Now that I’ve shared some of the aspects of reformed theology and my experience with the Baptist church, I want to talk a little about the reformed churches I’ve been a part of and the difference I see in them.
The churches I’ve had the pleasure of being part of that adhere to reformed theology are some of the most biblically sound, Gospel centered, theologically literate, biblically literate, missions minded churches I’ve ever seen. Everything from their polity to their worship is unlike anything I’ve ever known growing up. The emphasis on prayer, the focus on Jesus and the Gospel, the call to repent, the reminder to study, the community engagement, it’s the church I’ve looked for my whole life.
One of the things I’ve appreciated about reformed churches and theology is their willingness to keep “the main things the main thing.” They do not argue over non-essentials. They focus on the Gospel and its power to change people’s lives and allow freedom on non-essentials. That’s precisely what the scriptures call us to. We are not to tout “the traditions of man as though they are doctrine” (Matt. 7:7-13) as the Pharisees did. And this group, unlike any other I’ve known, emphasizes and lives this out. The Baptist churches I’ve known are so legalistic that if you disagree on a non-essential you are labeled a heretic of sorts. “How dare you not adhere to a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation view of the rapture. You’re wrong!” Well, the truth is that regardless of what you believe about the rapture, it doesn’t change whether you are a Christian. So, in truth, it doesn’t matter. Sure, it’s good to know what you believe and understand it. But having a “proper” view of the rapture doesn’t save you, or un-save you. So if someone wants to believe that there’s no literal 7-year tribulation, that’s ok, we are still brothers in Christ and can fellowship and worship under the same roof.
I’ve also appreciated the way reformed theology encourages the use of historical theological resources. I can’t tell how you heartbroken I was when I realized that I had missed out on studying the catechisms, confessions, and creeds. These are historical groups/events/documents that shaped every protestant denomination, including Baptists, and yet I had never heard of them until just a few years ago. The depth of theological training, the focus on Jesus and His saving work, the challenge to live a holy life, the call to repent of sin and live in the grace of Jesus each day. The church has used these tools for centuries and yet I missed out. (I’m making up for lost time now.)
There is a strong emphasis on discipleship in reformed theology. Most of the Baptist churches I’ve been associated with termed discipleship “Sunday School.” Very few people ever concerned themselves with personal discipleship or discipling others. Very few churches have any emphasis or training on how to disciple others. And in most churches it is only the leaders that do any discipling and it’s a “ministry” of the church. And yet, every Christian is called to engage in discipleship. This has been refreshing for me. To have a church emphasize the need for us all to be engaged in discipling is not just biblical, it is essential for the Christian life.
The focus on expository preaching in the reformed church is an incredible blessing. Most of the Baptist churches I’ve come through primarily utilize topical preaching that is disconnected and jumps all over the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with topical preaching, but a steady diet of it contributes to biblical illiteracy, and theological shallowness. Many pastors focus on their pet topics and disregard and ignore others entirely. Many pastors have never preached through entire books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes, Jonah, Ruth, Esther, and Leviticus. Because of this neglect their congregations can’t connect the Old and New Testaments, they can’t see the story of Jesus in every book of the Bible, and they are easily misled with false beliefs because they don’t know what the Bible says and doesn’t say. Take a look at this survey that Lifeway (SBC) and Ligonier (Reformed) conducted together of Christians and their beliefs. Walking through the Bible one verse at a time, book by book, is an amazing way to teach doctrine, and how to apply it to the Christian life each day. I hope more churches will begin preaching through the Bible expositorily. I’ve enjoyed greater understanding of Scripture and learning thanks to expository preaching than I have in years of topical preaching.
I’m thankful that my church takes the Bible literally at every turn. We believe a church should have multiple elders because the Bible says we should (Acts 19:23; James 5:14), we believe in church discipline (1 Cor. 5) (also, check out this article on the failure of the Baptist church to practice church disciple – it’s written by a Baptist.).
I’ve experienced more robust prayer in my reformed church than I have in any Baptist church I’ve been part of. Most Baptist churches I’ve been in pray to open the service, pray for the offering, and pray to close the service. They are often cookie-cutter prayers that many members can repeat. My current church offers a prayer of praise in which we simply praise Jesus for His blessings. We offer a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins and ask forgiveness. And we offer a prayer of petition in which we seek God on behalf of our church, community, and country. It’s the most robust prayer life I’ve ever experienced in a church and it is so refreshing. Prayer is not just something we do for a few seconds during our service; it is a main emphasis that occupies roughly 10 minutes of our time together. We are taught to pray often and go beyond shallow prayers. As someone that has struggled with prayer my whole life, this focus on prayer is a joy unspeakable.
I’m thankful for a church that does not emphasize instruments, but looks closely at the words of the songs it sings. It amazes me that many churches will sing any song they hear on the radio and simply assume it must be “Christian.” And yet, there are plenty of songs sung in churches each week that are unbiblical. My current church considers the theology of each song and seeks to only sing songs rich in theology. We regularly sing of grace, mercy, repentance, sin, and Jesus. I am blessed each week as I consider the words of each song. And while my church has no problem with using instruments in church, we manly use a piano. Not because we hate guitars and think drums are of the devil. We use a piano in order to make sure we can hear one another singing. The sound of our church singing is a beautiful reminder of what Heaven will be like. Many voices, many harmonies, all singing praise to Jesus.
I’m thankful for a church that properly understands the importance of church membership. To be a member of many churches you need only to show up and ask. Next thing you know you are being “voted in” by a “good, hearty amen” and that’s it. The error of this policy is evident as most churches have far more “members” on their roles than those in attendance each week. Many Christians don’t take their church membership seriously because the church does not teach them of its importance. This leads to a lack of church discipline, which leads to ignoring sin, and forgoing church discipline. This failure in the life of the church has produced social clubs where spiritual babes have been present for decades and spiritual maturity is nowhere in sight. So I am thankful for a church that understands biblical church membership and takes it as seriously as Paul did I 1 Corinthians when he called for church discipline of a sinning member. I need that in my own life and it is good to know that my church will hold me accountable.
This has been a lengthy (3-day) article covering a lot of things. I hope it has been helpful in sharing some of the basic positions and values of reformed theology and reformed churches. There is far more that could be and needs to be said but this is a start. I’m sure I will go deeper on some of these things in the future but for now, I hope this has prompted thought concerning reformed theology.
At this point you may have questions. You might even be curious about reformed theology and churches. Please know that I am always willing to engage in discussion in order to help facilitate learning. If you want someone that you can ask honest questions to and know you will receive an honest answer, I’m here. You might be thinking that there is no way you could ever consider reformed theology. I know that feeling, I was there once. But, you may be more reformed than you think.