Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reformed Movements & the Enduring Church

I've really I've really grown to appreciate Michael Horton these last few months, mainly through reading his book People and Place in my ecclesiology class this semester. He has helped me increase in my appreciation for the church (as I've blogged about earlier) and the importance of being confessional.

He provides some interesting thoughts on what many have termed the "young, restless, and reformed" movement or the New Calvinism (which was highlighted by Time magazine last year). When comparing this movement with the historical Reformed tradition, he borrows an analogy from C.S. Lewis about the hallway and the rooms. The hallway is the place "where believers mix and mingle", but they can't live there. The rooms are analogous to the church where Christians are meant to live, to be fed and nourished.
Like wider evangelicalism, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is a grassroots trend among people who are, generally speaking, not Reformed. I’m energized by this movement every day, as I interact with people from a variety of churches, backgrounds, and traditions who are drawn to the doctrines of grace. I spend a lot of my time in this hallway and am enriched by it.

Nevertheless, not even a “Reformed” hallway is anything more than a hallway. “Reformed” has a specific meaning. It’s not defined by movements, parachurch ministries, or powerful leaders, but by a confession that is lived out in concrete contexts across a variety of times and places. The Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) define what it means to be Reformed. Like Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Anabaptism, Reformed Christianity is a particular tradition. It’s not defined by a few fundamentals, but by a whole system of faith and practice. If being Reformed can be reduced to believing in the sovereignty of God and election, then Thomas Aquinas is as Reformed as R. C. Sproul. However, the Reformed confession is a lot more than that. Even the way it talks about these doctrines is framed within a wider context of covenant theology.

It’s intriguing to me that people can call themselves Reformed today when they don’t embrace this covenant theology. This goes to the heart of how we read the Bible, not just a few doctrines here or there. Yet what was once recognized as essential to Reformed faith and practice is now treated merely as a sub-set (and a small one at that) of the broader “Reformed” big tent.
And I love how he closes:
Right now, though, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is in danger of succumbing to the fate of all movements at their peak: splintering. Our confessions help us major on the majors, leaving secondary matters open. Yet the “New Calvinism” movement is already showing signs of stress over questions like the age of the earth. Churches have ways of dealing with questions of fraternal relations and cooperation, but leader-driven movements can’t handle the stress. Conferences operate as quasi-official church courts, with vigilante benedictions and excommunications determining who’s in or out. It’s like the wild west.

Christ promised to be with his church to the end, expanding his embassy to the ends of the earth. Christ pledged that the gates of hell cannot prevail against his church. The same promise can’t be invoked for a movement. May God swell the hallway with new visitors! And may we all have the charity to come out of our rooms every now and again to bless each other and bear witness together to God’s sovereign grace. But discipleship has to be formed in the rooms—in real churches, where the depth and breadth of God’s Word is explored and lived.
Read the whole thing

(HT: Challies)

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