I realized that I was having to engage in the same cognitive dissonance to “accept” Calvinist interpretations of certain Scriptures that I’d had to employ to follow some of the Scriptural interpretations promoted by my childhood church. By the time of my first associations with Arab First Baptist, I was thoroughly non-Calvinist.
I don’t consider Calvinism to be heresy. I think we’re far too quick to use that word. At this point it is used for just about anyone who disagrees with us in the slightest. That’s not to say that I don’t have very serious disagreements with Calvinism. It is apparent throughout this series that I do. So apparent that I believe it necessary to write this disclaimer before anyone gets the wrong impression. It is my belief that Calvinism, or Reformed doctrine, or the doctrines of grace, or whatever anyone wants to call it, defames the character of God in large part due to its misunderstanding of the Biblical definition of sovereignty.
It is also true that protestant Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree on a whole lot more than we disagree on. I do believe Calvinists and non-Calvinists can worship happily together under the same roof. I think it takes practical, intentional action to foster unity in such a scenario. I want to make abundantly clear that while David’s Calvinist views play center stage in the recounting of this story, they are in no way the reason for the opinions I have come to hold of him. I was content for two years to sit under his leadership knowing full well his theological views, and at no time did I attempt to cause division in our church. Any claims to the contrary are simply fallacious, and without ground.
What Else Do I Hope to Achieve?
It is my sincere desire to use our experience to help other non-Calvinist churches within our own Southern Baptist Convention to avoid this, now all-to-common, Calvinist take-over occurrence.