Every Square Inch

I am an ordained minister of Word and sacrament and I stand within the Reformed tradition. Currently, I am the pastor of a small Reformed church in the midst of a big city where the predominate traditions are Lutheran and Roman Catholic. No one has heard anything about the Reformed. I have been learning more accessible ways to describe our tradition to fellow pilgrims with whom I work and live. On the space of this blog, I have already used the term Reformed more than I have in the past several weeks — which is somewhat liberating. Even here, however, as I talk about Reformed, I feel like I am committing the grave sin of academia by discussing a term without having a clear understanding of what the term means. What does it mean to be Reformed? How does one characterize the Reformed brand of Christianity?

Does one define Reformed by denomination (Reformed Church in America, Christian Reformed Church in North America)? By theologian (Calvin, Barth, Kuyper, Bavinck)? By Polity (government by elders)?

I certainly have my ideas about what it means to be Reformed, but admittedly, I am hardly the standard by which to measure all things Reformed.

**

I was raised within the Reformed tradition, and therefore never had to choose it outright on my own, but in many ways it was chosen for me (what a Reformed outlook). I was raised in a Dutch enclave in Western Michigan where the Reformed folk were the majority amongst Christians. In my little unincorporated hamlet without even so much as a traffic light, we had one Christian Reformed church and two Reformed churches. We also had a small Baptist church, although I knew nothing about it and didn’t know anyone who went there.

Every Sunday — morning and evening — my family worshiped at our church, which I was taught was the right church: Christian Reformed. I was never the child who paid a great deal of attention during the service, but every Sunday evening we were guaranteed to read the portion of the Heidelberg Catechism found in the appropriate “Lord’s Day”. At the time, I had no idea what was going on. I did not know what the Heidelberg Catechism was, and I had no idea why we would responsively read these questions and answers (the answers were right in the book, why did the pastor have to ask us?). The more bored I would become during the sermon, I found myself thumbing through that back of the hymnal. I came across things called “The Belgic Confession” and “The Canons of Dort” and “The Order for Excommunication”.

These were the earliest moment of my upbring as a Christian in the Reformed family.

The denomination of my birth was heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper, a 19th century Dutch theologian. In addition to the Heidelberg Catechism, our church regularly read out of the denomination’s contemporary testimony, “Our World Belongs to God.” While I didn’t absorb as much as I could have (and perhaps should have), the title of this testimony was catchy, and it was memorable for me as a young person and formational for me as I grew.

Even though I have changed denominations, and am now in a denomination where Kuyper is not the central theologian, within me is still this emphasis that everything is sacred, that there is nothing that is truly profane. This provides the freedom to seek to live faithfully in the world as it is, not just as it ought to be. A world where the common distinctions of place (God is here, God is not there; this is holy, that is profane) don’t exist. A world where there is no bifurcation between spiritual and physical.  It’s all spiritually physical (or physically spiritual).

**

When I was invited into an idea of a generally Reformed blog collective, I was eager by what was being discussed. A place not only to discuss Calvin and Barth, Kuyper and Moltmann, infralapsarian and supralapsarian, but also a place where one could reflect on faith and life as we live it day in and day out: family, culture, arts, and work. The ability to not only discuss overtly theological things, but also things which seem mundane, yet speak volumes of the presence and movement of God.

There are plenty of Reformed blogs out there, there are plenty of faith and live blogs out there, but I think we’ll be a bit different.  We’re That Reformed Blog.

Matthew

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17 thoughts on “Every Square Inch

  1. I was not raised reformed, in fact, I was raised fundamentalist Baptist. I was just trying to get a decent education (at Calvin College) so that I could provide a life for my sons and myself when I was introduced to the concepts of reformed-ness and chose it for myself and and my children. Though maybe it chose us….. Happier because of it!

    • Joyce, thanks for reading and for sharing a bit of your story. So glad that you have found a ecclesiastical home which you enjoy! I think that in many ways, moving between traditions can be a great benefit as it grants a unique perspective.

  2. =I resonate with your blog so well. My personal roots were not in the “Reformed” expression of Christianity but I came home in college. Growing up Roman Catholic until attending a Reformed College in the midwest, I began rethinking my life, my faith, my all and when Vatican 2 had so morphed the church of my childhood I felt permission to go exploring. Ironically my father’s family had been in the Reformed Church since the 1600s on the Hudson River valley….so when I made profession of faith under Rev. Henry Ver Meer , it truly was a home coming! Today I pastor a midwestern RCA congregation in a rural community where I’ve served for 30+ years: proof ample that God does retread us and utilizes all of life – no matter its theological trappings for His glory and our blessing. Thanks, Matthew for your insights.

    • Bill, so glad you found our little Reformed corner of the web!! Matthew and I attended seminary together, and I think the two of you have much in common! I can envision a lively discussion of church history and polity if the three of us got together sometime!

      Matt, thanks so much for sharing your upbringing in Reformed theology. I admire you very much as a person, a pastor, and a theologian, and I’m certain all these experiences you have had in your youth have helped shape you into the amazing person you are today. I look forward to reading more from you on TRB in the future!

  3. Matthew! Thank you for sharing this. I did not realize that you grew up in the CRC. My wife grew up in the CRC and shares very similar memories and experiences. I am so glad that you are on board here at That Reformed Blog! I look forward to many a discussion on infralapsarian and supralapsarian 🙂

    • Thanks Wayne! The RCA and CRC have such a unique history. In some ways many roll their eyes when I talk about moving between denominations because they are so close. But in many ways it is a significant move because there are divisions (many in emotion and culture) that run deep. Regarding infralapsarian and supralapsarian — I will leave that to the intellectual heavyweights on board here.

