Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Many Meanings of “Reformed”

I find it quite amusing these days to be classified by some as “Reformed”, when I’d barely heard the term for most of my Christian life. I grew up in Baptist circles that didn’t use the term Reformed. In fact, the first time I heard it used of my church was when a student attending a local Bible college told us that the lecturers there regarded our church as Reformed.

Since then, I’ve come to understand the many imprecise ways that “Reformed” is used.

First, the broadest use seems to be a kind of identifier as non-charismatic. In some circles (particularly in South Africa), the two categories of views on the spiritual gifts are not cessationist and continuationist, but Reformed and charismatic. This binary division becomes the way a person tries to categorise your understanding of spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Spirit. Of course, with the rise of the Sovereign Grace movement and the continuationist teachings of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson, Reformed and charismatic no longer stand as antithetical to each other. Conversely, the vast majority of Southern Baptists and Fundamentalist Baptists would be moderate Arminians who hold to eternal security, but are strongly cessationist. One’s position on the charismata is not necessarily linked to whether or not one accepts Reformed theology.

Second, an almost equally vague use of the term identifies Reformed with a certain approach to corporate worship. If your church sings hymns and has a fairly modest worship service without disco balls and metalheads jamming with Fender StratoCasters, you will be considered by some as Reformed. Certainly, the Reformation reformed worship, and the Reformed are often associated with sober worship, but this is not necessarily the case. The Regulative Principle was championed by the Reformers, but not only the Reformed abide by it. By this loose definition of Reformed-equals-conservative-worship, A. W. Tozer, an Arminian, was Reformed. Conversely, have a look at Reformed youth conferences, or Google “Reformed rap”. And read Peter Masters’ critique of the worship in the New Calvinism. Conservative worship and Reformed are no longer Siamese twins.

Third, the slightly more accurate use of the term identifies Reformed with Calvinistic doctrine. Calvinism is really a subset of Reformed, not the other way around. Calvinism is a particular view of soteriology: how saving grace manifests. Calvinism, in its moderate, strict, and extreme forms deals with the doctrines of election, the effectual call, the perseverance of the saints, and the extent of the atonement. If you line up with the five points of TULIP, many consider you Reformed. Purists won’t accept anything less than five-point Calvinism, but the theologically informed know that Calvinism and Arminianism represent a spectrum of positions, not a binary choice. When understood this way, it is possible to be Calvinistic, without being Reformed, in the strict sense.

(By the way, the five points of Calvinism have little to do with the five Solas of the Reformation. The five solas rescued the Gospel from Roman Catholicism, and could (and should) be affirmed by anyone who holds to the gospel of justification by faith, whether Calvinist or Arminian.)

Fourth, the theologically accurate use of Reformed identifies a school of Protestant theology that involves a lot more than the five points of TULIP. Reformed theology necessarily includes covenant theology, and the form of covenant theology that requires paedobaptism. The church is understood not as an opt-in, voluntary organisation but as an opt-out, involuntary covenant community that one enters by being born into believing households that baptise in infancy. This strict form of covenant theology excludes believers’ baptism. In this very precise use of the term, Baptists cannot be Reformed: the term Reformed Baptist becomes an oxymoron. Reformed theology sees the sacraments as efficacious in some sense, and generally excludes premillennialism (eliminating Charles Spurgeon, Robert Murray M’cheyne and George Muller from its ranks). And if you think I’m making this up, get it from the horse’s mouth: Richard Muller of Calvin Seminary tells you what he thinks of Reformed Baptists: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

In this very strict sense, the Reformed are necessarily Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed.

Therefore, if I am asked, “Are you Reformed?”, I will give what sounds like an irritatingly evasive answer. “Well, I am proudly Protestant, and believe in justification by faith alone. I do worship in a conservative fashion, adhering to the Regulative Principle, and I don’t subscribe to Pentecostal or charismatic views of the charismata or the baptism of the Spirit. I am a compatibilist in soteriology, and recognise sovereign election and the effectual call. But I am a Baptist, and a premillennial one at that. So, depending on your definition of Reformed, you tell me: am I Reformed?”

The Scholar-Pastor

A few years back a book came out, pointing out the need for pastors to be more scholarly and for scholars to be more pastoral. Coming from someone like D. A. Carson, the exhortation is easy to receive, given how he has modeled both. It is rare to find both scholarship and a shepherd-heart in one man. Pastors should certainly be given to intellectual discipline, and Christian scholars should see the pastoral application of their academic labour, though few men are a pure mix of both.

I respect genuine pastors. I respect genuine scholars. What I find more difficult to respect is the man who is neither, but pretends to be a form of both, and assumes the prerogatives of both.

