Apr 14, 2010

Reformed Church Culture Shock

4 Min Read

For those coming from a typical evangelical church, the initial experience of a Reformed church can be jarring. Many of the practices, especially in worship, and the beliefs that underlie those practices are very different than those found in the vast majority of Protestant churches today. The natural question is, “Why are these churches so different?”

In the introduction to his new book Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims, Rev. Daniel R. Hyde writes about this culture shock and explains how his book is designed to provide answers:

“Dad, who are these guys?” I remember my question and my dad’s answer as if it were yesterday. I was a senior in high school and a new Christian, and I was sitting at the dining room table on a Sunday evening doing my homework while listening to the radio. As all good young Christians in my area were told to do by their youth pastors, I had the radio tuned to the large Christian radio station in Los Angeles County: KKLA. On came a show that began, curiously, with the sound of hoof beats. Then came the intro¬duction: “Welcome to the White Horse Inn.” I had no idea what the four hosts were talking about that night, but apparently my dad did—“Oh, those are a bunch of Lutherans,” he said.

I found out a couple of years later, while in college, that one of those on the show was, in fact, a Lutheran, but the others included a Baptist and two men who were something called “Reformed.” This just added to the confusion. After all, in the circle of churches in which I was converted, worshiped, and eventually became a youth pastor, you either were a Christian—which meant you went to a “Bible-believing, Spirit-filled” church like a Foursquare Church, Calvary Chapel, or a nondenominational church—or you were a “Catholic,” meaning, Roman Catholic. I was aware of some other kinds of churches because at different times I liked a Presbyterian girl and even dated a Lutheran girl, but their churches were consid¬ered more or less Catholic because they were “dead,” “traditional,” or “ritualistic.” I didn’t have a category for “Reformed.” However, a few years later and to the chagrin of some in my circle of family and friends—not the least of whom was the woman who is now my wife—I became one of “them.”

Maybe you too are confused about all of the so-called “churches” dotting the religious landscape. As you drive down the road you see “Hometown Presbyterian Church,” “Neighborhood Community Church,” “Family Fellowship,” and a host of others. Maybe you have seen or have heard secondhand of “Reformed” churches, but have never actually worshiped in one or investigated their beliefs. Perhaps you have heard some strange rumors about them. As you hold this book, you may be a little curious or you may even be a little critical. I can’t complain; at least you’re holding my book.

What are these churches that are called “Reformed” anyway? Why are they called “Reformed”? What do they believe? Where did they come from? What do they do that is different from what you are used to? These are great questions, and just the types of basic questions I hope to answer, or at least begin to answer, in this brief book. As a former outsider to these churches and now a planter of a Reformed church in an area with no other church like it, I know where you are coming from.

The New Testament describes those who believe in Jesus Christ as pilgrims in this life (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). In your pilgrimage, you may be moving toward involvement in a Reformed church. If so, I want this book to make your pilgrimage as informed and smooth as possible.

To get a sense of the role I foresee for this book in a believer’s transition to a Reformed church, imagine yourself walking through the doors of a church you have never before visited. This book is like walking into the foyer or narthex; there you look around, meet some people, and begin to take note of things about this church. Eventu¬ally, you move on and enter the sanctuary; in much the same way, books by R. C. Sproul and Michael Horton (mentioned in Appendix 2) take you deeper into the Reformed faith. Finally, you sit in a pew and the worship service begins. Likewise, a heavy-duty book of systematic theology or any title of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed and Puritan theologians takes you to an even greater depth of experience.

While there are variations from one Reformed church to another, what I hope to communicate to you in this basic welcome to the Reformed churches as a whole can be summarized in three points. First, Reformed churches are Christian churches. They are Chris¬tian churches because they believe the Bible is the Word of God, that there is only one God who exists eternally as a Trinity, and that Jesus Christ our Savior is both God and man. Reformed churches hold these beliefs in common with all Christians in all times and places. In the words of Vincent of Lerins (d. 450), “We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” Second, Reformed churches are Protestant churches along with Lutheran churches because they reject the claims of the pope to be the head of the church, acknowledging instead that Jesus Christ is the Head of His church, and that He rules and governs His church by His Word and His Spirit, not by the dictates of men. Third, Reformed churches are just that—Reformed churches. They are a subset of Protestant churches in that they believe sinful humans are saved by grace alone, from eternity past to eternity future, and that we experi¬ence this grace of God earned for us by Christ alone when the Holy Spirit uses certain means that God has appointed in the church: the preaching of the Word of God, which is the Bible, and the celebra¬tion of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

My prayer in writing this book is that I can begin to clear up any misunderstandings you might have about what Reformed churches believe and even begin to open your eyes to a new world, a new way of looking at “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Frankly, I do not want you sitting at a table in confusion as I did so many years ago. I invite you to read this book as if we were in a conversation together as pilgrims on a road, discussing the Scriptures, church history, and the Christian life as understood by those branches of Christ’s church that call themselves “Reformed.”

Welcome to a Reformed church.