This month I finished off my second year at Calvin Seminary. My Hebrew workbook is tattered and filled with hours of dedication (somewhat unwillingly, and definitely painstakingly), final papers have been submitted dangerously close to the deadline, and the dreaded blue exam books filled to capacity in an attempt to write down everything I’ve learned throughout this year. Now, as I enter into my final year, I do so with giddy anticipation. I anticipate not only the intellectual stimulation of the capstone courses, but the new ways that God’s Spirit will shape and reshape my calling. I know this might sound a bit controversial but stick with me.
When I began at Calvin Seminary, I did not enter the MDiv program as an act of obedience in response to the audible call of God amidst sleepless nights. If anything, I had sleepless nights thinking about my call to ministry, and my desire not to attend Calvin. My perspective on Calvin Seminary was that it was outdated, over-educated, and culturally irrelevant (I was a bit oblivious and indefinitely naive). Over the course of a few years, one of them working in a church plant, God slowly and gracefully convicted and called me to the place I said I would never go — Grand Rapids, Michigan.
With this picture of me in mind — a bitter, definitely not submitted, somewhat prideful pastor-in-training — we come to my beginnings at Calvin. As a new student, my intention was to learn all I could about the Christian Reformed Church, so that I might plant a church that looks nothing like the Christian Reformed Church (remember my motivated separation from the CRC).
With this picture of me in mind — a bitter, definitely not submitted, somewhat prideful pastor-in-training — we come to my beginnings at Calvin.
I desired to see the CRC grow, but not through tradition, pews, or hymns — but through something radically different. A coffee shop church, a grass-roots small house church movement, I even considered a brewery church (let’s be honest with ourselves, there could be no better business card than that of "Zack DeBruyne — Brewmaster Pastor”). I thought that it was time for the old dry expression of the Christian Reformed Church to be shipped off, and the fresh and new to be brought in. I desired for the church to be ‘culturally-relevant’ and cool. The kind of place that people with ironic tattoos, horn-rimmed glasses, and skinny jeans that you aren’t sure are appropriate actually want to frequent.
But, as I began my education at Calvin Seminary, I discovered that I could not have been more wrong and my staunch desire to run in the other direction took a hit — a hard one. This is not to say that I no longer want to create a space where people with a regrettable tattoo of their ex-girlfriend desire to come to, nor that I believe tradition is the only way forward for the Christian Reformed Church; rather, that the Gospel gives us far-reaching, culturally transcendent, Spirit led truth and power that can and does reach all people.
Let’s look at the example of Jesus. I know the classic move. Jesus, during his short three years of ministry (most of which he spent in Capernaum, a city on the North East side of the Sea of Galilee) sets the perfect example of what it looks like to lead a culturally relevant, radically inclusive faith. Jesus, I believe, was the first radical, outside-of-the-box pastor. He did things seriously differently than the traditions of his day. Yet, he did not throw them away entirely. He did not run in the other direction, as I so desired. Instead, he incorporated the scriptural truths of an insular, somewhat distorted religion, and he infused them with the everlasting truth of the Gospel. Yes, he challenged the institution, but he did not come to abolish even an iota from the law (and if you’re wondering, yes I now know what an iota is; Greek pays off again). Instead he came to fulfill the law, to challenge the religious norm, to love and empower all people to live and serve God.
Jesus, I believe, was the first radical, outside-of-the-box pastor.
Herein lies what I have learned deep in my mind and felt God stirring in my soul. Calvin Seminary is not a place for me to become indoctrinated in order to recreate a traditional Christian Reformed Church that understands church only as a gathering on a Sunday morning within the four walls of a church building. Instead, the Seminary has taught me both of the importance of the incarnational truth of the Gospel to all people, while explaining depths of the historical beauty and covenantal promise of the traditions that they hold near and dear. Yes, at times we may lean heavily on them as a crutch. Yes, we may practice them week in and week out without truly engaging and explaining the beauty and truth of the ebbs and flows of our liturgy, or explaining to the congregation why we desperately need the blessing and doxology. It is these practices that are steeped not only in the history of the church, but are shaped and inspired by God’s Word to His covenantal people in Scripture.
For it is when we participate in infant Baptism that we are brought to be reminded of God’s own promise, not only to the child, but of our own covenantal identity in Christ as baptized believers. When we partake in the communal table of the Lord’s Supper, we come together and participate in the tangible grace of God through Jesus Christ. We are reconciled before God, and with one another. It is when we respond to the Call to Worship that we acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit that brings us and perfects our worship, and that God has the first word. These are just a few examples of the seemingly endless Biblical truths that teem from our tradition and should inspire our congregations to live and love their neighbours, colleagues, and enemies more deeply. These are radical counter-cultural things!
I don’t need to be a Brewmaster Pastor in order to drum-up some controversial grass-roots community of believers doing something radically cool. As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, if I am affiliated with the love and ministry of Jesus, I’m already radical. I’m already given freedom to think outside of the box, and pursue my creative gifts. I already have the wealth of theological, historical, and even financial resources through the Christian Reformed Church and beyond.
So even though my time at Calvin Seminary has shaped up differently than I first thought, I am grateful. For I have been shaped and empowered in my own personal faith life by my classes, my community, and the tradition of my denomination time and time again. Moreover, my capacity as a leader and my personal spiritual gifts have become better realized, and this has empowered me to be an active part in the radical Kingdom work that is happening already. It’s not about me. It’s not about how many holes are in my jeans, or whether or not I have an obscure Hebrew tattoo on my wrist. It is about the ongoing radical redeeming work of God in all of His creation. He is already doing it by His Spirit, I’m just here to use my gifts as best as I can and join in His work, fake spacers and all.