Engaging All People of God

June 21, 2016
This week we have asked leaders from Reformed denominations five questions. Each day this week we will feature one of these denominations. Yesterday the Christian Reformed Church in North America was featured. Today the Reformed Church in America is our focus. Return to iAt through the week to read more from leaders in the church.
  1. What do you see as the largest challenge for the Reformed community in the coming decade?

How we do church is changing. In previous decades, the church served as a social outlet where people met their friends and shared community. Congregants went over to one another’s houses for Bible study, they lingered after Sunday school classes, they took extra time to talk and drink their coffee after service. This is just not the case anymore. People are making friends in different social networks and this makes church socialization very challenging. Another example is infant baptism. This is a challenge because more and more people are coming to faith later in life and are experiencing authentic transformation through Christ as adults. People aren’t simply born into the body of Christ anymore–they’re coming to faith from various backgrounds and experiences.

I believe the largest challenge that the Reformed Church in America will face is engaging a culture that is constantly changing. My prayer is that we raise up leaders who value the people of God and their stories of transformation. May we learn to walk alongside them, to anticipate their needs, and really understand how to live and love like Jesus.

  1. How do you see ecumenism balancing with denominationalism in the coming decade? Do both have a place in an ideal world?

Ecclesial division is coterminous with the history of the church. While the early church established some unity of belief in regard to key doctrines such as the Trinity, there was also much contention over such doctrines. In the gospels, we discover that Christ’s will is that we “may all be one” (John 17:21); yet, the church universal has fallen gravely short of that call. Many divisions in the church arose out of particular situations in which Christians felt themselves being called to return to the faith of the early apostles and reform the church. It is out of this impulse that the Reformation churches were born. Each historic Protestant church, such as the RCA, has a distinctive history and identity through which it has impacted the lives of countless Christians and has been building up disciples around the world for nearly 500 years. Yet, the fissures that exist—both in my own communion and outside of it—are clearly counter to Christ’s call.

Though we have much to confess about this discord, we also have cause for celebration. In the last two decades, new ecumenical partnerships have been forged between previously disconnected denominations. From the beginning, the RCA has been involved with the formation of new ecumenical bodies such as Christian Churches Together (USA) and the Global Christian Forum. Both organizations have a distinct approach to Christian cooperation, which centers on fellowship, mutual support, listening to the voices of those previously not present at the ecumenical table. Together we also value the telling of our faith stories and our relationship with Jesus Christ as an important part of these unique ecumenical connections. With a broader diversity of Christian families comes new perspective on global issues and the mission of the church, particularly as we learn from those whose faith is shaped by experiences of war, poverty, racism, religious oppression, and so on. Together, we are striving to affirm our commonalities, understand our differences, and be “one body” with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

  1. If you could set one goal for your denomination to attain in the next decade, what would it be?

Our goal and single purpose as the Reformed Church in America was set forth for us when Jesus said to the disciples, “take up your cross and follow me.” Through Transformed & Transforming, our denominational 15 year goal, we are authentically striving to live and love like Jesus. We desire to continue the revolution started by Jesus nearly 2000 years ago. We desire to love all people by creating disciples faithfully committed to Jesus. We desire to raise up leaders who are listening to the Holy Spirit for God’s call on their lives. We desire to engage all the people of God to be moved toward genuine transformation and catalyzed towards mission. Our goal would be realized by the Reformed Church in America becoming a thriving, missional, multi-cultural denomination. Evidence of this fruit would be witnessed through sacrificial service, authentic relationships, spiritual transformation.

  1. What does it mean to be Reformed? Is this different than being “reformational?” What is more important?

Michael Horton says, “We believe that to be Reformed is not only to be biblical; to be biblical is to be Reformed.”1 Deep in our Christian history is a 16th century monk named Martin Luther who challenged the Catholic Church. “Sola scriptura,” or “scripture alone,” he demanded. Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church, but after much violence, the protest-ants, or the Protestant church emerged. Today, Reformed Christians still hold tightly to scripture as the “only rule for faith and in life.” But what makes Reformed Christians particularly identifiable is their affirmation of Reformed creeds and standards–like the Heidelberg Catechism. Both scripture and the Reformed standards serve as a powerful lens for Christians in our tradition. We believe that the Holy Spirit works to guide us through these things toward the work and will of Jesus Christ today in our lives.

To be reformational–that is different. Often, we hear the phrase, “We are reformed and ever reforming.” This is typically associated with the Reformed church but should be clarified further. It is true that we are Reformed (with a capital “R”) and we continuously being “Reformed” through the renewing of our minds as we study the scriptures. We are also being “Reformed” as we apply these teachings to all aspects of our lives. However, often, other Christian traditions claim to be reformational (lower case r) as they are renewed by the reading of scripture. They do so, however, not understanding or committing to Reformed standards alongside their scripture studies. Here in, lies the distinction because true Reformed Christian traditions hold scripture as the only rule in faith and life, but they also declare, that Reformed standards are sufficient for interpreting the scriptures–meaning, they work alongside the Word to offer us a clearer picture of Reformed living for Jesus Christ.

  1. How should the church balance living in the already and the not yet?

“Meaningless, meaningless…Everything is meaningless,” cries the teacher at the beginning of Ecclesiastes. The first few chapters of this book are a litany of complaints, a mere, “chasing after the wind.” But what the “already,” of this question suggests is that we as believers are called to live into the promise of eternal life and this breathes new life and purpose into our being. In Christ, our reality is that everything is filled with meaning as the Spirit comes alongside us, shaping and gifting us to be more and more like our sinless intercessor, Jesus. As the church, we are the “already,” when we step into the call Jesus has placed on our lives. As the church, we are the “already,” when we are led by the Spirit to love those who are lost, to care for the poor, and to lift up the broken.

Yet, we encounter the tension of “not yet,” when our old selves get in the way of Christ’s sacrifice. The “not yet,” of this world remains a painful wound as we struggle to remain close to God everyday. Living for Him is a challenge when death takes loved ones away too soon or when natural disasters cause entire villages to burn. Living for God when pain is still present, when heartache aches in our chests, is not yet what God has in store for us. So as the church, we learn to lament in these seasons. Together we lift up cries from the depths of sin and darkness, and we call out to God to save us, because we trust and know and live into the truth that Christ has died and risen, and he will return again for his beloved–the Church. Into the not yet, we grip more tightly our hope in the coming of our Savior, and we lament the presence of darkness still lurking in the corners of our world. It’s the tap dance of our present reality. It is the already and the not yet.

About the Author
  • Rev. Dr. Thomas De Vries, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Western Seminary (Oregon), is the fifth general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. He has served the RCA at all three of its assembly levels—classis coordinator, regional synod executive, and General Synod Council member—and also served as RCA coordinator for church multiplication and revitalization. Prior to becoming general secretary, De Vries was lead pastor at Fair Haven Ministries (RCA) in Hudsonville, Michigan, where he helped the congregation start six new churches.

  1. Horton, Michael. “Semper Reforma,” Ligonier Ministries  

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