Calvinism on Fire: Always Reforming

Previously I discussed the reasons for this series on Calvinism on Fire and argued that Calvinism changes culture, tilts world-views, & burns uncontrollably for the cause of Christ. Now I will argue this is true in ten ways. So keep your seat belts on and tray tables in the upright position.

#1 A Passion for God’s Glory

#2 The Gospel: 1st Importance

#3 Feed My Sheep
#4 The Original Fightin’ Fundies
#5 Evangelistic Fervor
#6 Violently Pursing Holiness
#7 Humility: Our Mind in Christ

#8 Fundamentally Trinitarian 
#9 Always Reforming

I have not mainly written this series to show how much of a reformed fan boy I am. I do believe the reformed faith is the Biblical faith and I use the distinction reformed because there are so many flavors of “Christianity” today. They can’t all be right. I seek to be gracious to those who disagree with me but I still disagree with them and obviously think they are wrong. Because of this I advocate for what I believe is the biblical expression of Christianity.

And although (as I have said elsewhere and again) we seek to bring people to Christ, we must not fall trap to the spirit of the age. I heartily agree that in matters of non-essentials we express love in unity but that doesn’t mean non-essential don’t matter. I would consider baptism a non-essential. I will loving fellowship with padeobaptists and credobaptists but I have a strong opinion on baptism and as part of the great commission we should all feel the weight of this doctrine. Therefore, attempts by some to move from unity in non-essentials into “shut up about non-essentials because they don’t matter. As long as we preach Christ we should just ignore the rest” is simply reductionistic postmodern babble. Your theology matters because God matters and theology is all about God.

I say all that to move us to my main point. The reformed church has always been willing to examine the non-essentials (matters of conscience and practical living)--semper reformanda. Michael Horton explains the origins of the phrase,

But where did this phrase come from? Its first appearance was in a 1674 devotional by Jodocus van Lodenstein, who was an important figure in Dutch Reformed pietism — a movement known as the Dutch Second Reformation. According to these writers, the Reformation reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation.

Van Lodenstein and his colleagues were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism; they simply wanted to see that teaching become more thoroughly applied as well as understood. However, here is his whole phrase: “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” The verb is passive: the church is not “always reforming,” but is “always being reformed” by the Spirit of God through the Word. Although the Reformers themselves did not use this slogan, it certainly reflects what they were up to; that is, if one quotes the whole phrase!

We hold onto the to the gospel and its necessary corollaries but “the lives and practices” are held with an open hand. We are not afraid to debate and hold up the truth of Scripture against our practices. That’s why our services would feel different than a service in the 1600s. The good news and structure should be similar (i.e., prayer, preaching, reading Scripture, etc.) but the context is different and therefore requires change.

We are willing to reform. Yes! but we must recognize that reform is a re-orientation in every age to the truth of Scripture. As Horton says, it’s not reform by us, it’s us being reformed by the Spirit applying the word of God to hearts today. We are not satisfied with the living faith of our fathers. We seek a living faith for ourselves and our families.

On the other hand, I received some sage advice from a former pastor of mine. We were at lunch talking about God, ministry, and life and he stopped for moment. And he said something like this: “Matt if you ever enter the ministry don’t welcome cranky reformed folk in your congregation.” He went on to explain that these are people who get their theological panties in a wad about non-essentials and feel like our services and lives should be an exact replica of the services and styles of the 1600s.

I think he’s right. As a matter of fact, if you’re not reformed I would advice you don’t let cranky _________ join your churches. You know the type in your denomination. These are the people that cause church splits over the color of the church rug, the tempo of the music, or some other silly reason. We must be always reforming while always staying true to the form of the gospel. This my friends is an arduous task but one which we must tackle. It requires Biblical discernment and wisdom.

It’s a point which cannot be neglected. It’s essential for the life of the church. Horton again sums it up well,

This perspective keeps us from making tradition infallible but equally from imbibing the radical Protestant obsession with starting from scratch in every generation. When God’s Word is the source of our life, our ultimate loyalty is not to the past as such or to the present and the future, but to “that Word above all earthly pow’rs,” to borrow from Luther’s famous hymn. Neither behind us nor ahead of us, but above us, reigns our sovereign Lord over His body in all times and places. When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.