Questions I Ponder as a Reformed Christian

John ArmstrongReformed Christianity

Questions I often ponder these days as a confessional Reformed Christian living in a time of real ecclesial change in the West:

1. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians seem to have historical amnesia when it comes to events that transpired in church history from the death of John on the Isle of Patmos, late in the first century, until the completion of the Canon several centuries later?

2. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians virtually ignore the Church Fathers as well as the catholic creeds of the Christian church?

3. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians ignore the fact that John Calvin was especially influenced by the Church Fathers? For that matter why do these same conservative Reformed Christians virtually ignore other Reformed writers who relied very heavily upon the classical catholic tradition such as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley?

4. Why do conservative Reformed Christians treat only certain confessional traditions, such as the Westminster Confession or its cousin the London Baptist Confession, as if only these confessions and catechisms were the proper confessional grounds for the Reformed faith and thus for contemporary understanding of the Bible and classical Christian thought, if they even care about classical thought? These important creedal standards of the 17th century are not the only standards for orthodoxy, for all time and all cultures, and few have ever treated them in this manner. Therefore, why do ordinary Christians hardly ever hear this from the many of the conservative Reformed spokesmen?  (There are few if any conservative Reformed spokeswomen, which is another question for another time.)

5. Why do conservative Reformed Christians demand a kind of purity from other modern Reformed writers that allows so many of them to never actually engage the culture and do the hard work of the Kingdom in the 21st century? Why do they attack all expressions of emerging culture and church life when in fact their tradition emerged in a specific time in history too?

6. Why do conservative Reformed Christians identify so strongly, and often so stridently, with other non-Reformed Christians in certain area of gospel controversy, especially in advocating very narrow definitions of the gospel in an attempt to impress lay people and inadequately taught pastors that they alone are standing for the truth in this dark day? This has been done over the last ten years with the issuance of various joint statements and widely promoted conferences, as if these faithful spokesmen alone have the courage to defend the gospel and the correct understanding of what actually constitutes the gospel.

7. Why do conservative Reformed Christians generally treat Roman Catholics (and Orthodox Christians if they bother to respond to them at all) as non-Christians, especially in their public pronouncements? Do these same Reformed Christians, at least on the Presbyterian side of the aisle, ever admit that their own traditions have always accepted Catholic/Orthodox baptism as valid Christian baptism? I also wonder if these conservatives, who stand should-to-shoulder with other non-Reformed fundamentalists in a type of reductionism that results from their narrow gospel definitions (as noted as in question six above), really ever make these facts plain to their non-Reformed (Baptist and dispensational) allies, who I suppose would be aghast if they understood this?

8. Why do conservative Reformed Christians rail so harshly, and react so emotionally, against liturgy in worship (a huge list could be constructed to make this point) on the one hand, while on the other they hate pop-cultural, happy-clappy, contemporary evangelical worship services with a passion? Do they realize that what they have created, in many cases, is a modern lecture hall with hymns and a collection? Do they realize that this is much more like a Plymouth Brethren gathering than a truly Reformed service, with all its variations and rich use of older liturgical tradition?

9. Why do conservative Reformed Christians often promote a high ecclesiology (in theory) while in practice they act much more like Southern Baptists who add presbyteries and general assemblies on to a modern form of culture religion? In practice these sorts of Reformed groups govern themselves, and do theology, less and less like historically Reformed bodies. Think populism and democractic idealism, not historic Reformed confessionalism, and you get my point.

10. Why do conservative Reformed Christians promote certain aspects of Puritanism, often without really understanding Puritanism in the way a real scholar like J. I. Packer does, while at the same time they despise the real Puritan approach to the Holy Spirit and to a practical experiential religion centered in the heart? And why do these same people hate almost every type of ascetical or mystical theology while whole segments of the Reformed movement have loved these parts of the Christian tradition deeply? (This is precisely why some conservative Reformed spokesmen despise Jonathan Edwards, which I discovered first-hand, to my profound surprise, about ten years ago.)

Separatism and fundamentalism are both alive and well among many conservative Reformed Christians in our day. I wish more people understood the simple truth of this obvious fact. I also wish more spokesmen would own up to this truth and allow an honest discussion in their circles of influence. (I am not holding my breath!) To open up such circles to an honest discussion would require an open denial of the narrow use of their creedal tradition. Bible-belt American culture has much more to do with these questions than historical creeds and confessions, as do pride of person and place. In a very real sense even the appellation TR (Truly Reformed, or Totally Reformed) is quite inaccurate, though I fear it is too often worn as a badge of honor by many. Isn’t it time to address these questions honestly so that a new generation can hear the real beauty of how Reformed theology can actually make a solid contribution to restoring classical Christian faith and holy tradition to a culture-bound church that is knee deep in compromise and confusion? I see a growing number of younger Christians who find this whole "Reformed" view completely irrelevant the more they read widely and encounter real people in real churches. One can pray that their tribe will increase as people realize that we must live in the 21st century, not the 17th.