The closed captioning program at a recent church conference made a delightful error: “Welcome to the Christian Reforged Church!” This typo seems rather providential in a year of commemorating 500 years of the protestant Reformation. After all, as Christians in the Reformed tradition, we believe that followers of Jesus are forged daily, sent through the refiner’s fire, remade and remaking.
An October issue of Christian Courier took an inventory of the Reformed movement in Canada today. The framework was grace — grace for each other on top of God’s grace, which covers all our human mistakes. What does a “reforged” church look like? It has areas that need attention and developments to celebrate as we serve our Lord together in this work-in-progress that we call church.
The following is a summary of some thoughts on this issue that were compiled by Angela Reitsma Bick, editor of Christian Courier. What would you add to it?
What areas of the church need ‘reforming’ today?
The Church’s very heart
The very heart of the Church needs reforming. Christ’s Church in North America seems too often ensnared in unabated idolatry, struggling to fend off becoming one more franchise of this world’s values. We tacitly accept the mistreatment of others based on race, gender, economics and other differences, all the while failing to remember that Jesus’ command to love requires actions that are real, tangible and often costly.
We obsess about personal spiritual development, often failing to realize that the bulk of our sanctifying growth will only ever take place in our engaging in acts of obedience born out of a deep, love-rooted commitment to Jesus himself. Perhaps most significantly, we have domesticated Jesus, often using portions of his words to endorse our stated plans, rather than utterly submitting ourselves to the fullness of surrender that faith requires, thereby leaving us exposed to what James Cone refers to as the “greatest risk of faith:” knowing what faith in Jesus requires, and failing to act on it.
Geoff Vandermolen, Faculty,
Calvin Seminary, Michigan
Our fearful souls
The church these days seems to live out of a posture of fear. Fear of decline. Fear of young adults leaving the church. Fear of cultural shifts. And fear makes us small and withdrawn, suspicious and timid. This posture of fear toward the world, to each other, to God’s future, needs to be reformed and remade to a posture of joy and hopefulness.
Reformed folk, of all God’s people, should have such a posture because we believe strongly that, to quote a great hymn, “this is our Father’s world and though the wrong seems often so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
That could it look like to have the always reforming people of God live out of fearless trust that God is the ruler yet? Maybe a little bit like the kingdom ...
Pastor of Faith Formation,
Community CRC, Kitchener, Ont.
The fractured body of Christ
I am grateful that Martin Luther stood up for biblical principles. Yet the circumstances and principles of the Reformation somehow evolved into permission for reforming believers to formulate their own theses, and then congregate with those in agreement. The resulting “splits” have meant an increasingly un-united body of Christ. I hear Jesus praying the words of John 17, “that all of them may be one, Father.”
While being Reformed means always measuring ourselves against Scripture through the Spirit of revelation, I think today’s challenge is how to live that out as the one body of Christ. It doesn’t necessarily mean compromising our theses, but unity needs to be much more than just the prayer of Jesus.
Henry Kranenburg, Pastor,
West End CRC, Edmonton
What areas of the church need reforming today? Not polity or policies. Not theology, architecture or music. What needs reforming most is our heart, our spirit, our ethos, our faith.
For my entire life, the Presbyterian Church in Canada has been wringing its hands over change and loss. We are consumed with trying to undo or stave off that which makes us feel uncomfortable or unsuccessful. This deep anxiety has only made us tense and terse.
The best re-formation I can imagine for the church is that we would become more confident in our identity as God’s beloved, more determined in our mission to serve the least and the lost, and more patient in a world where the winds of the Spirit blow where they will.
Rev. Kristine O’Brien
Trafalgar Presbyterian Church, Oakville, Ont.
Practise of the sacraments
The Protestant church in this age would do well to recover (or discover) a robust sacramental emphasis and practice. The Reformation helpfully grounded the church in Scripture, but in a post-secular context, the church needs imagination, identity, and inspiration as well. All of these are found in the sacraments.
Baptism is not only an initiation right, it is a marker of identity and invites even the smallest among us into a larger story. The Lord’s Supper gives us the opportunity to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” and nourishes our souls and imaginations for the trials of the days ahead. Both sacraments engage our whole selves in ways that encourage mystery, awe, and wonder. Or, as John Calvin put it, “The sacraments are God’s media. I rather experience them than understand them.”
