Reformation Day 2016 will mark the 499th anniversary of the unofficial start of the Reformation. This upcoming year is sure to be filled with excellent scholarship, writing, and reflection. I hope that all Christians, but especially Reformed Christians, use this milestone as an impetus to assess the health of our churches and denominations.
The problems in “Protestantdom” are legion. Misguided political alliances, schismatic tendencies over non-essentials, cynicism, declining worship attendance, and old fashioned heresy are just the tip of the iceberg. We, meaning my fellow Protestants, desperately need to return to the fountains of our faith and reflect on what the heck we are doing. As we approach Reformation 500, I’m not optimistic about the state of the church.
Lately, I’ve been reading R. Scott Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice. I highly recommend this book as we prepare for Reformation 500. Clark encourages Reformed Christians to go back to the sources, Holy Scripture and the creeds and confessions of the faith, in order to reclaim what is truly Reformed.
It is the argument of this book that the Reformed confession is the only reasonable basis for a stable definition of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. As a class of churches that profess allegiance to the Reformed theology, piety, and practice as revealed in God’s Word and summarized in the Reformed confessions, we have drifted from our moorings. Some of us have become confused about what it is to be Reformed, while others of us have lost confidence altogether that Reformed theology, piety, and practice are even correct.
R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice 4 (2008).
Throughout the book, Clark points to a number of areas, including the use of uninspired hymns in worship and the insistence on the belief in a literal 6-day creation, where our Reformed churches have departed from Reformed theology, piety, and practice. It is one thing to create practical alliances, such as working with Roman Catholics on pro-life issues, but it is quite another to divide our Reformed churches over doctrinal issues that are not our own.
Clark’s arguments are provocative to people like me who are members of a quasi-mainline denomination like the CRCNA. I’m pretty confident that the CRCNA isn’t going to ditch hymns in favor of a capella psalmody in worship services.
At the same time, I recognize the truth in Clark’s thesis. We can avoid so many divisive issues by simply advocating that Reformed churches remain faithful to Reformed theology, piety, and practice. In the age of authenticity, this point should be obvious. If we can agree on the essentials, we can reform our churches and establish a solid foundation that will last another 500 years.
Recovering the Reformed Confession is exactly the type of book with which Reformed Christians should be engaging this year. Many of us do not know or recognize what is essentially Reformed. As inheritors of the Reformation, the only answer is to go back to the sources. Ad fontes!