Defining a Faith Tradition

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When we pass on our Christian faith to the next generation, we do so from our own tradition and perspective. Reformed Christians are no exception, but what does it mean to be Reformed? What does the Reformed worldview contribute to church school programs?

Rev. Bob De Moor, Banner editor and author of the book Reformed: What It is, Why it Matters, identifies these three important distinctives of the Reformed faith:

1. It takes the unifying message of the Bible seriously.

The overarching story of God’s mighty acts of providence and redemption are front and center. Even when children are very young, we can begin to lay the foundation that will one day let them “connect the dots”—that is, understand how the Bible stories together tell the one story of God’s faithfulness and love.

Let’s take an example from the God Loves Me series for two- and three-year-olds (CRC Publications, 1998). In Count the Stars! The Story of God’s Promise to Abraham and Sarah, author Patricia Nederveld avoids the common trap of moralizing this story. So often this story is told as an Aesop-like fable: Abraham obeyed God so he was good; we should be good like Abraham. Such an approach reduces this story to a disconnected object lesson. It misses the story’s biblical intent.

Nederveld avoids that bad-news approach. She tells the good news of a God who loves us so much and gives us wonderful promises. And God keeps them too! That fact connects the Abraham story to all the other Bible stories, to Jesus Christ, and to each one of us. God makes promises. God keeps promises. We can always trust God because God loves us so much. No, two-year-olds won’t catch that biblical vision all at once, but they’re on their way!

2. It encourages a broad kingdom vision that helps children to see how God’s saving work reaches into every area of life.

Children should experience both the zeal for personal salvation found in evangelical churches and the concern for social justice evident in main-line denominations. How does that view play out in the Sunday school room? In two ways, really.

On the one hand, it means that we routinely show genuine concern for every child’s relationship to King Jesus. We care about the child’s spiritual life. We don’t just care about good behavior or the right answers to our questions. We prayerfully bring children to the Savior so that they can be born again of the Spirit. We call them, through our teaching of the Word, to a living faith.

On the other hand, our kingdom vision won’t just leave us there in the impenetrable depths of the human heart. Disciples of Jesus must not only receive Jesus, they are called to follow him. And where, according to the Scripture, does Jesus lead them? Into all the world! Our ascended King sits at the Father’s right hand. He lays claim to all of our lives, body and soul. And Jesus lays claim to this entire world and everything and everyone in it. “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him (Matt. 28:18). We teach children what it means that our true citizenship in this world is in the kingdom of God. Our whole lives may now serve Jesus’ glorious and gentle reign.

3. It assures us that we are eternally safe because we belong to God’s family.

Those in the Reformed tradition find deep assurance and spiritual energy in the fact that we are chosen, saved, and sanctified by grace. This assurance leads us to live productive lives of gratitude and service to others.

In the classroom, we may use every opportunity to remind the children that our loving heavenly Father has chosen us to be members of his family. We may assure them that God will allow no one and nothing to ever tear them from his heart or hand. That’s the deep comfort we have despite all the bad things that may happen in our lives. God adopted us into his family, redeemed us in Jesus, and gave us new life in the Spirit. We did nothing to deserve that. God did so out of sheer sovereign love and grace. Now we’re forever safe in the arms of our Good Shepherd. Our confidence is not in ourselves—not in our good deeds, not in our commitment to the Lord, not even in the strength of our own faith. It doesn’t have to be. We have God’s own promise. That’s more than enough even in the light of our own faults and failures. We’re children of the King.

De Moor says, “While we acknowledge and value the rich diversity of Christian traditions, a Reformed tradition has its own unique contributions to make to God’s kingdom. We need to pass these on to our children and to the generations after them in a faithful and creative way.”

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