Wednesday, September 4, 2013
How The Reformed Prevent Modern Reformation
By: Thomas F. Booher
I'm blowing the horn right here, right now. Many reformed churches aren't living up to their name. It's time we wake up to this, find out why, change, and call others to change. For God's glory.
If you know me or have followed my posts closely, you probably already know that I grew up in a PCA church my whole life. Yet never did I hear the doctrines of grace in my home church. It wasn't until I went off to a secular college that I heard of the reformed faith. That was five years ago. Now I am a convinced Calvinist, and I hold to reformed/covenant theology. I am also convinced that many reformed churches aren't reforming. I believe God uses this to convict me to become a pastor more than anything. To preach, but more, to shepherd. To write blog posts like this and call out the institutions and people I am in rank with. Maybe you think my accusations are crazy, my concerns misplaced. Maybe you think I am crazy, ignorant, too narrow-minded, too pessimistic, out of place to even say these things. I almost hope I am wrong, but I am convinced that I am not. Why?
Because I think reformed churches need reforming. Semper Reformanda, yes, except I am actually serious. We need to look at what we are preaching, how we are parenting, how we fellowship, how we evangelize, and how we are engaging culture. I see those five things as five pillars needed for a modern day reformation, and I think on the whole reformed churches today are doing poorly with all five.
This may be deeper than you think. I am not simply saying we need more expository preaching. I am saying we need to go back and make sure we know what expository preaching is, and then actually do it. We need better shepherding. We need much better parenting, and a much higher view of children. Then we need to go back in Scripture and check up on what it really means to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And then we need to faithfully do it.
We need to re-examine the nature of the new covenant. What role do works have? And why do we keep saying that God is never angry with us? We must pursue holiness, but before we do, we probably need to go back and make sure we understand what holiness is, and how we go about pursuing it.
We need to be salt and light, and we need to know how to be it, and also that we are, in Christ, salt and light by nature. We need to check our theology of evangelism. We need to remember that God has comprised the body of Christ with many parts, all of which serve one another. Which leads to fellowship: we need to fellowship better, not more.
Then, if we begin to get preaching, parenting, fellowshipping and evangelizing straightened out, we need to look at society and culture at large. We need to look at our relationship to the arts, the cultural/dominion mandate.
After all, I just wanted to be a fiction writer and perhaps teach writing for God's glory (okay, and maybe become a professional baseball player). But I can't because I'm convinced reformed churches are dying, and we don't even recognize it. I can't because I see sheep starving while thinking they are full. Worst of all, I see reformed pastors think they are feeding when they are not. And I think, by God's grace, I know enough to actually make such an audacious claim.
Consider: we preach about our sinfulness, but do we preach at sin? Do we preach at people? Do pastors preach at their flock concerning their sins? Hardly. Is this because we think we are when in reality we aren't? Or is this because we think that is wrong? Or is it because pastors are more worried about keeping their jobs than reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and correcting? Do we address sins in our families, in our friends, in our children? Hardly.
Consider: Are we applying with the text? Are pastors applying specific texts to their specific people and their specific situations? Are pastors giving good analogies, or is all this theology just head knowledge? I think we have forgotten that until we have grasped how to rightly practice a doctrine or piece of theology, we have not actually grasped that doctrine or piece of theology.
To Parents: I am soon to join your ranks, but I have some grave concerns, and complaints. Why do you insist on family worship if you do not insist on being parents to your children in worship? Why do you let your children flop around like fish out of water, talking, looking around, and complaining? Why do you hardly say a corrective word to them when they do this? Why for the love of your own children and the love for others do you not take them outside and spank them? Why do some of you even look upon your children's sins approvingly? If this is your children's behavior in public worship, I dread to think how it is in private worship, and at home in general. I wonder if the private worship is little more than a few Bible verses at a meal, or a few catechism questions in the afternoon. Have you stopped and thought that maybe you should ask them questions to see if they understand what you are reading and saying? Have you looked to see if they are even paying attention? Because many aren't in church. Are they actually learning the catechism and doctrine, or just parroting the words? Can they put it into their own words? Can you?
And Pastors: Can your eyes not see the rambunctious children, and the neglectful parents? Does this not give you pause, and cause you to think that maybe all of your words are not reaching to the hearts of your congregants, but are at best staying in the realm of their logical thoughts? Does not conviction compel you to address these families and children, firmly and in love? Does this not burden you, make you angry, make you weep? It does me.
Parents: Maybe you aren't disciplining your children because your pastor isn't disciplining you. Maybe our reformed churches have come to a place where we can talk about all the other people, all the other churches and even reformed churches, but not ourselves, not our own. Maybe we keep our talk about sin so general that it is just far enough away from reaching to our hearts, the very fountain of sin. Maybe we avert our preaching away from the sins in our churches because its more comfortable that way.
Also, have we forgotten that guilt for our sin as believers can be a good thing, something even prompted by the Holy Spirit, and not simply our doubting of the gospel or tempting from the devil? Should not all of Christian life be one of repentance? Then why are our pastors not calling us to repentance, except at most on hot button issues like homosexuality or abortion? Why aren't our pastors showing us the depths of our depravity, from the text being preached on, and then lifting us up to Christ? Why aren't we being instructed from the pulpit on how to recognize the deceitfulness of our own sins, and how to by the power of the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh? Instead, most of what I am hearing is about how in Christ God always loves you. But does not righteous fathers get angry and discipline their children? How much more so, and perfectly, our heavenly Father. Preach the Father's correcting, convicting love!
We should look back to the Puritans. They wrote books and preached whole sermons on things like indwelling sin, and mortifying the deeds of the flesh. Why aren't we preaching this? Why are our sermons so much about knowing God intellectually, but not so much loving Him from the heart? Why is so little preaching about sanctification and confession of sin? Isn't sanctification and confession of sin our very expression of love to God from the heart? Or have we forgotten this to?
I am convinced that our problems aren't all that far from the problems of non-reformed churches. The problems may at times be different, but by degree they are nearly as bad. Yet we think we have it right because we have true doctrine. We think we have found the narrow road of Christian life because we understand predestination and God's sovereignty. Yet we continue to neglect our families by working and worrying ourselves to death.
But do we even understand predestination and God's sovereignty? Do we really understand just what it is that He has saved us for? It is good works, conformity to the image of His Son. And have we forgotten that sanctification is synergistic, and requires taking up our crosses daily? Are we so foolish as to believe that if we get all our theological ducks in a row, all our temptations and struggles with sin will simply melt away? Then, do we think that simple reflection on the gospel and how glorious Christ is will somehow infallibly restrain us from that temptation? In short, are we actually following after the things that make for true revival and reformation?
I don't think so. If we were, we wouldn't be longing for a modern day reformation. We'd be living in it.
I think I have some answers, by God's grace, and I'll post more on what I think soon. The thoughts aren't new. I found them in Scripture. I could be wrong, but I am going to argue for them and decry the reformed pastors and parents and church goers who don't practice them until they show me how wrong I am and foolish I have been. At that time, I will shut up and repent. But if you examine what I am saying and find it to be true of you and reformed churches on the whole, it is time for you to repent. Not to me, but to God. Then go and tell others to repent to God, in love, for our good and His glory, for the advancement of His Kingdom; do what is necessary for God by His Spirit to bring in a modern reformation, a true revival -- or to bring persecution the likes of which we Americans have never seen, from within the church and without.