1. Everything is spiritual
One of my favorite things about the Reformed Church is its emphasis on the total sovereignty of God. The byproduct of that mantra is recognizing that there are no truths that are not part of God’s Truth. That means the Reformed Church integrates faith with everything. Faith and learning; faith and work; faith and family; faith and life. I love how our spiritual life is not separate from the rest of life. For me, this plays out in two big ways:
- Heart and head: The integration of faith and learning is really important to me, and I think it comes out of the Reformed community in which I came up. No issue is too tough to tackle. No opinion or culture or finding of science needs to be feared.
- Heart and hands: Because everything falls under God’s awesome sovereignty, we are Christians everywhere and in everything. The Reformed Church taught me to be a Christian not only at church, but also at home, at work, at school and on the street. This all-encompassing faith also demands an emphasis on social justice. We have to give our whole lives to God. They’re his anyway.
Probably every church talks up its community. The Reformed Church is no different. But beyond youth group and potlucks, I’m thankful for the prioritization of things like Bible studies (the real, intellectual, searching kind), small groups, prayer groups, mission teams, outreach committees and especially Cadets and Gems.
Cadets, a group for young boys — similar to a Christian Reformed boy scout troop — was important to me because of the pinewood derbies, campouts and badges, but also because of the focus on the Bible and being a godly man.
3. Guilt and grace.
This one may sound weird, but I really appreciate the Reformed views on guilt and grace. For me, those two doctrines permeate my whole worldview.
I’m sure my ideas about guilt come from the Reformed concept of total depravity — the idea that we are utterly sinful apart from Jesus — which, to me, seems terribly clear. A lot of people dislike the idea of total depravity, thinking we are really not so bad, but I think it explains so much of the way I am and the way the world is.
Also, it makes the Reformed notion of grace — sola gratia (grace alone) through sola Christos (Christ alone) — that much sweeter. It has fixed in me the realization that every good and perfect thing is a gift of God, which in turn inspires humility, a grateful heart, worship and, hopefully, more grace.
4. Appreciation for history and tradition.
Something that I miss about the Reformed tradition — I haven’t seen as much from Protestants outside it — is a prioritization on the Church’s history and tradition. I’m not talking about the sacraments or liturgy (because, quite frankly, the Reformed Church could stand to improve in those areas). I’m talking about what the Church has passed down for generations.
The modern Protestant focus on scripture is appropriate and essential, but the Reformed Church is where I learned to recite the creeds and where I was taught the catechism. I love the constant return to statements of faith. I grew up saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, and I’m sure their use varies from church to church, but I’m not sure they can be overused.
And, these days, with as much emphasis as is placed on Calvin, Luther, John Piper and C.S. Lewis, the Reformed Church taught me to love the Church fathers, too. No one loves Augustine more than a Calvinist. Aquinas, Origen, Ignatius and countless others are cool, too.
Christianity did not start with the Reformation, and I’m glad the Reformed Church sees the value in the fifteen hundred years of Church history leading up to it.
5. I know and love the Bible.
Another of the five solas is sola scriptura (scripture alone), and while I don’t know the Bible as well as I should, its centrality is not lost on me.
Among my earliest memories are images of my siblings and I sitting in the church pew doing speed races to see who could find Amos the fastest. Memorizing verses; reciting the books of the Bible; singing The B.I.B.L.E.; reading books about the Bible and marking pages with Bible-versed bookmarks; learning about the Word from the likes of Psalty, The Donut Man and Mr. Whitaker; and hearing the Bible preached every time the pastor stepped to the pulpit. All of this hammering-home had the desired effect, at least on me. And, yes, I’m glad.
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While none of these points are the exclusive province of the Reformed Church, they are, at least for me, trademarks. I’m interested to know what others from the Reformed Church have held onto tightly, and what those from other traditions would say were among their biggest takeaways.
This post was inspired by — and piggy-backs on — a recent piece by Rachel Held Evans called 5 reasons I’m glad I was raised Evangelical. (The point about knowing and loving the Bible is shared.)
What’s the difference between Reformed and Evangelical? There are a lot of perspectives here. Some think the terms are synonymous. Others say all Reformed Christians are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals are Reformed. Some suggest differences in our understandings of worship or Church hierarchy. Others posit theological differences, mostly relating to prioritization of doctrines, not on interpretation.
Reformed or Evangelicals — or Mainline, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. — the important thing is that we are, above all, followers of Jesus.