  4. I too was raised Roman Catholic and don’t have fond memories of church nor CCD (catechism). I questioned why I couldn’t be up on the alter helping the priest and I certainly questioned why I had to talk to some old guy about my ‘sins’. ( Or whatever passed for sins coming from a very naive, sheltered 13 year old on the eve of my confirmation)

    When I stepped into my current church back in 1988, I felt really at home. It felt so right being able to know that I could talk to God, and actually feel God’s presence in my life. God’s call in my life shocked no one more than me and I can say that seminary has been one heck of an intellectual ride. I’ve learned so much, and yet can say I know nothing at times.

    I look forward to reading and soaking up what wisdom comes from this endeavor and as soon as those pesky senior papers are handed in, I look forward to contributing more.

    Peace~~~

    • Donna, thank you for sharing a bit of your story! I love hearing about people’s ecclesiastical journeys, we all come from different places and have different paths. In some ways our paths can be parallel, other ways perpendicular. Yet somehow, many of us end up on a common path which we trod together.

      Looking forward to contributions from you!

  5. Matt, I would love to learn more about the differences between the CRC and the RCA that you allude to. Ive heard others mention the presence of differences too, but my RCA pastor dad always emphasized the things the two have in common, not the differences. And I’ve always wondered. Seminary covered the history, but not the cultural, Or even the theological.

    • The link that Wayne posted below is one view. It is certainly a slanted view from a CRC pastor, and I do take issue with some of the points that he puts forth (although space and time do not allow me to completely address his view).

      Before I go into my view, I want to say that I continue to have warm feelings toward the Christian Reformed Church. It is the church that raised me in the faith and taught me about Jesus. While I am no longer in the CRC, there are still many things about that denomination which I admire.

      First, there are cultural differences. The CRC’s emphasis on Christian education means that CRC is often a more insular and inward-faced denomination. If one follows the plan, one will go to a CRC church, go to primary and secondary CRC schools followed by Calvin College. The drawback from this is that it is inward-focused and it can be like growing up in a bubble. The benefit of this is that it creates a sense of identity, one that is not often seen in the RCA. Personally, my brothers and I went to public school, which meant that we were very much on the fringes of the CRC and didn’t have those relationships that develop in the culture.

      Theologically, Abraham Kuyper is a major theological voice in the CRC. My CRC pastor friends are shocked when I tell them that we hardly ever spoke of Kuyper in seminary. Even the title of this post, “Every Square Inch,” is a paraphrase of Kyuper — something which was forged into me during my early faith formation. In many ways, therefore, because the CRC is so Kuyperian and the RCA is not, we speak different theological languages of sorts.

      Finally, there are some polity differences. A couple of examples: In the RCA ministers are members of the classis and are amenable to the classis. In the CRC, ministers are members of the church that they serve and amenable to the particular board of elders. Additionally, the CRC’s Synod has a bit more weight than the RCA’s General Synod. This also includes the fact that the CRC Synod has more direct oversight over Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

      These are a few of the differences which I see as most significant. Of course, there are additional differences, and each of the ones that I mentioned have further points of nuance.

  6. I had no clue about the CRC and RCA before I entered seminary. I admit I didn’t really know what to do with it. At times I did roll my eyes when joke were made or a discussion came up about the two denominations. There were plenty of times during my first year at Western Theological Seminary when I wondered, “what did I get myself into?” I’m a bit of a theological and ecclesiastical mutt. I grew up in an independent Pentecostal church, at the end of high school I started attending a PCUSA church, I attended Moody Bible Institute for a semester, got my bachelors from North Park University(Evangelical Covenant), and then ended up at Western. I am now an ordained RCA minister serving a church where not everyone is RCA through and through. I think my diverse background has helped me to connect with a lot of the people in my congregation. I have been able to help many people get a better understanding of what it means to be part of the Reformed tradition.

    • Jason all your wonderful diversity of experience is a blessing for your local congregation and truly for our whole denomination. Having come to the RCA myself – along with several other Roman Catholics in the early 70s, we rebranded the RCA to mean “Roman Catholics Alienated”!!!! Our college chaplain at that time was Eugene Heideman – a very wise man and wicked 500 player! He shared with me this message that I have the honor to share with you – your journey gives you unique gifts to share. Not everyone will welcome those gifts, but your presence and experience will bless them – whether they like it or not! May we truly welcome one another to the spiritual “Stone Soup” that is the body of Christ here in the Reformed Church in America!

    • I’m a theological/ecclesiastical mutt, too, Jason! When I share my introductory post to “That Reformed Blog,” I’m sure that will come out! It has been far more of a blessing for me than a hindrance. Just like you said, it allows us to relate with those outside of the Reformed tradition in a new and meaningful way. Thanks for checking out TRB!

  7. Matt and Wayne,

    Thank you for that article, and the comments. They were very helpful. Given the fact that the RCA comes from the unity “side of the camp” (although I had never seen that before just now), I can understand why my dad emphasized unity over diversity. I have to admit, some of the statements in the article Wayne linked to did get my ire up, but that’s only because I’m sensitive about those issues.

    For those of you who are “ecclesiastical mutts”, I cannot tell you how jealous I am of you. You have such a richer history to draw from than I do–born and raised in the RCA. I also think such a gorgeous upbringing probably makes you more receptive to expressions of Jesus wherever you find them, rather than looking at everything through the RCA lens all the time.

    I do think there are times when I’m too narrow, and yes, it annoys even me. But at the same time, I suppose I will always be loyal to the RCA, which at this point in my life is causing me more pain than pleasure.

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