After all, a true scholar has

  1. achieved a terminal degree in his area of study, the Ph.D. or its equivalent, mastering the tools of research, and fluent in the conventions of academic writing and argumentation: when he writes or teaches, you can hear the dispassionate tone of the humble researcher;
  2. mastered comprehensively the literature in his discipline;
  3. understood the broader conversation within and surrounding his discipline;
  4. contributed to the conversation, and submitted his work to peer-review.

That eliminates most of the self-appointed scholars right there. Truthfully speaking, most pastors have not been trained in this way, or reached this place of learning. Most don’t desire the life of a scholar, and aren’t inclined to it. Most lack the time for the kind of full-time reading and writing that scholarship requires. Scholarship is a vocation in its own right, and pastoring usually precludes being able to be a scholar. Certainly, I’m not a scholar, though I read them, and benefit from their labours.

On the other hand, a pastor has

  1. desired the office of pastor, which includes not just teaching, but leading (as an overseer), and providing an example and wisdom (as an elder) in a local church;
  2. submitted his life to the scrutiny of a local church, to whom he is accountable, so that he can be examined for the presence of the the character qualifications of 1 Timothy 3;
  3. been either recommended by a group of pastors (1 Tim 4:14) who are in a better position than most churches to test his life and qualifications, or been sent by a local church (Acts 13:3), and been consequently called by a local body of believers to shepherd the flock;
  4. given himself to the best equipping available to him, so as to fulfill his calling (2 Tim 2:15).

Not every public speaker or teacher in Christianity is or needs to be a pastor. The body of Christ is blessed with apologists, itinerant preachers, and people with particular ministries that supplement the church. I’m thankful for these, insofar as these bless the local church, as ours certainly has been by them. But the best of these teachers always admit that they are not called to shepherd the flock, but to their particular ministry focus. The most honourable of these can tell you which local church they belong to, who their teachers are and who they are accountable to. The academy has true scholars. The church has true pastors, supplemented by teachers.

What is intolerable is the man feigning scholarship, and acting like a pastor. He’ll travel around and take up pastoral duties (counselling intimate situations, installing pastors, baptising, disciplining, giving communion), but take no week-to-week responsibility for any group of people. He’ll act like a bishop over multiple churches, supposedly protecting people from the false shepherds, but he himself is submitted to no one, anywhere. He’ll cast stones at faithful shepherds, and accuse them of “heavy shepherding”, but he’s never shepherded anyone, in any real sense. And if people seem to smell a rat in his maverick ways, he’ll begin to speak academese to the unlearned, quickly reminding them that the Learned One is speaking. He conveniently switches roles so that when his scholarship appears shoddy, he pretends to be a generalist pastor, and when he appears to lack pastoral qualifications, he pretends to be a scholar on a teaching tour.

Both pastors and scholars have submitted to tough callings, and accepted both their privileges and responsibilities. You’ll notice that real pastors and real scholars accept the burdens of their callings along with the joys. They know who they are, their domains of expertise and authority and what they can realistically achieve.

But beware the man who seems claim all the privileges of both pastoring and scholarship, while dodging all the burdens of either calling: the burden of watching for the souls of one congregation or the burden of academic peer review; the burden of submitting to ordination councils or the burden of getting a terminal degree; the burden of labouring in one place for many years or the burden of mastering his discipline. Deliberately avoiding burdens is the work of sluggards and shysters. 

In short, a fair question is this: if he is a true leader in the church or the academy, then to what, and to whom, has he submitted?

Two Views on Christ’s Invitation

Below are two works of Christian imagination. Both attempt to depict what it means for Christ to invite sinners to Himself, and how sinners should understand themselves. On closer examination, however, they are nearly opposite in meaning. We do not see the same Christ, the same Gospel and the same dilemma of the sinner in both.

Read both and then ask yourself the questions that follow.

1. Have You Any Room for Jesus? (Anonymous, Adapted by Daniel Whittle, 1878)

Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinners, will you let Him in?

Refrain:

Room for Jesus, King of Glory!
Hasten now His Word obey;
Swing the heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.

Room for pleasure, room for business;
But for Christ, the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?

Refrain

***

2. The Silver Chair   (C.S. Lewis)

(Jill Pole, rasping with thirst, wants to drink from a stream, but Aslan the Lion sits on the opposite bank, watching her.)

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”…
For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken.
Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,”…
She realised that it was the lion speaking. The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?”, said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?”, said Jill.
“I make no promise”, said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?”, she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink”, said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst”, said the Lion.
“Oh dear!”, said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream”, said the Lion.

***

1. How is Christ depicted in each of the works?
2. What affections towards Christ do the writers wish to evoke with their respective pieces?
3. How does each author view the sinner with respect to Christ?
4. Which of the two has captured the biblical Christ?