Where Did You Grow Up And How Did You Come To Faith?
Up to the age of about 16, the South Florida/Miami area was my home. I was raised in neither a nominal nor an actual Christian home. At 16 my mom then moved me to the Washington, D. C. metropolitan area in order to obtain a fresh start considering my increasingly delinquent adolescence. It was in the D.C. area where the Lord summoned me to saving faith through the saving news of Christ in the covenant of grace. Through a web of mysterious providential events, I ended up picking up a Bible and being regenerated alone in a basement with a King James Version of the Holy Scriptures. My first destination as a believer was to join a predestinarian charismatic church (Covenant life, where Joshua Harris pastored at the time). Ironically, my second destination was to pursue ministerial training at a Dispensational seminary known as the Master’s Seminary, in Los Angeles. My journey to the Reformed faith began with two detours in the Young, restless, and reformed world and the dispensational Calvinistic world.
Describe Your Journey To The Reformed Faith And What Appealed To You About It?
My journey to the reformed faith began experientially in conversion. By this I mean to say that upon conversion I was self-conscious of the fact that the only logical reason for my exercise of faith was a God’s sovereign work. I was moved from an active hostility to evangelical Christianity to zealousness for the Lord from one moment to the next. From the very beginning I knew that God did not assist my ability to decide, but rather created an ability to will that I did not naturally possess in order to decide. In light of my experience I have never understood the evangelical rhetoric about “deciding for Christ” and/or “giving my heart to Christ.”
The second step in my journey was encountering the intriguing Christological richness of the Puritans. At my Dispensational seminary, I was assigned to read the works of men such as John Owen, Thomas Brooks, and Richard Sibbes. My intrigue with the Puritans was with their consistent preoccupation with the priority and pre-eminence of Christ in all matters theological and spiritual. I began to reflect deeply on why these men who, according to my seminary, were allegedly in gross error on matters of eschatology, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics, seemed to be the only ones that were constantly emphatic on matters that were of the essence of the faith. I asked, “Why is it that these quasi-Romanistic baby dippers seem to have captured and mastered the art of regularly radiating Christianity around the Christological center?”
Another vital step in the journey was my experience with my ecclesiological circle. The reasons evaded me at the time, but I continued to encounter a piety that was grossly inward and subjective. It seems that the Lordship of Christ was more a matter of subjective surrender and less a matter of objective provision and reception. The sacraments were signs of internal volition rather than being signs and seals of the covenant of grace (they were more about the recipient than the Rescuer). The church was primarily a place where God receives the piety of the virtuous in another crisis moment rather than a place where He regularly dispenses the effectual promises of the mediator through means. The Bible was oftentimes about Israel or me and only about Christ when it jumped off the page with billboard-like obtuse, obviousness. In sum, I was increasingly growing weary of a theology, piety, and practice that seemed to be more about the Christian than the Christ (and the Triune God). As I existed in an evangelical culture that regularly directed me inward, I was longing for a piety that directed me outward, a piety that the Reformed tradition would eventually provide.
In my seminary I had a class that required me to do devotions in John Calvin’s, Institutes of the Christian Religion. What shocked me was how much Calvin’s theological arguments were inundated with Bible references from the totality of the scriptures (not just parts). When Calvin spoke of baptism, he spoke from the totality of the Bible, not merely a few references in Acts. It was in that moment that I saw the stark contrast from my reformed-ish circle. We talked a lot about the Bible and had a lot of assumptions that we brought to the Bible; but Calvin taught much from the Bible and drew his assumptions about the Bible from the Bible itself. I was taught that the Reformed brought much of their assumptions to the Bible when in fact Calvin showed me the very opposite. I saw the difference between being a biblicist with much a-priori assumptions from being a biblical theologian who reasoned from the scriptures. My intrigue with the allegedly “Romanist” baby dippers continued.
As I completed seminary, I moved to Miami to plant a local church from scratch with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I felt an inward compulsion to return home in order to work out my pastoral call. It was in that process that I was ordained in the SBC for the particular work of church planting. I was still on my journey in the reformed-ish world of Baptistic 5 pointers. It was at that point that I also joined Acts 29 in order to facilitate the endeavor of church planting. Shortly thereafter, I regularly found myself facing a theological and philosophical breadth in the SBC/Acts 29 world that troubled my conscience. It seemed that every local church had its own confession which was nothing more than the objectifying of a prominent personality; it reminded me more of the book of Judges than the pastoral epistles (every man doing what is right in His own eyes). Soteriology had little or no bearing on ecclesiology or methodology. If you believed in predestination and inspiration, all else was a free for all. In some churches, gospel was mixed with law and law with gospel in a “glawspel” mess, and in others there was gospel with no law and/or law with very little gospel. Law and gospel devoid of covenantal categories of administration regularly blurs our response with God’s redemption. One church had lower case prophets speaking fallibly and another church would be chanting some modern version of “no creed but Christ.” You would have one Calvinist pastor calling his people to the efficacy of the means of grace and another Calvinist pastor calling his people to the efficacy of the means of grace plus the efficacy of incoherent private prayer “tongues.” I was very uncomfortable with how broad and how wide new Calvinism was. On the pavement of ministry such matters become apparent. It felt as if we were inventing Christianity as we went while giving lip service to whatever ancient reformer we fancied. I felt like we were claiming to walk in the theology of Calvin while being oblivious to ninety percent of the institutes. In the church plant, I adopted the London Baptist Confession (LBC) of 1689 in an attempt to have some kind of historic, transcendent boundaries in the midst of my discomfort with the ecclesiological anarchy of the Calvinistic congregational world. I also decided to include the reading of the Heidelberg Catechism in our liturgy. This was a meager attempt to remedy the situation that left me wanting. I was longing for a Calvinism that was confessional. I was longing for a theology that was inherited from the historic church not generated by the latest “Big Eva” spokesman.
