Party on

The phrase “let’s party” seldom rings out in Reformed circles. Some probably react very negatively to it. This tradition is not known for its partying. Lutherans have Oktober Fest. Catholics celebrate Carnival. Hollywood has its many award shows. Sports teams celebrate champions. TV celebrated 40 years of Saturday Night Live with laughter and satire.

Let’s party like a Calvinist! Funny, right? The popular image of a Calvinist is one who is stern and judgemental. What would a Reformed party look like? I have never been called a “party animal.” I remember family gatherings, but I am not sure I would call them parties. My father’s first birthday party was at the age of 60, five months before he died. Once a year at a holiday gathering, a bottle of Mogen David might show up.

Reformed organizations seem able to turn any celebration into a worship service more capably than turning a worship service into a celebration. Worship is important, but seldom in this tradition does it enhance a party atmosphere. I once heard that the only way to tell the difference between our weddings and funerals is the position of the body up front.

A 2013 study by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School reported results that may be the source of the troubling statistics in this Facebook post (above). It seems few pastors are in a party mood.

‘And it was good’

Is this ethnic, cultural or theological? My heritage is quite pietistic. Pietists tend to react against the frivolities of culture. Others from a Reformed tradition are more comfortable with alcohol – Kuyperians, perhaps? I heard that Canadian weddings are more celebratory than those in the U.S. Reformed communities. There also seems to be a difference between those with rural heritage and those with a city background. Whatever the ethnic or cultural background, a theological tradition that wrongly often starts with “total depravity,” guilt or sin might not be known for its parties.

I say “wrongly” because Scripture starts with God’s celebration of his good creation. The first words a human speaks in the Scriptures are Adam’s celebration of human fellowship in the creation of Eve. At the heart of the Reformed tradition is the affirmation of God’s good creation. The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the comfort of personal belonging, forgiveness and freedom. Although the Canons of Dort begin with God’s right to condemn humans in their sin, the first point is God’s choice to save us – not T, our Total depravity. As we come up to Easter, remember that we live more in the light of the resurrection than in the shadow of the cross.

Tony Campolo, a Baptist pastor and sociologist, is known for his sermon “The Kingdom of God is a Party.” Campolo tells of throwing a birthday party in a greasy spoon diner at 3 a.m. for a prostitute in Honolulu. The cook asks him what kind of church he belongs to. Campolo replied, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at three in the morning.” The cook replies, “No you don’t. I would join a church like that.” I first encountered this story in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace, but Yancey’s most recent book is Vanishing Grace.

The party kingdom

Jesus partied often enough to occasion this comment, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Luke 7:34). He used the imagery of a party to picture the kingdom, like the invitation to the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24). When the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son are found, there is celebration (Luke 15). The question is whether the elder brother, the religious one, will join in.

Of course, Paul counsels, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20).

What does this party look like? I think the party can begin with simple thank you’s, especially for the discouraged, and lead to parties for everyone. Throw a party, have a banquet, organize the block party, invite the neighbours, give an unexpected gift, give awards. Create your own “top ten.” Maybe we can establish a new tradition.


  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at

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