Calvinism is named for John Calvin, seen here in an engraving from an original oil painting in the University Library of Geneva. This is considered Calvin's best likeness.
While most Baptist churches are named chronologically, such as “First” or geographically, such as “Hillcrest,” the name of a new church in Yanceyville reflects a growing influence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists.
Covenant Reformed Baptist Church is one of only six North Carolina Baptist churches with “covenant” in its name, and the only one that includes “reformed,” according to the Baptist State Convention online church directory.
Pastor John Carpenter said that while Covenant Reformed Baptist Church’s name might turn some people off, it has been a “net profit.”
The population as a whole doesn’t seem put off by the word “reformed,” he said.
Carpenter said he doesn’t get many questions about the name and clearly explains the church’s theological position in a new members class.
“Calvinist and Reformed are pretty much synonymous,” he said. “For all practical purposes, they’re the same.”
Calvinism has gained popularity among Southern Baptists in recent years. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is among the most vocal national Baptist proponents of Calvinism.
Calvinists generally hold to most or all of five positions known by the acrostic TULIP — Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Surveys show that seminarians preparing for ministry in Southern Baptist churches hold to these five points of Calvinism at a significantly higher rate than do pastors currently leading churches.
That dichotomy implies that to avoid potential conflicts, churches searching in the near future for pastors from among recent seminary graduates will need to be sure the potential pastor’s perspective on “reformed theology” aligns with theirs.
Carpenter said a lot of Baptist Calvinists don’t use the word “reformed” but say instead the “doctrines of grace.”
Covenant, which started in May 2008, meets in the Caswell County Parks and Recreation Center in Yanceyville. A number of beliefs and practices distinguish the church from a traditional Baptist church, Carpenter said.
Carpenter teaches that the purpose of the church is not evangelism but to glorify God. “One primary way we do that is evangelism,” he said.
Carpenter said churches that become consumed with evangelism often try too hard to appeal to people and end up trying to appease them.
“It’s no less a commitment to evangelism,” he said. “In a way it’s a higher commitment to discipleship.”
Carpenter said he doesn’t believe in using music as a psychological tool to change the mood and coerce people.
“It forces a decision, then insures them they’re saved and they may not be,” he said.
Carpenter said he doesn’t believe churches can make salvation happen by manipulating people.
“It’s God who makes conversion possible,” he said.
Covenant does not have an altar call at the end of worship. Instead there is a time of silence and prayer. Carpenter tells people that he’s available after the service if they need to talk.
Some Reformed churches might have an altar call, but it’s not high pressure, Carpenter said. Church leaders believe that if somebody is going to be saved, it’s up to Holy Spirit.
“Putting pressure on people is not necessary,” he said. “If God is going to save them, He will do it.”
Carpenter said he believes in evangelism and does not describe himself as a “hyper-Calvinist.”
“Hyper-Calvinism” is discounted by many Southern Baptist Calvinists because it sticks so closely to the doctrines of “limited atonement” and foreordination that evangelism is unnecessary.
“What we don’t need is the pressure and gimmicks,” he said.
Carpenter said worship should not be an ongoing evangelism rally. Instead the church should reach out after reaching up to God.
Covenant strives for God-centered worship, Carpenter said. The church uses hymns and praise songs as long as they are focused on God.
“The main criteria is to glorify God, not to just appeal to people,” Carpenter said.
Covenant has elders who work with the pastor. The church does not have women elders, but since deacons are servants instead of rulers, there’s no reason women cannot serve as deacons, Carpenter said.
Covenant also practices church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18, Carpenter said.
If someone doesn’t attend for a long time, church discipline calls for the person to be removed as a member. Carpenter said Baptists once believed in the integrity of church membership with churches excommunicating up to two percent of their members a year.
Carpenter said his beliefs are pretty much in line with Mark Dever, who preached the convention sermon at the Baptist State Convention annual meeting.
“It’s not as if we’re a fringe group,” he said. “We’re not trying to get in. We’re already in.”