In my quest to have a theology and piety that was consistently Christ-centered and coherently so, I turned to the wild, wild Westminster West faculty (dead and alive). I devoured the writing of men such Horton, Clark, Johnson, Kline, Riddlebarger, and VanDrunen. It was there where I was able to see a redemptive-historical, Christological coherence in interpretation, redemption, ecclesiology and methodology. All the Bible and systematics were coming together in redemptive historical coherence in ways that the Calvinistic Dispensational and/or progressive Dispensational models had divided. Still, however, I could not resolve the baptism quandary which heightened the dilemma. Why is it that the men who are helping me see all the rooms in the Christian building in the Christo-covenantal epicenter, to help me pastor my church, are all these paedobaptists? The book of Galatians would provide the needed assistance. It was as I was preaching through the book of Galatians, verse by verse, that I learned a few things to bring me fully into the Reformed faith. The things were:
- Covenantal continuity not discontinuity
- Abraham is not Moses
- Abraham is our present prototype of faith
- One story united in substance but distinguished by shadow
- Different administrations of the same covenant of grace, not a different covenant.
Months later I was baptizing babies and had gotten off the on-ramp of the New Calvinism and onto the highway for cruising of covenantal, confessional, and connectional old Calvinism.
What Was The Cost Of Coming To The Reformed Faith?
My journey into the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) was indeed a rocky one. My sponsoring church cut personal ties and all financing immediately (death sentence to a new church plant). About a third of the church plant went back to Baptist-congregational land. I was treated more like I left for Rome than as if I had left for Geneva. Further, many of my Latino and other minority peers (I am second-generation Cuban) acted as if I had sold out Christ for the white-man’s religion. As costly as all this was, I have to say that, in the larger picture, it was not as costly as doing ministry devoid of covenant, confessions, and connection. I chose the drama, financial hardship, and relationship casualties over modern day version of the book of Judges in the non-confessional congregational world of New Calvinism.
What Are The Benefits Of Pastoring In The Reformed Faith?
There are many things I could say here but I will focus on what I have seen pastorally in Miami, predominately in a Latino context. In Miami, Latinos have been governed by the word of an anointed pastor or “apostle.” Now I am seeing them enjoy being governed by an objective divine word expressed through historic documents in a plurality of elders. Spiritual tyranny, hierarchy, and aristocracy is over. In Miami, Latinos have been exhausted and run to the ground with a subjective piety and the quest for higher religious experiences [editor’s note: see the resources below on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience or QIRE] but now they are being refreshed by regularly experiencing the objective, effectual, ordinary means of grace. In Miami, Latinos have been enslaved by extra-biblical laws and rituals but now I am seeing their consciences liberated by becoming bound by the Word of God. In Miami, Latinos have been motivated by shame and some cultural version of the covenant of works but now I see them motivated by the covenant of grace. In Miami, Latinos have been trained to make every story of the Bible a moral charge for personal ascent of various sorts but now I am witnessing them read all the Bible in light of the of the one story of the grace of One triune God in Christ. In Miami, Latinos are told that sacraments are for those that have been subjectively judged to pass the bar of religious experience but now I am seeing family after family baptize their children because of what God has promised about his covenant and not in light of what they see. In Miami, I have come to see that the Reformed faith is not European but that it is truly ecumenical and for the nations. In the coming years, Lord willing, we will see a growing number of Latin people and others understand that the word Reformed means more than five points but also three governing points: covenantal, confessional, connectional.
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- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008) [including a chapters on the QIRC and the QIRE]
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- Discovering The Reformed Confession
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- Saints and Sinners Unplugged Podcast (with Ken Jones, Aldo Leon, Jose Prado, and David Menendez)
- In Case You Weren’t Sure What QIRE Means
- The QIRE Distilled To Its Essence
- Resources On Dispensationalism
- Resources On The Young, Restless, And Reformed and New Calvinism Movements
- Resources On The Unity Of The Covenant Of Grace
- Resources On The Role Of Abraham In Redemptive History
- Resources On Reformed Piety
- A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology And Infant Baptism
- Resources For Those Discovering The Reformed Confession
- Resources For Those Beginning To Study Covenant Theology
- Resources On Continuing Revelation
- Why This Reformed Christian Will Not Be Charismatic In 2018
- Confessions Of A Former Charismatic
Rev. Aldo Leon is a good guy, good friend, and faithful preacher of the explicit Gospel. Grateful for men like him remaining true to his calling and not compromising those truths for money or anything else.
Thank you for sharing your story, it was edifying to hear.
Phenomenal and encouraging read. Thank you for posting this.
Aldo has put into words the genuine experience of so many. I resonate with virtually everything Rev. Aldo Leon here says.
I had left the ACTS 29 Network, and even their Church planting residency, to relocate to the OPC about 6-7 years ago. Since then, I now have many close brothers, along with their households, who share the same story in the two local NAPARC congregations (OPC and RPCNA).
Soli Deo Gloria.
a lovely testimony! Though I daresay to characterize the Master’s Seminary as a “Dispensational” seminary is certainly oversimplifying the case! Unless they have moved far afield of a grammatico-historical approach, while it’s true they may teach dispensationalism, 95% of their doctrine would likely fit in any NAPARC church. Or, as I like to say, they are certainly “Reformed-friendly”.
I took it to mean their eschatology is dispensational. It’s clear that they’re “reformed-friendly,” as you put it, given the assigned readings and requirement to do devotions from the Institutes.