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Why I am a Reformed Christian

This editorial does not tell you how I became a Reformed Christian. To do that, I would have to give you a history of my ancestors. No, it reveals why I am a Reformed Christian. Asking “why” assumes that I have a choice in the matter. I could not have answered that question satisfactorily when I was a child. The why and the how were too closely intertwined then. But as I grew older, I have had to face the fact that I could be a perfectly acceptable Christian had I been Baptist, Mennonite, Coptic or Catholic. So where does that leave me – a dyed in-the-wool Calvinist?

Let’s get one thing out of the way before I go down the path of Calvinistic hubris: my salvation did not and does not depend on my being Reformed. It's a good thing the repentant criminal on the cross next to Jesus did not have to sort out his brand of Christianity as he asked Christ to remember him as he entered into his kingdom. No, my brand of Christianity is not tied to salvation by grace, nor to justification. Rather it has to do with my sanctification and the cultural calling that I as a sinner washed in the blood of Jesus has to own and work out . . . with fear and trembling, I might add.

Let me first of all admit that I do not consider my form of sanctification, or my confessional (ecclesiastical) identity superior to anyone else's. I am not Reformed so that I can be closer to the ideal shape a Christian life has to take in this life. I am not even sure what a Christian’s building has to look like in order to survive the refining fire of judgment found in 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15. But I know that we must build whatever faith and worldview we profess on the one foundation of Jesus Christ. I sincerely hope that some of it will enter into Christ’s kingdom.

One of a kind
My being and staying Reformed has a lot to do with the fact that in so doing I, along with other Reformed Christians, hope to make a unique contribution to the combined testimony of Christianity. Certainly in the North American scene, where personalized and other-worldly evangelicalism has such widespread appeal, the Reformed perspective is somewhat of a minority voice. And yet it is a much-needed corrective to the spiritualizing expressions of salvation that swamp the airwaves today.

But being Reformed also speaks into the kind of liberal Christianity that aligns itself closely with a predominantly human-centered culture. Consequently the soteriological focus there tends to rest on social justice, human autonomy in matters of edge-of-life questions, and questions about the ultimate authority of Scripture. Not that we cannot learn from all these Christians, evangelical or liberal, or that they are totally wrong in their attempts to work out their salvation. The same can be said of other forms of Christianity that focus on mystery (Catholics and Eastern Orthodox), or piety (Quakers), or charismatic gifts (Pentecostalism), or pacifism (Mennonites) in a way that Reformed Christianity does not. Again, we can learn from them. Perhaps they show up some of our weaknesses.

But I like the fact that I, as a Reformed born-again person, have embraced the kind of theology and worldview that stands out and makes a substantial contribution to the bigger-than-my-community Body of Christ as it takes up its task to make peace in the world through the blood of Christ (1 Col.1:19).

Reformed markers
Let me give you some distinctives that characterize Christians like myself who call themselves Reformed or Reformational (the former is an ecclesiastical term whereas the latter is more a worldview term and generally embraces a Kuyperian view of a Christian witness in all areas of life).

Our view of a covenant-keeping God who binds himself to us as individuals, families and communities, makes the Christian life and witness robust and all-inclusive. We can count on this faithful God all the way from Paradise to the New Jerusalem. Secondly, our understanding of the missionary/cultural mandate invites us to bring a little bit of heaven down to earth and challenges us to engage our society in bringing redemption to its structures and ways of living. Hence, we address systems as well as people who shape those systems. Thirdly, Reformed people have a high view of God’s rule even in the face of evil forces that seem to control the world.

I associate being Reformational or Kuyperian with a contextual and culturally sensitive interpretation of the authoritative, infallible (not inerrant) Word of God. I like the room given to nuanced thinking about thorny issues like abortion, homosexuality, doctor-assisted suicide. I like the respect shown for honest scientific explorations of the origins of the world.

There is so much more to being Reformed or Reformational. I have not consulted any texts, systematic or otherwise, for this article. I have just reached into my personal reservoir of distinctives that I see as belonging to the Reformed community of which I have been an enthusiastic member since birth. Unlike some of my friends, I have not given up on the vision that fascinates so many thinking Christians throughout the world.

Economic use of past
Well, you say, of course you are still Reformed because to pull yourself out of a tradition you grew up in requires heroic measures that have proved too strong for you. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I want to stay Reformed because it makes so much sense to me. And maybe it’s because I never believed that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And maybe, maybe, we do well to bloom where God has planted us, although I realize that not every plant does well in its native soil. But in general, why uproot and replant ourselves into another tradition that does not feel right?

By remaining Reformed I build on what was started early in my life, when I was under the preaching of diminutive, bald-headed dominee Rev. Jan Voerman, who was loved by the “kringetje spugers” (street people who stood around chewing the cud and spitting out tobacco juice). The same courageous preacher successfully asked a group of rugged communist peat workers, after they had sung the International, to also sing “Er ruist langs de wolken” (a well-known Dutch hymn about the name of Jesus being whispered through the clouds — not true, but sentimentally satisfying and Voerman’s triumph over communism).

I have fond memories of beloved home missionary Herman Moes in Bowmanville, Ontario, who taught us young people favourites from the Red Hymnal with a sense of holy longing for the “land of fadeless day” where “the city foursquare” lies waiting for us.

Continued benefits
I have benefited immensely from someone like former Calvin professor H. Evan Runner, who challenged us to reject the dualistic thinking of Plato as it manifests itself in the conflict between body and soul in fundamentalist thinking. And I feel blessed by the new enthusiasm of younger writers in Christian Courier, including our editor and various campus ministers who continue to show the relevance of God’s Word as it addresses contemporary issues. They remind us that heaven is not our home (thank you Paul Marshall); but the new earth will be.

And all of this rich inheritance, flawed though it is, residing in my fallible heart and mind (“foul I to the fountain fly” – overdone alliteration if you ask me, but soul-searchingly true); all of this collected sagacity is my humble luggage as I continue my journey into eternity. You are more than welcome to join me.

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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