My wife and I emigrated to Canada in 1963. We settled in Toronto, where I did pharmaceutical work with Glaxo. I had a number of opportunities to preach the gospel, and after two years was asked to become interim pastor of a small church 40 miles from Toronto.
In 1966, I left Glaxo and studied for a year at Toronto Baptist Seminary, while continuing in pastoral ministry. By this time I had been called to a Baptist church in Toronto. It was during this time that I came to understand the doctrines of grace.
I was concerned, not only to teach these newly appreciated truths in my own church, but to find other pastors with whom I could have fellowship. It soon became evident that there was considerable hostility towards those who preached the Reformed faith.
However, I discovered a small group of pastors who held to the doctrines of grace and who gathered monthly for fellowship and the discussion of theological and pastoral topics.
The obvious leader was Bill Payne and we soon became good friends and close colleagues. It was the beginning of a happy 25-year relationship.
We sought to promote Reformed doctrine throughout Canada by means of conferences and literature. We established a pastors’ conference, a family conference (now 400 strong). We also started a quarterly journal, Reformation Canada (which ceased publication after 16 years when Bill fell sick in 1994 and I returned to Britain).
Another venture dear to Bill’s heart was the establishing of the Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Baptist Churches. This began as a loose association of six churches in 1984. Even now it numbers only ten, though there are other churches showing interest.
Bill Payne died in 1997; and my wife and I returned to Canada in 1999. The Sovereign Grace Fellowship has now become a formal association and I have been appointed as its first co-ordinator.
Looking back over more than 30 years, I cannot help wondering why the growth of the Reformed ‘movement’ has been so slow, and why there has been so much hostility towards men who preach the doctrines of grace. Some pastors have had to leave their churches because of their Calvinism.
Perhaps one reason is the reluctance of some pastors to identify with a movement so maligned. As to the nature of this opposition, two main charges have been brought.
The first was that Reformed pastors displayed a lack of love and patience. Sometimes when pastors embrace the doctrines of grace it brings a radical change in their ministry – I have even heard it described as a ‘second conversion’.
Such pastors wondered why they hadn’t seen these things before, and how anyone else could fail to see them!
I heard of one situation where a pastor’s Calvinistic preaching had caused deep division in his church. A mediator was brought in and asked the pastor how long it took him to understand the doctrines of grace.
He replied: ‘several years’ (I forget the exact number). One of the deacons in the church then spoke up: ‘It took you several years, yet you expect us to see these things in a few months!’
I think aggressive and unbalanced teaching of Calvinism produced hostility against the Reformed position. How important it is not only to preach the doctrines of grace, but also to exhibit the grace of the doctrines!
The second accusation was that Reformed pastors neglected evangelism. Perhaps there was some justification for that charge too.
Sometimes when men came to see the glorious truths of God’s sovereign grace, they were so taken up with them that they lost evangelistic fervour. Some also found it difficult to reconcile God’s electing grace with the ‘free offer’ of the gospel.
In recent years I have seen more mellowness among Reformed pastors in Canada and more evangelistic fervour. With these changes, I trust and pray that there will be a steady advance in the acceptance of Reformed truth, and that a warm preaching of these biblical doctrines will bring glory to God and result in many more Reformed churches being established.