Eric Dirksen, founding Pastor,
Christ Church of Davis,
Your personal preferences
To reach unchurched people, Christians need to stop treating the church as if it’s their private club. The gravitational pull of human nature is towards self, not towards others, and churches behave the same way. So many church leaders (staff and volunteers) struggle to lead beyond the preferences of the church members. And as soon as they try, they get inundated with complaints and angry emails. This is killing the church; it's an unwinnable game; and it’s just wrong. Since when did the personal preferences of members (re: music, politics, style, buildings and so on) become a legitimate reason to keep people away from God’s love? In the emerging post-Christian era, it’s time to build THE Kingdom rather than YOUR kingdom.
Carey Nieuwhof, founding Pastor
Connexus Community Church,
Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est
[The Church must always be reformed]
In the death throes of Christendom we have seen the co-opting of Jesus into socio-political agendas. Two sides of the same coin — liberal Protestantism and the evangelical apotheosis of America — cannot collapse fast enough. Any revival will have to deal with and spring from this demise. Worship and discipleship will need to mature. The idea that the Sunday service is the central worship act must be reworked. The purpose of our anthropocentric music, motivational speeches, and detached prayers must be rethought.
Discipleship should be daily, intentional and marked by accountability. Jesus must be the point of everything. Our central proclamation and the only thing the world can’t offer is Christ and his resurrection proclaimed.
Rev. Brad Childs,
Fairview Presbyterian Church, Vancouver
In what ways does the church inspire you today?
As the hands and feet of Jesus
When I see the church reclaiming its place in the public sphere as a voice of justice and peace and love, I am inspired. When I hear Christians preaching a message of acceptance where people from all walks of life are welcomed and loved exactly as they are, I am inspired. When Christians speak out against people using the Bible as a means to justify bigotry or sexism or racism, I am inspired. And when the church more closely mirrors Christ himself, I am inspired.
Member at Knox Presbyterian, Oakville, Ont.
In the ‘restoration of all things’
I am convinced that the basic task of the church today, as it was 500 years ago, is to rediscover what it means to be church. What encourages me is churches — generally newish and youngish — which are doing precisely this. They understand the Gospel to be more than the salvation of individuals (though it includes that) but means the “restoration of all things.” (Thank you, N.T.Wright.) For them, this is more than a doctrinal statement: this is built into the DNA of their being and the way they organize their life. The old distinction between evangelism and social action is gone: the two form a seamless web. Under the guidance of the Spirit, such churches have world-transforming potential.
Professor Emeritus of Evangelism, Wycliffe College
In localized ministries
I am encouraged by the increased focus we are giving to the local church setting. During the Reformation, the big intention was to get faith into the hands of the local believer and away from the control and structure of the institutional leadership. It is the basis for why, in Reformed polity, the local church/ministry setting and its council have always meant to be in the driver seat. I see churches make great decisions about ministry as they become increasingly aware of their primary role in their locations. And I see our denomination increasingly encourage and support this shift in every way possible.
With this kind of a ministry focus, the agencies and institutions of the denomination can serve with increasing clarity, and in alliance with the local church.
Canadian Ministries Director, CRC
Through acts of faith
I am inspired by the ways that I see the Holy Spirit still at work in the church today and the ways God is still faithful and steadfast with us. ARISE Ministry is a Presbyterian Mission that helps individuals involved in the sex trade reclaim their lives through empowerment. When ARISE Ministry began four years ago, I was the only staff member and it was an act of faith for all involved. Today, the church has reached out in love to embrace ARISE and those we serve; we have three staff members as well as many volunteers, and we continue to see the ways hope lives here!
Rev. Deb Rapport
Community Chaplain and ED of ARISE Ministry in Toronto.
By its steadfast members
While certainly not true of every congregant at Knox, I have been both surprised and inspired by the flexibility and reflectiveness I have encountered in our church. It’s true that the church grieves some of the changes it is experiencing such as declining attendance, and fewer volunteers. However, I see a church that is resisting nostalgia as it seeks to be transformed into the church God is calling it to become. I am witnessing a church driven by creativity, courage, and trust! A church not afraid to try, to fail, and then try again. It is a privilege to serve a congregation who prayerfully seeks to do the reflective work of discovering (again! since the church was founded in 1833) why God chose to plant a church here.
Rev. Jacqui Foxall
Knox Presbyterian Church,
More interactive services & nicer cushions.
More engagement: congregational input during the service.
More outreach focused — out in the community.
Pastor John — every church should have a pastor John!
Rehoboth CRC, Bowmanville, Ont.
This article first appeared at christiancourier.ca and was republished with permission.