In May, it will have been two years since I graduated from Regent College with my Master of Divinity degree in hand. Later this summer, I will have served two years as a pastoral intern at Bellingham Covenant Church. In June, I will have spent two school years as a bus driver in the Ferndale School District.
When I graduated from Regent, I didn’t expect those last two sentences to happen. What I expected was that I would graduate, I would serve as an intern for maybe a year, I would marry Mary, and I would get a position as a pastor or associate pastor in a Covenant church somewhere.
The most important of those things I expected and wanted to happen, marrying Mary, did happen. The rest didn’t.
A few months ago, I was talking with a friend and fellow former Regent student. We have a lot in common, the two of us: we both have a strong desire to serve the church, we both are passionate about the education of laypeople… and we both have been disappointed in our search for jobs as pastors.
When I was at Regent, and even before I got there, I was under the impression that pastors who would preach the gospel were in high demand. I don’t know how I got that impression. Maybe it was in a preaching class. Maybe it was in classes that dealt with missions, like “Equipping the Church for First-World Re-Evangelization.” Maybe it was from poring over statistics about the high rate of baby boomer pastors who were on the verge of retirement age, or shrinking churches and denominations who were looking for ways to revitalize.
Wherever I got that impression, when I left Regent I was ready to go out into the church and, if not change it, at least begin learning how to be a good pastor.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I began to look for positions in my chosen denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, and found that there were few positions to be found, desirable or otherwise. All I kept hearing about was “The Glut” of people, like me, who are attracted to the Covenant and join it, thereby creating far more potential pastors than churches they might serve.
While I was at Regent, I attended a Christian Reformed church in Vancouver. I liked that church. But as time went by, and I thought about what it would take to become ordained as a pastor in the CRC, I began to have doubts. Specifically, I had doubts about the Canons of Dort.
The Canons of Dort is a document drawn up by the Synod of Dort, which met in the Netherlands in 1618-19 in order to reject Arminianism and affirm the Reformed faith. People ordained in the CRC are required to say that all of its articles and points of doctrine “fully agree with the Word of God.”
The problem is that I don’t think they do. That is, I think that when it comes to the question in the Bible of who is saved and when, there are two answers. One is that God chooses to save or damn people before they are born, before they do anything. Another is that God desires to bring people to himself, but he gives people the freedom to reject him, and some choose to do that.
Christians have been arguing about how to reconcile those two biblical answers for a long time. The Canons of Dort, as I read them, decisively come down in favor of the former. The problem that I have with the Canons of Dort, then, is not that they are unbiblical. It is that they resolve a tension within the Bible that I think God has seen fit to leave intact.
When I talked to people in the CRC about this problem that I had, they didn’t think it was a problem. They emphasized how God didn’t actively damn people before they were born, but just “passed by” them. Since all people have sinned, I supposed they deserved what they got, but the whole scheme seemed kind of arbitrary to me. What was the difference between “passing by” and active damnation? It seemed to me there was none. The more I talked with people in the CRC, the more I realized that they interpreted the Canons of Dort differently than I did, and that they had no problems with it. If I interpreted the Canons of Dort the way they did, maybe I wouldn’t either. But I decided that if I was going to be the one signing the form of subscription, my conscience had better allow me to do it, and it didn’t.
That is part of the story of how I got into this mess, of having graduated from seminary with no church to serve in. I sometimes wonder, even after having spent four years there, if going to seminary was a mistake. If wanting to be a pastor is a mistake. If it is, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be redeemed. Maybe I’ll end up with a job that isn’t pastoring at all, but that uses the education I have. God is in the redeeming business, and I’ve certainly made mistakes that have been redeemed before. But if it isn’t a mistake, then I need a push, because right now I’m struggling with discouragement.