The Greatest Danger for Reformed Christianity

John ArmstrongReformed Christianity

I am a Reformed Christian. I love the "Three Forms of Unity" of the Dutch Church, especially the Heidelberg Catechism. I think it is the most evangelical and ecumenical of all the great Reformation catechisms. I grew up in a Baptist Church and was a Baptist minister for many years, having first been ordained in 1970. I still love Baptists, in fact more now than ever since they have taught me so much that I still value; e.g.,the soul liberty of the human conscience, the best understanding of the separation of church and state I know, the priesthood of all believers, the real importance of missions and evangelism, etc. But some years ago I began to realize that I really did believe in the covenantal way of thinking about the Bible and the Church. I understood the Church as a community gathered in and by the covenant. For this reason I was examined and accepted as a minister in the Reformed Church in America earlier this year. I will not promote this new identity over my catholicity or over my fellowship with all of those who disagree with me and the formal fellowship where I ended up in my ministerial standing. But I do not hide this change either. I am very glad to be a Reformed minister and felt it was an honor to stand before my classis and affirm the faith commonly held there and to sign the register of ministers, a concept that goes back to Calvin and Geneva. (Some friends have made me honorary Dutch by telling me I am now John Van Armstrong. Whatever!)

At the same time I am deeply concerned about a lot of Reformed expressions of Christianity, and their approaches to God and theology, that I have met in North America. I have very good friends in all the various Reformed groups; e.g. Reformed Baptists, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church. Most of these groups are even represented on the board of ACT 3. At the same time I am concerned for what I have seen among some of these Reformed groups and people during thirty-five plus years of travel and ministry. I am not concerned, for the most part, about what these various people believe. I am concerned about what they do not believe and how they use their theological systems to create the illusion that "they alone know the truth and nothing but the truth."

A great warning about this came my way today when I read a quote from the early Church father Gregory of Nyssa. Said Gregory: "Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything."

I fear many Reformed folk have grasped great concepts about God, through a theology and systematic way of speaking about God. In the process they now run the real risk of creating idols. These idols are concepts that replace the unknowable and the ineffable with ideas that easily replace the living God and remove the wonder.

Ask yourself: "Does my theology lead me to conceptualizing about God in a way that removes the wonder from my heart and mind? Do I have more answers than questions in the way I live and teach the faith? And do I see, even in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God as I understand it, sheer mystery?" Your answers will tell you a great deal.

I am personally even more prepared to call myself a Reformed Christian than ever, even though some of my critics think that I am not since I do not agree with every jot and tittle of their understanding. They are quite sure of their interpretation of the Bible and the creeds and thus quite sure that I must be wrong. I gave this question to my classis to examine it and when they carefully examined me they gladly approved me as a Reformed minister. Call me whatever you wish but I am Reformed. At the same time the wonder of God and life increases in my soul every passing day. I have less answers than I had years ago but my soul is ravished with the love and glory of Almighty God, not the desire to fight for every Reformed argument that has been advocated by polemical argumentation through five hundred years of history. This is, in the end, what it means to be Reformed, i.e., "Reformed and still reforming" as the old and oft-cited saying goes.