More than a decade ago, I was part of a church that sent “missionaries” to Scotland to try to show the Presbyterians how to do church, and I went on two such mission trips myself. In the years since, I have come to see that it’s all the rest of us who need to ask the Presbyterians to show us how to do church.
I have become Reformed.
Becoming Reformed usually happens in stages, for those who didn’t grow up with it. It often starts by struggling with predestination, moving from there to the sovereignty of God in all things, followed by terming oneself just a “four-point Calvinist”, until, finally, one comes to affirm the Five Points of Calvinism. But being Reformed is so much more than just five points. Eventually it should bring you to embracing the Reformed confessions and catechisms, and to appreciate the long and broad tradition of Reformed faith in its entirety.
This series of posts began as a polemic as to why it’s okay for me, as a Reformed Baptist, to go to a Presbyterian church. I was going to start with an admission that there is always going to be something I disagree with about any local church—and explain why I’m choosing to overlook my differences with this particular church after weighing all options. But I think in the a passage of weeks, I have really began to discover that I have more in common with this church than any other.
The Presbyterian church in town is mainline Presbyterian. I should qualify this by saying if there were a NAPARC church in town that didn’t compromise itself by paying rent to cultic landlords, we might have started our search there. I find a lot of affinity with a lot of the NAPARC guys I’ve read, so long as they’re not a-capella Psalter-only types. But there are certain interpretations that some of those denominations make towards the confessions and certain passages of Scripture that I cannot subscribe to. (I will address this in a future post about credalism and confessional subscription.) Though embracing the confessions, mainline Presbyterians present a more open policy to different interpretations, and the only requirement for membership is confession of faith in Christ.
When I began my first drafts for this series, I would have said that there are not enough people in this town who feel the same way as we do, holding to the same Reformed doctrines and worldviews, to establish a new church with that affinity. (I said, “I would have said,” because, as the weeks go by, I keep finding more Gospel truth in this particular mainline Presbyterian congregation.) This is not something to bemoan. Rather, we ought to take the approach taken by the Reformers after their churches were established and they wanted to take them a further step (e.g. Calvin’s desire for weekly communion and Luther’s desire for a provably regenerate congregation): do what you can to encourage reform, but don’t seek splits; seek God’s providence and pray for him to work his will in the church through internal transformation.
So, what’s with this “mainline” thing all about? The mainline Protestant denominations are the ones that made up the majority of American churches beginning in the colonial era, until the fundamentalist outbreak in the early 20th century. These are the churches that came from their Reformation roots in Europe with the first immigrants, from the Scottish Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, German Lutherans, English Puritans, Anglicans, Philadelphia Baptists, etc. This is the history I want to be attached to: to say we are the very Reformed church that came from Scotland and England. The church that participated in the Westminster Assembly in 1640s. A church that pre-dates the dispensationalist movement. We were not formed by the same Second Great Awakening which spawned Mormonism and countless other aberrations. We were not formed by the Jesus Movement of the 1970s with its peculiar “Moses-model” polity or its schismatic eschatology. To the contrary, we can be proud to be the spiritual descendants of Calvin’s church in Geneva and part of the tradition which brought us puritans like Richard Baxter and John Owen, and the first president of Princeton, Jonathan Edwards, and B.B. Warfield, the “Lion of Princeton”.
I remember a story about C. S. Lewis, when he was asked why he was an Anglican. His response was that it was the established church in his town. If he were in Scotland he probably would have been Presbyterian; in Holland, Reformed; in Germany, Lutheran, etc. So it seems suitable for us to settle on this church, as one of the oldest congregations in Chico.