In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, many of us may be asking ourselves this question: What difference does being Reformed really make? With denominational loyalty in all traditions probably at the lowest point it’s been since the Reformation, is this anniversary even worth noting?
My own faith journey and educational background suggest that perhaps I shouldn’t care about this milestone at all.
I have two advanced degrees from an Evangelical Anglican graduate school. One of the most significant turning points in my faith journey happened at a Roman Catholic retreat center. My wife and I were richly blessed by a small group which included our charismatic, speaking-in-tongues neighbors. My own worldview has been richly deepened by Anabaptist/Mennonite teachings.
And I just happen to be Reformed. But do I care about that?
Well, I do care, and I care a lot. My Reformed roots have blessed me, and continue to bless me, in too many ways to count. I’ll name just three.
I care because the Reformed tools that I have been given encourage me to breathe the power of Scripture through all that I am, do, and say. Reading the Bible as one coherent drama of God’s faithfulness divided into distinct acts helps me to connect the dots that point to Jesus as the centerpiece of the creation/redemption/new creation story. I have rich resources for embedding the story of my life and the Christian community inside the story of Scripture.
I care because we live in a confusing and frightening time in human history, and my Reformed heritage challenges me to reject the temptation to retreat behind a fortress of anxiety. Instead I am equipped to engage our culture with courage, discernment, and hope. The Reformed tradition declares, “God is sovereign; keep the big picture in view. Avoid simplistic either/or thinking and note how the God revealed in Scripture is big enough to hold things together that we seek to separate. This God is big enough to hold together mercy AND justice, big enough to hold together the “set-apartness” of the Christian community AND this community serving as yeast amidst the turbulence of the world around us.
I care because when my own heart tries to make the world more tidy than it is, I hear the Lord saying, “Don’t even try. It’s a mess! But my grace is sufficient in that mess.” And I remember that total depravity lives within me and all around me, but grace is greater than brokenness, and “he that is in me is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). This priority of grace frees me to be real and hope-filled, standing in the midst of the mighty cloud of witnesses who did not receive what was promised but fixed their eyes upon Jesus (Heb. 11-12).
While working on my dissertation at the University of Toronto, a fellow student said to me, “You have a clear theological tradition that you are working within. Most of us here don’t. We’re noticing what a gift that is for you.” Last month a woman whom I taught twenty years ago at Dordt College said to me, “You taught me how to read the Bible as a Reformed believer, and those tools continue to shape my walk with the Lord every day.”
We at Faith Formation Ministries are glad to be Reformed, and we’ve published Ten Ways My Reformed Identity Shapes My Life to give specific reasons for our gladness. Just like this blog post, it doesn’t say it all, but it makes a start. You can download and print it from the link above or order printed copies for a small fee at FaithAliveResources.org.
I will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with both gratitude and expectation, trusting that our rich heritage will continue to grant us the privileges of contributing to the coming of the kingdom, learning and incorporating the wisdom of other traditions, and laboring side by side with all other believers until we see God face to face.